Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Book Review: The Longest Yard Sale by Sherry Harris (Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Well-crafted plot filled with fun characters
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Yard sale as cover
Creative set up for book
Executed well

Arson, Stolen Painting, and Murder

While garage sales and shopping in general aren’t normally a theme I pick when it comes to cozies, I did give Sherry Harris’s debut a try last year, and I loved it.  In fact, I was anxious to read The Longest Yard Sale, the second in the series.  Now that I’ve read it, I can say it is just as good as the first.

For the last few months, Sarah Winston has been working hard organizing the Longest Yard Sale in New England to take place in and around Ellington, Massachusetts.  The main focus is on the town green, where various dealers and charity organizations have set up booths, but other people in town are hosting sales at their home that day.

Things are progressing wonderfully until a series of fires spring up outside of town, distracting the police.  That night, Sarah’s friend Carol discovers that the copy of a famous local painting she’d been commissioned to paint is missing.  That’s nothing compared to the next day when Carol returns to her shop on the town green to find the dead body of a stranger in her storeroom.  With the police focusing on Carol, Sarah begins to dig to figure out what happened and figure out who used her event as cover for crime.  What will she uncover?

Before I go any further, I do want to issue a warning – this book spoils a minor plot point from the previous book.  Since it involves Sarah’s personal life, there is no way around it, and there is still plenty of mystery to that first book.  However, if you want to go into that book knowing nothing about what will happen, by all means read it first.

That’s really not a hardship however, since both books in the series are great.  The characters are such fun you want to spend time with them.  Sarah is in her late 30’s, so she’s not a typical cozy heroine, but I appreciate that.  Still, she’s trying to deal with some interesting dilemmas in her personal life that make her very relatable.  We get to know Carol a little better in this book since she figures so much into the plot.  But my favorite characters by far are the owners of Sarah’s favorite Italian restaurant.  The suspects introduced in this book are just as real as the returning characters, and that helps you get caught up in the plot.

The plot is strong, with plenty of things happening to keep you turning pages.  There are also several sub-plots to keep your attention, and they tie into the story or theme for the book wonderfully. It really does all come together beautifully in the end.

Sarah’s trying to decide between two men in this book, and I also liked how that progressed.  In fact, I was actually cheering for something that happened at one point late in the book.  But with how that sub-plot ended, I’m now anxious for the next book to see what happens next.

Ellington is located next to the fictional Fitch Air Force Base, and once again that factors into the mystery.  It’s one aspect that really sets the series apart from many cozies I read.  Since Sherry Harris is an air force wife herself, I appreciate this picture of military life.

I found Sherry's books because of the group blog she is part of, Wicked Cozy Authors.  As a result, I really enjoyed a scene early on where she worked in references to the books the rest of the authors on the blog write.

This is a strong second mystery that will leave you wanting more.  Don’t let The Longest Yard Sale sit for too long before you pick it up.

Don't miss any deals!  Here are the rest of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries in order.

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


I'm also hosting a giveaway of this great new book.  The winner will get one copy, their choice electronic or paperback, of the book.  Paperback copies to a winner from the US only, please.

Just leave your name and e-mail address in the comments for your chance to win.

The contest will close at midnight on July 7th, and I will draw a winner later that day.

Good luck!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Ornament Review: 1955 - The Mickey Mouse Club Premieres - Moments That Made Disney #11 - 2015 Disney Store Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Mickey Mouse Club!  No question about it
Cons: Similar designs have been done before.
The Bottom Line:
Leader of the band
Ready to lead from your tree
With nostalgic fun

Leader of the Ornaments

Even though it wasn’t Disney first TV show, The Mickey Mouse Club was such a huge moment for Walt Disney that it is no question it should be captured for the Moments That Made Disney ornament series.  And it is captured in grand fashion.

The ornament features Mickey leading the band.  Okay, so it’s just Mickey, but it’s the opening moments of the show and you know the parade of band members is coming.  He’s standing on a wooden circle and holding a golden baton.  Behind him is a big drum with Mickey Mouse Club written on it.  And he’s wearing a red band leader uniform including a hat.  It’s an iconic moment from the show’s opening credits, and it’s hard to think of anything else to use for the ornament.

Of course, that is the one drawback of the ornament as well.  It is so iconic and the show so nostalgic for Baby Boomers that very similar designs have been used for many previous ornaments done by The Disney Store and Hallmark, among others.  I’m not sure how they could have gotten around it for this ornament series.

That floor Mickey is standing on provides a nice flat base, so it will stand anywhere you want to put it.  There is a red ribbon attached to the hook in the top of Mickey’s head, and using that allows the ornament to hand straight as well.

Since I don’t have any previous Mickey Mouse Club ornaments, I was delighted to get this one.  The sculpt is great, and there are some good details like Mickey’s tail that I just love.  Plus the red really will stand out on your tree and look like Christmas while still fitting the theme of the ornament.

So if you are a fan of The Mickey Mouse Club or collecting this series, you’ll want to check out this ornament.  It’s a great addition to any DisNerd’s home.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Moments that Made Disney series.

Original Price: $19.95

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Movie Review: Teen Beach 2

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Fun characters in a mostly fun story
Cons: The ending
The Bottom Line:
This fun beach sequel
Is let down by the ending
Wish I liked it more

“No Singing.”  “Not Even if it’s From the Heart and Moves the Story Along?”

I’ve got to admit, it took me a while to get into Teen Beach Movie, but by the end I was enjoying it.  So, naturally, I figured I’d enjoy Teen Beach 2, which The Disney Channel premiered over the weekend.  I actually had the opposite reaction to it.  I was enjoying it until the end.

Summer is ending for Brady (Ross Lynch) and Mack (Maia Mitchell), which means they’ve been dating 3 months now.  They have completely bonded over Wet Side Story and their adventure when they found themselves in the movie.  However, navigating their new relationship at school proves to be harder than they thought, especially since Mack is so driven by academics and Brady is hiding a secret.

Meanwhile, inside the world of Wet Side Story, things are going wrong as well.  Lela (Grace Phipps) has grown disenchanted with her part in the movie.  Sure, she’s the female lead, but she wants more than just wanting a guy.  When she swims off into the ocean, followed by male lead Tanner (Garrett Clayton), the craziest thing happens – they find themselves in the real world.  Now Brady and Mack have to figure out a way to convince the two characters to return home before they and the movie are erased from existence.

Since it had been a while since I’d seen the first movie, I watched the two back to back.  I liked that since I got to see just how nicely they tied in elements from the first movie into the second one.  Obviously, they had paid attention to those details, and they got them just right.  I will say I felt they changed Brady and Mack’s relationship for this movie to suit their purposes here, or at least how long they’d been dating.  But that was a mostly minor thing for me.

