Thursday, April 17, 2014

TV on DVD Review: Sabrina the Teenage Witch - Season 7

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Some funny episodes, mainly in the second half
Cons: Too familiar; weak first half
The Bottom Line:
The final magic
Done in by a slow first half
For the fans only

"Fast Unexplained Exits are Kind of Her Specialty."

I think by this point, it was time to say goodbye to Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and I think just about everyone knew it.  I mean, when your main character is no longer a teenager but that's part of the title of the series, it's just time to move on, right?  Despite some attempts to changes things around (or because of it), season seven isn't my favorite, although it does provide some fun moments.

After cramming three years of high school into the first four seasons, Sabrina Spellman (Melissa Joan Hart) manages to graduate from college in just two.  She and her roommates/friends Roxie (Soleil Moon Frye) and Morgan (Elisa Donovan) move into her aunt's house as they try to start their lives by finding jobs.  Her aunts?  In the weirdest resolve of the weirdest cliffhanger, they are turned into teenagers themselves and go back to the other realm.  (Never mind that Caroline Rhea has a cameo in the series finale).  That just leaves a few random bits of magic around the house in addition to Salem the cat (voiced by Nick Bakay).

Sabrina gets a job at a hip trendy magazine called Scorch and spends much of the first half of the season trying to prove to her boss that she can do her job.  It gives us plenty of chances to see actors playing musicians, and, of course, spells to go wrong.  She, Morgan, and Roxie join a singing competition thanks to some magic talent.  Plus she switches personalities with a mean rapper.

Late in the season, Sabrina meets Aaron (Dylan Neal), a handsome record label owner.  The two quickly fall in love and plan to get married.  The only problem is Harvey (Nate Rickert) is still in the picture.  Does he still love Sabrina?  Will that stop her from marrying Aaron?

Actually, I find the season picks up once Aaron comes into the picture.  Until then, we've got the same old same old with a different setting.  Substitute Roxie and Morgan for the aunts, for example.  They get many B stories like the aunts used to get, only these don't involve magic.  And Sabrina still creates spells that get out of hand, only now she needs Salem and Harvey to point that out to her instead of her aunts.

My problems with the first half of the season are two fold.  First, Sabrina's desperation at work just isn't funny, and I never can warm up to Annie (Diana-Maria Riva), her boss, who is mean to Sabrina for no reason.  Second, watching Sabrina's magic get out of hand and her over react is funny as a teenager but cringe worthy in an adult.  Not to mention, she should have learned how to control it by now.

Not to say there aren't some very fun episodes here.  I enjoy "In Sabrina We Trust" where the out of hand spell gets the entire city trusting Sabrina.  The magical systems check the house undergoes at the beginning is pretty funny as well.  Her attempts to be perfect in "Present Perfect" are pretty good as well, and the Wonderland theme in the episode where she first meets Aaron is lots of fun.

There is a certain amount of overacting from the cast, but it fits the show and helps make the wacky just that much more believable.  The special effects are great, and with all the magic there are quite a few of them.

Despite what the packaging says, there were 22 episodes in season seven.  The final two were just aired back to back, and they are lumped together here as well to give us "21" episodes.  They are all presented in their original full frame and stereo sound.  The issues I had with my season six set have been fixed, and I didn't have any problems with this set.

Which brings us to the special feature.  That's right, for the first time in the series, we actually get one.  It's the TV movie Sabrina Goes to Rome.  Don't ask me why we haven't seen the other two movies released on earlier sets or why this wasn't part of the season 2 or 3 set since that's when it was filmed.  But since it was the better of the two TV movies I've seen, I'll take it.

This movie finds Sabrina and stowaway Salem heading to Rome to try to open a locket.  Sealed inside the locket is an aunt she hasn't heard of before who was banished after revealing her secret to a mortal.  Unfortunately, Sabrina's new roommate Gwen (Tara Charendoff Strong) is a struggling witch who gets them noticed by Paul (Eddie Mills), a cute guy that Sabrina has run into - literally.  Paul is a tabloid journalist who starts getting close to Sabrina to get proof of her secret so he can become rich.  Or will love win?

