NYPD Blue Hasn’t Lost A Step In Its Eighth Season

Courtesy:  Shout! Factory/ABC/20th Century Fox

Courtesy: Shout! Factory/ABC/20th Century Fox

Shout! Factory will release the eighth season of ABC’s hit crime drama NYPD Blue next Tuesday, January 13th. Even eight seasons in, this modern classic series continues proving itself to be just as gripping and entertaining as it was in its groundbreaking first season. The main reason for this is the show’s continued impressive writing. The stories that make up the show’s eighth season are no less entertaining than those in its previous seven seasons. The same can be said of the cast’s acting this season. The cast continues to pull in audiences and make suspension of disbelief effortless. It’s even more reason that audiences will enjoy these episodes whether watching them for the first time or for the first time again. Last but not least of all worth noting to Season Eight’s credit is its list of guest stars. Denise Crosby (Star Trek the Next Generation, The Walking Dead, Ray Donovan), Taryn Manning (Orange is the New Black), Kerry Washington (Scandal), Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation), Eric Balfour (24), and Greg Grunberg (Heroes) all make appearances throughout Season Eight. Because they were not the major household names then that they are today, their appearances makes for a certain amount of appreciation for their history and the history of NYPD Blue in whole. Each of the factors noted here play their own important role in the success of NYPD Blue: Season 8. Collectively, they show why in comparison to every other crime drama on television then and now, NYPD Blue remains one of the greatest crime dramas in modern television history, even eight seasons in.

Eight seasons is a long run for a television show by today’s standards. There are not many series today that can say they survived eight seasons or more. Most of the shows that surpassed that mark have largely gone by the wayside, making room for the much shorter-lived serials and reality series that now dominate the broadcast and cable realms of television. The main reason that those bygone series worked as long as they did is the same reason that NYPD Blue worked eight seasons and beyond. The reason in question is their writing. The series’ writers were always aware of the danger of writing themselves into those proverbial corners. And because of that awareness, they always managed to keep that from happening. the eighth season of NYPD Blue is proof of that awareness. From the season premiere to its finale, the series’ writers continued to expertly balance the cast’s own stories with crime tales that are both gripping and entertaining. One prime example of that balance comes late in Season Eight in the episode “Everyone Into The Poole.” The writers tackle the very relevant issue of race relations when Jones and Medavoy investigate the murder of a Chinese restuarant’s owner. A young black brother and sister are linked to the murder, which leads their parents to express quite the frustration at Jones, alleging that he should be showing solidarity with the black community, not trying to put their kids in jail. It shows that the issue of race relations reaches not just black and white Americans but even minorities with one another. Their indirect indictment of Medavoy–who is white–makes its own statement about racial tensions still being alive even then regardless of skin color. It’s one of those episodes that will definitely have audiences talking long after it ends, proving the continued strength of the show’s writing.

“Everyone Into The Poole” is a prime example of the writers’ talents when it comes to crafting stories that so clearly hit home with audiences even now in the twenty-first century. On another level, “Flight of Fancy” sees Lt. Fancy preparing to leave the squad after being promoted to Captain. The introduction of a power hungry Lt. played by Denise Crosby (Star Trek The Next Generation, The Walking Dead, Ray Donovan) is just as capable of relating to audiences. That’s because for all of the squad’s differences, a certain respect among the detectives is shown when she cracks the whip and instantly alienates herself from everyone.  Even in the real life workplace, this kind of solidarity exists even when people don’t want to admit that it exists. It’s a solid example of the continued abilities of the show’s writers to craft believable and equally gripping person stories for the cast. Even more impressive is that it showed the writers’ continued ability to maintain a clear balance between the show’s primary and secondary stories and still make them equally without losing anything about them.

Season Eight’s premiere episode “Daveless in New York” is one more example of the writers’ continued ability to keep audiences gripped. The writers tackled the subjectof child abuse albeit indirectly in this episode afer an addict gives up his own chidl as collateral for an overdue loan. Such a story line even tackles the dangers associated with drug abuse. While someone giving up their child may be a little over the top, the lengths to which some drug users will go to get their fix are rather shocking to say the least. Because it comes close to showing those shocking lengths, this episode proves to be one more way in which the writing behind NYPD Blue shows itself the most important aspect of the season’s success. There are plenty of other episodes contained across Season Eight’s four discs that audiences will find just as hard-hitting. And that isperfectly fine. The fact that they will find such episodes only shows that much more why the show’s writing is so important to its success eight seasons in.

