Warner Brothers’ Superman Reboot Anything But Invincible

Courtesy:  Warner Brothers Home Video

Courtesy: Warner Brothers Home Video

Man of Steel was one of the most highly anticipated movies of 2013.  However, in the days following its premiere, neither the critics nor the fan boys and girls were overly kind to the movie.  Each had their own reason for disliking the movie.  Superman is without a doubt the single most iconic name in both the world of comic books and of movies based on comics.  The major problem with this new take on Superman’s origin story is its writing.  There is much to be said there.  Just as problematic with this movie is its new home release.  A simple change could have been made with the packaging to make it better.  But Warner Home Video didn’t even take that simple step, serving only to shoot itself in the foot so to speak.  Man of Steel had its share of problems, obviously.  In its defense, it did have at least some positives. One of those positives was the acting on the part of Henry Cavill and Michael Shannon.  Also to the movie’s benefit is the collective bonus features included in its home release.  The bonus features included in the movie’s home release are extensive to say the least.  But there are two that stand out among the others. They will be noted at a later time.  That bonus material along with the acting of Cavill and Shannon are the movie’s saving graces.  They balance out the whole presentation and make it worth at least one watch by any fan boy or girl of the original boy in blue.

Man of Steel wasn’t a terribly awful movie.  It isn’t even one of the worst of the year.  But thanks to its writing, it is also not one of the year’s best, either.  The writing behind Man of Steel is plagued with problems.  The most obvious of those problems lies the unbalanced character development and action elements.  Goyer and Snyder spend too much time both developing the movie’s backstory and on the conflict between Superman and General Zod.  Viewers didn’t really need as much of an in-depth look at Krypton as they got.  Given, it was good ot have a story of how Krypton met is untimely end.  But the constant transitions between Clark’s boyhood and his adult life were messy and unnecessary.   Rather than setting specific transition points, the story—written by David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Blade Trilogy, DaVinci’s Demons) and Zach Snyder (300), jumps back and forth between the present and Clark’s past at will.  The obvious attempt here was to fill in the gaps of Clark’s childhood without bogging down the overall story.  Goyer and Snyder are to be commended for making the effort.  But the end result was in fact that it caused the story to do just what they were attempting to avoid.  It’s just one part of what makes the movie’s writing problematic.  The movie’s dialogue is another problem with the writing.  It gets pretty campy at some points.  One of the worst of those moments comes when General Swanwick (Harry Lennix—Ray, The Matrix Revolutions, State of Play) states of Zod and his ship in its first sighting, “Whoever is piloting that ship plans on making a dramatic entrance.”  If ever there was a cheesy line, that line is it.  It’s a—pardon the term here—John Madden “no duh” type of statement.  And it’s just one of many really cheesy lines thrown in throughout a movie that otherwise tries pretty hard to be taken seriously.

The end result of Goyer and Snyder’s writing definitely caused its own share of problems for Man of Steel.  Now that the movie has been released to DVD, Blu-ray, and combo packs, it suffers from one more problem.  That problem is the movie’s packaging.  The discs included in the Blu-ray/DVD/VUDU combo pack were stacked on two spindles.  The primary disc containing the movie and primary bonus features was stacked on top of the set’s second disc containing the remaining bonus material.  There is nothing between the discs to protect them from one another.  The set’s third disc however, is set on its own spindle on the right inside side of the set’s case.  Why the people at Warner Home Video did not just include an extra plastic insert on which it could have placed either of the first two discs is questionable to say the least.  But it definitely takes away even more from the movie’s overall presentation and hurts the overall product in the long run.

Man of Steel had its share of problems, as one should be able to tell by now.  But it wasn’t without its positives, either.  The acting on the part of Henry Cavill and Michael Shannon was the most praiseworthy of the movie’s positives.  Shannon might not have exactly had the look of Terence Stamp’s Zod.  But he more than made up for that with his acting.  He is brutal, cold, and calculating.  Yet in his own eyes, he doesn’t see himself as a villain.  And Shannon (Take Shelter) expertly translated that personality style, too.  He made Zod’s character fully believable with his portrayal.  In the same vein, Cavill’s brooding nature as he attempts to come to terms with his powers and how he fits in with his world is just as believable.  He presents Kal-El as not so much the “god” type of figure but as being just as flawed as a human.  Much has been said of how he handles Zod at the end of their final battle.  What many people don’t seem to remember is that he shows real emotion at what unfolds.  It’s another example of what makes this Superman just as much a sympathetic character as any others previously portrayed on the big screen.

The acting on the part of Cavill and Shannon are collectively Man of Steel’s saving grace.  Both men are entirely believable in their roles.  Their acting is just one of so many aspects of the movie discussed in depth in the bonus features included in its home release.  Just as interesting to note in the bonus features is the fact that the crew went to every measure to make sure the cast was able to do its own stunts.  Audiences will see the rigorous workout regimen through which the primary cast members were put in order to be fit enough for that task.  To see actors and actresses doing their own stunts in the place of stunt doubles is something very rare in today’s movie industry.  For that reason alone, the movie gained a new respect at least by this critic.  Of course, it is only one of the extras that makes the movie even more worthy of a watch now that it has been released to DVD and combo pack.  The bonus “commentary” included in the second set of special features is the highlight of the movie’s bonus features.  It too is something that especially today, viewers don’t see much of, if at all.

