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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Beatallica’s Abbey Load 2013’s Most Intriguing Record

Courtesy:  Oglio Entertainment Group

Courtesy: Oglio Entertainment Group

Beatles cover band Beatallica officially has crafted in Abbey Load what is the most intriguing record of 2013.  The band’s latest collection of Beatles cover songs is one of those albums for which there is no grey area.  It is an album that listeners will either love or hate.  The question is who will love it and who will hate it.  That’s left up to the listener.  The album—which largely covers The Beatles’ Abbey Road–opens with a cover of ‘Come Together.’  It’s amped up, needless to say.  But there’s a certain something about it which makes it a rather interesting take on the classic.  Perhaps what makes this cover so interesting is that while it is a cover, it does stay at least somewhat true to the original, if only slightly.  One can only wonder considering this, what Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr would think if they were to hear this cover, or if they have heard it. 

Another high point of this rather peculiar album comes in the band’s cover of ‘Please Please Me.’ While this song isn’t on Abbey Road, the band’s cover is pretty interesting.  For the most part, it covers the song pretty closely.  Fans of Metallica’s album, Load will recognize elements of the band’s song, ‘King Nothing’ mixed in.  The mixture of the amped up Metallica cover with the more poppy Beatles cover makes this one of those songs that simply has to be heard in order to be believed.  Regardless of which band one supports, it actually is a pretty interesting mix of sounds and makes for a song that the more open minded audiences on both side might surprisingly find equally interesting and worth checking out.

For all the raucous, up-tempo covers of the Beatles’ classics offered on this record, it does actually have quite an interesting softer moment.  That moment comes in the form of guitarist Jaymz Lennfield’s cover of ‘Blackbird.’  Even though it is one of the record’s few softer moments, it has still been given its own identity.  Unlike The Beatles’ original, Lennfield has taken the song and tuned it down and put it in a minor chord.  The vocals from the original song are also noticeably absent on this cover. Considering the original song’s history, the cover may even lead to discussions of a comparison to A Perfect Circle’s cover of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine.’  APC did something much the same with that song with much the same result.  It definitely is one more piece that audiences of both The Beatles and Metallica will want to check out on this album.  Of course, there are plenty more songs for fans of both bands to listen to and discuss.  But that will be left up to them to decide how they feel about this collection of double covers that will be released April 16th.  It will be released via the Oglio Entertainment Group.  The band currently has no tour dates listed.  But fans can keep up with all the latest tour announcements and news on the band official website, http://www.beatallica.org, via Facebook at, http://www.facebook.com/Beatallica, through MySpace at http://www.myspace.com/beatallica and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/beatallica.

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Day Of The Falcon Stands Out In The Indie Flock

Courtesy: Image Entertainment/Quinta/PRIMA TV S.p.A/Carthago Films/france2 cinema/DFI Doha Film INstitute

Courtesy: Image Entertainment/Quinta/PRIMA TV S.p.A/Carthago Films/france2 cinema/DFI Doha Film Institute

Day of the Falcon is an interesting movie, especially considering that it is an indie flick.  This modern day update on Lawrence of Arabia may not be the year’s best movie.  But in the grander picture of indie movies released each year, it is one of the best of the flock in 2013.  So many film makers try to make indie flicks, but sadly come up short, instead releasing a final product that looks more like a second or third run movie that belongs on basic cable on a cold and rainy weekend.  This movie doesn’t fit in that category, though.  Amazingly enough, thanks to at least a pair of factors, the final product of this movie could easily hold its own against not only other indie flicks, but even some major theatrical releases.  One of those factors is the scripting.  Another would be the general scenery and backdrop.  And that actually ties directly into the cinematography.

