My Uncle Rafael Is Loaded With Laughs And Heart

Courtesy:  TNP Films

Courtesy: TNP Films

My Uncle Rafael is the best new independent movie of 2014.  And it is arguably one of the best new movies of the year, too.  Originally released in 2012, its release this week on DVD marks the first time that it has seen the light of day in home release format.  And while it obviously owes a certain amount of its success to Robin Williams’ 1993 hit movie Mrs. Doubtfire, it still manages to stand strong on its own merits as a movie that is at least somewhat original in its presentation.  That is the central point of the movie’s success.  It has all the heart and wit of Mrs. Doubtfire without Robin Williams’ cross-dressing and manic character portrayal.  And while it does maintain at least some similarity in its approach to the family-fixing plotline, it approaches the issue through a multi-cultural avenue rather than that of a desperate father. Sign of the times, it would seem.  Just as important to the movie’s enjoyment is the acting on the part of the movie’s cast.  It would have been so simple for the cast, which is relatively well-known and experienced to treat the movie like the independent movie that it is.  But each member of the cast approached this work with the same seriousness used in its other performances.  The professional approach taken by the cast of My Uncle Rafael adds so much enjoyment to the movie.  It adds so much especially considering the quality of the movie’s production values.  While released via an independent studio—TNP Films—the movie’s production values are just as quality as anything released by any of Hollywood’s “Power 5” studios.  That actor, along with the work of the cast and of the movie’s writers, makes My Uncle Rafael a complete joy for audiences of almost any age.  Again, it isn’t the first time that the story presented here has been utilized for a movie.  But its execution makes it a move well worth the watch.

The story that is presented in My Uncle Rafael is not the first of its kind.  It is the story of an outsider coming into a family’s home and fixing said family.  It has been used numerous times in the past.  In 1993, it was presented in the hit movie Mrs. Doubtfire. Two years prior, it was used in pro-wrestling legend Terry “Hulk” Hogan’s family comedy Suburban Commando.  And to a lesser extent it was also used in Vin Diesel’s 2005 flash-in-the-pan flick The Pacifier.  It could even be argued that a similar formula was used way back in the 1989 John Candy dramedy Uncle Buck.  Considering all of this, it leaves one wondering how many other ways in which the “family fix” formula could be used without it being stale and unoriginal.  Enter My Uncle Rafael.  My Uncle Rafael (not to be confused with Joe Pesci’s 1992 dramedy My Cousin Vinny—yes that bad pun was intended) takes the classic “family fix” formula and updates it by incorporating a multi-cultural theme into the story.  Most interesting here is the fact that the duo used an elderly Middle Eastern man as the movie’s central figure.  This was really interesting especially considering the tensions between Americans and those of Middle Eastern descent currently living in the United States.  It’s an angle that few if any writers would even begin to attempt.  For that alone, Pirhamzei and Yagemann are deserving of a certain amount of credit.  That the duo didn’t try to make a direct light of Rafael’s nationality as a soap box makes the script even more worthy of applause.  Omitting that from the script makes the rest of the story far more enjoyable and in turn more memorable.

The script behind My Uncle Rafael is not the first of its kind.  That goes without saying.  But there are aspects of the script that make it surprisingly enjoyable.  As enjoyable as the movie’s script proves to be in the long run, it would be nothing without the abilities of the movie’s cast.  John Michael Higgins (Yes Man, Happily Divorced, Bad Teacher) brings plenty of experience to the movie as do Missi Pyle (The Artist, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Gone Girl), Anthony Clark (Yes, Dear, Boston Common, Soul Man), Joe Lo Truglio (Role Models, Wreck-It-Ralph, Pineapple Express), Carly Chaikin (Suburgatory, The Last Song, In A World…), and Rachel Blanchard (Clueless—TV Series, 7th Heaven, Are You Afraid of the Dark).  The competition between Higgins’ Damon and Clark’s Jack makes for plenty of laughs.  It is a competition much like that seen in Mrs. Doubtfire.  Missi Pyle is just as entertaining as she becomes caught up in the movie’s central love triangle all while trying to maintain her place as mother to her children.  But it is really Vahik Pirhamzei’s portrayal of the loveable Uncle Rafael that really shines.  Pirhamzei’s portrayal gives Uncle Rafael so much heart and warmth.  He makes Rafael loveable not only to his fellow characters but to audiences, too.  One can’t help but agree in watching Rafael that maybe the uncle really is at the center of everything.  Only audiences that watch the movie or have watched it will get that reference.  In hindsight, Rafael’s portrayal makes that line make perfect sense.  That isn’t to take away from Pirhamzei’s cast mates by any means.  Both the more well-known actors and the lesser known cast members add their own enjoyment to the story in whole, too.  But it is his portrayal that holds everything together and makes each of his cast mates’ portrayals all the more entertaining with the end result of the cast in general doing its own part to show once again why My Uncle Rafael  is this year’s best new independent movie and one of the year’s best movies overall.

