Families Have Lots Of Viewing Options As They Spend The Holidays Together

Courtesy: PBS/PBS Distribution/PBS Kids

It’s hard to believe, but there is officially a little more than a week left in the almost old year. For most of the country, it means winter break is here and kids are out of school, getting excited over Christmas and relaxing. That means lots of parents out there are struggling to find ways to entertain their kids and maybe also keep their brains growing at the same time. Phil’s Picks’ final “best of” list for this year will hopefully help with those efforts.

The last of this year’s “best of” lists focuses on the year’s top new single-disc family friendly DVDs and Blu-rays. It features new releases for families from PBS, Shout! Factory, and Nickelodeon, as well as Turner Broadcasting/Cartoon Network, and even 20th Century Studios. It runs the gamut from the educational to the entertaining, too.

Without any further ado, here is the last of Phil’s Picks’ “best of” lists for 2021, this year’s Top 10 New Family DVDs/BDs.


  1. Hero Elementary: Sparks’ Crew Animal Rescue
  2. Wild Kratts: Cats and Dogs
  3. Dinosaur Train: Adventure Island
  4. Molly of Denali: Molly & The Great One
  5. Are You Afraid of the Dark?: Curse of the Shadows
  6. Victor & Valentino: Folk Art Foes
  7. Ron’s Gone Wrong
  8. Jungle Cruise
  9. Paw Patrol: The Movie
  10. PBS Kids Christmas Collection
  11. Thomas & Friends All Engines Go!: Time For Teamwork
  12. Sesame Street: Things Elmo Likes
  13. Sesame Street: Wonderful World of Friends
  14. Baby Shark’s Big Show!
  15. PBS Kids 15 Girl Power Adventures

That’s it for this year, folks. Again though, there are lots of new titles already announced and scheduled for 2022, so Phil’s Picks is already looking forward to next year for all the new family DVDs and BDs and so much other content. Stay tuned!

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

There’s Nothing To Fear About The New ‘Are You Afraid Of The Dark?’ DVD

Courtesy: Nickelodeon/Paramount/Viacom

Do you like scary stories?  That simple question, posed nearly a year go, heralded the long-awaited return of what is one of the most beloved series in Nickelodeon’s history – Are You Afraid of the Dark?  The series’ reboot (and for others its “eighth” season) was met largely with applause from audiences new and old alike.  Now almost a year removed from the mini-series event’s premiere, audiences are able to watch it anytime on DVD, as it was released Friday through Nickelodeon and Paramount at Target stores nationwide.  The DVD is a positive addition to the home library of any fan of Are You Afraid of the Dark?  That is due primarily to the actual episode, which will be discussed shortly.  It is just one of the DVD’s positives.  Its bonus content adds to its appeal and will be discussed a little later.  The DVD’s average price range rounds out its most important elements.  Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the DVD.  All things considered, they make this latest installment of Are You Afraid of the Dark? scary good.

Nickelodeon and Paramount’s newly released DVD presentation of Are You Afraid of the Dark? is a welcome addition to the home library of any of the series’ fans.  That includes fans of the original series and those of this latest reboot.  That is due in no small part to the DVD’s primary content.  The primary content in question is the central three-part story that finds a story told by the Midnight Society’s newest member Rachel coming to life.  Rachel’s story is about a Carnival of Terror that has haunted  her dreams for years.  The carnival and its creepy ringmaster Mr. Tophat (Rafael Casal – Blindspotting, bad Education, Def Poetry) first manifested in Rachel’s dreams when she was a child.  Now that she is living in a new town with her parents and joins the Midnight Society, those nightmares have become reality following her telling of the story.  Things start going bad from here, especially after Rachel and her new friends visit the carnival.  Gavin, Rachel’s crush (played here by Sam Ashe Arnold – Best. Worst. Weekend. Ever., Brotherhood, Winter Hymns), ends up going missing. At the same time, a mystery is revealed about another young man’s disappearance.  As it turns out, that boy’s disappearance is also linked to the carnival. This is just some of the trouble that happens when the carnival comes to town.  Akiko’s brother Hideo falls victim to the forces of evil, so its up to the Midnight Society to save him and everyone in town as they work to defeat Mr. Tophat once and for all.  There are other twists and turns tied into the story that add to the story’s interest.  Viewers who have not yet seen this story will be left to discover those twists and turns for themselves.  While Nickeldeon spaced out the story over the course of three weeks back in October, the new DVD release allows audiences to choose between watching the same way or just watching the movie all the way through.  In other words, viewers are free to watch the story at their own pace, rather than be tied down by any time constraints.  This works together with the story’s content to make this aspect a strong foundation for the DVD.  While the story and its presentation on the DVD clearly help its appeal, it is just one part of what makes the DVD a positive new presentation.  Its bonus content adds to its appeal.

