Saturday, February 16, 2019

February 16th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Once again, a light week for February sweeps.  And, while a couple shows are coming back this week, others are going on hiatus.

Arrow – Curtis has left?  No!!!  At least he left alive, which is rare for this show.  I’m not surprised that William is going away again.  They really don’t know what to do with him.  But how does this fit with what the older William said at the beginning of the season about being left at boarding school by Oliver and Felicity and basically forgotten about.  That’s right, I’m still not loving the flash forwards, which is no surprise.

The Flash – I’m glad that at least Barry discussed the issues with time travel since no one else seemed to bring that up.  57 times?  Wow, that’s a lot of death.  It will be interesting to see if they can figure out what she changed in future episodes.  And what is Thone’s goal.  It can’t really be to keep Barry from disappearing.

This is Us – So, Kevin has had a set back.  I hope it isn’t too bad, although knowing this show I’m sure it will be.  Amazing how Randall and Kate remembered that afternoon so differently.  I can certainly see that happening, however.  But my favorite part of the episode was flashback Randall on the phone ordering pizza.  So funny.

The Masked Singer – Again, the site I’ve been reading for theories called it.  I never would have come up with her in a million years otherwise.  I’m running about 50% on even knowing who the celebrities are, but that’s not surprising given how I fair on Dancing with the Stars, too.

Suits – Nice to see Scotty again.  Frankly, all the plots in this episode were nice.  They showed us the human sides of our characters in the end, something we don’t always see.  Pretty much stands alone, but I really liked it.

The Orville – That was a dark episode.  The lecture was a little obvious, too.  Hopefully, we’ve moved back to action and comedy next week.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Movie Review: Happy Death Day 2U

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Character growth, fun
Cons: If you expect formula, you’ll be highly disappointed
The Bottom Line:
What caused the time loop?
Tree learns as she loops again
Genre blending film

“Who Picks a Creepy Baby as a Mascot?”

I really enjoyed Happy Death Day, although the movie left one thing open – how exactly did Tree (Jessica Rothe) get stuck in the time loop that kept her dying over and over again?  That is one of the first things addressed in the sequel, Happy Death Day 2U.  But the answer to that is just the beginning.

The movie actually opens with Ryan (Phi Vu) as he wakes up in his car for the second day in a row.  He slowly makes his way back to his dorm room only to find that Tree is once again in the room he shares with his roommate Carter (Israel Broussard) only this time, the two are making out.  However, a phone call from his friends and research partners Samar (Suraj Sharma) and Andrea (Sarah Yarkin) sends him from the room over to their lab.  His elation at their news is short lived, however, when the Baby Face Killer puts in another appearance, and Ryan is killed….

Only to wake up in his car again.  Can the gang figure out what is going on now?

My teaser only covers about the first 15 minutes or so of the film.  After that, it spins off in some fun and surprising ways.  So if you are worried that we will have a rehash of the first movie in any way, shape or form, you can relax.  In fact, the Baby Face Killer becomes a sub-plot here, with most of the deaths being self-inflicted in order to reset the timeline.

I highly recommend you see the first movie first.  While there is a very helpful recap at the beginning, if you haven’t seen the first one, you might be lost.  This movie opens seconds after the first one ends, and continues the story right away, so it assumes you have a working knowledge of what has happened to the characters and even who they all are.

As I already hinted out before, this is much less of a horror movie than it is a science fiction story.  There are a couple of decent chase sequences that will get your heart pumping, but they aren’t the focus of the film.  Instead, the focus is on the science fiction that started these loops in the first place.

And there’s comedy.  No, this isn’t a laugh a minute film, but there are plenty of jokes and laugh out loud moments as Tree and her friends race to fix what has been set in motion.

Yes, I keep mentioning Tree on purpose.  Despite how my teaser set things up, Tree is still definitely the main character of the film.  It is her journey that pulls us into the action.  And she has some wonderful moments here as she struggles to deal with what is happening.  You probably don’t go to a slasher film to see character growth and be close to tearing up at one point, but that’s exactly what we get here, and the movie is better for it.

Needless to say, the acting calls for quite a bit of range.  While a couple scenes are a little weak, most of the acting is perfect no matter whether we are getting technobabble, comedy, character growth, or a chase scene.

And I was on the edge of my seat multiple times as the movie progressed, just not always because a character was being stalked.

There is a scene half way through the credits that not only explains the one plot hole I was thinking of as I watched the final scene, but also provided one final laugh.  You’ll definitely want to stay around long enough to see that.

Happy Death Day 2U is a genre blending film that is a lot of fun.  As long as you aren’t expecting the movie to fit any formulas, you’ll enjoy yourself.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Book Review: A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman (Countess of Harleigh #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Great cast of characters, fun setting
Cons: Weak plot
The Bottom Line:
Upper class murder
This fun cast and setting are
Let down by weak plot

The Countess of Harleigh Must Solve the Murder of the Season

When I first heard about A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder, it sounded like it could be a fun debut.  While I didn’t have time to read it when it came out, I continued to hear good things about it, so I decided to get it from the library.  While I certainly had fun reading it, I did have issues with it.