The second disc included in the Man of Steel Blu-ray/DVD/VUDU combo pack includes a special second screen commentary that is a bonus feature in every sense of the term.  This second screen feature is something that today is typically reserved only for those with tablets, iPhones, etc.  Yet here, anyone with a Blu-ray player can watch this bonus hybrid commentary. It includes not just audio commentary, but visual, too.  Audiences get to hear and see from the cast and crew while watching the movie.  They can even watch the making of the movie all at the same time.  It brings everything full circle for viewers whether viewers are seeing the movie for the first time, the fifth or more.  It still doesn’t make Man of Steel one of the best movies of the year.  But with the movie’s other positives, it makes the movie one of the best home video releases of the year.  It is available now in stores and online at http://www.wbshop.com/search.do?query=Man+of+Steel.  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.

Thor 2 Is Fun, But Falls Short

Courtesy:  Marvel Studios

Courtesy: Marvel Studios

Sequels are very rarely as good as the movies that they follow.  This has been proven so many times in recent years by so many studios.  DC and Marvel have both proven this time and again with their big name franchises.  DC and Legendary proved that with its recent Batman franchise.  Marvel Studios’ first Spiderman trilogy was just one victim of that curse.  Now Marvel Studios has once again fallen victim to the “curse of the sequel” with its latest big screen offering, Thor: The Dark World.  This action packed late year blockbuster has plenty going for it.  Its special effects and its ability to balance its science fiction and fantasy elements are both positives.  The acting on the part of both Chris Hemsworth and Tim Hiddleston makes the movie even more fun.  However, it is hardly perfect.  It has one major issue that will be its downfall in the long run.  That one glaring negative is the story’s overall writing.  The movie itself clocks in at just under two hours.  However, because of the writing, it feels quite a bit longer.  As much positive as this movie has going for it, this one issue alone is going to ultimately be what keeps this movie from being one of Marvel’s most memorable offerings.

Thor: The Dark World is hardly the year’s best movie or even one of the year’s best.  To its defense, it isn’t the year’s worst movie, either.  One can openly admit about this sequel to Marvel Studios’ 2011 hit Thor, that it has some extremely impressive special effects.  From the backdrops to the fight scenes and one chase scene in particular, those charged with making the movie’s special effects work are deserving of applause.  It goes without saying that much of the movie was crafted using green screen effects.  That aside, those backdrops that were crafted by computer look just as impressive as those that were actually shot live.  Adding to that was the ability of those behind the cameras to blend the CG backgrounds with actual sets and shooting locales.  The computer generated effects in both cases never once felt overblown.  The same can be said of the effects used in the movie’s many fight scenes and the chase scene that follows Jane’s breakout from the palace early in the story.  Even the finest of details were tuned to make the special effects in each case collectively an effective part of the overall presentation.

The work done by those behind the cameras to keep Thor: The Dark World from being little more than another special effects extravaganza is very much an applause worthy aspect of this movie.  Their ability to balance its live action and CG elements is one of the most important aspects of the movie’s success, limited as that success proves to be in the grand scheme of things.  The ability of all involved to balance the movie’s fantasy and science fiction elements is just as important to the overall product.  Those that are less familiar with Marvel’s take on the God of Thunder and the first movie in his franchise might go into the movie thinking it will be just another fantasy epic a la The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings.  Those same individuals are sure to be pleasantly surprised to see both elements smoothly combined.  On a bigger level, it shows once again how easy it is to blur genre lines on both the big screen and small screen, and how to do it right for that matter.

The balance of live action and CG elements and that of sci-fi and fantasy elements make Thor: The Dark World one more release that comic book fans of any age should see at least once.  They aren’t all that make the movie worth at least a single watch.  The acting on the part of lead stars Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston also plays into the movie’s overall success, as limited as that success proves to be.  The duo’s chemistry has visibly grown over the course of the two movies in which it has already starred—Thor and The Avengers.  Their chemistry has developed so much and so well that it makes suspension of disbelief that much easier in watching the pair interact.  Whether on the verge of taking one another down, Thor having to endure Loki’s wisecracking, or other situations, Hiddleston and Hemsworth make for one of the movie industry’s better modern day odd couples for lack of better wording.  There has been much talk as to whether or not Loki will be back in the already anticipated third movie in the Thor franchise.  If he should be back once more, it goes without saying that his pairing with Hemsworth will be one more welcome addition to the movie’s cast.

As one can tell by now, there is plenty to applaud in Marvel Studios’ Thor: The Dark World.  For all of its positives, this movie is anything but perfect.  The one area in which this movie fails is also its most important.  That area is the story’s script/writing.  The movie’s script is one more prime example of what happens when there are too many hands in the proverbial pot.  No fewer than four individuals worked together to develop the script for this work.  The end result is a near two hour movie that feels a lot longer and schmaltzier than it should have been.  The script’s first problem is the tired and overly used issue of a character trying to find his place in his world and in the universe.  The character in question is Thor.  Audiences see him emotionally struggling to figure out where he belongs in Asgard and trying to balance that with his feelings for his love interest, Jane, who is once again played by Natalie Portman.  This is hardly the first time that audiences have ever seen this used.  The whole brooding character bit has already been done just this year alone in Man of Steel.  The end result of that was a movie that was met with mixed results.  Audiences will be just as mixed with this movie as a result of having Thor brooding in much the same style.

