Natchez Burning Is One Of The Year’s Best New Novels

Courtesy:  HarperCollins/William Morrow

Courtesy: HarperCollins/William Morrow

Good books are easy to find.  Truly good books are far more difficult to find.  That’s especially the case considering the number of DIY books, political mudslingers and otherwise forgettable literary works that populate book stores today.  Next Tuesday, one of those rare truly good books will see the light of day when author Greg Iles’ new book Natchez Burning will be released.  Iles’ latest book and his first in five years, Natchez Burning is not the shortest of books.  It comes in at an astonishing 788 pages.  That’s not counting the book’s postscript.  That’s just the story itself.  It is a long story.  But it is a story that audiences will enjoy regardless of their familiarity with Iles’ body of work.  The story contained within the pages of this book is the crux of the book.  It centers on former prosecutor turned mayor of Natchez, Mississippi Penn Cage.  Readers that are familiar with Iles’ books will recognize Cage’s name as he has been the subject of previous books penned by Iles.  Iles’ writing is another reason that readers will enjoy reading this book.  This encompasses the story’s pacing, transitions and other related aspects.  Both elements work hand-in-hand to make Iles’ first book in five years quite the welcome return.  It is Iles at the top of his game.

Natchez Burning is the first book from Greg Iles in five years.  The main reason for that is that he had been involved in a terrible auto accident so long ago.  His fans had no idea if he would ever write another book as his injuries were so extensive.  Fans will agree in reading his book that as lengthy as it is, Iles did not lose a single step.  If anything maybe it was a blessing in disguise.  That’s because this book presents Iles at the top of his game.  The first way that it shows this is through the story itself.  Iles’ story is one that has been done before countless times by countless other storytellers.  There’s no getting around that.  The whole plot centers around the story of a man forced to face a dark family secret when his father is accused of a brutal decades old crime.  It forces the man, Penn Cage (who is also the subject of previous books by Iles) to decide between family loyalty and the truth.  What sets Iles’ story apart from that told by those that have told similar stories before him is the execution of his story.  His story is more believable than so many others because it is grounded in reality without being unnecessarily gritty and dark. That’s because he uses real events.  He highlights in the story’s opening sequence, the horrendous acts that were committed against the black community in the civil rights era.  And the concept of group of hard liners breaking off from an extremist group to make its own even more hardcore extremist group is just as believable.  These aren’t the only believable elements of the story.  They are but a small sample of how much Iles gets right throughout the course of his new story. Fans of Dick Wolf’s beloved Law & Order franchises or fellow author John Grisham’s books will most definitely appreciate the book especially for this reason.

Iles gets plenty right throughout the course of his story. Within the context of the story, the pacing and transitions are used expertly. This may seem to some like a minor matter. But there are authors out there who struggle to get both of these story elements in balance with one another even today. That greatly detracts from the suspension of disbelief. The end result is the ever increasing urge to simply close said authors’ books. Iles on the other hand uses his pacing to make his story the proverbial edge-of-your-seat story even from what turns out to be the story’s flashback opening sequence. As the story progresses, Iles gives readers clear, concise transition points from one scene to the next, making it easier to follow the story. This helps to heighten the story’s tension and in turn keep readers fully engaged from beginning to end, regardless of how long it might take one reader or another to finish the book. It’s all done so well that readers can see each scene play out in their minds just as vividly as if it were on the big screen. Who knows, with any luck, it may find itself begin adapted for the big screen.

The overall writing style that Iles used throughout the course of Natchez Burning is just as important to the overall enjoyment of the book as the story itself. Every part of the writing that went into making Natchez Burning work did its part to make the story as a whole more than deserving of its applause. Together with Iles’ execution of the story, the two factors together make up for the book’s extensive length. As a matter of fact, both factors together make Natchez Burning a book that readers won’t want to put down. Iles has succeeded that strongly in his return. Simply put, Greg Iles’ new book proves to be one of the first must read pieces of the year.

Iles will hit the road on a book tour promoting Natchez Burning beginning April 29th at Lemuria Bookstore in Jackson, Mississippi. His most current book signing schedule and more is available online now at and To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at

PBS Kids Announces Release Date, Info For Latest Arthur DVD

Courtesy:  PBS Kids/PBS

Courtesy: PBS Kids/PBS

PBS Kids will release the latest Arthur DVD next month.

Arthur Makes A Movie will be released on DVD Tuesday, May 13th. The DVD includes four more episodes of the family favorite series based on author Marc Brown’s beloved literary series. Those four episodes are: “Arthur Makes a Movie”, “Go To Your Room, D.W.”, “Agent of Change”, and “D.W. Unties The Knot.” The DVD will retail for an SRP of $9.99.

In the title episode of the new DVD, Arthur and his friends decide to make their very own movie since they’re not old enough to see a real “James Hound” movie. Muffy Crosswire takes the helm and taps Arthur to play the lead role in the kids’ movie. However, things don’t go exactly as planned when the kids try to put their plan in action.

