Sunday, September 29, 2013

Movie Review: Quiz Show

Title: Quiz Show
Author: N/A
Genre: Historical, TV
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: PG-13 (for some strong language)
Age Group: 18+

"It's the getting away with it part he couldn't live with," Dick Goodwin reveals while talking about his uncle's revelation of an affair that had happened eight years ago.
Indeed. Now, with thousands of dollars on the line, big TV men angry, and contestants claiming they were forced to "take a dive," Goodwin (an investigator from Washington) decides he's going to take TV to court, so to speak. He's sure he can prove TV is all a big scam, using evidence gained from the quiz show "21." Just when things line up, when Goodwin finally gets proof that it is indeed a big scam, he befriends one of the contestants: Charles Van Doran. And Van Doran isn't too happy about being caught in the middle of such a scam. Can he get out, and can Goodwin bring TV to court without involving his friend? Moreover, can Goodwin actually win this case?
This is TV, for goodness sake! It's entertainment!

Word of Warning:
  • I apologize if this is incomplete. The movie was well done, but the actors tended to mutter and mumble some of their lines (convincingly and exactly when necessary), mixing in a thick New York accent, as well as some others, and it ended up being challenging to hear everything. I did re-watch questionable lines until I could hear what they were saying, but I may have missed something.
  • Most of the problems rest in the language of the men the movie focuses on. Unfortunately, the "good guys" and "bad guys" both have problems in this area. A brief list of words used: d*** it, s*** (2x), f***ing, bulls*** (2x), Godd*** (4x). Someone also chuckles "God" while making a joke/laughing at someone, in upsettingly good humor.
  • A brief shot of a televised passionate kiss (we're quite aware it's meant to be passionate, but we barely see more than a few seconds of it).
  • A wife briefly mentions the word "sex" to her husband before kissing him, though it doesn't seem like she's suggesting that particular course of action at the moment. Hard to tell with their accents and her whispering.
  • An angry Jewish character mutters, "Put me in an isolation booth and pump cyanide into it."
  • The film rests on a big moral dilemma which puts money up against honesty (not cheating in the quiz show), or value for education against honesty. Characters struggle with this along the way. The one character who remains true to his values is Goodwin, though he does toe the line when he decides to keep Charles out of the spotlight.
  • An angry Jewish character mutters, "A big uncircumcised putz is on the cover of Time magazine."
  • In an attempt to explain preparation, someone says, "You don't go hunting in your underwear."
  • A brief shot of a man's wife with her shirt unbuttoned, showing her bra. They are apparently alone (son upstairs practicing his drums) and when a visitor stops by she shrieks, hastily buttons up, and offers to serve them. We do not get any indication that there was any sort of sexual interaction between the wife and the husband before the visitor stops by, and as we enter the scene with the visitor, the time the woman spends in her bra on camera is very brief. (Had it not been for this scene, I might have given the movie with a 16+ age group)
  • Men wear boxers in their homes.
  • Goodwin is well aware that Charles was fed answers for the quiz show, just like the other contestants, but decides to keep this a secret and out of his court case.
The Good
I'm turning into Stacy, only not nearly as philosophically deep :) Honestly, this movie had some good points that just can't go unmentioned.

First, fatherly support. Charles' father is a very famous man, and Charles seems to find this almost suffocating, wanting to make a name for himself that is not his father's ("Are you related to Mark Van Doran?"). When Mark finds out what his son did (cheating on the quiz show), he is visibly shocked and horrified. Still, he supports his son's decision to come clean, accompanying him to court to give him support when Charles requests it.

Charles spends the entire movie struggling with his moral dilemma. Finally, he does manage to do the right thing. Consequently, he tears his entire life apart, but, he says, he feels "relieved." His testimony to the court is one focused on the soul searching he has been forced to do as a consequence of his actions, and it is very touching.

Goodwin sticks the whole thing through, refusing to give up even when everyone is pretty sure they've thrown him off the trail. He doesn't take "no" for an answer, fighting on to find out the truth. He says he doesn't want to point fingers or bring any one person down, he just wants the truth. At one point, he waivers in his dedication, struggling with his friendship to Charles. Goodwin's wife yells at him for this during an argument, saying that he's twice the man anyone (including Charles) is, and he should stay that way.

And last, but far from least (is that not the most cliché phrase possible?) is Goodwin's little story about his uncle. He tells the story to Charles when Charles is struggling with his moral dilemma. It turns out Goodwin's uncle revealed to his wife he'd had an affair with another woman--eight years ago. Yes, while they were still married, but eight years ago. Charles is confused, wondering why on earth the confession if the uncle got away with it. Goodwin explains, "It's the getting away with it part he couldn't live with."

