American Jesus Gives A Whole New Face To Christianity In America

Courtesy:  Shelter Island/glass eye pix/TDC Entertainment

Courtesy: Shelter Island/glass eye pix/TDC Entertainment

American Jesus, the new documentary from Shelter Island and Glass Eye Pix, is an interesting look at Christianity in America.  On the surface, it offers viewers an unbiased look at the varied ways in which Americans today express their beliefs and worship.  On another level, it’s interesting in that it shows that Christians in America have increasingly embraced the understanding that a church is just a building, not necessarily its congregation.  This is perhaps the central discussion point of this documentary.  The documentary’s open-ended question of “what if” is the perfect closure for the documentary.  It is not so much an atheistic question so much as it is a question of faith in general.  Much as with the rest of the topics covered throughout this DVD, it is certain to be a point of both discussion and contention for viewers.  And that’s a good thing, provided viewers are open minded enough to politely discuss said topic.  Said open-minded audiences will find in their discussions of this and every topic in American Jesus, that this is definitely a documentary that is well worth the watch.

The ways in which Christians worship today is vastly different from the ways in which older Christians worship and worshipped.  It used to be that Christians worshipped primarily in church buildings.  They worshipped in a very set, formal setting and manner.  By comparison, Christianity today does not have to necessarily include worshipping in a traditional setting or manner.  Viewers see in American Jesus that Christians today worship in “cowboy Church”, as part of Christian Motorcycle gangs, and even at skate parks and other rather nontraditional settings among others.  They don’t do the traditional stand, sing, sit, pray format, either.  Yet they do study scripture and try to live their lives the best they can.  This expansion of how Christians worship is just one of so many discussion points (and points of contention) for viewers through the documentary.  That’s because there actually is something of a divide even among the Christian faith in regards to “new age” worship.  Another discussion point that makes this such an interesting piece to watch is the very concept of what a “church” actually is.

The traditional view of a church is that it is the physical building and the congregation that fills said building.  To others, a church is just a building.  And as viewers will see in American Jesus, the latter mentality is increasingly taking hold across the country.  The church has increasingly become more about the gathering of people to worship than the building itself.  This ties back directly to the traditional versus “new age” manner in which Christians worship.  There are those holdouts that believe unless one is worshipping in a physical church, then one is not actually attending real worship.  What’s more, there are those that believe that pastors of non-traditional churches aren’t even properly trained and ordained individuals.  Given, this may be true in many cases.  But in other cases, some might in fact hold degrees in divinity and be ordained.  It brings the discussion on what a church is full circle and in turn, makes the discussion all the richer.

Both the discussions on the definition of a church and the ways in which the church body worships today are important discussion points raised over the course of American Jesus’ hour-plus run time.  The documentary closes with a question that is more than certain to become a point of contention for viewers.  The documentary closes by pondering why exactly it is that Christians worship.  It doesn’t do so in any negative, antagonistic manner.  Rather, it merely ponders the question of “what if.” It ponders the question of “what if” everything Christians do today even in having branched out from traditional worship is for not.  That in itself is certain to open a whole new can of worms among viewers.  However, those that can keep a cool, level head and discuss this concept on a mature, adult level (It seems a contradiction in terms at times,yes) will find quite a bit of enlightenment.  Those same mature viewers will find that this topic and those already noted make American Jesus a documentary that is just as important a discussion tool in a church setting as it is in the classroom or elsewhere.  It is a documentary that everyone should see at least once, regardless of whether one’s religious background.  It will be available May 13th and can be pre-ordered via Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/American-Jesus-Aram-Garriga/dp/B002DY9K48/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1395667102&sr=1-1&keywords=American+Jesus.

More information on American Jesus and other releases from Shelter Island is available online at http://www.shelterisland.net, http://www.facebook.com/ShelterIslandFilm, and http://twitter.com/ShelterIsl.  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.

Power Rangers Seasons 8 – 12 Box Set A Must Have For Any Diehard PR Fan

Courtesy:  Shout! Factory

Courtesy: Shout! Factory

Shout! Factory’s release of Power Rangers Seasons 8 – 12 is an absolute must have for anyone that is a true hardcore fan of the Power Rangers franchise.  This latest box set was released in late 2013, only months before the planned release of the franchise’s next box set, containing Seasons 13 – 17.  Audiences that grew up watching Seasons 8 – 12 will appreciate this box set primarily because of its writing.  Seasons 8 – 12 mark a complete cutting of ties so to speak from the original Power Rangers franchise, which ended with Power Rangers Lost Galaxy.  It was a surprisingly clean cut, too.  The bonus DVD included in this set adds to its value for any true hardcore Power Rangers fan.  That’s because of the abundant amount of extras included just on the one disc alone.  And rounding out the whole thing is the bonus booklet that comes with the set.  All of this together makes Power Rangers Seasons 8 – 12 a set that the most hardcore Power Rangers will want to add to their personal collection.

Power Rangers Seasons 8 – 12 is an important addition to any hardcore Power Rangers fan’s collection first and foremost because of the writing behind each season.  It all starts with Season 8 a.k.a. Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue.  This season and those that follow mark a clean cut from the Power Rangers’ original franchise, which ran technically six seasons.  The franchise’s seventh season saw what would be the first attempt at cutting ties from the original franchise.  But even that season maintained at least some link to the original franchise with the re-introduction of the Astro Megaship, which was used in Season 6 (Power Rangers in Space).  That essentially makes Season 8 the very first time that the franchise’s writers made a complete and clean break from the original series.  It did this quite well, too.  It is interesting to see the Power Rangers go from almost superhero-like status in its previous incarnations to being made into a semi-militaristic force in Season 8.  A similar approach is taken in Power Rangers Time Force.  The writers behind Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue made a clean, solid break from the Power Rangers’ original franchise.  For all of their ability to break from that franchise, audiences will appreciate that they did throw back to Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers with the introduction of the Titanium Ranger in this series.  Just as Tommy was originally brainwashed by Rita, so was Ryan brainwashed by Diabolico.  Fans that grew up with the original Power Rangers franchise will appreciate this throwback, whether it was intentional or not.