The writing that went into My Uncle Rafael and the acting on the part of the movie’s cast both play their own important part in the overall success of this surprisingly entertaining story.  Rounding out the presentation is its production values.  Being that this movie is independent, one would think that it would not have the production values of its bigger name family friendly counterparts that have come before.  But the reality is that its production values are quite high.  That includes the movie’s cinematography, its backdrops, costumes, and all other elements that went into bringing the movie to life.  Having such quality production values, it makes sense that the largely veteran cast would want its portrayals to be just as high quality.  The combination of that high quality acting and equally high quality production values adds to the ability of audiences to suspend their disbelief and in turn allow themselves to be immersed into the story and thus offer it the chance that it quite well deserves.  In giving it the chance that it deserves, audiences will agree that this movie is just as enjoyable as its more well-known predecessors and that it is one of this year’s best new movies as well as the year’s best new independent movie.

My Uncle Rafael is available now on DVD in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct via Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/My-Uncle-Rafael-Anthony-Clark/dp/B00O1D3AN6/ref=sr_1_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1418861938&sr=1-2&keywords=my+uncle+rafael.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Batman: The Complete First Season Is A Good, Not Great Debut For Fans Of ABC’s Classic Series

Courtesy:  Warner Home Video/FOX

Courtesy: Warner Home Video/FOX

ABC’s live action series Batman was anything but a hit when it originally aired on CBS from 1966 to 1968.  The series, which starred Adam West in the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman lasted all of three seasons in its original run. Since its cancellation, it has become a cult hit with audiences of all ages.  It has run on syndication on a number of networks and is currently running on Me-TV every Saturday night at 7pm ET.  Throughout all the years that it has been on television since its cancellation, it has not received a proper release on DVD or Blu-ray.  That is until this year.  Warner Home Video and FOX released the first season of the cult favorite last month alongside the show’s full series box set.  The complete box set is rather pricy both on DVD and Blu-ray.  That means that most fans of this hit series will be more interested in picking up the complete first season box set.  Batman: The Complete First Season boasts plenty of positives.  But it also has its own hare of negatives that can’t be ignored, either.  On the positive end, audiences will appreciate the fact that every Season One episode is presented here.  So audiences weren’t short-changed there.  What’s more, every one of the episodes is presented exactly as they originally aired on ABC so many years ago.  And rather than make each half of each episode a separate episode, they are each presented as one full episode.  Of course for every positive, there is a negative.  This recent release is no exception to that rule.  The people at WHV got the issue of the episodes one hundred percent right.  In terms of the bonus material though, both companies struck out swinging.  Batman: The Complete First Season comes with no bonus material to compliment the episodes.  The bonus material has all been saved for the full-series box sets.  WHV and FOX try to entice audiences into buying one of the two boxes by including a coupon for ten dollars off of either the Blu-ray or DVD series set.  That is not a positive by any means and will be discussed at more length later.  As glaring as the noted negative in question proves to be, audiences can at least be happy about the presentation of the episodes.  The footage looks wonderful in its transfer to DVD.  And each episode is presented in full 16:9 format rather than the 4:3 in which most classic series were presented.  It is one more way in which Batman: The Complete First Season impresses with this its debut DVD release.  It’s just too bad that it wasn’t released on Blu-ray.   Maybe audiences would have had the option of at least some bonuses in a Blu-ray box set. A fan can dream, right?  Right.  That aside, the end result of these positives and negatives is a box set that while anything but perfect, is still a good addition to any Batman fan’s home library.

There is a lot to like and just as much to not like in the debut release of Batman: The Complete First Season as should be clear by now.  Luckily for fans, the positives far outweigh the negatives, beginning with the episodes themselves.  Audiences that are familiar with Batman will recall that within the context of this series, each episode was split into two parts.  While the series only ran for three seasons, this made the show really last.  It was a formula that made audiences want to tune in from week to week.  The people at WHV and FOX have paid proper tribute to that formula–and the fans of the show that lived week to week by the formula–by combining both halves of every Season One episode into one complete episode.  It would have been just as easy to spread out each half of each episode and call them “episodes.”  That would have been purely deceptive marketing as it would have meant both companies trying to fool audiences into thinking there was more than really was there.  Luckily they didn’t go that route.  And for that reason alone, WHV and FOX are deserving of at least some credit.  It’s at least one reason to applaud the debut release of Batman: The Complete First Season.

The presentation of Season One’s episodes is by itself plenty of reason for audiences to applaud the debut release of Batman: The Complete First Season.  But as anyone knows, for every positive there is a negative; a yang for every yin so to speak.  And this box set is no exception.  Audiences will be displeased to discover that while WHV and FOX have included every episode from Batman’s first season in this box, they have clearly omitted any bonus material at all.  All of the bonus material has been saved for both the Blu-ray and DVD presentation of the show’s complete series boxes.  In turn, WHV and FOX have included in Batman: The Complete First Season a coupon for ten dollars off the purchase of either the Blu-ray or DVD full series set.  This is hardly a positive.  And here is the reason why:  Audiences that actually would use the coupon would still pay nearly $150 for the DVD box set.  They would still be paying well over $200 for the Blu-ray set.  Keep in mind that 20th Century Fox was able to release its complete series run of Futurama in a single box for under $100 on DVD.  There is no Blu-ray option there.  That is about seven or eight seasons.  So how can 20th Century Fox do that, yet WHV and FOX expect people to shell out exorbitant amounts of money for a three-season box set by comparison?  This is a losing situation for fans who have waited decades for Batman to finally receive a proper release on DVD or Blu-ray.  It is an insult to those same fans.  WHV and FOX should be ashamed of themselves for this.  Keeping that in mind, it knocks off major points for Batman: The Complete First Season and for both of the full series sets.