The story and songs are fun.  Yes, the characters still break into song at random times, even while in the real world.  There are some fun moments connected to that, although the movie isn’t quite as self-aware overall as the original was.  Still, there are some fun laughs and some drama along the way, and the songs provide for some great choreography.

The cast is great as well.  Yes, some of the performances are over the top, but they are supposed to be.  It fits the character one way or the other.

So where did this film go wrong?  It’s the ending.  I get what they were trying to do with it.  Really, I do.  It fits the theme, and I’d be okay with that.  However, what it does to some of the characters, I just don’t like.  Surely, they could find some other way to do that without ruining characters.

If you’re a fan of the original, odds are you already watching Teen Beach 2.  If not, you’ll definitely want to catch it for free before you buy it just to see what you think about what they’ve done to the characters in the end.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

June 27th Weekly TV Thoughts

Three shows premiered on the USA Network this week, upping my TV.  Two of them I think I'll stick with this summer, but the popular one that everyone is raving about?  I'm out.

America Ninja Warrior – I love it when walk-ons complete the course.  And I was glad to see the veterans at the end complete it this year as well.  I was calling them out for going too fast last year.  So glad they listened to me and took it seriously this year.

Royal Pains – Can Divya be any more stupid this year?  She’s taken over from Evan as the dumb one in the cast.  And I’m wondering about this adoption.  I love that they are having Evan and Paige go this route, but it just seems a little sudden to me.  Maybe that’s because they only have 8 episodes this season.

Melissa & Joey – Kind of saw the ending of both plots coming from the beginning, but I had such fun getting there.  I just hope this means that Zander and Lennox are getting back together now.

Baby Daddy – Definitely a fun episode, although I really want to know what happened to the lemonade stand.  My guess is Bonnie burned it down to get the firemen to come.  I’m curious if they are going to stick with the brothers owning the bar from here on out, or if this is just a temporary arc.

Suits – I wonder how long Donna really is going to work for Louis.  And how he will react when she goes back to Harvey because you know that’s going to happen sooner or later.  Rachel sure was nicer to Harvey then I would have been.  I never would have skipped a test like that.

Mr. Robot – I get that pilots have to set up the story, but they have to move at some point.  Man, that was slow and boring.  Another one and done for me.

Graceland – On the other hand, I might be sticking with this one this season.  I was ready to move on, but if we are going to work through some of the stuff they’ve done and put it behind them, then I might enjoy it again.  Like the fact that Briggs is paying for the murder by working his horrible case.  And, since he’s asking for help, it might actually be what I signed on for originally which is a team of people working together.  We shall see.  I’ll definitely tune in again next week.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Book Review: The Diva Runs Out of Thyme by Krista Davis (Domestic Diva Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters in an intriguing plot
Cons: Pacing a little off in the middle
The Bottom Line:
Thanksgiving problems
Of the murderous kind in
This intriguing book

Take the Thyme to Read This Series Debut

The last thing I need is to start another long running series.  I am struggling to get to books I’ve bought this year I am dying to read.  But I haven’t let that stop me in the past when a new to me series catches my eye, which is why I picked up The Diva Runs Out of Thyme.  Now I just need to find time to read the second.

It’s shaping up to be a busy Thanksgiving for Sophie Winston.  She’s hosting her family for the holiday as well as participating in a stuffing contest against, among others, her high school rival Natasha Smith.  While Sophie now works as a caterer, Natasha has gone on to make a name for herself as the authority of all things domestic, and her website and TV show are watched by legions of local fans.  Making it more personal, Sophie’s ex-husband, Mars, is now dating Natasha.  So Sophie really wants to win this contest.

However, the day before the contest, Sophie’s grocery run ends when she finds a dead body in the dumpster behind the store.  She’d met the guy on the way in to the store, but the police start looking at her as a suspect because the victim had Sophie’s picture in his car.  When Sophie stumbles upon another dead body, she realizes she needs to act fast before the police pin both murders on her.

It’s easy to see why this series is so popular.  This may be a debut, but the characters leap off the page already fully developed.  There’s a very large cast of characters, but I was able to keep most of them straight because of how real they are.  The few times I couldn’t remember who a character was, it was because they were a minor character, and we were always quickly given a reminder so it wasn’t an issue at all.

The plot started out strongly with some interesting twists and clues.  Unfortunately, I didn’t feel Sophie made quite as much progress on the case as the book progressed.  There was still plenty happening, but the fresh clues and twists didn’t come quite as quickly.  Everything was wrapped up and logically explained during the climax, however, and considering the number of threads going on, that was impressive.

There’s a nice dose of humor as well as Sophie tries to deal with all the craziness of those around her.  Natasha is a Martha Stewart wannabe, and we get some nice laughs at that mindset as well.

Each chapter starts with a tip or trick coming from either Sophie or Natasha.  In addition, there is a recipe for a bourbon pecan pie and three different kinds of stuffing in the back.

I’m glad I finally took the time to meet Sophie and this cast of characters in The Diva Runs Out of Thyme.  Now that I have, I know I’ll find out where her adventures take her.

This review is part of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.  Click the link to find other entries.

Book Beginnings and Friday 56 for June 26th

It's Friday, so that means it is time once again for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

I'm getting ready for the 4th of July next weekend by reading Independence Slay by Shelley Freydont.

This is the third book set in Celebration Bay, where the town is a tourist draw because they have events for every season.  Liv Montgomery is the event coordinator for the town, but she seems to keep getting involved in murders.

Here's how this particular book starts out.

Liv Montgomery slapped at her cheek.  "Ugh.  This might be my least favorite thing about summer in Celebration Bay."

I've got to admit that page 56 was a bit of a challenge for me.  It was very hard not to pick up on something that would be a spoiler.  That's why the quote is short and sweet this week.

"Do you think he's dead, too?"

There you have it.  Hope you have a wonderful weekend.  I'm flying to Georgia on business Sunday morning.  You can bet I've got books lined up for the flights there and back.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ornament Review: 1954 - Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color TV Premiere - Moments That Made Disney #10 - 2015 Disney Store Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great idea and iconic moment
Cons: Light too bright, Tinker Bell comes out easily.
The Bottom Line:
Sunday night staple
Great memories captured here
But light is too bright

Good Idea That Went Wrong (and Don’t Get Me Started on the Title)

Walt Disney was one of the first movie producers to see the value of TV to reach his audience in new and exciting ways and raise money for his other projects.  That’s why many of us grew up with a weekly Disney TV show.  And that milestone is captured in the Moments that Made Disney ornament Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color TV Premiere.  Unfortunately, they made a bold choice that doesn’t quite work out.

