Sunday, December 17, 2017

Movie Review: Star Wars Episode VIII - The Last Jedi

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Great action, laughs, characters, acting
Cons: Too long, dark
The Bottom Line:
Saga continues
More original, yet dark
Not best in series

“Amazingly, Every Word in that Sentence is Wrong.”

After watching The Force Awakens two years ago and noticing the blatant similarities to A New Hope, I figured I knew what to expect with this year’s Star Wars movie – TheLast Jedi.  While there were a few more surprises along the way, I was mostly right.

And don’t worry, I will be avoiding spoilers as I review the movie, so if you haven’t seen it yet, you will still be surprised.

The movie opens with the First Order having found the Rebel’s newest base.  While the Rebel’s do their best to evacuate, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) leads a daring counter attack of his own despite General Leia Solo’s (Carrie Fisher) hesitations.  Meanwhile, Finn (John Boyega) wants to do what he can to help Rey.

And where is Rey (Daisy Ridley)?  She’s exactly where we left her – having just tracked down Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).  However, Luke is not happy to be found.  Can Rey convenience him to train her?  Or to rejoin the Rebels?

If The Force Awakens was A New Hope, this movie is the new movies’ The Empire Strikes Back.  While there are certainly similarities, this movie isn’t as obvious a rip off.  Still, it is much darker in tone.  In fact, I would say that of the 8 official “episodes,” this is the darkest.

Then there’s the pacing.  At two hours twenty minutes, the movie is too long.  They could have easily cut out some parts of it and made for a much tighter story.

These flaws aside, there is much to enjoy here.  There are several good action sequences that perfectly entertain.  They’ve included some jokes that lighten the mood.  The entire audience at the theater where I saw it laughed and cheered multiple times.  This is a special effects heavy film, and the special effects are spot on.

And the acting is great as well.  Everybody has their moment to shine, and they do so perfectly.  Laura Dern joins the cast here as a new character, and Billie Lourd, Carrie Fisher’s real-life daughter, is back as well.  Her character has much more screen time in this movie, too.

I’ve heard a lot of people who absolutely love this movie, and I can see it.  However, I found The Last Jedi to be just average.  I am certainly looking forward to seeing where the franchise goes next, but this isn’t going to be my favorite film in the series.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

December 16th's Weekly TV Thoughts

I didn't know what to do with myself Monday, and barely knew what to do with myself on Tuesday. So little TV to watch this week.  Actually, it's kind of nice.  Wednesday was the packed day this week for sure.

Once Upon a Time (12/8) – I’ve gotten on board with most of the character combinations they’ve done in the past, but I’m not so sure I’m on board with this one.  Rapunzel and Lady Tremaine?  I feel like they are trying too hard.  Of course, it might have helped if they’d filled in more of the backstory.  Hopefully, we will get that in time.  But what’s happened to Lucy?

Encore – This sounded like such a fun show, I had to give it a shot.  It was exactly what I was expecting, a feel good, fun hour as a group of people reunite to put on a show.  Not too much true drama, which was fine with me.  It helps that they were doing Into the Woods, which I love.  Now, I want to watch the musical.

Lethal Weapon – That was intense.  I mean, I knew the leads wouldn’t die, but it was pretty dire there.  Some classic lines as well, especially about what happened to the house.  But I’m very confused about Riggs’ father.  Like we were supposed to, I thought he was dead.  So what exactly did happen all those years ago?  Why is his dad in jail?  And why is he helping him now?  A lot to look forward to when we come back in January.

Survivor – Ben pulled it off again.  While I usually root for the underdog, in this case, I’m rooting against Ben because he just rubs me the wrong way.  Yet, I could see a case for him winning if he makes it to the final 3.

The Librarians – Double episodes to welcome the show back!  I thought the stones in the first episode might be the season long story, but I guess that is going to be the one about the binding ceremony.  At least as of now, I’m not seeing anyone else coming to the forefront.  Interesting that they brought back a character (if not the actress) from the first movie.  I preferred the second episode since it was the general fun I love about this show.  The fight where they were “trying” to punch other things was the best.