The script for this movie is a good script, although it isn’t without its faults.  It centers on the earliest days of the Middle East as it begins to rise to power thanks to the discovery of oil in the region.  Here is where the problems start.  The discovery of oil in the region leads to conflict between two of the region’s kingdoms.  The death of two members of one of the kingdoms leads to even more tensions, as it leads to the belief that the men in question were drowned in oil by members of the opposing kingdom in question.  Tensions eventually escalate after a request from Auda’s (Tahar Rahim) father, Amar (Mark Strong) is not exactly received too well by Nesib (Antonio Banderas), Auda’s father-in-law.  That would be because the request in question comes across as less than humble, upsetting Nesib.  Nesib’s refusal to this proposal leads to the eventual conflicts that follow Auda has he travels the desert to return to his wife.  So who’s still following all of this?  Does anyone need a program?  Sure, one might have to go back a couple times to catch everything going on.  But once the full story is unwrapped and understood, it leads to what makes the movie truly worth checking out; the cinematography and the shooting locales.    

Whereas the intertwining storylines can get more than a little bit confusing in this movie, the movie’s cinematography and shooting locales go hand in hand with one another.  As audiences will learn in the movie’s forty-minute long “Making of” feature, the movie was actually shot largely in the Middle East.  It was shot partially in Tunisia and partially in Qatar.  That it was shot on location in the Middle East instead of in a sound stage or in some location meant to look similar to the Middle East region played a big role in making the movie more believable.  The manner in which director Jean-Jacques Annaud caught the scenes made them all the more dramatic, even when Auda and those with him were facing the elements and not human enemies.  The inner turmoil on the faces of those with Auda as they struggled against the heat and dwindling supplies was powerful to say the least.  The joy on their faces as they discovered a freshwater spring and the sadness at the death of Auda’s brother were just as moving.  And it was all from getting just the right camera angles. 

The cinematography of the massive battle scenes—especially the final climactic battle scene—are perhaps the highlight of this movie.  Annaud explains in the movie’s “Making of” feature how the movie’s battle scenes were shot both from the ground and the air.  Again, those different angles help to really intensify the battles.  Annaud noted in the “Making of” feature that he wanted to make a movie that looked on par with the major motion pictures in theaters.  And he did just that.  He did so not just with the battle scenes, though.  He managed to succeed in that aspect throughout the course of the movie’s two hours and ten minutes.  Thankfully, it is Annaud’s leadership of the ship that is Day of the Falcon that helps make up for the slow first half.  He does the best that he can keeping the action moving.  And luckily once the initial story setup is finished the second and third acts come rather quickly before audiences even realize it, thus making it a movie that while it may need more than one watch, will grow on audiences more with each viewing.  And with each viewing, audiences will see that it is yet more proof that some indie flicks are just as good as pictures released by Hollywood’s major studios.  It is available now in stores and online and can be ordered direct from the Image Entertainment store at http://www.watchimage.com/product/day-of-the-falcon/4fee57e8-e613-e211-a415-020045490004.  A trailer for the movie is also available for viewing at this site.

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Slash, Chuck D. Join Anthrax On Stage At Metal Alliance Show


Photo Credit:  Stephanie Cabral

Photo Credit: Stephanie Cabral


Metal Alliance Tour headliners Anthrax had a couple very special guests last night at the tour’s sold out stop in Hollywood, CA.  The tour made a stop at the Hollywood, CA House of Blues last night.  Much to the surprise of audiences in attendance, Anthrax was joined on stage during its set by none other than Public Enemy front man Chuck D. and guitarist Slash.  Slash joined the band on-stage for its performance of AC/DC’s hit, ‘T.N.T.’ Slash covered lead guitar duties for this performance.  Later in the night’s performance, Chuck D. surprised everyone when he came on stage and performed ‘Bring The Noise’ with the band.  The band originally recorded this song with Public Enemy in 1991.

Photo Credit:  Stephanie Cabral

Photo Credit: Stephanie Cabral

Slash and Chuck D. were just a couple of the celebrities in house for last night’s stop on the Metal Alliance Tour.  Kerry King (Slayer), John Tempesta (The Cult, Rob Zombie), Justin Chendellor (Tool), Brendon Small (Dethklok) and actor/musician Brian Posehn were also on hand for last night’s show.

