Saturday, November 30, 2013

Weekly TV Thoughts for November 30th

I'm a couple of programs short this week thanks to Thanksgiving since I'm out of town.  And next week will be all messed up as well.  But here's what I did get watched that I haven't already blogged about.

The Amazing Race – That’s what happens when you don’t read the entire clue.  Not that I wanted to see that team leave, but I wasn’t surprised when it happened.  Sad, but not surprised.  And the doctor at the roadblock?  There’s a difference between trying to get help from someone, voluntary or not, and outright lying.  Although really, should she be surprised they reacted that way?  At least their friends did help.

Dancing with the Stars – I know I’ve been hard on Bill for weeks now, but I’m glad we got to see his freestyle.  It was just pure fun.  Yes, the others were remarkably better, and the judges were right in their scoring, but his dance was still worth seeing.  I almost called Amber as the winner early on.  Derek always seems to win if he has a half way decent partner.  It really would be nice to see that spread around a bit more, however.  Still, I can't take anything away from her.  She was a great dancer.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Candy Review: Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate Peppermint Bark

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Some peppermint taste, especially after the bar is done
Cons: Still not quite pepperminty enough for me
The Bottom Line:
Bit more peppermint
But still mostly chocolate
Wish mix were better

Better Flavor, but Still Needs More Peppermint

A couple years back, I tried Ghirardelli’s dark chocolate peppermint bark and wasn’t impressed.  But I have a short memory, so I decided to give the milk chocolate variety a chance.  I like this one, but it’s still not pepperminty enough for me.

This candy is a square with a base of milk chocolate.  The top half is white chocolate with peppermint embedded in it.

Now, I like Ghirardelli chocolate, so I am not disappointed with the chocolate taste at all.  It’s smooth and creamy and delicious.

The problem is the peppermint bark part isn’t very minty.  Yes, I can tell it is there.  Yes, it is stronger than it was with the dark chocolate.  But it’s just not as good as I want it to be.  I want PEPPERMINT, and this is peppermint.  It does leave a nice after taste in my mouth, but it’s just not that strong while I’m eating it.

Being candy, it's made up pretty much of junk.  The first ingredient of sugar, follow closely by cocoa, butter, whole milk powder and unsweetened chocolate.  It only goes downhill from there.

Which is why it should come as no surprise that three of the squares (about 35 grams) represent 200 calories.  And 120 of those are from fat.  They do offer a very little bit of calcium (6% of the RDA), but that's about it in the way of nutrition.  But it's candy; empty calories are fairly standard.

There are other brands of peppermint bark out there, and I will have to try them.  I would certainly eat Ghirardelli's Milk Chocolate Peppermint Bark again, but it really needs more peppermint to be my first choice.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

TV Special Review: Dragons Holiday - Gift of the Night Fury

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Comedy and heart with enduring characters
Cons: I missed it the first time around
The Bottom Line:
Spreading holiday
Cheer via Vikings, dragons
Entertains for sure

Suddenly, a Dragonless Holiday Sounds Bad

Obviously, I’m not keeping up on my Christmas specials since I just learned of several Dreamworks has done based on their popular franchises.  Such is the case with Dragons Holiday: Gift of the Night Fury.  I’m glad I caught it since it was fun.

It’s the first winter holiday in the village of Berk since they made peace with the dragons, and everyone is looking forward to really celebrating.  Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is even working on a special gift for Toothless, the ability to fly on his own.

But then one day all the dragons just fly away.  Why?  Will they ever come back?  And will this ruin the holiday?

While a fantasy period setting, I’m not offended by the fact that this isn’t a Christmas special since the Vikings didn’t celebrate Christmas during that time period.  Oh, I know they could; after all, dragons never existed either.  Still, this is something worth noting only in passing.

Especially since all the hallmarks of a Christmas special are here.  You’ve got comedy.  You’ve got tender moments.  And you’ve got tons of heart.  What else do you truly need?

Truly, this is a very fun special.  The laughs are fairly constant, giving us plenty to enjoy.  I don’t want to give anything away because the surprises are half the fun, but trust me, there is fun to be had.

And if the ending doesn’t get you, something is wrong.  I saw it coming, but still it touched me.

The voice cast from the movie is back for this special, and they do a great job as always.  Likewise, the animation, while not quite up to movie standards, it still great and will impress you.

But don’t take my word for it.  Next time you get a chance to watch Dragons Holiday: Gift of the Night Fury, do your self a favor and watch.  It’s only half an hour, and you will enjoy it.

Note: I watched this as part of the Dreamworks Holiday Collection, which I was sent in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

TV Recap: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1-9 - Repairs

Ghosts on a Plane.

Sorry, I just couldn't help it when thinking about this episode.  And no, I haven't ever watched the movie I'm referring to there.

The episode starts with a woman in a gas station convenience store trying to buy a few items.  But the clerk starts blaming her for an accident at the nearby plant that killed his friend.  As things start to fly off the shelves at him, he freaks out and runs outside where gas from the pumps start leaking and running toward a small flame.

Our team is called in to try to make contact and see if she's a telekinetic.  However, when they arrive, the rest of the town is also there trying to force her out.  A police car drives by alone and Coulson dodges out of the way.  That's when May shoots the woman with a tranc gun and they take off in the plane.

When the woman wakes up, she explains that this is God punishing her.  For what, we are never clear - the accident maybe?  But she is sure she isn't doing it; she just wants to get it to stop.

TV Recap: Castle 6-10 - The Good, the Bad, and the Baby

After last week’s episode, we needed something light.  And that’s exactly what we got when a baby became part of the equation on last night’s castle.

The episode starts off with a man stumbling down the aisle of a church.  He’s carrying something, and he hands it off to a priest just before he dies.  He was carrying a baby.

The man is quickly identified as a driver for a local company.  But the baby is a mystery.  It’s not his son.  They find his car, and determine he was shot from above through the roof.  Why?

Castle goes out and buys baby stuff and starts taking care of the kid while Beckett starts investigating.  His wife denies have any idea of who the baby might be.  And his employer remarks that the victim is a great employee who always works the overnight shift.  He did stop coming back for lunch after someone showed up and they argued a few nights before.

That someone was a man convicted for armed robbery who just got out of prison.  And it turns out the victim was the getaway driver.  Ryan and Esposito go out to the guy’s apartment, but he hasn’t been there for several days.  While Esposito goes to buy a mega millions lottery ticket, Ryan spots this guy, gives chase, and arrests him.  (That sequence was so funny!)  However, not only does he alibi out, but he also says he has no animosity against the guy even though the victim didn’t go to prison for being the getaway driver.

