Da Vinci’s Demons A Surprise Hit In Its Debut Season

Courtesy:  Starz/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Courtesy: Starz/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Da Vinci’s Demons is not the first historically based drama on television today.  It is however, one of the best.  And now thanks to Starz and Anchor Bay, those that aren’t lucky enough to have Starz network can experience the first season of this hit series for themselves on DVD and Blu-ray.  The first season of Da Vinci’s Demons is so entertaining first and foremost because of its clever writing. Unlike so many other historical dramas, this one is more centered on action and adventure than drama.  It’s one part Indiana Jones and one part…well…Da Vinci’s Code tied into one.  Audiences will also appreciate the work on the part of the show’s cast throughout all eight of Season One’s episodes.  And of course what box set would be complete without at least some bonus features?  The bonus features included in Da Vinci’s Demons Season One are relatively brief.  But they play their own part in making the overall presentation of Season One enjoyable.  These aspects taken into consideration, they work in tandem to make this debut season one that is a must see for any fan of historical dramas.

The most important element of Da Vinci’s Demons Season One is its writing.  Credit where credit is due.  Series creator and writer David S. Goyer (Man of Steel, The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Blade Trilogy) has crafted in the series’ first season that is a more akin to Indiana Jones than say Game of Thrones.  It just used setting in question as the backdrop for all of the action.  Goyer and his staff of writers are more than deserving of respect for balancing the story of his search for the “Book of Leaves” with his being wrapped up in the political and religious turmoil of the time.  It would have been so easy for the two separate story lines to step on one another, especially considering the depth of each story line.  Keeping in mind the depth of the story arcs throughout Season One, viewers will have to be fully invested in each episode in order to fully appreciate them.  One cannot simply have any of Season One’s episodes playing while one does housework, etc. and expect to have a full appreciation for the writing.  This is a good thing, too.  It is good because in being fully invested in each episode, audiences will see the value of and originality in each episode and the first season overall.

The writing behind any TV show and movie is the backbone of each.  It can make or break the given TV show or movie.  By direct correlation, the work of the show’s cast makes the show even more of a joy to watch.  Actor Tom Riley aptly fills the role of a young Leonardo Da Vinci opposite his equally talented cast mates.  He shows his acting chops quite well with this subtle wit and control over his character’s deeper emotions.  There are those actors that tend to ham it up on both ends of that spectrum.  But Riley doesn’t do that.  It makes him all the more fun to watch.   He and his cast mates collectively make suspension of disbelief easy, too.  This should come as no surprise considering the resumes of some of the main cast.  The cast is comprised of rather well trained theater actors that are just as experienced in their craft as they are trained.  Elliot Cowan (Lorenzo Medici) is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.  He also holds a degree in Drama from Birmingham University.  He has starred in a number of major films including Alexander (2004) and The Golden Compass (2007).  Viewers will recognize Gregg Chillin (Zoroaster) from his roles in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  And those that have seen Nanny McPhee Returns will likely recognize actor Eros Vlahos.  Vlahos played Cyril Gray in that movie.  He has also starred in none other than Game of Thrones as Lommy Greenhands.  The collective resume of the cast of Da Vinci’s Demons goes on for quite some time.  But one can tell from this microscopic look at that resume just why suspension of disbelief was so easy and why the cast gelled so well together.  It’s one more aspect of the show that makes it such a surprise hit.

The casting and writing behind Da Vinci’s Demons are integral to the show’s success.  Also noteworthy in this triple-disc box set is the bonus features.  The primary bonus features included in the set take viewers into the recording studio, where the show’s soundtrack was recorded.  Also included among the bonus features are the standard deleted scenes, and a look behind the scenes of the show.  Each feature is a short vignette.  But they do their own part to make the overall experience richer.  Even more important to Season One is the inclusion of bonus commentary as well as the option to play each episode with a recap of the previous episodes.  The recap is especially helpful regardless of whether or not one missed any of the episodes presented in this set.  Even if a person has seen each episode, a recap helps remind viewers of what has already happened.  Considering that each episode is just over an hour in length, it makes the recaps even more important an addition to each episode.  It is the proverbial cherry on the sundae that makes Season One of Da Vinci’s Demons such a surprise hit.  Along with the show’s writing and its acting, it makes this box set all the more worth picking up.  It is available now in stores and online and can be ordered direct from Anchor Bay Entertainment’s website at http://www.anchorbayentertainment.com/detail.aspx?projectID=fd093f1f-88ae-e211-b6d4-d4ae527c3b65.  More information on this and other releases from Anchor Bay Entertainment and Starz is available online at http://www.anchorbayentertainment.com and http://www.facebook.com/AnchorBay.  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.

