Lionsgate’s “Wings” Sequel Holds Its Own Against Disney’s “Planes” Sequel

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

Lionsgate will release the latest installment in its family friendly Wings franchise next Tuesday, July 8thWings: Sky Force Heroes is the follow-up to Lionsgate’s 2012 CG-film Wings.  Ace and Colonel are both back in this latest installment.  But unlike the franchise’s first flick, neither is a fighter jet.  Colonel (voiced once again by Tom Skerritt) is a high performance biplane while Ace (voiced again by Josh Duhamel) is just as high tech as a double prop plane this time out.  The return of the entire voice cast from the first film in the series is only one of the positives to this high flying, family friendly flick.  Anyone that is familiar with Disney’s Planes franchise will appreciate that as with the previous Wings this latest installment bears its own story despite its close similarities to Disney’s franchise.  That is the primary plus to this story.  And last worth noting in this movie is its CG-based “animation” style.  While the story is similar to that of Disney’s new Planes sequel, its look is more closely akin to Fox Searchlight’s 2005 movie Robots than any more recent CG-based movies.  This includes Disney’s properties.  All three of these factors together make Wings: Sky Force Heroes a good family friendly flick that’s worth at least one watch.

There’s no denying that Wings: Sky Force Heroes bears a distinct similarity in its script to that of Disney’s recently premiered Planes sequel Planes: Fire & Rescue.  Despite the similarity in question, Wings: Sky Force Heroes does manage to establish its own identity separate from that of the previously noted movie.  Rather than trying to make this movie into a sequel, the movie’s writing team—Harry Glennon, Mychal Simka, and Jordan Winsen—made it its own movie, complete with its own world.  It just so happens that in this story’s case the two leads go by the same name as the leads in the first of the Wings franchise.  Accepting that, it makes suspension of disbelief much easier in a case such as this.  The ability of viewers to suspend their disbelief makes taking in the story much easier and more enjoyable.

The ability of the writers behind Wings: Sky Force Heroes to craft a story similar to yet dissimilar to Disney’s Planes: Fire & Rescue is central to the overall enjoyment of the story.  Just as worth noting in the presentation’s success is the return of the entire lead voice cast from the original installment in the Wings franchise.  This is one area in which Lionsgate has truly scored.  Lionsgate has scored in this aspect in that Disney’s animated sequels (and sequels in general) rarely re-unite the cast from their predecessors.  This means potentially entirely new casts must get to know one another.  And that can hinder said sequels greatly.   The chemistry developed between Duhamel (Transformers 1 3), Skerritt (Alien, Ted, Top Gun) and the rest of the Wings cast obviously carried over into this latest high-flying family friendly flick from Lionsgate. And because it did, the cast had no trouble interpreting the story’s script and working together.  The end result was a movie loaded with plenty of family friendly content worth at least one watch.

The return of the complete voice cast from Wings and the ability of the writers behind Wings: Sky Force Heroes to craft a story that established the movie’s own identity both play integral parts in the success of this latest movie from Lionsgate’s Wings franchise. Last but not least of all worth noting about this direct-to-DVD feature is its animation. The movie’s animation sets it apart from anything that Disney, 20th Century Fox, and any other studio has churned out in recent years. It’s tough to tell one studio from another nowadays because it is all so cookie cutter. The closest comparison that can be noted with Wings: Sky Force Heroes is perhaps to Fox Searchlight’s Robots. As forgettable as Robots proved to be, few other studios if any have attempted a movie with a similar look since then. That serves to make the look of this piece stand out even more. That mostly original look to the movie combined with its cast and script come together to make Wings: Sky Force Heroes a truly fun, high-flying, family friendly film worth at least one watch. One thing is for sure, one watch will have spirits soaring just as high as the planes in the movie, given that chance.

Wings: Sky Force Heroes will be available exclusively in Wal-Mart stores and online on DVD/VUDU combo pack next Tuesday, July 8th. More information on this and other titles from Lionsgate is available online at http://www.facebook.com/lionsgate, http://www.lionsgate.com, and 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.

Lionsgate, FWF Celebrate Upcoming TMNT Reboot With New Animated Series Episode Compilation

TMNT_CC_3Dskew_Ocard

Courtesy: Fred Wolf Films/Lionsgate

Excitement is building around the upcomingTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot. Those heroes in a half-shell will return to the big screen for the first time since 1993’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III this summer.  It will be under the watch of Transformers director Michael Bay. In anticipation of the upcoming big screen live action reboot, Lionsgate and Fred Wolf Films have announced the upcoming release of a new compilation of episodes from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Classics will be released on DVD Tuesday, July 29th via Lionsgate and Fred Wolf Films. The DVD will contain ten fan favorite episodes from the series’ ten-season run as well as special bonus features. The complete episode listing for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Classics and bonus features are noted below.