The eighth and ninth seasons of Power Rangers exhibited brand new chapters in the long-running franchise’s mythology.  They showed in their writing that the Power Rangers brand could keep running even in a whole new universe separate from the one created in the its first seven seasons.  This trend continued on through Seasons 10 and 11.  The most intriguing of the seasons included in this set would have to be Season 12, though.  Tommy Oliver (Jason David Frank) returns in Season 12 a.k.a. Power Rangers Dino Thunder as the head of a new team of Power Rangers.  What makes this season so enjoyable is that while it lives within the confines of its own universe, it also makes no attempt to ignore Tommy’s past as one of the original Power Rangers.  The very fact that it would be titled Dino Thunder and that the new Power Rangers would have their own dinozords of sorts is a full on throwback.  It brings everything full circle in this set.  It goes without saying that this was not the longest series in the Power Rangers canon.  But it was nice to see the writers and the franchise’s heads make that re-connection with the early days of the Power Rangers once again, just as Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue did in Season 8.

All involved behind Power Rangers Season 8 – 12 are to be commended .  These five seasons prove to be some of the best from the Power Rangers franchise in its post-Zordon era.  Fans will see this for themselves when they order the complete five-season box set from Shout! Factory.  The solid writing in each season and the inclusion of each season are only the starting point in what makes this collection a must have for any hardcore Power Rangers fan.  The set also comes with an extra sixth disc loaded with bonus material that fans will love.

The bonus sixth disc that comes with Power Rangers Seasons 8 – 12 is a bonus in itself.  It is loaded with more than its share of background on each season beginning with an in-depth look at how the actors voiced their parts for the big fight scenes.  Audiences will laugh along with the cast members as they recall being in the recording booth, recording their lines and even fight sounds as they see the action on screen.  The “Ranger Tales” segment is just as in-depth.  It offers insight on each season from different members of each season’s cast.  What’s more, this segment proceeds chronologically from Season 8 – 12.  Viewers will also enjoy watching “A Web of Fans.”  This bonus feature takes a look at the impact of the show on its fans and vice versa.  It showed how close-knit the Power Rangers fanbase is to this day and how it has helped to keep the franchise alive such a long time.  There are even more bonuses including one that discusses the introduction of the Titanium Ranger and a semi-promo from Tommy himself pushing Power Rangers Dino Thunder and even a promo by two members of the Dino Thunder cast for Power Rangers S.P.D. which is part of the next Power Rangers box set.  The bonuses don’t end here.  There is still at least one more aspect of this set that fans will appreciate being included.  That bonus is the booklet that comes with the box set.

Power Rangers Seasons 8 – 12 includes as a companion to the bonus sixth disc, a bonus booklet that includes character bios for each season as well as a complete episode guide for each season as well.  Along with the character bios are the actual names of each cast member from each season.  This includes both the Rangers and the villains.  There are even stills of various scenes taken from different episodes of each season to enhance the booklet even more.  From the stills to the episode list and character guide, those responsible for assembling this booklet put in a lot of work to make it the perfect addition to the overall set.  Together with the bonus sixth disc, the two bonus additions collectively make for one wonderful bonus to a set that simply put is a must have for any true hardcore Power Rangers fan.  Power Rangers Seasons 8 – 12 is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct from the Shout! Factory online store at http://www.shoutfactory.com/product/power-rangers-seasons-8-12.  More information on this and other releases from Shout! Factory is available online at http://www.shoutfactory.com and http://www.facebook.com/shoutfactoryofficial.  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.

Shout! Factory Announces Release Date For Power Rangers Zeo: Volume 2

Courtesy: Shout! Factory/Saban Brands

Courtesy: Shout! Factory/Saban Brands

The Power Rangers are back once again.  Power Rangers Zeo: Volume 2 will be available in stores and online Tuesday, February 11th on DVD.  The second volume from the Power Rangers’ Zeo incarnation sees Tommy, Katherine, and the rest step up their Zeo powers once again in order to defeat King Mondo and his Machine Empire minions.  Fans can also expect to see some familiar faces return on both sides of the battle in this volume of adventures.

Along with more high-energy battles and incredible new zords, Power Rangers Zeo: Volume 2 also continues Saban’s long-running tradition of tying important life lessons into each episode.  Volume 2 teaches lessons about teamwork, believing in one’s self, friendship and much more throughout its twenty-five total episodes.  There are also plenty more laughs courtesy of Bulk and Skull (Paul Schrier and Jason Narvy).

Power Rangers Zeo: Volume 2 will be available in a three-disc set for SRP of $19.93. It can be pre-ordered now via the Shout! Factory store at http://www.shoutfactory.com/product/power-rangers-zeo-volume-two.  More information on this and other upcoming releases from Shout! Factory is available online at http://www.shoutfactory.com and http://www.facebook.com/shoutfactoryofficial.  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.