Like many episodes of the series, the ending of this one is never in doubt.  And yet it's fun.  The story draws you in and makes you care. (Although considering how serious Sabrina was about Harvey at the time, why is there no mention of him?)  The story moves along quickly, and the acting and special effects are on par for the series.  It was actually filmed in Rome, and that makes it feel real and helps draw me in as well.

Honestly, Sabrina Goes to Rome is the best part of this collection.  Don't get me wrong, there are still some fun episodes in season seven, but the best of Sabrina the Teenage Witch was definitely behind us.  I'm glad it ended here.

Season 7 Episodes:
1. Total Sabrina Live
2. The Big Head
3. Call Me Crazy
4. Shift Happens
5. Free Sabrina
6. Sabrina Unplugged
7. Witch Way Out
8. Bada-Ping!
9. It's a Hot, Hot, Hot, Hot Christmas
10. Ping Ping a Song
11. The Lyin', the Witch, and the Wardrobe
12. In Sabrina We Trust
13. Sabrina in Wonderland
14. Present Perfect
15. Cirque du Sabrina
16. Getting to Nose You
17. Romance Looming
18. Spellmanian Slip
19. You Slay Me
20. A Fish Tale
21. What a Witch Wants
22. Soul Mates

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

TV Recap: Agents of SHIELD 1-18 - Providence

I didn't get to watch last night's episode until today.  Somehow, I'm still having a hard time getting excited about writing the recap.  (Heck, I just swept my balcony if that gives you any idea how much I'm trying to avoid writing this.)

I guess it's because the episode was kind of "meh" overall.  After last week's big exciting episode with so many twists and turns, this one was rather pedestrian.  I was expecting something more as a follow up since they'd obviously been building to that episode over several weeks.

Book Review: The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Funny and charming
Cons: Only if Pigeon doesn't get in the tub
The Bottom Line:
A dirty Pigeon
Wanting out of needed bath
Will he stay dirty?

Can You Talk Pigeon into a Bird Bath?

Poor Pigeon.  It seems like no matter what he does, he wants to do things he shouldn't do (like driving a bus) and tries to avoid things he really needs to do.  He's facing another issue in his new book, The Pigeon Needs a Bath!

It seems that Pigeon has had a fun day, but as a result, he's pretty dirty.  He needs a bath, but he doesn't want to take one, so he's going to offer every excuse in the book to try to get out of it.  What will it take to finally get him in the bath?

I really don't see how Mo Willems does it.  His books contain nothing but dialogue, yet they tell a story while entertaining and charming along the way.  Making it even harder in his Pigeon books, Pigeon is the only character who really talks.  (There are a couple of exceptions in this book, but only for a page or two.)  It does help that Pigeon is carrying on his conversation with us as he attempts to get out of getting into the bathtub.  You can make this book more interactive with your kids as you read to them by asking them how they'd respond to Pigeon.  Maybe they can get him to take a bath.

Mo's illustrations are charming as well.  They are fairly simple, but they are perfect for helping to tell the story.  And if you pay attention, you'll get some laughs from them as well.

Yes, laughs.  Through exaggeration, you get some good laughs as you read about Pigeon's excuses to get out of taking a bath.  Even if your kid tries to get out of a bath, they'll still laugh at Pigeon's antics.

I'm not going to spoil the ending except for this tease.  Getting Pigeon out of the tub might be a good subject for the next in the series.