EPISODES

  • Planet of the Turtleoids – Season 5
  • Night of the Rogues – Season 7
  • Cowabunga Shredhead – Season 3
  • Superhero for a Day – Season 4
  • Turtles at the Earth’s Core – Season 3
  • Curse of the Evil Eye – Season 2
  • The Turtles and the Hare – Season 4
  • The Big Blow Out – Season 3
  • My Brother, The Bad Guy – Season 5
  • Shredder & Splintered – Season 1

BONUS FEATURES

  • The Turtles: A Ninjatastic Look Back
  • Exclusive Artist Interviews
  • A Shellabration of Fan-Nomenon Sensation: Devoted and Die-Hard TMNT Fans Speak!

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Classics will retail for SRP of $14.98. Also back by popular demand is the collectible Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Complete Classic Series Collection Party Van. The complete series collection comes in a replica box meant to look like the original Turtle Van. It contains all ten seasons of the original animated series on twenty-three discs. It will retail for SRP of $99.98.

More information on this and other releases from Lionsgate is available online at http://www.facebook.com/lionsgate, http://www.lionsgate.com, and http://twitter.com/lionsgatemovies. All the latest from the world of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is available online at http://www.facebook.com/teenagemutantninjaturtles and http://www.nick.com/tmnt. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Emperor An Underrated WWII Drama

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

Movies based on the events of World War II make up what could be argued to be the single largest genre in the history of movie making.  They have been churned out since the days of the war, many of them filled with some truth and an equal mixture of fiction.  While there is some fiction added to the stories, there is also enough fact to justify them being made.  The world needs to remember what happened during that horrific conflict.  And Lionsgate’s new WWII based drama, Emperor is one more welcome addition to that long line despite its overlying romance story line.  If viewers can allow themselves to get past that and the story’s slow start, they will find that it is a surprisingly interesting work.

Emperor is a surprisingly interesting film first and foremost for the fact that it isn’t just another of the standard flash-bang-boom movies that have become all too commonplace in the current era of moviemaking.  Rather, it takes place in the days following Japan’s surrender to the Allied Forces in WWII.  Some might ask why this is so important.  It’s important because being that it isn’t one of those films. It is forced to rely on story rather than on sex and violence.  It really forces viewers to stop and pay attention to everything going on throughout the story.  It’s just a nice change of pace for those that are truly interested in the history of World War II.

The fact that Emperor isn’t just another flash-bang-boom action based WWII movie is probably a big reason that it perhaps didn’t achieve the success in theaters of other WWII centered movies.  So be it.  Those that have a true appreciation for history will overlook that and look toward another of the movie’s positives.  That secondary positive is the movie’s casting.  Despite the inclusion of mega-star Tommy Lee Jones as General Douglas MacArthur, Jones is not the star.  Rather, he turns out to play more of a supporting role as General Douglas McArthur.  This is made even more interesting in watching the movie with bonus commentary.  Audiences will learn from director Peter Webber that apparently Jones didn’t immediately jump at the chance to play McArthur.  Rather, it took months of phone calls to get him to sign on to the films.  This is made even more believable in the bonus “Making of” featurette when Jones himself jokingly notes that he knew he looked nothing like McArthur.  So he beat the critics to the punch on that.  All of this aside, he still turned out to be the perfect fit for the role, especially considering his resume.

Jones was convincing as General McArthur, even being a supporting role.  Just as convincing was the movie’s real star, Matthew Fox.  Fox fills the role of General Bonner Fellers.  Getting back to the bonus commentary for a moment, audiences will laugh as Webber compares Fox to a Gary Cooper style actor in his role as Fellers.  Fellers is sent on a mission to find out if Japan’s Emperor did in fact order the attack on Pearl Harbor after Japan’s official surrender to the Allies.  His story starts rather slowly thanks to the time shifts that set up the movie’s underlying romantic subplot.  But thankfully, it does manage to catch itself somewhere along the line and speed up.  The underlying romantic drama plays a certain role in Fellers search for the truth of what happened on the day Pearl Harbor was attacked.  But again thankfully, writers Vera Blasi, David Klass, and Shiro Okamato on whose book His Majesty’s Salvation this story is based, don’t allow that aspect of the story to overpower the primary story.  Because of that balance, Fox actually becomes quite believable in his role.