Designated Survivor – I’d heard the actress who plays Alex was leaving months ago, and I’ve been dreading this episode as a result.  I figured this was coming, especially after the preview from last week.  But a car accident?  In the last minutes of the show?  Please tell me there is more to it than this.  It is really such a letdown otherwise.

Big Bang Theory – Well, Amy’s birthday didn’t work out like I had hoped it would.  I didn’t find it as funny as I thought I would from the idea.  However, Leonard and Penny trying to figure out what they did for a Christmas letter was fun.  And does this mean Raj and Howard have patched up their friendship?

Friday, December 15, 2017

Ornament Review: X-Wing Starfighter - Star Wars Storytellers - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great sculpt and sound, interactive
Cons: It would be nice if more lit up.
The Bottom Line:
Light side represents
Luke in climatic battle
Storytellers piece

The Light Side Gets Power, Too

The third of Hallmark’s 2017 Star Wars Storytellers ornaments came out in October, and it was the first time we got a ship for the heroes, the X-Wing Starfighter.  It’s a great way to round out this first round of releases.

Of course, the X-Wings are the ships used by the rebellion in the original Star Wars movie.  And this ornament captures them perfectly.  We’ve got the long cockpit with the wings out the back.  The majority of the ornament is a grayish white with the proper orange highlights.

What the title doesn’t tell us is that this is Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing.  How do I know that?  It’s because of the sound we get when this ornament is plugged into the Power Cord (sold separately).  When you press R2-D2, who doubles as the button, you hear parts of the scene from the climatic battle against the Death Star.  All told, this scene lasts just under a minute.

Of course, the best part of these Storyteller ornaments is that they interact.  When you have all three of the Star Wars ornaments released this year, you get four and a half minutes of scenes from the original Star Wars movie, mostly from the climax, some of which you won’t hear unless you have all the ornaments.  We will get four more Star Wars ornaments over the next two years, which will add to the fun.

There is a light element to the ornament as well.  When plugged into the power cord, the cockpit lights up, and when this ornament is sharing dialogue, it flashes.  While I wish more of the ship lit up, at least it is in the front of the ornament so it is easy to see.

The wings of the ornament provide just enough of a lift to the ornament that the cord can connect to the bottom without making it tip.  However, you really want to add these to your tree, right?  As such, you’ll find that it hangs straight thanks to the well-placed loop sitting just behind R2-D2.

These ornaments truly are great, and they are something that can be enjoyed year-round.  While on the expensive side, Star Wars fans will love having the X-Wing Starfighter in their collection.

Original Price: $39.95

December 15th's Book Beginning and Friday 56

Welcome to another Friday and another edition of Book Beginning and Friday 56.

I'm still in Christmas reading mode, so this week's book is How the Finch Stole Christmas by Donna Andrews.

This is the latest book in the Meg Langslow series, which are always very fun, and this one is no exception.  I'm sure you'll figure that out from these quotes.

Here's how the book begins:

"Shakespeare was right.  'The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.'"
"I wish I could hear you say that in person," I said.
"Yeah, over the cell phone, you miss all my dramatic gestures."  Michael's voice sounded more exasperated than angry.

And we've got the same two characters talking over the phone again on page 56:

So I called Michael.
"Do you want the good news or the bad news?" I asked.
"There's good news?  That'll be a first for the day."

I hope you'll stop by Tuesday for my review of the book.  Have a great weekend.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Book Review: The Ghost of Christmas Past by Rhys Bowen (Molly Murphy #17)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and mystery
Cons: A little slow getting started
The Bottom Line:
Christmas mystery
Disappearance from years past
Great to see Molly

Molly Finds a Decade Old Christmas Mystery

It’s been a long wait for this visit from The Ghost of Christmas Past.  You see, this is the seventeenth book in the Molly Murphy series, and that previous book came out in March of 2016.  Since things in Molly’s life were up in the air at the end of that book, I couldn’t wait to see what was happening in her life.