Power Rangers Zeo Volume 2 A “Powerful” Way To Wrap Up Season 4

Courtesy: Shout! Factory/Saban Brands

Courtesy: Shout! Factory/Saban Brands

Saban’s Power Rangers franchise is one of the most successful mainstream children’s program’s in modern television history.  It is currently celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year.  And it’s doing so in a big way thanks to a partnership with Shout! Factory.  While the new mega Power Rangers DVD collection might be out of the price range of many Power Rangers fans, the latest stand-alone collection from Shout! Factory and Saban is right up the alley for any old school Power Rangers fan.  The new collection in question is Power Rangers Zeo: Volume 2Power Rangers Zeo: Volume 2 (or Power Rangers: Season 4 Volume 2) finishes off the latest incarnation of the franchise.  It is also one more wonderful collection for those yearning for the franchise’s golden era.  The writing in Season 4 Volume 2 is the key to this collection of episodes.  Just as worth noting is the acting carried on the part of the cast.  The packaging is the final touch that makes Season 4 Volume 2 work.  All three factors come together to make Power Rangers Zeo: Volume 2 another hit for any old school Power Rangers fan.

The first thing that stands out about Power Rangers Zeo: Volume 2 is the writing.  Season 4 Volume 2 contains the final twenty-five episodes of the Rangers’ Zeo incarnation. Within that set of episodes, the show’s writers crafted no fewer than three separate extended story arcs.  There is also a stand-alone Christmas episode in “A Season to Remember” that was previously only available as a bonus episode in one of Lionsgate’s previously released Power Rangers Samurai compilations.  The story arcs included in this volume are prime examples of what made the Power Rangers franchise so enjoyable in its early days.  That’s because they were used as a means to keep the show fresh and keep it moving forward without losing any of the ground that it had gained over the course of its first three seasons.  One of those storylines sees the introduction of the very first Gold Ranger (played by returning original star Austin St. James). Another sees the return of Lord  Zedd and Rita after the eventual defeat of King Mondo.  And even after King Mondo is defeated, he does return again.  This leads to another ongoing story arc late in the collection that eventually leads into the Power Rangers’ next incarnation, Power Rangers RPM.

The extended story arcs written into the second half of Season Four are a big part of this collection’s success.  The stand-alone episodes do their own part in making Volume 2 a success.  One example of that is in the Christmas themed episode, “A Season To Remember.”  This episode is a “what if” scenario of sorts.  It presents Tommy as an old man telling his grandson about the Power Rangers, remembering fondly his adventures as a young man.  It continues the series’ long-standing tradition of including positive messages within each episode. This episode includes the message of tolerance towards others.  It’s not the only positive message shared in this collection of episodes, either.  “Mondo’s Last Stand” teaches viewers that it’s okay to ask for help.  This lesson is taught as Rocky tries to take on King Mondo himself because he feels like he has been essentially replaced upon Jason’s return to the Rangers.  It’s just one more example of how the writing in Season 4 Volume 2 makes this collection one more that every old school Power Rangers fan will appreciate.

The writing behind the episodes in Power Rangers Zeo: Volume 2 is the biggest part of this collection’s success.  It isn’t all that audiences will applaud in this set.  The acting on the part of the cast is just as enjoyable as ever.  A big part of that is the cast’s familiarity with one another thanks to the series’ various story arcs.  The chemistry between the cast members made for better and more believable acting.  This especially applies in the case of Paul Schrier and Jason Narvy (A.K.A. Bulk and Skull).  The pair’s Lauren & Hardy style comedic acting is as entertaining as ever.  While they were only supporting cast, their physical comedy and gags made them the real stars of the show.  That’s not to say that the Rangers themselves weren’t believable in their roles.  Despite some lineup changes over the course of the franchise’s first three seasons and its fourth season, the story arcs crafted for the show kept the core cast together long enough to establish its own chemistry.  That chemistry meant that the core cast had more reason to take its acting seriously.  And that is visible throughout each of the episodes in this volume. A prime example of this comes in “King for a Day Part II.”  The Rangers have to convince Tommy that he’s not the Machine King.  And Kat (the Pink Ranger) takes the lead in that effort.   It would have been so easy for her to ham it up.  She took the moment with full seriousness instead.  That led this to be one of Season 4’s most memorable of moments.  It isn’t the only memorable moments in terms of the cast’s acting, either.  Audiences will find even more memorable acting on the part of the cast when they purchase this set for themselves.

Writing and acting are pivotal to any movie and TV series.  And that is proved time and again in Power Rangers Zeo:  Volume Two.  There is still one factor in this new set that audiences will appreciate.  The factor in question is the set’s packaging.  Season 4 Volume 2 has already been included in a pair of Power Rangers box sets.  Not every Power Rangers fan is a fan of every Power Rangers series.  So on Tuesday, February 11th, this collection will be available for fans of PRZ as a stand-alone, triple-disc set. This means that fans of this specific incarnation won’t have to shell out the money that they would otherwise had to have spent on the previously released box set just to have this set. The three discs that make up the set each have their own spot inside the case. This means that each disc is protected from the other, thus making them enjoyable even longer.  While it will not be available until Tuesday, February 11th, it can be pre-ordered now from Shout! Factory’s online store at http://www.shoutfactory.com/product/power-rangers-zeo-volume-two.  More information on this and other Power Rangers collections is available online at http://www.shoutfactory.com and http://www.facebook.com/shoutfactoryofficial.  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.