My Thoughts
I admit I usually find movies like this boring. I like action, a bit of romance thrown in, and if it's fictional, I don't care. Factual stuff does catch my attention from time to time, and I admit I do like the occasional documentary.

This, however, was different. This was the true story of an investigator taking on TV because of how it scams the viewers. The contestants of "21" would be given the answers ahead of time (that is, only the contestants that the producers knew would bring up ratings and product sales), then coached in how to deliver them for the best possible show. The innocent Americans watching "21" had no idea this was happening and Dick Goodwin decided to take on "21," as well as TV as a whole, for the great big scam it was running.
He failed. "21" was beaten, sort of, but the rest of TV got away. That's easy to see in the shows that we view now.

But the journey Goodwin took to prove "21" was a scam and his own personal struggle, along with Charles' personal journey, was incredibly interesting to follow. I found myself completely hooked by the movie and unable to look away.

It also made me wonder: what would happen if we took TV to court today? Would anybody even care that it was all a big scam?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Book Review: Lark

Title: Lark
Author: Sally Watson
Genre: historical fiction, romance
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: Children's fiction
Age Group: 10+

Summary: Unfortunately for her, Lark's uncle is so sure it's God's will she marry his son that her uncle has kidnapped her to make sure she is raised properly. Lark is very sure she is not going to marry her cousin. Living under her uncle's care, Lark becomes a talented actress (though of course no one knows that). When the time is right, Lark runs away to Scotland.
Which apparently is not nearly as easy as she thinks. On her way, Lark runs into James. She's happy; he's got a problem. What's he supposed to do with a girl while on the king's business? How can he possibly remain chivalrous and leave her behind?

Word of Warning
  • Lark's uncle kidnaps her, essentially to enact a forced marriage.
  • Lark runs away.
  • Lark pretends to be mentally ill, and her cousin wonders if it's because of God or the devil.
  • Lark's uncle is a very strict Puritan. Because of her hate of him, she has a narrow view of God, at first deciding she doesn't like Him because He seems to be on her uncle's side. Eventually she comes around, but she still struggles now and then.
  • Lark is locked up and kept prisoner.
  • James is injured badly and gets very ill. Lark is left with tending to his bleeding wounds and trying to save his life.
  • Willow, a Gypsy girl, flirts with James even though she's well aware she's supposed to marry Neco.
  • Lark flirts with Neco to make James jealous.
  • It takes Lark a good part of the book to discover she should not manipulate people with her acting abilities. She also never really gets over her tendency to manipulate James (though she does try).
  • James is almost hanged, and it's clear that he's constantly in danger of being captured and killed by the enemy.
  • A child (who happens to be a brat) is not punished, though eventually this changes.
  • A different child is beaten (not severely, more like in punishment).
My Thoughts
This was by far my favorite of Watson's books so far (though, I have to admit, I've only read two). The narrative voice for these books is simple, showing us a sort of naïve view of the world but in a sweet way. At times, the characters can be annoying (naïve gets frustrating after a while), but overall it was a good story.
Not to mention James, who is awesome, and all the fun little adventures he and Lark encounter. Indeed, this book is a great little story told in an innocent way, following two characters on their travels, both spiritual and physical.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Unfortunate Disappointments Book Review: Playing with the Boys

Please note we have a new category: the Unfortunate Disappointments. These are books we had high hopes for, read, and were sorely disappointed, nearly saddened, by their quality and content. Those books that could be so so good, if only _____ (fill in the blank with the item of your choosing) wasn't included.
Yes, those books. Those poor books. For them we have created a category, an entire week, belonging just to them. Because we really did have such high hopes for them. And then they let us down.


Title: Playing with the Boys
Author: Liz Tigelaar
Genre: sports, romance
My Rating: *
Official Rating: Teen Fiction
Age Group: 18+ (preferably girls only)

Summary: Lucy is one letter short of "lucky" and when she doesn't make the varsity soccer team at her new school, that just proves that she's always been right about her name. So she does the next best thing. She tries out for the football team. Which is, of course, a guys football team. Somehow, she manages to get onto a team where the players are not happy to have her. The coach feels the same way, but she can kick so well that he would look like a fool to refuse her a place on the team. Not to mention he wants to have a winning team.
But Lucy is a girl. On a guys football team. That alone should set up enough conflict for a whole series of books.