Broadway Review: The Lion King

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Inventive and awe inspiring take on a great story
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Revisit Simba
Inventive live theater
Creative and fun

Tragedy and Triumph Come Alive on Stage

Last year, when I was listening to the soundtrack from the Broadway version of The Lion King, I was really wishing I could see it again.  I’d seen it when it first hit Los Angeles, but that was nine or ten years ago.  Imagine my delight when I got an e-mail a few months later saying it was stopping through town for a month.  I immediately got tickets.

If you are familiar with the Disney movie of the same name, you already know the story.  It tells of Simba, a young lion cub destined to be the king of Pride Rock.  However, his scheming Uncle Scar wants the throne all to himself and will stop at nothing to get it.  Will he succeed or will Simba take his rightful place in the circle of life?

Yes, this is a musical with animals at the main characters.  That’s not that big a surprise in an animated movie, but it does become trickier when you are making a stage musical out of it.  And here is where the production comes alive.  The lions are humans in costumes with face masks but some of the other supporting characters like Zazu the hornbill or Timon the meerkat are humans working elaborate puppets.  And you know what is amazing?  You forget there is a human behind them, one you can clearly see if you stop to look, and focus on the puppet they are controlling.

Really, from the opening moments it’s wonderful.  Giant animal costumes parade down the aisles as the opening song, “Circle of Life,” starts.  I heard murmurs and gasps as the audience realized what was happening.  Yes, most of the action takes place on stage, but even then it is mesmerizing.  The costumes and puppetry work brilliantly to take you to Africa and believe you are watching these animals come to life.

And I haven’t even talked about the way they make the wildebeest stampeded come to life on stage.  Yes, all this takes a little imagination, but it works so well.

Of course, the story is great on its own.  They’ve expanded it a little, mostly adding some more songs that further flesh out the characters.  The adult Nala and Simba both get songs in the second act that are breathtaking.  And there are songs that really pull in the African flavor with chants that take you to the continent.

The dance numbers are fun and inventive to go along with the songs.  I’d almost call a couple of numbers interpretive dance.  While I wouldn’t want to watch a whole show of it, for those songs, it worked well.  There are other more traditional Broadway numbers as well that are just as fun.

I was surprised to see some changes that were made from the soundtrack I have.  Most noticeably, they took out “The Morning Report,” which they had animated to add to a DVD release of The Lion King.  That disappointed me since I enjoy the punny humor of the song.  Some of the other changes they made are understandable since many shows make changes over the years.

And the acting?  At the performance I saw, it was strong, helping me get into the story and forgetting all the other stuff I was watching on stage.

Really, if The Lion King is coming to a city near you, you owe it to yourself to see it.  Yes, the tickets are expensive, but it is worth it.  This is a production you will not forget.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Book Review: Kingdom Keepers VI - Dark Passage by Ridley Pearson

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Good action, some real story advancement (finally)
Cons: Still slow with flat characters
The Bottom Line:
Ordinary teens
Fighting pure Disney evil
Still average book

Kingdom Keepers Cruising – Part Two

The idea behind the Kingdom Keepers series is one of those I wish I had thought of myself – ordinary kids battling Disney villains in the parks after hours as holograms.  I mean, it’s every DisNerd's dream, right?  The execution has left something to be desired, however, and Kingdom Keepers VI: Dark Passage winds up only being average.

This book picks up exactly where the previous book in the series ends, which is actually a good thing for fans since it ended with a major cliffhanger.  That particular issue is resolved quickly, but life aboard The Disney Dream continues to be filled with danger for the Kingdom Keepers.  They have to uncover Chernabog’s hiding place and kill him before Maleficent, the Evil Queen, and the rest of the Overtakers can resurrect him.  And they may have finally found a clue.  But can they stop fighting long enough to figure out what it means?

Now if none of what I just said makes any sense to you at all, this book is not for you.  While there is some effort to clue in new readers, this is the sixth book in the series, and it’s hard to jump into a fantasy series like this at this point.  There are events and jargon you need to know.  And it doesn’t help that this is really the second part of a two book arc that began when the main characters boarded the cruise ship in the last book.  Unless you’ve read the series to date, I can’t recommend you jump in here.

Even for fans of the series, this book is only average, and it’s for the same complaints I’ve had with the previous entries.  Let’s start with the plot.  This is the first time in several books that our heroes are actually on the offensive instead of the defensive.  That’s a good thing, and I did appreciate it.  However, they still spend much of the book reacting to the villains instead of actively fighting them.  The climax was outstanding, and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough when I got to it.

Then there are the characters.  They are flat, and have been since book one.  Here it seemed worse than normal, maybe because the climax was supposed to be emotional and it didn’t affect me at all.  Considering how easily I cry in a story, that is a bit surprising.

And don’t get me started on the on going fights between the characters that don’t seem to do anything other than complicate the plot.  Seriously, a couple of comments from the leader would go a long way to easing all this needless tension, but it’s been going on for a couple of books now.

I must say, the action scenes when they come are wonderful.  Like the climax, I can’t turn those pages fast enough.

Many people still seem to love this series, so I guess I’m in the minority on this one.  Still, I’m hooked enough to keep reading as they come out.  Kingdom Keepers VI: Dark Passage does appear to set things up for the series finale, and since that book is set at Disneyland, the park I know best, I’m certainly looking forward to it.  However, this book is just average.

There's magic to be found in the rest of the Kingdom Keepers books.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ornament Review: Jolly Jukebox - 2013 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun songs and arrangements
Cons: A bit plain looking without the magic element.
The Bottom Line:
Four Christmas choices
In this jukebox collection
Sure to brighten tree

Jolly Musical Addition to Your Tree

While obviously I love Christmas ornaments, I love Christmas music even more.  So a chance to combine the two with Jolly Jukebox, one of Hallmark's 2013 Magic Cord ornaments, was just too much to resist.

The ornament recalls the jukeboxes of the 50's in looks.  It's actually a quite shiny silver, obviously supposed to be chrome.  The front and behind the records are a blue color with white snowflakes on it.  Part way up is the panel that lists the songs in the jukebox, or it would if the red "writing" was big enough to be read.  Behind the glass in the top is what is supposed to be the set of records and the player that will play your selections.  Across the top, you'll notice the brand of the box - Nellco, named for the ornaments sculptor, Nello Williams.

