Author Archives: Debbie

A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969) Movie Review

A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Peter Robbins, Pamelyn Ferdin, Glenn Gilger, Andy Pforsich, Erin Sullivan
Director: Bill Melendez
Series: a Peanuts movie
Release Date: 4 December 1969
Language: English
Length: 86 minutes
Movie Rating: G
View Format: DVD
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Synopsis:

“The lovable kids from Charles Schulz’s popular comic strip “Peanuts” star in their first full-length animated film, which features now-iconic scenes such as Lucy tricking Charlie Brown by pulling away the football he’s about to kick. Other memorable scenes include Snoopy ice-skating with abandon in Central Park, Linus losing his security blanket and Charlie Brown competing in the National Spelling Bee. The film earned an Oscar nod for Best Score.” — Netflix.com

Review:

I remember watching this movie when I was a kid, but didn’t think it was anything special.  In fact, it seemed like there were a lot of rather boring parts!  I don’t know what caused me to Charlie Brown Championrent it again, but I am so glad that I did!  Now that I am older and have more experience, this movie resonated with me and definitely kept me entertained!  I don’t know if it is because I have had so many disappointments in my life or that I can relate with Charlie Brown and his hopes and dreams.  Too bad that Charlie Brown rarely succeeds in achieving what he reaches out for!  What I love the most about Charlie now is that he never gives up.  He looks forward to a new baseball season, keeps going back to Lucy for advice and keeps trying to get Snoopy to act like a real dog.  I watch Charlie Brown in this movie and think that my life isn’t really that bad.  I am not sure that I would be willing to get out of bed in the morning if I had Charlie Brown’s life!

Lucy is a huge part of what makes this movie so funny – too bad she has such a mean-spirited sense of humor!  She made me laugh throughout the film, but then I felt bad for laughing as Charlie Brown on the Pitchers Moundpoor Charlie Brown was always the butt of her jokes.  When Charlie Brown gets hit in the head with a baseball and Linus calls for first aid, Lucy’s reply is “I don’t think it’s that serious.  Second or third aid should do.” Later, trying to capitalize on Charlie Brown’s success and get him prepared for the spelling bee, Lucy proclaims “You have a smile like a sick pumpkin.”  I don’t remember Lucy being funny when I was a kid, but, now that I am an adult, she is hilarious!  Lucy always manages to come up with these zingy little one liners that are hysterical, but you have to pay close attention or you will miss out.  There is also some terrific physical comedy when Snoopy is involved.  While Lucy Showing Charlie Brown His FaultsLinus is fainting in Charlie Brown’s hotel room because he is missing his blanket, Snoopy keeps running and getting water.  But Snoopy doesn’t use the water to revive Linus, Snoopy drinks it himself!  Another favorite part of mine was when Lucy was itemizing Charlie Brown’s faults one-by-one using photographs and video clips to illustrate them!  Seriously, who is told be a (kind of) friend that their faults include: failure to deal with life in a vertical position, tendency towards fatness (including toes), etc.  Again, it is bad to be laughing at this poor little boy, but you just cannot help it!

The music is beautiful in this movie.  The theme song “Boy Named Charlie Brown” is both melancholy and hopeful and I enjoyed the performance at the beginning and the end of the movie of this featured song.  There are a few silly, fun songs performed by the kids in the movie, but most of the soundtrack features classical music.  I remember these parts as being Linus Playing Pianothe most boring when I was a kid, but now I really enjoy the long, peaceful interludes.  It is so clever of the filmmakers to use copyright-free music that ties in with a music-loving character in Linus.  But the best part of this movie as far as sound goes is the vocal talents of the children who performed in it.  I love that they used actual kids to deliver the lines.  You get little pauses and different phrasing that professional or adult performers would not have included.  I really felt like I was listening to children.  Granted, these children act like little adults, but there is still a childish glee and zest to their actions and their voices that I enjoyed very much.

The more I watch this movie, the more I enjoy it these days.  I highly recommend that you watch it again if you saw this movie when you were a child.  I guarantee that you will see the film in a whole new light and that it will resonate with you in a completely different way.  There is guaranteed to be a vignette that calls especially to you.  Will it be when Charlie Brown is trying to convince his team to really try to win a ball game this year?  How about when Lucy is using a video to show Charlie Brown his many faults and try to convince him that kicking a football will solve all of them?  Perhaps it will be the fact that Charlie Brown goes so far in the Charlie Brown at the Spelling Beespelling bee competition only to falter at the very end on an easy word?  There are so many little moments of humor and some really great animation for those who are looking and paying attention that I guarantee something will catch your eye.  Again, I am not sure that this film is particularly well-suited to young children, despite being animated.  The pacing of the film is really uneven and there is not enough overt comedy to keep young children entertained.  There is plenty of fun and frivolity for big kids, however!

Content:

This movie contains some slapstick, cartoonish violence.  Appropriate for ages 3 and up.

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Filed under Animated Movies, Children & Family Movies, Comedy Movies, Musicals

The Three Musketeers (2004) Movie Review

The Three Musketeers (2004)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Wayne Allwine, Tony Anselmo, Bill Farmer, Russi Taylor, Tress MacNeille, Jim Cummings
Director: Donovan Cook
Release Date: 3 August 2004
Language: English
Length: 68 minutes
Movie Rating: G
View Format: DVD
My Rating: 4/5 stars

Synopsis:

Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy star in their first feature-length animated film together!  Mickey, Donald and Goofy are custodians dreaming of becoming great musketeers when their chance finally arrives!  Captain Pete assigns the three to guard the Queen herself!  But can these three inexperienced bodyguards keep the Queen safe from an evil villain who is trying to steal the throne for himself?  Join your favorite cartoon characters in this reimagined Alexandre Dumas classic.

Review:

This is such a fun little cartoon for children and adults to watch and enjoy!  I have seen so many different versions of Alexandre Dumas’s classic tale The Three Musketeers that I could not imagine what Disney would do to it to make it an appropriate vehicle for their three main cartoon characters.  I was surprised and delighted to witness the results.  The setting remains 17th century France, but they bent the rules a bit and included bathrooms, water pipes and more to allow for some very funny jokes (Pete looking forward to his bath for a month).  The animation is a combination of hand-drawn and CGI and I thought that it was very effective.  I still believe that Disney does hand-drawn animation better than anyone else and still hope that they will decided to do more of these high-quality, hand-drawn cartoons in the future.

The movie pays homage to older Disney presentations and has a narrator to get the story going and to explain things as they happen (mainly for younger viewers who are not familiar with this classic story).  Rob Paulsen performs the voice of The Troubador, a turtle who loves to sing.  He adds some wonderful touches as he not only narrates the story, but he also interacts with the characters in the movie to try and bring the movie the best possible outcome.  The other main departure is that this is not a retelling of The Three Musketeers, but a kind of sequel.  Young street urchins Mickey, Donald and Goofy are set upon by bullies in the streets of Paris, but saved by Aramis, Athos, Porthos and D’Artagnan.  The four musketeers sign a hat for Mickey and this is what makes the trio dream of becoming musketeers themselves.  I confess that I was relieved to see that the story uses the classic Three Musketeers take as a launchpad for the adventures here and did not try to redo it.  This left the door wide open for plenty of silly antics and funny moments.