It is 1899, and the Countess of Harleigh, born as Frances Wynn in America, has just completed her year of mourning after the death of her husband.  Reggie’s death was no great loss since he spent more time with other men’s wives then he did with Frances.  In fact, it was only through Frances’s quick thinking that his death didn’t cause a scandal.  Fortunately, Frances has enough money of her own that she can move out of her in-law’s home and set herself and her daughter up in a small place in London with a minimal staff.  Unfortunately, trouble follows Frances to her new life when a detective shows up asking about the night Reggie died.  Why is this coming up a year after his death?

Frances can’t spend too much time dwelling on this, however, since her sister, Lily, is coming to London for her first season with Frances as her chaperone.  Between the balls and other social functions, Frances hears of a string of robberies happening in the London upper class.  What will happen when those thefts begin to hit close to home?

So let’s get my issues out of the way first.  They involved the plot.  Unfortunately, I can’t get into specifics without issuing major spoilers.  Let’s just say I found several things under done as the story progressed.  I’m trying to figure out if my issues involved my expectations or if they really are issues with the plot.  Either way, it was disappointing.

Which is a shame because the rest of the book is lots of fun.  We meet a cast of fantastic series regulars here lead by Frances herself.  She’s got a couple of friends I enjoyed seeing here.  And her neighbor is a true gentleman in every sense of the word.  It’s obvious that we will get more of a romance between them in future books, and I find that prospect great.

And the setting is well done.  I think we all dream of living the life of the upper class in English society, so getting to travel in those circles with Frances is wish fulfillment.

I enjoyed A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder enough to consider reading the sequel, which is due out in a few months.  The characters and setting are that charming.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Movie Review: More Bitter Than Death - An Emma Fielding Mystery

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good mystery; fun characters
Cons: Light dose of Hallmark cheese
The Bottom Line:
Conference murder
Along with theft and arson
Make for fun movie

“You’re Like Indiana Jones.”  “Yes, I Am.”  “Where’s Your Bull Whip?”  “I Left It In My Classroom.”

There are certain tropes used in cozy mysteries because they are a perfect way to bring the main character into contact with a new victim and group of suspects.  One that I’m a little surprised isn’t used more is a conference or convention.  It seems like a natural one no matter who the main character is.  It’s the one that is used in More Bitter Than Death, the third Emma Fielding mystery movie.

In this case, Emma (Courtney Thorne-Smith) is the one running the conference.  Her college is hosting the annual ASAA meeting, and Emma is in charge of the week long event for archeologists.  She’s even gotten her friend, FBI special agent Jim Connor (James Tupper), to come give a lecture on forgeries.  There is extra attention this week since Emma’s friend, Dr. Harrison, is stepping down as president of the organization and is expected to name her replacement at the opening banquet.  Since this is one of the pinnacles in the archeology field, everyone is trying to get some of Dr. Harrison’s attention to plead their case for why they should have the position.

Unfortunately, the opening banquet gets off to a rocky start, and it is all from things beyond Emma’s control.  First, a truck transporting an artifact that one of her colleagues has recently found catches fire.  Then, the antiquities museum on campus is broken into.  Things get worse when Dr. Harrison gets up to speak only to die moments later.  What is happening?

As you can see, there is plenty here to keep us guessing as we go from one suspect and motive to another.  Yes, everything does tie together in the end.  I should have seen the ending coming, but I was surprised when everything was explained.  I did think one red herring was dropped, and I was wondering how it didn’t point to that character being guilty.  Overall, that’s minor.

Emma’s ex shows up for the conference, which not only allows us to see another side of the character but also brings some clarity to her relationship with Jim Connor.  I’ve enjoyed watching their relationship over the course of these three movies, so I wasn’t complaining about that at all.  All of the characters were enjoyable, and I had fun watching them interact.

Yes, this is a Hallmark movie, so my usual Hallmark movie cheese warning applies.  It’s a light dose here, but it is definitely present.  It comes across in some of the acting as well as some of the writing.  Overall, it didn’t keep me from enjoying the movie.

More Bitter Than Death is a fun, light mystery.  If that’s what you are in the mood for, you’ll enjoy digging up clues with Emma.

This movie is included in the Emma Fielding Mysteries DVD Collection.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Book Review: The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and look at 1918 England
Cons: Too much going on; not my type of book
The Bottom Line:
Historical book
Brings time period to life
But not right for me

I Was the Wrong Audience for this Book

It’s no secret that I’ve been a fan of Rhys Bowen’s mysteries for years.  I’ve also followed her to her recent standalone novels, which have been slowly venturing beyond the mystery genre.  That brings us to The Victory Garden.  Set during the final months of World War I, this book leaves the trappings of mystery far behind.

Emily Bryce is about to turn twenty-one, and she is ready to start doing something to help with the war effort.  Her parents have kept her at home with her mom hoping to find someone from the aristocracy to marry her off to, but Emily is determined to find her own path.  While she is envious of her friend who is a nurse on the front lines, she is hoping to find a way to help out closer to her home in England.