Since this is a magic cord ornament, you can plug it into the cord (sold separately) to get a music and light show.  When you first plug it in, you'll notice that there are red and green lights that are constantly flashing in the bottom half of the front section of the jukebox.

The button on the left side of the panel actually works, and it's what you use to start the music.  There are four song selections, and each clip runs 30-40 seconds.  During the time, the lights on the front of the box flash in time to the music as does a white light above the records.  This is the only time you actually get to see that light.

So, what songs play?  A male crooner sings "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" and "So This is Christmas" while a female sings "My Only Wish This Year" and "Sleigh Ride."  While some of those songs are newer than the decade represented here ("My Only Wish This Year" is a Britney Spears song after all), they are all done in a retro 50's vibe style.  I don't know who they got to do the vocals, but they all sounds great.  To my knowledge (and memory right now), this is the first time they've had someone singing on the magic cord ornaments (although there are plenty of people singing on the battery operated magic ornaments).

And most importantly, they are fun.  Between that and the lights, this is worth getting.  The ornament itself is a tad on the plain side, and I probably would have passed it up, but I love the magic cord ornaments and how they interact when you hook them to the same cord.  I can't stop buying them.

Like most of the magic cord ornaments, this one has a flat base, so you could make a mantel display of the ornaments and this one would fit in just fine.  I usually hang mine on my tree, and this one hangs perfectly straight if you do that.

While I would have passed on this one even as a conventional magic ornament (with batteries), I just could not pass on a change to add some more Christmas music to my Magic Cord collection.  If you are looking to do that, too, you'll find that Jolly Jukebox fits the bill perfectly.

Original Price: $24.95

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Weekly TV Thoughts for November 23rd

The Amazing Race – Well, things didn’t change, at least for the last place team.  Sorry to see them go, but they had a good attitude and kept trying.  I would have planned to save an express pass for a really bad task, but using it to skip to a U-Turn makes sense, too.

Dancing with the Stars – Bill survives another week.  I’ll be very interested in seeing his freestyle.  Leah wasn’t happy with the scores, but she was gracious when she was eliminated.

Survivor – It’s always interesting when an alliance starts turning on itself.  Will Katie be able to hang on as a result?  She survived this week.  The previews for next week mean nothing, of course, but if I were her, I’d sit back at this point and see if they really do turn on each other before I scrambled too much.

Arrow – I was as shocked as anyone else at the outcome of the trial.  Heck, I was surprised the trial wrapped up in just one episode.  But as soon as I heard about the affair, I knew whose daughter Thia really was.  No really shock in that cliffhanger.

The Big Bang Theory – I didn't care for Sheldon at all between his whining or being drunk.  The rest of the episode was pretty funny, however.  Of all Penny's boyfriend guest stars, I've liked Zach the best because he was the funniest.    Leonard was attacked unfairly, and it was awkward that Howard's mom was always off stage, but really, I was laughing hard the entire time.

The Crazy Ones – One of the clearer episodes they've done (although by no means clean), and I enjoyed it.  No surprise since I often find that the case.  Still, I wish they do more like this one.

The Michael J. Fox Show – Murphy Brown guest starred!!!  You knew what was coming in the kitchen, but it was still pretty funny.  The football game was great as well.  And as always, the characters were charming, which is what I keep gravitating towards.

White Collar – The show is beginning to feel like itself again for the second week in a row.  I hope that trend continues.  It did feel like a simple plot over all without the twists along the way we're used to, but I really did enjoy it.

Covert Affairs – Somehow, killing Henry seemed to anti-climatic.  Glad Annie is out of China okay.  So, will there be fall out next season or will they go on to something else?  Frankly, I hope it's something else because I'm so done with this storyline.

Nikita – So happy to find out what happens next; it's been a long time since May.  I was not expecting the ending.  With that twist, how will Nikita clear her name?

Friday, November 22, 2013

TV Recap - Once Upon a Time in Wonderland 1-6 - Who's Alice?

It’s funny – last night when I was watching the show, I thought it was a great episode.  But now that I’m looking back on it to recap it, I’m realizing it was pretty light.  Heck, I could do this is just a few paragraphs.

We’ll start with the flashback.  We headed back to Alice when she returned from Wonderland after losing Cyrus – so a year ago.  I’m really curious how long she was gone because while she was gone, her father had remarried and had a daughter who looks to be roughly Alice’s age the first time she went to Wonderland.  Her father is thrilled to have her back, but her step-mother no so much.  She pushes her father to deal with Alice so Alice doesn’t affect her step-sister.  So Alice is forbidden to talk about Wonderland and is expected to get over Cyrus and start dating the neighbor boy immediately.  When she refuses, she is given the choice of that or going to the asylum.  So in a matter of days, she is shipped off to the asylum where we first met her.

Movie Review: Planes

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Animation, voice cast
Cons: Never fully connect with the characters
The Bottom Line:
Predictable plot
And too many characters
Keep it from flying

Look!  Up in the Sky!  It’s Not Cars….

I never feel compelled to watch all the direct to video movies from companies I like.  After all, there’s usually a reason these movies didn’t hit theaters.  Yes, I’ll occasionally miss a gem, but that is rare.

Which brings us to Planes.  Released by Disney without Pixar’s involvement (although John Lasseter, creator of Cars was heavily involved in his role as head of Disney studios), it was originally designed to be a direct to video film in the world of Pixar’s Cars but introducing new characters.  However, somewhere along the line they decided to release it to theaters first.  I never quite caught it while in theaters, but I did get it on Blu-Ray.  Turns out I wasn’t missing much.

Dusty (voiced by Dane Cook) is a crop duster, a plane that flies back and forth in straight lines all day long.  But he longs for something more – racing.  As soon as he gets off work, he starts to practice with the help of his friend Chug (Brad Garrett), a truck that is reading Flying for Dummies to help Dusty out.

His ultimate dream is to fly in the Wings Around the World race, and when he surprisingly gets his chance, he’s thrilled.  But can he keep up with his competition?  Will his fear of heights be an issue?  And what about the other planes who want to see him fail?

The animation in this movie is beautiful.  It’s almost enough to make me wish I’d seen it in the theater.  Over the course of the movie, we travel all around the world, and the stuff we fly by is just wonderful to look at.

Unfortunately, the story isn’t as good as the animation.  It is fairly predictable.  Now I don’t mind that as much, however, I never fully got involved in the story.  Instead, I just sat back and waited for the next event to unfold.