Whether you buy these books or stand there in a library or store and read them, you'll love The Pigeon Needs a Bath!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Music Review: Welcome to the New by MercyMe

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Some fun songs
Cons: Sound and lyrics too similar to each other
The Bottom Line:
Some tracks I enjoy
But overall disc is flat
Not better effort

I'm Trying to Embrace the New, but It Doesn't Feel That Exciting to Me

Ever since I started listening to MercyMe, I've enjoyed their blend of fun music with good lyrics.  Rarely do they ever have anything truly outstanding to say, but the mix is still very enjoyable.  Unfortunately, Welcome to the New doesn't quite have that same mix to it.  It is their first release that has left me under impressed.

Over the years, the group has evolved from an adult pop/soft rock feel toward more rock and less pop.  That change is evidenced here with the rockiest release they've had yet.  There are lots of upbeat tracks here with only a few slower moments.  Unfortunately, they haven't found a way to differentiate the rock tracks from one another, and that is probably one of the biggest weaknesses of the disc.  These songs just sound too much alike to me.  Even after a week of listening, it's hard to remember which song is which.

Unfortunately, the lyrics don't help at all.  The songs are about the new life we can have in Jesus and the changes that brings into our lives.  Again, it's nothing especially original (or should I say new?), but it is a theme worth exploring.  Unfortunately, none of the lyrics ever go too deep and many could be exchanged with any other song.

Now before I get any more negative, I should point out that I do actually enjoy some of the songs here individually.  It's just taken as a whole where they start to get too repetitive.  For example, the title track starts things off with a wonderfully upbeat number that is hard not to like.  "Gotta Let Go" reminds us to leave our past back there and press on to live for God now.  "Greater" is based on the reminder from I Peter that God is greater than anything we will face in the world.  And "Flawless" reminds us that thanks to the mercy and grace of the cross, God doesn't see the sin in our past.

Oh wait, even with those four songs, I've already hit on two very similar themes, haven't I?

My favorite song on the disc is the final track.  "Dear Younger Me" find the band looking at the past and wondering what they could say to smooth out life without changing who they are.  Ultimately, it's about remembering who God has made us then about what we've done along the way.

Several of these songs will be enjoyed mix in with other artists in iTunes, but the rest of the disc is just average.  Hopefully MercyMe goes back to penning better songs because Welcome to the New wasn't one of their better efforts.

CD Length: 37:31
1. Welcome to the New
2. Gotta Let It Go
3. Shake
4. Greater
5. Finish What He Started
6. Flawless
7. New Lease on Life
8. Wishful Thinking
9. Burn Baby Burn
10. Dear Younger Me

Monday, April 14, 2014

Ornament Review: Christmas Windows #2 - Sweet Shoppe - 2004 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Details are lovely to look at
Cons: None to be found in this display
The Bottom Line:
A sweet ornament
The details bring it to life
It's fun to display

Sweets from the Sweet Shoppe

In 2004, Hallmark's Christmas Window series started what would become the pattern.  Yes, this was the first window done by Nina Aube, but she has now down half the series.  The series also now features nothing but stores, and the Sweet Shoppe is a mouth watering start to the tradition.

This is a truly 360 degree series with something to look at on all sides.  Looking through the window is a little girl with yellow pigtails down her back.  Next to her is a dog in a red sweater.  Having from the roof in a lantern, although it is unlit at the moment.  Above the window is 2004, the year the ornament was released.

And what are the girl and the dog looking at so intently?  In the window is a gingerbread house.  It's small (although to scale for the ornament) and looks delicious with lots of peppermint and other candies plus glittery powdered sugar snow on the roof.  Next to the house is a small Christmas tree on one side and a snowman on the other.  And in front of the house?  A tiny snowman.

You can see the back of this display when you turn the ornament around.  Additionally, there are some candies on the shelves that can only be seen when you turn it around.  You can see a jar of licorice or some kind of stick candy that is red white and green sticking out of a jar.  Then there is a tray of peppermint candies and some other kind of candy I don't recognize, but I'd be more than willing to try a piece.

The detail on this ornament is superb.  There are tiles on the roof and rocks on the front of the building.  Even with how small the gingerbread man or snowman are, they have faces and decorations.  It's fun to look at this one for hours.

