New Gift Set A Good Idea For Any Downton Abbey Fan

Courtesy: PBS

Far too often, British programs get a bad reputation by most American audiences.  But when the hit show, Downton Abbey cleaned up at last year’s awards shows, it proved that British programming still had a place on American airwaves.  Forget that it was largely shut out at this year’s Emmys.  Downton Abbey is more proof of the value of PBS.  And now fans of this standout serial drama can own the show’s first two seasons on Blu-ray in a single set.

PBS released the first two seasons of Downton Abbey to a very special Blu-ray gift set last month.  The set contains every episode aired so far, including the special Christmas episode.  So one who has never seen this show might ask what is the big deal over it, right?  Right.  So much goes into Downton Abbey to make it a show that any drama lover would enjoy.  Yes, it’s a period show.  But as is pointed out in the included “Making of” bonus feature, a lot of work went into maintaining the show’s believability.  The crew behind the show went to painstaking efforts to properly reconstruct the setting inside the house, from the rooms to the costumes, and other even more minute details.  Audiences will gain even more appreciation for every drama filled episode after viewing this bonus feature, and the others.  Each one intertwines with the other and the episodes themselves to make for a fully immersive viewing experience.

The episodes contained in this set, and the included bonus features make for a wonderful viewing experience.  They are just one part of the overall picture that makes this new gift set perfect for any fan of Downton Abbey.  As minute as it is, even the set’s packaging plays a role in its overall success.  The Blu-ray packaging sees the first two seasons distributed across five discs.  Rather than placing them into a bulky box, each disc gets its own space on inserted “leaves.”  This is a doubly positive packaging effort.  On one hand, placing the discs in this fashion protects them, reducing the possibility of each disc being scratched.  This in turn preserves them, allowing them to be viewed for much longer than less wisely packaged discs.  In combination with the safety of the discs, their packaging also makes the overall packaging ergonomically sound.  The manner in which the discs were placed allowed the box in which they were placed to be smaller than other boxes.  This means the box as a whole will take up less space on anyone’s DVD/Blu-ray rack. 

Whether for the packaging or the bonus features, or for the well written episodes themselves, PBS’ new release of Downton Abbey Seasons 1 & 2 comes together to be a good fit for any fan of the show this holiday season.  Fans can avoid the crowds and order it just as easily via PBS’ online store, http://www.shoppbs.org.

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Terminal Velocity Is One Fun Turn off Your Brain Action Flick

Courtesy: Hollywood Pictures/Mill Creek Entertainment

Terminal Velocity is a good turn off your brain action flick.  Given, the entire plot behind the movie is entirely unbelievable.  But every now and then, it’s good to be able to just sit down and shut off one’s senses and veg out to a good brainless shoot-em-up action movie.  And this movie is exactly that.  It’s no Die Hard.  But it’s still a fun movie for those times when viewers want to simply escape the rigors of the world and into a fantasy world of sorts.

The story behind Terminal Velocity is entirely outrageous and unbelievable.  But it isn’t the first story of its type, either.  That being the case, the silliness and unbelieveability can be tossed out the window.  The plot behind the movie is actually pretty easy to understand once one lets oneself being immersed in the story.  Essentially, “Ditch” falls for a beautiful blonde when he takes her out on a skydiving lesson.  As a result of falling for her, he ends up unwittingly becoming entangled in a big gold heist.  The gold heist is being perpetrated by a group of Russians, some of whom were involved in the former KGB.  Chris (played by Nastassja Kinski) had been involved in it, but decided she wanted out, so the others are trying to kill her so she won’t spill the beans about the heist.  So “Ditch” has to protect her from the killers.  What’s really interesting about the story behind the movie is that if viewers allow themselves to be taken in by the movie (even though they will know the whole time that they’re watching a movie), they will find that they won’t want to turn away.  That’s a sign that writer David Twohy did something right, as did director Deran Sarafian.