The ornament is, appropriately enough, a TV.  It’s an old fashioned one, a reddish brown box that is actually fairly square.  It’s even got rabbit ear antennas on the top.  While there is no screen over where the picture goes, that allows us to see the 3D sculpt of Tinker Bell inside.  She’s got her wand in her right hand and ready to wave it to start the magic of the show.  Behind her is the “Wonderful World of Color” graphic.

This is a very iconic moment for those of us who great up watching the shows.  It always meant that something fun was about to start.  I know as a kid, I could hardly wait to see what we’d get to watch during that week’s hour.  I can’t think of a better ornament.  Well, there is one thing – the background graphic is in black and white.  Shouldn’t it be in color?

So what’s the bold choice that didn’t quite work out?  For the first time in this ornament series, they included light.  There is a switch on the back you use to turn the light on or off.  The light runs on 3 button batteries.  It was a great idea, and when I first heard they’d done this, I was thrilled.  However, the light seems too bright to me.  Instead of being a glow, it really stands out and tends to wash out the background when you have it on and poor Tink is a silhouette.  About half as bright would have worked better.

Meanwhile, there’s the name of the ornament.  As any DisNerd knows, when Disney’s anthology show premiered, it was called Disneyland.  He used the proceeds from it to help build the theme park, and he used the show to advertise the theme park to the viewers.  (Not every week, but it was certainly a part of the show.)  Shouldn’t that be what we are commemorating?  The name of the show changed over the years, and it wasn’t called Wonderful World of Color until 1961.

Deep breath.  DisNerd rant over.

The TV is sitting on feet, like the old TV’s did, and they provide a nice, stable base for setting this ornament out on any shelf or flat surface.  There is already a red ribbon in the loop on the top of the TV, and it allows the ornament to hang straight.

Another word of warning - my ornament arrived broken.  Tinker Bell had come loose and was bouncing around the box.  I was able to glue her back in, but you’ll need to treat her gently.  And, when I was gluing her back in, I discovered that her wrist holding the wand is also damaged, probably from bouncing around in the box.  None of my other friends who have bought this ornament noticed the problem, so maybe I was just unlucky.  Still, be careful that Tink doesn’t come loose on you as well.

It’s unfortunate that the light didn’t quite work as well as it could have.  The idea behind Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color TV Premiere is good, even if the execution isn’t perfect.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Moments that Made Disney series.

Original Price: $19.95

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Book Review: Bless Her Dead Little Heart by Miranda James (Southern Ladies Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and plenty of conflict to the mystery
Cons; Ending lets the book down
The Bottom Line:
These refined ladies
Face an unpleasant murder
Start of new series

Southern Hospitality Leads to Murder

Spin offs are so common on TV that we think nothing of it.  However, they aren’t that common in books.  It’s exactly what we have with Bless Her Dead Little Heart, the first in the Southern Ladies Mysteries by Miranda James.  Set in the same town as the author’s popular Cat in the Stacks Mysteries, it features that Cat, Diesel, and two characters introduced in one of those books.  While I must admit I’ve only read the first book of the earlier series (so far), I had no problem enjoying this book all on its own.

It’s a quiet afternoon for Miss An’gel Ducote and Miss Dickce Ducote when their old college friend Rosabelle arrives.  They haven’t seen her for years, but it is quickly obvious that she is still the selfish drama queen they remember when she quickly says that she fled from California to their home in Athena, Mississippi, because someone is trying to kill her.  The two sisters agree to let her stay and try to help in any way they can.

However, they don’t expect the invasion of Rosabelle’s relatives who arrive on their doorstep within the hour.  They bring plenty more drama with them before someone turns up dead, the result of a tragic accident.  Except it quickly begins to look like it was actually murder.  With a houseful of suspects, are An’gel and Dickce in danger?  Or will they be able to catch the killer before he or she strikes again?

As I read this book, I couldn’t help but think of classic Agatha Christie.  While the characters aren’t stranded, almost all the actions takes place at the Ducote Sister’s home on the outskirts of town.  There’s no way the killer could be anyone other than someone staying at the house.  And no one seems to get along with anyone else.  It’s a plot that worked well for Christie in so many of her books, and it works well again here.

I was a little concerned going into this book since this wasn’t the first time the characters had been introduced.  I need not have worried.  Anything we needed to know about the characters was explained, and this really works for a first book in a series.  I never once felt lost.  It helps that almost every character in the book is a suspect, and all of them are very strong.  There’s actually quite a large cast, but I never had trouble keeping them straight.

The plot starts quickly and never lets up.  There are some good clues and twists along the way, but the conflict between the characters is always bubbling just below the surface, and the frequent eruptions kept me engaged as well.  It was always a pleasure when I could escape into these pages.

Unfortunately, I found the climax of the book rather anti-climactic.  Don’t misunderstand, the killer is identified and the various threads are all wrapped up.  However, I felt like it was rushed and should have been more dramatic.  I’m afraid of spoiling things if I say any more, but I’m sure when you read it, you’ll understand what I’m saying.

This is the second time this month that I’ve run across a cozy told in multiple point of view.  An’gel and Dickce take turns being our third person narrator.  The switches are always easy to follow, and we get to see a bit more of the story that way.  We also get an insight into the character of the old south where decorum, hospitality, and saving face is the goal of life.  It provides an interesting backdrop to the action, and one I really enjoyed.  It also helped contribute to the Agatha Christie feeling I mentioned earlier.

I’m reminded once again I really need to get to the rest of Miranda James’s books, but at least I’m up to date on one series.  If you are new to this author and want to try a book, Bless Her Dead Little Heart is a great place to jump in.

Enjoy more Southern life and murder with the rest of the Southern Ladies Mysteries.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

TV Show Review: Graceland - Season 2

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: Some good moments and episodes, especially early on
Cons: Bleak by end of season with no likable characters
The Bottom Line:
Okay show gets worse
As everything just turns dark
Disappointing slide

"You Used to be a Good Little Boy Scout.  What Happened?"  "I Still Am.  I'm Just Working on Some of the Advanced Badges."

After years of success with their light, “Blue Sky” summer programming, the USA Network decided to get a little darker with Graceland.  I went along for the ride, and sadly, I found the first season to be rather lackluster.  But I was gamed to give season 2 a shot.  Unfortunately, I found it worse than the first season.