“Go To Your Room D.W.” tackles a very familiar subject for audiences of all ages when four-year old D.W. is sent to her room by her parents. D.W. has to stay in her room for ten whole minutes! That’s a lot for a four-year old. And it’s just enough time for a four-year old to ruminate on his (or in this case her) difficult childhood, and plan a life away from home. D.W. finds out the reality of trying to run away when she tries to put her plan in action and the folly of her decision in this episode sure to entertain audiences of all ages.

“Agents of Change” is another episode that audiences of all ages will enjoy. It tackles the subject of gender inequality in the movie industry. After Francine and Muffy go to see a movie about a boy and his truck, they are left rather disenfranchised. So they set out to make their own movie that focuses on a strong female lead. They are joined by Molly, who helps to handle the movie’s artwork. With Molly on board, the trio set out to make their very own movie with interesting results.

Wedding season is just around the corner. So what better way to close out Arthur Makes A Movie than with an episode titled, “D.W. Unties The Knot?” In this episode, D.W. decides to get married after watching “The Wedding Channel.” There’s just one problem. D.W. being a child, she doesn’t fully graspt everything that goes into a wedding and what exactly a wedding is or what it represents. She ends up realizing she’s gotten herself in much deeper than she ever imagined. So she’s left to figure out how to get everything back to how it was.

Arthur Makes A Movie will be available Tuesday, May 13th. It can be pre-ordered now via the PBS online store at More information on this and other Arthur DVDs is available online at and To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at

Geronimo Stilton Sniffs Out More Family Fun In New DVD

Courtesy:  Entertainment One

Courtesy: Entertainment One

Geronimo Stilton: Intrigue on the Rodent Express and Other Adventures, the latest home release from the short-lived Canadian TV series, is another fun collection of episodes for the whole family. The new DVD contains four more episodes from the series’ twenty-six total episodes. Whether or not one is familiar with the Geronimo Stilton literary series or the TV series spawned from the books, viewers will all agree that there is plenty to say of this new home release. The first aspect worth noting in this group of episodes is its writing. The TV series is an import. But it will translates well enough for audiences of any age to enjoy it. The next factor to be taken into consideration in this compilation’s success is its animation style. One part hand-drawn and seemingly one part flash/CG, it still manages to maintain its own identity among the masses of full-on CG series that pollute the television spectrum today. Last but definitely not least worth noting is the show’s voice cast. Most viewers likely don’t know the cast’s names. But they will definitely recognize the cast’s voices. That who’s who of voice actors, the animation, and the writing all come together to make this DVD another from Entertainment One that is worth at least one watch regardless of how familiar one is with the series or the books on which it is based.

The first aspect of the new compilation from Geronimo Stilton that viewers will appreciate is its writing. The series is an import from Canada. Few may realize it, but there is a difference in the writing (and overall structure) of Canadian-based series and American television series in general. The case with this series is different, though. American audiences will enjoy the episodes on this disc just as much as their Canadian counterparts. It translates so well primarily because of all the action and comic relief tied into each of the four episodes. Geronimo’s globe hopping adventures echo hints of both Indiana Jones and James Bond in one. And parents will appreciate the pop culture references tied into each script.  Those pop culture references include spoofs of Agatha Christie and so many classic kung-fu flicks of the 1960s just to name a couple.  The Agatha Christie spoof comes in the DVD’s opening episode, “Intrigue on the Rodent Express.  It’s a reference to the famed story, Murder on the Orient Express.  The original story was written by Agatha Christie and is not only one of the most famous detective novels of all time, but was also adapted into an equally famous big screen feature.  The spoof of all the classic kung-fu flicks comes in “The Mask of the Rat-Jitsu.”  This one sees Geronimo getting caught up in a web of intrigue centered around a group of ninjas led by an evil mastermind bent on stealing a priceless mask.  Younger audiences won’t get the references.  But their parents (and potentially even grandparents) will appreciate the attempts by the show’s writers to reach them as well as their children and grandchildren.  It’s all a collective example of what makes the writing in this group of episodes central to the success of this DVD.

The writers that worked on all four episodes included in Geronimo Stilton: Intrigue on the Rodent Express and Other Adventures are to be commended for crafting stories that will entertain audiences of all ages.  The series’ animators are just as deserving of applause with these episodes.  They are deserving of applause in that they have largely crafted the cartoon through hand-drawn animation.  There were some potentially computer generated elements to each episode.  But by and large, it looks as if this cartoon was in fact crafted by hand.  There are still hand-drawn cartoons out there today.  But as many studios over utilize computers for their “animated” series, this series incorporating more hand-drawn animation than computer generated gives its episodes more of their own identity, which in turn makes them stand out even more among the masses.  The closest comparison that can be made in terms of the animation in these episodes is perhaps to DC’s short-lived series, Krypto The Superdog.  That it can only be loosely compared to one other series solidifies the originality of these episodes’ animation.  It’s one more reason that this new DVD is worth at least one watch.