The writing behind the eighth season of NYPD Blue is the cornerstone of the season’s success. That should go without saying at this point. The work of the cast to interpret the season’s writing adds an extra layerof enjoyment to each episode. Having already worked together for seven seasons most of the show’s cast had already developed a visible chemistry that made its work entirely believable. Even those that didn’t come on board until a little later in the show’s run (by this point) had develped their own chemistry with the rest of the cast. Dennis Franz’s acting as Sippowitz realizes he needs to give marriage anotherchance is one of the brightest examples of how the cast’s acting pulls in audiences and makes Season Eight more enjoyable. There is a certain reluctance in Sippowitz’s realization. At the same time, he shows that he knows it’s the right thing for his son and for himself. On another level, the reaction by Jones as he faces the accusations about being a modern day Uncle Tom (for lack of better wording) is just as powerful. There is to this day a divide even within the black community in terms of support of its own. So something as simple as that reaction speaks volumes. The reactions on the part of the couple that played the parents is just as powerful. On a siimlar note, the reaction of the squad to Fancy’s first replacement speaks just as loudly. It really exhibits the underlying connection that the squad members have to one another even despite its differences on the surface. These are just a few examples of how the work of the cast’s acting made NYPD Blue’s eighth season enjoyable by itself. The season’s other episodes each show their own examples of how the cast’s acting enhanced the season. And audiences will find those other examples for themselves when they purchase this season for themselves. In doing so, audiences will agree that the cast’s acting is just as important to the season’s enjoyment as the work of the show’s writers.

The writing and acting that went into the eighth season of NYPD Blue are equally important to the season’s success and enjoyment. While they are both understandably important to the presentation in whole, the series’ list of guest stars this season is just as important. Denise Crosby (Star Trek the Next Generation, The Walking Dead, Ray Donovan), Taryn Manning (Orange is the New Black), Kerry Washington (Scandal), Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation), Eric Balfour (24), and Greg Grunberg (Heroes) all make appearances throughout Season Eight. While none of the guest stars at the time of their appearance were the household names that they have become today, it still goes to show the impact that appearing on the show potentially had on their futures. Perhaps the only one that could really be argued as a real star of sorts at the time would have been Denise Crosby. That is thanks to her time on Star Trek The Next Generation years before. Because of that show’s success and its longevity, she became well-known in her own right. Whether for her appearance or for those of the others noted this season, seeing so many of today’s biggest celebrities in their earlier days makes this season itself a piece of television history for all intents and purposes. And because it proves to be an important piece of television history, it makes this season even more enjoyable and a success. It’s the last part of the whole that makes NYPD Blue Season Eight a must have for any fan of this series or any lover of crime dramas. Together with the work of the cast and the series’ writers, it proves without a shadow of a doubt why NYPD Blue: Season Eight is an early candidate for 2015’s best new box sets for grown-ups.

NYPD Blue: Season Eight will be available next Tuesday, January 13th. It will retail for MSRP of $34.99. It can also be pre-ordered online now via Shout! Factory’s online store at https://www.shoutfactory.com/tv/crime/nypd-blue-season-eight at a discounted price of $29.99. More information on this and other titles from Shout! Factory is available online at:

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Batman: The Complete First Season Is A Good, Not Great Debut For Fans Of ABC’s Classic Series

