30 April 2016

Quickie Short Film Review: "Pikachu's Vacation"

Rated: Not Rated
Starring: Ikue Ohtano, Rachael Lillis, and Rodger Parsons
Released: 1999
Synopsis: We all know that Pokémon trainers pit their "pocket monsters" in battles against each other...but, what do the creatures do for fun? When Ash, Misty, and Brock's Pokémon take a vacation, anything can happen! When one of their own is in danger, the pocket monsters learn that only by banding together and putting aside their differences can they achieve the seemingly impossible.

My Review: I used to play and watch Pokémon frequently back in the day, but, until watching this short film tonight, I hadn't touched the franchise in years.  This served as a nice reminder of when life was simpler, especially when I remembered that it was released two years prior to 9/11.  The events of the film were fun, and some moments made me laugh; however, there were little interludes that added nothing to the story and seemingly served no purpose. (Were they just there to further annoy the non-fans in the audience?) By now, everyone who would want to see this probably has; if you're new to the franchise, you should check this out.

Content Concerns: Nothing of note; mild peril, at worst.

Score: 3.5/5

Movie Review: "The Black Rider: Revelation Road"

Rated: Not Rated (Dove approved for ages twelve and up)
Starring: David A.R. White, James Denton, and Hilty Bowen
Released: 2014
Synopsis: In a post-Rapture world, Joshua (David A.R. White, God's Not Dead 2) is on a very important mission: to find medical help for a very sick girl.  He finds a small town of people left behind, where he meets a tyrannical mayor (James Denton, Good Witch) and Sofia (Hilty Bowen), a young woman who is determined to help out Joshua.  The mayor tells Josh and Sofia that her mother, a trained doctor, left the city to follow a mysterious man known as the Shepherd.  Sofia and Joshua set off to find him...but, nothing can prepare them for what awaits them during the end times.
Also starring Kevin Sorbo (God's Not Dead) and Bruce Marchiano (The Visual Bible: Matthew).

The Good: Forget the Left Behind franchise; this is how the "end times" should be portrayed! While I don't necessarily believe in Rapture theology, it's hard not to be drawn in by this dramatic interpretation of the prophecies of Revelation! David A.R. White is amazing as the lead, and James Denton is among the coldest and most calculating villains I've seen in a while; much different from the gentle physician he portrays on Hallmark Channel's Good Witch.  The other actors do well, too, and the fight and action sequences are incredible! Even the plot is convoluted; you'd have to watch the earlier movies to understand this, but, trust me: it's worth it!

The Bad: Along with the problems that Rapture theology presents, this third film in a series ends on a cliffhanger; however, I've heard nothing about a fourth film.  I sure hope they don't leave this franchise unfinished!

Content Concerns: I won't do my usual listing, but, I will say that, like many of its kind, this flick has quite a bit of violence; people get shot dead and otherwise killed quite frequently, and the fights are intense.  There's no gore, but there is a bit of blood.  Plus, young children won't understand the themes anyway.

Conclusion: What a rush! This movie gripped me and wouldn't let go! If you've watched the first two films in this series, you can't miss this one!

Score: 4.5/5

27 April 2016

Movie Review: "God's Not Dead 2"

Rated: PG for some thematic elements
Starring: Melissa Joan Hart, David A.R. White, and Ernie Hudson
Released: April 1, 2016
Synopsis: Grace Wesley (Melissa Joan Hart, Sabrina the Teenage Witch) is different from the other teachers at her high school; her Christian faith makes her more optimistic than her peers.  During one of Grace's history classes, a student (Hayley Orrantia) who has been studying the Bible compares the words of Gandhi and Martin Luther King to those of Jesus; Grace responds by quoting Scripture, which gets her in big trouble with the school board.  Taken to court, her accusers are bent on proving that God is dead.  When things take a turn for the worse, will Grace prevail?
Also starring Ernie Hudson (The Word of Promise), Maria Canals-Barrera (Wizards of Waverly Place), David A.R. White (Revelation Road), and Sadie Robertson (Duck Dynasty).  Features appearances by Mike Huckabee, the Newsboys, author Lee Strobel, and the late Fred Thompson as themselves.

The Good: When this sequel was announced, fans of the first film likely wondered: Could it measure up to the original? The answer is--in my opinion, anyway--a resounding yes! Amazing performances from everyone in the cast, especially former teen star Melissa Joan Hart as the lead; a wonderful soundtrack, featuring Audio Adrenaline's "Sound of the Saints"; great sets; an involving plot; an all-too-true message...seriously, what's not to like? With the state of our country and our planet, this is one message that we all need to hear...and this film definitely delivers it!

The Bad: Two minor downsides: One, though the plot was involving, there was a pokey moment or two.  Two, the fashion sense of the female characters was a bit immodest, especially for a Christian film; when one of them first appeared, a friend I was watching the film with said, "Can her skirt get any shorter?" Those, however, were not a big deal.

Content Concerns: I won't do my usual listing, but I will say that, alongside the wardrobe issues--see above--emotional intensity is present throughout, and some people may take offense to a anti-Christian protester using a classic rock reference on his sign.