Still not enough to consider?  How about the fact that WHV is looking to split up the second season of Batman into two separate volumes beginning in February 2015?  That’s right.  What this means is the possibility of WHV doing the same thing with Season 3.  That means that Season One could be the only one that audiences and long-time fans see in a single set. It’s probably the only factor that would even begin to make purchasing either the Blu-ray or DVD full series set more worth the purchase than Season One.  It doesn’t make such practice any more ethical, regardless. Obviously, WHV isn’t the only company guilty of this practice.  20th Century Fox has done this with its home releases of Family Guy’s various seasons over the years.  It’s a way to stretch things out and for WHV to make more money from audiences.  That goes without saying.  But the people at WHV know that people such as this critic will still shell out the money for it.  It’s just a shameful practice regardless of the company releasing the box set.  And it is something that had to be noted here if only or context.

Now, having finished on the soap box, it’s time to turn back to the positive side of Batman: The Complete First Season.  There is at least one more positive worth noting about this box set for fansto consider.  That factor is the look of the episodes themselves.  The footage looks surprisingly clean even on DVD.  It shows that those charged with transferring the masters from tape to DVD and Blu-ray went to painstaking measures to insure the footage looked its best for fans.  For that alone, WHV and FOX are to be applauded.  Even more interesting about the episodes’ presentation is that each episode is presented in full 16:9 format rather than the 4:3 format in which so many shows of its era were presented.  In sizing the resolution up to 16:9 none of the episodes’ quality was sacrificed.  So it looks just as good as it did in its original broadcast format.  Together with the fact that every one of Season One’s episodes are presented here in their entirety, it is one more positive that helps to perhaps not outweigh the negatives of the set but at least equal their weight.  And in equalling the weight of the set’s negatives, it serves to make Batman: The Complete First Season a welcome addition to the library of of long-time Batman fan.  It is hardly the best that WHV and FOX could have offered fans.  But for those that can’t afford the unethically exorbitant cost of the full series sets, it is still a good piece to have.

Batman: The Complete First Season is available now in stores and online.  More information on this and other releases from Warner Home Video is available online at:

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IFC Films’ “Premature” Is As Good As Any Big Screen Teen Flick

Courtesy:  IFC FIlms

Courtesy: IFC FIlms

IFC Films’ teen comedy Premature is not only one of the best indie flicks of 2014, but it is one of the best movies of the year overall.  In comparison to the endless stream of prequels, sequels, and remakes churned out by Hollywood’s “Power 5″ studios, this movie is a complete breath of fresh air.  It balances just enough bawdiness and raunch with an equal amount of depth and heart to make it a surprisingly entertaining work.  The central reason for that is the movie’s script.  It isn’t just another standard, formulaic teen romp.  It actually teaches some important lessons; lessons that both male and female audiences will appreciate.  The movie’s script is at the heart of its enjoyment.  Another reason that audiences will enjoy this movie is its bonus material.  Included as bonus material on the DVD are a number of interviews with the cast and crew, a fun little behind-the-scenes featurette, and even an alternate ending that proves to be just as good as the ending presented in the final product.  The last aspect of the movie that makes it enjoyable for audiences is the acting on the part of the cast.  The cast isn’t exactly A-listers just yet.  But its members already have quite the chops under their belts thanks to roles on some big movies and TV shows.  It shows quite well in this presentation, too.  It rounds out a movie that while being an indie flick, is one of this year’s best indie flicks and one of the year’s best movies overall.

At first glance, many critics have automatically panned IFC Films’ new teen comedy Premature.  Elizabeth Weitzman, of the New York Daily News, said of the movie that it is “a retreat of every lousy 80s high school comedy you never bothered watching.”  And Variety’s Joe Leydon had one of the harshest comments, attacking not only the movie but those that actually showed any appreciation of the movie.  He noted of the movie and its audiences that “only undiscriminating audiences with a pronounced taste for crotch-centric tomfoolery will sample this goulash.”  Really, Joe?  There was an equally scathing commentary from New York Times writer Nicolas Rapold, equating co-writers Dan Beers and Mathew Harawitz’s script to work from Family Guy head Seth McFarlane.  That is an insult of the highest degree. For all of its naysayers, Premature has also gotten positive marks, too.  Though, even those positive remarks have been tepid at best.  This means that most audiences and critics that saw this movie completely missed the mark in analyzing it.  The script itself does throw back to the teen romps of the 80s.  There’s no denying that.  But it throws back to more than just those movies.  Its script balances the crudeness of those movies with the heart–believe it or not–of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  To a lesser extent, those that are old enough to remember will see a comparison to the likes of Fox’s classic series Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, too.  That’s thanks in large part to the work of lead actor John Karna, who plays Rob Crabbe.  The movie sees Rob learn some valuable lessons about both life and love as the story progresses.  He learns about doing what makes him happy versus what makes his father happy through his interactions with his Georgetown recruiter and his father.  The lesson about love just happens to be tied in to Rob’s own full-throttle sex drive.  Audiences need to remember that in our adolescence, the human sex drive is actually much like what is portrayed here.  Hormones are going crazy in the adolescent brain and body.  Beer and Harawitz have just taken that fact and made humorous light of it as part of the bigger picture.  Keeping that in mind makes that aspect of the movie less crude and much funnier.  If audiences can accept that fact and enjoy it for what it is, they will enjoy Premature much more.  They will also enjoy the lessons incorporated into the script, too thus leading to a realization that this movie is far more enjoyable than what some would have others believe.