There is a wonderful message in this movie along with the humor.  If you watch the film carefully, you will notice that the only thing holding Mickey, Goofy and Donald back is their own fears or feelings of inadequacy.  Mickey is too short, Goofy is too dim and Donald is too scared to be a real musketeer.  At least, that is what Captain Pete tells them and, after a while, they believe it.  All three are given a chance to overcome their shortfalls and to prove to themselves and everyone else that they have what it takes to be a great musketeer.  I love that Disney constantly gives us films that encourage us to reach for our dreams and to try and achieve, even when everyone around us is saying that it is impossible.

The best part of the film, in my opinion, is the music.  The entire feature pays homage to a form of music that most people are no longer familiar with: the operetta.  This music is a cross between popular music and classical or operatic music.  I grew up watching Gilbert & Sullivan operettas with my family and so I was actually familiar with some of the music in the movie.  In fact, the “opera” that Queen Minnie is going to see is actually a performance of The Pirates of Penzance, arguably Gilbert & Sullivan’s most famous operetta.  Most of the remainder of the music is performed by the Troubador and the writers use the same tunes over and over again, but with clever wordplay, dynamics and varying speeds to keep the music sounding fresh and unique.  They really did a wonderful job with the music and you will find yourself tapping your toes and singing along before you know it!

If you enjoy Disney movies and are looking for a classically-styled Disney feature, this is a great one to check out.  It is only a little over an hour long and so it is a little guilty pleasure of mine.  Whenever I need a quick pick-me-up, I can pop this in the DVD player and know that I will soon have a smile on my face.  With plenty of laughs, some terrific animation and wonderful music, this movie is sure to appeal to viewers ages 1 – 100.

Content:

This movie contains some mild, cartoonish violence.  There are some scenes of fighting, attempted murder and evil laughter.  No one gets hurt and nothing really goes wrong, but they do use swords, anvils, etc.  Recommended for ages 2 and up.

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Filed under Animated Movies, Children & Family Movies, Historical Movies, Musicals

The Joy of Farming Game Review

The Joy of Farming

Game Review by Debbie Winkler

# of Players: 1
Target Age Group: 8 and up
Language: English
Average Game Play: 2 – 12 hours
Type of Game: Time Management
My Rating: 4/5 stars

Synopsis:

Joy is thrilled to finally be living her dream!  She just purchased a run down farm and is ready to turn it into a prosperous business.  Till soil, hire farm workers, plant crops, water your plants, then harvest them to sell in your farm store.  Continue to upgrade your farm, meet your goals and fulfill your dreams!

Review:

This game is the farming equivalent of the Farm Frenzy games.  In Farm Frenzy, you are working with animals and animal products.  In The Joy of Farming, you are working with plants The Joy of Farming Logoand the products that can be made from them.  Joy is the shopkeeper and sells the harvest directly to customers.  You must hire farm workers to till the soil, plant crops, water crops and harvest crops.  You must hire specialized workers to staff your factories and make items like carrot juice and ketchup.  To further complicate matters, the game is spread out over multiple levels.  Each level has a different layout, but the shop, factories and farms will usually be on different tiers.  Purchase ropes and ladders so that your workers can travel in between the tiers and help your farm be successful.  Some levels will start you out with farms and water, others will start you out with ropes or employees.  It is up to you to identify what you need to accomplish your goals at the beginning of the level.  You begin each level with a specific amount of money and there is usually not enough money to buy everything you want, just barely enough to get you going.

You will have a specific goal on each level that you much achieve.  For example, you will need to sell 10 carrots, 3 carrot juice boxes, 2 tomatoes and 1 bottle of ketchup.  Carrots can be grown on any farm and they are considered your basic, cheapest crop.  They grow quickly and do not require any upgrades to plant or harvest.  Tomatoes can only be grown on an upgraded farm. You need to click on the farm and spend coins to upgrade your farm to a level 2 farm to grow tomatoes.  Tomatoes take longer to grow and are more expensive to plant, but they are worth more money when you sell them.  The same thing goes for the production plants.  Carrot juice is made the fastest and, while it is worth more than selling carrots singly, The Joy of Farming Screenshotit takes a while to make it.  Ketchup takes longer to make, but is worth quite a bit of money.  It is important to try and make the produced goods as early as possible on the level so that you can get a good score.  You can grow the plants or make your veggie goods any time throughout the level, but everything costs money to do so evaluate how much money you have and plan accordingly.  Seeds cost money, water costs money and your factory workers charge you to make your products so be careful with how you spend your money early on in any level.  If you run out of water, your workers will not grow additional crops and will just stand around waiting.  If there are no vegetables for the factories to use to produce goods, the workers will stand around.  This wastes time and drives down your score so try and keep a constant flow going through if possible.

To grow crops, click on a farm and then click on the plant that you want to plant there.  If you have a level 1 farm, you will see one blank box underneath the farm that you can use to plant seeds in.  If you select carrot seeds, the carrot icon will pop up in the box underneath the farm.  You will need to wait for your farm worker to plant the carrots before you can select another crop to plant.  Level 2 farms have two slots, and level 3 farms have three slots, etc.  Your wells will hold three buckets of water and then you will need to purchase more to continue watering plants.  After a crop is harvested, the worker will carry the crop to the storehouse.  From there, you click on the sale button on the storehouse and can select which goods you want to stock in the farm store.  Customers will automatically pop up to buy the The Joy of Farming Screenshot 2goods that you have stocked, regardless of what you send to the store, so don’t worry about what you transfer first.  I usually try and send down the goods that will bring in the most money so that I can keep a steady cash flow, but you have to balance what you have against your goals so that you can pass and move on to the next level.  The most difficult part of the early levels is trying to balance everything.  You must continue to click on the farm plots to keep planting carrots as it doesn’t take your worker very long to plant a carrot and water it.  You must constantly click on your well and purchase water to make sure your plants will grow.  The storehouse will fill really quickly if you have 2 or 3 farms harvesting at the same time as you only have 3 storage slots to begin with.  Once these slots are full, workers will wander around with their hands full of veggies until one of the slots is cleared.  The only way to clear a slot is to have the veggies produced in a factory or to send it to the store.  The base-level factory only produces one veggie at a time and they take quite some time to push out products so keep them full if at all possible to achieve your goal.  The basic-level store only allows you to stock 2 items at a time and Joy moves slower than molasses!  The customer must come in to the level, find your store and request an item.  Then the shopkeeper slowly moves to get it and hands it to the customer.  Bottom line – you are really crunched for space on early levels.  Later levels let you purchase upgrades to store more products inside and to have your workers move more quickly.  These are wonderful, but, again, you need to be really careful with your money as you usually cannot afford to buy these.  The upgrades must be purchased on each level you want to use them on so balance out speed and convenience and only purchase what you must have to achieve your goals in the time allotted.