The bonus content featured with the new home release of Are You Afraid of the Dark? is three episodes from the original series.  Specifically, hey are the episodes, “The Tale of Laughing in the Dark,” “The Tale of the Ghastly Grinner” and “The Tale of Dead Man’s Float.”  The episodes in question are considered by many fans to be among some of the series’ best stories.  “The Tale of Laughing in the Dark” is taken from Season 1, “The Tale of the Ghastly Grinner” from Season 4, and “The Tale of Dead Man’s Float” from Season 5.  Considering that the original series ran for seven seasons, this alone makes for a good representation of that series.  The first episode focuses on a young man named Josh (Christian Tessier – Fear The Walking Dead, The Day After Tomorrow, Real Detective) who stole the nose from a clown named Zeebo.  According to the legend told in the tale, Zeebo was believed to be the ghost of a clown also named Zeebo, who died in a fire after trying to steal money from a carnival.  Josh learns an invaluable lesson when Zeebo come after Josh in a scenario that will appeal to fans of Scream and pretty much any slasher flick.  On another level, one could also argue that the classic Appalachian story of the Tailypo played an influence in this story.  For those who have never heard the story of the Tailypo, it is a timeless, chill-inducing tale in its own right.  It centers on a hermit who is being stalked by a creature whose tail he took after shooting the creature.  The primary story there has a pretty dark ending.  That aside, it’s easy to see how that timeless tale might have influenced this story.

“The Tale of the Ghastly Grinner” will appeal to comic book fans.  It centers on young hopeful comic book artist Ethan (Amos Crawley – Billy Madison, The Virgin Suicides,  Night of the Twisters) as he is given a comic book by the owner of a new shop in his town.  Ethan unwittingly unleashes the comic book’s villain, The Ghastly Grinner when he puts the comic book into a microwave to dry the document.  It ends up being up to him and his friend Hooper (Heidi Burbela – Adam, Great Canadian Cookbook, Big Brother Canada) to stop the Ghastly Grinner and return it to its comic book world.  The story has a happy ending, just like every other episode of the classic series.

The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float is considered by many audiences to be the series best episode.  This story focuses on Zeke Matthews (Kaj-Erik Eriksen – The 4400, The Commish, 88 Minutes) as he and his classmate Clorice (Margot Finley – D3: The Mighty Ducks, Opposite Sex, First Wave) fight to stop an evil being (played by Marcel Jeannin – 300, Wicker Park, Taking Lives) that haunts the swimming pool in the students’ school.  Zeke has to overcome his fear of the water in order to help defeat the monster.  The story has a happy ending, with Zeke and Clorice becoming a couple.  That little secondary story line will appeal to certain audiences while the overarching horror story at the center of the tale will appeal more widely.  Between that, the episode’s production values and cinematography, this episode leaves little doubt why it remains such a memorable addition to the original run of Are You Afraid of the Dark?  When it is considered alongside the other bonus classic episodes, the trio goes a long way toward adding to the DVD’s appeal.

Staying on the topic of the classic episodes, it is known that all seven seasons of the original series are available exclusively through Amazon.  The problem is that those box sets are not official releases.  They are DVR sets that are essentially created on demand.  On another note, PlutoTV is streaming episodes from the original series, but the selection right now is limited.  To that end, having these three episodes featured in this DVD leaves one hoping that eventually Nickelodeon, Viacom and Paramount will finally take the steps to release all seven seasons in official sets complete with bonus content.  It’s one more series that will undoubtedly sell very well should officials with each company come to their senses and make that move.  Time will tell.