Mighty Morphin Alien Rangers An Underappreciated Addition To The Power Rangers Universe

Courtesy:  Saban Brands/Shout! Factory

Courtesy: Saban Brands/Shout! Factory

Saban Brands and Shout! Factory released early this year, a massive box set containing all seven seasons of Saban’s original Power Rangers series.  The multi-disc set took viewers from the birth of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers all the way through the Rangers’ journey to the Lost Galaxy.  That mega-box set is the ultimate experience for any fan of the Power Rangers’ original series.  For some though, the cost of the set might have been a bit much.  That’s okay.  For those fans, Saban and Shout! Factory have also released each season in its own standalone box set.  The two companies have released the original series all the way up through the first volume of Power Rangers Zeo.  Even the ten-episode “mini-series”, Mighty Morphin Alien Rangers has been released to the masses.  This connector series is one of the least remembered among the franchise’s legions of fans.  Why this is the case is anybody’s guess.  But the reality of the short-lived series is that it is just as important a part of the franchise’s early days as its previous seasons.  It is just as important as the previous seasons and the one that follows first and foremost because it is a solid bridge between the two seasons.  It is also an important addition to the overall franchise because it was a branching out from the original Power Rangers franchise.  All things considered, whether taken as its own attempted spinoff or a bridge between seasons, it showed that the show’s writing was just as strong as ever.  And now audiences that grew up with this “series” can re-live it any time they want thanks to Saban and Shout! Factory having released it to DVD by itself.

Mighty Morphin Alien Rangers is one of the more underrated installments of Saban’s hugely popular franchise.  The reasons for this are varied.  But as deeper look at the “series” shows that it is just as important an addition to the franchise as any of the show’s other seasons.  The first reason for the “series’” success is it is a solid bridge between the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers series and the franchise’s next evolution.  Those that grew up with the original series will recall that this “series” was not the first time that the Rangers had lost their powers.  That means that the show’s writers had to figure out a way to keep the franchise fresh while still maintaining its original ongoing story.  It can be said that they did just that and that they did it well.  By bringing in a whole new team of Power Rangers from another world, the show’s writers achieved two goals.  The first of those goals being that it presented a new “what if” scenario to the show.  It put the responsibility of saving the planet on a team of Rangers not of this Earth.  The second goal achieved through this story arc was that it showed the potential of a whole new Power Rangers spinoff, which is what the real reason was for this “season.”

The introduction of the Aquitian Rangers was a nice additional story arc for the Power Rangers franchise.  The show’s writers achieved their goal of keeping the franchise fresh with the “series” while maintaining the franchise’s integrity.  It also proved the potential of a new spinoff in the Power Rangers universe.  That was the real goal of this installment.  And it’s another reason that it is such an important addition to the property.  While the Rangers of Aquitar obviously didn’t seem to grab audiences enough to mandate a spinoff, the writers are to be commended for even having taken the risk with them.  As viewers have seen over the course of some twenty years, a massive number of spinoffs have been crafted from the original series.  Taking that into consideration, it can be argued that Mighty Morphin Alien Rangers was a groundbreaker.  That’s because next to one other very small early story arc, it is one of the very first spinoffs of the Power Rangers franchise.  That makes this an even more important piece of Power Rangers history.

Whether one sees Mighty Morphin Alien Rangers as a spinoff, a bridge between seasons in the ongoing evolution of the Power Rangers, or a little bit of both, it’s clear that despite its underrated and undervalued status, this addition to the Power Rangers universe was just as important as any other installment.  It showed that the show’s writing was just as solid as it was in the very first season of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.  It also was a groundbreaker for the franchise, and proved that the franchise had the ability to branch out, as it later would and has since.  All things considered it proves to be that much more valuable an addition to the library of any Power Rangers fan and fanatic.  It is available now in stores and online.  More information on this and other releases from Shout! Factory is available online at http://www.shoutfactory.com and http://www.facebook.com/shoutfactoryofficial.  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.

Power Rangers Zeo Volume One Another Success From Saban, Shout! Factory

Courtesy:  Shout! Factory/Saban Brands

Courtesy: Shout! Factory/Saban Brands

Thank goodness for Shout! Factory. This critic has said that of the company many times before. And this critic will continue to do so as long as it keeps releasing titles such as the latest in Saban’s classic Power Rangers franchise. Power Rangers: Zeo Volume 1 picks up where the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangersmini-series “spinoff”, Mighty Morphin’Alien Rangers left off. The Rangers’control center had been destroyed and new Yellow Ranger Tanya had been added to the team. She would be the third person to don the Yellow Ranger’s outfit in only a matter of three seasons. The Command Center being destroyed, the Rangers were left without their powers, albeit temporarily, which leads to the first important aspect of this latest incarnation of Saban’s hit franchise. The first important aspect ofPower Rangers: Zeo Volume 1 is the writing in the episodes culled for this volume. In direct connection to the writing, the episodes in this volume do something that the episodes from MMPR didn’t do nearly as much. They developed the characters more. This includes the show’s comic relief, Paul Schrier and Jason Narvy (Bulk and Skull). And one can’t ignore that the special effects used throughout MMPR were carried over into this “season”,too. This too helped maintain the feel of MMPR thus doing even more to help keep fans from MMPR on board. And together with the writing and character development, it shows even more why this latest release is a must have for any longtime Power Rangers fan.

The writers responsible for the first incarnation of the Power Rangers series did an impressive job with that series. They wrote plenty of solid stories. Those scripts did an excellent job of balancing their action with the team’s development. They also had plenty of comedy thanks to Schrier and Narvy. The pair’s Laurel& Hardy style comedy was stepped up throughout Power Rangers: Zeo Volume 1, making for even more enjoyment. From trying to save Detective Stone’s roses to their antics with Goldar and Rito, Bulk and Skull get more camera time this time out. And it makes for plenty of laughs. Their increased comedic additions to the series are just part of what makes this incarnation of the Power Rangers franchise fun to watch. Fans of the series will also appreciate in this volume how the writers handled the transition of both villains and team members among the Rangers. The story arcs used throughout MMPR were good in their own way. There’s no denying that. But fans will appreciate that the writers hit the ground running this time. Even starting the new “series” with an extended story arc, the transitions still moved particularly rapidly. So the writers didn’t waste any time getting the new series moving. The only other real extended story arc in this volume is “There’s No Business Like Snow Business.” It’s a three-part arc. And while it isn’t a major story arc, it does do something important. It helps to illustrate the increased character development that took place in this series.