Thor’s brooding nature this time out is just one of the problems with Thor 2’s script.  Just as much a problem with this script is the fact that it feels more like one extended fight sequence than an actual movie with a story.  There are some story elements tossed in for good measure.  But it seems like action sequences dominate the script.  This is evident right from the moment that Jane is “saved” from her room at the palace.  From that moment on, the movie’s pace goes near full speed.  There are few breaks in that action, too.  The problem with this is that it forces audiences to struggle to even hope to keep up with what’s going on.  The story’s pace is that rapid fire.  The even bigger problem is that it goes on at that pace straight through to the final moments of the movie’s epic final battle between Thor and Malekith.  That final battle is the final nail in the coffin for the movie.  It simply runs too long.  It is the final nail in the movie’s coffin.  This and Thor’s brooding sub-story take away enough from all of the movie’s positives to ultimately make it one more of Marvel Studios’ largely forgettable films.  One can only hope that when it finally hits theaters, the franchise’s third film will make up for this movie and its predecessor.  Simply put, this movie is worth at least one watch.  But it’s more worth one watch on Netflix or Redbox than in theaters.

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Iron Man 3 Fun, Even With Some Kinks In The Armor

Courtesy:  Paramount/Marvel

Courtesy: Paramount/Marvel

When is a man not a man?  A man is not a man only when he gives up.  That is what those who have not yet seen Marvel’s new blockbuster Iron Man 3 need to remember when going into this movie.  Many of those who have seen this movie have complained that the movie didn’t feature enough of Tony in his suit; that it was essentially more melodrama than movie.  Here’s the thing.  Just as start Robert Downey Junior noted in recent reviews, he can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again.  He meant that in terms of playing Iron Man/Tony Stark again in a potential Iron Man 4 and/or Avengers 2.  But the reality is that those comments apply within the context of Iron Man 3 itself, too.  Fans have seen Tony Stark don his armor time and again in the first two movies in this franchise.  And for the most part, his armor has done the same sort of feats.  So seeing Tony lose everything, including his suits (albeit temporarily) and forced to rely on just his wits was actually a nice change of pace.  It showed that while he may not have been a superhero for much of the movie, he was still a hero and no less a man.   That’s because he didn’t give up.  He didn’t even let anxiety attacks hold him down.  These are messages that any viewer, comic book fan or not, should take away from this movie.

The messages contained within Iron Man 3 are just one positive aspect to this movie.  While it’s hardly perfect, the fan boys and fan girls that have lambasted it for its surprise regarding The Mandarin and the Extremis story arc have gone into the movie with too much of a closed mind.  They perhaps didn’t catch that Writer/Director Shane Black and his Co-Writer Drew Pearce did in fact poke fun at themselves indirectly concerning this matter.  When the truth is revealed about The Mandarin, Rhodey asks Tony, “This is The Mandarin?!”  Tony retorts with one of so many wisecracks that audiences have come to love from him.  Those that are open minded enough will appreciate that this short moment is actually Pearce and Black’s way of beating the fan boys and fan girls to the punch in hopes that it will get them to laugh at the story changes with them.  Though, in defense of the fan boys and fan girls, it is a bit of a slap in their faces to turn The Mandarin into the minor figure that Black and Pearce did.  Maybe in any future installments, audiences will get The Mandarin that they deserve.

Any viewer that can accept the story changes to Iron Man 3 will appreciate the eventual reward in the movie’s final climactic battle scene between Tony, Rhodey, and Killian.  There are those that say this final showdown is the movie’s only real good part.  But as already noted there is much more to be taken away from the movie.  Seeing all the armor from Tony’s “Hall of Armor” lets audiences know that regardless of whether RDJ returns for Iron Man 4 or Avengers 2, odds are audiences will still see Iron Man return with much more armor and action in future installments.  After all, certain parties noted that the most recent take on The Incredible Hulk would be the last one for a while.  But obviously that’s now been proven false as the not so Jolly Green Giant is apparently back on the table again for Marvel’s next phase.  So even if RDJ is done (as he seemed to note even within the context of the movie), it would be no surprise if Shellhead returns with someone else donning the Iron Man suit….or suits?

As one can tell by now, there is plenty for which Iron Man 3 should be applauded.  For all of its positives, there are some negatives.  The first of those negatives is the movie’s pacing.  Its run time is roughly two hours and fifteen minutes.  But it feels like it is much longer.  Unlike its competitor, Star Trek Into Darkness, Iron Man 3 felt like (just as with DC’s The Dark Knight Rises), Black and Pearce were trying way too hard to cram everything they could into this one last installment so as to close the trilogy.  What’s more, incorporating multiple villains, as so many of the comic based movies have done in recent years, only added to the movie’s length.  It would have been much easier to simply stick with Killian as the main villain.  After all, audiences are hand delivered early on the fact that Killian would be the main villain.  The extra storyline may lead some viewers to find themselves checking their watches every now and then, wondering when the two hour plus movie will finally end.  And because of this, it will ultimately leave some viewers realizing that this key issue has and will forever keep Iron Man 3 from being the movie that it was hyped up to be.  Rather, it will keep Iron Man 3 little more than another transition point to Marvel’s next property, just like its comic books.

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3rd Rock Reclaims Its Spot In TV’s Upper Realms With Complete Set

Courtesy:  Mill Creek Entertainment/carsey werner Distribution

Courtesy: Mill Creek Entertainment/carsey werner Distribution

Mill Creek Entertainment will release tomorrow, the full collection of what is one of the greatest sitcoms of the 1990s.  That sitcom is the one and only 3rd Rock From The Sun.  The one of a kind show ran on NBC from January of 1996 to October of 2000.  Since the show’s original run, few shows—if any—have managed to live up to the level of 3rd Rock.  The show’s writers and the now all-star cast proved throughout its six-season run that comedy could (and can) be fun without being too blue.  Thanks to Mill Creek Entertainment, the show’s original fans and a whole new generation of audiences can see exactly that even over a decade after it ended its original run on NBC.