Then Emily meets Robbie, an Australian pilot recovering from an injury at a hospital in the area.  Even though her parents forbid it, she keeps seeing him behind their back.  She also soon joins up with the Women’s Land Army, helping to keep the farms in England running to provide food for everyone.  Will her parents ever accept her choices?

This book clearly falls into general fiction.  The only real mystery is how Emily will overcome what life is throwing at her next.  She does go through quite a bit as the story unfolds.  I’m not going to mention anything else specific since doing so would spoil the book.

However, as I read, I struggled to get into the story.  I’m not completely sure why.  It was obvious early on that the book wouldn’t have a mystery, which I suspected from reading the book’s description, and I’m usually able to adjust my expectations pretty easily when that happens.  I do enjoy historical fiction, so that wasn’t the issue either.

If I had to give the book a sub-genre, I’d call it a coming of age story, or possibly women’s fiction.  And I think that is part of my issue with the book.  There’s a reason I don’t tend to read those type of books – I don’t generally enjoy them.  So that is on me for picking up something I don’t normally enjoy.

The book covers a year in Emily’s life, and what a year it is.  Honestly, I think that was my other issue with the story – it tried to do too much.  If one of the things she had to deal with had been taken out of the book, and some of the others had been given time to be further developed, that might have helped me connect to the story more.  Instead, some of what Emily is going through is summarized so much that we don’t get to feel what she is going through as we are told things instead of being shown them.  I felt like I was being kept at arm’s length at times instead of invited into the story.  I did tear up a time or two, but I felt like I should have been more emotionally invested in the book.

I was compelled to keep reading because I enjoyed the characters so much.  Emily is a strong protagonist.  She meets quite a varied group of people over the course of the book, and they all come alive as well, sometimes in just a few pages.

And I was completely taken back in time as I read.  England in 1918 was facing some serious issues as the war wound down, and those are brought to the forefront.  We don’t think often enough of the sacrifices that were being made on the home front during these times of war, and this book does a great job of making us remember just how much everyone suffered during that time period.

So The Victory Garden isn’t a bad book, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as Rhys’s other books.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Ornament Review: Jolly Donald - Disney Christmas Carolers - 2018 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Donald adds fun to this trio
Cons: His jaws are too loud when he sings
The Bottom Line:
Donald caroling
He's rather loud when he sings
Still fun overall

Donald is Ready to Sing for You

While Donald Duck is normally angry, Hallmark likes to cast him against type when Christmas rolls around.  That's why he is dubbed Jolly Donald as part of the Disney Christmas Carolers set Hallmark released in 2018.

With this ornament, Donald joins Mickey and Goofy out caroling.  Donald's normal blue shirt has become a blue sweater, and he's getting into the festive mood with a red Santa hat and red scarf.  He's standing under a street light and he's holding a green song book in his hands.

This ornament is nice on its own, but it isn't worth the price.  To understand why it is expensive, you need to plug it into Hallmark's Power Cord (sold separately).  When you do that, you'll see the light above Donald's head lights up, and he becomes ready to sing.  Press the button, and Donald starts to sing "Deck the Halls."  And, if you have Mickey and Goofy in your collection as well, you'll enjoy all three of them singing along on the song.  All told, the song lasts about 30 seconds.

Unfortunately, Donald does have one feature that annoys me.  All three ornaments have a little bit of motion, and Donald moves his mouth as he sings.  The snapping of the plastic becomes annoying very quickly.  And since he is moving his mouth whenever he sings, we hear it quite a bit.  I wish they had found a way to do it without so much snapping.  Mickey and Goofy aren't nearly as loud, so there had to be a way it could have been done.

Donald is standing on a nice, round base, so you can set this ornament out if you want.  Or, you can hang him on your tree.  You'll find that he hangs straight if you do that.

The snapping of the jaw is annoying, but overall, I'm still glad I added Jolly Donald to my collection.

Original Price: $34.99

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Movie Review: The Lego Movie 2 - The Second Part

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun, laughs, Legos
Cons: None for me
The Bottom Line:
Delightful sequel
Builds well on what we enjoyed
More laughs, fun, Legos

Building an Awesome Sequel

It’s been five years since The Lego Movie assembled in theaters.  Kind of hard to believe, isn’t it?  And, while we’ve seen some other Lego movies, we haven’t gotten an official sequel until now.  The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is different than the first, but I really enjoyed it.

Just like it’s been five years for us, it’s been five years for the characters.  After repeated Duplo alien attacks, the world has gone from awesome to apocalyptic.  Lucy (voiced by Elizabeth Banks) has improved her brooding side as a result, but Emmet (Chris Pratt) is still as happy go lucky as ever.

Things change, however, when an alien comes and kidnaps Lucy and four others.  With only Emmet willing to go off and rescue them, will he be able to save everyone?

One reason the first movie was so perfect was that it included the various worlds that Lego has created over the years.  It hit that nostalgia button perfectly for so many of us grown up kids.  This movie doesn’t do that.  Instead, it becomes a rescue mission that doesn’t quite work the other worlds in.  It’s still fun, but it’s more about the characters and less about the Lego worlds.