The writers on Power Rangers Zeo handled the transition from its predecessor quite well, all things considered. They developed new story lines and grew the show, too. That’s thanks to the increased character development in this series. Tommy Oliver (Jason David Frank) is fleshed out even more as he takes over the lead role in the show. He takes over the role of the Red Ranger as Billy (David Yost) steps down and takes more of a “tech assistant” position in the team’s new command center. Audiences see more of the confident, heroic side of Tommy as he takes over the team. But he also presents a more human side after getting a breakup letter from former love interest and Pink Ranger, Kimberly (Amy Jo Johnson) in the three-part story arc, “There’s No Business Like Snow Business.” Audiences also get more view of Tommy’s softer side in a two-part episode that sees Tommy introduced to his long lost brother. That more vulnerable side is something that he didn’t really show a lot of throughout MMPR. So it makes for an interesting look at this character. Newcomer Tanya also gets her time in the spotlight in this volume. She gets the chance of a lifetime when she is discovered by a record producer after singing at the Angel Grove Youth Center. It was the final episode in Volume One. But what better way to close out the volume than to focus on her again. Just as she was introduced in the volume’s opening three-part story arc, she was re-introduced in the volume’s final episode. So she really got her time to develop as a character and as a member of the team.

Both Tommy and Tanya get more time to develop personally as characters in Power Rangers Zeo: Volume One. Their development helps to make this “season” more interesting for viewers. They aren’t the only characters that get to show more of themselves. Both Paul Schrier and Jason Narvy (Bulk and Skull) get to show that they are more than just comic relief, too. Although they still offer plenty of laughs. The pair is now working even more to try and be junior police officers.  While their segments are still largely for comedic relief, it’s nice to see that they are getting to be more than just lowly comic support.  They actually get to be more involved in the show at this point.  Again this goes back to the show’s writers.  It’s just one more positive to the show.

The writing and related character development that takes place in the episodes collected for Power Rangers Zeo: Volume 1 do a lot to make this underrated incarnation of the Power Rangers enjoyable in hindsight.  There is still at least one more factor that audiences will appreciate in this set.  That factor is the special effects.  Whereas so many of the “seasons” since (E.g. Power Rangers Samurai, Power Rangers Power Rangers Ninja Storm, Power Rangers Mystic Force) became more spit shined and slickly produced, the more raw special effects and general production values of PRZ were more akin to those of MMPR.  The show’s creators and staff made do with what they had.  And it showed, too.  Sure, they might have been slightly cheesy.  But there’s something more special about them because of that.  And it’s that special something combined with the writing and the character development that make this “season” of Power Rangers definitely worth having for any true fan of the franchise.  It will be available in stores and online Tuesday, November 12th.  It can be ordered online direct from the Shout! Factory online store at http://www.shoutfactory.com/node/218412.  More information on this and other Power Rangers releases from Saban and Shout! Factory is available online at http://www.shoutfactory.com and http://www.facebook.com/shoutfactoryofficial.  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.

Power Rangers Is At Its Peak In Season Three

Courtesy:  Shout! Factory

Courtesy: Shout! Factory

The third season of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers sees this classic children’s series at its peak.  The show reached its apex in its third season primarily because of its writing.  It is also just as impressive as Shout! Factory has presented these original episodes exactly as they aired on Fox Kids’ weekday afternoon programming block in the 1990s.  This includes the short “squeezeback” segments (say that three times fast) that accompanied each episode’s credits.  This season is the peak for the original Power Rangers series as it presents the season in its entirety instead of being cut up into half seasons as was done with the show’s first two seasons.  These three aspects together make Season Three of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers one that any original fan of this show a must have.

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers Season Three presents the Power Rangers franchise at the top of its game first and foremost because of the show’s writing.  Whereas the show’s first two seasons only saw a small handful of extended story arcs, this season was made up almost entirely of broad multi-part story arcs, beginning with a voyage to the planet Edenoi in the three-part episode, “A Friend in Need.”  This was an important way to open Season Three as it served as a solid filler that helped keep the franchise “fresh” and thus keep viewers.  Viewers had become rather familiar with Rita and Lord Zedd over the course of the show’s first two seasons.  The show’s writers obviously knew that the pair couldn’t do but so much against the Rangers by themselves before audiences got tired of them.  So, what better way to keep the franchise alive than trying out a new villain?  The new villain—Count Dregon—only lasted a short time before the show’s writers transitioned in the appearance of more new foes for the Rangers.  Those foes were Rita Repulsa’s brother and father, Rito and Master Vile.

On a side note, many fans of the Power Rangers franchise might recognize the name of the Masked Rider within this season’s opening story arc.  That’s because this story arc would eventually lead to a short-lived spinoff that lasted less than a year from September 1995 to August 1996.  In later years, the show on which this was based, Kamen Rider Black RX would be introduced to American audiences.  Though it too, would only last a short time.

The new villains introduced into the show’s canon in Season Three were just part of what helped keep the show fresh.  Three of the original Rangers left the show in its second season.  This season, another Ranger passes on her powers.  This transfer makes up its own story arc.  The story arc in question was the three-part episode, “A Different Shade of Pink.”  The episode’s story happens in a fashion that harkens back to the Green Ranger sage from the show’s first season.  It crosses that with the simple passing of the torch, and once more helps to move the show forward and keep it fresh for yet another season.  Along with a new member of the team, there is even a new set of Zords for the Rangers in their fight against Rita and company.  It all leads up to the season finale, “Rangers in Reverse.”  “Rangers in Reverse” leads into its own extended story arc that would become a mini-season of its own in Mighty Morphin’ Alien Rangers.