For that, I blame the characters.  There are just too many planes in the movie, and there are several sub-plots involving these secondary characters.  The result is that nothing and no one is given quite enough time to develop.  I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had gotten to know Dusty and one of two others better.  The secondary character plots could have been dropped, especially the romance, and I would have been fine.

Now that isn’t to say I didn’t have fun.  The romance I just mentioned provided a very funny scene.  There are some great jokes along the way, and a couple of times, I was pulled into an action sequence or two that were pretty suspenseful.

And this isn’t the fault of the voice cast at all.  In addition to the others I’ve already mentioned, we’ve got the likes of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Teri Hatcher, John Cleese, Cedric the Entertainer, Sinbad, and Val Kilmer.  Everyone does a great job of bring their characters to life, and honestly, if you don’t know who is playing the voices, you don’t hear it at all.  And yes, for those of you keeping track, John Ratzenberger does have a blink and you miss him cameo.

In the end, I think Planes will appeal more to kids than adults, and they will love it.  Me?  I enjoyed parts of it, but I don’t see myself pulling this one out all that frequently.

November 22nd's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Well, it's that time of the week again.  Time for me to do Book Beginnings and Friday 56 even though I should be in bed asleep right now.  What else is new, right?

This week's book is Secondhand Stiff by Sue Ann Jaffarian.  She's a favorite author of mine, and I've actually already finished and reviewed the book.  Want to know what I thought?  Here's my review.

Want a couple of teasers before you read the review?  Well, here's how the book begins:

"Harpy Bitch!" the woman in the bad bleach job shouted.

Jumping ahead to page 56, we find:

"Is your mother the nosy sort, like yourself?" she asked, not taking her eyes off of Mom.
"I don't know what you mean, Detective Fehring."

Really, go read the review.  Then read the book.  You'll thank me later.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

TV Show Review: Zorro - The Complete Second Season

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun action with a historic twist
Cons: A bit light and dated overall
The Bottom Line:
Zorro rides again
Saving California
From all kinds of threats

More Swashbuckling Fun with Disney’s Take on Zorro

As big a DisNerd as I am, there are still parts of the Disney legacy I have no clue about.  Such was the case when both seasons of Zorro were released as part of the Walt Disney Treasures series (a DVD series I wish they would continue).  And while I had never heard of it before, I enjoyed watching Zorro Season 2.

As with all takes on this character, the action revolves around Don Diego de la Vega (Guy Williams).  By day, he is the carefree son of a land owner in 1820’s Spanish owned California.  But at night he is Zorro, a wanted outlaw who actually works to make sure law and order reign supreme in the territory.  Some times he opposes real outlaws and thieves; other times, he’s fighting government officials who would oppress the people.  He works closely with his mute servant Bernardo (Gene Sheldon), and he gains another ally in this season.  The stories run from several episodes to just a stand alone adventure.

Actually, the action opens in Monterey as Diego is on a mission to deliver money there for supplies to help his native Los Angeles.  He’s just barely arrived when someone tries to rob him of the money.  The trouble only intensifies as Sergeant Garcia (Henry Calvin) and Corporal Reyes (Don Diamond) arrive with the money.  Before they all return to LA, Zorro must free the people of Monterey from an acting governor who is making unreasonable demands.  Then Diego and a prankster friend get caught up in a battle for a hand of a woman.

After thirteen episodes, the action moves back to LA, but things don’t calm down.  A new Comandante always seems to bring problems, and that’s the case again.  When two indentured servants are not permitted to marry, Zorro winds up involved.  A mountain man comes to the pueblo and almost gets himself hung.  And when the governor has an accident outside the Diego’s, his life is suddenly in danger.

Some of the episodes are very suspenseful, but others are on the comedic side.  Even the suspenseful side of things has the lighter moments since Garcia and Reyes are still bumbling comic relief figures.  I love laughing at their antics, although the adult in me appreciates the fact that Diego still considers them friends and treats them with respect.

Each episode manages to find Zorro in a sword fight.  These are actually quite well done, especially for TV in the 1950’s.  Some of the stunts are also impressive as well.  Frankly, all of this holds up well today.  Only a couple of times do they use special effects, and you could tell what was really happening, but it was inventive for the time and budget, and it’s not a huge distraction.

The acting is not award worthy, however it suits the tone of the show well.  I never have an issue believing these characters in these situations, and there’s nothing that throws me out of the show.  Guest stars in this season include Annette Funicello. who shows up for a three episode story involving a young teen who arrives looking for her father – a man no one has heard of.  Also, Cesar Romero plays Diego’s uncle who arrives determined to get rich after his time in California.

Every so often, they include some songs in the show.  Frankly, I feel they usually slow things down a little, but they are a minor complaint.

Likewise, there is a certain level of lightness to the entire production.  I don’t mind, necessarily, but it does feel a bit dated as a result.  The more I got into the show, the more I forgot about that, however, and started to really enjoy it.  When you remember that the target audience was really kids, that lightness certainly makes sense.

This being a show from the 1950’s, they did a new half hour episode every week.  When you think about that, the stunts and effects that don’t quite work are certainly forgivable.  They were just cranking them out.

Anyway, all 39 episodes of the show are compiled here on 5 discs.  They are in their original black and white and full frame picture with mono sound.  While certainly not up to today’s standards, they do look and sound very good.  They’ve been well preserved and restored.

This is a six disc set, and disc six has the bonus features.  The main bonus is the third and fourth of four hour long Zorro episodes that aired on the anthology show Walt Disney presents after the original show was canceled.  (The first two hour long episodes were on the season one set.)  There is also a profile of the actor with memories from his son and the stunt man who worked on the show.  We also get an up close and color look at some of the costumes and merchandise from the show.  Leonard Maltin, of course, introduces the season on disc one.

The show definitely feels dated, but there is still charm to Zorro Season 2.  If you are looking for some light action, this show will fit the bill.