The season oepns with Mike (Aaron Tveit) working a new position with the FBI in Washington, DC.  Things appear to be going well until he gets word from Briggs (Daniel Sunjata) back at Graceland that the Caza drug cartel has put a hit out on Mike.  This brings Mike back once to hopefully shut down the cartel once and for all.  He’s now leading a plan involving all of his former housemates.  If only that were their sole focus.  Piage (Serinda Swan) becomes obsessed with helping a woman she meets while under cover.  Dale Jakes (Brandon Jay McLaren) is hoping to win visitation rights with his son.  Charlie (Vanessa Ferlito) gets involved with a dangerous bank heist.  And Johnny (Manny Montana) gets caught up in a love triangle.  Meanwhile, Briggs is trying to overcome his guilt and keep evidence about what he did last season secret.  Will any of them be able to focus on the Caza cartel?

So what went wrong?  Pretty much everything.  Let’s start with the characters.  In the first season, I liked them all at some point, and I could often sympathize with them even if I didn’t like them.  This season?  They all turned unlikeable.  Even those I could like and support for part of the season turned bad by the end.  And, at times, their actions were unbelievable.

The story also went downhill.  They had several equal plot lines going, so I could finally remember who all the players in the cast were.  And yet, the divided focus just kept me from getting fully into any story.  And it’s not like things came back together.  Instead, we are trying to keep track of several equal plots that carry different weights in each episode.

Ironically enough, I probably could have handled the darker themes of the story itself.  While the things the agents face and have to do aren’t my first choice of fictional consumption, I know they exists, and if I liked the characters, I would have been more on board.

The actors always did a great job of bringing their characters to life.  It’s the writing that let them down.

Having said all this, there were a couple episodes early on and moments even late in the season that I definitely got into.  But just when I would begin to think it had turned a corner, it would show that it was just a temporary moment and I would be disappointed again.  Unfortunately, that disappointment kept building as the season progressed so there was less and less stuff to enjoy.

And yet, I do plan to watch at least the season three premier.  I am curious enough about the characters and the cliffhangers to see how things are resolved.  But unless there is a major reversal in the course of the show by the end of that episode, I’m out.

The ratings for season 1 weren’t the best, and they slid for season 2.  That’s why we are getting all thirteen episodes in this MOD set.  As such, there are no extras, just the episodes themselves to watch.

The slide in the ratings shows that I’m not the only one who was disappointed with the way the show went.  Hopefully, things turn around in the new season or season 2 of Graceland will be my last.

Season 2 Episodes:
1. The Line
2. Connects
3. Tinker Bell
4. Magic Number
5. H-A-Double-P-Y
6. The Unlucky One
7. Los Malos
8. The Ends
9. Gratis
10. The Head of the Pig
11. Home
12. Echoes
13. Faith 7

Monday, June 22, 2015

Book Review: A Pocket for Corduroy by Don Freeman

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Charming and fun story with great pictures
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Search for a pocket
Gives Corduroy adventure
That’s fun, creative

Can Corduroy Find a Pocket in a Laundromat?

If you’d have asked me which of the two Corduroy adventures I’d enjoyed reading more growing up, I would without a doubt have said A Pocket for Corduroy.  Not that there is anything wrong with the first book.  It’s just that this one manages to capture the humor and charm of the first and exceed it.

One day, Corduroy, a stuffed bear, goes with Lisa, his owner, and her mother to do laundry at the laundromat.  As Lisa’s mom reminds her to empty her pockets, Corduroy decides he needs a pocket on his overalls and sets out on a search to find one.  What might he find along the way?  Will he wander completely away from Lisa?

As with the first book, we get Corduroy off exploring on his own as he searches for something he wants.  However, the things he thinks he has encountered here are much more fun and entertaining.  They are perfectly logical as well, at least to a stuffed bear, and even a kid will see the humor in his confusion.

The illustrations back up the fun story.  They are actually fairly detailed and capture the warmth, charm, and humor of Corduroy’s adventure.

Of course, there is a warm and happy ending, but this is a picture book, so that’s hardly surprising, right?  Parents might want to make sure their kids know not to wander off, but really, Corduroy would have been fine is he had just asked for what he wanted all along.

But if he had done that, we wouldn’t have gotten the fun that is A Pocket for Corduroy.  While his first book is fun, Corduroy’s best adventure really was in the laundromat.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Audio Book Challenge Update

It's time to check in on the Audiobook Challenge.

I originally signed up to read 10-15.  I'm well on my way with 7 books under my belt.  And they are.

1. The Black Echo by Michael Connelly
2. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
3. The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly
4. The Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
5. 1984 by George Orwell
6. A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton
7. Lullaby Town by Robert Crais

Some of those books have been on my to be read list forever, too, so it's nice to finally get to them.

Movie Review: Inside Out

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Pixar doing what they do best, telling a great and creative story
Cons: Not all light and fun, but everything fits together perfectly
The Bottom Line:
Brilliant idea
Emotions as characters
Executed well

You Will Experience Joy While Watching Inside Out

While I have continued to enjoy Pixar’s movies, it’s been a couple of years since they had one that really stood out and was something unique and special.  I’m happy to say that’s just what we get with Inside Out.  This is a film that you’ll be talking about and enjoying for a long time to come.

We spend most of this movie inside the brain of Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias).  Our guide to her brain is Joy (Amy Poehler), Riley’s lead emotion.  Joy makes sure that Riley is always feeling upbeat no matter what is happening in her life.  Okay, so there are some other emotions in Riley’s brain, but Joy is the dominant one.

All that changes when Riley’s family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco.  Suddenly, Riley is at a loss in this new town where she knows no one.  And, to complicate matters, Sadness (Phyllis Smith) is taking over memories without even trying.  When Joy and Sadness accidentally get stuck outside the master control center, they have to find their way back.  Meanwhile, Riley’s other emotions try to fill in for Joy.  Will Joy make it home in time to keep Riley from doing something really bad?

As you might have guessed from that description, this movie isn’t all laughs.  There are some pretty serious moments, too, so be prepared for that going into the film.  But actually, that fits into the theme of the film nicely.  I’m not going to get into that any more so I don’t spoil anything, but I really did like the point the film was ultimately making.

Parents will want to know that Riley does make some bad choices in the film.  But, they are all treated as such by the story.  Just know that going in, and be prepared to talk to your kids afterwards.  The film is rated PG, and it’s a very mild PG film, so there is nothing too bad in it.