Score: 4.5/5

17 April 2016

iTunes Episode Set Review: "Lego Star Wars: The Complete Brick Saga So Far"

Rated: TV-PG-V / TV-Y7-FV
Starring: Anthony Daniels, Tom Kane, and Brian Dobson
Released: 2014
Synopsis: It's the beloved science fiction film saga as you've never seen it before! Star Wars gets the Lego treatment, featuring new characters such as former Clone Trooper JEK alongside longtime cinematic favorites such as Yoda and Darth Vader! With plenty of hilarity, this comedic adaptation of one of the most successful celluloid series ever features the usual ship battles and lightsaber duels...but all in the name of laughs!
Features the voice of Anthony Daniels, the original C3PO.

The Good: This is really a parody of Star Wars...but it's a great one! Fans of the movies will likely be laughing out loud at the many humorous moments; I know I was! The animation and voice work were also great as well.  I wasn't quite expecting this series to be a comedy when I bought it...but I'm glad I did; it was a treat!

The Bad: The only complaint I really have is that the last episode is pretty much the same as the one that came before it, save for an alternate ending.  That, however, is a minor complaint.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: Totally innocent romance; girls chase Luke, which is played for laughs. 4/5
  • Nudity: Shirtless guys, made much less sultry thanks to the characters being Lego people. 4/5
  • Language: Name-calling, at worst. 4/5
  • Violence: Comedic pratfalls; nothing worse. 4/5
  • Drugs: None. 5/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Much of this series is just silly, but, a creature or two could frighten little kids. 4/5
  • Other: Occasional bathroom humor. 4/5
Conclusion: Back when I was a kid, I was a big fan of Growing Pains, thanks to reruns being shown daily on the Disney Channel.  To this day, my number one favorite episode--not of that show, but of any show, ever--was "Meet the Seavers," where youngest son Ben has a dream about his family being merely a television show, and the cast members use their real names and talk about their real-life families.  It's stuck with me ever since, and such self-parody has always been hilarious to me.  I mention that because, what "Meet the Seavers" was to that Kirk Cameron sitcom, Lego Star Wars is to Lucas' space opera.  Purists may be enraged at the films getting the comedic treatment, but, I really enjoyed this one.

Score: 4.5/5

13 April 2016

Quickie Movie Review: "Supergirl"

Rated: PG for unspecified reasons (original version)
Starring: Helen Slater, Faye Dunaway, and Peter O'Toole
Released: 1984
Synopsis: When the object that gives her underwater city power accidentally ends up on Earth, it's up to Kara Zor-El, cousin of Kal-El aka Superman, to get it back and rescue her people.  Unfortunately, an evil witch bent on world domination is using it to enact her dastardly plans.  Posing as a student in an all-girls' school, Kara also has the same powers her cousin has...but, will that be enough to defeat the sorceress?

My Review: I'm doing a quickie review because this movie has a certain notoriety as being one of the worst superhero films ever...and it deserves it.  The plot would only work in a video game, and the special effects are rather cheesy.  The only good news is that this flick is low on profanity and sexual content, which is surprising for an unrated cut of a theatrically released film.  Despite the clean content, however, I wouldn't bother watching this unless you're a die-hard superhero fanatic; even then, you might not like it.  If you want to see Supergirl in action, go buy some episodes of the current CBS show from iTunes or Amazon; they're much better than this mess.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: Kissing and flirting; Supergirl puts a bra on over her shirt and starts stuffing it. 4/5
  • Nudity: Cleavage; shirtless guys; girls are seen in a shower, but only bare shoulders are shown. 4/5
  • Language: One usage of the s-word; two or three of the d-word and h-word, and about as many misuses of God's name. 3/5
  • Violence: Cheesy action sequences involving Supergirl: she saves a guy from construction equipment gone haywire, she fights against a monster from the depths, etc.  Nothing graphic, but one scene is a bit bloody. 3/5
  • Drugs: Drinking and smoking are shown. 3/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Young children may be scared of the monster towards the end; however, older viewers will likely laugh at the scene's cheesiness. 4/5
  • Other: Magic and spells are used by the villainess. 4/5
Score: 1/5

08 April 2016

Movie Review: "Brave"

Rated: PG for some scary action and rude humor
Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, and Emma Thompson
Released: 2012
Synopsis: Merida is not your typical princess.  She can shoot arrows with the best of them, and she detests the custom that requires her to marry a prince.  She and her mother are constantly butting heads, and it drives Merida insane.  After the two get into an altercation, Merida finds a witch who gives her a spell to change her mother.  When it takes effect, Merida's mother is definitely changed...into a bear.  Desperate to undo the spell and bring her mother back, Merida seeks out the witch that sold her the spell...but she is nowhere to be found.  Will Merida be able to undo the spell, or will her mother remain a wild grizzly?

The Good: The animation in this movie is excellent; then again, this is a Pixar flick.  Merida is a likable, yet flawed, character, and definitely a strong heroine.  The film alternates between humor and touching scenes, but they're all well done.  I enjoyed the voice work, too.