A big part of the success behind 3rd Rock From The Sun is the show’s writing.  In some bizarre way, the show’s writers were able to take what would have otherwise been mere observational humor and made it into a format that is as funny today as it was in its original run.  It would be safe to say that a big reason for the show’s writing being so timeless is its balance of being edgy, but not too edgy.  Simply put, there were comic elements that only older audiences would get, and then there were elements that some younger viewers would get.  The more adult comic elements weren’t so overt as to make parents want to usher their kids out of the room.  And the show’s tamer elements were still edgy enough to be proper for younger audiences, but still just as entertaining for the parents of said audiences.  Take a pick from any episode of this show’s six seasons on air.  Any of them exhibit that.  One good example of this comes from the show’s fifth season.  “Dial M For Dick” sees the Solomons going to a Murder Mystery playhouse, not knowing that everything that happens was an act.  Needless to say, plenty of laughs ensure, including plenty from the show’s final minutes.  Audiences will have to see for themselves what that means when they pick up this complete collection of the show’s six seasons.

The writing behind 3rd Rock From The Sun is a big part of the success behind the show’s continued success even more than ten years after it ended.  It wasn’t the only part of the show’s success, though.  The acting of the show’s cast also played a big part in its success.  There was an obvious chemistry between the cast—veteran John Lithgow, Kristen Johnston, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and French Stewart—throughout every episode.  The cast’s ability to interpret the comic elements of each script was expert.  And it makes for nonstop laughs from one episode to the next in every season.  If the chemistry between the cast isn’t enough for audiences, then the physical comedy from every member of the cast will push the show over the top.  This too is an element that today’s sitcoms have lost.  The physical comedy in this show harkened back to television’s golden age.  It just heightened each episode’s writing that much more, and made it that much more enjoyable for both adults and some younger viewers.

As one can already tell by this point, 3rd Rock From The Sun had so much to offer audiences.  It still offers every bit of that same comedy and heart to this day.  There is one more factor in this new complete set that audiences will appreciate.  That factor is the inclusion of the same bonus features from the original single season sets released over the past couple of years.  Now audiences who perhaps were unable to pick up previous seasons have the chance to have the complete series exactly as it appeared from Mill Creek’s previous releases.  Mill Creek Entertainment is to be applauded for this inclusion.  Considering everything that this show still offers today, one can only wonder if Mill Creek, or perhaps even another company, will one day give it the re-mastering it deserves and re-issue it to blu-ray.  Until then, audiences now have the entire series in one complete box set that they can enjoy over and over again.  It will be available in stores and online tomorrow, Tuesday, May 14th

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Lincoln A Solid Biopic From Start To Finish

Courtesy:  Dreamworks Studios/20th Century Fox

Courtesy: Dreamworks Studios/20th Century Fox

Much has been written of Abraham Lincoln.  Books upon books upon books have been published that center on the man and the myths surrounding his life.  Just as much has been crafted for televised documentaries.  And even more has been penned about the era in which our nation’s sixteenth President led his country.  Now courtesy of author Doris Kearns Goodwin, director Steven Spielberg and screen writer Tony Kushner, audiences have been presented with what is one of the most gripping portrayals of President Lincoln and his time in office in the simply titled, Lincoln.

Lincoln was largely met with applause from critics and audiences alike.  Though there were those that had their qualms with the near three hour long semi-biopic.  Many of the arguments against the story were centered on the fact that the movie in fact focuses on Lincoln and the battles in the halls of the nation’s government.  In the story’s defense, audiences should remind themselves that this movie is not about the war on the battlefield.  It is about the battles in Congress over the abolition of slavery and bringing a final end to the Civil War.  It is a beautifully shot and well acted story.  However, those who have mentioned its sometimes long winded nature can be agreed upon.  Sometimes, it does get rather wordy.  And the story’s slower pacing might turn off some viewers considering that the movie comes in at nearly three hours long.  But those that are true history buffs and/or civil war buffs will easily be able to overlook these issues and enjoy it for its positives, which outweigh the negatives.

For the negatives that weigh down Lincoln, its positives outweigh those negatives.  The first of the positives in Lincoln is that it doesn’t get lost in itself throughout the course of its run time.  The story is meant to focus on President Lincoln and what was the most pivotal moment in his time in office; his waning days in office before his assassination.  The new four-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack home release of the movie includes the bonus feature, “The Journey to Lincoln” on both formats.  This feature is a welcome addition as Spielberg, author Doris Kearns Goodwin—whose book was the inspiration behind this movie—and screen writer Tony Kushner all point out in this feature that the aim was meant to be on what went on in Congress during the final days of the Civil War, rather than on the frontlines.  Having this hammered home so gently by all three individuals makes the story more watchable in comparison to the likes of Public Enemies which was also based on a historical non-fiction.  That movie was a mere shadow of the far better book.  It really was a movie that never should have happened.   This movie at least attempts to stay closer to the book on which it is based.  It presents less the mythical Lincoln and more the actual man, and what he faced in what would be his final days in office.

The story and its primary associated bonus feature make up just one of the positives to the new home release of Lincoln.  The acting on the part of the star-studded cast is another positive to Lincoln.  Even though there are some portions of the movie that are more drawn out than they perhaps should have been, veterans Daniel Day Lewis (There Will Be Blood), Tommy Lee Jones (Men In Black 1-3), and Sally Field (Mrs. Doubtfire, Smoky and the Bandit), all contribute expertly, making their parts fully believable.  Making their performances even more believable are costumes that are spot on.  While the movie may not have taken the Oscar for this category, there is no denying how impressive the end result of that work was.  Speaking of which, audiences that pick up the new four-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack of Lincoln get another bonus in the addition of a feature titled, “Crafting The Past” in the set’s bonus Blu-ray disc.  This feature examines not just the costumes, but also the production work and other more fine details of the movie.