Like the Farm Frenzy games, there are three goals you can achieve on each level.  There is a gold level, a silver level and a passing level.  A passing level will let you move on to the next level, but you usually cannot afford to move on without achieve a silver or gold level as you cannot purchase the upgrades you need to continue playing.  A red “x” will be on top of the The Joy of Farming Shop Upgradeslevel so you know that you cannot progress to the next level unless you purchase something in the store.  Click on the store button in the lower left hand corner and the upgrade you need to purchase will be highlighted so you know what you need.  You can also purchase upgrades for your storehouse, shop shelves, faster traps, and more in the store.  If you do not have enough money to buy what you need, go back and replay a previous level.  If you beat a level 3 times on a passing level (shown with a checkmark), you earn almost as much money as the silver level.  Then you can purchase the upgrade you need to keep playing.  Replaying levels can also assist you in coming up with better strategies and staying on top of your goals so that you can get a better level the next time.

Instead of bears (like in Farm Frenzy), you have thieves that you must catch.  The game has a The Joy of Farming Characterswarning sound that will pop up when a thief arrives on the scene.  They are usually hiding behind a tomato bush.  Then you have a few seconds before the thief shows himself.  After a thief shows himself, you must click on the thief multiple times to build a cage around them.  The cage prevents them from stealing your veggies, your water buckets or your finished products.  They also drop fat bags of money, which really help you out when times are lean.

This is a fun, fast-paced time management game that will keep you on your toes.  It is really easy to get distracted from the goals and to plant too many of one crop, too little of another or to purchase the wrong kind of upgrades.  Fortunately, you can click on the menu button on the upper right hand corner and click on retry if you discover that you have made the wrong decision.  The timer is right next to the menu button and will show you how much time you have to complete the level and earn a gold star.  After that time passes, it will show you how much time you have to complete the level to earn a silver star.  Once the silver threshold The Joy of Farming Mappasses, it doesn’t matter how much time elapses to earn the passing check-mark score.  If you just want to play and do things your own way, shoot for the passing marks and have fun with it.  Your goals are shown on the upper left hand corner.  The basic, easy-to-grow crops will be shown on the far left and then the progressively more difficult crops will be shown on the left of the bar.  This is both helpful and hurtful as the easy crops grow the fastest and you could burn through all of your time on these cheap crops when you should be focusing on the higher-dollar-value, longer-growing crops.  I tried several different strategies to play this game, some worked, some didn’t, but I had fun playing each and every level – no matter what trophy I earned!  If you enjoy a challenging time management game, give this one a try. My main complaint with the game is that they do not do very much to get you going at the beginning.  I felt the tutorial was a bit lackluster and did not give me important information, such as only being able to plant one crop at a time on a level 1 farm.  The other is the most common complaint with time management games and that is that it can get pretty repetitive so you have to pace yourself while you play.  Still, the graphics are well drawn and vibrant, there is a cute little storyline, several different types of customers to serve (some with special needs) and a lot of different crops to grow, sell and turn into veggie products!

Content:

This game is appropriate for viewers of all ages.  There is some reading involved to follow the story line and to keep up on the hints and tips that the game will give you to help you win.  All of your goals and purchases are shown with icons.  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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Fruits Inc. Game Review

Fruits Inc.

Game Review by Debbie Winkler

# of Players: 1
Target Age Group: 8 and up
Language: English
Average Game Play: 2 – 8 hours
Type of Game: Time Management
My Rating: 2/5 stars

Synopsis:

Brooke’s grandmother has finally decided to retire and wants Brooke to take over the day-to-day operations on their small, family-owned farm.  Brooke is determined to apply her college knowledge to turn the farm into a huge success!  Plant trees, harvest fruit, sell the fruit at the market or build factories and turn the fruit into more valuable juice!  Roll up your sleeves, dig in and get ready to build a fruit-based empire!

Review:

This is a rather traditional time-management game in that it is food-based and gives you Fruits Inc Game Logospecific goals that you need to reach to pass each level.  Each game level will have a specific number of empty plots on the game board.  Click on a plot and then decide what you are going to build there.  You can build an orchard, a factory or a water reservoir.  The first several levels will have you dealing with orchards and then they introduce factories, with reservoirs coming up last.  There are multiple types of fruit and so multiple types of juices.  Your goals will be a combination of fruit orchards planted, fruit harvested, fruit in storage, juice made, juice made in specific factories and water goals.  The tricky part is that fruit will automatically be sold after the clock winds down, which makes it difficult to have all of the fruit on hand that you need to make the juice and/or to have all of the fruit on hand when you need a specific amount in storage (fruit harvested, but not sold).  You are also limited by how many workers you have, technicians you have and materials you have available to continue building.  Fortunately, you can purchase more materials and hire additional employees if you can come up with the cash.  Carefully evaluate your goals at the beginning of the level and then set up a plan to execute it.  You have a limited number of plots available and a small amount of cash at the beginning of each level so you will have to make your choices carefully or you will have to restart it.

This game sounded like much more fun than it actually was.  I was expecting a fast-paced, fun-filled time management game, but this one was a bit more ho-hum.  Fruit takes time to grow and harvest so you will find yourself constantly watching the clock on the upper middle section of the screen to see when more fruit is coming in.  The factories produce juice extremely slowly so you will also be waiting for that bar to fill.  Some of the beginning levels have a gold-level time of 7 minutes so that should give you an idea of how much time you Fruits Inc Game Screenshotneed to fulfill all of the goals.  There is also very little to click on the game board so you just kind of keep watching for the timers to fill and then you do a simple, single click and done, back to waiting.  You will click on the plots to set up your initial game layout and then you will just maintain them.  If bugs infest your orchard, you will need to click on the plot and send a technician out to take care of it.  If a factory is out of fruit, you will need to drag fruit from your storage on the lower right hand corner of the screen to the factory for it to start up again.  If you want to sell your fruit immediately without waiting for the timer to run down, you can click on the $ sign above the fruit.  The only other clicks you make are on the lower left hand corner, which is where you can hire additional workers or buy more materials.

The graphics are a bit clunky and the storyline is tepid at best.  I also had a difficult time with the tutorials, or, should I say, the lack thereof.  I am not sure if they tested this game on anyone who did not actually design and develop the game, but there are a lot of instructions that are flat-out missing.  One of the most important ones is that you can bulldoze any of your sites to build something else.  This is very important on some levels as you never have enough plots to plant and build everything you need.  For example, one level has you making 100 bottles of juice under three different juice brands (you customize your fruit juice in each factory including name, color of container, type of container, and logo – there is only one brand allowed per building so you have to tear down a factory to build a different brand), have 30 baskets of grapes in inventory and have one plot contain an apricot orchard.  With only 7 plots on the screen, you cannot deal with all of these goals at the same time.  If you build 3 factories, you have 4 plots left.  If you hit the timing just right, you can harvest 2 plots of grapes twice before the timer runs out and your bushels are sold, leaving you with barely enough in storage before the bushels are taken to market.  Use one of your last 2 plots to plant apricots and that leaves you with 1 plot to plant apples.  You only harvest 10 bushels of apples per harvest time and it is going to take you forever to make 300 bottles of juice Fruits Inc Game Trophyharvesting 10 apples at a time.  What you need to do is build 1 factory and plant 4 apple orchards.  Save up your money to hire new employees (you need 5 to build a factory, 4 to run a factory and make juice, 2 to build a new orchard, etc.) and buy more materials (you need 3,000 to build a factory, 500 to build an orchard, 25 to get rid of pests, etc.).  When you have finished making 100 bottles in your first factory, you have enough money to purchase enough goods and hire workers to tear down your first factory and build two more.  Supply as many apples as you can as quickly as you can and bust through your last 200 bottles of juice.  Then you can tear down the factories or the apple orchards, plant the grapes and the apricots and voila, you are done.  The way you tear something down is simply click on the plot, click on the miniscule bulldozer icon and then click on okay to send two workers to raze it to the ground.  Bottom line is, the game is not as intuitive as the game builders think and you have to spend some time on your own figuring out how everything works and what you need to do.