The script used for Premature is by itself more than enough reason to give this underrated indie flick worth at least one watch.  By itself, it makes Premature one of this year’s best new indie flicks and one of the year’s best new movies overall.  The script is just part of what makes the movie worth watching.  The bonus material included with the movie makes the presentation in whole even more enjoyable.  There are interviews with the cast and crew that will inform and entertain audiences.  There is also a bonus alternate ending that proves to be just as entertaining as the ending presented in the final product if not more so.  And the bonus behind-the-scenes featurette will have audiences just as much in stitches.  [John] Karna takes audiences through the movie’s sets during this segment.  Throughout the featurette, Karna stays somewhat in character holding the same personality as Rob Crabbe without actually trying to portray Rob.  He playfully hits on every female that he finds as if he were Rob.  It really is fun and funny to watch.  Together with the bonus interviews and alternate ending, it shows even more what makes the movie’s bonus features even more important to the presentation in whole. They collectively make Premature that much more of a joy to watch.  They still aren’t the last of the factors that make Premature so enjoyable, either.  The acting on the part of the movie’s cast is just as important to the movie.  It rounds out the whole that is this surprisingly entertaining indie flick.

The acting on the part of Premature’s cast is one of the most important parts of this movie’s enjoyment.  Most audiences probably don’t know the cast’s names.  But Karna and his cast mates–Katie Findlay (How To Get Away With Murder, The Carrie Diaries, After The Dark), Alan Tudyk (Frozen, Wreck-it-Ralph ,i-Robot) Craig Roberts (Neighbors, 22 Jump Street, Jane Eyre), Steve Coulter (The Hunger Games, Insidious: Chapter 2, The Conjuring) , and Carlson Young (True Blood, The Dog Who Saved Christmas, Pretty Little Liars)–are each fully believable in their roles.  And that is thanks to their work on some rather well-known movies and TV series.  Katie Findlay plays Rob’s best friend Gabrielle.  She does quite the job in her role, although most audiences can tell as the story progresses what will happen between them.  It’s a classic partnering that has been used before.  But it still works quite well even in this case.  Alan tudyk plays the part of Rob’s Georgetown recruiter.  Tudyk is a laugh riot as he breaks down, crying like a little child as he interviews Rob.  His acting will by itself leave audiences laughing uproariously.  Craig Roberts plays Rob’s sex-crazed friend Stanley.  Even in the side-kick role, Roberts offers his own share of laughs.  One could really compare him to Stiffler from the famed American Pie franchise, only younger. Steve Coulter plays a minimal role as Rob’s dad Jim.  But he’s still entertaining as the standard subtly controlling father figure.  And Carlson Young is spot on as the stereotypical blonde sex kitten Angela Yearwood.  Her role is understated as it plays an important part in Rob’s personal development and self-realization.  But just as with her co-stars, Young pulls off her role expertly as do the rest of the cast members.  Their collective experience makes their portrayals here so enjoyable in their own right.  It makes suspension of disbelief so simple in this case.  The end result is a story that will keep audiences fully engaged from start to finish, laughing the whole way through.

Whether it be the movie’s script, the bonus features included as part of the whole, or the acting on the part of the cast, Premature proves in the end to have plenty of positives.  It proves to have far more positives than its critics would lead audiences to believe.  It proves to be one of this year’s best new indie flicks and one of the year’s best new movies overall.  It is available in stores and online now.  More information on this and other titles from IFC Films is available online at:

Website: http://www.ifcfilms.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/IFCFilmsOfficial

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Lionsgate’s Latest Power Rangers DVD A Good Watch Any Time Of The Year

Courtesy: Lionsgate/Saban/Saban Brands

Courtesy: Lionsgate/Saban/Saban Brands

Nickelodeon is set to close out the latest installment of Saban’s hugely popular Power Rangers franchise this weekend.  Power Rangers Super Megaforce will close out this Saturday on Nickelodeon.  Before it closes out Saban and Lionsgate have released a new featuring a holiday episode from this season.  Power Rangers Megaforce: Robo Knight Before Christmas brings to audiences yet another new holiday tale from what has over the years become a worldwide phenomenon.  What audiences will appreciate most of all in this episode is the fact that yet again, the people behind the franchise have switched things up in this episode instead of repeating the same story as in previous Power Rangers seasons.  This is especially important considering some of the redundancy that can be seen in the seasons that followed the franchise’s original seven-season run.  The lessons taught in the central episode tie directly in to that originality.  It’s another reason that audiences will appreciate this installment from the Megaforce Rangers.  Speaking of lessons being taught, the lessons taught in the companion episodes are just as important to the overall presentation.  The episodes themselves may not be Christmas-themed.  But the lessons shared in said episodes are just as applicable during the holidays as they are any other time of the year.  Those lessons coupled with the lessons taught in the DVD’s central episode and said episode’s originality combine to make this DVD one that any Power Rangers fan will enjoy whether during the holidays or any other time of the year.