You can hang this one from your tree and get it perfectly balanced no problem.  That's not a surprise since the hook is pretty much in the center of the roof, which is centered in the ornament.

However, I like displaying this ornament along with the other series on a flat surface, kind of like a village.  The nice, flat base helps make that possible, and you don't have to worry about the ornament tipping over at all.  The bottom is also where you'll find the 2 in a Christmas tree, indicating the ornament's place in the series.

Since I just started collecting in the last few years, I had to track this series of ornaments down.  I'm glad I did because they are such fun, and Christmas Window 2004 is no exception.

Original Price: $19.95

Sunday, April 13, 2014

TV Recap: Once Upon a Time 3-17 - The Jolly Roger

The twists and turns this half of the season is taking is incredible.  While I didn't mind the Neverland arc for the first half of the season, but one is blowing it out of the water.  I don't know how they will defeat Zelena, but things are just getting harder and harder for them.

And once again, I'm getting ahead of myself.

I'm going to do something different this week and start in Storybrooke.  The big reveal of the episode comes from the flashback, so I'd like to stick it near the end.

Additionally, let's get a couple of sub-plots out of the way. 

Cookie Review: Root Beer Float - Chips Ahoy! Ice Cream Creations

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Perfectly captures root beer float magic in a cookie
Cons: I shouldn't eat these every day
The Bottom Line:
Real root beer flavor
Captured in these great cookies
You'll love the results

The Surprise Ice Cream Creation - the Chips Ahoy! Root Bear Float Cookies Are Great!

I take my root beer floats seriously.  When I make one, it includes only the best (Breyer's French Vanilla and A&W root beer, of course).  That's why of the three Chips Ahoy! Ice Cream Creations flavors I tried, I was most skeptical of the Root Beer Float flavor.  They turned out to be my favorites.

These are a chewy white cookie.  I'm sure it's the standard recipe they use to make regular Chewy Chips Ahoy! cookies.  However, instead of chocolate chips, they put in white chips of some kind and root beer flavored chips.  Honestly,  I still haven't figured out if the white chips are vanilla or white chocolate, but it hardly matters.

The first time I tried one, I was surprised at just how real the root beer float flavor was.  I mean, I actually thought for a second I felt carbonation on my tongue.  I know, I know, I'm crazy, but that's how good the flavor is.  Yes, there are hints of cream in there, too (probably provided by the white chips).  The result is perfectly.  This is the closest thing to biting into a root beer float without actually biting into a root beer float.

Of course, these are cookies, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that they are not good for you.  Two of the cookies (and they aren't that big) contain 140 calories, 60 of which are pure fat.  The ingredients are your standard list of wheat, sugar, milk solids, and more sugar.  But they taste so good.

So if you want an unique and wonderful cookie treat, get the Chips Ahoy! Root Beer Float cookies.  Your taste buds will thank you for it.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

April 12th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Dancing with the Stars - The switch up didn't seem to be quite as big a deal as I thought it might be.  Everyone seemed to dance well with their new partners.  But it sure was fun to watch the results.  Next week is Disney music week?  I will love every second of that one!

Melissa & Joey - The mini-Sabrina reunion they had was fun, although they should sent Josh and Morgan off into the sunset together.  Considering their characters dated on that show, it would have been fun here.  I'm also still love the Zander story line.

Survivor - I honestly thought for a few minutes that the flip flopper was going to do the same thing that the last week's victim did, trying to play both sides against the middle and make everyone angry.  Sadly, it didn't work.  The producers will try to drum up suspense over the next few weeks, but we'll end up with a boring few episodes as the dominant team sticks together.  Darn it, I really want to see Tony gone, too.

Big Bang Theory - Sheldon waking up next to that book was absolutely hilarious.  And I'm glad that Howard's past with Raj's new girlfriend wasn't anything worse than it was.  I really would like Raj to have a steady girlfriend for once.