Boy, this is sounding like a downer.  Let’s fix that because this really is a funny movie.  There are lots of laughs at situations that Joy finds herself in or how Riley is reacting to what is going on inside her head.  No, we don’t see too much of the other character’s thoughts, although when we do, that is hysterical as well.  Speaking of which, watch the scenes as the credits begin for some more great laughs.

And the creativity that Pixar has always been known for is in full display here.  The places that Joy and Sadness go on their journey home are absolutely brilliant and so much fun.  No, I’m not spoiling anything here either, but trust me, you’ll love it.

Everything builds to one of Pixar’s patented climaxes that will no quit.  Okay, so it’s not as full blown as Toy Story, for example, but there are plenty of complications along the way as everything begins to come together.  And yes, they do a wonderful job of setting things up early in the film.  This is storytelling at its best.  Writer/director Pete Docter and his team deserve full credit for that.  (Pete has already directed my two favorite Pixar films, Monsters, Inc., and Up.)

Complementing the story perfectly is the voice talent.  I’m not super familiar with anyone in the cast, but they are all perfect at bringing their characters to life.  Heck, Sadness gets some wonderful laughs, and you know that comes from great acting.

The animation is wonderful as well.  Obviously, most of it is stylized, but the style always fits what is happening to the characters or where they are perfectly.  And the few glamour shots they have in the film are breath taking as always.

Opening with this film in the theater is the short “Lava.”  The animation here is stunning, and the story and song are great fun.  You’ll love it.

Pixar truly has knocked it out of the park with Inside Out.  You will laugh, you might shed a tear or two, and you’ll appreciate your emotions that much more.  It truly is a winner all the way around.

June 20ths Weekly TV Thoughts

I tried two new series, and I'm giving up on them that quickly.  I wasn't really looking to add to my summer watch list, and they just didn't grab me.  Guess I'm getting picky in my old age since I used to give shows two or three episodes before I gave them the boot.

Royal Pains – I knew Evan had done something with that video.  I was cringing the entire time.  And Divya?  Seriously?  How stupid can you be?  I know you are much smarter than this.  I did like Hank’s storyline, and I really am missing Jeremiah again.

Melissa & Joey – Episodes that much about sex really do make me uncomfortable.  Yes, I laughed a few times, but yikes!  If I’d realized just how much would be there, I would have not watched.  Granted, it didn’t help to have my roommate within easy listening distance, although he was pretty much ignoring the TV.

Baby Daddy – And again.  I could have done without this episode of the show for pretty much the same reasons as above pretty much exactly.

Astronaut Wives’ Club – I had to give this a shot because it has two actresses I like in it.  However, I thought it was probably going to be a soap opera.  Nothing in the pilot changed my mind in the slightest.  I might enjoy a miniseries or movie about the time or place, but I can’t see getting invested in a series.

Complications – I’ve gone back and forth on this show, but I decided to give it a try.  I was bored for most of the two hours it aired.  It was just starting to get interesting when it ended.  It has the potential to be quite good down the road, but I don’t think I have the patience to give it that time.

Girl Meets World – I had heard that Angela was going to be back this week, and knowing what was happening, I must admit I was a little worried.  So glad they worked things out this way because I like the relationships I see developing.  Not quite as funny as normal, but such a great episode for fans like me of the old series.  Loved it!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Book Review: Lullaby Town by Robert Crais (Cole/Pike #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good characters in a story that keeps the tension building
Cons: Joe Pike still a bit flat, language
The Bottom Line:
Finding missing son
Opens a huge can of worms
Good PI story

Lullaby Town Will Not Put You to Sleep

Well over a decade ago, I read the first two Elvis Cole mysteries by Robert Crais and never moved on to the third.  Last summer, I listened to the first two on audio with the intent of moving on to the third.  When I remembered just how dark the second book was, I almost didn’t move on to Lullaby Town again.  That would have been a mistake.

PI Elvis Cole’s latest client is Peter Alan Nelson, the latest “it” director in Hollywood.  People want just a moment of his time in hopes that it will make their career.  However, Elvis is just interested in doing this job for Peter, treating him like any regular client.

It seems that Peter was married and divorced over a decade ago.  It didn’t last too long, but it lasted long enough to produce a son.  Suddenly, Peter wants to get to know his child.  Elvis doesn’t think the job will be too hard, although the trail is a little colder than he expects at first.  However, he never imagines the world of trouble he will find at the end of his search.

What turned me off to the second book both times was how truly dark and depressing that story got.  Now don’t get me wrong, this book isn’t nearly as light as I normally enjoy, but it is a much lighter shade of gray.  You’ll still get more language and violence than the cozies I normally read.  Know that going into the book, and you should be okay.

The plot starts fine with Elvis following his normal steps to find a missing person.  However, about a third of the way through, things take a sharp turn and the book never slows down.  I was listening to this book on audio, and that kept me from knowing just how much time was truly left in the book, which means a few of the twists caught me off guard.

The characters in the story are strong.  Since most of it takes place outside of Cole’s native LA, the only returning characters are Cole and his partner Joe Pike.  They are fun leads, and I enjoyed spending time with them again.  In my mind, some of the better characters were the new characters in the book.  They were the ones that showed the most growth over the course of the story, and I loved them more for it.

This book was published in 1992, and that dates some of the references in the story.  On the other hand, I loved the pop culture references Cole made along the way.  Just remember the year as you go, and you’ll be fine.

Of course, my overall complaints about the series do continue here.  Joe Pike is more a caricature than a true character.  He’s fun and I like him, but he’s more of a superhero than anything else.  And the characters swear.  I’m not talking about just in moments of stress.  I’m talking in their everyday dialogue as they are chatting with each other.  Crais could cut out half the swear words and still get his point with the characters across.  It truly wears on me.  At least Elvis didn’t have women throwing themselves at him this time around.  That was a very welcome change.

The audio version I listened to was once again narrated by Mel Foster.  He is fantastic at capturing Elvis in the first person narration and giving his sarcasm the right touch without getting in the way of the story.

I’m glad I’ve finally moved on to Lullaby Town, and it gives me hope that I will enjoy further books in the series.  I will definitely be tackling Elvis’s next case soon.

And you can tackle his next case, too, with the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series in order.

This review is part of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.  Follow the link to find more great mysteries.

June 19th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

We made it to another Friday!  Time once again for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week's book is Bless Her Dead Little Heart by Miranda James.

I'm about a third of the way into the book, and so far I'm really enjoying it.

Here is how it begins:

Miss An'gel Ducote fixed her houseguest with a gimlet eye.  "I expect you to behave like a proper gentleman while you're here."

And from page 56:

Her mouth suddenly felt dry.  "I'm glad you're here."  She hesitated over her next words.  "It might not have been an accident."