Season 2 Episodes:
1. Welcome to Monterey
2. Zorro Rides Alone
3. Horse of Another Color
4. The Senorita Makes a Choice
5. Rendezvous at Sundown
6. The New Order
7. An Eye for an Eye
8. Zorro and the Flag of Truce
9. Ambush
10. The Practical Joker
11. The Flaming Arrow
12. Zorro Fights a Dual
13. Amnesty for Zorro
14. The Runaways
15. The Iron Box
16. The Gay Caballero
17. Tornado is Missing
18. Zorro Versus Cupid
19. The Legend of Zorro
20. Spark of Revenge
21. The Missing Father
22. Please Believe Me
23. The Brooch
24. Zorro and the Mountain Man
25. The Hound of the Sierras
26. Manhunt
27. The Man from Spain
28. Treasure for the King
29. Exposing the Tyrant
30. Zorro Takes a Dare
31. An Affair of Honor
32. The Sergeant Sees Red
33. Invitation to Death
34. The Captain Regrets
35. Masquerade for Murder
36. Long Live the Governor
37. The Fortune Teller
38. Senor China Boy
39. Finders Keepers 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Book Review: Secondhand Stiff by Sue Ann Jaffarian (Odelia Grey #8)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Characters, story, fun – as always
Cons: I’m already done with it
The Bottom Line:
Storage locker dead
Means another fun puzzle
With these great old friends

Bidding on Bodies

On the list of authors who can’t write fast enough for me is Sue Ann Jaffarian.  Her books are always a pure delight filled with great characters and fun mysteries.  Secondhand Stiff is the latest of her books, and I loved it.

This is the eighth book in the Odelia Grey series.  Odelia is a plus sized, middle aged paralegal.  She and her husband Greg Stevens are a lovely couple, and any time spent in their presence is a pure delight.

Odelia’s mom, Grace, is out visiting for Thanksgiving and has joined Odelia and Greg for the Stevens family Thanksgiving.  It’s there Grace meets Greg’s cousin Ina, the owner of a second hand store.  When Grace learns that Ina participates in real life Storage Wars, she begs to go along to an auction on Monday.

However, the last thing they expect to find in one of the units is a dead body.  Worse yet, it is Ina’s estranged husband.  When Ina clams up, Odelia and Greg decide to step in and find out what is really happening.  But with Grace tagging along, will they learn the truth?

To be truthful, I wasn’t sure how I felt about Grace being in this book.  She has never been one of my favorite characters in the series, even though this is only her second appearance.   However, I loved her here.  Yes, she is prickly, but that added greatly to the humor of the book.  Between Odelia’s double takes and her thoughts in the narration, I got a few good chuckles and plenty of grins.

Grace isn’t the only strong character; the entire cast is just as strong, and they are one of the reasons I love the series so much.  They are people I identify with and love to spend time with.  There is quite a rambling cast of supporting characters who make various length appearances here, and they are as great as always.  The new characters are just as engaging, which is good since they form the core suspects.

And the plot?  Like always, it starts off strongly and just keeps going.  There are plenty of twists, clues, and red herrings to keep anyone engaged.  The climax is logical and suspenseful.  I loved it.

But it’s not all fun and games here.  There is at least one chapter that if it doesn’t bring tears to your eyes, there is something wrong with you.  Frankly, that just makes the book stronger for me.

Having praised it this much, I do have a serious complaint with the book – I’m already done with it and now have to wait a year for my next visit with these great friends.

Whether a long time fan or a new comer to the series, you can’t go wrong with Odelia.  Secondhand Stiff will be a great read you’ll be sorry to put down when you are done.

If you are a new comer, you'll want to back track to and read the rest of the Odelia Grey Mysteries in order.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

TV Recap: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1-8 - The Well

I was worried how much of this week's episode I'd miss out on since I haven't seen the new Thor movie.  Turned out to not be much of an issue.  If there were in jokes or moments, they went completely over my head.

Of course, the early part of the episode certainly did cover the aftermath of the movie as our crew are part of the effort to clean up the aftermath of what must be the climatic battle.  They are scanning for anything alien related so they can sterilize and haul it away.

However, in a national park in Norway, two people wander in, cut down a tree and find a staff inside.  Or more specifically a third of a staff.  When they touch it, it glows red and they are filled with power.

Naturally, this gets our team out of clean up duty and out in the field again.  A scan of the tree reveals the outline of where the staff used to be.  Certain that it is something Asgard (Norse gods) related, Coulson leads his team to a mythology professor who just might have the answer.

TV Recap: Castle 6-9 - Disciple

Last night left us with some tantalizing possibilities.  No, it wasn’t another time travel episode but one of the few recurring villains stirred things up a little.  I’m definitely on Castle’s side when it comes to the subject.  No dead body means someone is still alive in fiction.  It’s one of the main rules.

But I’m getting ahead of myself as usual.

The episode opens with a security guard finding the body of a woman hanging down on the docks.  The surprise is that the woman looks like Lanie’s doppelganger.  She was definitely strangled by fishing line, and a quick database search of that MO finds two murders down in Florida.

The victim is a former prostitute who got her life straightened around a couple of months back.  She wouldn’t talk about her new benefactor, but she was living in a great apartment.  However, all of her expenses were being paid for by an off shore shell company and there’s no way to track who really owns it.

Meanwhile, Lanie freaks when she finds the woman has the same tattoo that Lanie just got in the last three months in the same location.  Then Lanie remembers a night she went out to drink with some co-workers and woke up the next morning with no recollection of how she got home.  Since she didn’t go over her two drink rule, someone must have drugged her.

Music Review: Love & History: The Best of downhere by downhere

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great music that still touches mind and heart
Cons: Nothing long term fans haven't already heard
The Bottom Line:
If you don't have songs
You need them here or as part
Of first releases

Twelve Great Songs from downhere's Entire Career

Last year the band downhere, one of my favorite bands of all time, went into retirement.  While I wasn't happy about it, I could certainly understand.  The guys in the band wanted to be able to spend time with their families, especially as their kids are growing up.  The legacy of music they leave behind them is captured in Love & History: The Best Of downhere, and any fan, casual or otherwise, will be thrilled to have it.

The band did not spend their entire career with the same label, but fortunately, they were able to include songs from all their discs here.  If you aren't super familiar with the band, you'll get something from each disc here.  The weakest release only has one song here, appropriately, but even it has a song.

And yes, that includes their Christmas project.  But how could they release a best of without including "How Many Kings?"  This song will probably go down as their most popular song, and it deserves to be.  A nice mid-tempo pop song, it marvels again at God sending Jesus to earth for us.  A familiar theme at Christmas time, certainly, but the lyrics make you stop and think about it all over again.

Another must have for me is "A Better Way."  This song has a similar theme to it as they look at God's love and how, in Jesus, there was no better way for Him to show us His love.  The chorus is great as lead vocalists Jason Germain and Marc Martel trade off as lines, forming their own complete thoughts while complimenting what each other has to say.

