The Expendables 2 Is A Great Escape

Courtesy: Lionsgate

The Expendables 2 is a man movie, hands down.  Yes, it’s another sequel.  But it’s more than just that.  It’s an escape.  It’s exactly what a big budget action blockbuster should be.  Just as was the case with the action movies of the 80’s to which this franchise pays homage, it’s a chance for the intended audiences to turn off their brains and get away from the real world if only for about an hour and a half.

On the surface, The Expendables 2 is just another bang-bang shoot-em-up action flick aimed at one specific audience.  But in watching the bonus feature, “Big Guns, Bigger Heroes:  The 1980’s and the Rise of the Action Film”, audiences see that it’s more than just that.  As the individuals interviewed in this feature note, the action flick of the 1980’s was exactly what audiences needed in comparison to everything going on around them.  Having come off the back end of the political upheaval of the 1970’s, the 1980’s offered its own share of changes.  So the action franchises of the 80’s (and 90’s) and their stars became more than just figures on screen.  They became these larger than life figures who lived up to the reputation of the title, “Hero.”  They were figures to whom their audiences could admire.  Audiences of the 80’s needed heroes, just as today’s audiences need them, too. 

The political and general world climate today openly necessitates the need for the movies in The Expendables franchise and their heroes.  Stallone and company shine just as brightly in this franchise as they did in the respective franchises discussed in the movie’s main bonus feature.  They are just as much the heroes today as they were in the movies discussed in this movie’s main bonus feature.  They are still those larger than life figures.  And there’s no doubt about them being heroes.  Unlike so many of today’s movies, there are no flawed, conflicted, anti-hero types.  The Expendables 2 presents Stallone and company as classic style heroes.  To add to that clarity, audiences are also presented with a cut and dry story here.  Everyone knows right off the bat who the good guys are.  And it doesn’t take long for the script to reveal Jean-Claude Van Damme as the evil psycho bad guy.  His intentions are made clear pretty quickly, too.  Considering that this movie (without credits) runs just shy of the two-hour mark, the quick establishment of the cast and story make the rest of it fast moving and fun.  It’s not meant to be taken seriously, as is evident with all the classic one-liners.  It’s just a chance for audiences to escape the stresses of the outside world for a little while just as the classic action franchises of the 80’s were meant to do.  Keeping that in mind, anyone who wants to get away from it all for a couple hours (bonus features included), then The Expendables 2 is a very good way to do just that.  It will be available next Tuesday, November 20th, just in time to beat the holiday shopping rush.  For those who want to get away from the shopping rush, it can be ordered online direct via the Lionsgate store at http://www.lionsgateshop.com.

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New Collection Holiday Fun For Any Power Rangers Fan

Courtesy: Lionsgate

The Power Rangers are back with three more holiday themed episodes courtesy of Lionsgate.  Lionsgate recently released another compilation featuring a trio of Halloween themed episodes.  This time, fans new and old get three Christmas themed episodes.  Two of those episodes are culled from the Power Rangers’ early years.  The third is a retrospective by a member of the newest team of rangers, as the Rangers count down to Christmas.The feature episode of Power Rangers Samurai: Christmas Together, Friends Forever sees the Samurai Rangers in the holiday spirit.  The team is decorating for Christmas.  As they do, Emily (the Yellow Ranger) decides to send an e-mail to her sister, telling her all about the Rangers’ past year.  She tells her sister about each member of the squad, going all the way back to the day that the team members met.  She starts off telling about Mike (the Green Ranger).  She explains how things started off for Mike, but that he eventually came around and became the Ranger that he was at that Christmas.  From there, she tells her sister about Kevin and Mia before eventually making her way to Jayden and Antonio.  The most moving moment of this episode comes not in Emily reminiscing, but in Mike’s reaction after he receives his gift on Christmas.  He keeps thinking that he’s not going to get anything.  But after the rest of the team members have their gifts, he gets quite a surprise.  Viewers can find out what that surprise is for themselves.  What makes the moment even better is that his surprise becomes an even better surprise for a certain other pair of characters.   Again, viewers will have to find out for themselves who that pair is.