December 1906 finds Molly at the end of a hard year; a year of uncertainty and loss.  And it doesn’t look like it will be getting any better since word has just come that Bridie’s father, who no one has heard from in a couple of years, is alive and coming to claim his daughter.  Molly has come to love her ward, and is going to miss Bridie’s help with Molly’s two-year-old son.

Molly is surprised when her mother-in-law gets all of them invited to a house party on the Hudson River for Christmas.  While she hopes it might distract from everything going on in her life, Molly arrives to find a weird tension in the air.  Then she learns that a child disappeared from this house just a few days before Christmas ten years ago.  While Molly’s husband, New York police Sergeant Daniel Sullivan, doesn’t think they have any hope of finding a clue about what happened, Molly begins a discrete investigation.  Can she solve the crime after all these years?

This is now the second Christmas mystery we’ve gotten with Molly, but since the previous one was set in New York City, it was nice to get outside the city and see some different traditions.  However, just as Molly finds the house melancholier than she was expecting, there is a bit of seriousness that hangs over the book.  This isn’t a light Christmas entry.  It makes a contrasting tone that really works.

As is usually the case with a Rhys Bowen book, we spent a little time catching up with the series regulars and getting everyone into place before the story really took off.  Once it did, I was fully hooked.  Several twists took me by surprise, and I couldn’t put the book down.  Literally.  The instant I got off work, I sat in my car to finish the book, and I had about 60 pages to go.

Of course, it helps that I love these characters.  I’ve been reading the series since the beginning, and they are old friends.  Well, most of them.  I get that Daniel is a product of his time, but I am truly getting tired of his attitude to Molly’s investigations.  I don’t expect him to encourage her, but he feels like a he hasn’t grown much over the course of the series.  On the other hand, we get a house full of new characters, and they are fully fleshed out, making us feel more as events unfold.

It truly was good to revisit Molly in The Ghost of Christmas Past.  It’s another fantastic visit to the 1900’s.

Enjoy more visits with the rest of the Molly Murphy Mysteries.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Ornament Review: Darth Vader's Tie Fighter - Star Wars Storytellers - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Good sculpt, interaction with others
Cons: Wish more lit up.
The Bottom Line:
Darth Vader’s fighter
Adds to the Star Wars magic
In Power Cord show

Darth Vader Continues the Storyteller Dark Side

Hallmark released three of their planned seven Star Wars Storyteller ornaments this year, two in July and one in October.  And both of the July releases were villain ships.  Not that I’m complaining since both were well done, as Darth Vader’s Tie Fighter shows.

If you are familiar with Star Wars, you don’t need any further description of the ornament.  For those who aren’t, this ship is essentially a half circle with almost parentheses wings on the sides.  Despite the colors in the pictures, the ornament is a uniform gray with darker gray panels on it, which also fights with how things actually look in the films.

And here comes the controversy with this ornament.  I know one Star Wars fan who wouldn’t buy the ornament because it looked dirty to them.  Now, I will freely admit there are smudges on it, but I think they are supposed to look like dirt.  And if you actually pay attention to the Star Wars movies, you’ll see that things are slightly dirty.  So, I maintain that this is a feature, not a bug.  But keep that in mind before you buy it.

I mentioned that this ornament works with Hallmark’s new Power Cord, which is sold separately.  You don’t have to buy this cord, although since these ornaments are priced higher than most, it makes sense to use it with this cord.  The plug for the cord is on the bottom of the cockpit.  When you plug it in, you’ll find that the window in the front of the cockpit lights up.  Press the button on the top of the cockpit, and you’ll hear some of Darth Vader’s lines from climatic battle.  All by itself, we get about forty seconds of the scene.