Courtesy:  Warner Home Video/FOX

Courtesy: Warner Home Video/FOX

ABC’s live action series Batman was anything but a hit when it originally aired on CBS from 1966 to 1968.  The series, which starred Adam West in the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman lasted all of three seasons in its original run. Since its cancellation, it has become a cult hit with audiences of all ages.  It has run on syndication on a number of networks and is currently running on Me-TV every Saturday night at 7pm ET.  Throughout all the years that it has been on television since its cancellation, it has not received a proper release on DVD or Blu-ray.  That is until this year.  Warner Home Video and FOX released the first season of the cult favorite last month alongside the show’s full series box set.  The complete box set is rather pricy both on DVD and Blu-ray.  That means that most fans of this hit series will be more interested in picking up the complete first season box set.  Batman: The Complete First Season boasts plenty of positives.  But it also has its own hare of negatives that can’t be ignored, either.  On the positive end, audiences will appreciate the fact that every Season One episode is presented here.  So audiences weren’t short-changed there.  What’s more, every one of the episodes is presented exactly as they originally aired on ABC so many years ago.  And rather than make each half of each episode a separate episode, they are each presented as one full episode.  Of course for every positive, there is a negative.  This recent release is no exception to that rule.  The people at WHV got the issue of the episodes one hundred percent right.  In terms of the bonus material though, both companies struck out swinging.  Batman: The Complete First Season comes with no bonus material to compliment the episodes.  The bonus material has all been saved for the full-series box sets.  WHV and FOX try to entice audiences into buying one of the two boxes by including a coupon for ten dollars off of either the Blu-ray or DVD series set.  That is not a positive by any means and will be discussed at more length later.  As glaring as the noted negative in question proves to be, audiences can at least be happy about the presentation of the episodes.  The footage looks wonderful in its transfer to DVD.  And each episode is presented in full 16:9 format rather than the 4:3 in which most classic series were presented.  It is one more way in which Batman: The Complete First Season impresses with this its debut DVD release.  It’s just too bad that it wasn’t released on Blu-ray.   Maybe audiences would have had the option of at least some bonuses in a Blu-ray box set. A fan can dream, right?  Right.  That aside, the end result of these positives and negatives is a box set that while anything but perfect, is still a good addition to any Batman fan’s home library.

There is a lot to like and just as much to not like in the debut release of Batman: The Complete First Season as should be clear by now.  Luckily for fans, the positives far outweigh the negatives, beginning with the episodes themselves.  Audiences that are familiar with Batman will recall that within the context of this series, each episode was split into two parts.  While the series only ran for three seasons, this made the show really last.  It was a formula that made audiences want to tune in from week to week.  The people at WHV and FOX have paid proper tribute to that formula–and the fans of the show that lived week to week by the formula–by combining both halves of every Season One episode into one complete episode.  It would have been just as easy to spread out each half of each episode and call them “episodes.”  That would have been purely deceptive marketing as it would have meant both companies trying to fool audiences into thinking there was more than really was there.  Luckily they didn’t go that route.  And for that reason alone, WHV and FOX are deserving of at least some credit.  It’s at least one reason to applaud the debut release of Batman: The Complete First Season.

The presentation of Season One’s episodes is by itself plenty of reason for audiences to applaud the debut release of Batman: The Complete First Season.  But as anyone knows, for every positive there is a negative; a yang for every yin so to speak.  And this box set is no exception.  Audiences will be displeased to discover that while WHV and FOX have included every episode from Batman’s first season in this box, they have clearly omitted any bonus material at all.  All of the bonus material has been saved for both the Blu-ray and DVD presentation of the show’s complete series boxes.  In turn, WHV and FOX have included in Batman: The Complete First Season a coupon for ten dollars off the purchase of either the Blu-ray or DVD full series set.  This is hardly a positive.  And here is the reason why:  Audiences that actually would use the coupon would still pay nearly $150 for the DVD box set.  They would still be paying well over $200 for the Blu-ray set.  Keep in mind that 20th Century Fox was able to release its complete series run of Futurama in a single box for under $100 on DVD.  There is no Blu-ray option there.  That is about seven or eight seasons.  So how can 20th Century Fox do that, yet WHV and FOX expect people to shell out exorbitant amounts of money for a three-season box set by comparison?  This is a losing situation for fans who have waited decades for Batman to finally receive a proper release on DVD or Blu-ray.  It is an insult to those same fans.  WHV and FOX should be ashamed of themselves for this.  Keeping that in mind, it knocks off major points for Batman: The Complete First Season and for both of the full series sets.

Still not enough to consider?  How about the fact that WHV is looking to split up the second season of Batman into two separate volumes beginning in February 2015?  That’s right.  What this means is the possibility of WHV doing the same thing with Season 3.  That means that Season One could be the only one that audiences and long-time fans see in a single set. It’s probably the only factor that would even begin to make purchasing either the Blu-ray or DVD full series set more worth the purchase than Season One.  It doesn’t make such practice any more ethical, regardless. Obviously, WHV isn’t the only company guilty of this practice.  20th Century Fox has done this with its home releases of Family Guy’s various seasons over the years.  It’s a way to stretch things out and for WHV to make more money from audiences.  That goes without saying.  But the people at WHV know that people such as this critic will still shell out the money for it.  It’s just a shameful practice regardless of the company releasing the box set.  And it is something that had to be noted here if only or context.