The costumes and production of Lincoln are just as important as any other part of the movie that makes it successful.  There is at least one more factor to the movie that makes this the impressive work that it is.  That factor is the movie’s cinematography.  The shooting style us especially powerful in the movie’s closing scenes as the President surveys the result of a battle.  And the movie’s final scene (which will not be revealed here for the sake of those who have yet to see the movie), is a prime example of expert cinematography.  The transition into that scene and the final pullout are such powerful statements in themselves, and will leave any true history and civil war buff feeling completely satisfied after having made it through the rest of the movie’s emotional journey.  After having made that journey and having viewed the extensive bonus features included in the new four-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, those same individuals will agree that Lincoln is in fact one of the best biopics crafted in recent history, albeit only a semi-biopic.  It is available now in stores and online.

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Les Miserables Not So Miserable In Its Home Release

Courtesy:  Universal Pictures

Courtesy: Universal Pictures

Adapting classical literature for the big screen is one of Hollywood’s most time honored traditions.  Countless books have been adapted for the silver screen since the industry’s Golden Era.  Just as common for movie studios to do is to adapt stage plays that have themselves been adapted from books.  So as common as this practice is even now in Hollywood’s modern era, it takes a lot to make a movie of this fashion stand out in today’s overly crowded movie market.  Enter the newest big screen adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic story, Les Miserables.

The latest adaptation of Victor Hugo’s timeless story of redemption is one of the best movies of 2012.  And now that it has been released to BD/DVD/Digital combo pack, it has proven to be one of this year’s best home releases.   It isn’t the year’s best.  But it does come close as it struggles with at least two glaring issues.  Those issues are the movie’s scene transitions and its general cinematography.  Much of the cinematography issue goes hand in hand with the problematic scene transitions.  Though there’s just as much problem with this movie’s shooting style not directly linked to the transitions in question.  Despite having issues with shooting and scene transitions, the movie’s positives far outweigh its negatives.  And those positives are many.

The primary positive to the home release of Les Miserables is its abundance of bonus features.  The bonus features included in the movie’s new home release offer lots of interesting tidbits that make the movie more worthy of respect.  For starters, viewers learn through the bonus features that star Hugh Jackman actually went through a rather rigorous diet and exercise regimen in order to obtain a specific look of a convict who has spent much of his life in prison.  It definitely worked as he looked every part the convincing character.  Just as interesting to learn in watching the bonus features is the vocal work that went into singing each scene.  Most audiences know by now that the entire movie was sung.  It shows how seriously those behind the movie took its creation.  The bonus features expand on the musical aspect of the movie.  Jackman and company explain the training that was undertaken and how the cast and crew balanced the noise of the cast and instruments with the cast singing.  Part of that balance came in the form of carpeting on the scenery floors to cancel out footsteps and keeping the pianist in a soundproof box, just to point out a little bit.  One could go on for quite some time discussing the role of the bonus features in the new home release of Les Miserables.  But viewers would be better left to check out the remaining bonus features for themselves.  That’s because there is so much more to cover in this new home release.

The bonus features included in the new home release of Les Miserables go a long way toward making the movie better at home than it was in theaters.  So what else could help elevate the movie?  How about the director’s commentary?  Director Tom Hooper discusses a variety of topics throughout the course of the movie.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect of his commentary is how he and writers Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil adapted not just the famed stage play but also the original literary work into one full big screen work.  Those who have read the novel likely recognize the combination.  But those who are more familiar with the stage presentation will appreciate this little nugget of information.  It explains away the order of events in the movie in comparison to the stage work.  This is just one more factor that makes Les Miserables better than it was originally given credit for in theaters.  And yet again, it’s more proof of the value of special features on a movie’s home release.

Speaking of the movie’s audio commentary, the commentary involuntarily points out one more positive to the movie.  That positive is the movie’s casting.  Experienced fans will recognize both Samantha Barks and Colm Wilkinson from the 25th anniversary performance of the musical from London’s O2 arena. Samantha Barks reprises her role here as Eponine.  Wilkinson on the other hand actually plays the bishop.  This role is just as important as that of Jean Valjean in that it is the bishop who first helps Valjean turn around his life.  He showed in his performance here that his vocal chops are just as sharp as ever.

Just as interesting as Wilkinson and Bark returning for this adaptation of Les Miserables is the mention by [Tom] Hooper that casting Eddie Redmayne was quite the choice considering so many of his fellow actors had also played the role of Marius.  One can only imagine how nerve wracking it had to have been for Redmayne to have been so new to the role and surrounded by those who were so experienced in his role.  He pulled off the role quite well though.  This little piece of information, along with everything else that Hooper discusses in the audio commentary makes the movie that much more enjoyable.  Though, it should be pointed out that while he does discuss the camera work, there is no apology for his shooting style.  It is that shooting style that is really the movie’s one major downfall.

The music, acting, and scenery make this latest adaptation of Les Miserables a huge hit, as do the bonus features and audio commentary.  For all of this movie’s shining positives, there is one glaring negative that none of the positives can erase.  That negative is the general cinematography.  It, along with some of the scene transitions, makes things a little bit difficult to handle; so difficult in fact that they could leave viewers feeling slightly dizzy and even confused.  The problem with the cinematography is that throughout the movie, Hooper tries too hard to catch the emotion of his cast.  The resultant effect is that it makes it seem as if the cast is over emoting, thus making the acting seem a little bit campy. On the other hand, the rough scene transitions do eventually make way for smoother transitions, thus making the movie that much more bearable and more worth the watch, whether one is an experienced fan of this classic musical or not.