The writing and animation that make up this latest compilation of episodes from the Geronimo Stilton animated series are both key to the overall enjoyment of this new DVD release.  There is one more factor that older audiences will appreciate in this latest collection of episodes from the Canadian import.  That factor is the series’ voice cast.  Most audiences might not know the names of the people that make up the series’ voice cast.  But they will recognize the various series on which the cast members work/have worked.  Patricia Drake is one example of this.  Most people don’t know her name.  She voiced the scheming Sally Rasmaussen (pronounced Ras-mousen) in Geronimo Stilton.  She has also worked on the cult favorite anime series Dragonball Z.  She also starred alongside Mandy Moore and Macauly Culkin in Saved as well as voicing characters in recent Barbie CG based features just to name a handful.  And fellow cast member Lee Tockar, who voiced a number of characters through each of the four episodes also has voiced characters in Johnny Test, Slugtera, and Max Steel and a number of others.  Having such experienced cast is important to the episodes on this DVD.  It is important in that it means the ability to properly interpret scripts and present the best possible performance.  That top notch performance means more enjoyment for audiences in the long run, which is exactly the case with these episodes.

Geronimo Stilton: Intrigue on the Rodent Express and Other Adventures is available now ins ores and online.  It can be ordered online direct via Amazon at  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it.   Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at

EOne’s Angel of the Skies Is An Underrated WWII Story

Courtesy:  Entertainment One

Courtesy: Entertainment One

World War II was the most devastating military conflict that the world has ever seen.  The interesting thing about this war is that it led to the creation of some of the film industry’s most iconic movies.  Movies like Tora Tora Tora, Patton, and The Longest Day became cornerstones of the biggest titles linked to WWII.  Since the days of those classics, countless other movies centered on WWII have been churned out.  Some of them have been not so bad, while others have been not so memorable.  Entertainment One’s new WWII era movie Angel of the Skies is one of those movies that while it is an indie flick, is still one that is not so bad.  Sure, there are some historical inaccuracies depicted in the movie.  But the general story behind the movie is what makes it worth at least one watch.  The acting on the part of the cast helps to make the movie worth at least one watch, too.  And the same can be said of the early flight scenes and backdrops.  All of it taken into account, Angel of the Skies is not as bad as some have already made it out to be.

Angel of the Skies has received mixed reviews by some critics.  The biggest criticism of the movie has been its historical accuracy.  There are some issues with said accuracy.  But one must also take into account that no movie ever based on historical events was one hundred percent accurate in itself.  That being taken into account, it really is not that bad of a movie within its genre.  The story itself is worth a watch first and foremost for the themes tied into the overall story.  Writer/director Christopher-Lee dos Santos ties into his story, the themes of brotherhood, determination, and dedication.  He does so in a way that none of the themes overpower themselves through the course of the movie.  They actually work together to give the story an emotional depth that will keep viewers engaged through the movie’s near two-hour run time.  The story’s theme of dedication works quite well in a dual role here.  On one hand, the theme of dedication works as it is linked to the sub-story between Flight Officer Earl Kirk and his girlfriend, Deborah Caldwell (Lillie Claire—Supernatural, Suing The Devil) and to the dedication of the flight crew to one another after  their plane is shot down.  That theme of dedication among the flight crew directly compliments the script’s theme of brotherhood, too.  Even in the greatest of odds, the men refuse to leave one another behind if at all possible, and will do whatever it takes to save one of their own from Nazi officers.  In turn, that theme of brotherhood is directly linked to the theme of determination.  The men were determined to survive and survive together at all costs.  Each of these themes work together seamlessly to make a story that is worth at least one watch by any history buff and film buff.

The interweaving themes that make up the script behind Angel of the Skies are central to the movie’s ability to keep viewers engaged.  They collectively aren’t all to be considered.  The acting of the cast helps to move the story along, too.  The actors that make up the movie’s cast are largely unknowns.  Despite that, they put on a believable performance.  This is the case both by themselves and together.  The men that make up the flight crew do quite the job in their roles.  As enjoyable as it is to watch them take on their roles, it’s the vile SS officer Stutze that truly stands out in this movie.  Stutze (David James) is truly ruthless in his attempts to locate the South African airmen and carry out his duties.  Not to reveal too much, but he is so vile that he goes so far as to have his men kill a German milkmaid that had protected the airmen after they were shot down.  This after he told her that everything would be okay.  He even gunned down a defenseless American soldier early on as part of his character’s setup.  The ability of an actor or actress to make his or her character that despicable means that said individual is more than doing his or her job in said role.  If the combined themes aren’t enough to keep audiences engaged through the story, then that juxtaposition of character types and roles will definitely do its part to keep viewers engaged.

The general writing and acting that comprise Angel of the Skies combine to make it a movie that is well worth at least one watch.  They don’t work by themselves, though.  The movie’s special effects and backdrops play their own role in making this movie worth at least one watch.  Unlike so many other WWII based movies, this movie mixes CG with live action.  The flight scenes are largely computer generated.  It’s obvious where the computer elements were used, too.  But at least they weren’t as cheesy as those used in the 2006 James Franco WWI flop, Flyboys.  One almost couldn’t tell the difference as the bombers were flying into German airspace.  The only times that one could tell for certain that computer graphics were used were when the bombers came under fire from the Messerschmitts and when the flight crew’s bomber crashed.  The rest of the movie’s story was set against a live action backdrop.  What’s interesting about the live action backdrop is that it didn’t feel as over the top as those used in some other WWII era dramas.  It felt more real for lack of better wording.  That is an area in which far too many movie makers get things wrong.  Too many movie makers look for settings that will enhance their movies.  And it only serves to lessen the movies in question to a certain extent.  That isn’t the case here, though.  That realistic feel combines with the movie’s writing and the cast’s acting to make it a movie that despite being an indie flick is still one worth watching at least once by any history buff and movie buff.  It will be available next Tuesday, December 31st on DVD.  It can be ordered direct from the Entertainment One website at  More information on this and other releases from EOne is available online at  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at