Charlie Sheen was a good choice for this story.  Having starred in the equally silly action flick, “The Chase” (which was in itself a remake) earlier in the year, casting him was natural.  Even the name “Ditch” Brodie seemed fitting for him.  Sure it was a nickname, but it was just as outrageous as the story.  And so was the character.  No one else would have fit the mold.  That near perfect character fit combined with a story that’s so silly that action fans won’t be able to keep from watching.  It all makes for a movie that as outrageously unbelievable as it is, is still one that will be a guilty pleasure for any action flick fan.

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Water for Elephants is a “memorable” movie

Adapting books to the big screen is one of the oldest practices in the movie industry.  It goes back to the very birth of the motion picture.  Literary based movies have come a long way since that time.  Some are good, and some simply aren’t so good.  And then there are those that kind of wade about in the limbo between the two extremes.  Water For Elephants is one of those movies that is in the middle somewhere.  By no means is it the worst movie of 2011.  But it isn’t the year’s best, either.  The success of Water for Elephants is based more on the cast than on the movie’s story. 

The central story of Water for Elephants is based around a love triangle between  young veterinarian-to-be, Jacob (played by Twilight star Robert Pattinson), August (Christoph Waltz), the vile ringmaster of the circus that Jacob joins, and August’s wife, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon).  The point of conflict in the story is August’s insinuated alcoholism, and absolutely cold, cruel, and controlling personality.  August is cold and cruel both to his own workers, and the animals in his circus.  While Pattinson doesn’t exactly shine by himself, placed next to Christoph Waltz, the pair beautifully illustrate the heights of good and the depths of evil.  August is an absolutely horrible person.  He’s the kind of villain that audiences love to hate.  And that’s because of Waltz’s acting abilities.  His character of Colonel Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds (2009) was a good turn as a villain.  But this time out, he’s even more villainous.  If not for Waltz, the story centered on the trio would have been little more than just another forgettable romance/drama storyline.

Christoph Waltz single handedly carried his castmates in Water for Elephants, save for one in particular.  That actor…or rather actress…was Rosie the elephant.  Upon her introduction, Rosie wins over audiences without even trying.  Watching waht August does to her makes her that much more loveable, and him that much more despised.  As a note, no animals were harmed in the making of the movie, obviously.  That aside, scenes such as his brutality towards Rose makes it less than suitable for children.  Though there are some more adult moments, too, that aren’t exactly kid friendly.  Parents should be warned about this.

Water for Elephants has an applause worthy cast.  But the cast alone doesn’t make the movie.  Nor does the story.  The depression era backdrop is nothing new to the movie industry.  Plenty of other flicks have been crafted with a similar backdrop.  What makes the depression era backdrop so appealing to audiences this time is the circus train.  Yes, it’s something minute.  But there’s something really nostalgic about the circus train pushing on from one town to the next.  That nostalgic feeling alone makes the movie worth sitting through, despite the pacing problem. 

Other than the acting of Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon, the only other true downside to Water for Elephants was the pacing.  It’s one more movie that despite having an interesting story, gets bogged down in itself a bit too much.  Thankfully the pacing problem doesn’t overpower the story, thus making it a movie that’s worth at least one watch, if not more.

Crazy, Stupid, Love is crazy, but not stupid

Boy meets girl, loses her, and gets her back in the end.  Name that movie.  Pretty tough call, right?  That’s because it’s the most common theme for nearly every romantic comedy ever made.  The plot has been done so many times–in so many different manners–that it’s amazing the genre is even still considered viable.  Thankfully though, every now and then a diamond in the rough comes to light, and renews hope in the rom-com genre.  In 2011, that diamond in the rough was the ensemble piece, Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Crazy, Stupid, Love is a quirky and original rom-com led by the one and only Steve Carell.  It’s not the first rom-com with an ensemble cast.  Who out there remembers Valentines Day?  I should be ashamed for even knowing about that movie.  It was an awful movie, by the way.  But I digress.  Unlike so many other movies that pollute the rom-com genre, it’s a movie that actually has heart, and an original story.  The problem with the story is that as original and heartwarming as it is, it has too much going on.  There are too many interweaving plotlines.  The general story tries so hard to cover all of its bases that it leads to a pacing problem.  The issue with the story’s pacing is so noticeable that it can lead some audiences to want to hit the fast forward button on their remotes.