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Anne Hathaway Talks Oscars In New Issue Of Us Weekly

Courtesy:  Us Weekly Magazine

Courtesy: Us Weekly Magazine

Anne Hathaway has been all over the news ever since Oscar night.  It’s largely been for her much talked about awards night attire.  But Us Weekly has a new feature focusing not only on her dress, but also on her acceptance speech.  In a brand new interview with Us Weekly, Hathaway showed a more vulnerable side, admitting that comments about her previous acceptance speeches had upset her.  “It does get to me,” the 30 year-old actress noted.  “But you have to remember in life that there’s a positive to every negative and a negative to every positive.”  A source close to Hathaway added in the article that “She was very aware that she had been the butt of everyone’s jokes.”  The result was that Hathaway practiced her Oscar speech very hard so she would be more likeable. 

In discussing the now infamous Oscar dress, the same source close to Hathaway noted that she actually had four dresses in the running, including one by Valentino, who had also designed the dress for her 2012 wedding to Adam Shulman.  The entire article is available online now at http://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-news/news/anne-hathaway-practiced-her-oscar-speech-a-lot-to-be-more-likable-2013262#ixzz2M18a9xrI.  To get even more celebrity news from Us Weekly, just go online to http://www.facebook.com/UsWeekly or http://www.UsMagazine.com

To get 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.

Top 10 Major Motion Pictures Of 2012

Top 10 Movies of 2012

 

Courtesy:  Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

1.  The Artist:  While it originally made its debut overseas in 2011, it wasn’t until January 20th of this year that The Artist actually made its nationwide debut in theaters across the U.S.  Before then, only the lucky few at the big festivals got to see it.  That being the case, it should be considered a 2012 release.  So what makes it 2012’s best?  So much could be said.  At a time when so much of what Hollywood churns out is prequels, sequels, and remakes, this story—distributed by Sony Pictures—went the total opposite.  How simple and ingenious is it to make a silent film in a movie of major flash-bang-boom films?  Because the movie’s only sound is its music, viewers are forced to watch.  And the cast was force to really put on its best possible performance, rather than rely on everything else that most movies use to distract audiences from poor performances.  The music is quite enjoyable, too.  And of course, the general cinematography is just as impressive.  It all combines to make for a movie that any movie lover should see at least once.

Mirror Mirror BD2.  Mirror, Mirror:  Some of you might shake your heads at this pick.  But the reality is that this is really a fun and family friendly movie.  Both boys and girls will enjoy it as will parents.  While young Lily Collins (the daughter of superstar Phil Collins) is billed as the lead star here, it’s the dwarves who are really the story’s stars.  Their antics make for more than their share of laughs.  Though watching Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer—The Lone Ranger) put under the evil queen’s puppy love spell is pretty funny, too.  It’s obvious that this spoof of the classic fairy tale was aimed both at boys and girls.  With its mix of wit and charm, it will always be one of the best takes on the old Snow White story.

Courtesy:  Disney Studios

Courtesy: Disney Studios

3.  The Odd Life of Timothy Green:  This is another truly enjoyable family movie.  The general story is one to which any parent can relate and will enjoy because of that.  Though the concept of what happens with Timothy might be a little bit tough to discuss with younger viewers.  The beautiful backdrop adds even more warmth to the story.  And the cast’s acting makes suspension of disbelief so easy.  Sure it’s sappy, emotional, and all that jazz.  But that can be forgiven as it’s such an original and heartwarming story.       

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox

4.  Skyfall:  This is where things begin to get a little bit touchy.  Skyfall is by far the best Bond flick to come along in a very long time.  That’s not to say that the previous two were bad.  But this one brought back memories of the old school James Bond that everybody knows.  It’s got the gadgets and the humor and none of the melodrama that weighed down the previous two Bond flicks.  The only downside to the movie is that it tends to drag in the final act.  Other than that, it is a nice return to form for the Bond franchise and gives hope for any future Bond films….that is at least if Christopher Nolan doesn’t get his hands on the franchise.

Courtesy:  Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Video

Courtesy: Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Video

5.  The Avengers:  The Avengers was a very nice way to cap off the build-up created by Marvel Studios with the recent bevy of comic book based movies.  It had great special effects.  Its story was simple and solid.  And the shooting was equally impressive.  Considering all the action going on, audiences weren’t left feeling dizzy to the point of wanting to walk out (or in the case of home release, just turn it off).  But like so many ensemble cast movies, it suffered from a common problem.  That problem was the movie’s run time.  Most of the characters in The Avengers had already been introduced through their own separate movies.  So there was no reason to re-introduce them all over again this time.  A lot of that extra time could have been spared.  Hopefully those involved have learned from that and will present viewers with a shorter movie in the second of the Avengers movies.

Courtesy:  Warner Brothers Home Video

Courtesy: Warner Brothers Home Video

6.  The Dark Knight Rises:  I am just as much a comic book fan as anyone else out there.  So it goes without saying that I was excited to see this movie.  It did a good job of wrapping up the trilogy.  The problem is that it did too much of a good job, as David Goyer and the Nolans tried too hard to cram everything into one movie.  Word is that this latest installment of the Batman franchise left many people checking their watches when it was in theaters.  It might have been better served to have been split up into at least one more movie because of everything added into the mix.  And having what seems to be a lack of commentary on the new home release, fans can only guess what the logic was in cramming so much into one story.  Much like The Avengers, the shooting and the special effects were great.  So it has that going for it.  But the writing was the story’s big problem.  Here’s to hoping that whoever takes over the Batman franchise next (whenever it’s re-launched) won’t make the same mistake as Christopher Nolan and company.