Of course, another reason this first movie was so successful was all the jokes, and this one still has all of those.  I laughed multiple times over the course of the film.  There are lots of pop culture jokes, some that will definitely fly over kid’s heads (and the film even notes that).  And there are jokes that everyone in the audience will get.  I’ll admit, I think I was laughing more than the audience I saw the movie in the theater with, but I completely enjoyed myself.

Knowing the conceit of the first movie (MINOR SPOILER FOR FIRST MOVIE WARNING: what we are watching is all part of some kid’s imagination/real life coming together), it was fairly easy to figure out where this movie was going early on.  I didn’t mind because I had fun getting there.  And the moral of the movie once again was fantastic.  Knowing the conceit beforehand also helped me accept it when it showed up here since that was really my only problem with the first movie.

The computer animation isn’t going to blow you away here, but it doesn’t have to.  This movie is about a world of plastic blocks, so the animation fits it perfectly.  It’s fun and they create some great site gags to go with the funny dialogue.  There is a lot happening, and I’m sure there are jokes I missed.

The voice acting is all great.  The actors get out of the way and let their voices and the animation tell us a fabulous story.

And did I mention the songs?  They are fun, but they will get stuck in your head.  Yes, we get “Everything is Awesome,” but there is a twist on the song in this movie and there are another couple of equally dangerous catchy songs that was extremely funny.

If you enjoyed the original, you’ll enjoy The Lego Movie 2.  It’s built with the same humor and fun as the first one.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

February 9th's Weekly TV Thoughts

It's the first week of February sweeps, and we have several shows MIA.  I guess that usually happens thanks to special stuff on Sundays, but it seems funny to me.

Arrow – The most fun I’ve had watching Arrow in a while.  The documentary was fun, and letting us seeing some previous characters was a hoot.  Plus they still worked some forward movement into the episode plus gave us something on the flash forward.  Still need digging the future, but I was impressed with how they did it.  A great 150th episode.

The Flash – Iris was so stupid!  It was fun to see Barry and Ralph working together without their powers.  They made a very good team.  But the most fun for me was seeing Sherlock with his exes and current love interest.  I wonder if they will be doing more with her.  Apparently, they have starred together several times in the past, but I’ve seen them teamed up in the Hallmark Darrow and Darrow movies.

The Masked Singer – They’ve been saying Ricki Lake all season for Raven, or at least for a few weeks, so I wasn’t surprised when that’s who it turned out to be.  I’m glad Dr. Ken isn’t the “reigning champion” any more.  He’s pretty annoying.

Suits – Yes, my favorite part of that episode was Harvey calling Mike at the end of the episode.  I miss him, too.  I miss him more than Rachel, but I always saw Mike and Harvey as the central relationship of the series.  I hope Katrina and Brian are able to work together now and we’ve worked through that story line.  As you know, I’ve been worried about it all season.  Glad they are paying back the money the investment fund lost.

The Big Bang Theory – I figured Penny would change her mind about having kids by the end of the season.  I’m sad we won’t get to see them as parents.  Sheldon and Amy either.  I know she hasn’t said yes yet, but I think that is where they are going to go.  I feel badly for Howard not getting to go on the plane, but that was a very funny outcome to that story line.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Book Review: Murder on Lenox Hill by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #7)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Characters and changes in their lives
Cons: Plot is predictable
The Bottom Line:
Predictable plot
Still good to see characters
Mixed book overall

My First Disappointment in This Series

Over the last couple of years, I’ve gotten very hooked on the Gaslight Mystery by Victoria Thompson.  Each book is usually a fun trip back in time to 1890’s New York City, and the leads are wonderful characters.  It’s been a few months since I was last able to visit them, so I was really looking forward to reading Murder on Lenox Hill.  Sadly, it was the first true stumble for the series.

It’s a cold winter’s day when midwife Sarah Brandt is summoned to the Linton home.  When she arrives, it is to discovered they are worried about their daughter Grace.  While biologically almost a young woman, mentally she is still a child.  And yet, her parents think she is pregnant.  Sarah’s examination confirms their suspicions, but Grace never leaves them.  How could this have happened to her?  Who would take advantage of her like that?

Meanwhile, Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy has been summoned to see Sarah’s father.  Mr. Decker wants Frank to work further on his investigation into the murder of Sarah’s husband, Tom.  Decker insists that Tom was not that man that Sarah thought he was, and he is certain that this investigation will help Sarah learn the truth.  Is Decker correct?  Can Frank find the truth while sparing Sarah from any pain?

You’ll noticed I didn’t mention anything about a current murder in my teaser.  Yes, we do get a dead body before the book is over, but it comes very late in the proceedings.  However, there is plenty of mystery and story before that happens, and it does a good job of setting up suspects, so we are able to jump right in.

Unfortunately, I found the plot fairly predictable.  I am often a plot point ahead of Sarah and Frank as I read these books, but this one was fairly obvious from the start.