Now, having finished on the soap box, it’s time to turn back to the positive side of Batman: The Complete First Season.  There is at least one more positive worth noting about this box set for fansto consider.  That factor is the look of the episodes themselves.  The footage looks surprisingly clean even on DVD.  It shows that those charged with transferring the masters from tape to DVD and Blu-ray went to painstaking measures to insure the footage looked its best for fans.  For that alone, WHV and FOX are to be applauded.  Even more interesting about the episodes’ presentation is that each episode is presented in full 16:9 format rather than the 4:3 format in which so many shows of its era were presented.  In sizing the resolution up to 16:9 none of the episodes’ quality was sacrificed.  So it looks just as good as it did in its original broadcast format.  Together with the fact that every one of Season One’s episodes are presented here in their entirety, it is one more positive that helps to perhaps not outweigh the negatives of the set but at least equal their weight.  And in equalling the weight of the set’s negatives, it serves to make Batman: The Complete First Season a welcome addition to the library of of long-time Batman fan.  It is hardly the best that WHV and FOX could have offered fans.  But for those that can’t afford the unethically exorbitant cost of the full series sets, it is still a good piece to have.

Batman: The Complete First Season is available now in stores and online.  More information on this and other releases from Warner Home Video is available online at:

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EOne’s New Horror Comedy Is Full Of Frights And Fun

Courtesy:  Entertainment One

Courtesy: Entertainment One

One part stoner flick, one part buddy comedy, and one part horror spoof, Entertainment One’s new horror comedy Knights of Badassdom (yes, that’s really its title) is an outrageously over-the-top  story that any of today’scollege frat boy audiences will enjoy watching at least once.  It’s obvious right from the story’s outset that it was not meant to be taken with a single grain of seriousness.  It centers on a group of twenty-something friends that have to face off against a succubus from Hell after their obsession with live action role playing (LARPing)—yes, that is a real thing, not just something cooked up for this movie—goes a little bit too far.  The completely outrageous script behind this story is central to its intended audiences being able to enjoy it.  Equally important to the story’s enjoyment is the acting on the part of the cast.  And of course, what home release is complete without its special features?  There are actually some interesting tidbits shared through the movie’s bonus features that make the movie more interesting.  Those tidbits, the cast’s acting and the outrageous, over-the-top story make this indie horror spoof a movie well worth watching at least once.

Co-writers Kevin Dreyfuss and Matt Wallhave crafted a story in Knights of Badassdom.  Dreyfuss and Wall have done so much with so little that it is difficult to know where exactly to begin in examining their script.  On the surface, Knights of Badassdom works because of its silly factor.  It is just a good, fun, and slightly gruesome turn-off-your-brain flick.  It’s one part stoner flick, one part buddy comedy, and one part horror spoof that has absolutely no intention of taking itself the least bit seriously.  On a deeper level, one could argue that there’s a story of a group of men forced to grow up if only a little because they got what they’d always wished for and then some during their make believe games.  That’s thanks to them having accidentally unleashMatted a succubus from Hell during one of their imaginary ceremonies.  At first the five friends think that they’re just taking part in a weekend of LARPing (Live Action Role Playing)—yes it is in fact real and not something conjured up for this story.  But when people start turning up dead, they start to realize that there is an evil force among them.  The friends—Hung (Peter Dinklage), Gwen (Summer Glau), Eric (Steve Zahn), Joe (Ryan Kwanten), and Ronnie Kwok (Jimmi Simpson)—end up having to face that evil force and stop it once and for all, essentially allowing them to finally live out their make believe fantasies for real.  Any viewer that can take this movie for the all-out nonsensical work that it is will appreciate all of the inanity (and insanity).  Those viewers will agree in watching the story that it is funny enough that it is worth at least one watch.

The story behind Knights of Badassdom has so many different facets about it that even as intentionally nonsensical as it was, it was still entertaining.  Helping the story’s entertainment was the acting on the part of the movie’s cast.  Led by actor Ryan Kwanten (True Blood), the cast’s interaction with one another throughout the story made for more than a few laughs.  And their portrayals of the stereotypical people in the role playing culture are just as entertaining.  One can’t help but laugh watching Steve Zahn as the wanna-be wizard, casting his “spells.” And Jimmi Simpson’s portrayal of the controlling, somewhat egotistical “game master” Ronnie Kwok is a complete laugh riot. Both Summer Glau and Peter Dinklage add their own charm, to the mix, too. The whole cast together will have viewers laughing nonstop right to the final scenes.