Of course, being a murder mystery, what do you think the odds are that it was an accident.  Yeah, that's what I thought as well.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Movie Review: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Good story and message
Cons: Predictable with not as many laughs as they tried for
The Bottom Line:
As bad day beings
Will the family survive?
Amusing moments

It’s Not that the Movie is Terrible, Horrible, No Good, or Very Bad.  It’s Just Average

It always amuses me when a feature film is made out of a picture book.  You know they are going to have to really stretch the plot to make the film work since you can read most picture books in 10 minutes if there are lots and lots of words.  Still, some of them can be quite fun, so I was interested in seeing Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  Turns out this is an average picture book to film adaptation.

Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould) is convinced that he is cursed to have nothing but bad days.  This morning, for example, he wakes up with gum in his hair and an invitation to a party from the most popular kid in school.  The problem?  The party is opposite his own twelfth birthday party.  Meanwhile, the rest of his family has amazing things happen to them constantly.  That night, he makes himself a birthday cake and a wish – that his family would see what it is like to have a bad day.

And boy do things do downhill quickly for the rest of them.  His older brother Anthony (Dylan Minnette) wakes up to a pimple on prom day while sister Emily (Kerris Dorsey) has a cold on opening night of her class play.  The promising day his parents had also goes wrong as Ben (Steve Carell) has problems with a job interview and Kelly (Jennifer Garner) hits a major snag in a book launch at her job.  Meanwhile, Alexander’s life is going right for once.  But will any of them survive the as the chaos builds?

As I’ve often said, I’m not a fan of embarrassment humor, when we are supposed to laugh at characters making fools of themselves.  I usually cringe instead of laugh.  That’s what we are treated to here, although it’s not nearly as bad as it could have been.  There are some laughs, but not nearly as many as they were trying for.

On the other hand, I did love the ultimate message of the film about the importance of family and sticking together no matter what comes your way.

The story is fairly predictable, especially since they open with a shot of the family near the end of their bad day.  Honestly, that shot ruins many of the surprises along the way, and I think killed a few laughs over the course of the film.  Granted, it’s not one of my favorite narrative techniques, but I still think this weakened the film.  Anyway, the predictability isn’t a huge issue since the film is fast paced with switches to the various characters so something is always happening even if we can guess what it might be.

The characters are fine but we’ve seen them before in other family movies.  The cast does a great job of bringing them to life, there just isn’t much to work with.  I’m not the biggest fan of Steve Carell since I can find him annoying, but I actually liked him here.  I’m a huge fan of Jennifer Garner, and enjoyed getting to see her in a new role.  The kids were all good as well.

Obviously, they’ve expanded on the book.  In fact, at times it seems like they just borrowed the name of the book and the main character.  However, there are a couple of nods to the book early on that fans will enjoy.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day isn’t a bad film.  Kids will probably really enjoy it.  Adults will find it amusing, but they won’t find much to bring them back to watch it again and again.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

TV Show Review: Smallville - Season 8

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong beginning, many fun moments
Cons: Didn’t care for season’s overall plot arc/villain
The Bottom Line:
Some major changes
While show is still mostly strong
Has definite flaws

“Even a Dress Shirt Can’t Hide the Hero in You.”

As this summer approached and I got ready for my annual season of Smallville, I became quite anxious to see how this season would go.  Not only did they lose Michael Rosenbaum and Kristin Kreuk and therefore their characters of Lex Luthor and Lana Lang, but the creators of the show stepped down as show runners, meaning that a new team was working behind the scenes.  While this season did have a couple of missteps, I did overall enjoy season 8.

The season picks up several weeks after the season 7 finale.  Clark Kent (Tom Welling) is still missing after the Fortress of Solitude collapsed while he and Lex were fighting inside it.  Leading the search for the missing men, but with different teams and different agendas, are Oliver Queen (Justine Hartley) and Tess Mercer (Cassidy Freeman).  Oliver is hoping to find and rescue Clark while Tess is looking for her boss Lex.

When Clark is found and returns to Smallville, it’s to start his new life as a reporter at The Daily Planet working across the desk from Lois Lane (Erica Durance).  Meanwhile, Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack) has a giant IQ and a fiancĂ©e in the form of and Jimmy Olsen (Aaron Ashmore) and Chloe has also taken over the ISIS foundation.  Meanwhile Clark is caught on camera, sort of, and takes the next step in his evolution toward Superman as the mysterious Red Blue Blur.

But trouble is still brewing.  Not only are Tess’s motives unclear, but she has moved in to the Luthor mansion and taken over all of Lex’s roles, including editor of The Daily Planet.  Has she learned Clark’s secret from the files Lex left behind?  Meanwhile, there’s also paramedic Davis Bloome (Sam Witwer) who is very afraid he is harboring a deadly secret.  Is he correct?

The season got off to a great start, and I honestly didn’t miss the usual drama from Lex and Lana.  Don’t get me wrong, I had enjoyed those characters, but it was nice to see some new members of the cast.  Yes, Tess is obviously designed to keep the Luthor mythology alive, but she works quite well.  And without Lana around, they are able to increase the flirting between Lois and Clark.  I loved their scenes together.  Lois is my favorite character on the show, but she is stronger than ever this season.  The scenes when she starts talking to the Red Blue blur via phone are wonderful.  I also loved the many continued references to Clark’s future as Superman.

Likewise, many of the villain of the week episodes work wonderfully.  Thanks to a reappearance by Veronica Lake (guest star Tori Spelling), we see what would happen if Clark revealed his powers to the world.  Lois and Clark go undercover as an engaged couple to rescue Chloe and Jimmy.  We do get a bit more of Oliver’s backstory, and I loved comparing that to what they’ve done with the character on Arrow.  And a wish might shake up Chloe and Clark forever.

It’s the season long arc that doesn’t work for me, and as it takes over near the end of the season, I began to enjoy it less.  Chloe starts to behave in a very stupid manner late in the season.  I don’t buy it at all.  She’s much too smart to do what she did.  And don’t even get me started on what they put poor Jimmy through this season.  He’s another character I’ve loved on this show, so I hated what they put him through here.  Plus, I was expecting more from Oliver Queen.  He felt wasted to me, although his connection to Tess added an interesting element to both characters.  They actually used him more when he was a guest star for the first half of season 6.

Of course, since the season long arc takes over as the season winds down, it ended on a bad note for me.  But really, I did enjoy most of the season.