This may be a good time-management game for beginners in that it is slow-paced, but I am not certain that it is so great for them in terms of the lack of training.  I say that it is always better to have a thorough, over-the-top tutorial going into a game than something short and sketchy.  The other frustration with the tutorial is that granny stays up the screen for a long time – way longer than most people will need to read the sentence!  If you are looking for a game that is slow-paced and lets you kind of move along without rushing, maybe this is a good game for you to look into.  I found it very easy to earn the gold level on the portion of the game that I played, I got silver on some levels, but then the passing level is really, really long on the timing.  I don’t think anyone would have a difficult time playing this game, but I play a lot of time-management games so perhaps I am biased.  Definitely play the free trial before you purchase this game based on the fun-sounding description.

Content:

This game is appropriate for viewers of all ages.  There is quite a bit of reading to following the instructions on the tutorial, read hints from workers and to read the goals themselves to pass one level and move on to the next.  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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Gourmania Game Review

Gourmania

Game Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: Gourmania #1
Creator: Butterfly iSoft
# of Players: 1
Target Age Group: 8 and up
Language: English
Average Game Play: 2 – 10 hours
Type of Game: Hidden Object
My Rating: 4/5 stars

Synopsis:

Do you have what it takes to become a top chef in the culinary world?  Work your way through seven restaurants to earn your place in the cooking showdown.  Serve everything from sandwiches to sushi, ice cream to cocktails and more!  Find the ingredients to fulfill the orders, drag them to the appropriate cooking appliance and earn the money you need to expand.  The faster you serve your customers, the more money you can earn so get moving!

Review:

This is a fun little hidden object game that I recently stumbled across.  Many people will tell you that it is a time management game, but it is all about finding ingredients.  There are seven different restaurants that you will work in with a wide variety of ingredients and recipes.  You Gourmania Map of Restaurantsbegin in a sandwich restaurant, where it is pretty easy to identify and locate the items that you need.  The pizza restaurant was also pretty easy, but the sushi restaurant and some of the cocktail bars have some specialized ingredients that you will have to become familiar with to win.  You have a set amount of time to earn the money you need to pass the goal level or to push yourself and win the expert level.  Wait for customers to come in and place an order.  Instead of requesting a “ham and cheese sandwich” they will ask for “ham, cheese and bread.”  You need to find Gourmania Appliance Shopthese three items to fulfill their order.  The icon of a cutting board and knife will then pop up on that customer’s order.  Drag the ingredient icon to the cutting board at the top of the screen and the game will automatically cut up the ingredients for you.  As you progress to more complex recipes, you will need to find more ingredients and use more of the kitchen appliances at the top of the screen.  When you are finished making the food, the customer will drop money on the counter and all you need to do is click on it to pick it up.  Use the money that you earn to purchase kitchen upgrades in the shop and to purchase more restaurants to build your culinary empire!

Each restaurant will have you play three levels, a bonus level, three more levels and a final bonus level.  The first couple of restaurants will keep the same layout inside.  Ingredients will consistently appear in the same place for all levels.  Later restaurants will change the Gourmania Pizza Restaurantperspective and location of ingredients after you play the first bonus level.  This means that you will need to find all of the ingredients again.  There are multiple icons for all ingredients, but no more than five or so per item.  Fortunately, the ingredients will recharge and pop back up over time if you wait for it.  This happens pretty quickly on the easy levels, but takes quite some time on the later levels.  This makes the later levels more challenging, but not impossible as the ingredients typically only have 2 looks (whole piece of fruit versus cut piece of fruit) or will have been rotated (bottle lying on its side versus standing up).  The bonus levels are a fun Gourmania Bonus Levelsitem matching mini-game that help you unlock new recipes and earn some bonus money.  You will have a row of ingredients on the bottom of the screen that you need to match to their outline on the conveyors at the top of the screen.  There are five conveyors moving in opposite directions (1, 3 and 5 going to the left and 2, 4 going to the right) that will show the blank outline of the ingredient that you need to match to it.  Click on the ingredient on the bottom and drag it to the appropriate outline.  Once all of the items on the conveyor are matched, the row will disappear and a new recipe will be unlocked.  The bonus levels are not timed, but the faster you make matches, the more bonus money you can earn.

I found the first several restaurants to be easy to play and doubled or tripled the amount of money I need to earn to achieve expert level without trying to hard.  This all changed when I hit the sushi restaurant, where I really struggled.  I barely hit the basic goal, let alone the expert goal!  However, after playing them several times each, I was able to achieve the expert level.  The key to winning on the more challenging levels is to take advantage of the bonuses you can get for chaining tasks.  Each bonus is only worth $5 – $20, which may not seem like a lot, but they can really add up!  If you find all of the items on one person’s order in a row, you Gourmania Sandwich Shopwill get a $10 bonus.  You can earn this bonus each time a customer has multiple items on their order.  For example, find the lettuce, tomato, and cucumber for customer #1 and you earn $10.  Find the shrimp, green onions and red caviar for customer #2 and you earn $10.  Then go back and find the white asparagus, onions and mushrooms for customer #1 and you earn another $10.  You can earn more chaining bonuses by running multiple kitchen appliances at the same time.  Find the first wave of ingredients for all three or four customers and then pull the ingredients up to the kitchen appliances at the same time.  You can earn an additional $10 for running three appliances or $20 for running four appliances.  The downside of earning these bonuses is that it takes some time for the appliances to do their work.  There is a status bar that runs around the outside of all of the appliances that will slowly or quickly fill with red as the task is completed.  Purchase upgrades in the store to increase speed or to purchase additional machines.  You will need all of the speed and machines you can get to achieve the expert goal.  The only other chaining bonuses you can get are for picking up money after you have completed an order.  Click on the first customer’s money and you get $0 in bonuses, click on customer #2’s money right afterwards and you get $5 in bonuses, $10 for customer #3, and $15 for customer #4.  This is the most difficult bonus to get as you have to balance a really delicate need between getting the chaining bonuses and clicking on the money right away to clear space for a new customer to come in.  There is a lag time of several seconds between completing a recipe by clicking on a customer’s money and a new customer arriving so you really have to hustle if you want a second or third wave of customers to come in your store before time runs out.