Over the course of its now twenty-ne years on television, Saban’s Power Rangers franchise has made a tradition of running a new Christmas-themed episode in every season.  And every season’s Christmas episode has proven to be different from the last.  This applies both stylistically and in terms of their stories.  Power Rangers Megaforce: Robo Knight Before Christmas is no different in that fashion.  Given, it is for all intents and purposes a clip show.  And it’s not the first time that Saban has used clip shows in previous seasons of the Power Rangers.  But through the use of the various clips, the story is more than just another typical clip show.  For that matter, it’s also not just another piece telling about the “true meaning of Christmas.”  The show’s writers incorporate the values commonly associated with Christmas into Robo Knight’s own attempt to better understand humans.  The end result is something of a third person vantage point that helps to better illustrate the morals and values that are so important not just during the holiday season but during any time of the year.  The show’s writers accomplish this goal without being overly preachy about it, either.  Sure there’s some sappiness.  But it’s still a good non-traditional piece that focuses on the holiday season and its associated values.

The lesson centering on Christmas’ values and Robo Knight’s own attempt to understand those values couple to make Robo Knight Before Christmas another enjoyable Christmas episode of Saban’s Power Rangers franchise.  Staying on that same train of thought, the two Power Rangers episodes included as bonuses offer audiences their own positive lessons.  Neither episode takes place during Christmas or even the holiday season.  But they still teach invaluable lessons.  Power Rangers Wild Force’s episode “Team Carnival” teaches an important and invaluable lesson about self-worth.  The interesting thing of the episode is that the writers behind that season actually also took a non-traditional route in presenting said lesson.  In the case of this episode, that season’s writers presented the lesson through the use of the season’s villains Toxica (Sin Wong) and Jindrax (Danny Wayne).  When Jindrax sees that Toxica has her own family in the fight against the Power Rangers, it makes Jindrax feel worthless.  He ends up teaming up with his own family member to fight the rangers and still learns his own valuable lesson about self-worth in the long run.  It’s interesting to see any episode of the Power Rangers make a villain a sympathetic character.  But it works here.  That and the lesson centering on personal self-worth makes this episode its own invaluable addition to this DVD.  It’s one more reason that this latest Power Rangers is another *ahem* mega-hit for audiences.

The second of the bonus episodes included in the new Power Rangers Megaforce DVD, “The Spirit of Kindness,” comes from Power Rangers Jungle Fury.  The most important lesson taught through this episode could be argued to be that of the golden rule so to speak.  As audiences will see in this episode, Casey (Jason Smith)  finally wins over an old nemesis in Whiger (Jared Turner) and convinces Whiger to join him in fighting Whiger’s own former evil ally.  Whiger admits before disappearing that he fought alongside Casey because Casey was kind to him unlike the season’s other villains.  He finally realized in that final moment before his own demise the importance of kindness.  It taught Casey that kindness can be just as powerful as fighting, too.  That in itself is an extremely important lesson to be taken away from this episode.  It’s one more lesson that is just as important during the holiday season as any other time of the year.  This lesson combined with the others presented on this DVD shows once more how much the Power Rangers franchise has to offer audiences even two decades plus after it first debuted.

If the lessons taught in each of the DVD’s trio of episodes isn’t enough for audiences, then the fact that the DVD comes with a bonus digital copy will win over audiences.  Having that digital copy means that audiences can take all three of these episodes with them wherever they go.  So the lessons and the entertaining stories can be shared with any viewer without having to lug around the DVD.  It is the finishing touch to yet another DVD that any Power Rangers fan will appreciate.

Power Rangers Megaforce: Robo Knight Before Christmas is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered online direct from Lionsgate’s online store at http://www.lionsgateshop.com/product.asp?Id=31609&TitleParentId=9994.  More information on this and other titles from Lionsgate is available online at:

Website: http://www.lionsgate.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/lionsgate

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Lionsgate’s Latest Family Friendly CG Centerpiece Will Entertain The Whole Family

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

Lionsgate’s latest CG animated feature Jungle Master is one of the year’s more welcome family features to come along so far in 2014.  Unlike so many of the movies released in recent years by Dreamworks and Disney/Pixar, Jungle Master actually takes the road less travelled.  The movie’s animation is the most obvious way in which it takes that road less travelled.  Despite being a CG presentation, it doesn’t bare that cookie cutter appearance of the movies released by Dreamworks and Disney/Pixar.  Another reason that it stands out is its run time.  The movie’s run time comes in at just under the ninety-minute mark.  That’s a very good thing and will be discussed later.  Last but not least of all that makes this movie stand out is its script.  The story lifts lightly from The Wizard of Oz believe it or not and adds in a touch of Avatar for good measure as well as other sci-fi flicks.  The end result is a story that the while it may never be as big as anything from Dreamworks or Disney/Pixar, is still enjoyable in its own right.  It proves to be a movie that the whole family should watch together and will enjoy together when they do watch it together.