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox

7.  Prometheus:  This semi-prequel to Ridley Scott’s hit Alien franchise was met with mixed reviews.  There seemed to be no gray area here.  Audiences either loved it or hated it.  Truth be told, it worked quite well as both a prequel and as its very own stand-alone movie.  Sure the special effects are different from those used in the original movies.  But times are different.  So viewers should take that into account.  And the shooting was just as impressive.  While it may not be as memorable as Scott’s previous works, at least audiences can agree that it’s better than the movies in the AvP franchise.

Courtesy:  Universal Pictures

Courtesy: Universal Pictures

8.  Les Miserables:  This latest reboot of Victor Hugo’s classic story of love and redemption in one of history’s darkest eras is not bad.  But it’s not great, either.  Audiences who know the stage play will thrill at how director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) and his staff of writers paid tribute to the stage play both in its writing and its shooting.  At the same time, Hooper tried so hard to pay tribute with his shooting style and the transitions that the whole movie felt dizzying to say the least.  The shooting and transitions felt like nothing more than a bunch of cuts from one shot to the next.  There was never a total sense of fluidity anywhere in the story.  It was almost as if despite staying true to the stage play, the script for this latest big screen adaptation was written by someone with ADHD.  Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway did a superior job with their performances.  But despite that, odds are that the movie will sadly be remembered more for its flawed shooting and transitions than for its award-worthy performances.  Nonetheless, it’s still a good movie for any fan of Les Miserables or for fans of musicals in general to see at least once.

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

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

9.  Salmon Fishing in the YemenSalmon Fishing in the Yemen is without a doubt an original story.  It’s next to impossible to find anything like it out there or present.  But it suffers greatly from an identity crisis.  It doesn’t know whether it wants to be a drama, a romance, or a little bit of both.  It’s nice to see the simple message of something as simple as fishing being able to bring the world’s people together peacefully.  But it really seemed to let the romance factor get too much involved.  As a result, it got bogged down in itself.  Had it not had the romance subplot, it might have been better.

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

10. Arbitrage:  It was once noted that three factors more than any other are the causes of crime.  Those factors are:  money, power, and sex.  Arbitrage has all three of these.  It’s an interesting movie.  And it definitely wastes no time noting the latter of the trio of factors, as it lets audiences know that Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is having an affair with another woman.  And also, Miller’s boss has a very firm talk with him early on letting him know that he knows about the financial inaccuracies that he’s causing.  It doesn’t take long to know where this story goes.  It’s something of a tried and true story.  Add in this critic’s pet peeve of movies, the “whisper scenes” and it makes for a movie that as good as it is it could have been better.  For those wondering, the “whisper scene” is exactly as it sounds (bad pun there).  The “whisper scene” is one in which actors essentially whisper throughout the scene against overpowering music to make the scene more emotional and powerful.  But put against the sudden transition to normal volume scenes (and above normal volume scenes), it becomes rather annoying as one has to constantly change the volume on one’s TV as a result of that.  It’ll be interesting to see if it gets the Golden Globe for which it was nominated.

There you have it folks.  That is my personalist of the year’s ten best major motion pictures.  You are more than welcome to share whether you agree or disagree and what your top 10 list would look like.  2013′s already shaping up to be an interesting year.  As the movies start to come out, I’ll have reviews of them, too.  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.

Les Miserables Not 2012′s Best, But Close To It

Courtesy:  Universal Pictures

Courtesy: Universal Pictures

Adapting classical literature for the big screen is one of Hollywood’s most time honored traditions.  Countless books have been adapted for the silver screen since the industry’s Golden Era.  Just as common for movie studios to do is to adapt stage plays that have themselves been adapted from books.  So as common as this practice is even now in Hollywood’s modern era, it takes a lot to make a movie of this fashion stand out in today’s overly crowded movie market.  Enter the newest big screen adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic story, Les Miserables.

The latest adaptation of Victor Hugo’s timeless story of redemption is one of the best movies of 2012.   It isn’t the year’s best.  But it does come close as it struggles with at least two glaring issues.  Those issues are the movie’s scene transitions and its general cinematography.  Much of the cinematography issue goes hand in hand with the problematic scene transitions.  Though there’s just as much problem with this movie’s shooting style not directly linked to the transitions in question.  Despite having issues with shooting and scene transitions, the movie’s positives far outweigh its negatives.  And those positives are many.

The most obvious problem weighing down this latest adaptation of Les Miserables is its shooting style (I.E. its cinematography).  Director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) makes a valiant attempt to bring out as much of the emotion as possible from each scene with his shooting style.  The problem is that he tried too hard.  Throughout the story’s near three-hour run time, this shooting style is so consistent that it could potentially leave audiences feeling somewhat dizzy and even confused.  The cameras spin, cut, and make every other possible transition so much that it leaves audiences not knowing where they are going to go next.  It happens so much that it would be no surprise if it leaves some audiences so bothered by it that it makes audiences contemplate just walking out because they can’t take feeling the way which they feel.  The issue with the shooting style is just the tip of the iceberg for this movie’s problems.  To make matters worse, the shooting style is at times linked directly to its problematic scene transitions.