From the current team of Rangers, audiences are treated to a pair of adventures from previous Ranger teams.  In the first of the teams, the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers have to face off against one of Lord Zedd’s minions as he sends Rito Revolto and Goldar to the North Pole to take over and force Santa’s elves to make toys that will take over children’s minds.  The Rangers teleport to the North Pole, and with the help of Santa’s elves manage to trick Rito and Goldar and tie them up, thus saving the day.  While the Rangers may have saved the day, there’s still one problem they have to deal with back in Angel Grove.  And unwittingly, even Bulk helps to solve the problem, too.  It will end up leaving any viewer with that warm holiday spirit filling them.

In the last of this new set’s episodes, Tommy and the Zeo Rangers have to face off against King Mondo once again.  Mondo pulls a plan to make the Rangers fight about each other’s different religious traditions.  This episode is simply put, an episode that teaches about religious differences and tolerance.  It’s a valuable episode for any young viewer, even today.  And combined with this new set’s other pair of episodes makes for another enjoyable set for any Power Rangers fan.  It’s available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct via Lionsgate’s online store at http://www.lionsgateshop.com.

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Salmon Fishing Will “Hook” Audiences

Courtesy: CBS Films/CBS Home Entertainment/UK Film Council/BBC Films/Lionsgate/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

For a movie that is one more piece based on a book, one can only hope that the paper take on this story is better than the movie.  Salmon Fishing in The Yemen isn’t the worst movie of the year.  That *honor* belongs to Nichols Cage’s Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance.  But it isn’t the best, either.  It manages to sort of linger somewhere in the middle.  That’s because it can’t seem to decide if it wants to be a romance or a satire on foreign policy by the British government.  The plot of this movie starts off after the bombing of a mosque in a Middle East nation.  Upon seeing it on the news, Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas) sets out on a PR campaign of sorts, in order to try and maintain ties between the Yemeni and British governing bodies.  In looking for a way to build some sort of good will between the two bodies, Patricia stumbles on the salmon fishing idea proposed by Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked).  Thus ensues what comes across as the seeming satire on the absurdity of political inner workings.

Had the story maintained its seeming political roots, it would have been a much stronger work.  The problem is that it continued to tie in a romance story between Alfred (Ewan McGregor) and Harriet (Emily Blunt).  The constant romantic interludes throw off the story’s pacing and do little to really advance the primary story any.  It’s another classic boy meets girl-loses her-gets her back in the end romance.  The addition of this storyline almost makes the story feel as if it’s suffering from an identity crisis.  Though through all the romance, there is at least one bright moment.  That moment comes as Alfred comes across as a little bit neurotic.  He tells Harriet at lunch one day that he only drinks on the weekend, and he only drinks certain drinks.  That makes him come across as at least slightly neurotic.  Audiences who pay close enough attention will get a kick out of that.

Courtesy: CBS Films/CBS Home Entertainment/UK Film Council/BBC Films/Lionsgate/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

For all the problems caused by the interweaving romance subplot, Salmon Fishing’s main political storyline is both moving and worth its own share of laughs.  While the main story may not center on American issues, it’s one to which even American audiences can relate.  The absurdity of political pandering is something that’s obviously universal.  By contrast though, that something as simple as fishing could bring two men from two entirely different ethnic backgrounds and two entirely different sides of the world is a bold statement.  It serves that much more to make all the political maneuvering of the world’s governments that much more pathetic. Sheikh Muhammed’s statement to Alfred makes that maneuvering that much more pathetic.  He says to Alfred, “For fishermen, the only virtues are patience, tolerance, and humility.”  He is saying in simple terms that a man can learn more of the world from fishing than all the political lessons combined.  Sure, it’s a metaphor.  But anyone who has ever gone fishing can vouch for this statement’s truth.

When it’s all said and done, Salmon Fishing in The Yemen proves to be anything but the year’s best movie.  However, neither is it the year’s worst.  But at a time when so many movie studios are relying increasingly on prequels, sequels, and remakes, all involved with this story get bonus points for taking the old school road and adapting a book to the big screen.  For that matter, all involved get even more points for adapting a book with a largely original story, save for the romance.  That being said, this is definitely one of the year’s most underrated movies.  And it’s one that’s worth at least one watch.