Fox’s acting and the ability of the story’s writers to balance its serious war based drama with its underlying romantic subplot are both positive aspects of this story.  The story’s historical accuracy is just as important as anything in this story.  It has already been noted that throughout the history of WWII based movies, many of them have been very liberal with fictitious elements just as much as with factual elements.  This story includes a certain fictitious element in the inclusion of Fellers’ romance with Aya Shimada.  It’s even noted in the movie’s bonus “Making of” featurette that it’s not known if the pair actually had a romance.  That kept in mind, it makes it even better that their romantic drama didn’t overpower the primary story of this movie.  The potentially fictitious element noted, Emperor also boasts quite an amount of factual elements.  The most important of those elements is the note of America’s oil embargo on Japan.  Many people may not know this, but it was in fact an oil embargo on Japan that led to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  It made the war in the Pacific a completely different war than the one fought in Europe.  In direct correlation, the flashback segments help to make the story even more believable.  That’s because of Aya’s mention that not every Japanese citizen was in favor of Japan attacking the United States.  Because of the way history has been taught, this is something else that is not largely known.  The story presented in Emperor contains much more that history buffs will appreciate.  And they will find those elements for themselves when they rent this movie or buy it for themselves.   The movie is available now in stores and online.  More information on this and other releases from Lionsgate is available online at http://www.lionsgate.com and http://www.facebook.com/lionsgate.  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.

Stand Up Guys Is A Stand Out Story

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

Lionsgate’s new star-driven drama Stand Up Guys was soundly panned by critics and viewers alike when it premiered in theaters early this year.  It was panned, citing poor writing, bad acting, and equally poor pacing.  It is quite obvious that in noting these slights, the individuals in question that made these comments couldn’t see the forest for the trees.  More than likely, these same individuals went into the movie with overblown expectations of it being just another generic gangster flick with lots of gunfights, drugs, and sex.  This critic is guilty of that, too.  But unlike those other critics, this critic was pleasantly surprised at how much Stand Up Guys stands out.

Stand Up Guys is not just another gangster flick flooded with drugs, sex, gunfights and foul language.  The reality of this story is that it is less a gangster flick and more a story about friendship that just happens to be centered on two geriatric gangsters played by veteran actors Christopher Walken (Catch Me if You Can, Batman Returns) and Al Pacino (The Godfather I – III, Dog Day Afternoon, Any Given Sunday) that are reunited when the latter is released from jail.  Val (Pacino) just wants to get his life on the right track after having been in prison for so many years, yet he is haunted by the ghost of a past crime, which leads his friend Doc (Walken) to face the issue of what is the right thing to do himself.  Throughout everything, the story does end up with a happy ending and even a big shootout to satiate all the viewers that had been chomping at the bit for a shootout scene throughout the story’s ninety-five minute run time.  Heck, there’s even a Steve McQueen style car chase thrown in about halfway through the movie for good measure.  So those wanting some action out of the movie do get that.

Given the opportunity, audiences will see just how much Stand Up Guys has to offer.  It can be said though that for all of its positives, the story does struggle at least slightly as a result of its pacing.  There is no denying this.  While the movie’s run time is just over an hour and a half, the pacing may in fact leave some viewers checking their watches and/or clocks sporadically throughout the story.  Luckily though, it makes up for the pacing with a story that will keep viewers engaged despite the pacing.  Audiences will want to see if Walken’s Doc can keep himself from making a bad choice and maintaining his friendship with Val.  Again, those themes of friendship and loyalty help to make this movie stand out.  They help to prove once again that while it isn’t another gangster flick, it is much more than that.  It is a drama that will entertain those whose minds are open enough and willing to see it for its true value.

The story behind Stand Up Guys is one that given the chance will entertain and engage audiences whose minds are open enough.  Without the right actors though, the story would not work.  Luckily this pair of veterans showed through its combined experience that even a script for a story such as this can work and that old dogs can in fact learn new tricks.  Despite the pacing issues, the two were able to work together and interpret each scene in a way that elicits the intended emotions from viewers, thus making the movie’s pacing more forgivable.  In turn, it makes the movie as a whole that much more watchable more than once.  In fact, this is a movie that given the chance will grow on viewers increasingly with each watch.  And this is definitely a good thing.  It is a surprising story that in the end proves to be a dark horse candidate to make this critic’s list of the year’s best new movies.  It is available now in stores and online and can be ordered direct from the Lionsgate store at http://www.lionsgateshop.com/search_results.asp?Search=Stand%20Up%20Guys.