Anyone who has seen Les Miserable live on stage knows that while they take time, the scene transitions are smooth enough to keep track of exactly what’s going on in the story.  The case with the latest on-screen adaptation is the polar opposite of the stage play.  The scene transitions in this version happen so fast that viewers almost need a program to keep up with what’s happening.  This is one of the areas in which Hooper obviously struggled to do honor to the legacy established by this timeless classic.  Rather than making smooth transitions, it felt almost as if much of the movie was just a load of scenes tied together with jump cut edits.  Add in that problematic shooting style, and audiences get a work that felt anything but fluid.  Rather it felt like each scene was piecemealed together.  The two factors together made the movie noticeably less enjoyable than it could have been, despite the outstanding performance on the part of both Jackman and co-star Anne Hathaway.

While Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises, Get Smart, The Princess Diaries) isn’t technically a veteran in the acting business, she surprisingly proved herself in the role of Fantine.  Her chops as a singer were the most impressive part of her performance.  The emotion with which she sang made her portrayal fully believable.  There are those who have alleged that she was doing little more than simply hamming it up for the cameras.  But that obviously isn’t the case.  Considering her previous roles, this could finally be the one to catapult her to the upper echelons of the movie industry.  And while he is already in the businesses’ upper echelons, the choice of Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean was common sense considering his current track record both on stage and screen.  He carried the movie on his shoulders.  Watching his moment of redemption at the story’s end will leave any viewer with more than just a tear in his or her eye.  Perhaps the only poor choice in casting this movie was that of Russell Crowe.  Crowe’s portrayal of Inspector Javert worked on the superficial level.  He is old enough that he looked the part.  But his general performance simply was not believable.  Luckily that was about the only poor choice in casting this take on the time honored classic.  That being the case, it is no surprise that this take on Les Miserables has been nominated for a handful of Golden Globes.  And it would be no surprise if it makes the Oscar nod list more than once, too.

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.

Philip Sayblack can be contacted at psayblack@wnct.com

The Muppets Bring More Joy And Heart To The Holidays With New Re-Issue

Courtesy:  Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Jim Henson was without a doubt, one of the most creative minds in both television and movies during his life.  So it goes without saying that in his death, the world lost both a great person and a great mind.  Considering the success of movies such as Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal and The Muppet Show, following up the success of those features while paying tribute to the Henson’s memory at the same time would not be easy.  However, Disney and Henson’s son made a valiant effort to accomplish both tasks with the release of The Muppet Christmas Carol in 1992.  Now twenty years after the original release of that story Disney has re-issued it onto a new Blu-ray/DVD combo pack for a whole new generation of audiences to enjoy. 

The Muppet Christmas Carol is just one of any number of renditions of Charles Dickens’ classic literary tale.  There are so many different takes on the classic tale that it would seem that one needs a program to tell them all apart.  This modern take on the classic tale is enjoyable first and foremost for its general structure.  Rather than trying to be just another take on Dickens’ story, it comes across as a stage play on screen instead of a movie.  The sets and musical numbers alone give it that feel.  And the cast’s acting adds to that feel, too.  Veteran actor Michael Caine (Secondhand Lions, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises) does an expert job leading the cast as the infamous Ebenezer Scrooge.  While Caine does an extraordinary job as Scrooge, it’s The Great Gonzo and Rizzo who take the story’s other light.  Unlike other versions of A Christmas Carol in which the narrator is only heard and not seen, Gonzo takes on the mantle of Dickens, helping to guide viewers through the story on screen.  In its own manner, this is actually a visual aid of sorts for viewers.  It’s a very valuable aid, too.  The comic turns between Gonzo and Rizzo add for even more entertainment for viewers, as well.  Audiences will enjoy the pair’s physical comedy throughout the movie.  At one point, Rizzo falls down a chimney with rather warm results.  And the pair gets knocked off more than one window sill as it attempts to help viewers follow the story.  These are just a handful of examples of how the cast’s acting makes The Muppet Christmas Carol enjoyable for the family.  The acting aside, there is at least another aspect that makes this two decade old story enjoyable even today.  That aspect is the movie’s general presentation.  

The acting of both Caine and the puppeteers does a lot to make The Muppet Christmas Carol a believable and enjoyable story.  But it’s not all that contributes to the movie’s success.  The on-screen stage presentation is what really puts The Muppet Christmas Carol over the top.  As noted already, there are so many renditions of A Christmas Carol out there that it’s tough to keep them all straight.  Among that mass of different takes are movies that are obviously take offs of that story, just with different titles.  The Muppet Christmas Carol does the exact opposite of those adaptations.  Rather, it opted to pay homage to the original in its own way.  Instead of trying to be another movie adaptation of the original story, it takes the avenue of being a stage play complete with enjoyable musical numbers and sets that make audiences feel as if they’re watching a play on screen.  Combined with the acting, the musical numbers and sets will pull audiences in with ease and keep their attention throughout the near hour and a half story.  And for those audiences who perhaps might have to get up during the movie for any reason, they are treated to something very special courtesy of the bonus “Intermission” feature.  The “Intermission” feature allows audiences to pause the movie and enjoy extra musical numbers courtesy of other members of the Muppets cast.

Speaking of bonus features, the bonus features presented in the previous DVD presentation of The Muppet Christmas Carol are carried over to this new Blu-ray/DVD combo pack along with a pair of new additions.  The “Intermission” feature is one of that pair of new features.  The other new feature is an interview with Jim Henson’s son Brian Henson, who helmed this new take on the holiday standard.  The manner in which the interview was conducted is worth its own share of laughs.  That’s because Henson shares the moment with Gonzo and Rizzo.  The three discuss different aspects of the film and behind-the scenes stories that will keep the entire family especially entertained.  It’s just one more part of the whole that makes the new 20th Anniversary Edition of The Muppet Christmas Carol fun for the whole family this and every holiday season. 

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.