Jungle Master is not one of the most well-known family flicks to be released by any of Hollywood’s major studios this year.  That aside, it still proves in the long run to be one of the year’s more welcome family friendly flicks.  One reason for that is the movie’s “animation.”  Lionsgate’s CG features are completely unlike those of Dreamworks and Disney/Pixar in the realm of animation.  It’s almost impossible to tell Dreamworks’ CG movies from Disney/Pixar’s because they all look alike.  The only way to really differentiate the two studios’ works is by the studio names.  That speaks volumes.  Lionsgate on the other hand has strived to keep itself separate from the mold used by those studios in terms of its animation.  The look of Lionsgate’s CG movies is rawer for lack of better wording.  But it isn’t raw to the point of looking like some pieces from perhaps independent studio Engine 15 Media Group and others.  There is actually some attention paid to detail with Lionsgate’s CG movies, including this one.  That attention to detail helps Jungle Master maintain its own identity separate from its bigger name counterparts from Dreamworks and Disney/Pixar.  It even helps the movie to maintain its own identity from Lionsgate’s previously released CG features.  That mostly original look is just one of a number of positives that surround Jungle Master and make it stand out among this year’s crop of CG movies.

The largely original look of Jungle Master plays a key role in the movie’s ability to keep audiences engaged through its entire eighty-two minute run time.  That run time is another reason that families will enjoy this movie.  It doesn’t even reach the ninety-minute mark.  That relatively short run time drastically increases the chances of keeping audiences engaged from start to finish.  This is especially the case with the movie’s target younger audiences.  Most of the CG movies released since 1995—which is when Pixar broke the mold and released Toy Story—have averaged about ninety minutes.  There have been a small number of movies that have come in just under that time.  But most either reach the ninety-minute mark or go well over it as was the case with Toy Story 3.  That movie came in at almost forty-five minutes.  Luckily its story worked well enough that it still succeeded and quite well at that.  Speaking of story Jungle Master’s story works wonderfully with its run time.  Its story combines elements of a number of other movies to make a story that somehow actually works.  It’s one more way in which Jungle Master works and makes itself one of this year’s more welcome family films.

Both the look of Jungle Master and its run time are important to the movie’s overall success.  They each play their own important role to the overall presentation as they both have an impact on whether or not audiences are kept engaged.  Luckily, both factors succeed by themselves and together.  As much as they succeeded, the look of Jungle Master and its run time are not all that made this direct-to-DVD feature work.  One would be remiss to ignore the movie’s script as an equally important part of the whole.  The movie’s script centers on a twelve year-old girl named Rainie (pronounced rainy) who runs away from home ater her mother forgot about her birthday.  It is assumed by the fact that Rainie was upset enough to run away that her mother (who remains nameless throughout the movie) has probably left Rainie alone more than once.  Her decision to run away ends up taking her to al alien planet  and a much biger adventure that is directly linked to the company for which her mother works.  It’s thanks to her adventure that Rainie realizes her mom hasn’t intentionally ignored her, obviously leading to an eventual reconciliation between mother and daughter.  The central story of the parent/child relationship is obviously anything but new.  It’s been done more times than a person can count on his or her own two hands.  However, the story’s execution is what makes this plot work.  Screen writer Steve Kramer lifted liberally from the likes of The Wizard of Oz and Avatar to make this story.  While he obviously lifted from the noted movies, Kramer didn’t try to just remake them and mix them together.  He used them more as influences for his story about family.  What’s more he balanced said elements quite well; well enough in fact that audiences will be moved to overlook the references to said movies and enjoy the presented story.

Kramer’s re-telling of original writer/director Xu Kerr’s story is one of the most important of this movie’s aspects in considering its level of success.  He obviously used at least a couple of rather well-known movies that have come before as both influences and elements of this movie.  But he also didn’t try to just rip off either work.  He balanced them together to make a largely original story that centers on family.  That creativity and homage still is not all that makes this movie work.  One should also take into account the movie’s cast and even its bonus shorts.  Victoria Justice (Victorious, Victoria Justice, iCarly), Jane Lynch (Glee, Hollywood Game Night, Wreck-It-Ralph), David Spade (Just Shoot Me, The Benchwarmers, Tommy Boy), Josh Peck (Drake & Josh, Ultimate Spiderman, Ice Age: Continental Drift), Christopher Lloyd (Cyberchase, Back to the Future 1 - 3), and John Lovitz (Saturday Night Live, The Critic, Gorwn-Ups 1 & 2) make up the movie’s cast.  Lovitz proves to be the real star of the story with his comical antics voicing Mulla.  The fact that so many well-known names overall would feel confident enough about such a movie makes it even more worth the watch.  And the bonus shorts included with the movie will entertain children for a little while after the movie ends.  These extra positives combined with the positivews already noted make Jungle Master a movie well worth at least one watch together by any family.  It is available now in stores and online.  More information on this and other releases from Lionsgate is available online at:

Website: http://www.lionsgate.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/lionsgate

Twitter: http://twitter.com/lionsgatemovies

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Cook’s Country Season 7 Another Great Fit For Any Foodie And Lover Of The Culinary Arts

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

PBS will release the seventh season of its fan favorite cooking series Cook’s Country tomorrow.  The series’ seventh season is another delectable treat for any foodies and lovers of the culinary arts out there.  Much like its “sister series” America’s Test Kitchen, the central aspect of this season’s success is that it continues to make the food the star instead of the hosts.  And also just as with that series, it also offers the same content as that series, proving once more that cooking is a science rather than just standing over a hot stove.  Rounding out this latest release’s success is the fact that every one of the dishes features throughout the season are also presented with their own printable recipes.  Each of the factors noted by themselves play their own important part in the enjoyment of Cook’s Country: Season 7.  Collectively, all three factors make this latest collection of episodes one more delectable season of one of television’s top two cooking series.  The other top candidate:  That’s right.  It’s America’s Test Kitchen.