The main challenge of this game lies in identifying the ingredients you need to find.  Some of the food items I was not very familiar with so I had to use a hint button or search around the screen with my mouse (if you hover over an ingredient for a few seconds, the name will pop up) to find them.  It can be really frustrating as some ingredients have very little visual differentiation.  For example, in the ice cream restaurant, you have to know the difference between vanilla ice cream and sweet cream ice cream.  The vanilla ice cream is a creamy ivory color and the sweet cream ice cream is an icy white color.  If you struggle to see the difference between slight gradations of color, then do not play this game as you will get frustrated veryGourmania Bar quickly.  Another fun one was a pickle and a cucumber.  Other items are shown cut open or whole, which can also be a bit confusing.  All of the fruit items you need to find including papaya, starfruit, lemons, limes, guava, melons, etc. will have a whole version and a cut open version.  You will have to experiment with which fruit items are what to find all of them.  Fortunately, there is no penalty for clicking on incorrect items or I never ran into one.  I am not saying that you should click around randomly on the screen, but it is worth your while to try clicking on objects you are not sure of to see if they are some of your more exotic ingredients.

The graphics are not spectacular in this game and the storyline is practically nonexistent, but the game is still fun nonetheless.  I liked that the game was a bit different than most hidden object games out there and appreciated the extra touches the creators put in there to challenge my skills.  Some of the ingredients are hidden pretty well, but most of them are right in front of your face once you find them.  There is a hint button that recharges quickly that you can use to find that last missing ingredient.  Click on the hint button, then click on the ingredient you want to find and it will show you where the nearest ingredient is.  You can use the menu button to restart a level any time during play, change the music/sound settings, or exit out.  So the game itself is pretty simple and can get repetitive (I had to take a break after a while as all of the ingredients started blurring together), but it is fun to play a few levels or a couple of restaurants at a time.  If you are looking for a light-hearted, slightly different hidden object game, give this one a test run.  There are hints of time management game qualities in here and so you will find that it challenges your finding skills in a new and unusual way.

Content:

This game is appropriate for viewers of all ages.  All of the ingredients you need to find are written down in English at the top of the screen.  The tutorial and brief story line are also written in English.  Two of the restaurants are bars so you will be serving a lot of alcoholic drinks.  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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Survivor by David Benjamin (The Sixth Sense: Secrets from Beyond #1) Book Review

Survivor

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Survivor by David Benjamin

Series: The Sixth Sense: Secrets from Beyond #1
Author: David Benjamin
Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks (September 2000)
ISBN: 0439202701, EAN: 9780439202701
Page Count: 150 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: children ages 9 – 12
My Rating: 3/5 stars

Synopsis:

Now that Malcolm, Cole’s psychiatrist is really gone, Cole is once again left to face the ghosts alone.  Thanks to Malcolm’s friendship, Cole knows that ghosts are drawn to him so that he can help them and get them to move on.  For the first time, Cole is able to have a more normal life and has even made friends with some other kids at school!  Cole and his best friend, Jason, are playing a game in the art museum while on a field trip when they witness a horrific airplane crash.  Several of the ghosts see Cole and follow him home.  There is a Russian man with a broken neck who keeps repeating the same phrase over and over; a woman is looking for Warren; a burned man insists that everything was his fault; an airline stewardess wants to know if she is being punished for not stopping someone from going into the cockpit; and teenager Marisa wants Cole to help her sister, Emily, the sole survivor of the crash  who is in the hospital in a coma.  Can Cole help more than one ghost at a time or will he be overwhelmed?

Review:

I am a huge fan of The Sixth Sense movie and was intrigued when I saw there was a children’s book series at the library.  I am not sure how many titles are in the series, but it was wonderful to continue following Cole’s progress as he tries to help ghosts and still be a Cole and Malcolm in Sixth Sensenormal little boy.  This book takes place shortly after the movie ends.  Malcolm, the ghost child psychiatrist who helps Cole in the movie, is gone, but Cole remembers everything that Malcolm taught him.  He is trying to discover what the ghosts want, but is very overwhelmed as there are at least 5 ghosts that are demanding his attention at the same time.  Ghosts cannot see each other and they are all intensely focused on their own problems so they are making Cole’s life miserable!  Cole’s long-suffering mother doesn’t know what to do with him, but there was a great new character added into the series here with Detective Brown.  The Detective was at the museum and saw the crash, but is not assigned to investigate the case.  This doesn’t keep him from conducting his own investigation and I was thrilled to discover that the Detective had a brother who could see ghosts like Cole.  Now Cole has someone in authority to help him deal with the victims and another adult who believes in his besides his mother.  I am sure that we will be seeing much more of the Detective and I am hoping that he asks Cole to help him solve the cases.

The story was pretty simplistic and I was disappointed with the ending, but the plot should appeal to younger readers.  Cole is very concerned about losing his new-found confidence and friends at school if the ghosts don’t leave him alone.  The only ghost that he likes and really feels comfortable helping is Marisa, a fifteen-year-old girl who died in the crash.  Unlike the Cole in the Sixth Sense Movieother ghosts, Marisa knows she is dead, but she also knows that her sister, Emily, saw someone before the plane went down.  Marisa believes that Emily holds the answer to the plane’s crash, but Emily is in a coma.  A Russian man is blamed for the plane crash, but Cole has a hunch that he did not cause the disaster.  I did not think that the solution to the mystery was satisfactory and kind of felt like it was a cop out to pulling the threads of the plot together and then ending the book.  Still, the book was well written and fast paced, keeping it interesting and short.

I had no trouble finishing this book in about an hour and younger readers who like ghost stories should be able to finish it within a few days.  The type is large and the chapters are short, but there are no pictures.  Unfortunately, I feel that the movie, The Sixth Sense, is a bit too scary to show younger children.  This is too bad as the book is so much better to read after the movie.  The author introduces the characters as if you have never met them before, so you will not be left behind, but you don’t have a great vision in your head of what the characters look like or what type of person Cole really is.  Ideally, a 9 – 12 year old child will watch the movie, be inspired by it, and want to know more.  I would love to see another movie made along this vein, but, until that happens, I will have to be content with this little book series!

Content:

This book contains scenes of violence, death, horrific physical injuries including burning, broken necks, bones sticking out, jagged tears, bloody gashes, etc.  Cole lies to adults and sneaks off on his own to accomplish the tasks needed to keep the ghosts happy.  The ghosts hurt Cole sometimes and he is very frightened during parts of the book.  Recommended for ages 9 and up.