The extended story arcs that largely made up Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers Season Three did a lot to help keep the Power Rangers franchise fresh for its audiences.  From another change in the team’s lineup to new foes, powers, Zords, and even armor, a lot changed this season.  And the show’s writers did a commendable job of keeping it all straight and believable.  Looking at this season from a wider vantage point, Shout! Factory is to be commended for presenting Season Three exactly as it was originally aired.  That includes the squeezeback segments included with the show’s end credits.  These segments feature loads of bloopers from each episode’s gag reel.  It’s a minor piece of the puzzle.  But it adds its own element of enjoyment to the overall presentation of the show.  And any purist Power Ranger fan will appreciate the Shout! Factory made certain that this was included for fans.

The writing of the episodes in Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers Season Three made this season the best yet for the franchise.  That Shout! Factory would make sure that each episode was presented exactly as it was in its original broadcast makes this new set all the more enjoyable for the show’s original fans.  There is still one more factor to which audiences can credit this latest set’s success.  That factor is the set’s packaging.  The first two seasons of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers were split up into two halves each.  This time out, Shout! Factory opted to reward loyal Power Rangers fans with a complete season in one box.  And as become the standard from Shout! Factory, the packaging is praise worthy.  All three discs are placed in their own spot inside the slim case.  Shout! Factory has highly impressed again here as this standard is safe for the discs, and ergonomic.  This is the final touch on what is already another impressive release that will take the show’s original fans back on a great trip down memory lane.  And for the children of the show’s original fan, it will serve as one more lesson in what once made children’s commercial programming so great. 

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers Season Three is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct from the Shout! Factory store at http://www.shoutfactory.com/?q=node/217378.  After ordering Season Three, audiences can also go to the official Shout! Factory website and Facebook page at http://www.shoutfactory.com and http://www.facebook.com/shoutfactoryofficial to stay up with the latest releases from Shout! Factory. 

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Pacific Rim Is Fun But Forgettable

Pacific-Rim-poster-BIG

Courtesy: Warner Brothers Studios/Legendary Pictures

Thirty-seven.  According to most news agencies, that is how many sequels will have been churned out in theaters by the time 2013 has winded down.  Those reports go on to say that this is a new record for movie studios.  Those same movie studios have most recently been lambasted by the likes of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas for that glut of franchise flicks.  The pair most recently stated that if Hollywood’s major studios continue on their current track, the movie industry’s implosion won’t be far behind.  Keeping this in mind, what is a movie-goer to do in looking for something that is not a sequel or even prequel in 2013?  The answer would seem simple.  Although in reality it isn’t.  Case in point, the mega-blockbuster, Pacific Rim.

While it isn’t a sequel, or even a prequel or reboot, the latest blockbuster from Warner Brothers Studios and Legendary Pictures is still anything but original.  The Japanese influenced action flick is formulaic and trite.  The whole robots versus giant monsters bit has been done to death.  If one were to take Power Rangers, Godzilla, Independence Day, Top Gun, (Yes there’s even a hint of Top Gun in here believe it or not) and the equally terrible 1989 movie, Robot Jox, and toss them into a pot, they would get this fast paced and underperforming movie that’s more fit for a person with ADD than a more discerning viewer.   Making things worse, writer Travis Beacham has taken elements of each of the aforementioned movies and TV shows, and tossed them in all over the place for a movie that ultimately adds up to nothing.  From its standard stereotypical character types to its equally seemingly ADD influenced writing to the attempts to cover all of this with special effects in hopes of making it look like something substantial, it all adds up to a movie that is more forgettable than fun.

Pacific Rim is a fun movie.  But it is also largely forgettable.  The most blatant of reasons for this is its very concept.  The concept behind this movie is anything but original as already noted.  Robots fighting monsters has been done for roughly two decades or more with the various Japanese shows and movies that influenced America’s hit pop culture phenomenon that is the Power Rangers franchise.  And that franchise itself caused any number of imitators such as the Superhuman Samurai Syber Squad and VR Troopers just to name a couple of so many that have been churned out here stateside since the early 1990s.  This is just the tip of the iceberg in where this movie goes wrong.  Along with those Japanese TV shows and movies from which this movie blatantly lifts, viewers will also see just as much pulled from the likes of Top Gun and Independence Day.  One scene in particular halfway through the movie’s roughly two hour run time sees Raleigh and his co-pilot Mako (Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi respectively) come back victorious from having taken down a pair of kaiju by themselves.  It looks just like a certain scene from Top Gun (and so many other action movies and TV shows).  Heck, for that matter, one could even argue that this harkens all the way back to a scene from the original Star Wars franchise that occurred after the Death Star was destroyed.  It was a near mirror image.  Again, here we have prime examples of just how unoriginal this movie is.  Instead of trying to do anything original, it just pulls scenes from other movies for this story.  It’s not the end of the movie’s faults, either.

Audiences that are familiar with their sci-fi history will take notice of the scenes throughout this movie lifted from so many other movies and TV shows.  The script’s writing hurts the viewing experience just as much as the lifted scenes, if not more so.  We’ll start with the example of Stacker Pentecost’s over-the-top motivational speech to his forces as he triumphantly joins the fight once more having been sidelined for years from fighting the war against the Kaiju, too.  This exact same over-the-top motivational speech style was used in Independence Day and so many other action movies both before and after it.  It makes the whole work come across as that much lazier and anything but serious.  Rather it makes the movie come across as cheesy.  This kind of interpretation by audiences can greatly hurt the movie in the long run. It’s just one of so many other moments much like it.  These moments coarse through the movie right to its final mega-battle scene, taking even more away from its ability to be taken seriously.  Of course, this isn’t the bottom of the barrel.  Things get worse for Pacific Rim in considering the story’s character styles.