Now, I know I said earlier that I enjoyed having Lex and Lana absent for the season, but Kristin Kreuk did come back for a multi-episode guest starring arc in the middle of the season to wrap up her story.  I actually loved most of those episodes and how that ended.  Also back to wrap up her storyline is Laura Vandervoort as Clark’s cousin Kara, although she only gets one episode.

The cast does a great job bring their characters to life.  This is no surprise when it comes to the returning vets, but the new cast members jump right in and make us care about their characters as well.

Like always, the special effects are amazing and bring all the out of the world stuff we see to life perfectly each week.

All 22 episodes of season 8 are included in this six disc set, and they look and sound wonderful in widescreen and full surround.  We get deleted scenes in a majority of the episodes as well as two audio commentaries.  Rounding out the extras are a featurette on Allison Mack’s directorial debut on one of the episodes this season as well as one on the creation of the season’s villain.  Sadly, we are once again missing the gag reel.

There were definitely flaws in season 8 of Smallville, but overall, I still enjoyed it.  I’m very curious to see how things progress next season as they keep building toward the hero we all know and love.

Season 8 Episodes:
1. Odyssey
2. Plastique
3. Toxic
4. Instinct
5. Committed
6. Prey
7. Identity
8. Bloodline
9. Adyss
10. Bride
11. Legion
12. Bulletproof
13. Power
14. Requiem
15. Infamous
16. Turbulence
17. Hex
18. Eternal
19. Stiletto
20. Beast
21. Injustice
22. Doomsday

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

This Week's Winner

We have another winner to announce, don't we.  So let's get to it.  The winner of Truffled to Death is...


I'm off to send you an e-mail, so please be sure to check your inbox.

Thanks to everyone who entered.

Book Review: Snow White Red-Handed by Maia Chance (Fairy Tale Fatal #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters in fast paced and fun plot
Cons: Ending a bit rushed
The Bottom Line:
Dwarf cottage in woods
And death by poison apple
Magical debut

Once Upon a Time, a Great New Cozy Series Began

If you have spent any time on my blog, you’ve noticed I love fairytales.  I recap Once Upon a Time, and I’ve read several twists on fairytales aimed at Middle Schoolers.  And there’s my whole love of Disney, which is built on fairytales.  That’s why, when I heard about Snow White Red-Handed. I knew I would have to read it.  A fairytale cozy mystery series?  Sign me up!  I wasn’t quite sure how it would work out, but I had to give it a try.  Now that I have, I only wish I’d read it sooner.

Ophelia Flax and Prudence Bright have found themselves fired from their job as actresses half way across the Atlantic heading to England in 1867.  Acting quickly, Ophelia gets herself a job as the new lady’s maid to Pearl Coop, the new wife of American millionaire Homer T. Coop.  Prue is also hired as the new scullery maid.  Their new job takes them to a castle in Germany’s Black Forest.

Within two weeks of their arrival, a cottage is discovered on their property that some claim belongs to the dwarfs of Snow White fame.  At Pearl’s insistence, renowned fairytale scholars Winkler and Gabriel are brought in to investigate the site.  Things take a shocking turn when Homer is murdered the next afternoon after taking a bite of a poisoned apple.  What have Ophelia and Prue gotten themselves into?

The book is told from the limited third person points of view of Ophelia, Prue, and Gabriel.  I wasn’t expecting that, and it threw me a little at first, but I quickly got into the flow of the story and was hooked in no time.

While there is some set up to the story, it is actually handled very quickly, and by the second chapter, we are investigating the potential dwarf’s cottage.  The pace never lets up, and the story is filled with great twists and surprises along the way.  I never wanted to put the book down, and the further along I went, the harder it was to do so.  I did feel the climax was a bit rushed, but everything was logically explained.

Likewise, the characters were wonderful.  Obviously, we get to know Prue, Ophelia, and Gabriel pretty well since we are seeing the story through their eyes.  The rest of the cast is just as good.  I’m hoping that the author finds a way to bring a few of them back in future books even though it looks like the action will be taking place in a different settings.

While the multiple person point of view isn’t something I normally find in the books I read, I do actually like the technique.  It was used perfectly to tell us the story, and the switches were always obvious, so I never had a hard time following things.

The fairytale aspect was worked in perfectly.  Not only does it drive the plot, but there are references to other tales worked into the narration.  I also liked it because it added something different to the book.  While definitely still a cozy mystery, it creates a plot that is different from the standard formula, which I loved.

So you’ll want to be caught reading Snow White Red-Handed.  This is a fun debut that promises many more magical mysteries ahead.

Enjoy more magical mysteries with the rest of the Fairy Tale Fatal series.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Book Review: The Mystery of the Midnight Marauder by Kathryn Kenny (Trixie Belden #30)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Good characters, old and new, and a fun mystery
Cons: Molinson suspecting Mart doesn’t ring true for me.
The Bottom Line:
Vandal hits the school
Trixie must clear her brother
Some flaws but still fun

Mart the Midnight Marauder?

I’ve got to admit, the title of this book introduced me to a new word.  Even though I was a teen the first time I read The Mystery of the Midnight Marauder, I don’t think I’d ever heard the word before.  It’s just not a word used in common speech.  I have, of course, heard it used in historical contexts.  So even though I sat down that first time not knowing what exactly would be happening, I quite enjoyed the book.  That hasn’t changed on my latest reread.

And yes, here comes my standard Trixie Belden introduction post.  If you know this, feel free to skip to the next paragraph.  But if you are new to Trixie, this was a series for kids like the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew.  Trixie and her two older brothers and their friends in the area just outside of Sleeyside, New York, formed a club, the Bob-Whites of the Glen, to help each other and those in need.  Along the way, fourteen-year-old Trixie kept stumbling upon mysteries that she proved to be quite good as solving.

When Trixie wakes up that Saturday morning in March, she is only worried about Reddy, the Belden family dog.  He’s missing, and she feels like it is something more than him off chasing rabbits.  But then her brother Mart starts acting funny.  And when she and the Bob-Whites arrive at school to help with some cleanup, they find it’s been attacked by someone calling himself the Midnight Marauder.

The biggest shock comes when Trixie learns that Mart is Sergeant Molinson’s prime suspect.  With the town quickly turning against teens in general because of this and other vandalism in town, Trixie’s going to have to act fact to clear her brother and find the real culprit.  But who might it be?