Getting back on track, the primary and secondary content featured in Nickelodeon and Paramount’s new home release of Are You Afraid of the Dark? go a long way toward making the DVD entertaining and engaging.  For all the value that they present, it should be noted that they make the DVD’s average price range appealing in its own way.  The DVD’s average price range is $14.45.  That price was obtained by averaging prices listed at Amazon, Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, and Books-A-Million.  Amazon and Best Buy offer the least expensive listings at $11.99 each.  Walmart, Books-a-Million, and Barnes & Noble Booksellers all broke that price point with listings at $16.99, $15.76, and $16.99 respectively.  Target’s listing of $12.99 is the only listing below the average price point — $12.99 – other than those of Amazon and Best Buy.  As an additional note, research has shown that Target is the only one of the noted retailers that offers the DVD in store.  The other retailers force audiences to order online.  This is important to note because some people prefer to shop in person instead of online.  In other words, audiences wanting the lowest price (even including shipping and handling) will have to order the DVD through Amazon and Best Buy.  Otherwise, audiences who prefer to shop in store will have to pay a dollar more at Target.  The other retailers are just too expensive, in comparing the listings.  That those key listings are all under the $15 mark for a DVD that has just over two hours of content old and new alike, makes that average price point appealing, without question.  What’s more the noted less expensive listings are affordable for audiences, too.  That is the most important thing here.  When this is considered along with the DVD’s primary and secondary content, the whole of this DVD becomes a welcome addition to the library of any Are You Afraid of the Dark? fan.

Nickelodeon and Paramount’s newly released DVD presentation of Are You Afraid of the Dark? is a positive presentation for new and old fans alike of this unforgettable series.  That is due in part to the DVD’s primary content, the three-part episode that originally aired in 2019.  It is a gripping story that will haunt audiences in all of the best ways.  The trio of classic episodes that accompany the new story as bonus content adds even more appeal to the DVD.  It will take fans of the original series back to another time while also introducing a new generation of audiences to that great series.  The DVD’s average price point is relatively affordable.  That is especially the case with its least expensive listings.  All three noted elements are important in their own way to the whole of this DVD.  All things considered they make Are You Afraid of the Dark? one of this year’s top new family DVDs/BDs.  More information on the DVD and the forthcoming second (technically ninth) season of Are You Afraid of the Dark? is available along with all of the series’ latest news at http://www.facebook.com/AreYouAfraidOfTheDark.

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

Out Of The Vault Christmas Will Put Any Nicktoons Nostalgic In The Holiday Spirit

Courtesy:  Shout! Factory/Nickelodeon

Courtesy: Shout! Factory/Nickelodeon

Nickelodeon debuted its re-branded classic Nicktoons programming block this week. “The Splat,” formerly “The 90s Are All That” debuted Monday on Nickelodeon’s TeenNick network. Not everybody has been overly happy that it was put out on one of Nickelodeon’s digital networks instead of the main network. That is because TeenNick is essentially a premium network. While those arguing against the decision by Nickelodeon’s heads to keep that classic programming on a premium network have a somewhat valid argument that argument is also somewhat flimsy as Nickelodeon and Shout! Factory teamed up a few years ago and have since released both single season standalone and full season box sets from a number of Nickelodeon’s classic series. Those series include: Hey Dude, Hey Arnold!, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, The Angry Beavers, Danny Phantom, Rocko’s Modern Life, and The Wild Thornberrys over the course of the past few years or so. The sets have all been made available on DVD in stores and online. It’s anyone’s guess if Doug, Rugrats, Rocket Power, or even the likes of Salute Your Shorts or Are You Afraid of the Dark? will ever get proper DVD releases in stores (since those series are currently only available online). One can only hope that one day Nickelodeon and Shout! Factory will strike a deal that will lead to those latter series each getting their own proper releases. Until then Nickelodeon and Shout! Factory have yet another classic Nicktoons release for all the 90s Nicktoons fans out there in the form of the new holiday compilation Out Of The Vault Christmas. This single-disc compilation features sixteen episodes from five of Nickelodeon’s beloved classic animated series. It is just one reason that viewers (especially those without the TeenNick network) will enjoy and appreciate this collection of classic cartoons. It is just one reason that audiences will enjoy it, too. The writing behind each of the compiled episodes is just as important to the collection’s overall viewing experience as the presentation of the episodes in general. As with the previously released Nicktoons Halloween collection, the diversity of the shows’ animation styles rounds out the reasons that viewers will appreciate this latest collection from Shout! Factory and Nickelodeon. Each noted element is important in its own right in the DVD’s overall presentation. When set together they show Out Of The Vault Christmas to be a great way for any Nicktoons Nostalgic to get into the holiday spirit.