The movie’s cast and its interpretation of the movie’s script work together to make it a surprisingly entertaining work. It’s the cast’s interpretation of the script that makes all of the total absurdity believable and entertaining all at once. There is still one remaining factor in this new release from Entertainment One that makes it the surprisingly enjoyable work that it is. That last factor is the movie’s bonus material. The interview with director Joe Lynch is the best of the bonus features. Lynch discusses in his interview his love of the classic 1980s horror flicks and how that influenced his direction on this movie. Even more interesting is his mention of special effects company Spectral Motion making the monster and handling all of the special effects for this movie. He discusses how he wanted to have an actual monster and real special effects versus the far too overused CG effects employed by Hollywood’s biggest studios. That devotion to using the physical versus the digital made a big difference in the movie. Sure the monster looked cheesy. But as Lynch notes in his interview, it was supposed to look cheesy.   It was part of that homage to the 80s monster movies that Lynch grew up watching. Audiences will be amazed even more to learn that Spectral Motion is the company behind the creatures seen in Hellboy and Hellboy II. That such a well-known and equally respected company would offer its services for an indie horror flick—an indie horror spoof even—speaks volumes. And it paid off in a big way. Audiences will appreciate Lynch’s interview when they see it in its entirety. They will also appreciate the acting on the part of the movie’s cast and the script, penned by co-writers Kevin Dreyfuss and Matt Wall. Audiences will appreciate all of these factors and more that they will find for themselves when they order the movie on DVD and Blu-ray. It can be ordered online now via Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Knights-Badassdom-Blu-ray-Peter-Dinklage/dp/B00HOGRJQG/ref=sr_1_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1398801394&sr=1-2&keywords=knights+of+badassdom.

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Shout! Factory Announces Release Date For The Shadow Re-Issue

Courtesy: Shout! Factory/Universal Pictures

Courtesy: Shout! Factory/Universal Pictures

The Shadow is one of the most famed crime fighters of all time.  He is the original caped crusader.  His adventures amazed radio audiences long before Batman came along.  Sadly, after Batman and his fellow comic book superhero friends came along, The Shadow seemed to be pushed aside.  But in 1994, the world was re-introduced to The Shadow thanks to Universal Pictures.  Two decades after The Shadow was introduced to a new generation of audiences, he is bring introduced to yet another new generation of fans thanks to a partnership between Universal Pictures and Shout! Factory.

The Shadow (Collector’s Edition) will be released on Blu-ray Tuesday, February 25th.  The movie, starring Alec Baldwin (The Hunt for Red October, 30 Rock) in the starring role, tells the story of how The Shadow came to be.  It co-stars Penelope Ann Miller (The Artist, Awakenings, Kindergarten Cop), Peter Boyle (Young Frankenstein, The Santa Clause, Everybody Loves Raymond), Sir Ian McKellan (X-Men, X-2 X-Men United, X3 The Last Stand), and many others.

More information on this and other upcoming releases from Shout! Factory is available online at http://www.shoutfactory.com and http://www.facebook.com/shoutfactoryofficial.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Danny Phantom Complete Series Set Is Loads Of Ghostly Fun For All

Courtesy:  Nickelodeon/Shout! Factory

Courtesy: Nickelodeon/Shout! Factory

Nickelodeon’s programming today is comprised largely of live action sitcoms aimed at teen viewers.  However, from the early 1990s up until the mid-2000s, the network was known more for its vast array of cartoons.  It’s “Nicktoons” were its heart and soul.  While Nickelodeon does have some cartoons today, the network’s sole remaining real Nicktoon is Butch Hartman’s hugely successful series Fairly OddparentsFairly Oddparents is a standout series, too.  Interestingly enough, it isn’t his first series to have the honor of being added to Nickelodeon’s list of beloved Nicktoons.  His first notable “Nicktoon” was the short-lived supernatural series Danny Phantom.  Now thanks to Shout! Factory and Nickelodeon, fans of Danny Phantom will be able to own the complete series in one box later this month.  Danny Phantom only ran for three seasons.  In its defense, it could be argued that this was because it was ahead of its time.  That aside, series creator Butch Hartman and his writers crafted a number of enjoyable episodes throughout the show’s short run.  Just as worth noting about this new upcoming box set is that is alleviates some minor problems raised in the box sets containing the series’ second season.  Lastly, those that know their Nicktoons history will appreciate the voice talent that made up the series’ cast.  That who’s who of voice actors combined with the enjoyable stories, and the fact that they are all available together for the first time collectively make this upcoming set well worth picking up for any Danny Phantom fan.