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Filed under Children's Books, Fantasy Books, Mystery Books

A Dish Taken Cold by Anne Perry Book Review

A Dish Taken Cold

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

A Dish Taken Cold by Anne Perry

Author: Anne Perry
Publisher: Carroll & Graf (March 2001)
ISBN: 0786708220, EAN: 9780786708222
Page Count: 80 pages
Format: hardcover

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: 4/5 stars

Synopsis:

Celie is devastated when she learns that her infant son is dead.  Celie trusted her friend, Amandine, to watch her baby while she worked, but he passed away in his crib unexpectedly.  Grieving, Celie returns to work at Madame’s house and tries to stay safe while the revolutionaries rage around her.  Celie is sure that her son’s death was a terrible accident until her fellow servant, Therese, starts making little comments.  Therese soon convinces Celie that Amandine was in the bedroom with her lover while her son was dying in the cradle.  This information eats at Celie until she comes up with the perfect plan for revenge…

Review:

This is a slender little hardcover that is really only a novella, not a full-blown story.  I typically do not enjoy stories this short, especially if they are mysteries as I feel that I don’t have enough time to delve into the story and the characters, but this one was truly gripping.  The only books I have read by Anne Perry up to this point are set in Victorian England so this was French Revolutiona marked departure as it takes place during the French Revolution in Paris, France.  I was delighted to discover that Anne Perry’s talent for vivid descriptions and effortlessly including historical details transcends any time period she is writing about.  The French Revolution is such a difficult time for me to read about as there are so many tales of suffering, misery and horrific acts that took place in the name of freedom.  I felt a strange combination of hope, dread, fear, excitement, and suspense as I read this book.  While the story is about Celie and her dead son, the book is so much more than that.  It is about Celie’s reactions and observations of what is going on around her.  Celie is a servant or companion in a wealthy woman’s home.  Madame is very rich, beautiful and expecting her first child.  Celie has grown to love Madame and is torn between the views of the revolutionaries and the wealthy aristocracy she has worked for so long.  This made Celie a very interesting character and I loved that she was unable to present a relatively balanced view of both sides.

The story is well-written, engaging and fast paced.  You can easily finish the story in an hour or two, but I think it is worth checking out if you enjoy historical mysteries or books by Anne Perry.  I know that there is another book Anne Perry wrote, The One Thing More, that features Celie and Amandine so this is a great little title to get you introduced to them and the Parisian setting.  I felt like I caught a glimpse of Paris in the 1770s as they were instituting sweeping changes and, even though I know how the Revolution ended, I was still caught up in the moment and couldn’t wait to see what would happen.  Perry vividly describes marauding bands of women who attacked wealthy carriages as they went back, the rich and powerful French Aristocratwearing bland, boring clothes to blend in with the rest of the populace, the heat and smells of a Parisian summer, the wildly vacillating emotions.  It struck me as how difficult it must have been for the French aristocracy to adjust to the new center of power.  They were accustomed to flaunting their wealth and living their lives in such a way to completely distance themselves from everyone else.  Now, they must wear cheap fabric, no jewels, and leave all trappings of their wealth behind.  Many of them were in hiding or running from the government.  It was a struggle just to stay alive.  Powerful leaders of the day seized their moment in the sun, knowing that they could be in prison the next day.  Officials never knew who to trust, who to support and who to betray.  It is a city where everyone is friendless as you cannot trust your family, your neighbors, or your friends with what you truly believe.

I ended up loving the setting of this book and was fascinated by the events as they unfolded.  I am glad that I picked up this slender volume as I searched the shelves of the library and recommend that you take a moment to read it, too, as I believe that you will enjoy it.  Again, Anne Perry is just a wonderful author with tremendous skill in bringing the past to life in an engaging, enjoyable way without forcing information down the readers’ throat.  If you have not yet discovered this terrific author, make sure you pick up one of her books the next time you are at the library or in a bookstore!

Content:

This book contains discussions of death, torture, murder, wars, fighting and violence.  Nothing is described in a grotesque fashion, but enough detail is included to help you realize the severity of the wounds.  There is a lot of information about politics, prominent leaders of the day and other historical information included.  Recommended for ages 12 and up.

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Filed under Historical Fiction Books, Mystery Books, Novellas/Short Stories

The Seventh Sinner by Elizabeth Peters (Jacqueline Kirby Mysteries #1) Book Review

The Seventh Sinner

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Seventh Sinner by Elizabeth Peters

Series: Jacqueline Kirby Mysteries #1
Author: Elizabeth Peters
Publisher: Avon Books (August 2005)
ISBN: 0060597208, EAN: 9780060597207
Page Count: 288 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Synopsis:

They dubbed themselves the Seven Sinners: Jean, an art historian major; Michael, a brilliant artist who refused to show anyone his work; Padre Ximenez, a Jesuit priest conducting church research; Ann and Andy Scoville, a brother & sister who were not twins, but looked like it and were the children of a famous archaeologist; Ted, an archaeologist and native-born Israeli; and Dana, who sees herself as an irresistible femme fatale.  All seven were on fellowships or scholarships in Rome and found themselves gathering together at Gino’s Cafe and discussing life, education and everything in between.  When Albert, who tried to tag along with the group, shows up murdered, Jean is the one who finds his body.  Jean also was the one who saw Albert write a cryptic clue on the floor and now someone wants her dead.

Review:

This is the first book in the Jacqueline Kirby Mysteries series, but, interestingly enough, it is not told from Jacqueline’s point of view.  Instead, it is told from Jean’s perspective.  So, instead of the victim researching and solving the mystery on her own, Jean assists in a Watson-like way as Jacqueline does most of the heavy lifting like Sherlock Holmes.  I found Jacqueline to be a rather unique character and Elizabeth Peters’ clever usage of Ms. Kirby as just another character in book guarantees the reader new revelations and mysteries to explore in Jacqueline Kirby’s background.  We get a basic introduction here, but I can tell that there is a great deal more to come in the other two books that feature Jacqueline Kirby!

I enjoy all of Elizabeth Peters’ books, but there was something lacking in this one for me.  I don’t know if it was the fact that 8 characters were thrown at me in the first couple of pages of the book or what, but I felt lost at the beginning and never really found my way of it.  The characters are all introduced in broad strokes so it can be challenging to keep them unique and separate.  This makes it difficult to keep track of who is where, doing what and with Roman Catacombswhom.  You might have to refer back to the introductory paragraphs at the beginning of the story a few times to keep every clear in your mind and to be able to follow the mystery.  I felt like I never got a bead on Jean’s character, either.  This was unfortunate because, as the narrator, she could have added a great deal of zest and clarity to the story.  Instead, Jean comes off as rather average and unremarkable so that is kind of the way she describes things.  I also missed the romantic subplot that Elizabeth Peters usually includes in her books.  Sparks fly between the heroine and an unlikely hero and it is the villain who is typically handsome, charming and suspicious.  The romance in this book was very subtle and almost unremarkable.  Dana is throwing herself at just about everyone so she could have hooked up with every available male in this book.  Jean enjoys some face time with Michael and kind of feels a spark with Andy, but nothing really materializes.  The Scoville’s father and the handsome, aristocratic police investigator make plays for Jacqueline Kirby, but there are mere hints of what goes on rather than definite scenes and leads.

Still, even though the characters are a bit confusing and have a tendency to blur together, there is something charming about this book.  Rome is used as the setting for this book and it really lends itself to a fantastic little mystery.  As all of the characters are scholars dealing with some form of history, they travel to many churches, catacombs and other unique, rather unsafe places.  The author has a knack for describing places vividly, but not excessively.  She Rome Bone Churchtakes a few paragraphs to describe a church decorated entirely in human bones and manages to give the reader a clear, cohesive picture of the site without spending chapters on it.  Alas, this is a gift that I do not have as I almost always write more than is necessary!  I do love the way that Elizabeth Peters presents locations and feel a bit like I am reading an excellent travelogue mixed with a scholarly paper.  If you are not careful, you might actually learn something while you are reading this mystery!  In fact, Elizabeth Peters uses Jacqueline Kirby’s character to gently poke fun at her readers.  Jacqueline enjoys a good thriller or mystery and, even though the students tease her for her lack of edifying reading material, she continues to enjoy reading them.