Cook’s Country and America’s Test Kitchen are the top two cooking series on television today.  That is merely the opinion of this critic.  It is not a statement by the numbers.  Though, it would be interesting to see the numbers for both of these hit PBS series.  Getting back on topic, one of the reasons that Cook’s Country—much like its “sister series”—has remained so popular among audiences now seven seasons in is that it makes the food the star, not the hosts.  Far too many of the cooking shows on the likes of Food Network, Travel Channel, Fox, and Cooking Channel make the people the stars.  A cooking show shouldn’t be about the people.  It should be about the food.  Thank goodness this series has stuck to that constant now seven seasons in.  And the food is definitely mouth-watering to say the least.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all featured here.  From the rise and shine “Impossible” Ham-and-cheese pie to the Grilled Cowboy-Cut rib eyes and Grilled Caesar Salad for lunch to the Slow-Cooker Baked Ziti for lunch, there are plenty of tantalizing dishes for audiences of all tastes.  There are even some great desert recipes in the form of the Strawberry Pretzel Salad, Italian Cream Cake, and Summer Berry Pudding.  There are plenty of other recipes from which audiences will find their favorite(s).  Regardless of which recipe(s) audiences pick, the vast selection and styles show the respect that the series’ hosts and heads have for food and its role in the world.  It’s just one way in which this season continues the long-held tradition of Cook’s Country to make the food the star of the show.  And that continued tradition is just one part of why audiences will appreciate the series’ seventh season in its DVD release.

The long-held tradition of making the food the star rather than the hosts is a big part of what has made Cook’s Country and its “sister series” hits among audiences for so many years.  Just as important to the enjoyment of Cook’s Country: Season Seven is the focus on food’s history and its educational importance.  This is another long-held tradition that has made Cook’s Country just as much of a hit as ATK.  Audiences learn how different ingredients and chemicals interact with one another in each episode.  They also learn little tidbits along the way that make this season just as interesting as the series’ previous seasons.  One example of those tidbits is the importance of using room temperature milk versus cold milk in making homemade cinnamon buns.  There’s even some history tossed in throughout various episodes.  One of the more interesting pieces of history that audiences will learn is that the New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp actually uses no barbecue sauce at all.  It in fact uses spices and butter among other elements.  Host Christopher Kimball and his co-cook in that episode explain where the misleading name came from.  It’s a pretty interesting little lesson.  And it’s just one more example of why the educational content of Cook’s Country: Season 7 makes this season another wonderful collection for any foodie and lover of the culinary arts.

The combination of educational content and focus on food rather than people makes Cook’s Country: Season 7 well worth the watch by any foodie and lover of the culinary arts.  As enjoyable as the pair makes this season’s episodes, there is still one aspect of this box set worth noting that makes it enjoyable.  That final factor is the inclusion of a full set of printable recipes.   Every dish presented in this double-disc set is accompanied by its own printable recipe in .pdf format.  So all a person needs to print them out is Adboe Reader.  This is important to note in that audiences don’t get this with ATK‘s home releases.  There are some recipes in its home releases.  But they rarely include every recipe for audiences to try themselves.  Cook’s Country: Season 7 is the exact opposite.  Audiences can print out any of the recipes or all of them and start up their very own cookbook (or expand said cookbook).  That way, audiences can try out any of the recipes from this season for themselves whenever they want.  This aspect together with the show’s continued educational content, and its focus on food rather than people, makes Cook’s Country: Season 7 whole.  It makes this set another great addition to the home library of any foodie and lover of the culinary arts.

Cook’s Country: Season 7 is available now on two-disc DVD bo set.  It can be ordered direct from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=46781986&cp=&sr=1&kw=cooks+country+season+7&origkw=Cook%27s+Country+Season+7&parentPage=search.  More information on this and other seasons of Cook’s Country is available online at:

Website: http://www.cookscountry.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/CooksCountry 

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

ATK Still Television’s Top Cooking Show In Its Fourteenth Season

Courtesy: PBS

Courtesy: PBS

PBS released the fourteenth season of its hit cooking series America’s Test Kitchen to DVD this summer.  For those that might not be familiar with the long-running series, it is the on-air companion to Cook’s Illustrated Magazine.  It is also the only series on television today worth watching by anyone that has a love of food and the culinary arts.  In comparison to all of the celebrity-based cooking shows that pollute today’s television spectrum, America’s Test Kitchen has always focused on the food and not the familiar faces.  This latest release continues that long-held tradition from the hit series.  It’s just one reason that makes this season just as enjoyable as its previous thirteen seasons.  Another reason that audiences will enjoy this season is its list of dishes presented throughout the season’s episodes.  From fine dining to even the simplest dishes, host Christopher Kimball and company bring audiences lots and delectable dishes.  And instead of just saying do this or that, they actually discuss how each dish is made.  They even add educational content, explaining the significance of the processes and ingredients in each dish.  For those wanting to try the dishes out for themselves, a number of printable recipes have been included as PDF files complete with fully outlined directions, ingredients and a picture of the finished product.  That bonus rounds out the box set, completing what is even more proof of why PBS truly is the last bastion of worthwhile programming on television.