Shout! Factory and Nickelodeon’s new holiday-themed collection of Nicktoons episodes is a great way for fans of the classic cartoon series to get into the holiday spirit. The central way in which it proves this is in its very collection of episodes. Shout! Factory and Nickelodeon have stepped things up in this new collection, offering viewers a grand total of sixteen episodes. That is up from the ten featured in both of the companies’ previous Out Of The Vault collections. What’s more, none of the episodes featured here have been carried over from the respective series’ previous DVD releases but not from the previous Out Of The Vault DVDs. This means that while technically they have been recycled, they also have not been recycled. It’s semantics, yes. But it’s true. Because they have been carried over from the series’ previous season (and full series) sets but not from the previous OOTV sets (as it will henceforth be known), their presentation here makes them quite the boon for anyone that might not have any of the featured series’ previously released box sets. This includes both the series’ single season standalone sets (say that five times fast) and their full-series sets. Considering all of this it shows that the presentation of the episodes tapped for the collection is in itself an important part of the set’s whole albeit just one part of that whole. It gives those that might not have any of the series’ sets a solid start to their Nicktoons collections. Even for those that have some or even all of the previously released Nicktoons sets from Shout! Factory and Nickelodeon it still serves as a fun holiday collection. To that extent the episodes that make up the body of the DVD show their importance even more. It is just one reason that audiences will enjoy and appreciate the collection, too. The writing behind the collection’s featured episodes makes for even more enjoyment.

The episodes presented in Nickelodeon and Shout! Factory’s new Nicktoons holiday compilation DVD are in their own right an important part of the DVD’s overal enjoyment and success. Being that the episodes have been recycled only from their series’ respective season and series sets, and that the companies have increased the episode count from ten to sixteen, the episodes more than give viewers reason to check out this new DVD. Of course the episodes are only one part of what makes this DVD so enjoyable. The writing behind the episodes plays its own part in the DVD’s success. That is because while there are some directly holiday-themed episodes presented across the collection’s episodes, there are some that are not so direct yet still maintain at east some hoiday connection. In regards to the episodes whose scripts are directly linked to Christmasnone of those episodes are like the others. A comparison of “Arnold’s Christmas” to “Rocko’s Modern Christmas” and “A Very CatDog Christmas” clearly shows this. “Arnold’s Christmas” is a touching half-hour episode of Hey Arnold! that boasts just as much heart as any of the series’ other episodes if not more. Even more interesting about this episode is that for all of the emotional impact that it offers, at no point did the show’s writers ever allow it to become just another over-the-top, schmaltzy holiday presentation. Instead the writers maintained full control throughout the episode, presenting a very real and relatable story that will tug at the heartstrings of viewers of all ages. On the other side of that proverbial coin, the stories presented in “A Very CatDog Christmas” and “Rocko’s Modern Christmas” both present rather dysfunctional characters who ironically enough still manage to learn the true meaning of Christmas in their own manner. The dysfunction is made clear in “A Very CatDog Christmas” as Cat and Dog end up causing Santa to cancel Christmas because they decide to sell themselves to Rancid’s daughter Rancine. Of course the four-legged friends eventually learn a very important lesson, in turn bringing back Santa.

In regards to the episodes that are not directly holiday-themed but still carry some connection to the holidays, even those episodes are just as fun. Aaahh!!! Real Monsters’ episode “Gone Shopp’n” is a prime example of that entertainment. Ickis, Oblina, and Krumm sneak into a department store on the holidays and end up stopping a robbery in their own attempt to scare the mall’s patrons. Audiences will laugh out loud as Krumm harnesses a pair of security dogs and hooks them up to a sleigh. The dogs end up pulling the sleigh a la Santa’s reindeer. It is really the episode’s only connection to the holidays. But it is a funny moment nonetheless. “Monsers Don’t Dance” is yet another example of how this collection’s less holiday-themed episodes make for their own share of enjoyment. It is an episode that the show’s now grown-up audiences will fully appreciate because of the truths presented throughout. This episode makes fun of the likes of Barney and so many other similar performing figures who brainwash kids into buying their products. Every parent out there will be able to relate fully to this episode and in turn will find himself or herself laughing just as much. It’s just one more way in which the work of the shows’ writing makes these episodes so enjoyable. “Arnold’s Thanksgiving” is yet another example of exactly that. Arnold and Helga both learn to appreciate their own families in this episode even despite each family’s rather dysfunctional nature. It reminds viewers that no matter how bad they might think they might have things and how dysfunctional their own families might be, there is always someone that has it worse. It’s a great lesson for viewers to remember whether on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any other time of the year. And it reminds viewers even more of why the writing behind each of the episodes featured on this DVD adds to the enjoyment in the DVD’s overall viewing experience.