In the case of Pacific Rim, audiences are presented with even more standard action movie fare with the characters of Pentecost and Raleigh.  Raleigh is the standard heroic leader character with a mysterious past about which he won’t talk. It makes him even more mysterious to those around him.  But it hardly creates an appeal among audiences for him as he’s hardly the first character of his sort to grace the big screen.  Having covered one of the movie’s main characters, let’s examine another main character in Raleigh.  Raleigh is the standard plays-by-his-own-rules character style seen in all the way back to Han Solo, Wolverine, Maverick, and so many other anti-hero and semi-anti-hero types.  Just as with so much else in this movie, it’s one more factor that has been done to death.  And because of this, the picture becomes even clearer as to why Pacific Rim will ultimately be one more forgotten action movie that will end up in the five-dollar bin at Wal-Mart not long after it debuts on DVD and Blu-ray.

Pacific Rim suffers from so many negatives.  It’s no wonder why it has fallen so short in terms of ticket sales versus its production costs.  However, for all of its negatives, there is at least one positive to Pacific Rim.  That positive is the movie’s special effects.  The special effects in this movie are above par for Summer blockbusters.  Watching the Jaeger (pronounced yager) pilots working together to bring their robots to life to battle the Kaiju (pronounced KI-joo) is something to behold.  The combination of live action and CG effects sets the bar extremely high for other special effects laden movies to come.  So to that extent, those behind the cameras and computer screens deserve their due credit for this.

At the same time that the movie’s special effects are a good thing, they are also a bad thing.  The reason for this is that it is honestly the only positive to the movie.  Had this movie had more laurels on which it could rest, the special effects would not have been a burden.  But sadly, it doesn’t have those other laurels.  And because of this, it will lead many viewers to feel that director Guillermo del Toro is just trying to fool audiences and make them think this is something with substance.  In reality, it has none.  Sure, the graphics and special effects are great.  But audiences should not let this become a smokescreen.  They need to see that being that this is all it has going for it, Pacific Rim is sadly anything but one of the best new theatrical releases of 2013.  It isn’t the year’s worst.  But it is hardly the year’s best, either.  In the long run, it will prove to be little more than a vague memory in the vast expanse that is the world of the action movie.

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Taz-Mania Season One Volume One Another Welcome Unearthing From Warner Home Video

Courtesy:  Warner Home Video

Courtesy: Warner Home Video

Warner Brothers has largely started off 2013 in successful fashion.  Its only major missteps so far this year have been its DVD and Blu-ray release of Hats Off to Dr. Seuss and Tiny Toon Adventures Volume 4.  Save for those two problematic releases, Warner Home Video has largely seen more success through the first two quarters of the year.  Now Warner Home Video has started off its new quarter by catching its footing in the first half of Taz-Mania Season One. Taz-Mania Season One Volume One is one of many candidates for the best children’s DVDs and Blu-rays of 2013.  That’s because unlike the company’s previous missteps, this release gets almost everything right.  The only downside to this set is something that has plagued many of its releases so far this year.  And that will be discussed later.

Taz-Mania Season One Volume One is a welcome release from Warner Home Video.  This relic of a bygone era is one more example of everything that made not only children’s programming great, but also television in general.  As audiences will see in Season 1.0, Taz-Mania made both children’s programming and television in general so great because unlike the cartoons that pollute television’s channel lineups today, it’s a cartoon that even today families can watch together.  That’s thanks first and foremost to the show’s writing.  The show’s writing is witty and clever.  It’s taut enough that adults won’t feel like they’re being dumbed down.  At the same time, it offers just enough comedy for even today’s younger viewers to find themselves laughing.  The constant fights between Taz and Molly are something to which both adults and kids alike can relate, and thus at which adults and kids alike can laugh.  And Taz’s constant adventures with his fellow characters are just as enjoyable.  Viewers of every age will love watching Taz go diving for undersea treasure with Digeri Dingo, facing off against Francis X. Bushlad, and even taking on a part-time job in hopes of getting his own motorcycle.  There’s even a heartfelt story telling how Taz first got his pet, Dog the turtle.  If it doesn’t pull at a viewer’s heartstrings, nothing will.  There is so much more that audiences will enjoy from this first half of Season One.  This is just a taste of what kids and kids at heart can expect from this set.

The witty, clever writing of Taz-Mania makes it a great addition to any Looney Tunes fan’s library regardless of whether one is seeing it for the first time or for the first time again.  It’s just one part of the show’s success.  The animation style is another plus to this modern classic cartoon.  So many of today’s “cartoons” are cartoons in the loosest sense possible; those that are at all.  For the most part, most of today’s kids programming is dominated by CGI created shows and live action fodder for tweens and teens.  Those rare hand-drawn cartoons that are left have been spit-shined.  Taz-Mania is the exact opposite.  Its more “rough” animation style is a throwback to the classic days of animation.  It doesn’t have the finely defined borders and background designs of so many of today’s cartoons.  It really serves to help Taz-Mania develop its own identity, even among other cartoons from its era.  In its own right, one could even argue that Taz-Mania’s animation style is a direct throwback to the golden era of Looney Tunes.  That makes this double-disc set even more worth watching regardless of one’s age.