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Lionsgate Releasing Classic Rankin Bass Halloween Special Sept. 4th

Courtesy: Lionsgate/Rankin Bass

Rankin Bass is one of the best known names among holiday movies.  Most audiences associate the company with the likes of Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town, Jack Frost, and so many other holiday classics.  Well how many people know that Rankin Bass also made a  Halloween special, too?  That’s right.  The special in question was 1967′s Mad Monster Party.  The special boasted the voice talents of veteran horror actor Boris karloff and the now late comedianne, Phyllis Diller, along with Allen Swift, Gale Garnett, and Ethel Ennis.  Now, fans of Rankin Bass’ works will have the opportunity to own this classic.

Mad Monster Party will be available in stores and online Tuesday, September 4th courtesy of Lionsgate.  Mad Monster Party sees the mad genius Baron Victor Von Frankenstein (voiced by karloff) deciding to announce his retirement from the Worldwide Organization of Monsters.  He has to figure out how to tell the other members of the organization.  So he decides what better way to make his announcement than to throw a party.  Among the guests are all of the classic monsters:  The Wolfman, Dracula, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, and a whole lot more.  It will be available both on DVD and Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack.

Bonus features include two kids’ sing-a-longs, a featurette on the magic of stop motion animation, and featurettes on the special’s music and how it was brought to life.  The blu-ray/DVD combo pack is currently listed at $14.99 MSRP.

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The Hunger Games Will Feed Any Movie Lover’s “Appetite”

Courtesy: Lionsgate

The Hunger Games is quite the interesting work.  It’s one more work that has greatly divided audiences.  It’s one of those movies which audiences and critics alike have either loved or hated.  It has been most closely compared to the Japanese flick, Battle Royale (2000).  But in its deepest roots, The Hunger Games lifts very liberally from Greek mythology.  Keeping this in mind, it would be wrong for any one person to come down on the movie for essentially telling an updated version of that story.  So many of modern Hollywood’s most well known movies have been little more than liftings from classic Shakespeare plays.  This being the case, a more fair way to analyze The Hunger Games would be to look at it purely from a standpoint of film making, rather than storytelling alone.

On the positive side, once the movie does get going, the action sequences in the battle are more than enough to keep audiences’ attention.  The backdrop of North Carolina’s Henry River Mill Village and the DuPont State Park made for quite the contradiction to the dystopian world of The Hunger Games.  Here are these young combatants fighting for their own survival in a violent and bloody contest.  Yet all around them is what would otherwise be an entirely peaceful and serene setting.  The juxtaposition of the two is really quite interesting 

On a more mixed positive and negative side, the writing on which The Hunger Games is based is problematic, but very good in its own right.  The downside to the story’s writing is that it does take far too long in leading up to the actual competition.  The actual back story and setup takes at least an hour, if not more, of the movie’s near three hour run time.  Most of that time is spent focusing on the pomp and circumstance around the Hunger Games’ opening ceremony and Katniss’ own personal drama.  A good portion of all the pomp and circumstance could have been cut out, saving a least half an hour. 

The positive side to the writing for this script is that while it does spend an inordinate amount of time on back story, the story itself is one that is entirely relatable today.  Having the “games” televised the country over hints at our country’s growing love affair with reality television and with violence on television.  In relation, audiences’ blood lust could be argued to be pointed out here, too.  Forcing young adults into the games could be argued to be linked to America’s obsession with youth.  Except in this case, that obsession is twisted to say the least.  One could also argue that what The Hunger Games does is it points out young adults’ increasing exposure to high levels of violence in the media today, and the resultant desensitization to said violence, and the consequences therein.

Whether for its beautiful scenery or for its messages (intended or not), The Hunger games has a lot going for it.  Yes it does get off to a rather slow start.  But looking at it from a much deeper, more analytical vantage point, it has the ability to create so many discussions.  That alone is the sign of a very good movie.  And The Hunger Games is just that; a good movie.