League of Denial Is A Shocking Look At NFL Injuries

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

When one thinks of PBS, one doesn’t typically associate the network with football. But in one of the latest episodes of its news program Frontline, PBS “tackles” the NFL’s recent scandal centered on the battle over whether current and former NFL players suffer from a condition known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE. This shows how big the scandal had become ever since the discovery of CTE in the late 1990s. Whether one is a PBS fan or a fan of the NFL, League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis is a program that both audiences will want to watch. Audiences on both sides will want to watch this as it provides an in depth discussion on the scandal showing where it started and the eventual effect of the findings on the league as a whole. Audiences will find interesting, the interviews with both medical professionals and those with the league that paint the whole picture. The addition of vintage video of games helps to illustrate the subject matter even more.  Audiences are also presented with visual imagery of the brains that were studied by the noted medical professionals.   The imagery in question may be unfamiliar to most audiences.  But in its own way, it helps to illustrate the arguments made by those arguing that CTE does in fact affect NFL players.  This video, along with the vintage NFL game footage and the interviews on both sides make this episode of Frontline all the more intriguing for anyone with any interest in either the medical field or just the NFL.

PBS doesn’t typically delve into the world of professional sports with its programming.  So when producers decided to take on the issue of CTE in NFL players, one knew instantly that the subject was far more wide ranging than just what was going on with the players.  Audiences will see through the interviews culled for this episode of Frontline that CTE affects both current NFL players and those hoping to one day reach the ranks of the NFL.  The interviews provide a clear, unbiased look at the situation and how important it is as not just a sports issue, but a health issue, too.  Viewers will see how medical science was used to break open a scandal that continues to play a role in the NFL even today after the league paid out almost $800 million to former players and the families of former players that were found to have suffered from CTE as a result of their time in the NFL.  Dr. Bennett Omalu is the first medical professional interviewed during the program’s two-hour run time.  It was his autopsy of former Steelers legend Mike Webster that started the ball rolling in the case against the NFL covering up brain injuries to players.  On the other side, an interesting argument is made that if CTE does in fact affect players, why is it that it only affects some players and not others.  That’s not to say that it’s a strong argument.  But it is an interesting one nonetheless.

The interviews used throughout this program are hard hitting to say the least.  No pun intended.  Just as powerful is the companion video used to illustrate the arguments being made.  PBS uses footage from NFL films to show just how hard football players hit one another in the course of a normal game.  One interviewee shares that when players hit one another in a normal game, it’s equivalent to hitting a brick wall at thirty-five miles per hour.  This illustration combined with the provided footage from NFL Films puts quite well into perspective just how hard players hit one another again and again throughout just a single game.  One can’t help but lean more towards the side of CTE as a cause of players’ brain injuries over their careers, despite what certain groups might have people believe.  The footage of the dissected brains may not be the easiest thing for some viewers to handle.  That should be noted right now.  But much like the other video that accompanies the program’s interviews, it helps to illustrate even more the arguments being made by those that investigated them.  Not everybody will fully comprehend or appreciate what is shown.  Even this critic views the dissections as Latin so to speak. But for those that have any interest or experience in the medical field and/or forensic science, they play an extremely large role in the grand scheme of the program.  In simple terms, they add that much more value to the presentation.  And that added value makes this piece even more worth watching whether one is a hardcore NFL fan or not.  League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis is available now and can be ordered direct from PBS’ online store at  More information on this and other releases from PBS is available online at and  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at

Sonar Entertainment’s Take On Verne’s Classic Is Entertaining Despite Its Changes

Courtesy:  Mill Creek Entertainment/Hallmark Entertainment/Sonar Entertainment

Courtesy: Mill Creek Entertainment/Hallmark Entertainment/Sonar Entertainment

Jules Verne is one of the literary world’s greatest names.  If he were alive today, he would be proud to see that so much of what he crafted in his books has ages later become reality.  One can’t help but wonder though, how he would react to the countless adaptations that have arisen from his books ever since the dawn of the moving picture.  There have been some good adaptations, some that are…well…we’ll say forgettable.  And then there are those rare few that somehow manage to fit more into a middle ground between the two.  Sonar Entertainment’s 1999 take on Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth is one of those adaptations that fit more into the latter of the three.  And like so many adaptations that came before and that have come after, it doesn’t stay entirely true to the original book.  Despite that, it’s still an entertaining story nonetheless.  Audiences should take this into account first and foremost with this adaptation.  Also to be taken into account with this this take on Verne’s classic story is that it isn’t the big budget version released to theaters in 2008.  Believe it or not, that’s actually a good thing. That will be discussed later, too.  Because the story runs roughly three hours in length, its composition is just as important as any other factor in this take on Verne’s story.    Splitting the mini-series up especially on DVD will help viewers to not feel drained by the story’s end.  Along with the story itself and the production values, it helps to make Sonar Entertainment’s take on Verne’s story that much more worth checking out at least once.