The episodes featured within the body of OOTV Christmas and the writing behind each episode are both equally important in the grand scheme of the DVD’s viewing experience. Both elements make the DVD enjoyable in their own right. Together, they give viewers plenty of reason to pick up this latest addition to Shout! Factory and Nickelodeon’s OOTV series of releases. While both elements prove equally important in their own right, the animation styles presented in each show proves just as important to the DVD’s overall enjoyment. That is because so few of today’s “animated” series are actually animated in the traditional sense of the word. So many of today’s “animated” series are animated in name only. That is because they are largely crafted on a computer screen rather than an animation cell. There is no identity to said series. The series presented here however are the polar opposite of today’s “animated series.” Viewers that are familair with Nickelodeon’s classic ainmated series will see a clear connection between the early days of the network’s hit series Rugrats and that of Aaahh!!! Real Monsters in watching its episodes. It should come as no surprise since Krumm, Ickis, and Oblina happened to make a guest appearance of sorts in one of the Rugrats’ hallloween episodes. There is also a certain similarity to the animation style presented in The Wild Thornberrys. By comparison, the more rigid style of The Angry Beavers helps to give that show its own identity separate from that of the set’s other shows. CatDog and Hey Arnold! also hold their own in regards to their animation styles. CatDog’s animation style is as close as any of the series come to having a real cartoon-ish look. Hey Arnold! on the other hand presents something of a (believe it or not) more realistic look. From the show’s backdrop that is the city to the look of Arnold and the rest of the characters there is something about their design that makes them look more believable than cartoon-y. It is a great look separate from that of any of the set’s other series. And it is yet another example of why the animation styes presented within each of the set’s show’s plays just as important a role in the set’s enjoyment as the show’s writing and their very presentation in general. It is one more reminder of everything that was once right with children’s mainstream programming just as with the episodes’ writing. Both elements together with the presentation of the episodes themselves make OOTV Christmas a great way for any Nicktoons Nostalgic to get into the holiday spirit.

Shout! Factory and Nickelodeon’s new collection of Christmas-themed Nicktoons episodes is a great way for fans of the classic shows to get into the holiday spirit this year and any year. That is thanks in large part to the fact that none of the episodes presented in this set have previously been presented in the companies’ previous OOTV collections. They have been presented only in the shows’ previously released season and full series sets. Whhat’s more, Nickelodeon and Shout! Factory have given audiences sixteen episodes this time instead of the ten episodes each presented in the previous OOTV collections. The various animation styles presented within each show serves as a reminder of everything that used to make animation so great. It gives each show its own identity separate from the others. Each element exhibits its own importance over the course of the DVD’s nearly four hour run time. All three elements combined make OOTV Christmas yet another collection of cartoons from Nickelodeon and Shout! Factory that will get any Nicktoons Nostalgic in the holiday mood. It is available now in stores. More information on this and other titles from Shout! Factory and Nickelodeon is available online now at:

Website: http://www.shoutfactory.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/shoutfactoryofficial

Twitter: http://twitter.com/ShoutFactory

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.

