Skidoo’s Latest LP Is Even More Hip-Hop Fun For The Whole Family

Courtesy:  Underground Playground Records

Courtesy: Underground Playground Records

“Kid-Hop” rapper Secret Agent 23 Skidoo drops his latest album later this month.  The Perfect Quirk will be released in stores and online Tuesday, June 24th.  The album, his fourth full length studio effort, is one that audiences of all ages will appreciate.  That’s thanks to its mix of pop culture references, catchy beats, and songs that range lyrically from the positive to the playful.  Whether it be a song promoting self-confidence in ‘3 Pointed Back,’ an aptly quirky song about a child’s imaginary (or is he?) friend in ‘Imaginary Friend,’ or the summer anthem that is ‘Unwind,’ Secret Agent 23 Skidoo and his friends offer something fun for everyone on this record.  That includes the songs not noted here, too.

Secret Agent 23 Skidoo offers something for audiences of all ages on his latest release, The Perfect Quirk.  One prime example of this comes in the form of the full-on hip-hop piece that is ‘3 Pointed Back.’  The song’s musical side is well worth noting within itself.  That’s because it will have parents and kids alike nodding their heads.  Some older audiences might even catch something of a Jurassic 5 influence on the song’s musical side.  Even Skidoo himself sounds like one member of the famed hip-hop group, which is currently in the midst of a reunion tour.  Listeners familiar with Jurassic 5 will hear that as Skidoo raps on the track, “I’m a hip-hop lover/Rap like no other/They call me Secret Agent/But I’m never undercover/Rock loud to the crowd/Bounce like rubber/But I had to build my skills and discover/For a long time/I had all the wrong rhymes/But I kept trying/To make the song shine/Grab a notebook/Compose a tune to pen/Take a close look/Start over/Do it again/And as I was developin’/People who had never been/Inspired/Laughed like I was unintelligent/Like I’m the crazy one/Stupid for doing this/While they were making’ fun/Cupid was shooting his arrow in my heart/Cause I love to rap/Years later my songs are like thunderclaps/It left ‘em all quiet…I’m on fire/You wanna diss this/Don’t try it.”  The message he sends to listeners here is clear.  He is telling his audiences that no matter how much people may ridicule, no matter how much smack they might talk, one should never let the naysayers get one’s self down.  He is telling his listeners that no matter what, everyone should follow their dreams despite the haters that will come into the picture.  That positive message set alongside the song’s infectious beats makes this song the brightest spot on the whole record.  The songs other verses shared by fellow rappers Tom West and Saki Sullivan drive that message home even more thus making the song all the more enjoyable.

‘3 Pointed Back’ is a prime example of what makes The Perfect Quirk the fun record that it is. The song’s musical base is pure hip-hop at its finest. The song’s lyrical content teaches a valuable lesson that promotes self-confidence. It isn’t the only song that tackles a serious issue. Parents and children will both appreciate the positive messages presented in ‘Caught in the Screen’ and ‘You’re It.’ ‘Caught in the Screen’ tries to get kids to spend less time sitting in front of the television. ‘You’re It’ is a simple song meant to tell young listeners that there was a reason they were born. It’s another piece promoting self-confidence in young listeners. All three songs are excellent additions to the album. And collectively, they make the album all the more enjoyable from start to finish.

The positive lessons shared through the album’s trio of more “serious” songs are important additions to The Perfect Quirk in their own right. Much in the same vein, the album’s more fun and easygoing songs play their own role as well. One of the best of those songs is the album’s third track, ‘Imaginary Friend.’ Who hasn’t had an imaginary friend at one point or another in their childhood? What child today doesn’t or hasn’t had an imaginary friend? This song embraces the concept of the imaginary friend. It could almost be argued that it embraces that concept and celebrates it in a manner of speaking. As Skidoo describes him, Pickles the imaginary friend is quite the figure. He writes of Pickles that “his favorite food is mustard popsicles/He’s got green hair/And orange skin/And nobody has fun more than him/He’s the sort of friend nobody can see/Nobody but me/You’re like/what do you mean/He’s imaginary/Invisible/But he’s never scary/Nah/He’s really cool/He’s silly too/He’s an acrobat/He does backflips/While we play hacky sack/Nobody fast as us/Won’t be running races/But he cracks me up/Making funny faces.” Pickles is, needless to say, quite the original figure. Skidoo goes on to write that Pickles thinks he’s real and that his friend is indeed the one that’s imaginary. It’s such a fun and funny song. The catchy hip-hop musical backing adds even more enjoyment to the song. There’s no doubt in the mind of this critic that this song will have listeners of all ages dancing and rapping along. It is that catchy and fun.