My Hopes
What can I say? I like my soccer, and I like my football. Putting the two into the same novel? Could it get any better? Yes, actually, it could. Introducing Benji Mason, the funny and sweet and kind punter who falls for Lucy. Plus, the idea of a girl on a guys' team is actually kind of interesting, at least assuming it is treated in an appropriate manner.
Well. That makes a good set up for any book, doesn't it?

Word of Warning/The Disappointment
Goodness, this will be a long list. Please be warned that this list does contain some very inappropriate references simply because they were in the book and I want the reader to know what he/she is getting into. Where do I start? At the beginning of the book, I guess. Here it goes!
  • Please note that Lucy is a fifteen year old girl.
  • This is the story of a teen girl who decides that enough is enough. She is going to do what she wants, even if her father says she can't. And in the end? Well, the stuff he does find out about (football), he is ok with. And proud of her for. And that right there is a huge problem.
  • Partying against a parent's direct order not to party.
  • Lucy claims to have made out two and a half times. Making out is mentioned one other time.
  • Words: h***, sexy (on the bottom of someone's pants), crap, a**, a**-hole, b*tch (used as an insult, also as a term of endearment for "friends"), and God's name used in vain at least twice.
  • Alcohol. It is mentioned, then later in the book teens drink it. They talk about stealing it from unsuspecting parents and do not seem to regret their choice. One girl has a bit too much and ends up throwing up in the bathroom.
  • Cigarettes are mentioned (but not used). The first time curfew is mentioned it is pointed out that it has not been broken, but it is broken several times in the book. Crystal meth is mentioned as an addiction but no one has it, illegitimate children are also mentioned as something that is nonexistent for a particular person.
  • Disrespect for grandparents (they are referred to as crazy) and a father. In a confusing twist, Lucy genuinely seems to love her father at the same time as she is rude to him, lying to him, and breaking all the rules he sets for her (reasonable rules, one might add. they are completely reasonable and not uncommon).
  • A dead mother is mentioned. The cause of her death is assumed to be sickness. This death throws a bit of confusion into the relationship between Lucy and her father as they struggle to live without the mother, love each other, and deal with frustrations.
  • Girl is allowed to decorate her bedroom. Which is fine, except this decorating is referred to as graffiti.
  • Girls in tank-tops with built-in bras (yes, that's actually mentioned). A-cups are mentioned, along with D-cups, the latter in relation to another girl, the gossipers joking that "guys throw quarters at her cleavage." Lucy is disappointed with the size of her own breasts but eventually is not disturbed. Lucy's jersey is sabotaged, two giant holes cut in the front for her breasts as a joke. Determined to show the football team that she is not a wimp, Lucy goes out onto the field wearing it, her sports bra showing. She is given a new jersey and changes right there in the open since, she reasons, they've already seen her sports bra.
  • Other sexual references: a teacher tells students to hold their (hockey) sticks tightly. The girls laugh and the narrator comments on high schoolers always interpreting things as sexual. Girls at soccer are sent to grab the balls, one says the other loves to do just that, they all giggle. Further giggles result in the "touches" on the ball they are to do next. While warming up for football practice, Lucy is told that the kickers will have to hold their own balls for the time being because the other player is also the center. Lucy twists the meaning here and giggles. Lucy confesses to getting a "B" in sex ed, something that Benji finds rather funny.
  • A girl uses what she calls the "period excuse" to explain her ten minute absence from a football game. She's not ashamed of doing so, makes the coach squirm a bit, and goes on with life. When referencing it she says she had a feminine difficulty or something along those lines.
  • Cute boys are everywhere.
  • A girl is referred to as "emo" (a term not explained) and she seems to hate Lucy, growling at her at one point.
  • A girl decides a certain cute boy should be cloned if he has not been already.
  • Two guys in a TV show are predicted to be making out by the end of the season.
  • Some girls are forbidden by their parents from watching MTV. Their friends are horrified and deem this "globally unfair."
  • Jocks, geeks, etc are present and referred to as such (at times).
  • Football players are taped to a goal post. They also confess to all sorts of joking around and hazing in the locker room, including urinating in shampoo bottles when others are not looking. It's deemed innocent and just a bit of guy fun by the football players, except Lucy, who is horrified.
  • Ryan is the typical popular quarterback who is blind to one girl who has a crush on him, notices another (and leads her on), but actually is dating a third during the entire thing.
  • Roughness on the football field and off, including injuries like broken ankles.
  • Rudeness all around and toward friends all the time.
  • Lies, cheating, and cruelty are all over the book.
  • Two kisses (one apparently passionate, one not so much but portrayed as better).
  • Teens win. Adults look stupid and realize that they were wrong all along in everything.
My Thoughts:
Could this have been more disappointing? I doubt it. However, as the book continued, the problems became fewer and farther between. Still, I was a bit sad. Does this author really think sex and sports are the only things that get high schoolers reading? That these two topics are the only ones people of that age range talk about?
Poor author. Such a sad, devastating, hopeless outlook on the world.