In the end, this is still a solid little mystery.  I could not come up with the solution as to who the murderer was for anything – even when I was given all of the clues at the end of the book!  But once the evidence is explained, everything becomes clear and all of the pieces fall into place.  I look forward to meeting Jacqueline Kirby in another book and hopefully will get to know her a bit better!

Content:

This book contains a murder and several attempted murders.  Nothing is described in an overly gory or grotesque fashion and the injuries are barely described.  Recommended for ages 10 and up.

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Filed under Mystery Books

Without a Trace (1983) Movie Review

Without a Trace (1983)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Without a Trace Movie Poster

Starring: Kate Nelligan, Judd Hirsch, Stockard Channing, David Dukes, Jacqueline Brookes
Director: Stanley R. Jaffe
Release Date: 4 February 1983
Language: English
Length: 120 minutes
Movie Rating: PG
View Format: TV
My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Synopsis:

Susan Selky (Kate Nelligan) waves goodbye to her son, Alex (Danny Corkill), in the morning and has her worst nightmare come true when he never comes home.  Susan receives an outpouring of support as the search begins for her son.  News reporters pester her for interviews and TV appearances, police officers are stationed in her home around the clock, and the parents at Alex’s school canvass the neighborhood with posters.  However, as time passes and there is no sign of Alex, the support gradually tapers off.  Instead of helping Susan look for Alex, friends and family are now trying to help Susan come to terms with the fact that Alex may never be coming home.  This movie is based on the book Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon, which is loosely based on the real-life disappearance of Etan Patz.

Review:

This movie reaches in and grabs hold of your heart very early on in the film.  Of course, you know Alex goes missing before you start watching the movie so it is not a surprise when he disappears.  What the film does so well though is to capture a beautiful morning between mother Susan Selky (Kate Nelligan) and her only child, Alex (Danny Corkill).  Susan and her husband, Graham (David Dukes), have recently separated and there is a very close bond between mother and child.  Susan wakes up a sleepy Alex and persuades him to get out of Susan & Alex Selkybed and get ready for school.  She doesn’t yell at Alex when he barges into the bathroom while she is showering to try and talk about a friend’s birthday present.  Alex asks for Cheerios for breakfast the next morning, rather than the eggs that Susan made for him that morning.  They play with the dog, they talk about inviting Alex’s dad to his birthday party and you can feel the love and the relationship between these two.  The beginning of the movie has a tremendous impact on the viewer.  You know how close the mother and child are and that Alex disappearing is going to be absolutely devastating for her.  As Susan says goodbye to Alex and the cute little boy turns around to wave goodbye, you know that this is the last time she will see him before he disappears.  The movie is old and looks dated and a bit faded, but the beginning just pulled me and made me interested and invested in the characters from the beginning.  Bravo on making a poignant, touching opening to this movie.  If the story hadn’t been so interesting, the cringe-inducing synthesizer soundtrack would have driven me far away within moments, but, fortunately, I was able to stick with it!

Unfortunately, as the movie progresses past the first 45 minutes, it loses a bit of steam.  The first part deals with a frantic effort by the police, friends, family and neighbors to look for Alex, follow up leads, wait for a blackmail request, anything to indicate that Alex is still alive.  After the first month or so, there are very few people still looking for Alex.  Susan is probably the only one who still believes that Alex is alive and she pushes away family and friends as they try to help her realize that she can have a life without her little boy.  The sense of isolation, Kate Nelliganabandonment, frustration, and loss is very difficult to convey on a screen.  Kate Nelligan is able to show the viewer Susan Selky’s emotions quite well and she has a tremendous range, but this part of the movie was just a little boring.  Susan is so stoic, so silent and blank-faced that it can be difficult to relate to her at first.  Fortunately, the director included a few scenes where Susan blows up at loved ones and this helped me relate to her a bit more.  I am not sure if the director was trying to give the viewers a sense of waiting and how hard it is to keep hoping without any information, but I think this part went on for a bit too long.  You kind of coast along for about 30 – 45 minutes and then you can sense that the ending is coming and things start happening again.  Still, I was thoroughly engaged in the characters by then and this is a testament to some great performances by the cast.

Kate Nelligan leads the cast and is in almost every scene.  She is just what you would want a mother to be that is missing their child.  Focused, driven, and willing to sacrifice anything to get her son back.  Her character is also shattered and groping for answers as she comes to realize that people and surroundings she has known for years are not at all what they seem Judd Hirschto be.  Judd Hirsch was terrific as Al Hirsch, the detective assigned to investigate Alex’s disappearance.  He desperately wants to give Susan good news, but they have no leads and the case has gone completely cold.  The only people that are still calling about the case are crackpots, psychics and other weirdoes.  I loved that Al was a family man and that, while his wife joked about getting a divorce, they were a strong unit and he tried to spend time with his wife and children.  If Susan’s character was the heart of the movie, Al was the soul of the movie.  These two characters interfaced so well together and, even though they did not always agree on what to do to find Alex, they worked together and suffered together.  The fabulous Stockard Channing is also in this movie as the best friend of Susan.  I personally felt like she was underutilized as Susan and Al are the main characters and everyone else is kind of on the periphery, but she made the most of her role.  Her hair is huge and her look is very dated, but, as Jocelyn Norris, she is a great friend to Susan.  I confess that I suspected her of kidnapping Alex for a little bit as she seemed almost too supportive and too nice, but she is just trying to be a great friend.

After I watched this movie, I looked it up online to see if any of this film was based on fact and was surprised to see that it is based on a book, which is based on the true story of a child who went missing in New York.  The book is called Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon.  The little boy who went missing in real life is named Etan Patz.  Etan was six-years-old when he went missing, Alex was six, almost seven years old.  Both boys had less than two blocks to walk to Etan Patzthe bus stop/school.  Both boys never made it to school and their mothers discovered this after school was over.  The movie shows the media circus, the national attention and the overwhelming support for the missing boys, but, after that, they diverge somewhat.  Etan Patz’s disappearance led to a missing children’s movement that we still see today including putting missing children’s photographs on milk cartons, new legislation and some new ways of searching for missing children.  ****Spoiler alert****  I was totally convinced that the movie would end very much the same way that the real-life story ended.  I thought that the movie would just kind of wind down and fizzle out as Susan realized her son was gone forever.  Etan Patz was legally declared dead in 2001, 22 years after he went missing.  New York state is still working on solving his disappearance, but there are no updates.  It was such a pleasant surprise in the movie to realize that they were going to go with a traditional Hollywood ending and have Alex come home safe and sound.  A random, crazy-sounding tip comes in and it leads to a really emotional ending.  Of course, the ending is over-the-top and totally unbelievable, but it was also really touching.  There is a whole stream of police cars who elect to follow Alex home and make sure he arrives safely.  I was thinking of how rarely the police are able to take good news to parents in this position and found it really touching.  Then you have Susan, who doesn’t know that Alex has been found, until she sees him running towards her.  Cue the dropped grocery bag, the family pet racing to greet Alex, the photographers snapping pictures as the mother and son hug, and then end shot/film.  ****Spoiler end****

While this movie is dated and by-the-book without any surprises, it is also quite well done.  I enjoyed it far more than I anticipated and even stayed up late to finish watching it as I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen!  The performances are solid from the cast, the characters are likeable and interesting and I am a sucker for movies based on true stories.  If you stumble across this movie on late-night TV or online, take some time to watch it as it still resonates with viewers even though it is much older now.