However, the magic of these ornaments comes when you buy more of them.  No, I don’t mean more of this particular ornament, but more of the Star Wars Storyteller ornaments.  If you have all three, you’ll hear multiple scenes from Star Wars, a show that lasts about four and a half minutes.  That includes lines from each ship that you won’t hear without the others.  Yes, it’s a gimmick to get you to buy all the ornaments, but it’s a cool one, and I like it.

The one thing I wish is that more of this ornament lights up.  Each ornament lights when it is their turn, but on this ornament, we just get a little bit of the window in the front that lights up.  It’s rather disappointing on the light effects.

You could set this ornament out since it rests on its wings.  The power cord can slip under the gap they create.  However, this is a Christmas ornament, so it is meant to be hung.  You’ll find the loop near the front of the cockpit.  It actually doesn’t look centered, but it does allow the ornament to hang straight.

This new ornament line is expensive, but I love it.  The way the ornaments interact is so cool.  You’ll definitely want to add Darth Vader’s Tie Fighter to your set.

Original Price: $39.95

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Lucky Winner Is....

Time to announce another winner, this time for Live and Let Fly.  And that winner is...

...lucky number 13, Susan!

I just sent you an e-mail so be watching for it so I can be sure you get your prize.

Book Review: Purring Around the Christmas Tree by Liz Mugavero (Pawsitively Organic Mysteries #6)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters and relationships; engaging mystery
Cons: Ending is rushed
The Bottom Line:
Christmas mystery
Unfolds with cozy feeling
Great this time of year

Santa Won’t be Purring This Year

Yes, I’ve been reading Christmas cozies for a few months now, but I set aside a few to read during December.  The first of those is Purring Around the Christmas Tree, which takes us back to Frog’s Ledge, Connecticut, for a deadly Christmas.

The book opens on the evening of the big Christmas tree lighting.  The entire town turns out to watch Santa ride into town on a sleigh and light the big tree in town before they stroll around the shops in downtown.  The event is extra special for Stan Connor this year since it is the soft opening of her pet patisserie, which is officially having its grand opening the next day.

However, when the sleigh arrives in town, something is clearly wrong as the mayor lights the tree without much fanfare.  Stan quickly learns that Santa is dead.  Compounding the mystery, two men from town are missing, Jake’s Uncle Seamus and Stan’s neighbor Ray.  Are these events related?  What is going on?

The book wastes no time jumping into the story, and I was quite intrigued.  I did figure one thread out early, but I was still left puzzling over how it was related and what exactly was going on.  I did feel that the climax was a bit rushed, although all the questions were answers.

This is now the sixth book in the series, and over those books we’ve gotten to know quite a few residents in town as well as members of Stan’s family.  I’m happy to say they are all present and accounted for here, and we get to know them better.  I just love these characters, so I was looking forward to spending the holiday with them, and I wasn’t disappointed.  The cast of new characters is a little limited, but we get to know them pretty well, too.

Despite all the intrigue and mayhem, this book still captures that Christmas feeling for me.  Of course, the strong relationships between the characters certainly helps with that.  This is a perfect book to read during December.

There are recipes in the back of the book – recipes for treats for your cats or dogs.  There are five of them, including a fish food treat, a chicken ginger biscuit, and a simple doggie for-yo.

If you are looking for a Christmas cozy to put you in the holiday spirit, Purring Around the Christmas Tree will do just that.  Pick it up today and enjoy.

Enjoy more visits to Frog’s Ledge with the rest of the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Ornament Review: Death Star - Star Wars Storytellers - 2017 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great looking Death Star with clips from the movie
Cons: Plug keeps it from sitting out
The Bottom Line:
New technology
Brings Star Wars movie to life

Worth buying for fans

Star Wars Fans Take Note: You’ll Want This Ornament (and Series)

Hallmark is out to make me poor.  Oh, they would probably say it is all about making money for them, and as an accountant, part of me completely understands that.  However, they keep coming out with new things that I just have to have.  For example, I was going to resist their new Storytellers line, but one look at the ornaments, and I was hooked.  That includes all three of the Star Wars releases for this year, including the Death Star.