My Uncle Rafael Is Loaded With Laughs And Heart

Courtesy:  TNP Films

Courtesy: TNP Films

My Uncle Rafael is the best new independent movie of 2014.  And it is arguably one of the best new movies of the year, too.  Originally released in 2012, its release this week on DVD marks the first time that it has seen the light of day in home release format.  And while it obviously owes a certain amount of its success to Robin Williams’ 1993 hit movie Mrs. Doubtfire, it still manages to stand strong on its own merits as a movie that is at least somewhat original in its presentation.  That is the central point of the movie’s success.  It has all the heart and wit of Mrs. Doubtfire without Robin Williams’ cross-dressing and manic character portrayal.  And while it does maintain at least some similarity in its approach to the family-fixing plotline, it approaches the issue through a multi-cultural avenue rather than that of a desperate father. Sign of the times, it would seem.  Just as important to the movie’s enjoyment is the acting on the part of the movie’s cast.  It would have been so simple for the cast, which is relatively well-known and experienced to treat the movie like the independent movie that it is.  But each member of the cast approached this work with the same seriousness used in its other performances.  The professional approach taken by the cast of My Uncle Rafael adds so much enjoyment to the movie.  It adds so much especially considering the quality of the movie’s production values.  While released via an independent studio—TNP Films—the movie’s production values are just as quality as anything released by any of Hollywood’s “Power 5” studios.  That actor, along with the work of the cast and of the movie’s writers, makes My Uncle Rafael a complete joy for audiences of almost any age.  Again, it isn’t the first time that the story presented here has been utilized for a movie.  But its execution makes it a move well worth the watch.

The story that is presented in My Uncle Rafael is not the first of its kind.  It is the story of an outsider coming into a family’s home and fixing said family.  It has been used numerous times in the past.  In 1993, it was presented in the hit movie Mrs. Doubtfire. Two years prior, it was used in pro-wrestling legend Terry “Hulk” Hogan’s family comedy Suburban Commando.  And to a lesser extent it was also used in Vin Diesel’s 2005 flash-in-the-pan flick The Pacifier.  It could even be argued that a similar formula was used way back in the 1989 John Candy dramedy Uncle Buck.  Considering all of this, it leaves one wondering how many other ways in which the “family fix” formula could be used without it being stale and unoriginal.  Enter My Uncle Rafael.  My Uncle Rafael (not to be confused with Joe Pesci’s 1992 dramedy My Cousin Vinny—yes that bad pun was intended) takes the classic “family fix” formula and updates it by incorporating a multi-cultural theme into the story.  Most interesting here is the fact that the duo used an elderly Middle Eastern man as the movie’s central figure.  This was really interesting especially considering the tensions between Americans and those of Middle Eastern descent currently living in the United States.  It’s an angle that few if any writers would even begin to attempt.  For that alone, Pirhamzei and Yagemann are deserving of a certain amount of credit.  That the duo didn’t try to make a direct light of Rafael’s nationality as a soap box makes the script even more worthy of applause.  Omitting that from the script makes the rest of the story far more enjoyable and in turn more memorable.

The script behind My Uncle Rafael is not the first of its kind.  That goes without saying.  But there are aspects of the script that make it surprisingly enjoyable.  As enjoyable as the movie’s script proves to be in the long run, it would be nothing without the abilities of the movie’s cast.  John Michael Higgins (Yes Man, Happily Divorced, Bad Teacher) brings plenty of experience to the movie as do Missi Pyle (The Artist, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Gone Girl), Anthony Clark (Yes, Dear, Boston Common, Soul Man), Joe Lo Truglio (Role Models, Wreck-It-Ralph, Pineapple Express), Carly Chaikin (Suburgatory, The Last Song, In A World…), and Rachel Blanchard (Clueless—TV Series, 7th Heaven, Are You Afraid of the Dark).  The competition between Higgins’ Damon and Clark’s Jack makes for plenty of laughs.  It is a competition much like that seen in Mrs. Doubtfire.  Missi Pyle is just as entertaining as she becomes caught up in the movie’s central love triangle all while trying to maintain her place as mother to her children.  But it is really Vahik Pirhamzei’s portrayal of the loveable Uncle Rafael that really shines.  Pirhamzei’s portrayal gives Uncle Rafael so much heart and warmth.  He makes Rafael loveable not only to his fellow characters but to audiences, too.  One can’t help but agree in watching Rafael that maybe the uncle really is at the center of everything.  Only audiences that watch the movie or have watched it will get that reference.  In hindsight, Rafael’s portrayal makes that line make perfect sense.  That isn’t to take away from Pirhamzei’s cast mates by any means.  Both the more well-known actors and the lesser known cast members add their own enjoyment to the story in whole, too.  But it is his portrayal that holds everything together and makes each of his cast mates’ portrayals all the more entertaining with the end result of the cast in general doing its own part to show once again why My Uncle Rafael  is this year’s best new independent movie and one of the year’s best movies overall.