‘Imaginary Friend’ and ‘3 Pointed Back’ are two great additions to The Perfect Quirk thanks to their mix of catchy music and equally catchy and positive lyrical content. There is at least one more equally great addition to the album showing just what makes it so fun. That song is fittingly titled, ‘Unwind.’ ‘Unwind’ is a song that celebrates summer. It celebrates all the joys of being a kid on vacation. Go figure, all the things that Skidoo raps about on this song, kids will be doing this and every summer. He even throws in a pop culture in the reference to the classic comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. Many parents will get the reference and definitely appreciate it. In turn, those parents will be able to share in not only the joy of this song but in the joy that Calvin and Hobbes brought them as children. They can then pass on that same joy to their own children. That parents and children can share in the joy of a classic comic strip thanks to a song in which they will also be able to share is a massive statement in favor of this song. And together with the album’s other songs –both those noted and those not directly noted—it becomes one more part of what makes The Perfect Quirk an easy contender for a spot on this critic’s list of the year’s top new children’s albums.

The Perfect Quirk will be available in stores and online Tuesday, June 24th. Secret Agent 23 Skidoo will embark on a U.S. tour this summer in support of the album beginning this Saturday with a hometown show in Asheville, North Carolina at the All Go West Fest. Admission for the all ages concert is free. He will return to Asheville on Sunday, July 27th after performing in Hickory, North Carolina and Black Mountain, North Carolina leading first. Audiences can get Skidoo’s latest tour schedule and all of the latest news from him online at http://secretagent23skidoo.com and http://www.facebook.com/secretagent23skidoo. 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.

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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Perry, Fox Carry Patterson’s Cross

Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate

Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate

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

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

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

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

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Audiences Will “Love” Dreamworks’ New Madagascar Special

Courtesy:  Dreamworks Home Entertainment/Dreamworks Animation SKG/20th Century Fox/ 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Dreamworks Home Entertainment/Dreamworks Animation SKG/20th Century Fox/ 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Dreamworks Animations’ Madagascar movies comprise one of the company’s most successful franchises.  It’s so successful in fact that it has even spawned a holiday special titled, Merry Madagascar.  Now the Madagascar gang is back again for yet another holiday special.  This time, love is in the air for the gang as Valentine’s Day nears.  Ironically enough King Julian (once again voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen) gets his hands on a perfume called “Love Potion #9” that makes anyone that wears it irresistible.  When the “love potion” is used on Marty, it leads to an unintended effect, which ends up in Marty and the rest of Alex’s friends learning a very valuable lesson about friendship and love.  The moral lesson and the laughs together will keep audiences engaged throughout the course of the special’s near half-hour run time.  To be exact, Madly Madagascar’s run time is closer to twenty-five minutes than thirty.  Though chances are if it is ever run on television, it will reach the half-hour mark thanks to commercials. 

The run-time aside, much of the reason for the enjoyment in this special comes from the special’s writing staff and the voice cast’s ability to interpret the script.  The entire cast from the previous Madagascar movies is back once more, with one more addition.  Phil LaMarr (Futurama) joins the cast as the voice of a wildlife official at a Safari camp who has to chase after the infamous penguins of Madagascar.  That’s right, even the penguins are back, creating their own mischief as the love bug has hit their leader, too.  The original voice actors behind the penguins have returned, too.  Keeping all of this in mind, it’s no wonder that interpreting the script for this special was so simple for the cast as it had to have been old hat for everybody. 

The cast’s interpretation of the writers’ script plays its own role (no pun intended) in the success of this latest special.  Audiences will also appreciate that the CG-based “animation” used in all of the previous Madagascar installments was used in this special, too.  That familiarity of sorts—as minor as it may be—will help make this new installment a welcome return for audiences of all ages.  The pop culture references to Lynyrd Skynyrd, Robert Palmer, The Black Eyed Peas, and The Clovers also make for their own laughs.  All of this combined with the script writing and voice acting will make Madly Madagascar a Valentines special that the whole family will enjoy year after year.