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The Other Dream Team Scores Big Points Among Documentaries

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

The Other Dream Team, the new basketball based documentary from Lionsgate, is a surprisingly interesting work.  It’s a story that will interest both basketball fans, history buffs, and even anyone who has any interest in political science.  While the story itself is based against a backdrop of basketball, it’s less about the sport in question and more about politics and a people’s struggle to escape the crushing hand of communism.  Together with its bonus Q&A session with Writer/Director Marius A. Markevicius and Writer/Producer Jon Weinbach, The Other Dream Team proves to be a surprise contender for one of the year’s best documentaries.

The Other Dream Team’s run time comes in at just over an hour and a half.  In that time, audiences are introduced to a work that’s not just another underdog story.  Rather, it’s a story of a group of men who represented an entire country in its struggle to break free from the bonds of communism.  It centers on a group of four Lithuanians who originally were forced to play for the Russian national basketball team, but then managed to break free and form a Lithuanian basketball team.  Even in their freedom from the Russian national team, the men still faced challenges, including one member of the team—Arvydas Sarbonis–being prevented from joining the NBA by the government of the then Communist Russia.  Even on this side of the Atlantic, Sarbonis was called Russian by NBA Commissioner David Stern when he was drafted by the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers, which he wasn’t.  And NBA fans here were none too pleased with the announcement, effectively making Sarbonis a man without a country so to speak.  Players on both sides of the ball explain in interviews how the game of basketball became less about playing a game and more of a political statement, and just how important that statement was.  Audiences who perhaps have never delved very deep into the political history of Communist and post Communist Russia will be amazed by just how important a single game could be to a whole nation.  That importance is highlighted even more through interviews with a number of people close to the game including former NBA great Bill Walton, ESPN’s Chad Ford, Fran Fraschilla and a host of others.  The program also features original footage of the conflict between Lithuania and Russia both on and off the court highlighting just how tense things were between the two nations in Lithuania’s struggle for independence.  It all comes together to make a documentary that anyone with a love of history, sports, or even politics will thoroughly enjoy.

The documentary itself is quite interesting to watch.  After watching it, viewers will also want to check out the feature’s bonus Q&A session with Writer/Director Marius A. Markevicius and Writer/Producer Jon Weinbach.  Viewers learn from the session’s opening moments that Markevicius’ interest in crafting this story came from his own Lithuanian roots.  He explains about growing up, watching the Lithuanian basketball team, trying to follow them, despite the general lack of information released about them when he was a child.  The session is highlighted by questions posted and followed by some very in depth answers from both men.  Sometimes those answers will move audiences.  Others, it will have them laughing.  It serves as a very good companion to the bonus audio commentary included with the film.  Along with the commentary in question, the vintage footage, interviews and every element that went into bringing this film to life, The Other Dream Team proves to be an unexpectedly impressive documentary, and one that proves to be one of the year’s best in the documentary category.  It’s available now in stores and online and can be ordered direct via the Lionsgate online store at http://www.lionsgateshop.com/product.asp?Id=27844&TitleParentId=8032

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Perry, Fox Carry Patterson’s Cross

Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate

Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate

Actor/producer/director Tyler Perry is known largely for his widely popular movies focusing on the over the top Madea.  So it goes without saying that when he was announced to take over the role of Alex Cross from veteran actor Morgan Freeman, audiences both of his work and that of author James Patterson were left quite in shock to say the least.  Any time that an actor or actress takes a leap outside of his or her comfort zone, it also pulls said actor/actress’ fans out of their comfort zones.  And that apparently is what happened in the case of his take in the new action flick bearing the character’s name.

Perry’s audiences and critics alike were pulled out of their comfort zone with Alex Cross because all involved became so accustomed to seeing Perry in dramadies, not action flicks.  So much so that they refused to see Perry’s potential in this movie.  Director Rob Cohen even discusses this in the Director’s Commentary of the movie’s new home release on DVD and Blu-ray.  It’s just one of many discussions that he raises which will make for more appreciation for this movie among audiences.  The reality of Alex Cross is that while the story may be somewhat outrageous, it’s no more outrageous than the criminal profilers in CBS’ Criminal Minds going out on “missions” to stop deranged killers, which is exactly what co-star Matthew Fox (ABC’s Lost) plays here.  Fox expertly plays the absolutely deranged sociopathic killer Picasso who is hell bent on taking down Cross for past events.  Much like Perry, his performance is a powerhouse.  He is one of those villains that is totally believable.  He is one of those rare villains that audiences love to hate, and by whom they are disturbed.  That means that Fox did his job and did it well.  So to that extent, Fox and Perry together really are what make the story work.