The Metal Alliance Tour runs through late April.  It was in San Francisco, CA tonight.  Friday, the tour—also featuring Municipal Waste, Exodus, High on Fire, and Holy Grail—will be at the Roseland Ballroom in Portland, Oregon.  Fans in North Carolina will get the chance to see the band live when it makes a stop at the Tremont Music Hall in Charlotte.  And right now, fans can get the chance to see Anthrax for Free when the tour comes to Charlotte next month.  The Phil’s Picks Facebook page and the Tremont Music Hall together are giving away a pair of tickets to see the band free.  Along with the tickets, one lucky fan will also win a copy of the band’s new EP, Anthems.  Fans need just go to the Phil’s Picks Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Once that’s done, fans need only send a message or write on the Phil’s Picks timeline indicating that they want in on the contest.  One lucky person’s name will be drawn Friday morning at 9am.  The tickets to the show will be at Will Call at the Tremont Music Hall.  The winner can either pick up the CD in person or have it mailed to them.

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news, reviews and contests, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and giveaways in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Scholastic Springtime Collection Lots Of Fun, Lessons For The Whole Family

Courtesy:  Scholastic/New Kideo

Courtesy: Scholastic/New Kideo

Scholastic’s latest collection of children’s stories is another enjoyable set for the whole family.  The Springtime Collection is a new three disc collection that culls the best of the company’s latest box sets and puts them together in this new triple-disc set.  And while it is billed as the Springtime Collection, there’s no getting past the inclusion of two Christmas themed shorts from the well-known children’s book series, Max and Ruby.  “Max’s Christmas” and “Morris’s Disappearing Bag” are both Christmas themed episodes.  Though, they are the only holiday themed episodes in the set. One of the pair is even told entirely in Spanish for Spanish speaking audiences.  It’s something minor by itself.  But in the grand scheme of things, that Scholastic would take this step shows a valid attempt to reach an audience as broad as possible.  It makes both this set and Scholastic even more worthy of praise.

The holiday themed shorts aside, what makes this set enjoyable is the inclusion of some of the most well-known of literary tales in the form of “Chicken Little” and “The Red Hen.”  Children will love these timeless tales, while parents will love experiencing them for the first time again with their own children.  That sense of nostalgia instilled in older viewers will help in making the viewing experience all the more enjoyable for the whole family.  Parents will thrill at seeing their children light up, watching the stories.  For parents to see these shorts through the eyes of their children will give them a whole new meaning for parents.  And for parents of older children, they will equally appreciate the read-along feature included once again with each story.  The read-along feature is a wonderful option for parents and their children to use together in aiding children’s reading skills.  It’s one more bonus for this set both in the classroom and the living room.  This and the lessons taught through each short contained on each disc make every episode important in its very own fashion.

Parents of older children will appreciate the read-along feature included once again on each disc in the set.  They will also appreciate the morals and lessons taught through each short.  Each one teaches a different lesson.  Those lessons vary from lessons of teamwork to problem solving, to friendship and more.  Ironically, these lessons are ones from which parents could also learn.  It’s one more way that this set proves to cross generations.

There is one more aspect of Scholastic’s new Springtime Collection that makes it stand out among current children’s programming and home DVD and Blu-ray release.  That remaining factor is that of each short’s animation.  In an age when so much CG-based children’s programming calls itself animated, each short included in this set has its very own animation style.  As is the case with a “greatest hits” record or anthology of DVDs/Blu-rays, each young viewer will respond in different fashion to each short’s animation.  As with the Spanish speaking episode, “Max’s Christmas”, this seems a nonfactor on a small scale.  But on a more macro level, the animation plays a big role in keeping a child’s attention, and thus increases the chances of a young viewer taking something away from each short.  Therefore, what would otherwise be something not that important actually plays a role just as important as that of the lessons and the stories themselves.  It’s one more aspect that makes all three discs in this new compilation all the more worth it both for teachers and parents alike.  It is available now online and in stores.  It can be ordered online direct from the New Kideo store at http://www.newkideo.com/scholastic/the-springtime-collection/.  Parents and teachers can keep up with all of the latest news and more from Scholastic when they “Like” the Scholastic Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/Scholastic and its official website, http://www.scholastic.com.