Well, was the story at least original? If it was, that's at least one star for the rating, right? Well it wasn't, unfortunately. Not at all. Let's see...we've got the new girl, the cute quarterback who turns out to be a jerk, and the other guy who clearly has fallen for the new girl but is sweet and just waits around for her to realize it, then eventually gets the girl. Now don't forget the mean girls, the nice ones, and the completely oblivious parents who confess that they were wrong after all.
Is anything missing? Oh, right. A girl on a guys' team who succeeds and ends up being respected by all the guys. Well, there it is. I think that covers every cliché in the writer's toolbox when it comes to stories like this.
It's funny, really. When authors write these clichés, they usually give the impression that it is not cliché, and that's why we should be excited. Er, right. After reading so many books, I'm afraid I'm not going to fall for that.

Why the one star? It had such great potential! And it was a fun story idea. I mean, it had soccer action, football action, football terminology, and a brave girl who decided to play on a guys' team.
Unfortunately, that girl was self-centered and had a father she could manipulate with just a bit of effort.

What more is there to say? It was sad. I had hoped for something better. It had such potential.
Potential which was trampled underfoot by the destructive cleats of teenagers who had room in their minds for only two things. I'm sorry, potential. It appears that once again you have been defeated.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Music Review: Good Bad Songs

This post is slightly different. Ever hear that song on the radio that makes you change the channel because younger kids are in the car? You know, the one song that you'd actually listen to if you were alone, just because it got something (beyond voice and music) right.
These are the songs that are often misunderstood without a close listen. Some of them still aren't fit for listening to, but a better understanding of them might help the next time it comes on.

Trouble With Girls (Scotty McCreery)
Red Flag: "Nobody loves trouble as much as me." Scotty admits to having a problem with girls. He's captivated and settles on the idea that "that's the way it's supposed to be." He then goes on to list a few of the things girls do that makes it hard for him to keep away, so to speak.
The Good: Scotty is not, as it may seem, admitting to any physical intimacy challenges or even an obsession. Listening closely to the lyrics, one can see that he's reflecting on the beauty of girls and how it affects guys (and he seems content with the conclusion). It's a sweet reflection, not an insult or an obsession.

Should've Said No (Taylor Swift)
Red Flag: The very story is bad. Taylor's boyfriend cheated on her (it's implied that this involved something physical, though how far we're not told) and she's hurt.
The Good: The very tone of the song is almost heartbreaking. You can hear in Taylor's voice her anger, her hurt, and her frustration. It sounds like she's angry but also wanting to forgive. She's hurt and wishing her boyfriend hadn't done what he did, and she's frustrated with his failure. She absolutely refuses to take him back, saying, "You need one chance, it was a moment of weakness when you said yes. You should've said no, you should've gone home. You should've thought twice before you let it all go. You should've know that word about what you did with her would get back to me....You should've said no, baby and you might still have me."
I like to consider what would have happened if he'd said no like she wanted him to. Look what happens when you say yes, is what Taylor's saying. And she concludes that it wasn't worth it for either of them.

If You're Goin' Through Hell (Rodney Atkins)
Red Flag: Hmm. Let's see. He's singing about going through hell. Most of the time, the very word "hell" in music is a turn off (mainly because it's completely misused). So it all rests on two little words: hell, and devil.
The Good: ...only here "hell" isn't really misused in this case. The whole song is about when things get so bad that it looks like there's no way anything will ever get better, you have to keep going. The chorus says it all: "If you're goin' through hell, keep on goin'. Don't slow down, if you're scared don't show it. You might get out before the devil even knows you're there."

Cowboy Casanova (Carrie Underwood)
Red Flag: The entire song revolves around a man who is very appealing but not a good person. In her warnings about the person's "badness" Carrie takes things a little too far, going to physical appeal and briefly suggestion an addiction to the man's love.
The Good: In addition to the red flag, we've got Carrie warning the girl who finds herself attracted to this dangerous guy about his "badness" so to speak. Half way through the song, she repeats the warning because it's easy not to hear it when under the man's spell.