The Bad: Though this was a fun movie, it isn't the kind of epic we've come to expect from Pixar.  It seems to borrow too much from previous Disney movies, ranging from their various princess flicks to the most recent version of Freaky Friday.  Now that great computer animation is rather commonplace--seriously, you can find it in television cartoons these days--you need more than that to sell a movie.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: A man moons other men; nothing is seen.  A boy grabs an item from inside a woman's cleavage. A woman is embarrassed to be wrapped in only a tapestry with guys around. 3/5
  • Nudity: Cleavage; shirtless guys; bare buttocks without any critical areas; a woman wrapped in a tapestry. 3/5
  • Language: Name-calling; nothing more. 4/5
  • Violence: A bit of comedic violence, alongside some that's more serious; two bears fighting is probably the worst of it. 3/5
  • Drugs: Implied drinking. 4/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: The bears fighting; emotional intensity. 3/5
  • Other: Fairy-tale-style magic is used; some crude humor, i.e., burping. 3/5
Conclusion: At one point in my life, I had seen every single movie Pixar had made...but, that was back in 2007, when Cars was their latest film; Brave is the first one I've seen since Toy Story 3.  I've been meaning to get around to seeing others, especially Monsters University, but I just haven't.  I had heard that this wasn't quite as epic as their other films...and, in this case, what I heard was right.  Still, fans of princess movies or Disney flicks in general likely won't be disappointed.

Score: 3.5/5

Movie Review: "The Bible Stories: Solomon"

Rated: Not Rated (Dove approved for ages twelve and up)
Starring: Ben Cross, Vivica A. Fox, and Max Von Sydow
Released: 1997
Synopsis: Solomon, the son of David--the "man after God's own heart"--is poised to become the king of Israel, and has been assigned the task of building the Lord's temple; a very arduous task indeed.  Once Solomon takes the throne, he immediately begins construction on it...but, soon after, his heart is won over by foreign women who worship other deities, for which Solomon builds temples, something God told him not to do.  With the nation in peril, will Solomon realize his mistake before it's too late?
Based on the Biblical accounts.

The Good: This movie definitely brought the Bible to life in a very vivid way.  The sets, the acting, the scenery, the attention to detail, and pretty much everything else were incredible.  While Solomon was a wise man--and, this film features him quoting Ecclesiastes and Proverbs--he also had some serious character flaws, as this film shows very well.  Fans of flicks based on the Bible likely won't be disappointed, except...

The Bad: This movie does take some liberties with the original text, especially when--spoiler alert!--Solomon marries the queen of Sheba and proceeds to get her pregnant.  That's not in the Bible, and some people may quibble with that; then again, Solomon had way too many women anyway, so, why not her as well? Also, the violence and sexual content, though true to the story, make this inappropriate for children; then again, if you've read the Bible, you know that already.

Content Concerns: I'm not going to do my usual listing because of the source material; see the above section for details on the content.

Score: 4/5

03 April 2016

Movie Review: "That Darn Cat!" (1965)

Rated: G for general audiences
Starring: Hayley Mills, Dean Jones, and Dorothy Provine
Released: 1965
Synopsis: A neighborhood feline known only as That Darn Cat, or D.C. for short, turns up at Patti's (Hayley Mills) house with a wristwatch around its neck.  Upon investigating the timepiece, she finds what appears to be a cry for help etched on the back.  After finding out about the disappearance of a local bank teller, Patti enlists the help of FBI agent Zeke Kelso (screen legend Dean Jones) to find the culprit before it's too late.  However, D.C. is known as That Darn Cat for a reason: he is constantly getting into mischief.  Will Patti and Zeke ever be able to find the missing bank teller before it's too late?

The Good: I'm a longtime fan of Disney's live-action productions, and this old-school film of theirs is a treat.  With hilarity, action, and plenty of cute moments, it's easy to see why this movie has stood the test of time.  The heroes are flawed yet easy to root for, and the villains are utterly despicable.  Fans of the House of Mouse who haven't seen this yet should definitely seek it out.

The Bad: As cute and innocent as this was, I was a bit turned off by the incessant smoking.  Also, despite the "G" rating, the action and themes may be a bit much for the youngest viewers.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: A nosy neighbor worries about an affair that never happens. 4/5
  • Nudity: Shirtless guy seen from a distance. 4/5
  • Language: Name-calling, at worst. 4/5
  • Violence: Plenty of slapstick, as well as some gun violence; people are shot at, but nobody is hurt. 4/5
  • Drugs: Smoking in a few scenes. 3/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: The movie centers around an innocent woman being kidnapped.  (Spoiler: She escapes unhurt.) 4/5
  • Other: Patti, Zeke, and others tell lies to cover up their operation. 4/5
Conclusion: I got burned out on Disney or Disney-style animation as a kid; it was a product of seeing films such as Beauty and the Beast or We're Back!: A Dinosaur's Story umpteen times on home video.  Even in my later elementary school years, my favorite films from the House of Mouse were ones like My Favorite Martian, Flubber, or George of the Jungle; live-action ones, not cartoons.  So, I had high hopes for this movie, and it pretty much delivered.  Now, I need to check out some other old-school Disney live-action films.

Score: 4/5