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New Power Rangers Compilation More Super Powered Fun For Audiences

Courtesy: Lionsgate/Saban

Good news Power Rangers fans.  Lionsgate and Saban released two brand new DVD compilations of Power Rangers Samurai episodes this week.  The first of the pair saw the new team of rangers get its Super Samurai powers, and learn how to use them.  The adventures get even bigger in the second set, “Power Rangers Super Samurai:  Super Showdown Volume 2.  In the second volume of the pair, the rangers have to tame the new Bullzord with the help of their friend, Cody.  And in another adventure, the rangers have to save Master Ji and Antonio when they’re kidnapped by the Nighlok Eyescar.  Those adventures and another pair are included on “Power Rangers Super Samurai:  Super Showdown Volume 2.”

One of the most important developments for the Samurai Rangers so far was the acquisition of the Bullzord.  The reason is that it was such a powerful zord.  As the story in the aptly titled episode notes, the Bullzord was so powerful when it was originally created, that its creators had to keep it locked up, as it couldn’t be tamed.  But when the rangers’ young friend, Cody, releases the Bullzord, the rangers have to help tame it.  As if taming the Bullzord wasn’t tough enough, the rangers also had to deal with the Nighlok, Crustor.  Crustor’s after the Bullzord, too.  In his attempt to take control of the Bullzord, Crustor goes after Cody, who has its discs.  Jayden has to stop Crustor and protect Cody, who is finally able to tame the Bullzord.  Once the Bullzord is tamed, Jayden sends Cody back to his dad and uses it to finish off Crustor.  After defeating Crustor, the rangers go back to check on Cody and his dad who are both okay.

The challenge of taming the Bullzord wasn’t the only tough moment for the Samurai Rangers.  In “The Rescue” the team has to free Master Ji and Antonio after they’re kidnapped by the Nighlok Eyescar.  Luckily for the rangers, when they are captured, Antonio leaves a trail of twine a la Hansel and Gretel for the rangers to follow.  This leads to a brief funny moment, when Mia makes a joke about the trail just having to lead down a dark and creepy tunnel.  It’s almost like she was speaking through the viewers, joking about how cliché it was.  That in itself made for a few laughs.  The rangers follow the trail through the tunnel, when they encounter a group of Moogers.  The rangers manage to defeat the Moogers and get to the end of the tunnel where they discover Antonio and Master Ji are being held by Eyescar and a huge horde of Moogers.  The rangers regroup get the edge with an aerial attack that clears enough Moogers for the team to release Antonio and Master Ji.  The rescue couldn’t come at a better time, as Eyescar goes mega size.  The rangers assemble the Samurai Megazord and finish him off once and for all.

These two adventures are just half of the enjoyment that fans of the new Power Rangers team will get on the new Super Showdown Volume 2 compilation.  There are two more episodes included in this set that fans will also enjoy.  Fans can check both of those episodes, along with the pair noted here now.  The compilation is available in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct from Lionsgate at http://www.lionsgateshop.com.

Power Rangers Power Up With New DVD

Courtesy: Lionsgate

The Power Rangers is one of the most iconic children’s television programs in the history of modern television.  American audiences got their first taste of the Power Rangers way back in 1993.  Now nearly two decades since that first series aired, young audiences are still being treated to the adventures of the Power Rangers.  The latest team of rangers is known as the Power Rangers Samurai.  This team of rangers has to face off against the evil Master Xandred and his hordes.  In one of the latest volumes of adventures from the Power Rangers Samurai, the rangers acquire their Super Samurai powers in their fight against Xandred.  In another of the volume’s adventures, the rangers’ souls are transferred into inanimate objects, while the essence of those objects is transferred into the rangers.  It’s up to the Green and Yellow ranger to save the rest of the team.  That and more are in “Power Rangers Samurai:  The Super Powered Black Box Volume 1.”

In the first episode included in “The Super Powered Black Box Volume 1”, the Arachnitor has returned from its exile.  At first, Xandred is none too happy with this news.  But he changes his mind in considering that it could be very useful thanks to its new mutation.  Meanwhile, the rangers have started planning what to do.  When they track down the monster, they try to morph, but can’t thanks to evil magic barriers that have been put up.  Just when it seems that the rangers won’t be able to defeat the Arachnitor, Antonio comes with the legendary Super Powered Black Box that allows the rangers to become Super Samurai.  With their newly discovered powers, the rangers are able to defeat the creature both at their size and when it grows and they have to use their zords against it.