The central story of Journey to the Center of the Earth in this adaptation is anything but true to the original story written by Jules Verne.  There are those that have discredited this take on the story for that.  But the reality of the situation is what movie ever crafted from a book ever stays entirely true to the original source material?  Keeping that in mind, the story presented here is actually surprisingly entertaining.  It incorporates more action into the story as well as the standard romance subplot for specifically aimed audiences.  From angry subterranean pre-historic natives to deadly lizard creatures, dinosaurs and fiery caverns, Theodore Lytton (Treat Williams), his nephew Jonas (Jeremy London) and their travelling companions have lots to face on their journey.  Writer Thomas Baum’s script spaces all of these dangers out just enough to keep viewers engaged throughout each of the mini-series’ segments.  In the same vein, Baum didn’t allow the script’s dual romantic subplot  to overpower the primary story.  This helps to keep the story moving at a reasonable pace.  There are certain comic elements included in the story that add to its entertainment value, too.  One of those instances comes when Theodore, Jonas, and their friends meet a group of natives in New Zealand.  There are some jokes involving whether or not their king is a cannibal that will most certainly have any viewer laughing if only slightly.  It is still a nice touch to the story.

The mix of action, comedy and yes, even romance, make Baum’s take on Verne’s classic an entertaining story.  Audiences should also take into account with this adaptation of Verne’s novel, its production values and special effects.  It’s pretty obvious in watching this mini-series that this take on the story likely didn’t have that large of a budget.  That’s obvious in the sets, the special effects, and even the costumes.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, either.  In fact, there’s something somewhat endearing about the fact that the special effects, the sets, and the costumes were more low-budget.  It goes right back to the writing.  Much like classic movies from Hollywood’s golden era, the lower grade sets, costumes, and special effects forced Miller and his cast to focus more on Baum’s story.  The result is acting that will actually keep viewers engaged in both the character development and by connection, story development, too.  So in the mini-series’ defense, it’s actually nice to see these lower-budget pieces, instead of something more over-the-top.  It’s one more part of the whole that makes this take on Journey to the Center of the Earth worth at least one watch.

The overall production values and story in Sonar Entertainment’s Journey to the Center of the Earth make this take on the timeless story worth at least one watch.  They alone don’t make this adaptation work, though.  Just as important as the production values and the story itself is how the story is how the story is built.  The full run time of the mini-series is roughly three hours.  It only makes sense with such a long run time that it would be separated into separate segments.  Had the story been one long piece along the lines of the Lord of the Rings, it might not have been so easy to stomach.  But it didn’t go that route.  It took the other route.  And to top it off, it made each segment enjoyable to watch even though this take on the original story might not be entirely true to the source material.  And it’s because of all of this tied in together that this adaptation of Journey to the Center of the Earth is worth at least one watch by any fan of Verne’s original work and by any science fiction fan in general.  It is available now and can be ordered online in a special two-movie bonus pack along with Hallmark’s Dinotopia at  More information on this and other releases from Mill Creek Entertainment is available online at and  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at

Scholastic’s Latest Storybook Treasures Collection A Great Gift For The Whole Family

Courtesy:  Scholastic/New Kideo

Courtesy: Scholastic/New Kideo

Scholastic’s new Christmas and Winter-themed collection of stories set to the small screen is another impressive set for the whole family.  Not only does it entertain audiences, but it also educates.  The collection is highlighted by a small screen adaptation of author Rob Scotton’s Merry Christmas, Splat.  This story is a fun piece that is actually much deeper than what some might see on the surface.  It’s just one reason that parents, students, and teachers will appreciate the set as a whole.  Viewers will discover in watching all four of the stories that each one has an important message for everybody.  That’s not the only reason that viewers will enjoy this latest set from Scholastic.  Viewers will also appreciate each story’s animation.  Each story boasts its own animation.  By direct connection, the set’s bonus “Behind-The-Scenes” featurette reveals a little known secret about at least one story’s animation.  And what DVD compilation from Scholastic would be complete without the standard Read-Along option?  Yet again that option has been included for all young audiences.  Together with everything else previously noted, it plays just as important a role in the success of the set.

The lessons taught through this collection are nothing new to Scholastic’s Storybook Treasures collections.  That’s not to say that the lessons included her are old.  Rather, the inclusion of stories with valuable lessons is nothing new.  And that Scholastic has continued to include such content is a big reason that its Storybook Treasures collections have been so successful.  It’s a big reason for the success of this latest collection, too.  Viewers are taught through the set’s first story that one’s family will love them even if they haven’t been completely perfect.  In its own way, it also helps to dispel the time honored belief that Santa will only bring gifts if one has been good.  It’s a much better lesson to teach kids instead of telling them that they’ll only get gifs from Santa if they’re good.  That lesson is one that parents should not use on their children, especially in the country’s current economic state.