Fans of Danny Phantom: The Complete Series  will appreciate this new complete series set first and foremost because it presents the series’ entire three-season run in one complete box set.  Nickelodeon and Shout! Factory have already released three complete series sets from Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Rocko’s Modern Life, and The Angry Beavers.  Those sets proved to actually take up far less space on DVD racks than the stand-alone season sets that had originally been released.  This set is no different.  All nine discs that make up all three seasons are included in this box.  Shout! Factory and Nickelodeon have sweetened the deal even more for fans in that they have maintained the established wise packaging that was used in the aforementioned complete series sets.  The discs are placed inside the box on either side of their own “insert” with the ninth and final disc being placed in its own spot inside the back of the case.  As with the previously noted box sets, this protects the discs and allows the episodes contained within each one to be enjoyed much longer.  It is the starting point of what audiences will appreciate about Danny Phantom: The Complete Series.

The packaging for Danny Phantom: The Complete Series is a good starting point in discussing everything that makes this box set well worth its price.  The episodes contained across the set’s nine total discs make the presentation as a whole even more enjoyable.  It would be easy to say that because its main characters were high school students, Danny Phantom was just another program aimed at audiences of the same age. To a point, it could be seen how teen audiences would take an interest in the series.  Case in point, one of the series’ story arcs involved a potential inter-racial romance between Danny and black classmate named Valerie Gray (voiced by Cree Summer—The Cosby Show, Clifford The Big Red Dog, Codename: Kids Next Door, etc.).  It really is a sign of the times that the show’s writers would include this without making a big fuss over it, either.  It is a subtle, but nice addition to the series.  There are also the constant struggles to balance trying to be a regular teen with being a superhero. But the jokes that are tossed in each episode aren’t above some younger viewers, either.  So while teens might have been the primary audience, younger viewers would have obviously enjoyed the show, too.  The same applies to today’s teens and pre-teens, too.

The packaging and writing that make up Danny Phantom’s episodes are collectively a big part of what makes the series so enjoyable even for today’s younger audiences.  There is at least one more aspect of the series’ new set that audiences will appreciate in examining the presentation as a whole.  That aspect is the series’ voice cast.  The series’ primary cast reads like a who’s who of voice acting.  It has already been noted that veteran voice actress Cree Summer is part of the primary cast (even though she doesn’t come into play until the second season).  Along with Ms. Summer, Grey DeLisle (The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Clifford The Big Red Dog, Clifford: The Puppy Years, Fosters Home For Imaginary Friends, etc.) Kath Soucie (Futurama, Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Beauty and the Beast, etc.), Rob Paulsen (Animaniacs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, etc.) and a whole slate of others each play roles in the series.  Fans will also recognize the voices of Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy, Pacific Rim, Hellboy & Hellboy II), Martin Mull (Roseanne), and the man who is perhaps the busiest male voice actor in the business, one Frank Welker (Curious George, The Real Ghostbusters, Scooby-Doo Where Are You, etc.)  Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men), Taylor Lautner (the Twilight saga), and the late David Carradine even make appearances throughout the series among so many other big names.  If the massive list of A-listers that play roles in Danny Phantom isn’t reason enough to check out the new Danny Phantom: The Complete Series box set, then one need only set that alongside the enjoyable writing and the equally wise packaging to see just how worthwhile this set is for kids and kids at heart.  It will be available in stores and online Tuesday, January 28th.  It can be pre-ordered online now from the Shout! Factory store at http://www.shoutfactory.com/product/danny-phantom-complete-series.  More information on this and other releases from Shout! Factory is available online at http://www.shoutfactory.com and http://www.facebook.com/shoutfactoryofficial.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty A Surprisingly Enjoyable Story For A Reboot