In “Trading Places”, the Nighlok creature Switchbeast has come to “help” Xandred defeat the rangers on the orders of his master, who is revealed later in another episode.  Switchbeast is switching people’s souls with the essence of inanimate objects, causing them to take on the form of the objects in question, so to speak.  It just so happens that the rangers are right where Switchbeast is as he’s “switching” everybody out.  Only two of the rangers are left untouched by Switchbeast.  So it’s up to Mike to use the black box and unleash his Super Samurai powers and defeat Switchbeast.  Mike tricks Switchbeast, leading it to switch places with a soccer ball.  Mike’s trick works, allowing him to release the souls of all of Switchbeast’s victims.  Things aren’t over there, though.  When Switchbeast goes mega-size, Mike has to take control of the zords and defeat Switchbeast.  Mike defeats the creature and gets everything back to normal.  But not without a friendly match between Mike and one of the other rangers at the episode’s finale.

“Trading Places” and “Super Samurai” are only half of the episodes included in the “Super Powered Black Box” compilation.  There are still two other episodes that audiences can enjoy now.  The DVD is available in stores now and online.  It can be ordered directly from Lionsgate online at http://www.lionsgateshop.com.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Go Out In Style

Courtesy: Lionsgate

The end is here for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  That is, the end is here for the original series.  The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which ran from 1987 until 1996, sees the release of its final season today.  Running nearly a decade is virtually unheard of for a cartoon series.  One of the few series that made such a run was Nickelodeon’s Rugrats.  That series ran for 172 episodes from 1990 until 2004.  Sadly, no studio has a deal in place as of yet to release it on DVD in stores.  It’s only available online right now.  But thankfully, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are available in stores. Everything is wrapped up once and for all in this season, with Lord Dregg finally done for.  Even Krang and Shredder make an appearance courtesy of Lord Dregg’s transporter ray.  That and more is all in Season Ten, including two previously unreleased episodes.  So this morning, we’ll take a look at just a few of the episodes that made this final season a fitting sendoff.

The first episode in Season Ten sees the return of Lord Dregg.  Dregg comes back to Earth while the turtles are still trying to get their mutations under control.  Meanwhile, Lord Dregg sends a tiny robot down to the turtles’ lair to steal a piece of the vortex crystals.  The crystals are being used to try and get the turtles’ mutations under control.  That results in Leonoardo’s mutation not being stabilized.  So the guys have to chase him down throughout New York City after he mutates.  Since the turtles are occupied chasing down Leo, Lord Dregg has sent an even bigger horde of bots to Earth to build his lab so that he can get his transporter operational.  When April discovers Dregg’s plan, she’s captured by Dregg, who threatens to transport her to the farthest reaches of the universe.  Thankfully, Leo’s out of control mutation helps to save April, along with the others.  This leads up into the next episode on the disc, “The Beginning of The End.”

After having saved April and the guys, Leo is still being held in case he mutates again.  Which unluckily, he does, despite everyone thinking he’s finally cured after Carter thinks he has everything figured out.  When Leo mutates again, it’s off to the races again for the rest of the turtles, as they have to chase Leo down yet again.  In the process, Dregg’s soldiers kidnap Leo and put a radioactive isotope in him that could go critical at any minute.  This leads to even more action for the team.

Later in Season Ten, Carter seems to think he is finally cured of his mutation, too. But the timing of this couldn’t be worse, as Lord Dregg has transported Shredder and Krang back from Dimension X in order to help him defeat the turtles once and for all.  But things don’t go exactly as planned for Dregg, as Shredder and Krang continue to backstab Dregg and try to take over.  This episode is actually a two part episode, as the turtles are caught by Dregg and sent to his ship.  Dregg holds the turtles, as well as Shredder and Krang in an attempt to steal the turtles’ mutagen, and the life force from Krang and Shredder.  Audiences are left with a cliff hanger here.  What will happen to everyone’s favorite mean green machine?  Fans will have to find out for themselves.  The DVD is out in stores today.  it’s available both in stores and online.  It can be ordered online at http://www.lionsgateshop.com/.

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.