However, the characters were definitely a redeeming feature of the book for me.  Tom Brandt’s murder has been an on-going storyline since the series began, and we definitely got some interesting twists to the story here.  While the romance between Frank and Sarah continues to be a very slow burn, there are some interesting developments in other areas.  In fact, that final scene will have fan scrambling to find the next book in the series to find out what happens next.

As you’ve probably guessed, there are some more delicate things usually avoided in the cozies I read that are part of the story here.  Given the characters involved, they are still handled without getting into any details.  Just know there are some sensitive subjects discussed here and you should be fine.

Fans will need to read Murder on Lenox Hill to find out what is happening in the lives of these characters.  But if you are new to the series, definitely don’t pick up this book since it would be a very disappointing introduction to a usually fine series.

Looking for more books in the series?  Here are the rest of the Gaslight Mysteries.

This book is part of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Disney Pin Review: Wisdom Collection Pennant

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great way to display pin sets
Cons: It, and the writing, are big
The Bottom Line:
Banner for your pins
Large size, will it hold them all?
Great quote in middle

A Pennant for Your Wisdom Pins

When The Disney Store announced their new Wisdom Collection this year, they also announced a limited edition pennant to go with it.  I would have been tempted to get it anyway, but then I saw that it had one of my (many) favorite quotes from Walt Disney on it.

The banner is large.  It is 14 inches wide and 17 inches long at its longest point.  The wooden dowel at the top has Mickey heads on both sides.  It’s an off-white color with a border of a rainbow of colors running around the outside.  And right in the middle is the quote stitched in calligraphy.  “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”  That sums up Disney’s life so well, doesn’t it?

And this sold with a bonus pin.  It’s the same quote on a Mickey head.  Honestly, even if I didn’t want the banner, I think I’d want this pin.  However, the pin was only available if you bought the pennant.  Fortunately, I wanted both.

The Wisdom Collection pin sets are going to be coming out once a month in 2019, and I’m assuming they will be like the first two sets, which have three pins each.  That means this pennant will need to have room for 37 pins on it if you are going to have the entire collection on it.  Admittedly, we are only one month into these sets being released, but I’m wondering if they will all fit since the quote takes up a lot of room in the middle.  But there just might be room around the sides and the top for all the pins to fit.  It will be tight if they do.  If not, then the 12 pins with the quotes should fit no problem.

I keep going back to the size.  It’s big.  But if it is going to have any hope of holding all the pins, it will have to be.  The quote could be a little smaller and then all the pins would fit for sure.

I’m going to have to figure out where to hang this in my condo.  It’s definitely going on a wall somewhere so I can enjoy it full time.  This pennant is a great way to display the complete Disney Wisdom collection.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Movie Review: Rent Live!

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: Great music, acting, and singing
Cons: Characters behavior is extremely hard to get behind.
The Bottom Line:
This iconic show
Gets a great live performance
But characters ruin

A Contrary Review of the Musical of My Generation

I’ve always enjoyed musicals, so I remember hearing about Rent in the late 1990’s.  At the time, it was the musical that everyone was dying to see.  When I heard what it was about, I decided to skip it, so I never saw the touring cast or the original movie.  However, I finally gave in and watched the recent Rent – Live! Production that Fox aired.  As I expected, I didn’t care for it, but not for the reasons I expected to.

The musical tells the story of a group of friends in New York City.  Act 1 all takes place on Christmas Eve 1991, and Act 2 follows them over the next 12 months.  We first meet Mark Cohen (Jordan Fisher), a videographer, and Roger Davis (Brennin Hunt), a musician.  They are roommates and struggling to make ends meet.  Heck, they can’t even pay the rent.  Slowly, we are introduced to their circle of friends and loves.  There’s neighbor Mimi (Tinashe), a drug addict, Mark’s ex-girlfriend Maureen (Vanessa Hudgens), a performance artist planning an act for that night.  There’s Maureen’s current girlfriend, Joanne (Kiersey Clemons).  We get to witness their friend Tom (Brandon Victor Dixon) meet the love of his life, trans person Angel (Valentina).  Rounding out the group is Ben (Mario), a former roommate who married into the family that owns their building.  And four of these people are HIV positive.  How will that impact them this night and going through 1992?

Like with last year’s Jesus Christ Superstar in Concert, the set was mainly steel scaffolding, although there were more sets than we saw last year.  This allowed the actors to freely move from one area to another.  It’s a look that takes a little getting used to, especially when watching a filmed version instead of a play on stage, but I soon got lost in the story.

The music is pretty good.  This is a rock musical, and most of the story is told in song, with very little spoken dialogue between the numbers.  Some of the songs are fun, and some are beautiful.  Some are even heartbreaking.  I can certainly understand why people love it so much.

I’ve never seen the original cast, but I am familiar with a few members of this cast.  I thought they were all great in their various roles.  They pulled me in, and their voices were strong.  Just about everyone gets a chance to shine, and they all take full advantage of their moments.

Unfortunately, the live audience detracts from that some.  There are times they are cheering a performance or a favorite song, drowning out the actor or actress singing.  It really bugs me and detracts from the show for me.

