Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Movie Review: The Greatest Showman

I'm a big Zac Efron fan. I watch a lot of movies just because he's in them. He's a great actor, but he gets such awful roles so most people don't realize it. This movie actually gave him a good part that showcased what he can do.

The Greatest Showman is a 2017 musical loosely adapting the story of P. T. Barnum and his circus. It is rated PG and is appropriate for tweens and up.

The Good

Music. The music was really good! The tunes were catchy, and the singing well done.

Dancing. The dance scenes were amazing! They were so well choreographed and performed. What made them amazing wasn't some new, cutting edge style or a massive group of people, but just good, solid, entertaining dancing.

Acting. I rarely comment on the acting, because in most movies its proficient but nothing special. In this movie there were some very good performances that took really chops to pull off. I was impressed.

The Bad

Sections Between the Singing and Dancing. Unfortunately, this movie wasn't all singing and dancing, and those parts that weren't were slow and boring. I wasn't sure I would be able to sit thru the whole movie when one of them appeared.

Heavy Handedness. This movie lends itself to a message about tolerance and accepting those who are different. I think the story was sufficient to make the point without some blatant, preachy speeches interrupting the flow of the story. They hurt the movie, and the point was made without them.

What I Would Like to Have Seen

I wish the sections without singing and dancing had been more interesting an better paced.


The Greatest Showman is a fun, entertaining film filled with catchy music and amazing dance numbers that actually tell the story and advance the plot while developing the themes. Unfortunately, in between the singing and dancing are very slow, boring segments. I give this film 4 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.


Monday, January 22, 2018

Book Review: The Christmas Train by David Baldacci

I had recently watched Murder on the Orient Express, and so mysteries on a train were on my mind which is probably why I picked up this book. From the cover and description, it sounded more like a Hallmark or Lifetime movie, not something I usually read. But boy am I glad I did.

The Christmas Train by Chris Grabenstein is a mystery romance adventure novel appropriate for all ages and all audiences.

The Good

Characters. Every character was a unique individual and not someone I had seen before in a book or movie. Each had as much development as they needed for the story, and each was very likable.

Suspense/Peril. I was expecting some sweet, tame little read, but there was really suspense and peril throughout the book, but mostly at the end. I was actually worried there wouldn't be a happy ending.

Mystery. This book had a good mystery whose answer surprised me.

 The romance wasn't overdone or felt contrived. It felt like I was readying about a real relationship between real people with real feelings and real issues.

Bonus Story. This book had a very short bonus story that was really sweet and not something I had really heard before.

The Bad

Mark Twain references. This book made several references to Mark Twain which didn't really add to the story and got kind of annoying and distracting. If they had all been left out, no one would have felt like anything was missing. I'm not sure their purpose.

What I Would Like to Have Seen

A sequel.


The Christmas Train by Chris Grabenstein was a delightful journey filled with memorable unique characters, mystery, romance, twists, peril, suspense, and a great setting. It started off a little, but what train ride doesn't. I was completely swallowed up in the story and will probably listen to it again very soon. I give this book a solid 5 out of 5 eReaders.


Friday, January 19, 2018

Book Review - Mad Mouse (John Ceepak, Book 2) by Chris Grabenstein

I picked up the first book in the John Ceepak series, because it was on sale. I'd never heard of the author or book, but it sounded interesting. And I wasn't disappointed. It was a solid mystery with a few twists, had interesting characters, and was well written. What stuck out most was the casual pacing of the book, something I've never seen in this type of story.

Mad Mouse (John Ceepak, Book 2) by Chris Grabenstein is a mystery novel with a bit of romance and is the second in a series.

The Good

John Ceepak. John Ceepak is a main character, but he isn't the protagonist. This actually makes him more interesting, because you never get inside his head to see what he thinks. Instead you only see him how other characters see him, and that is up on a pedestal.

Motivation. Every crime needs a motivation behind it, and the motivation behind this one is pretty unique. It's a little weird, but believable and one I didn't see coming, at least not the specifics.