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox/Samuel Goldwyn Pictures

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox/Samuel Goldwyn Pictures

More often than not, Hollywood’s seemingly undying hunger for prequels, sequels, and remakes has led to some of the movie industry’s worst movies in memory in recent years. However, the 2013 remake of the 1947 Danny Kaye classic The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has proven to be the rare exception to that rule. One part Death of a Salesman and one part Forrest Gump, this last movie of 2013 is also the year’s best. This is despite the fact that it is just one more on the industry’s ever-growing list of prequels, sequels, and remakes. The very first factor in the success of this updated story is its writing. Writer Steve Conrad has taken author James Thurber’s original story and updated it in a way that works even despite being changed around so much.  Also to be taken into consideration is the acting of the cast.  Veteran actress Shirley MacClaine (Downton Abbey), comedienne Kristen Wiig (SNL), and Adam Scott (Parks & Rec) each expertly carry out their roles and make the story all the richer.  The same can also be said of surprise guest stars Patton Oswalt and Sean Penn.  The last aspect of the movie to consider in its success is its cinematography.  The scenes shot in Greenland and Iceland were beautiful to say the very least.  The same can be said of so many other scenes that make up Walter’s fantasies and his real life adventures.  That aspect comes together with the cast, its acting, and the general writing to make this movie one of the biggest surprises of 2013.

Writer Steve Conrad’s adaptation of author James Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is not the first time that the story has been adapted to the big screen.  Its first big screen adaptation was in 1947.  Little changed from that story–penned by writers Ken Englund, Everett Freeman, and Philip Rapp–and this latest take on Thurber’s story.  The one big difference between the two stories is that the original adaptation was a rom-com.  Conrad’s update is more of a human drama that centers on overcoming the fear of life’s uncertainties and taking risks.  Typically, making such a drastic change is a formula for disaster.  But this case is a very rare exception to the rule.  Somehow, Conrad has managed to make his story work.  And he has managed to do so in so many ways.  What he offers audiences in this adaptation is the story of a man that sets out to find a photograph, but ends up finding himself in the long run.  It’s all brought on as Life magazine, the magazine he works for is preparing to release its very last print issue before it becomes an entirely online entity.  This is another aspect of Conrad’s script that makes it work so well.  That’s because it is such a real story element.

The use of Life magazine transitioning from a print outlet to an entirely online entity is a hugely useful tool to advance this story.  That’s because of its realism.  So many branches of the print media have transitioned mainly to an online presence in order to survive in the digital age.  That transition makes for a lot of uncertainty in any number of individuals’ lives including the story’s lead character.  It’s that uncertainty of the future that forces Walter to make his daydreams become reality.  And Stiller’s take on Walter as he grows through his adventures serves to make the story all the richer.

Steve Conrad’s updated take on The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is surprisingly enjoyable despite being an update on one of Hollywood’s classic movies.  The human drama that makes up the story’s main plot does so much to make the story work.  The same can be said of the acting of lead Ben Stiller and his cast mates.  He makes his take on his character one that is entirely believable as Walter grows from a socially awkward wallflower type of figure to a more self-confident man.  His isn’t the only portrayal that makes the story work, either.  Surprise guest star Patton Oswalt is spot on as a tech rep with e-harmony.  He interacts with Walter solely via phone throughout most of the story.  Even over the phone, those moments make for so many laughs.  Just as funnier is the reveal of Oswalt’s character late in the movie.  His joke of what he thought Walter would look like compared to his own looks makes for one of so many classic moments throughout the story.  Adam Scott plays the story’s antagonist, Ted Hendricks, that comes in to Life as a “cleaner” of sorts responsible for downsizing the magazine’s staff.  He was just as much on spot in his role as the rest of the cast in its roles.  He is a completely cold, despicable figure that cares only about his own advancement.  He makes audiences cheer happily for Walter both when he confronts him in his daydream and for real later in the story.  That’s the sign of an actor fully grasping his character and getting the job done.  The same can be said of supporting actress Shirley MacClaine as Walter’s mom.  She is Walter’s only real source of support among everyone around him.  And one can feel the love that Walter’s mom has for him, too.  Anyone that doesn’t laugh and smile at the pair’s personal moments have no heart.  That ability of the cast to reach audiences on so many emotional levels is just as important as the script itself in this story’s success.  The story’s success doesn’t end here, either.  There is one more aspect of this movie that makes it successful.  That aspect is the movie’s cinematography.

The cinematography of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is beyond belief.  From Walter’s imaginary fight scenes with Ted to his real life adventure across Greenland, Iceland, and Afghanistan, the camera crews and editors went beyond the call of duty.  The contrast of Walter set against the giant magazine covers that lined the halls of Life make for their own statement.  That’s because as Walter runs past the covers, audiences see the figures on each cover turn to Walter’s face.  It makes for a statement of his dreams potentially becoming reality.  And in its own right, it is also a foreshadowing of sorts, not to reveal too much for those that haven’t yet seen.  These are just some of the examples of the expert cinematography that is exhibited throughout the course of the story.  There is much more for audiences to see for themselves.  And they will indeed find so much when they watch this story for themselves.  And together with its casting and writing, audiences will find so much to applaud in this movie; so much in fact that they will agree that despite being a reboot, it still proves to be 2013’s best new movie.