I've been a fan from the beginning, and my favorites from their self-titled debut have always been "Great Are You" and "Calmer of the Storm," both of which show up here.  The first is a praise song and the second a reminder that God is always working.  Again, the dueling lead vocalists made this track great as they offer some overlapping thoughts.

Honestly, those four songs are ones I can listen to on repeat over and over again.  Any best of release that didn't include them would have been a major disappointment.  However, there are some other great songs the band has done over the years, and they are included here.

The disc starts off with the very upbeat and fun "The More," which is a prayer of keep finding more and more of God to know.  A similar theme shows up in "Let Me Rediscover You."  "Here I Am" is a song of surrender.  "My Last Amen" looks forward to the time where we are no longer struggling against sin.  The music on this one is fun with a dramatic flair.  "What It's Like" celebrates Jesus' humanity and how He can identify with us.

There are two things long term fans will find disappointing about this disc.  First, there is no new material.  If you've been a fan all along, you already have all these songs.  Second, fan favorite "Rockstars Need Money" didn't make it on here - not even as a hidden track (which is how it was originally released on their debut disc).  Some will not buy it as a result, but personally, I'm a sucker for collections like this, and I have enjoyed skipping around their hits with this disc.

But casual fans will definitely want to add Love & History: The Best Of downhere to their collection.  There are so many great songs here that just barely scratch the surface of the great music we got from them.

God bless you, downhere.  And if you ever decide to make a comeback, I'll be first in line to buy your new stuff.

CD Length: 49:53
1. The More
2. Here I Am
3. How Many Kings
4. My Last Amen
5. A Better Way
6. What It's Like
7. Let Me Rediscover You
8. Calmer of the Storm
9. Living the Dream
10. Little is Much
11. Great are You
12. Hope is Rising

Monday, November 18, 2013

TV Recap: Once Upon a Time 3-8 - Think Lovely Thoughts

Mind blown.  Seriously, even though the friend I watch the show with predicted the big twist last night, I really never saw it coming until the scene where I happened.  Man, we have some very twisted characters here.

Oh, and I still hate how evil they’ve made Pan.

So let’s get to it, shall we.  And we’ll start with the recap.

We meet a man and his son.  The man is trying to make a living by pulling the old follow the card scam, but the man he is currently tricking doesn’t appreciate it and attacks him.  The son intervenes.  Yes, the boy is Rumplestiltskin and we are going to learn what happened with his father.

His father leaves him with two ladies while he goes to look for a real job.  He even leaves that stick figure doll with Rumple we’ve seen multiple times this season.  The ladies teach Rumple to spin, but when his father doesn’t come back, Rumple gets upset again.  They explain that his dad is back out there running his card scam.  They give Rumple a magic bean so he can start over doing something else somewhere else.

However, Rumple wants to be with his dad, so goes and finds him pulling the scam again.  Rumple tells his dad about the magic bean, and they decide to use it to start over again together.  His dad comes up with the idea of Neverland, a place he escaped to in his dreams every night while serving an apprenticeship he hated.

The two arrive and are delighted in this magic island.  Anything you wish for appears for you.  You can do whatever you want.  You can even fly – well you need Pixie dust for that.

Book Review: Stone Cold Dead by Catherine Dilts (Rock Shop Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and a decent mystery…
Cons: …that is slowed down by sub-plots
The Bottom Line:
Slower paced story
Real characters draw you in
And keep the book fun

Plenty of Danger in Small Town Colorado

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Just when you think they’ve found all the possible settings for cozy mysteries, a new one pops up.  Stone Cold Dead is set in a rock shop in a small Colorado town in the slow January season.  While it wasn’t something I would have gone out of my way to read, I really did enjoy it.

Morgan Iverson has come to spend two weeks running the family stone shop in the town of Golden Springs, Colorado, while her brother and his wife go on a two week mission trip to Central America.  Or so she thinks.  When she arrives, she learns they’ve decided to move there permanently, leaving her with the decision of what to do with the family business.

But that’s nothing compared to the next morning when she is out on a nearby trail and finds the body of a young woman.  She leaves to call for help, but when she returns the body is gone.  Will anyone believe she actually saw a body?  Was the woman really dead?  What happened to her?

So, far, I’ve just discussed the first chapter of the book.  Yes, it really does start that quickly, and I was expecting to be in for a wild ride.  However, the book slowed down after that into more of the laid back life of a small tourist town during the slow season.  When the plot wasn’t moving forward, we saw Morgan making new friends and joining a running group (as a walker).  Plus there was time spent trying to figure out the mess that her brother left her in the shop.

Normally, that would be a deal killer for me – too many sub-plots slowing down the mystery.  And yet I fell in love with the characters.  Morgan is strong and willing to do what needs to be done.  Her new best friend Bernie, who runs the bakery in town, is very good as well, not to mention the employees of the store.  Even the donkeys were bringing smiles to my face by the end.  These were real people, and people I enjoyed spending time with.  Being a runner, I found the running scenes lots of fun.  In fact, I was nodding my head with a few of them.

I was also initially put off by what I assumed would be a negative attitude toward religion when we saw Morgan’s reaction to her brother’s plans.  However, the book quickly balanced that out, and I appreciated how many of the characters were portrayed by the end.

This may be a debut novel, but I did find the writing strong.  Never once was I thrown out of the book.  In fact, I kept reading at night longer than I should have and suffered for it at work the next day.

Yes, I do feel there were too many sub-plots and that took away from the mystery.  But in the end, I did enjoy Stone Cold Dead.  If you go in expecting a bit of a slower pace, you’ll enjoy it, too.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Book Review: Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith (Nick & Tesla #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Mystery and characters plus gadgets to build later
Cons: None worth dwelling on
The Bottom Line:
Twins building robots
Hunting the comic book thief
Create fun sequel

Robots and Comic Books

Since I enjoyed the first book in the Nick and Tesla series, I jumped at a chance to review the second, Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage.  It is an improvement on the first and is sure to entertain the target middle grade audience.

The series is about science minded 11-year-old twins who are sent to live with the mad scientist uncle they don’t really know for the summer.  They’ve just been there a few weeks, and already they’ve found themselves involved in two mysteries.  Along with the mystery, there are detailed instructions for gadgets and experiments you can build yourself when you’re done reading.

Just when Nick and Tesla thought their summer might turn restful, their friend Silas has a crisis.  His dad runs Hero Worship, Inc., a comic book store in town, and he’s just scored a rare comic book that will save the struggling business.  However, it was stolen.  Can these twins use their gadget making ability to find the book and save the store?