The lesson taught in Merry Christmas, Splat is just one of the valuable lessons taught in this set of stories.  There is also a lesson of appreciating the little things in life in two of the stories.  Those stories are: Owl Moon and Snowflake BentleyOwl Moon teaches young viewers to appreciate the little things in life as a young girl goes out into the forest with her father to see a Great Horned Owl.  The way in which the forest and the moon are both described shows how much reverence author Jaqueline Briggs Martin has for something as simple as the way that snow reflects the light of the moon.  It’s truly something beautiful to think about in seeing the illustrations of Mary Azarian.  Snowflake Bentley is made even more interesting in that it does more than just teach a life lesson.  It also teaches a history lesson.  It teaches a lesson about William Bentley, who first used microscopic photography to take pictures of snowflakes.  Bentley’s name is not one that is very well known among most circles.  But his is a life and career that is definitely worth learning about by viewers of every age.  It’s interesting to learn how Bentley became so famous among scientific and academic circles, yet never gained any real major fame or fortune from his work.

The lessons taught through the stories noted here are important parts of Scholastic’s latest Storybook Treasures collection.  Just as important to note is the artwork in each story.  The artwork used for each story gives each one its own identity.   Again, this is another tradition held by Scholastic with its Storybook Treasures collections.  It’s nice to see the original drawings from each story’s book used in each story, instead of computer generated graphics.  Given, a little bit of computer use is incorporated, as audiences will see in this set’s bonus “Behind-The-Scenes” featurette.  But as audiences will also see, the amount of computer use is minimal at most.  And that is a very good thing.

The bonus “Behind-The-Scenes” featurette included in this latest of Scholastic’s Storybook Treasures collection is the final piece of the puzzle for viewers.  Anyone that has any experience in the use of Adobe’s Creative Suite or that has any interest in graphics work will appreciate this bonus.  Audiences learn how the artwork of Fletcher and the Snowflake Christmas was actually pulled directly from the book and used in the small screen adaptation.  It has already been noted how minimal the use of computers was in each story’s animation.  And this featurette proves that.  It shows how the art from the book was scanned into the computer, and actually brought to life thanks to the use of the Adobe Creative Suite.  It is definitely something that older audiences will appreciate.  And along with the stories themselves, it is a fitting final piece for the overall presentation that is Merry Christmas Splatand more winter stories.  It is available now and can be ordered online from New Kideo’s website at  More information on this and other releases from Scholastic is available online at,,, and  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at

Lost And Found An Entertaining And Moving Story Of Friendship

Courtesy:  Entertainment One

Courtesy: Entertainment One

The need for companionship is among the most basic of human needs.  Ironically enough, it is also among the most important of human needs.  Because of its importance, it has been the basis for countless movies and TV shows.  Even The Twilight Zone, one of television’s most beloved series, used this need as the basis for its very first ever episode in “Where Is Everybody?”  Now Entertainment One has teamed up with Studio AKA to release a story about companionship that will both entertain and move audiences of all ages.  The story, Lost and Found, is based on the children’s book by author Oliver Jeffers.  It follows the story of a young boy and a penguin that become friends.  The most interesting aspect of the story is the adaptation’s script.  Audiences that are not so familiar with Jeffers’ book will learn through the “Making of” featurette that the script for the small screen adaptation is different from the book.  But that’s forgiveable.  That’s because of the story behind the book itself.  Just as worthy of note is the adaptation’s animation.  Reference must be made to the story’s bonus “Making of” featurette again here.  It is obvious in watching the story itself that the near Claymation style animation was in fact CG.  But that the line was so blurred is just as impressive as the story itself.  And having noted the bonus “Making of” featurette twice already, it would be pointless to not note that feature as another reason to check out this new DVD.  All three of these factors taken into consideration, they combine to make Lost and Found a must see for any family.

Studio AKA’s adaptation of Lost and Found is not a direct translation of author Oliver Jeffers’ book.  This is noted in the DVD’s bonus “Making OF” featurette.  Just as interesting to note is that at first, Jeffers didn’t even want to have his book adapted to the small screen.  Ironically enough, the original story on which Jeffers’ own book is based came from a story that allegedly happened at a Scotland zoo according to Jeffers.  He explains the story in the DVD’s bonus “Making of” featurette in fell detail.  It’s so unbelievable that one can’t help but laugh.  What audiences get in this take on Jeffers’ book is a story that shows that friendships can begin in the most unexpected of ways.  It also displays the timeless message that one doesn’t know what one has until it’s gone.  How the boy comes to realize this will be left to viewers to find out for themselves.  But his moment of realization is one of the short story’s most moving of moments.  Anyone that is not left even slightly teary-eyed at this moment doesn’t have a heart.  It’s just part of what makes this story so wonderful for the whole family.

The primary story of Lost and Found is both moving and entertaining.  It is a wonderful piece for the entire family to watch together.  Just as noteworthy about this story is its animation.  At first its animation looks slightly similar to that of Room on the Broom, The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child.  But it doesn’t take long to realize that it was in fact done entirely via CG graphics.  What’s so interesting here is that while it doesn’t take long to realize this, those behind its creation should be commended for making it unlike all the other cookie cutter CG based children’s features currently on the market.  It actually does look like Claymation.  This proves how much work went into giving this story the maximum amount of originality.  It goes without saying that it definitely was original.  It was original both in terms of its animation and its story, making it even more enjoyable.