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Hey Arnold! Goes Out On Top In Its Fifth Season

Courtesy:  Shout! Factory/Nickelodeon

Courtesy: Shout! Factory/Nickelodeon

The end is finally here for another of Nickelodeon’s beloved classic Nicktoon, Hey Arnold! The final season of Hey Arnold! is finally available to the masses. And it goes without saying that Hey Arnold! has gone out on top in its final season. In fact, it was at the same level as the series’ third season. That is primarily because of the solid writing throughout all twenty-three of Season Five’s episodes. Also to note in this season are more guest spots. Both Andy Dick and Tim Curry offer their voice talents this season. And of course, one can’t ignore that as with the series’ previous season releases, Shout! Factory and Nickelodeon have continued to lead the pack in multi-disc sets. This season’s packaging was done just as the series’ previous seasons, making it that much more worthy of applause. And together with the solid writing and guest appearances, it all comes together to make Season Five a fitting send off for Hey Arnold!

The writing behind the final season of Hey Arnold! is some of the best writing in the show’s five total seasons. Being that this season was the show’s final run, the show’s writers sent the show off on top of its game. This season, the show’s writers spoof all the big name crime fighters with one of their own. They also take on the political machine when a local businessman in Arnold’s neighborhood takes on one of the city’s politicians. And in what are some of the series’ absolute best episodes, the show’s writers finally offer hints at who were Arnold’s parents in a pair of episodes. One of those episodes was a two-part episode that is certain to make even the strongest viewer tear up. This is just a small sampling of what makes Season Five so enjoyable. Audiences will also enjoy seeing Arnold and Eugene take on a bitter playwright in their annual school play. If that’s not enough, there’s even a bonus Halloween episode that sees Arnold and his friends take on the legend of a female spirit that murdered her fiancé. It sounds violent. But it’s entirely family friendly. There is still much more to enjoy this season, including an episode using the classic plot element of a young person learning the reality of germs. It makes for plenty of laughs every time. These episodes and the others from the show’s original run are all here. And whether one grew up with this classic series or one is a new fan, audiences will find what makes these episodes some of the series’ best.

Hey Arnold! goes out on top in Season Five. That’s primarily because of its writing. Season Five boasts not just solid writing but two great guest spots. Celebrities Andy Dick and Tim Curry make appearances this season. Andy Dick voices of a vigilante named Monkeyman in the season premiere. Monkeyman learns some very valuable lessons about both himself and those that he protects after meeting Arnold. And in “Eugene, Eugene”, Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Wild Thornberrys, Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties) stars as a bitter playwright that make his own version of a well-known play for the annual P.S. 118 fourth grade class play. When Arnold and Eugene discover the revisions made by Curry’s character, they confront him and then set the play on the right course despite the changes. The guest spots by both Curry and Dick aren’t the only ones made over the show’s five seasons. Jim Belushi (Life According to Jim, K9) and Jennifer Tilly (Family Guy, Monsters Inc.) also appear in the show. Tilly appears in Season Five’s episode, “Ernie in Love.” Having such big names appear in Hey Arnold!just goes to show that even into its fifth season, it had quite the high level of credibility. It adds even more to appreciate about both the series’ fifth season and the series as a whole.

The guest spots and the writing that went into Hey Arnold! Season Five both do so much to make this season one of the series’ best. The set’s packaging should also be taken into account in examining it as a whole. Shout! Factory and Nickelodeon have packaged Season Five exactly as the previous seasons of Hey Arnold!  The set’s first pair of discs each get their own spots on “plates” inside the standard size DVD case.  The third disc is placed on the inside back of the case on its own spindle.  This protects the discs from scratching one another and in turn allows them to be enjoyed with every watch.  It’s the crowning touch on a near perfect set for any true Nicktoons Nostalgic.  It is available now in stores and online and can be ordered direct from the Shout! Factory store at http://www.shoutfactory.com/node/217616.  More information on this and other Shout! Factory releases is available online at http://www.shoutfactory.com and http://www.facebook.com/shoutfactoryofficial.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.