Pacing. This book has a pretty chilled, laid back pacing for a mystery, but it doesn't slow down the narrative or bore the reader. It gives it a unique vibe I don't find in most crime or mystery stories.

The Bad

Twist. Every great mystery has a great twist. The first part of the twist was great, but the second part was kind of out of left field and felt like a cheat. There were no clues, no indication what the complete final answer was, and it seemed like a really random thing to keep readers from guessing. I think the author could have done better.

Clich├ęs. Some of the characters, the reactions, and the speech patterns were bland cliches that sound like a teenage amateur trying to write like the big boys. The author should have pulled from more real life experience and less TV or books he's read.

What I Would Like to Have Seen

I wish the twist had been better thought out and foreshadowed so it didn't feel like some random idea pulled out of left field to surprise the reader. It wasn't satisfying. It just barely made sense. It took away from an otherwise enjoyable read.


Mad Mouse (John Ceepak, Book 2) by Chris Grabenstein is an entertaining mystery with a laid back pace, interesting motivation, and almost successful twist that starts out great but pulls the rug out from under the reader with a strange, random answer that really doesn't fit the rest of the story. I give this book 4 out of 5 eReaders.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Movie Review - Scooby-Doo! & Batman: The Brave and the Bold

I loved Batman: The Brave & the Bold and was really sad when it was cancelled and replaced by that joke Beware the Batman, which didn't even last a season. (Who honestly thought THAT was a good idea? Even the concept stunk. Let's not even get into the execution.) Batman: The Brave & the Bold was a love letter to the Silver Age of Comics, Dick Sprang's weird cartoony style, and Jack Kirby-style action. It was probably the closest to a direct translations of comics coming alive on the screen possible. And I love Scooby-Doo and all the crossovers and adventures he and the gang undertake.

Scooby-Doo! & Batman: The Brave and the Bold is a 2018 direct-to-home-video superhero animated movie. It is appropriate for all ages.

The Good

Premise. The Scooby-Doo gang is invited to join a secret mystery solving club consisting of several DC Characters. They end up working on Batman's only unsolved case. Cool idea!

Action. This movie is filled with heroes and villains from the DC Universe with lots of fighting and other superhero action, which is exactly what a fan wants to see.

Characters. This movie included a lot of DC characters, some we haven't seen before and others in versions we haven't seen before, which was one of the things that made Batman: The Brave and the Bold so much fun.

Animation Style. This movie was in the style of Batman: The Brave and the Bold which was basically the Dick Sprang and the Silver Age of Comics. Even the Scooby-Doo characters were redesigned to match this style, and they work incredibly well in it. It's one of my favorite interpretations of them.

The Bad

The Story. While this movie had a great premise, there wasn't a lot to the actual story. It was mostly a clue leading to a new location so the gang could fight a handful of villains, find another clue, go to another location, and fight more villains.

Pacing. Most of this movie moved at a decent pace, but there were times when the story lagged and I found myself looking at the time.

What I Would Like to Have Seen

I wish the story had been stronger. This movie was little more than an excuse to showcase a bunch of villains, which was cool, but could have been cooler.


Scooby-Doo! & Batman: The Brave and the Bold is a fun movie featuring over a dozen of Batman villains from the heavy hitters like Joker, Penguin, and Riddler, to the lightweights you probably wouldn't recognize the names of. The animation style, the action, and the premise are all solid and top notch. The story is a little thin and the pacing slow as the gang travels from one clue to the next mostly so a new group of villains or characters gets screen time. This movie is exactly what you expect it to be. I give this film 4 boxes of popcorn out of 5.


Monday, January 15, 2018

Movie Review: Pitch Perfect 3

I really enjoyed the first two pitch perfect movies. I thought they were fun, funny, and had great music. I wasn't sure where you go with a college singing group after you leave college, but this movie found a place that made sense.

Pitch Perfect 3 is a 2017 musical comedy. It is rated PG-13 for language and crude humor and is appropriate for teens and up.