This was advertised as being live, and it almost was.  The night before, Brennin Hunt broke his ankle at the final dress rehearsal.  Fortunately, they were filming it, and they were able to use that dress rehearsal footage for most of the show.  The final 15 minutes, including appearances by the original cast, is still live.  Honestly, that didn’t bother me one way or the other, just an interesting note.

So far, it’s sounding like I enjoyed it, right?  And I can easily see why it is so iconic and so beloved.  This was one of the few pieces of entertainment to really deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in any meaningful way, or at least ones that have reached this level of status in pop culture.  It is powerful.  I felt myself chocking up multiple times in the final hour of the show as things start to turn tragic for the characters.  As I’ve already said, the songs are fun, and some of them are powerful.

I had avoided the show because I had heard the character’s lives don’t reflect my values.  And that was certainly an issue for me.  I am a Christian, so I’m sure you can see where I would have issues with how the characters are living their lives.  There’s one song in particular in the second act that I didn’t enjoy.  I understand that some of the lines had been changed, and the “F” word was taken out since this was airing on network TV.  But that’s not my biggest issue with the show.

There are three main couples in this piece.  (Poor Mark, our window into their world, is single for the entire thing.)  Of those couples, only one shows any real love or devotion to each other over the course of the show.  And they are a very minor couple.  The two couples we see the most of are constantly fighting.  They don’t trust each other.  Yet we are supposed to believe all these characters are great friends?  And we are supposed to root for at least one of these characters to have a happy ending?  Personally, I was rooting they would grow up enough to realize how bad their relationships were and break up permanently.

So, I recommend Rent – Live! only for people like me who are curious about the play.  It’s a good way to get the story.  But the story and characters themselves keep me from really recommending it, even recognizing why it is so beloved.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Book Review: Manuscript for Murder by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land (Murder, She Wrote #48)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Page turning plot
Cons: Darker for franchise; characters mean to each other
The Bottom Line:
Jessica in race
Caught in political plot
Average result

Is Jessica Reading a Motive for Murder?

Last year, I finally read my first Murder, She Wrote novel even though I’ve been a fan of the TV series for years.  I enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to reading Manuscript for Murder, the newest in the series.  Unfortunately, I had a mixed reaction to it.

Jessica Fletcher is in New York City for the launch of her newest book.  As a result, she has a run in with Thomas Rudd.  The two authors share the same publisher, but Rudd doesn’t have nice things to say about Lane Barfield.  Rudd thinks that Lane is skimming money off his royalties.  Jessica finds it hard to believe, but she decides to look into it.

However, before Jessica can fully do that, both Rudd and Lane are dead.  And Jessica begins to think that the motive is the political thriller that Lane asked her to read.  Is that as crazy as it sounds?  Or is Jessica now in danger herself?

Without giving too much away (beyond what the title implies), this book turns into a political thriller to rival the one that Jessica is reading.  It’s definitely different territory for the franchise (at least based on the TV show), but I quickly got caught up in the action.  There was so much danger, I devoured the book as quickly as I could to find out how Jessica was going to survive it all.

Along the way, the book turns the franchise very gray.  I wouldn’t call it fully dark, but some of the twists and turns of the plot definitely were darker than anything we would normally find on the show.  These bothered me at the time and are still bothering me now.

What bothers me more is how Jessica interacted with some of the other characters.  We get plenty of recurring characters like Harry McGraw and Artie Gelber, not to mention Mort and Seth back in Cabot Cove.  However, none of these characters really seem to get along.  I suspect that the author was going for teasing, but instead it comes across as mean.  Mind you, these are all characters I looked forward to seeing on the show since I loved seeing Jessica interacting with them.  They were friends.  Here, they don’t really come across as friends.

And there’s the fact that we really have two different plots.  I can’t even say one is a sub-plot since it really gets dropped.  This book actually would have worked better if it had focused on the story the author really wanted to tell.

This is a hard book to rate as a result.  On the one hand, I was racing through it, but on the other, I was deeply disappointed with aspects of it.

If you are a fan of Murder, She Wrote, there is no reason to rush out and read Manuscript for Murder.  If it is a sign that Jon Land is planning to take the series darker, maybe I will stick with my DVD set when I want to revisit Jessica Fletcher.  Or try to read the earlier novels.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Ornament Review: Tie Fighter - 2018 Hallmark Star Wars Storyteller Ornament

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Looks great
Cons: Too loud, sound effects only sound
The Bottom Line:
This great looking piece
Adds little to total show
But does it loudly

This Tie Fighter Adds Little to the Star Wars Storyteller Set, but It Does So Loudly

In 2017, Hallmark introduced the first three of seven planned ornaments in a Hallmark Star Wars Storytellers series that feature sounds clips from the original movie.  2018 saw the release of the next two ornaments (with the final two coming later this year).  Sadly, the Tie Fighter ornament is the weakest of this series so far.

The ornament itself looks good.  It perfectly captures a tie fighter from the Star Wars movies.  They’ve even included grooves and patterns in the sides just like the real ships have.  It is larger than a typical Hallmark ornament, but not so bad that it takes up too much real estate.