The thing that drew me to this series about the time I was growing tired of the Hardys and Nancy was the very real characters.  Trixie had flaws as well as strengths and she jumped to wrong conclusions on her way to solving the mystery at hand.  The same is true of the rest of the rather large cast of regular characters.  While the best of the character development took place in the earliest books in the series, this book gets the characters right and their strengths and weaknesses are on great display here.  And that includes Di and Dan, two Bob-Whites who sometimes are sidelined for entire books.  They aren’t in every scene, but they are involved quite heavily.  Because of the large cast of regular characters, you might be a bit lost if you jumped in here, but if you back up to the beginning of the series, you’ll quickly get filled in on everyone.  The new characters aren’t quite as well developed, but you can see the potential in some of them to be great characters if they had shown up again later in the series.  And they are certainly memorable

The mystery?  It’s a little obvious despite the writer’s attempts to hide the clues, although I don’t think I guessed it as a kid.  Still, rereading it knowing the solution, it is fun to see how the author planted what we needed to know so we could reach a satisfying conclusion.

The one thing that bothers me about this book is Sergeant Molinson.  Now, as a character, he’s usually gruff with Trixie and her friends since they are sticking their nose into police business and getting in serious trouble as a result.  However, this is book thirty in the series and roughly the thirteenth time Trixie’s caught a villain in their town.  Would Molinson really suspect Mart of being the marauder?  I find that extremely hard to swallow and I always have.  Yes, it’s supposed to give Trixie a motive to investigate and a get us invested further in the story.  But really?  Heck, there was one book where Molinson asked Trixie and her friends for help.  That doesn’t sound like someone who would turn around and think Mart was vandalizing the school and their favorite hangout.

Okay, rant over.

Because, despite that flaw, I absolutely love this book.  When this series is at its best, it provides fun moments and good mysteries, and that’s what we get in The Mystery of the Midnight Marauder.

Missed Trixie?  Here's a list of the Trixie Belden Mysteries in order.

This review is part of this week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

June 13th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Girl Meets World (6/5) – Based on the title of the episode, I thought Auggie would be telling stuff, but I loved the real tell-tale-tot.  Once again a delightfully funny yet touching episode that was so much fun to watch.  Really, this show needs to come to DVD.

America Ninja Warrior – Yes, I was rooting for Kacy, so it was hard to see her go out.  But, as she said, it wasn’t something stupid, and she gave it her all.  And there were some great runs tonight.  Plus, it looks like we found an obstacle tougher than something they gave us in Venice, so I have to take back my comment from last week.

Royal Pains – Why am I so surprised that Evan and Paige are going to have trouble having a baby?  It would have been nice to skip that.  I knew where Divya’s story was going to go, although I was happy with how quickly she got out of prison.  And it was Jeremiah who got her out, too!

Melissa & Joey – Not a huge fan of the tattoo plot, but I loved the sub-plot.  That “actress” did such a great character change.  Plus I’m still rooting for Zander.  I love his character.

Baby Daddy – It was going along okay until that final scene.  It was a bit over the top for me, and I do like farce.  Maybe you had to see it in person to fully get it.

Girl Meets World (6/12) – I was so glad to see the janitor again since this time I knew who he was (hadn’t watched the earlier seasons of Boy Meets World when he was on before).  Overall, not one of their stronger episodes.  It had some fun moments, but fairly predictable overall.

Friday, June 12, 2015

An Interview with...Me!

Just a quick post to let you know about an interview conducted with me over at Daniellaark.com.  I hope you'll take a few minutes to go over and read it.  There are some fun questions included.

Movie Review: Jurassic World

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Action, thrills, effects, acting
Cons: A few predictable plot points, thin characters
The Bottom Line:
Monsters run amok
Some flaws, but still mostly fun
Mindless thrills for us

“I Will Not Turn this Island into a War Zone.”  “You Already Have.”

After 2001’s Jurassic Park III, I thought the franchise was really and truly dead.  After all, it’s been 14 years since that film came out, and it wasn’t all that great.  But if there is money to be made, they will find a way, and they came back with Jurassic World this year.  It doesn’t really break any new ground, but that doesn’t matter.  Why?  Because it’s a lot of fun.

Brothers Gray and Zach (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson) are being shipped off to spend part of their Christmas vacation with their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard).  She runs Jurassic World, the theme park that has been built over the bones of the original Jurassic Park.  Gray loves dinosaurs and is thrilled at the idea, but his older brother Zach isn’t really that interested.  When the brothers arrive, they quickly get passed off to others since there is much Claire needs to take care of, including the new Indominus Rex and the enclosure that needs to be finished so its exhibit can open in a few short weeks.

Meanwhile, there’s Owen (Chris Pratt) and his work training the Velociraptors and Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) who thinks these trained beasts will make the ultimate weapon.  Owen keeps warning that the Raptors are completely unpredictable and should not be let outside the cages, but Hoskins won’t listen.

When the unthinkable happens (as you know it will), chaos ensues with Gray and Zach in the worst possible location.  Will they be okay?  On an island full of tourists, will anyone survive?

Let’s be upfront and honest – this is a monster movie.  It may be cool with dinosaurs and wonderful special effects, but it’s really just a monster movie.  But as such, it succeeds beautifully.

The beginning of the film is great at introducing the characters and the new dinosaurs and advances in the Velociraptors.  No, the Raptors aren’t talking like I jokingly predicted after the last film.  In fact, the advances felt like they flowed well from what came before without being unbelievable.  Okay, okay, too unbelievable.  Mainly, it has to do with Owen’s training.  Does it fit with the first film?  Not really, but it’s interesting.

But when the dinosaurs start running amok, the party really gets going.  There are plenty of tense moments that will keep your eyes glued to the screen.  No, I didn’t jump, and the jump moments are kept to a minimum.  But there are still plenty of great thrills to be had as the characters try to survive the carnage happening around them.

Okay, so some of the plot points were a little predictable.  I called parts of the film before it happened.  But you know what?  I didn’t care.  I was having so much fun, it didn’t really matter.  And, the fact that it has been so long since the last one came out makes it feel fresher even though, at its heart, this is a monster movie.  There are only so many ways these films can happen, right?

Likewise, the characters are just developed enough to make us care about the outcome of the film.  I found some of that development predictable, but again, I didn’t care.  They worked for the film, and that’s all that matters.

The acting across the board is great.  The actors do a great job of making us care about their thin characters.  Considering how much of the film they are acting against effects that aren’t there, their acting is even more impressive.  I bought their terror.

Special effects?  There was one shot early on I didn’t quite buy, but for the rest of it, I was fully on board.  And for a film and franchise that is built on special effects, that’s important.

Yes, there are flaws, and it would be easy to sit here and pick them apart.  Yet, Jurassic World is fun, and that’s what it wants to be.  This is a mindless summer film.  Sit back and enjoy and you will have a wonderful time.