The Good

Comedy. This movie was hilarious. While there were the obvious jokes you expect, there were quite a few I didn't see coming that had me making a bit of a disturbance in the movie theater.

Pacing. This movie moved at a great pace. I never got bored, and yet nothing felt rushed.

Music. The filmmakers picked some great songs, and they were very well performed by the Bellas and the other music groups.

Comradery. The Bellas have a great comradery and chemistry together. And the two members that are just fillers is finally acknowledged!

The Bad

Crude Language. There were a lot of crude jokes and crude humor that was meant to be funny, but it was so blatant it came off as more desperate..

Change of Direction. The first half of the movie goes in one direction, then in the middle the film introduces a new subplot that ends up taking over the rest of the film. While it was very entertaining, it wasn't anything original or special and meant the audience never got to see what could have been done with the rival music groups.

What I Would Like to Have Seen

I wish the filmmakers would have explored the story with the rival bands further. They were very different than the groups in the previous two movies and offered a good amount of new material. The direction with Fat Amy's dad was something we've seen hundreds of times before.


Pitch Perfect 3 is pure fun filled with great singing. It asked itself what worked with the first movie and focused on that. It took a strange turn in the middle and didn't follow up on the great music group conflict set up at the beginning which was a shame, but otherwise was pure entertainment. It understood what kind of film it was, who its fans were, and played to that. I haven't enjoyed a movie this much in quite a while. I give this film 4.5 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Quick Movie Review - Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi

I thought the new Star Wars movie would be a bad remake of Empire Strikes Back. Turns out it's a remake of Empire AND Return of the Jedi. The story is a mess, but there are a lot of cool fan moments that make it fun and exciting to watch. I'm not crazy about the left turn they've taken on the philosophical/religious views. And it still isn't as epic in scale as the first six, but it was a WHOLE LOT better than The Force Awakens. I give this film a 3 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.


Monday, January 8, 2018

Quick Movie Review: Gentlemen Broncos

I thought the overall story was really good. I wasn't a fan of the way it was told. The B-movie approach works well for things that are really clever or really fun (and can work better than the big budget approach), but I didn't feel this was fun enough or clever enough, but it could have been if they had pushed it a little further. The underlying story had the potential, but the pacing was very slow. I think young sci-fi and fantasy writers will probably really enjoy it, because they could see themselves and their creation so clearly in it. There were definitely moments I felt the main characters pain and angst. It was mostly entertaining. I give this film a 2.5 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.


Friday, January 5, 2018

Movie Review - Kong: Skull Island

I'm a big fan of what I call "forces of nature monsters" such as King Kong, Godzilla, or mythological creatures. There's something about the sheer power and force of such a being that fascinates me.

Kong: Skull Island is a 2017 science fiction action drama. It is rated PG-13 for language and violence but is appropriate for teens and up.


What if King Kong had been discovered during the Vietnam War instead of the 1930s because of sightings from World War II?

The Good

Concept. This is a cool way to reimagine King Kong. It was true to the original movie while being very different and entertaining. This doesn't always work so well.

Ending. I was really pleased with the way the movie ended. It tied everything together nicely and was a bit of a surprise, because I wasn't sure if the filmmakers were going to allow such a happy scene.

Action. The action was really exciting, varied, and well choreographed and rendered. It was a fun watch.

Story. This film had a really good story and explored so many different ways people could react to such a discovery from excitement to fear. While there were a lot of characters, the filmmakers gave each enough screen time to tell their story and express their particular view.

The Bad

Main Menace. Most of the monsters were rendered well, but the big threat of the movie looked like a bad video game and could have had a more interesting design.

What I Would Like to Have Seen

I really have nothing. The filmmakers covered everything well.


Kong: Skull Island is an enjoyable action movie that actually tells a pretty good story and explores several different ways people would handle the discovery of something like King Kong. The whole approach setting it in the 1970s worked really well. And the ending made me smile. The main menace of the movie was kind of a cheesy, b-movie monster from the 50s, but otherwise the movie was well crafted. I give this film 4 boxes of popcorn out of 5.