The main feature included in this new DVD release is enjoyable enough for the whole family.  It’s only part of the overall enjoyment that families will get from this new release.  Just as enjoyable are the bonus shorts included with it.  Two bonus shorts are included on the disc.  The first of the pair is a touching Pixar style piece titled, “First Flight” in which a rather unhappy man learns the meaning of happiness when a baby bird falls from its nest and he ends up teaching the young avian how to fly.  It truly is a moving story as short as it is.  And it will leave both kids and adults smiling and shedding at least some tears of joy.  Being that the only dialogue here so to speak is the man and bird “talking” to each other through bird song, the music played a big role in the success of the story.  It came through in a big way, too.  It added so much emotion to the entire story.  It goes to prove that Pixar just might have some competition next awards season if Dreamworks continues to try its hand with more animated shorts.  And from the viewpoint of this critic, if this short is any indication, more shorts from Dreamworks would be welcome.

The second short of the pair is far less emotional.  Instead it’s on the exact opposite end of the spectrum.  It’s taken from Dreamworks’ Over The Hedge movie franchise.  The short, titled, “Hammy’s Boomerang Adventure” is a laugh-a-minute short that follows Hammy and his friends in their discovery of a video camera.  Hammy’s friends use it to play a prank on Hammy.  The writing for this short harkens back to the days of the old Warner Brothers Looney Tunes shorts with its physical comedy between Hammy and the Boomerang.  And as with the short’s companion Madagascar feature, the original voice actors from Over The Hedge have returned here adding to the hilarity.  Adding even more enjoyment to the short is a little musical number from pop star Ben Folds.  Folds performs a song titled, ‘Heist’ for the short’s end credits.  It’s not that long, obviously.  But it’s still a catchy little tune that will have viewers tapping their toes.  It might even be enough to get audiences interested in hearing more of his music.  His music combined with the equally enjoyable shorts and main feature from the Madagascar gang come together to make for a DVD that any audience will want to check out when it hits store shelves next Tuesday, January 29th.  It will also be available online.  It can be ordered direct online via the 20th Century Fox store at http://www.foxconnect.com/madly-madagascar.html.

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Sony’s MIB Franchise Returns To Form In Its Latest Release

 

Courtesy:  Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Sony Pictures’ Men in Black franchise has finally returned to form with the release of the third movie in its franchise.  Whereas the franchise’s second movie dropped flat with audiences, this second sequel has brought the movie’s fun and action back.  Given, the whole time travel/alternate timeline bit has been done far too many times in both movies and television.  And there are far too many sequels, prequels, and remakes out there today.  But this is one of those rare sequels that can be forgiven.  It has brought the MIB franchise back to where it should be.

MIB 3’s bonus “Making of” featurette does a good job of explaining what exactly it is that made this movie at least somewhat successful.  Director Barry Sonnenfeld explains that the movie isn’t so much about the time travel, but about the secrets of the relationship between Agents “Jay” and “Kay.”  Having an understanding of this helps to be more accepting of the time travel/alternate timeline bit that is otherwise far too overdone in the science fiction genre.  Audiences will find the relationship especially heartwarming in the story’s final moments in understanding this, too.  It’s those final moments that really bring the entire trilogy full circle and hopefully will mark the end of this movie property.

The story of the relationship between “Jay” and “Kay” makes up for the otherwise dull and done to death time travel plot.  It’s only part of what makes this movie bearable.  This movie gets everything right that the second movie in the trilogy got wrong.  Whereas the second of the MIB movies was simply not believable and focused far too much on melodrama, MIB 3 brings back all the aliens, gadgets, and action that made the first of the MIB franchise so fun.  Also, since it does everything that MIB did, it is also much easier to suspend disbelief.  That is the center of everything.  The gadgets, aliens, special effects and action were fun.  But it’s that believable storyline between “Jay” and “Kay” that makes MIB 3 what it is.  Instead of a standard romance subplot, this story evolves the partnership/relationship between “Jay” and “Kay” and this makes them as characters more believable.  By the story’s end, audiences who allow themselves to believe the relationship between “Jay” and “Kay” will see that while it may not be the most memorable of movies, it is still one that’s fun and funny for everyone.

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