I complained with the first book that there was a bit too much set up before the mystery got going.  I thought this book might be falling into the same trap, but it turned out all that stuff played a part in the story.  And once the mystery was introduced, it was the focus of the book.  I thought I had things figured out early on, but I turned out to be wrong.

The characters grow in this book as well.  They are still a bit weak, but they are perfect for the middle grade audience.  And there is just enough layers to them to keep adults interested as well.

Things are served with a healthy dose of humor, whether it is in the narration (told at various times from either Nick or Tesla’s limited third person point of view) or the dialogue of the characters.  I laughed several times as things progressed and grinned many other times.

As you might guess from the title, this time around the experiments feature simple robots built with small batteries and motors.  They sound like fun, especially the hoverbot, and I’m tempted to try my hand at building one myself.  Oh, and be sure to check out the build it yourself super soaker at the end.

Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage will entertain the intended middle grade audience, and I must admit I’m getting hooked on the series as well.

If you are hooked on the series, too, you'll want to check out Nick and Tesla's Science Mysteries in order.

NOTE: I got this book via Amazon’s vine program

This is my entry in this week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.  Follow the link for other entries.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

November 16th's Weekly TV Thoughts

A bit late, but I'm finally catching up on my TV for the week.  It's been one of those few days.

The Amazing Race – It was beyond time for a non-elimination leg, so I’m not that surprised that is what we got.  Still, it was nice since the detour was basically people finishing in the order they started.  And can that one team of ex’s be gone already?  Please?

Dancing with the Stars – Bill obviously has a strong fan base.  Don’t get me wrong, I like him, but as I keep saying he should go since the others are the stronger dancers.  However, it’s hard to say too much since the person who did leave was in second with the judges but still fell that far with the fan votes.

Survivor – A party of one.  Yet she could be valuable if someone needs a swing vote.  For some reason, this time watching the minority get picked off is hard - probably because I've always liked Tina.

Arrow – I am so glad that he had Diggle's back for a change - shows some nice maturity from last season.  And it looks like we've got another storyline to follow - Diggle's brother's death.  Doesn't that mean it's time we dropped one?  Like maybe the flashbacks?

The Big Bang Theory – May possibly be the best of the season so far.  Absolutely hysterical.  And considering my allergies, I do feel for Leonard.  I really felt badly for Raj, too, when we met up with Lucy.

The Crazy Ones – Actually a much better episode.  Didn't like seeing Ed Asner as a dirty old man, but it was still a very funny episode.  And the car sale at the end was great.

Michael J. Fox Show – I'm really beginning to like this show.  Okay, so the mom/aunt/daughter plot wasn't my favorite, but the others were pretty funny.  I loved the youngest stealing stuff.  That was a complete riot.

White Collar – My favorite episode of the season so far.  It felt like old times with Neal and Peter working well together.  I just wish they hadn't made Peter sick.  Still, the chemistry was perfect with some good humor and nice twists along the way.

Covert Affairs – The attempts to kill Joan and Arthur were the most interesting part of the episode.  Please, can we catch Henry and move on?  Please?

Ornament Review: Holiday Park - 2013 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: The magic of the middle makes this ornament great
Cons: The rest is okay, but not nearly as special
The Bottom Line:
The center divide
Brings smiles, fun to ornament
With lots of music

Holiday Park Gets My Vote for Best Magic Cord Ornament of the Year

Of the magic cord ornaments Hallmark has released in 2013, Santa's Magic Cuckoo Clock seems to be the clear favorite, and I certainly do like it.  However, for my money, Holiday Park is actually the better ornament.

The ornament itself doesn't look like much, and I wasn't planning to buy it at first.  It looks like a snow globe, only without any actual snow to move around.  The ornament has a blue base and back with a clear piece of plastic half way through the scene.  (We'll get back to that plastic in a moment).  In the foreground there are three cars circling around a light up Santa and two Christmas trees.  It's hard to see what is in the background, but there are two cars, a light up snowman, a light up tree, and a regular tree back there.

As I said, it really doesn't look like much, which is why I was going to dismiss it.  At $29.95, it's hard to get excited about spending that kind of money on an ornament unless it is really special.

Then I hit the button on the front that starts the music and light show, and I fell in love.

The ornament actually plays three songs, "Jingle Bells," "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," and "Up on the Housetop."  All three of these play back to back when you press the button, giving you about a minute of music.

Now remember I said we'd come back to the plastic later.  Here's where it comes into play in a big way.  The various things painted on it actually light up when the music is playing.  There are stars, a Merry Christmas sing, and three snowmen.  The lights on the plastic flash in time to the music, meaning one of the showmen waves his hand and the stars and sign flash.  It looks amazing and brought an immediate smile to my face, something that hasn't diminished a bit in the times I've hit the button since.  That's what makes this ornament special.

Sadly, the signs don't light up unless you've hit the button on this particular ornament.  And, of course, to get it to light up at all, you need the magic cord (sold separately for $5.95).

Like any good snow globe, this one has a flat bottom, so you can set it out to display if you don't want to hang it on your tree.  When you go to hang the ornament, you'll find it tips slightly to the right, which is a bit surprising since the hook looks like it is in the middle of the globe.  But it's not bad enough that it hampers your enjoyment one bit.

If it weren't for the middle plastic part of this ornament, I never would have bought it.  But that magic makes this ornament so much fun.  I know I will be enjoying Holiday Park for many years to come.

Original Price: $29.95

Friday, November 15, 2013

TV Recap: Once Upon a Time in Wonderland 1-5 - Heart of Stone

Ever since we learned who Knave is and his connection to the Red Queen, I was quite interested in learning her back story.  That’s exactly what we got on last night’s Once Upon a Time in Wonderland and so much more.

The episode started right where the flashback from two weeks ago ended – Will Scarlet and Anastasia were prepared to jump through the looking glass to see what they found in Wonderland.  Before they do, Anastasia’s mother shows up.  She’s tracked them down to this cottage.  She rails against Anastasia throwing away all she’s worked for on a thief like Will instead of becoming the wife of a nobleman if not a king, but Anastasia announces that she loves Will.  Her mother says if they leave, Anastasia can only come back as a servant in the family, but they jump.

When we next see them, things in Wonderland have not been as wonderful as they hoped they would be.  They are starving and barely surviving based on what Will has to steal for them.  When they find out about a ball, they decide to crash it and steal some food.