The ornament itself is a little larger than a typical Hallmark ornament; it’s almost four inches in diameter.  And, just as you’d expect, it is a sphere.  What’s cool about it is that they have all the ridges you’d expect from the Death Star.  Looking at it, it looks just like the ship in the movie, and the ridges make it extra cool.

Now, this isn’t the first time that Hallmark has done the Death Star.  So, what makes this one special?  It’s the new Storyteller technology.  They have a special cord (sold separately) that you plug into this ornament.  Up to seven ornaments can be plugged into one cord.  And when you do, you’ll find that these ornaments interact.  They have released three Star Wars ornaments this year, with two more to come for the next two years, making a total of seven.

When you press the button on this ornament, you’ll heard dialogue from the scene from early in Star Wars when Princess Leia sees just what this new weapon can do.  And the Death Star itself lights up and changes color as the scene plays out.

If you just have this ornament, you’ll get the one scene that lasts about a minute ten.  However, if you have all three of the ornaments released this year, all of them play their scenes when you press any of the buttons.  They also release additional dialogue so all three go for about four and a half minutes, so it’s worth getting all of them.

Earlier, I called this ornament a sphere, but that’s not quite true.  It has a flat bottom, so you would think you could set this ornament out to be displayed.  Unfortunately, that’s where the cord fits into the ornament, so it doesn’t actually sit flat.  On the other hand, it hangs perfectly straight, and since the button that starts the show is on the bottom, hanging the ornament allows better access to that.

Of the three they released this year, this one is my favorite for one simple reason, it is the one that lights up the most.  I love lights on my tree and having ornaments that light up is even more fun, so this one is perfect for me.  The scenes are a nice touch.  I can wait to see what additional dialogue we get with the four additional ornaments that will be released.  Yes, these ornaments are on the expensive side, but they are just so cool.

So, if you are a Star Wars fan, you’ll definitely want to start getting these with the Death Star and start saving your pennies for the next few years to complete your set.

Original Price: $39.95

Sunday, December 10, 2017

TV Special Review: Olaf's Frozen Adventure

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Some laughs
Cons: Too long overall
The Bottom Line:
Christmas traditions
Olaf finds humor in search
Short nothing special

The Search for Tradition

While the devotion to Frozen is dying down some, there are still enough fans to make follow up stories understandable, which is why we got to revisit our friends in Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, a 22-minute story that premiered before Pixar’s new film Coco.

We return to Arendelle just in time for Christmas.  Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) are thrilled to be opening up the castle to the citizens of their country.  After the ringing of the bell, which officially signals the start of the holiday, they are planning to have an open house.  However, the citizens aren’t interested in staying because they have their own traditions to get back to.

While Elsa and Anna are disappointed, it’s Olaf (Josh Gad) who is truly upset since Anna and Elsa don’t have a tradition of their own.  And so Olaf sets off with Sven to search the kingdom for the perfect tradition for his friends.  Will he find it?

This short definitely has some fun moments.  If nothing else’s there are Kristoff’s (Jonathan Groff) traditions.  Remember, he was raised by trolls, so you can imagine what some of them are.  Olaf is a funny character all by himself, and he carries much of the story.

However, it feels drawn out.  Overall, this is a long 22 minutes.  And the songs don’t help.  The special opens with a song clearly meant to riff off songs from the original, but it is obviously a pale imitation.  The version Olaf sings while searching for traditions is actually fun and clever.

Really, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure feels like a television Christmas special, which explains why it’s now been pulled from the theater and is going to air on ABC.  That’s where it should have stayed, in my opinion.  It’s fun a time or two, especially for fans of the original, but it isn’t going to become a tradition.