America’s Test Kitchen has proven for years to be in this critic’s view the single greatest cooking series on television.  The only real contender to that title is its “sister series” Cook’s Country.  It just so happens that Cook’s Country is hosted by Christopher Kimball, who also hosts America’s Test Kitchen.  And go figure, both series are run by PBS, which is really the last true bastion of worthwhile programming on television.  Anyone that might not be familiar with America’s Test Kitchen will see instantly in the DVD release of the series’ fourteenth season why it has remained a hit for such a long time.  The central reason for its continued success fourteen seasons in is the fact that it is not celebrity driven.  That goes completely against the standard used on the shows that make up most of Food Network’s programming and that of the cooking shows on Fox, NBC, and ABC.  It actually makes the food the star, not the people.  It’s such a welcome change in comparison to those other shows.

The downplaying of the host as the star of the show is the cornerstone of what has made America’s Test Kitchen a hit among true foodies and lovers of the culinary arts for fourteen seasons now.  Audiences will appreciate that unlike all those commercially-based cooking shows, the food and cooking equipment are the stars, not the hosts.  Just as worth noting is the variety of dishes that are presented and the manner in which they are presented.  Unlike all of the commercially-based cooking shows, Kimball and company don’t just say “this is what you do”, flying through each dish along the way.  Rather, they take their time.  They explain the significance of the ingredients and the processes that the dishes undergo as each ingredient is added to the various dishes.  That extra educational content shows the importance of cooking not just as some random activity but a science of sorts.  There are so many chemical reactions that go on in preparing and cooking different dishes.  It is really something interesting to consider.  Speaking of the dishes in question, the dishes featured this season range from something one might see on the menu at a four-star restaurant to an update on something as classic and simple as a grilled cheese sandwich.  There is even an easy meals made with pasta, seafood, and corn (yes, corn).  And what’s more audiences can pick and choose which dishes to check out.  They don’t have to sit through episode after episode to get to their dish of interest.  That makes the whole experience even better for any foodie and lover of the culinary arts when watching Season 14 of America’s Test Kitchen.  The positives don’t end here, either.  PBS has once again included a number of printable recipes to complement the dishes presented in Season 14. That inclusion rounds out the set, proving once more why this is the only cooking show worth watching on television today and why PBS is the last bastion of truly worthwhile programming on television today, too.

America’s Test Kitchen: Season 14 brings with it every one of the traditions that have made it a hit with viewers ever since its premiere season.  It includes once again explanations of each dish’s ingredients and the processes that occur in prep and cooking.  This proves that cooking isn’t just cooking.  It proves cooking is a science of sorts.  This is something that no commercially-based cooking show does.  It also makes the food and the cooking equipment the star, not the show’s hosts.  This has been a tradition since the show’s beginning so many years ago, too.  One more tradition that is carried into this season is the inclusion of printable recipes lifted right from the season’s episodes.  Obviously not every dish could receive its own printable recipe.  Sure it would nice to have the recipe for every single dish presented throughout each season.  But that just isn’t possible.  However, the dishes presented in this season’s selection of printable recipes  is delectable in its own right.  There’s a recipe for grilled corn with basil and lemon butter complete with recipe for the basil and lemon butter baste.  For those looking for something *ahem* meatier, there are recipes for grilled chicken, baby back ribs, and even grilled glazed pork loin.  Those viewers with a bit of a sweet tooth will enjoy the recipes for peach pie, lemon chiffon pie, and marbled blueberry bundt cake among other dishes.  There are plenty of other recipes included on the set that audiences will find their own favorite from the extensive selection offered.  That diverse selection perfectly rounds out the set and is sure to leave any viewer’s mouth watering in anticipation of trying these dishes themselves.  It proves once more why even now in its fourteenth season, America’s Test Kitchen remains the only cooking show worth watching on television and why PBS in whole is the last bastion of true worthwhile programming on television.

There is so much that can be noted of America’s Test Kitchen that makes it so enjoyable even now in its fourteenth season.  From the printable recipes to its in-depth episodes to the very fact that it continues to focus on the food and not the hosts, it continues to do so much right.  Any lover of the culinary arts and any foodie that has yet to see why this show continues to be so successful should order this four-disc box set now.  After watching through it, those viewers will join the ranks of those (like this critic) that already know why it is indeed the best cooking show on television today.  It is available now and can be ordered direct online via PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=35446656&cp=&sr=1&kw=americas+test+kitchen&origkw=America%27s+Test+Kitchen&parentPage=search.  More information on America’s Test Kitchen is available online at:

Website: http://americastestkitchen.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/americastestkitchen

Twitter: http://twitter.com/testkitchen

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.