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 https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Green Day Back On The Road

Courtesy:  BB Gun press

Courtesy: BB Gun press

Pop punk trio Green Day kicks off a new tour tonight.  The tour kicks off at the Allsate Arena in Rosemont, IL.  The tour is in support of the band’s recently released trilogy of albums, Uno!, Dos!, and Tre!  It will take the band through a total of approximately thirty-six dates, most of which will be dates in Europe.  After tonight’s show, the band moves on to Moline IL tomorrow at the i Wireless Center and then on to the CONSOL Energy Center this Sunday in Pittsburgh, PA.

The European leg of the tour kicks off May 24th at the Blue Cross Arena in Milan, Italy.  The European leg of the band’s tour will take it from Italy to Serbia, to Austria and throughout the U.K., Russia, France and many more countries.  The current slate of dates has Green Day wrapping its tour at the Bilbao BKK Live Festival on May 13th in Bilbao, Spain.  To get a full listing of tour dates and all the latest news from the band, fans can “Like” Green Day on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/GreenDay.  Fans can also keep up with all the latest from the band on Twitter at http://twitter.com/greenday.

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 https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

MST3K XXVI Offers Audiences Offers More Movie History, Laughs

Courtesy:  Shout! Factory

Courtesy: Shout! Factory

Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K as it will henceforth be known) has always been considered largely a cult hit among audiences.  If that is the case, then it’s something of a surprise that to this day, it is still such a massive hit among not just its original audiences, but a whole new generation of audiences.  That is thanks to the good people at Shout! Factory.  And thanks to those same people, fans of this timeless show have yet another brand new volume of so bad they’re good b-movies to enjoy along with Joel, Mike, Tom Servo, and Crow T. Robot.

Everything that’s been said about this show has already been said twenty-five times over and then some.  But it would be impossible to go into this latest set of episodes without reminding audiences that this show is just one part of what used to make Syfy (then SciFi Channel) so great. As already noted, the movies presented in this classic cult show are so bad that they’re good.  Though, it’s great to see many of Universal’s classic monster and sci-fi movies resurrected here.  They’re just part of the show’s success.  And this latest set also includes another of those classic Universal movies in the form of The Mole People.  This movie features actor Alan Napier, who many might recognize as Alfred Pennyworth from the classic Batman TV series.  It’s one of those movies that fans of Svengoolie would definitely have on his show on Me-TV on Saturday nights.  The movie itself takes the heroes into the interior of the Earth, where they discover an ancient civilization of people who worship the goddess Ishtar.  But they aren’t the only ones that the heroes have to face.  The mole people are there, too.  And they are a danger to everyone.  The movie itself is pretty campy on the surface.  That’s not bad.  But the bonus “Making of” feature included with this movie really makes it worth the watch.  It is a bonus in every way.  It discusses the deeper, more social take on the movie.  Those interviewed in the feature discuss how the white guards flogging the darker mole people who “came from below” was a commentary on the America’s racist past.  Speaking of racist views, it’s interesting to learn that scenes involving a man and woman from different ethnic backgrounds being together were edited out by censors, since this was released in the 1950’s.  These are just a couple examples of what make this “making of” feature a true bonus and why it makes this movie even more of an interesting addition to this latest set.  It’s one more example also of the impact of bonus features on a movie.