Good Girl (Carrie Underwood)
Red Flag: The whole song is about Carrie warning a girl that she deserves better and a certain boy isn't any good for her.
The Good: is the same as the red flag. Because that's the point, isn't it? Carrie says that the girl in the song wants a good boy who'll "give you the world" and "fairy tale ending" but the boy she's looking at isn't "a good man." It's basically a warning, and in it Carrie admits that there is nothing wrong with a good girl wanting a good boy, but the trouble is finding a good boy. And isn't that life?

Skin (Rascal Flatts)
Red Flag: Uh, the title. Because when I see a country song titled "Skin," my instincts yell "RUN!"
The Good: This song is actually about a girl who gets cancer and loses her hair. She has great dreams and doesn't think she'll ever achieve them. One dream in particular is to go to her high school prom with a boy and be kissed, but now that she hasn't got any hair, she hasn't got a chance. Until a boy shows up to take her to prom, takes off his hat, and reveals that he hasn't got any hair either. It's a beautiful story.

There Goes My Life (Kenny Chesney)
Red Flag: Aside from the title, we've got a rather awkward starting point. It's assumed that the couple with the unwanted pregnancy is in high school (this becomes clear if you watch the music video).
The Good: The song starts out mourning and scared. The father isn't ready for fatherhood, but by the end it's taken over his life and he's happy with that. He comes to see that it's the best thing that ever happened to him.

My Thoughts:
I'm going to try very hard not to make judgments about these songs. It's hard, just sticking to what's wrong and what's good. I know with at least a few of them I did make judgments and I'm sorry, but it's very tempting.
I know the ones I reviewed are only country. The reason is very simple: I tend to listen to country, or music with no words (pointless to review the way we do here), or music in Latin (and that's usually Catholic). I'll try to branch out more in the future.
There are lots of these songs out there, but these were just the ones to came to mind right now. You know, that song that would be so good "if ____ wasn't in it." And then you do a double take and go, "but wait, there is ____" and you're stuck trying to figure out whether it really is good or bad.
Balance of good and bad is not the key. The key is get rid of the bad, bring in the good. So then the question is simple: does the good do away with the bad?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Book Review: Linnet

Title: Linnet
Author: Sally Watson
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: Children's Fiction
Age Group: 10+
Linnet is not very happy with her life, especially since she has to spend the summer with her godparents and their son Giles. Indeed, Giles is by far the most annoying boy she's ever met. It's a good thing he seems to think the same of her.
When Linnet decides to walk all the way to London to visit her cousins, she is kidnapped by a man who is mixed up in all sorts of crazy plots involving the Queen and "Papists." Not entirely aware that she's been kidnapped at all, Linnet agrees to go along with Colley's plans. She even befriends the gang of thieves he's trained.
But when Colley turns out to be a bit of a con man, Linnet finds herself in serious trouble.
It's a good thing Giles doesn't think too badly of her after all.

Word of Warning
  • Possibly some British swearing. It's hard to tell, as I don't have much background in British literature or culture, but there are at least moments where exclamations are made which are completely unfamiliar to me.
  • Colley trains thieves and they see nothing wrong with their way of life.
  • Many of the thieves are treated as dumb and unable to learn anything.
  • Linnet is disrespectful, doesn't know how to keep her mouth shut, and is incredibly naïve. She's also rather cruel to Giles.
  • Catholics are all seen as evil and assumed to be plotting to kill Queen Elizabeth.
  • Queen Elizabeth is seen as a sort of goddess by those in London and portrayed as such in the book (in a slightly mocking way, strangely enough).
  • Linnet struggles with moral problems such as lying and breaking promises. She concludes that she will not do such things even to papists, while Colley has no problems with doing so and is frustrated (and amused) that she won't.
  • Linnet is almost killed by Colley, though that possibility isn't entirely clear and never truly shown.
  • People are punched, kicked, and tossed about. Some of them are children, but they're never injured.
  • The thieves are portrayed as animals in a way, but do eventually improve in status (thanks to Linnet).
  • The bad guy gets away.
The Good (because I can't resist)
  • It's a fun relatively innocent historical fiction story. It's been a while since I've read historical fiction, and I'm starting to wonder why in the world I ever stopped.
  • Linnet treats the thieves as real people. She teaches them to bathe, to talk properly, and to read.
  • Giles is actually a pretty cool character. He spends the entire book searching for Linnet in London because he knows she ran away and doesn't want her to get hurt. In the end, he actually marches into the den of the kidnapper to find her (though it's clear he completely underestimates Colley). His devotion is mocked by those around him and he refuses to give up until he finds Linnet.
My Thoughts
Let's see. It was pretty innocent, it was historical fiction, it was very convincing, Giles was awesome, and even Colley was charming (in a bad guy sort of way). What's not to like?
Honestly, the problems are rather small, all things considered. It's hard to find good historical fiction and I've found plenty of bad stuff.
There really isn't much to say about a book like this. Many of its problems rest in the time period it portrays. Beyond that, it's just a short and fun adventure.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Irregular Posts Warning