The animation and the story behind Lost and Found both make this small screen adaptation of Oliver Jeffers’ book a joy for viewers of all ages.  The DVD’s bonus “Making of” featurette plays its own role in the overall presentation, too.  As has already been noted, Jeffers explains in the “Making of” featurette how he came up with his literary take on the story.  Viewers will also learn what went into bringing the story to life as well as much more.  Those that have any experience and or interest in video production and graphics production will appreciate the discussions on how the world of Lost and Found was created.  There is much more discussed.  And again, audiences will discover everything that is discussed in this feature for themselves when they pick up the DVD in stores or order it online.  It can be ordered direct from Amazon at  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at

EOne’s Translation Of McBratley’s Books A Wonderful Collection For The Whole Family

Courtesy:  Entertainment One

Courtesy: Entertainment One

Guess how much I love you!  Every child loves to hear those words from their parent and vice versa.  They are among the most powerful words that can be spoken between parents and their children.  So it only made sense that author Sam McBratney would use those words as the title of his hugely popular books about family.  Now, parents and children that have enjoyed those books together for years can share McBratney’s on DVD thanks to Entertainment One.  McBratney’s stories are brought to full life in EOne’s new compilation of stories that parents and children alike will want to watch time and again.  One reason for the enjoyment of this compilation is that the stories included in the compilation include wonderful life lessons.  Also noteworthy is the collective run time of the stories.  The stories are short enough to easily keep young viewers engaged so that they will take in the lessons incorporated into each story.  Just as important to note about the episodes included in this single-disc compilation is the animation of each story.  The animation is original.  And it is difficult to tell if the stories were hand-drawn or CG.  This is a positive, believe it or not.  And alongside the stories’ short run times and life lessons, it all comes together to make Guess How Much I Love You: The Adventures of Little Nutbrown Hare a family favorite.

The very first thing that makes Guess How Much I Love You: The Adventures of Little Nutbrown Hare so impressive is the life lessons tied into each of the stories.  It’s nice to see that the heart of McBratney’s children’s stories have been carried over to the small screen.  Just as nice to see is that the lessons and the stories themselves have translated so well.  The compilation’s opening story, “Hidden Treasure” is a good example of how well McBratney’s stories translated.  It’s a good starting point because it teaches more than just one lesson.  It teaches first and foremost that treasure is what one makes of it.  To a lesser extent, it teaches the classic lesson of not judging a book by its cover.  This is done when it’s revealed that Little Nutbrown Hare’s dull looking rock actually hides quite the stunning treasure when it accidentally falls and breaks open.  Both of these lessons together teach a much larger lesson.  It teaches young viewers to appreciate the little things in life and that one doesn’t have to have flashy things to have treasure.  This is a wonderful message to send to young viewers.

Another lesson that this collection of stories teaches is one of practice and perseverance.  That lesson is taught in the short story, “Slip, Slop, Slide.”  When Little Nutbrown tries to go skating with his friends in this episode, he ends up falling down.  His friends laugh.  But as his father tells him, they weren’t laughing at him.  In its own way, this is another example of how McBratney’s stories so successfully interweave lessons to make the wonderful stories presented both in his books and on screen.  Little Nutbrown Hare talks to his father, Big Nutbrown Hare, who then takes Little Nutbrown Hare and tries to teach him how to skate.  Both end up falling down in the process.  While it was entirely accidental that they both fell, it helped Little Nutbrown Hare learn that all he needs is practice.  He also learns that it’s okay to fall down.  Yet again, audiences are presented with wonderful lessons and an equally entertaining story.  It’s just one more example of what makes this collection of stories so fun for any family.  It’s not all that families will enjoy about this set, either.  Parents and kids alike will appreciate the short run time of each story.

This single-disc compilation is comprised of seven different episodes.  The total run time of those episodes comes in at roughly eighty minutes.  That puts the total run time of each individual episode at just over ten minutes.  Taking into consideration that the stories included in this set are likely aimed at viewers age 4 – 6, this is just about right for the attention span of said viewers.  Had they been longer, it might have risked said viewers’ attention.  In turn, those same viewers might not have had the patience or the attention to grasp the lessons being taught.  Luckily, that didn’t become an obstacle.  Quite the opposite, was the reality.  The end result is a collection of stories that will keep young viewers’ full attention all while entertaining and teaching valuable lessons.  It’s a double whammy that makes these episodes even more valuable for any parent of a young child.

The run times of the episodes culled for this compilation and their lessons are important parts of the overall presentation that is Guess How Much I Love You: The Adventures of Little Nutbrown Hare.  There is one more aspect of the episodes that will likely be overlooked by many.  That aspect is the episodes’ animation.  It is difficult to tell whether the episodes collected were hand-drawn or CG.  This is actually a good thing.  So many CG children’s features are cookie cutter presentations.  There is no originality to them.  However, with the case of this presentation, the animation gives the episodes their own identity.  The colors and angles of the characters and backdrops combine to look like both CG and hand-drawn elements were used.  If this is indeed the case, they were done in perfect balance, making for a fitting final touch to the compilation of shorts.