The Mole People is just one of the movies in this set featuring an underground world.  The absolutely campy 1988 movie, Alien From L.A. also takes place in a world just beneath the Earth’s surface.  It stars a then very young Kathy Ireland.  Ireland was actually in her mid-twenties at the time that this movie—which was also her very first ever feature film–was filmed, though she was playing the role of a teen.  Ireland stumbles into the underground world when she sets out to find her lot archaeologist father (played here by Richard Haines).  In the process, Wanda (Ireland) is transformed from a plain, whiny, high pitched girl to a beautiful supermodel style figure.  And during her time in the underground world, she uncovers an evil government plot to keep the people of the world to know about the surface world.  As campy as the movie is, the interview with director Albert Pyun raises an interesting note.  Pyun notes in his interview that part of his intent in the movie was examining the feeling of what was a young girl having the feeling of an adult being trapped in a girl’s body, thus the transformation.  Just as interesting to note in his interview is that he admits that he had never seen Mystery Science Theater 3000 before the show’s heads announced that this movie would be featured.  Pyun also discusses plenty of other matters centered on the movie.  But audiences can check out all of that for themselves when they pick up the brand new box set for themselves.  It is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct from the Shout! Factory store at http://www.shoutfactory.com/?q=node/216588.

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Delta Rae Work With Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham On Song; Premiere Video For New Single

Courtesy:  Warner Brothers Records

Courtesy: Warner Brothers Records

Durham, NC’s own Delta Rae has kept busy ever since releasing its debut record, Carry the Fire last year on Warner Brothers Records.  The band recently teamed up with Fleetwood Mac’s very own Lindsey Buckingham on the band’s re-recorded version of its new single, ‘If I Loved You.’

The video for the re-recorded song was released exclusively via RollingStone.com yesterday.  Audiences should note that while Buckingham had a hand in the new take on the song, he wasn’t in the video.  Regardless, fans can check it out now at http://www.rollingstone.com/music/videos/delta-rae-pair-with-fleetwood-macs-lindsey-buckingham-in-if-i-loved-you-premiere-20130326.  Singer Elizabeth Hopkins takes vocal duties on the song.  She discussed the song in the band’s interview with Rolling Stone.  “This video captures what I love most about the song,” she said.  “It’s simple and raw.  Telling someone point blank that you don’t love them is difficult and painful.  I’ve done it.  It feels horrible, but there is also a release that comes along with it, a lifting of weight.  I think this video lets you focus on the rawness of that message.”

Fellow band member Ian Holljes commented on the excitement of playing with Buckingham, whose band is the favorite band of the members of Delta Rae.  “I can’t really accurately express how wild it was for us to learn that Lindsey Buckingham had played on ‘If I Loved You,” he said.  “I grew up on stories of how my parents (along with every other kid on campus) would blast the entirety of Rumours out of their college dorm room windows.  Fleetwood Mac and Lindsey Buckingham’s writing have been so influential to us so to have his talents and incredibly distinctive guitar playing laid over one of our tracks felt like the world sort of folding over on itself.  Ultimately it was rewarding on two huge levels – the thrill of having one of your heroes play on your song and the actual impact of his beautiful guitar work enhancing the song so meaningfully.”

Courtesy:  Warner Brothers Records/Sire Records

Courtesy: Warner Brothers Records/Sire Records

The band’s album is available in stores and online now.  It can be ordered direct online from iTunes at http://bit.ly/Zp5laF.  The band is currently touring in support of its debut release.  It will be in New Orleans on April 11th at Howlin’ Wolf.  It’s just one of many dates currently scheduled that will take the band through this summer.  Among the band’s current dates is a handful of dates in North Carolina between April 26th and May 4th.  For a full list of tour dates and to get all the latest news from the band fans can “Like” the band on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/deltarae.  Fans can also get the latest news from the band and a free 11-track live album on the band’s official website, http://deltarae.com.