Crazy Ones - I was waiting all episode for some kind of Mork and Mindy reference, and they gave it to us at the very end.  It's winding down with two episodes back to back next week.  Not sure if I will keep watching after that or not.

Suits - They got me with the previews since Mike wasn't down at the attorney's office for not having a law degree but for something else.  And he did take the job.  That actually surprised me (which is what the creator wanted), but I'm very happy.  It will make for an interesting dynamic next season for sure.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Ornament Review: Santa's Armoire - 2010 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Beautiful detail from all the Hallmark artists
Cons: Slight tip back, but it's a minor issues
The Bottom Line:
Peak behind the door
Enjoy art inside and out
Artistic delight

Loving Work of Art from the Keepsake Artists

2010 was the year I started collecting Hallmark ornaments seriously.  It was also a year they had artist signings around the country.  I couldn't make one, so I wasn't going to collect the special piece they created just for that signing - Santa's Armoire.  However, after attending an event of my own and starting to collect the unofficial series of Santa and Mrs. Claus's furniture, I broke down and back collected it.  I'm so glad I did.

Like the other big event pieces, this piece was a collaborative effort from all the Hallmark ornament sculptors.  A few worked on the overall design while many of them worked on little pieces and details.  The result is fantastic, and I treasure this work of art.

The 2010 event piece is painted brown and looks like it is made from wood.  It is several inches high, which makes it a bit big for an ornament but it allows you to see all the details.  There are decorative designs on the top and bottom.  The shelves on the sides hold toys from drums to penguins to teddy dears and dolls.  But the detail I love the most on the outside is the painting on the door.  Actually, painting isn't the right word since it has texture to it.  More like a relief picture if you will.  Anyway, it's of Santa and his reindeer flying over a pretty, snowy landscape.

And yes, the door opens.  Inside, you'll find a mirror on the door, Santa's boots, coat, and hat, a cute cat curled up, and a couple more toys.

I really could look at this ornament for hours.  Every time I do, I notice a new detail in the design work or one of the toys that makes me smile.  While it is bigger than your average ornament, it's still under six inches tall, which means that how they worked all those details into this ornament still surprises me.

The armoire is resting on four feet.  They are perfectly level, so it is no surprise that the ornament can be put out in a display anywhere without fear of falling over.  With all the detail on it (especially if you leave the door open), I'd want it on something that won't get bumped often, but that would be my only concern.

I have hung mine on my tree the last couple of years.  You'll find the hook behind the arch at the top of the armoire.  The ornament actually tips back a little when hung, but by the time you get it in the branches of a tree, you'd never notice.  And while you are up there, take a look at the friend hiding up at the top.

This ornament proved to be so popular that in 2011, a white repaint was released to members of the Keepsake Ornament Club.  Personally, I liked the original wood color better, so I waited until I could find a reasonably priced copy of the original.

And I'm glad I did.  The 2010 Santa's Armoire is a beautiful piece of artwork I am proud to hang on my tree.

Original Price: $34.95

April 11th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

According to my calendar, it's Friday again, and you know what that means.  I'm really looking forward to this weekend because I'll be at the LA Times Festival of Books on Saturday.  But in the mean time, here's my Book Beginning and Friday 56 for the week.

This week's book is Ghost of a Gamble by Sue Ann Jaffarian.  I actually finished and reviewed the book on Wednesday, so if these teasers excite you, go read more.

The book begins with:

The light fixture was common as a rock.  A simple white metal cylinder recessed into a textured, plain white kitchen ceiling, it beamed soft light down onto the counter below without fanfare or embellishment, like the billions of light fixtures like it around the world.

Page 56 ends a chapter, so I don't have much to draw from.  But here's the first line from page 56:

Suddenly, Emma wanted to see the Lady Laura.

Sue Ann is a favorite author, and I enjoyed this book as much as her previous ones.