Guess How Much I Love You: The Adventures of Little Nutbrown Hare is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct from Amazon at  Audiences can also win a free copy of the DVD courtesy of Phil’s Picks.  Phil’s Picks will be giving away three free copies of the DVD to three lucky winners this Friday, November 15th.  A Person need only enter at the Phil’s Picks Facebook page at by writing on the page’s timeline that one wants to be entered for a chance at a free copy.  It’s that simple.  Fans can also “Like” the Phil’s Picks FB page while there for all of the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news.  And the can also get all the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at

The Halloween Stories Collection Vol. 2 Scares Up Lots Of Fun For The Whole Family

Courtesy:  Scholastic/New Kideo/New Video

Courtesy: Scholastic/New Kideo/New Video

Scholastic’s latest installment in its hugely popular Storybook Treasures series “scares” up lots of fun for the whole family just in time for Halloween.  This set boasts so many positives that there simply isn’t time to go into depth concerning each one.  The very first thing that audiences will appreciate in this latest box set is a collection of not only stories but songs, too.  The collective stories and songs will appeal to audiences of all ages.  Not every story or song is appropriate for all viewers.  So parents should use their discretion in deciding which stories and songs their children can watch.  Parents will appreciate that Scholastic has included songs and stories for viewers of all ages in this set.  And by connection, parents will also appreciate that Scholastic has also included once again, the standard read-along feature that can be toggled on or off depending on their young readers’ ages.  This and the inclusion of the stories of songs together make this set another success from Scholastic.

Scholastic has made a tradition of including some wonderful, family friendly stories in each of its previous Storybook Treasures Collections.  The stories culled for its previous releases have run the gamut from classic fairytales to more socially relevant stories to everything in between.  This latest collection is a little different from those sets, though.  And that’s not a bad thing, either.  This collection includes not only some fun and scary stories, but a collection of songs, too.  The interesting thing about the stories collected for this set is that they don’t really fit into the set’s overall Halloween theme.  Again, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It makes for a nice change of pace in the grand scheme of things for viewers.  Most audiences will recognize the classic ‘Hush Little Baby.’  Perhaps less familiar are the songs, ‘The Erie Canal’ and ‘The Fox Went Out on A Chilly Night.’  So for some, hearing them here might be the first time for just as many audiences.  Audiences of all ages will especially enjoy the Dixieland feel of the prior of the two.  The latter of the two might not be entirely suitable for all audiences.  That’s both because of the song’s lyrics and its imagery.  It involves the fox hunting and killing some geese.  Some younger viewers might actually be unsettled by such imagery.  So parents should use their discretion in terms of this piece.

The songs included in The Halloween Stories Collection: Volume 2 are a nice addition to this set, even though one of them might not be suitable for all viewers.  In that same vein, Scholastic has offered viewers of all ages a grouping of stories that will appeal to viewers of different ages.  This is major boon to this set as parents can pick and choose which stories they want their young readers to take in regardless of age.  One of the best of the stories is the set’s anchor, “The Day of the Dead.”  This short story is fitting for audiences of any age.  It is so important in that it presents Halloween from a perspective with which many young viewers might not be so familiar.  It presents Halloween from the perspective of the Hispanic culture.  Young viewers will learn in this story that unlike in American culture, Hispanics use October 31st to November 2nd to honor the loved ones who have moved on in the previous year.  They honor their loved ones by baking good food and lighting candles that will attract home the spirits of their loved ones.  Viewers will learn that this is done not just in Mexico but in many Latin American and Central American countries.  It serves as an excellent starting point for a discussion with young audiences over what is known as cultural relativity.  Whether in the living room or the classroom, young viewers need to learn that not everybody does things the way that they do things.  So what better way than to use a holiday to explain this concept?

Where “Day of the Dead” is a great story for any younger viewer, the much scarier “Teeny-Tiny and the Witch-Woman” is more fitting for older audiences.  The story, which is somewhat similar to the Brothers Grimm’s story of “Hansel and Gretel”, follows three young boys that go off into the forest and encounter an evil witch despite the youngest of the three having tried to keep his brothers from going in the first place.  The boys had been told about the legend of the witch-woman.  The combination of the narration and the illustrations in this story make it an especially scary story.  Scare factor aside, it does have a happy ending.  Parents should still use their discretion with this story.  It is up to parents to decide if their children are old enough to take in such a scary story.

Scholastic’s The Halloween Stories Collection: Volume 2 offers plenty of fun and scares for the entire family.  Each of the set’s three discs offers stories and songs for young viewers of every age.  And because parents will enjoy them all too, they can sit down with their kids and decide which of the stories are fitting for their young viewers.  Something else that parents and young viewers will appreciate in this set is that Scholastic has once again included the read-along feature that has become standard on each of its Storybook Treasures collections.  This feature can be toggled on or off depending on a child’s reading ability.  It is a wonderful tool to help children develop their reading ability.  It makes this latest set one more invaluable learning tool for any young viewer.  It is available now and can be ordered direct via the New Kideo website at  More information on this and other Scholastic releases is available via the New Kideo website and Facebook page, and  More information is also available on the Scholastic Facebook page and website, and  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at