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 keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Oz Is Good, Not Great

Courtesy:  Walt Disney Studios

Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios

Oz The Great and Powerful is one more example of why Hollywood has got to break away from its seemingly unending trend of churning out sequels, prequels, and remakes.  It is a good movie in its own right, thanks to the set design, special effects, and costume/makeup department.  But in terms of its story, it suffers to the point that it largely becomes memorable only for those factors.  The combination of special effects, set design, and costume design are more than worthy of applause in their attempts to bring older audiences back to the world of Oz after nearly seventy-four years since that world first appeared to the masses.  They are just as laudable for introducing younger audiences to the world of Oz for the first time.  For the positives, there are two noticeable negatives to the overall presentation.  Those negatives are the intertwining of lead actor James Franco’s acting and the overall story.  In weighing these factors together, Oz The Great and Powerful becomes more a movie that will be remembered less as one of Disney’s standout greats, and more as just another in the ongoing mass of prequels, sequels, and remakes constantly being churned out by Hollywood.

The combination of set design, costumes, and special effects goes a long way toward the success of Oz The Great and Powerful.  The set designers did an impressive job of balancing actual physical sets and CG backgrounds.  One can really tell that a lot of thought and work went into bringing back the world of Oz.  As hard as the set designers tried though, it lacks a certain something that the sets from the previous movie had.  Perhaps the problem with the sets in this movie was that those who crafted them tried too hard to pay tribute to the original work.  The result is that it didn’t feel as….pure.  They felt “spit-shined” for lack of better wording.  Though, the special effects make up for that.  That is especially the case late in the movie when it is revealed how the Wizard’s famous floating head originally came to be.  That effect alone is worth the wait.  It’s really the best special effects moment in the entire two-hour plus story.

The sets and special effects play their own role in the overall outcome of this story, as has been noted.  They are only part of the movie’s positive side.  Just as impressive as the sets and special effects are the costumes and makeup.  While Disney wasn’t behind The Wizard of Oz, those behind the creation of this work are to be commended for creating costumes that throw back to the original movie, right down to the guards’ uniforms.  And while some might have their own thoughts on the witch’s costume, one must take into account that this is a prequel.  Therefore, the costume had to fit the person and personality.  Of course, speaking of the witch, this is where things get bad for Oz The Great and Powerful.

So much went right for Oz The Great and Powerful in looking at the sets, costumes, and special effects.  What went wrong with the movie was the script and the acting of one James Franco.  The whole story of Oz The Great and Powerful is an origin story of sorts.  It tells not only of how the Wizard came to be the famed figure that he was, but also of how the Wicked Witch came to be wicked.  Not to give away too much, but the two stories play together as they are centered on a figure who is a completely immature young man and three sisters who throw themselves at him just like the women back in Kansas.  Oz plays all three of the sisters just as he played the women back in Kansas.  One of those sisters ends up becoming the now infamous Wicked Witch of the West.  Even as the movie nears its finale, it is difficult to believe Oz has any sincerity as he faces off with the Wicked Witch.  One wants to root for Oz, but it’s next to impossible as at every chance he has to grow, he instead maintains his cocky nature right up to the end.  Yes, he’s a young character, being that this is a prequel.  But it would have been nice to see some personal growth and humility as the Wizard at least showed in The Wizard of Oz.  But that doesn’t happen.  Because of that, there’s no real moral lesson learned here.  There is not even an actual romance story so to speak.  In the end, what everything boils down to with Oz The Great and Powerful is that this movie will be more memorable less for its story or acting than for its production values.  Keeping this in mind, it will largely be one of Disney’s less memorable movies in its decades long list of much better movies.  Because of that, it is a movie that is worth at least one watch, but really not much more.

Anthrax EP One Of 2013’s Best Rock Records

Anthrax has proven once again with its new EP, Anthems, why it is still one of rock’s elite bands.  This veteran rock act has crafted in its new release a work that is perfect in every way.  From the sequencing to the sound to the very packaging, everything that could have been done right was done right.  Sure, it probably is essentially a space filler between albums, but even if that is the case, it is one heck of a space filler.  It’s a musical history lesson for rockers of all ages.  Here, audiences get a band that by comparison to the bands it covers is relatively young.  Yet it shows that it knows the classics through some expert renditions of said classics.