Book Review: How Droofus the Dragon Lost His Head by Bill Peet

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Dragon, illustrations, ending
Cons: Meanders a bit though the story
The Bottom Line:
A kindly dragon
And meandering story
Brilliant twist ending

Heads Might Roll

When my family discovered the books of Bill Peet, we got them all from the library and enjoyed them.  I particularly remember enjoying How Droofus the Dragon Lost His Head when we first read it. (Okay, so these were technically for my younger brother.  Don’t tell anyone.)  It’s not quite as good rereading it now as an adult.

Dragons have a nasty reputation, but Droofus is a nice one.  After being separated from his family as a baby, he becomes a vegetarian and friend to the creatures of the forest.  But when the king spies him out flying one day, he decides he must have Droofus’ head on his castle wall.  Is Droofus in danger?

I actually do think this book will still entertain kids.  Why do I say that?  Because the main character is a dragon.  I mean, how can you go wrong with that?  It’s a character guaranteed to make kids want to sit down and read the story.

Plus you’ve got Bill Peet’s always colorful and fun illustrations.  His books are worth it for the art alone.

However, I found as an adult that the story drags a little more than I remembered.  Everything does come into play eventually, but it takes a while to get where it is going.  Kids will still want you to turn the page to find out what happens next to Droofus, but the suspense is mild until the climax.

I must say, though, the twist at the end is still brilliant and holds up well even when you know what is coming.  You’ll probably have to explain the multiple meanings of losing your head to kids since this doesn’t go for the literal ending.  Frankly, I still love that part of it.

So while not one of Bill Peet’s better books, How Droofus the Dragon Lost His Head does still entertain.  Your kids will enjoy it even if you find it a tad slow.

November 15th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

I'm always so happy to make this post because that means it is Friday!!!!  And that means it is time for this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.


Just today, I finished Stone Cold Dead by Catherine Dilts.  For some reason, I was thinking the book came out in December, but it really comes out in January.  Anyway, I got it via an ARC.  I really enjoyed the characters in this one and found them pulling me back to the book.  But I'll have my full review up next week.
In the mean time, here's how the book begins:

When Morgan Iverson pushed open the rock shop door, a cowbell clanged loud enough to raise the dead.  There were plenty of candidates for resurrection in the shop, starting with the massive T. Rex skull.

And jumping a head to page 56, we find:

When Kendall told Morgan he was leaving his computer, she'd made the wild assumption that the rock shop was up to speed with technology.  Morgan wasn't sure she could survive the next week and a half without the Internet.

I know just how she feels.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

TV Special Review: Kung Fu Panda Holiday

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: A warm holiday special with Kung Fu Panda characters
Cons: Might not appeal quite as much to adults as it will kids
The Bottom Line:
A warm holiday
Despite the winter setting
Po makes a great host

Who Should Po Prepare the Winter Feast For?

Of all DreamWorks’ franchises, Kung Fu Panda is my favorite.  (They’ve got a couple of great stand alones as well that could become favorite franchises, but that’s another post.)  Still, I somehow missed Kung Fu Panda Holiday when it aired on TV.  Fortunately, I was able to catch up with it on DVD.

The Winter Festival is coming, and Po (voiced by Jack Black) is looking forward to the annual feast.  He and his father always serve a festive meal in the family restaurant for their friends who have no one else to celebrate the day with.  It’s become a tradition that everyone looks forward to.

However, this year, as the newly discovered Dragon Warrior, it is Po’s responsibility to create a feast for all the Kung Fu masters in China.  Suddenly, every gesture he makes has incredible meaning.  Will he be able to pull of the feast or will the pressure be too much for him?  And what about his own family tradition?

Anyone who has seen a Christmas special or two knows where this is going.  However, the journey to get there is still fun and the final few scenes are very rewarding.  Po is always a lovable main character, and his antics keep you engaged throughout the entire show.  I do feel this is a bit more aimed at kids rather than their parents.  They will enjoy it the most, although there’s nothing here that will irritate or annoy parents.

While Christmas is never mentioned in the special, it is obvious this is a Christmas special.  Of course, since the franchise is set in ancient China, it makes sense they would not celebrate the holiday the way we do.  Still, there are enough similarities that it will give you that glorious feeling you get from Christmas specials.

The voice cast from the movie is back for this special, and they do a delightful job of bringing their characters to life again.  The focus is really on Po, so most of the supporting cast doesn't have much to do, but when they are around, they are great.  The animation might be a bit scaled back since it was done for TV, but it is still impressive and enjoyable.

I’m sorry I missed Kung Fu Panda Holiday when it was on TV, but I’m glad I got a chance to see it now.  Any fan of the franchise will enjoy seeing their friends again every December.

NOTE: I watched this as part of the Dreamworks Holiday Collection, which I received in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

TV Recap: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1-7 - The Hub

Last week it was Simmons, this week it's Fitz.  Okay, so maybe he didn't get to shine quite as much, but he still got plenty of screen time and a mission in the field, and that's got to count for something.

It all starts with a trip to The Hub, the central home base for S.H.I.E.L.D..  While Skye isn't too thrilled that she is kept out of everything thanks to her electronic bracelet, she is hopeful that Coulson can dig up something about her parents from the redacted file.

Meanwhile, our little team is needed for a mission, or at least two of them are.  One side in a Civil War in far north Russia has a device that will destroy all weapons.  They plan to turn it on in the next 24 hours, and it will take Ward and Fitz to go in and disable it.  So they set off, only to be captured almost right away.  Fortunately, the power goes out when they are about to be shot, and Fitz is able to gain their captor's trust by fixing the generator.  It also gets them a ride across the boarder until their truck is stopped and Ward and Fitz have to strike out on their own.  Finally, they use a camouflage bag to hitch a ride on a truck and get into the compound where they need to extract the bomb.  Frankly, I thought that piece of technology was way cool, so I'm not quite doing it justice.

Meanwhile, back at The Hub, Simmons is going crazy worrying about Fitz, so Skye starts asking around.  Only no one will tell either of them anything since they don't have high enough clearance.  So Skye devises a way for Simmons to hack into a secure server for her.  She'll have three minutes to get the information.  Simmons has to stun a superior officer who catches her in the act, but they get in.  Skye starts to use the time to research her parents, but when she realizes she won't have time for both, she focuses on the mission.

That's when she learns that there is no extraction team.  Ward and Fitz are on a suicide mission only no one bothered to tell anyone on our team.