Content:

This movie is about a little boy who has been kidnapped.  There are discussions of child molestation and abuse as the police and everyone else wonders why Alex was taken.  Susan’s housekeeper is a homosexual man who is arrested for soliciting a prostitute and using a whip.  They find sex toys in his apartment and he has a previous arrest report for statutory rape.  Susan’s husband (separated) has many “friends” and he sleeps around with his female students.  There are some scenes of mild violence, drinking, smoking, and mild language.  Recommended for ages 10 and up.

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Filed under Based on a Real Story Movies, Drama Movies, Mystery Movies, Tearjerker Movies

Beyond the Blackboard (2011) Movie Review

Beyond the Blackboard (2011)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Emily VanCamp, Steve Talley, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Treat Williams, Nicki Aycox
Director: Jeff Bleckner
Series: a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation
Release Date: 24 April 2011
Language: English
Length: 95 minutes
Movie Rating: PG
View Format: TV
My Rating: 4/5 stars

Synopsis:

Stacey Bess (Emily VanCamp) is thrilled to get her first teaching job.  She just graduated from college and has no experience, but has wanted to be a teacher her whole life.  But when Stacey arrives at the School with No Name, she is horrified to discover the conditions she is expected to teach in.  There are no desks, no books, the lights are dim and every train that passes by shakes the whole classroom!  Parents are constantly interrupting, the kids all have a different amounts of learning, rats come up out of the floorboards and there is no money to buy the supplies the children desperately need.  Can Stacey find the heart and the means to give these children a chance in life?

Review:

I grew up watching the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentations with my mother.  I can remember that they were a special event in our household and my family would gather around the TV set on Sunday evenings to watch them together.  The only thing that has changed for me is that I never know when these movies are going to be on – or what channel they will broadcast on – and that I can use my DVR to record them and watch them any night of the week.  Other than that, they are still the same, high-quality movies that I remember from my childhood.  They are always heartwarming, clean, and have inspirational stories.  Beyond the Blackboard is no different.

I am a sucker for movies that are based on true stories.  I guess I enjoy them the most because I can see a single individual who makes a difference in other people’s lives or in their own lives.  They give me hope and they inspire me to try harder to be a better person.  Beyond Stacey Bess in Real Lifethe Blackboard is based on the true life story of Stacey Bess, whom viewers are introduced to at the end of this film.  Stacey taught at this homeless school, and others, for 8 years before she left her teaching job to become an advocate for education for underprivileged children.  She did this while raising her own children and being a supportive wife.  Stacey got her first job at the School with No Name when she was 24-years-old.  Eight years later she was 32-years-old and was making a powerful impact in school districts around the country.  I am older than Stacey was when she accomplished all of this and do not have any legacy to live behind me.  That does not mean that I have not touched any lives, but no one will ever be making a movie (made for TV or not!) about my life when it is done.  What I am trying to say is that all of us have the potential to change the world around us for the better.  We may be scared, unequipped or ill prepared, but that does not mean we should back away from the challenge.

Emily VanCamp shines as Stacey Bess.  I loved that the filmmaker gave her a few moments at the end of the movie to introduce the real Stacey Bess and to talk about how she took this role because she found the story so personally touching.  I feel that Emily VanCamp really captured Stacey’s message and her life.  At first, I felt that Stacey was not strong enough to become a teacher who mattered.  She came from a home where her parents argued constantly and took refuge in books at a young age.  Stacey left school to marry at the young age of 16, but she never gave up her dream of becoming a teacher.  She got her GED and then her college degree, only to end up in a classroom to teach grades 1 – 6 with children who were bright and others who had little to no education.  Their parents were homeless, some with skills, other who can’t even read.  Emily VanCamp was like a shining star Emily VanCamp at Blackboardin this setting.  She was clean, pretty and has a kind of naive innocence about her that she never lost, even though she saw some of the worst of what people were capable of.  As the movie progresses, I saw Stacey as a character become stronger, more powerful and a driving force in countless lives.  You will find yourself caught up in the lives of her young students.  These young actors were memorable, individual and well cast. Liam McKanna as Danny and Paola Nicole Andino as Maria stand out the most as they are given bigger roles in this movie, but there are some little children who are just heartbreakers.  They had such cute little faces with countless opportunities ahead of them if they could only be given the chance!

It was heartbreaking to realize that most of these students had no real chance at a future because of the situation their parents were in.  All of the children in the classroom were shown as bright, loveable and aching for a chance.  They responded to Stacey because she gave them hope, trust and showed them that she was determined to become part of their lives.  Stacey takes one of her weekends to redo the classroom, at no pay and with supplies she Teaching the Childrenpurchased herself, and then invites the students to set rules with her.  The children open up to Stacey about their personal lives as they share stories of abuse (verbal and physical), low self-esteems and a sense of powerlessness.  A great teacher can change the way that children see themselves and the world around them.  It is too bad that great teachers are not rewarded in this life the way that they should be.  I loved the little extra touches Stacey made to reach out and give her students a chance.  She gets up extra early so she can go down the street, ringing a bell and trying to get her students to wake up and make it to school on time.  Stacey holds meetings with the parents and treats with them respect and encourages them to donate time to the school.  I appreciate that the movie took the time to show that the homeless adults were not all druggie deadbeats, but that some of them had great skills and talents.  They just had no job and no where to go.  If you look closely at your life, you will realize that you are not very far away from being out on the street yourself.  Without a safety net of close family and friends to help you out when times are hard, you could easily end up living in a car, too.  If you have children, it is even more difficult because it is more expensive.  Thank goodness for teachers who make a difference like Stacey Bess who give these children a chance while they are at the shelter!

I found this movie to be inspirational and uplifting.  There are so few films out there that will really leave you with a warm, good feeling inside that it is nice to run across them every now and again.  This is a wonderful movie to share with your whole family and hopefully it will launch a discussion about what it is like to be homeless and if there is anything we can do to help.  Shortly before I watched this film, I had a grungy-looking man approach me in a parking lot and I automatically said that I didn’t have any cash, even though I actually had a few ones in a wallet.  He looked and me and said “I was going to offer to wash your windows” and walked away.  I not only denied him a few dollars that would mean much more to him than they would to me, but I robbed him of a little bit more of his dignity.  I do not know if he was on the streets because of choices he had made in his life or of circumstances beyond his control, but I feel like I made the wrong choice.  I had the power to change one person’s life for a little while and I did not take advantage of it.  This movie inspired me to try harder and to see if I could make a difference in someone else’s life.  Hopefully it will do the same for you.

Content:

This movie has scenes that discuss drug abuse and alcoholism.  There are scenes of poverty, shouting, verbal arguments, living on the streets and bullying.  Recommended for ages 7 and up.

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Filed under Based on a Real Story Movies, Biopic Movies, Children & Family Movies, Drama Movies