Dear readers,

On behalf of the team here at Realms of Gold (currently Stacy and myself), I want to apologize for the rate of new posts, which has slowed down considerably. Stacy and I are both in college and while we fully intend to continue to post on this blog, I'm afraid we will not be able to return to the rate we started with (two posts a week).
This does not mean no posts. Quite the contrary! We will continue to read books, listen to music, watch movies, and review them as often as we can. One way you can keep up with the blog is to follow us with a Google account, or follow us by email (both options can be found on the sidebar). When we post a new review, you will get a message saying we have done so.

Also, we welcome feedback. Are there particular posts you like better than others? Music, books, movies? Any requests for specific materials? Things you think should change? Please let us know.

And last, but far from least, if you have found this blog helpful, or know someone who might, please spread the word.

God bless!
~ The Team at Realms of Gold

Friday, September 6, 2013

Trojan Horse Movie Review: Dennis the Menace

A Trojan Horse Review is a review of one of those books/movies/albums/other that comes highly recommended or disguised as something good, and is a nearly deadly attack.

Title: Dennis the Menace
Genre: Family, comedy
My Rating: **
Official Rating: PG
Age Group: 14+

Summary -
Dennis is the neighborhood pest. Mr. Wilson in particular doesn't like him. At all. The boy is a threat to the man's peace and tranquility.
So he is less than pleased when his wife agrees to take care of Dennis while both of his parents are gone on business trips. Sharing his house with the monstrous child is a living nightmare, and everything takes a turn for the worse when Mr. Wilson is robbed and Dennis inadvertently ruins the work of half of Mr. Wilson's life.
Dennis is a menace.

The Bad - Note: About a third of the way into the movie, I stopped cataloging specific problems that I saw, mainly because I found it really distracting to keep pausing the movie in the middle of a gag to write down everything I objected to. I'll try to remember specific problems, but I can't promise to catch everything.

- Dennis gets himself (usually in complete innocence), into a lot of trouble. His hijinks include (but aren't limited to): giving Mr. Wilson a medical inspection while he's "sleeping" and accidently making him choke on an asprin, playing ding-dong-ditch on his own house (more on that later), accidently spilling paint, then accidently shooting paint at Mr. Wilson's barbeque, breaking Mr. Wilson's dentures and replacing the teeth with pieces of gum, accidently almost dropping a canoe on top of Mr. Wilson, mixing up Mr. Wilson's medicines, letting a dog into Mr. Wilson's house, flipping over a whole table of deserts, seriously injuring a bad guy (also more on that later), and shooting a burning marshmallow onto Mr. Wilson's forehead.
- Mr. Wilson spends his life avoiding Dennis, sometimes in bad ways. He "lies" about being sick to Dennis, prevents him from cheating in a game by lying to his accomplice, and speaking very unkindly to him.
- Dennis cheats in hide-and-go seek by using a little boy to watch where everyone is hiding.
- Dennis lies to his parents and disobeys them on occasion.
- Mr. Wilson suggests that Dennis' dad use a belt on him.
- Dennis' babysitter invites her boyfriend over to the house, makes some inappropriate comments (through the mouth of Dennis), and once Dennis is "asleep", starts a very heavy make-out session with him. Dennis comes down the stares and starts laughing at them (which is probably the most disconcerting part of the scene), then sneaks out and plays ding-dong-ditch. In an effort to catch the perpetrator, the couple sets an elaborate trap, and end up plastering Mr. Wilson with flour.
- A little girl about Dennis' age makes extremely inappropriate comments to him about love-nests and the like. She threatens another boy into kissing her, but when he proffers his lips, she makes him kiss her doll's bottom instead. She then proceeds to tease him about this for a very long time.
- Kids threaten each other with physical harm.
- Dennis begins describing his parent's love life very clearly to Mrs. Wilson. It is obvious that he doesn't know what he's saying, but Mrs. Wilson looks distinctly uncomfortable.
- There are several "close call" gags with men's unmentionables.
- A very bad man comes into town and tries to steal people's stuff. He kidnaps Dennis and threatens him with death (it's a very scary scene). Dennis, being Dennis, doesn't really notice, and proceeds to maim the man accidently. The whole sequence is supposed to be funny, but it just ends up being rather disturbing.
- God's name is taken in vain several times, and name calling such as "stupid", "babyrump kisser", and "hot lips" is bantered about by young children.