This and other Storytellers ornaments plug into Hallmark’s Power Cord, also introduced in 2017.  That allows it to put on a show, and the more ornaments you buy in the Star Wars set, the longer the show lasts as the ornaments build on each other and unlock new moments.

Here’s where this ornament disappoints.  It doesn’t add much to the overall show.  Instead, it contributes sound effects when the other ornaments are doing the fight scenes from the movie.  On its own, it just contributes a moment where a commander is telling troops to head into battle.  It lasts all of 15 seconds.  Okay, so there aren’t really any scenes that take place on a tie fighter that should have been included, so it doesn’t surprise me in one way.  But it is still a bit disappointing.

Worse yet, it is the loudest ornaments, so the sound effects drown out the others when they are actually trying to say something.  That means you need to keep this one away from the others.  Fortunately, you can do this easily since you don’t have to have all the ornaments on the same cord for them to work.  You could plug this one in across the room and get the effects without them overwhelming everything thing else.

These ornaments do include light, too, that flash when the ornament is contributing to the show.  There is a light in the cockpit of this ornament.  It doesn’t add too much, but it is something.

You could set this ornament out, although I wouldn’t want to trust the wings to hold it up long term.  However, when you go to hang this ornament on your tree, you’ll find that it hangs straight.

I really am disappointed with the Tie Fighter ornament.  While I looks great, I wish it contributed something meaningful to the Star Wars Storytellers set.

Original Price: $39.99

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Disney Mug Review: Dumbo - Disney Wisdom Collection #1

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great mug with a fun quote
Cons: Might be a little wide for most dishwashers
The Bottom Line:
A mug with a quote
Very blue; really looks great
So series starts well

Inspiration from a Mug

I have a number of mugs that I've collected over the years.  Some are souvenirs, but quite a few are Disney related.  So when I saw the mugs that are part of the Disney Wisdom Collection, I knew I had to get them, starting with Dumbo.

Each mug in this series will feature a different inspiring quote from a different Disney movie.  They kicked things off with a quote from Dumbo.  "The very things that held you down are going to carry you up, up, up!"  This is a quote from Timothy as he is encouraging Dumbo to fly again when they are both awake.  This quote is on one side of the mug.  It's mainly written in a dark blue, but a couple of key words are in red.  Plus we've got the magic feather hiding in there in yellow.  The other side of the mug features Dumbo and Timothy.  While Timothy is trying to encourage Dumbo to try flying again, Dumbo is looking at the magic feather in doubt.

Each mug in this series will be a different color, and this one is mostly a light baby blue.  Even the characters are mostly light blue, with darker blue, black, and white helping us see them.  It's a bit of a different look for the characters, but it works here and I love it.

I was a bit worried about how much the mugs would hold, but I've been pleasantly surprised.  While it is short, it is wide, allowing plenty of liquid to sit in there quite easily.  I’m sure the official size is 16 oz., but I put 14 oz. in with no issues of spilling.  It's width might make it a little more awkward of a fit into your dishwasher, but for me that's a minor issue.  And yes, it is dishwasher and microwave safe.

And the quote itself is inspiring, a reminder that we need to look for the positive in any given situation.  Not all the quotes are as good, in my opinion, but this one is great.

I'm not quite sure what I will do with all twelve mugs in the series storage wise, but I must get them.  Dumbo starts things off very nicely.

Disney Pin Review: Dumbo - Disney Wisdom Collection #1

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Unique look really works, great quote
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
New series kicks off
Great quote; pretty blue color
This pin set is great

Disney Kicks Off a New Collection with an Uplifting Quote

I managed to avoid the limited series that the Disney Store released last year for Mickey's 90th birthday because what they were releasing didn't really appeal to me.  However, as soon as I saw the collection for 2019, I knew I was doomed.  The Wisdom Collection will feature inspiring quote from various Disney movies, and these quotes and characters from the movie will be featured in plush, pins, journals, and mugs.  They started with a quote from Dumbo, and this pin set is wonderful.

The quote they chose comes from Timothy when he first realizes that Dumbo can fly.  "The very things that held you down are going to carry you up, up, up!" is featured on one of the pins in this three pin set.  Dumbo, naturally, is featured in the second.  He's holding his magic feather and looking like he doesn't believe a thing he's been told.  Timothy himself is on the third, and you can just picture him saying this line to encourage Dumbo.

Each entry in this series is going to have a theme color, and this month's color is blue.  Specifically, it is a pretty baby blue.  All three pins are predominately that color.  The two characters feature a darker shade of blue as well as white and black for outlining and accents.  The quote is in darker blue with some key words emphasized in red, and the magic feather shows up in the quote’s pin in yellow.  Individually, all three pins are typical Disney pin size.

And I love them.  While they don't look exactly like the characters because of the color choices, they are easy to identify, and the color scheme is fun.  In fact, with all the pins from the collection together, they are doing to look amazing.

While I don't love all the quotes they've chosen, this one definitely makes me smile.  Yes, the things we think are struggles can be blessings if we remember to look for the good and are willing to think outside the box.  As a Christian, this even echoes scriptures that talk about God using the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  Yes, even the things that we think held us down.  This is always a good reminder.