Cookie Jar’s Christmas Collection Is Holiday Fun For The Whole Family

Courtesy:  Mill Creek Entertainment

Courtesy: Mill Creek Entertainment

Cookie Jar TV’s Christmas Cartoon Collection” is a fun grouping of cartoons for kids and parents alike.  This single disc collection includes ten holiday themed episodes of some of the best cartoons from Cookie Jar (formerly DiC Entertainment).  This new collection includes toons from both the 21st Century and some more classic toons, too.  It all starts with a pair of episodes from the kid friendly favorite, Busy World of Richard Scarry.  The first of the episodes sees an evil mastermind stealing stuff from all across New York City.  It’s up to one man to solve the mystery of who is lifting the legendary city.  In the second episode from the show, Santa’s in danger of not making his annual Christmas run after making a rough landing.  The runners on his sled have broken and even Mr. Fix-It can’t help.  So how is Santa to get his sled flying again?  Kids and their parents will have to find out on their own when they pick up this family friendly DVD. 

 Speaking of Santa, in another of this collection’s best episodes, Heathcliff has a mystery on his hands when the mailman tells him that his and his boy Iggy’s letters to Santa have been returned.  And theirs aren’t the only ones.  So Heathcliff and Spike head off to the North Pole to figure out why everybody’s letters are being returned.  The answer to the mystery is a surprise even to Santa himself.  Although being a holiday episode, everything is worked out in the end, and Heathcliff and Squish get a lift back to their homes from Santa as a thank you for getting all the letters returned to him.  Anyone who is old enough to remember when this classic cartoon originally aired will love not just the warm, fuzzy feelings that it will create, but also the general sense of nostalgia that it will instill, too. 

Heathcliff is just one of the cartoons that will make for a great sense of nostalgia on this new collection from Mill Creek Entertainment and Cookie Jar.  Viewers who grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons on ABC will remember a short lived cartoon called Bump in the Night.  This stop motion based toon featured a certain little monster named Mr. Bumpy.  In the show’s holiday episode presented here, Mr. Bumpy is awaiting the arrival of Santa.  He doesn’t want to just see Santa.  He wants to trap him and snag his bag of toys.  It’s not his first try at trapping Santa, either.  Every year that he’s tried, Mr. Bumpy’s plan has failed for one reason or another.  He actually does succeed this year.  But in the process, Mr. Bumpy learns what’s really important during the holidays.  Audiences will enjoy this positive message.  They’ll also appreciate the pop culture references peppered in throughout the episode.  From monster style takes on classic Hanukkah and Christmas songs to a tribute to the Indiana Jones franchise and a spoof of a famous Kenny Loggins song, there is plenty for both kids and adults to love in this episode.  Even veteran actor Cheech Marin joins in on the fun as the voice of a Spanish worm who helps Mr. Bumpy and Squish along the way.  It all comes together to make this episode one more piece of the overall presentation that makes the Cookie Jar Christmas Cartoon Collection such a great collection for families this and every holiday season.  It’s available now in stores and online.

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Paramount, Lucasfilm’s new Indiana Jones Box Set The Best Yet

Paramount Pictures/Lucasfilm, LTD.