The Good -
Because the whole story is basically a spoof on childhood and neighborhood politics, there isn't a whole lot that can be used as a teaching moment in this movie.
Despite his utter annoyingness, Dennis really does love Mr. Wilson in a five-year-old sort of way, and he is completely oblivious to the man's dislike. Even when Mr. Wilson crushes his heart, he still runs to the old man with joy and completely forgives (or forgets) the man's faults.
Mr. Wilson finally realizes just how horrible he's been to Dennis by the end of the movie, and heartbrokenly searches for him after Dennis runs away. He honestly rejoices when the boy returns.
Dennis' mother is forced to go back to work because of a bad financial situation, but she tries desperately not to let that interfere with her motherhood. She defends her motherhood to snide coworkers who persecute her for her loyalty to family.

Conclusion -
This movie could have been so good.
I hate saying those words, because they mean that something beautiful was destroyed.
I guess most people wouldn't see a muddy, mischievous, precocious five-year-old boy as beautiful. Most people would run as fast as they can in the opposite direction, like Mr. Wilson. But the wonderful innocence of childhood makes all of the annoyances of that little boy completely worth suffering through.
The problem with this movie is its almost bipolar flip-flopping between innocence and innuendo. It is really disconcerting to hear young children discuss "birds and bees" one moment and then see them write "I'm sorry I accidently shot paint onto your chicken" notes the next. Or see them laughing at a young couple making out, then turning around and accidently ruining a garden party by pressing the garage door button.  It's more than disconcerting; it's disgusting. It is quite hard to enjoy a movie when you have to transition from laughing yourself into stitches to cringing in pain every two minutes.
That being said, I think Dennis the Menace has some merit. The softening of Mr. Wilson toward Dennis is rather wonderful to watch, and, outside of the humor of the story, was probably my favorite part of the movie.
This is a hard movie to put into a category, because while it has a lot of adult content, the story line and script was meant to make an 8-year-old laugh. And I think that's an incredibly dangerous combination.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Album Review: Clear As Day

Title: Clear As Day
Author: Scotty McCreery
Genre: Country
My Rating *****
Official Rating: teen, young adult
Age Group: 6+, 14+ if you want to understand some of the deeper references

Scotty McCreery appeared out of nowhere, a solidly Christian teen with a deep voice and a love for singing country music. After American Idol, he took off on his journey as a country music artist, still staying grounded in who he was (continuing to play baseball, going to high school, etc). His voice is clear, deep, and very enjoyable to listen to. On top of that, he sings some of the cleanest and down-to-earth country songs encountered these days.

My Thoughts
I admit it. I like Scotty's voice and most of his songs. They're honest, reflecting on a simple life, and almost completely clean. I find it frustrating, turning on the radio and having to switch country stations almost constantly because of what's in the songs. For people who like country music (especially the more traditional stuff), Scotty McCreery is the way to go. The only problem I have with this album is that while the songs are sweet and fun, two times is enough. Many of them can be boring the third time around because half-way through the song all the new lyrics have been used and the rest of the song is usually a slight variation on the chorus. However, if you pay close attention, the slight variation on the chorus is often well worth the third time playing the song.

By Song

"Out of Summertime"
Summary: The singer is at the fair and sees a girl he decides he likes. He mourns, "Oh, she could've been mine, but we ran out of summertime." Then follows the typical summer romance, beaches, names in trees, making plans for the future they won't be able to keep. The singer admits "Of all the things I let get away, she's the one that keeps me awake at night." He throws in one problematic line, "She was hot as July, sweet as sunshine." He does seem to know that they needed more time before they could have truly fallen in love.

"I Love You This Big"
Summary: Scotty starts by saying he's young, but he knows what he's feeling even without experience to back him up on this. He's in love and he wants to explain it, "I love you this big. Eyes have never seen this big. No one's dreamed this big. And I'll spend the rest of my life, explaining what words cannot describe, but I'll try: I love you this big." He then goes through all sorts of clichés (to the moon and back, etc), saying, "Girl you do something to me, deep down in my heart." Then back to that sweet chorus, and that's pretty much the whole song.