The primary storyline in the movie is between Cal Weaver (Carell) and his wife, Emily.  Cal is trying to rediscover himself after Emily tells him during a night out, that she wants a divorce.  She proceeds to admit to Cal on their drive home, that she had been cheating on him.  This is where things begin to get complicated.  So pull out your scorecards.  Ready?  In attempting to rediscover himself, Cal meets playboy Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling), who teaches Cal how to woo women.  During the process, Cal meets his son’s teacher, Kate (Marisa Tomei), and Jacob meets Hannah, whom he later falls for.  This results in Jacob changing his ways, and a surprise twist thrown in for good measure.  The tie in with Kate is directly related to Cal’s son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo) cursing in class one day because his affections toward an older girl were spurned.  The girl in question is named Jessica (Analeigh Tipton).  Jessica has a schoolgirl crush on Cal.  And that leads to some interesting events.  So, is everyone following along?  The whole game of six degrees continues on even more, to the point that a person would need a program to follow it all.  It simply bogs the story down too much. 

No one can be blamed for wanting to skip through portions of the movie, due to its pacing problem.  No one can even be blamed for actually doing it.  However, those who don’t will be rewarded with a happy ending that’ll leave them with some sense of fullfilment, and a smile on their faces in the end.  Said audiences’ minds might be reeling from all the storylines after it’s all said and done.  Those who manage to keep up with it all will definitely find Crazy, Stupid, Love to be crazy, yes.  But they’ll also find it to be anything but stupid.

Chasing Madoff a gripping real life crime drama

Bernie Madoff is one of the most hated individuals in the history of the United States.  He is so hated because of a crime that cost countless others their entire lives.  Now, in the new documentary, “Chasing Madoff” audiences see exactly the devastation that Madoff brought not only on single individuals and families, but also potentially on the entire economic system of the United States.  And all it took to reveal this was one single person.

Harry Markopolous tells his story in this stunning work, of how he came to discover the massive financial fraud being covered by Madoff.  It all began a decade before Madoff was eventually arrested at 8:30 in the morning on December 11, 2008.  In the course of his story, Markopolous tells viewers how scared he was to really delve into the case and bring it to light.  He explains that another whistleblower had been beaten and left for dead because of that person’s attempt to uncover wrongdoings.  That alone puts this real life story up there with some of the best legal thrillers by the likes of author John Grisham.  Viewers also see how Madoff actually covered up his crime for so long before finally being caught.  That too, made this such an enthralling work, as it makes one wonder how he got away with it for so long.  That leads to another eye opening aspect of the documentary. 

What’s really eye opening in this documentary isn’t so much the massive extent of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.  But that as a result of its discovery, members of the SEC and the federal government started pointing fingers at each other, sniping at one another like a bunch of children.  Seeing this behavior in the context of the Madoff case serves to prove exactly why Americans are so fed up with Wall Street and the people charged with monitoring its behaviors.  While it is a documentary, it’s not exactly presented in the standard mold of a documentary.  Through interviews with those who lost their money thanks to Madoff, and the people sniffing out Madoff’s trail, those who are really interested in this massive financial fraud scheme will really find themselves enthralled by the whole presentation.  

“Chasing Madoff” is one of the most gripping real life dramas in modern history.  It’s the kind of stuff that simply cannot be made up, to use a phrase.  But it’s definitely the stuff that can be made into stories.  It’s also a perfect documentary for college level finance and business classes.  It serves as a reminder of everything that can happen as a result of one person’s misdeeds.  Most of all (bad joke here), it serves as a reminder that for criminals on any level, crime simply doesn’t pay.  Anyone who followed the madoff case remembers that as a result of his crimes, he will likely die in prison, having been sentenced to nearly two hundred years in prison for his crimes.  The sad reality of all of this is that while Madoff may never see the light of day again outside prisn walls, those who lost everything will likely never regain their sense of trust among so much more.  All of this in mind, Chasing Madoff is one of those documentaries that will alsways have a niche audience.  But it will most definitely never be forgotten.