Indiana Jones is one of the most famous and beloved heroes in the stories annals of Hollywood.  His original trio of adventures has transcended generations.  And his more recent adventure has its own legions of fans, too.  To this day, Indiana Jones costumes are still popular every Halloween.  And much like his costumes are so popular, so are his adventures to the point that they have seen multiple releases both as stand-alone features and box sets.  Now fans have the opportunity to see all four movies in a whole new way thanks to the release of the brand new “Indiana Jones:  The Complete Adventures” on blu-ray.

Paramount and Lucasfilm have officially released the complete four film set along with the bonus features included in the previous sets.  Among those bonus features are the “Making of” features for all four of the movies and the feature discussing the now famed “melting face” sequence from Indiana Jones and the Raiders Of The Lost Ark.  That in itself is a great feature for anyone who has any interest in Hollywood special effects and movie production.  Some of the features even include bonus pop up trivia that adds even more appreciation for these classic movies.  For instance, audiences learn through the pop-up trivia that when Indy comes face to face with a King Cobra in “Raiders”, he was never really in danger, of course.  He was actually separated from the snake by glass.  That the glass was made invisible in post production is a tribute to the work of all involved.  Another little tidbit is that the canyon scene in which the Nazis were carrying the ark was the same canyon from a certain other famous science fiction movie.  Give up?  Does the title Star Wars mean anything to anyone?  That’s right!  It’s the same one.  Obviously it’s a little more than mere coincidence.

The bonus features included in this set are much like the ones from the previous DVD releases.  But not everyone has had the opportunity to own this piece of movie history.  For those who have yet to include it in their home libraries, the bonus features make the whole viewing experience that much more enjoyable.  They are just a drop in the bucket, though.  The clarity of the picture in all four movies is so much clearer in each one.  Everything is more clear and defined.  Even the original grainy footage is still evident here and there.  Nothing has been lost in the transfer to blu-ray.  If anything, so much has been gained with this set.

The enhanced picture and the extensive bonus features go a long way to making this a must have set for Indiana Jones fans of any age.  They aren’t all that make it an impressive set.  Unlike the previous larger “Complete DVD Movie Collections”, this set is far more ergonomically designed.  It’s presented in a much more slim case shaped like a book.  Each “page” contains the disc for each movie.  Also included on each page is a promo poster and production shots to enhance the design.  This compact design will save space on anyone’s DVD and/or blu-ray rack.  And combined with everything else included in this set, most audiences will agree that “Indiana Jones:  The Complete Adventures” is not only the “complete” adventures of Indiana Jones, but the complete definitive adventures of Indiana Jones.

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online 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.

Alvin & the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked is a wreck

First there was Alvin and The Chipmunks on the big screen.  Then Alvin and his brothers met the Chipettes and blatantly ripped off Disney’s High School musical franchise.  And now, the people behind this ever worsening movie franchise has made for itself an even worse reputation with a second sequel to what should have only been one movie.  “Chipwrecked” is the perfect movie for a 7 year-old with ADHD. 

It’s pretty obvious that little to no effort was put into writing the story (if there really even is one) behind this second sequel to the first movie in the trilogy.  How many times can Hollywood do the story of someone stranded on a seemingly desserted island before it gets really old?  It was great with Gilligan’s Island way back when.  But it’s gotten far beyond old and tired now with this movie.  It tries to justify the whole idea of the “family” being shipwrecked by tossing in something of a coming-of-age story that sees Alvin actually mature some, while thanks to a spider bite (convenient, huh?), Simon becomes the carefree member of the group.  Along the way, the Chipmunks and Chipettes meet evil treasure seeker Zoe.  Throughout all of this, no one on the island is aware that they’re on an island with an active volcano.  Obviously this leads to the big climactic ending which doesn’t have to be given away, because it’s been done countless times before in any number of other movies.

Add in a bunch of pop culture references to the likes of Indiana Jones and Castaway just to name a few, and audiences get a movie that shows its makers to be just as vile as Ian.  Just like he only cared about the money for most of the story, the people behind this movie obviously only cared about the money.  Had they actually cared about more than that, they would have made a movie that made up for the first equally awful sequel in the franchise.  But being that they didn’t, this movie already has become, and will be just one more movie added to the “worst of” list from both 2011 and now 2012.