"Clear As Day"
Summary: "That night's still clear as day," Scotty recalls, and indeed it is, down to the last minute detail "You hold to what you love. Some things never fade." After a baseball game, he meets up with his girl and they go to a party. She hugs him, saying she likes to watch him play ball, then they leave the party for some "fresh air." They get closer and, "my lips aint never kissed that way." As it comes to an end, she promises to call him--"that's a call you never got to make." "They blamed it on the fog and pourin' rain, and that night's still clear as day."

"The Trouble With Girls"
Summary: "The trouble with girls is they're a mystery" Scotty declares, and he confesses that he's spent a long time trying to figure them out but hasn't made any progress. He sings, "they're so dang pretty. Everything about 'em does something to me, but I guess that's the way it's supposed to be." Smiles, batting eyes, sweet hellos, sad goodbyes, one touch is enough, "sugar and spice and angel wings. Hell on wheels in tight blue jeans," summer nights by the lake, it's hard to find one to like even with so many around, and more. The kiss at the front door leaves him wishing he could go up, then the girl asks him to stay. He concludes, "the trouble with girls is nobody loves trouble as much as me."

"Water Tower Town"
Summery: A reflection on a little town where things are good and simple. People wave, go to church, know the gossip, and work hard. "Friday night football is king, sweet tea is good with everything. Fireflies come out when the sun goes down. Nobody eats till you say 'amen' and everybody knows your mom and them. You can see who loves who from miles around" and that's that. Life is good, simple, and honest.

"Walk in the Country"
Summary: Bored, Scotty takes a walk in the country to escape the chaos of the world (TV shows, ties,. He wants the fresh air and freedom. "Walk in the country with me. Watch the sun sinkin' down on the trees. It's gonna do us some good, to get down in the woods, take a little walk in the country with me."

"Better Than That"
Summary: Scotty's sure this girl's love is "better than that," listing all sorts of great things he had originally thought were the top (first crush, first kiss, fishing, a truck, seeing the ocean, singing, etc). "You love is better, better than that. Nothin' is sweeter than you, makin' my heart beat so fast. Everything I could've been, what was at the end of all those other paths, your love is better than that."

"Write My Number On Your Hand"
Summary: A summer romance involves swimming yet again, this time with the girl in a bikini and the two sharing a Coco Cola, Scotty wanting to kiss her "like an old bullfrog." They talk and Scotty requests, "Write my number on your hand where it's easy to see, and give yours to me. Write my number on your hand where it's easy to see. It'll look good in blue on your sun-kissed tan. Write my number on your hand."

"Dirty Dishes"
Summary: A tribute to his mother, this song of Scotty's is sweet and reflective. With the family at the table, she bows her head and prays, "I wanna thank you Lord, for noisy children and slammin' doors, and clothes scattered all over the floor, a husband workin' all the time, draggin' in dead tired at night, a never endin' messy kitchen, and dirty dishes." When asked to explain her strange prayer, she explains, "Noisy kids are happy kids, and slammin' doors just mean we live in a warm and lovin' home. Your long hours and those dishes in the sink means a job and enough to eat."

"You Make That Look Good"
Summary: Scotty's a simple country boy in love with a girl who, "you make that look good. Might as well say Cadillac right there on the hood. The way you flash that smile, no matter what you do, you make that look good." No matter what she's wearing (jeans, flipflops, and a tanktop) she still looks beautiful according to Scotty. "Boys will be boys, we like runnin' around, paintin' the town, don't know a thing about settlin' down. But right now, you make that look good." In fact, her beauty makes Scotty feel like he can do things he didn't think he could do before (nothing morally wrong, however).

"Back On The Ground"
Summary: Returning to his home, Scotty meets his mother who is happy to see him, greeting him with a hug and wanting to hear how he's doing. "Aint it funny how it all comes back around? I remember when I couldn't get out of her hair and ditch this town. I was restless and time to move on. Now it's any reason to go back home. That's what it's all about. Yeah, I'm just slowin' down, get my feet back on the ground." They spend the afternoon talking, happy to have all the time in the world, Scotty having no desire to leave.

"That Old King James"
Summary: Scotty has a hand-me-down King James translation of the bible which has been taken everywhere by his relatives. It was taken to war ("right there in the middle of hell"), cancer, crazy kids, and now sits in the house for Scotty's mother to take down when things got rough and she needed a little something to keep her going. The Bible has been cried over, marked up, and worn out. Scotty briefly wonders what toll he took on his mother and the well-loved bible. Finally, it falls into his hands with the directions "read it when you're feelin' down" and his response is a sincere "yes ma'm."