Keeping in mind why Picasso is after Cross, one can’t help but make at least a slight comparison to fellow actor Denzel Washington’s 1999 crime drama, The Bone Collector.  The difference between the two is that this crime drama is far better and moves much faster.  What Perry has done here for all intents and purposes is harnessed both Washington and fellow action star Will Smith and proven to be even better than both.  Audiences need only allow themselves to suspend their disbelief and they too will realize Perry’s talents as an action star.

It goes without saying that a number of factors were changed in this adaptation of its namesake book by author James Patterson.  But few movies ever adapted from books have ever stayed one hundred percent true to their origins.  Just look at the movies in the Die Hard franchise.  They are prime examples of that.   Audiences need to keep this in mind as well in order to maintain their suspension of disbelief.  Allowing that to happen allows audiences to simply enjoy the fast paced action that starts right off the bat and barely lets up right to the movie’s final confrontation.  And if doing that doesn’t work, then perhaps watching the bonus making of featurette in the brand new DVD and Blu-ray release of the movie will finally convince people to let go of their own expectations.  The feature, “The Psychologist and the Butcher: Adapting & Filming Alex Cross” features interviews with James Patterson himself in which he in no uncertain terms lets audiences know that he accepts the big screen adaptation of Cross.  It’s nice to see an author giving his personal stamp of approval on an adaptation of one of his books.  And hopefully both Patterson’s readers and Perry’s fans will come together after watching this new home release and give the movie the appreciation which it deserves.  It is available now on DVD and Blu-ray in stores and online and is worth at least one watch by any true action movie fan.

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Action Flick Fans Will Be “Taken” With Taken 2 On Blu-Ray, DVD

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Taken 2 is one of those movies for which there is no grey area.  It’s a fast moving, flash-boom-bang shoot-‘em-up action flick that is very much in the vein of Lionsgate’s recently released The Expendables 2.  The only difference between that over the top sequel and this one is that more than likely 20th Century Fox will let this franchise end with the end of this movie.  Is it the best sequel ever made?  No.  But it is a great turn off your brain flick for anyone looking to escape from the constant barrage of negative news and every day stresses thrown at audiences every day on television and in the work-a-day world.  Right from the movie’s opening moments, it grabs viewers by the collar, making no bones about what to expect.  Once it takes off, there is no stopping the story’s action.  From gunfights to car chases and everything in between, this latest (and likely last) movie in the Taken franchise accomplishes the very goal which it set out to achieve in its short ninety-two minutes.  That goal is to entertain audiences and let them enter another world, if only for a short time.  For that, 20th Century Fox and all involved with this movie are to be commended.  That’s especially the case in a time when audiences need an escape more than ever.

As one can hopefully already tell, Taken 2 offers exactly what action movie buffs want out of said genre.  But there’s more to the movie than just the action that makes it worth at least one watch.  Much like The Expendables 2 and so many other action movies, this story offers audiences a hero for whom they can cheer in Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills.  All Mills wants is to finish the job that he started in the franchise’s first movie.  But the thing is so do the men who took his daughter.  And both sides will go to whatever lengths necessary to accomplish their goal.  Being that Bryan Mills is a clearly defined archetypal hero, rooting for him is that much easier.  So many of today’s movies have fewer heroes and more anti-hero figures.  It’s nice to see that Bryan doesn’t fit into the latter mold.  It’s one more positive to a movie that any action movie lover will appreciate.

Audiences will appreciate this movie even more now that it is available on DVD and Blu-ray.  The Blu-ray/DVD/digital combo pack offers audiences the most in-depth experience.  It offers audiences both the theatrical and unrated version of the movie along with an interesting bonus “pop-up” feature in the unrated version called “Black Ops Field Manual.”  It offers extra little bits of information about plot elements of the movie.  It’s sort of a director’ commentary without the commentary.  There’s also a character profile of Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills courtesy of FX network.  There is no bonus commentary included here.  But that’s not necessarily a loss as there’s nothing extra needed to understand.  This is an action movie with an easy to understand plot, period.

The movie’s bonus features add their own element of enjoyment to this fast paced action flick.  In an even deeper level, there’s one more factor that makes the movie even more interesting.  That factor is that while this movie is a sequel, it could just as easily succeed as a stand-alone movie.  Audiences don’t necessarily need to have seen the franchise’s first movie to enjoy this one.  All audiences need to know is the most basic elements of the first of the pair of movies to understand the plot for this one.  Keeping this in mind, and adding in the bonus features of the Blu-ray/DVD/combo pack, Taken 2 actually turns out to be one of those rare sequels that actually turn out to be as good as the original.  In the grand scheme of things, it turns out to be a sequel that’s worth at least one watch.

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.