Anthems opens with a cover of Rush’s ‘Anthem.’  This song originally appeared on Rush’s album, Fly By Night.  That Anthrax would cover Rush is a mind blower in and of itself.  Considering the style of music for which Anthrax is known, one would not instantly consider such a polar opposite sound to be any kind of influence on the band.  So that in itself is an eye opener.  That the band so expertly covered the song is even more of an eye opener.  The band paid homage to Rush and the song with its cover, but still added its own touch to the song, too.  Front man Joey Belladonna makes the song even more solid of an opener when he sings the line, “Welcome to the world.”  When Geddy Lee first sang those words, they obviously had their own meaning.  But having Belladonna sing those same words, they somehow take on a whole new meaning.  Since this is the EP’s opener, it could be argued that those words take on an introductory fashion for new listeners and a whole new introduction even for those more seasoned audiences.  Given, that probably wasn’t the intended function of that line.  But it does seem to have that impact.

The band’s new EP only gets better from the opening cover.  The EP’s second track is a cover of another legendary band’s song.  The band’s cover of AC/DC’s ‘TNT’ is without a doubt, one of this disc’s major high points.  One can’t help but focus yet again on front man Joey Belladonna. Maybe it is just this critic’s own take on the song, but Belladonna sounds eerily like the late great Bon Scott in every sense in this song.  Had one not known it was him, one might actually have thought it was the original song.  This is also thanks in part to guitarist Rob Caggiano, who earlier this year announced his departure from the band.  His take on Angus Young’s guitar work on this rock classic pays Young full honor.  And drummer Charlie Benante’s drumming is just as solid as that of Phil Rudd.  This is one that one could easily see the band performing live as it tours the country on the Metal Alliance Tour this Spring.

If Anthrax’s covers of ‘TNT’ and ‘Anthem’ aren’t enough for fans, then the cover of Boston’s ‘Smokin’’ will impress audiences.  This is yet another spot on cover that keeps the energy flowing from the EP’s first two tracks.  Older, more experienced rockers will love how the band handles this track.  And that such a young band by comparison could so expertly handle this classic will make older audiences smile, too.  Younger audiences will love it too simply because the band shines here even more.  It’s as if the band just keeps getting better and better on every track.  This is the case with the remaining trio of covers included here, too.  Those covers lead into the inclusion of two more bonuses in the form of ‘Crawl’ and its remix of sorts.

‘Crawl’ was taken from the band’s 2011 album, Worship Music.  Including both this track and its remix was actually quite smart.  Whereas so many bands in a case such as this would only include the redone track or live track, Anthrax and Megaforce Records have included both tracks, thus offering audiences the chance to compare and decide for themselves which version of the song they like better.  Regardless of which song becomes one fan’s favorite or another’s these last two tracks help the EP close just as solidly as it opened.  It goes without saying that if any one negative that could be said about Anthems, it is that the band chose to make this an EP, instead of a full length album.  Here’s to hoping one day, fans will see that happen.  Until then, fans can listen to his EP to their hearts’ content as the EP is available now both in stores and online.  It can be ordered online direct from the official Anthrax website here:  http://anthrax.com/2013/03/19/anthems-is-here/Worship Music can be ordered directly via the band’s official website also at  http://shop.anthrax.com/shop.cfm/pk/category/ac/detail/cid/409267/prodid/412162.

Fans can get a chance to win a copy of Anthems for free right now and the chance to see the band live at its stop in Charlotte, North Carolina next month from the Phil’s Picks blog and Facebook page when they “Like” the Phil’s Picks Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/philspicks.  Just “Like” the Phil’s Picks Facebook page and say you want to be entered for the chance to win an EP and to see the band live.

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 https://philspicks.wordpress.com.