So the new Disney Wisdom Collection is off to a fantastic start with Dumbo.  I can't wait to get the rest of the sets as the year progresses.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

February 2nd's Weekly TV Thoughts

Happy Groundhog Day!  Here, to distract you for the fact that we've got more winter no matter what he saw, are my weekly TV thoughts.

American Ninja Warrior USA Vs. the World – What a competition.  I’m surprised that Europe didn’t do better.  In fact, I started rooting for them.  Australia was very impressive.  But I’m glad the trophy is back here in the states.

Supergirl – My biggest question with Nia is how she is going to have these powers since they are passed on to a woman.  And the writers addressed it in this episode by making this plot hole a hateful thing that her sister says to her.  Sorry, but it is a very good question.

Arrow – It’s nice to see Oliver admitting his family’s mistakes in such a public way.  He’s been growing in this way for a while now, but I like seeing it continue.  I’m also enjoying Laurel’s continued redemption.  And seeing her working with others is great.  I see where Curtis is coming from, but I think I’m okay with the bombs in their brains.  Really makes someone want to cooperate, you know?  And considering who they are using for this, it’s hard to feel much sympathy for them.

The Flash – Is Nora’s mission as cut and dry as we thought?  Is she warming up to her parents, or has she truly been trying to help them all along?  I certainly love seeing her relationship with Iris improving.  And I loved Barry in the Flash museum.  Sherlock definitely knows what is going on, but how long until the rest of the crew knows.

The Masked Singer – Tori Spelling had been the suspect I’d read several times for the unicorn, so I wasn’t super surprised when it was her.  I never knew she could sing, so I’m impressed.  And again, definitely not someone known for their singing.  The strongest contestant we’ve lost to date.

Suits – I’m so glad that Katrina and Brian did the right thing.  I really do hope this storyline dies there.  I fear it won’t, but I hope it does.  It would be nice to see a character to the right thing and stick with it for a change instead of wind up doing the right thing eventually.  Which brings us to Louis and Harvey.  It would be nice if they could act like adults upon occasion.

The Big Bang Theory – Rather average episode.  The Sheldon/Howard/Bernadette had potential but it didn’t live up to expectations.  I thought the funniest part was Stuart’s scenes in the comic book store.

The Orville – That was fun.  Definitely out there, but it was so much fun.  I’d thought that Claire seemed to be developing feelings for Isaac, so it was nice to know I wasn’t crazy.  And I like how, once again, they are building on things from last season.  It will be interesting to see where they go with this, but the episode itself was a lot of fun.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Movie Review: Mystery 101

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Twists and turns to the mystery, fun characters
Cons: A Hallmark movie, but light on the usual cheese
The Bottom Line:
Campus mystery
Filled with twists, clues, red herrings
Lots of fun to watch

“You and I Are Used to Mysteries That Live on the Page.  This is Different.”

Of the two new Hallmark mystery movies in January, I was looking forward to Mystery 101 more.  The premise of the movie – a college professor who is an expert in fictional mysteries getting involved in a case – intrigued me.  Then I found out that Lee Goldberg co-wrote the script, and I was sold since I’ve enjoyed his books for years.  I was not disappointed.

Amy Winslow (Jill Wagner) teaches English, but her favorite class is the one that focuses on mysteries.  One of her star students this semester is Lacey, but on this particular Monday, she isn’t able to focus.  Her boyfriend, Rex, has been missing all weekend.  Amy is concerned, but when Lacey then also goes missing, Amy begins to try to track the students down.

Unfortunately, Detective Travis Burke (Kristoffer Polaha) doesn’t seem too interested in the case until Amy uncovers a threat made to Rex.  Will the two be able to figure out what happened before tragedy strikes?  Or are they already too late?

The mystery is twisty, with plenty of suspects and motives to go around.  In fact, there are so many events, clues, and red herrings that they kept making me forget my theories.  It took Amy to explain how everything that happened fit together, and things did tie up neatly.

Amy loves mysteries.  It helps that her father, Graham, writes a bestselling series.  As a result, we get occasional references to some of the classics of the genre.  I thought the movie might have more references than it did, but it really didn’t need them.  They were sprinkled throughout in a fun way without overshadowing the current case.  And we don’t need anything taking away from the case Amy and Travis are investigating.  Trust me, the film needed all that time for the plot to unfold.  Travis isn’t a fan of mystery novels, so any references people might not get are explained in a natural way (which I appreciated a time or two).  This difference of opinion over mystery novels also adds even more to his relationship with Amy.

And their relationship was a fun element in the movie.  Amy claims to have no interest in Travis, but the rest of us can see the sparks flying.  I want to see more of them together, but all the characters are charming and I hope we get to visit all of them again soon.

This is the spot where I typically enter my Hallmark cheese warning.  To be honest, it was kept to a rock bottom minimum this time around.  The writing was sharp and the acting good.  There were still a few moments, but this is definitely on the light side.

So if you’ve missed the movie, now is the time to enroll in Mystery 101.  Personally, this is one class I hope is in session for years to come.