The writing and animation in the first half of Taz-Mania’s debut season are both big factors in the show’s success.  There is at least one more factor to consider in determining whether Warner Home Video’s people have succeeded with this latest release.  That factor is the double-disc set’s packaging.  The packaging is by and large, a success.  It follows the same formula that has become the norm for multi-disc box sets.  Both of the set’s discs are placed on their own spot inside the standard size DVD case.  As with any other set packaged in this fashion, it protects the discs from scratching and in turn, increases their longevity.  The discs themselves are the only real downside to the entire set.  Anyone that has picked up any previously released sets from WHV this year will notice that the people at WHV have not put a whole lot of thought into appeal on the discs.  Sure, there are designs on both discs.  But both discs are splashed in a single, flat tone.  It would have been nice to see a full color design rather than something that looks like someone took a paint brush and ran it right over a bunch of clear designs.  This is a minor issue.  But it still plays a part in the overall picture.  This might be as simple as a cost-cutting measure.  If so, it’s understandable.  Otherwise, this is something that the people at WHV will hopefully fix with any of its upcoming release. The double-disc set is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct online from the WB shop at http://www.wbshop.com/product/tazmania+taz+on+the+loose+season+1+part+1+1000303587.do?sortby=bestSellers&from=Search.

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Classic Fox Kids Series Still As Enjoyable As Ever In Season Two Volume Two

Courtesy:  Shout! Factory/Saban Brands

Courtesy: Shout! Factory/Saban Brands

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers Season 2 Volume 2 is another fun jaunt down memory lane for fans of the series that started the whole Power Rangers phenomenon in the United States.  This second half of the original series’ second season sees another pivotal point in the evolution of the Power Rangers as three of the original cast members are replaced with a new trio of Power Rangers who would themselves later be replaced, too.  Also, audiences see the first major change in the Rangers’ zords.  As the fight against Lord Zedd continued, the Rangers’ original Dinozords were replaced by the new Thunderzords.  Through all the changes, the series still retained the campy yet fun qualities that made it so enjoyable up to this point.  This includes some worthwhile episodes, too that contain more important life lessons.  It all comes together to make this latest release another set of adventures that will make any older MMPR fan nostalgic for a better time, and will enjoy for the first time again with their own child(ren).

One of the first things that fans of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers will appreciate in the second half of the series’ second season is the changes that ensue this time.  Rita Repulsa (played by Machicko Soga) is long gone after having been banished by Lord Zedd.  Another change that viewers see in this half of Season Two is the replacement of three of the original Rangers.  Zack (Walter Emanuel Jones), Trini (Thuy Trang), and Jason (Austin St. John) would be replaced in the two-part episode, “The Power Transfer.”  The trio would be replaced by Adam (Johnny Yong Bosch), Aisha (Karan Ashley) and Rocky (Steve Cardenas) respectively.  The changeup in the team’s lineup was (in the story) the result of Zach, Jason, and Trini being chosen to a teen activist group in Switzerland.  Though more than likely in reality it was likely the result of failed contract negotiations.  In the grand scheme of the show though, the replacement of the original team embers with fresh young talent was handled very well by the show’s writers.  On a side note, sadly, Thuy Trang would later die in a car crash in 2001.  So it would be the last time that audiences would see her as a Power Ranger.

The team lineup change was just one of the changes that the show would see in the second half of Season Two.  Also updated for this final set of episodes from Season Two were the team’s vehicles, its Zords.  Knowing the team would need stronger weapons against Lord Zedd, Zordon gave the updated team of Rangers the mystical Thunderzords” which would of course later be replaced by the Ninjazords. This update to the show and the new team members both helped to keep the show fresh and interesting then and even now for those seeing the show again for the first time.  They were only part of what continued to make the show enjoyable for viewers.  There were some changes to the show, as has been noted.  For all of the changes, one thing stayed the same.  The one thing was the show’s writing.

Because the show’s writing stayed largely the same as it had been from the show’s inception, it maintained the same level of action that had been established throughout the show’s first season and the first half of its second season, too.  There were also the same life lessons thrown in that thankfully continued to refrain from being too preachy and taking over.  Rather, they were tied into each episode’s storyline.  For instance, in the episode, “Rocky Just Wants to Have Fun”, viewers learn the importance of balancing work and play when Rocky is put under a spell by Lord Zedd that makes him just want to have fun.  The end result is a valuable lesson about that balance and maintaining it.  “Mirror of Regret” is something of a semi-bullying story.  IN this story, Adam has to overcome his own insecurities brought on by Zedd’s mirror in question.  All the while, he has to fight the taunts of Goldar in order to overcome his past.  So in its own way, the show even promoted understanding and acceptance even that early on.  For that reason, it is most definitely to be commended.  There is even an episode that promotes the importance of education when the Rangers appear on a local talk show in their home town of Angel Grove.  Again it’s that mix of action and life lessons so expertly balanced yet again in this half of Season Two that continued to make the show enjoyable then and even now years later.

The writing behind MMPR in the second half of Season Two went a long way toward making these episodes as enjoyable as they were.  There is one last factor that makes this half of Season Two enjoyable.  That final factor is the show’s production values.  Unlike so many of the Power Rangers incarnations that would follow this one, its production values and special effects were more…raw for lack of better wording.  By comparison, so much of what has been crafted since the days of the original MMPR is spit shined.  And the physical comedy on the part of Bulk and Skull (Paul Schrier and Jason Narvy) only added to the whole package.  Even years later, one can’t help but laugh, watching this dopey duo taking pratfalls and pies left and right.  Together with everything else that went into this half of the show’s second season, it makes Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers Season 2 Volume 2 another enjoyable addition to any fan of the team that started it all, the Mighty Morphin’ Power RangersMighty Morphin Power Rangers Season 2 Volume 2 is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct from the Shout! Factory online store at http://www.shoutfactory.com/?q=node/216962.

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