The writing that went into My Uncle Rafael and the acting on the part of the movie’s cast both play their own important part in the overall success of this surprisingly entertaining story.  Rounding out the presentation is its production values.  Being that this movie is independent, one would think that it would not have the production values of its bigger name family friendly counterparts that have come before.  But the reality is that its production values are quite high.  That includes the movie’s cinematography, its backdrops, costumes, and all other elements that went into bringing the movie to life.  Having such quality production values, it makes sense that the largely veteran cast would want its portrayals to be just as high quality.  The combination of that high quality acting and equally high quality production values adds to the ability of audiences to suspend their disbelief and in turn allow themselves to be immersed into the story and thus offer it the chance that it quite well deserves.  In giving it the chance that it deserves, audiences will agree that this movie is just as enjoyable as its more well-known predecessors and that it is one of this year’s best new movies as well as the year’s best new independent movie.

My Uncle Rafael is available now on DVD in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct via Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/My-Uncle-Rafael-Anthony-Clark/dp/B00O1D3AN6/ref=sr_1_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1418861938&sr=1-2&keywords=my+uncle+rafael.  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.

The Haunting Hour’s First Season Closes With Two More Scary Sets Of Stories

Courtesy:  Shout! Factory/The Hub

Courtesy: Shout! Factory/The Hub

R.L. Stine and The Hub are back with two more volumes of seriously scary stories for kids and their parents.  The Haunting Hour Vol. 3 & 4 offer audiences ten more tales of terror that will entertain and scare audiences every time they turn them on.  This latest pair of volumes offers not only five great episodes each, but some star power, too.  The Haunting Hour Vol. 3 boats guest appearances from the likes of Robert Capron (Diary of a Wimpy Kid), Maddison Pettis (Cory in the House), Christopher Heyerdahl (Hell on Wheels, Sanctuary), and others.  Apparently, Heyerdahl has a thing for playing villains, much like Tim Curry, as he takes on the role of quite the scary character in the episode, ‘Fear Never Knocks.’  Heyerdahl’s character is absolutely creepy in his role in this episode, terrorizing a pair of children who stumble upon their grandfather’s “box of fear.”  He is released when young Jenny decides to play with the box, and releases both her fears and those of her brother and fear itself (played by Heyerdahl).  Also in Volume Three, Maddison Pettis is one of three kids that get caught up in a supernatural story that brings the past and present together thanks to a mysterious mask.  The mask shows events that happened in the past, which themselves lead to another mystery that will leave viewers guessing right up to the end of the story.  And in another of the set’s best episodes, Robert Capron plays a young man whose overactive apetite leads him to get much more than he hoped for after a strange ice cream truck starts making rounds through the boy’s neighborhood.  This is an episode that will send “chills” (ba-dump-bump-bump) through every viewer, and will make them think twice next time they see an ice cream truck come through their neighborhood.  What’s more, it’s a valuable warning against over eating, too, ironically enough.  It’s little things like this, and the writing for the other noted episodes that make The Haunting Hour Volume Three another nice inclusion for any fan of ghost stories and of R.L. Stine’s work.

Courtesy:  Shout! Factory/The Hub

Courtesy: Shout! Factory/The Hub

The scares don’t stop with Volume Three of The Haunting Hour.  Fans will also enjoy Volume Four, which was released alongside Volume Three.  The show’s fourth volume offers even more scares, as well as guest appearances.  It all opens with another episode that’s just as much a warning as it is a scary story in ‘Wrong Number.’  Debby Ryan (The Suite Life on Deck, Radio Rebel) stars in this episode as Steffani.  Steffani is a rather spoiled young woman that is the very stereotype of the stuck up “mean girl.”  But she gets what’s coming to her when she and her friend decide to prank call an elderly woman one night.  The consequences of her actions turn out to be deadly, as a matter of fact.  This is just one of the many scary stories presented in The Haunting Hour Volume Four.  Another equally terrifying tale included in this set is the episode, ‘Lights Out.’  Super 8 star Gabriel Basso stars as Teddy, a young teen skeptic who is pulled into a ghost hunt after watching a ghost hunt show on TV.  Teddy’s friends set out to prove to him that ghosts are in fact real in their hunt for the supernatural.  He learns that lesson in a way he never would have expected, nor will viewers who have never seen this episode.  The twist ending will scare audiences to no end and leave them talking.  As with Volume Three, what is presented here is just part of what makes Volume Four so enthralling.  The stories presented in these two volumes are sure to scare and entertain both kids and adults alike.

The Haunting Hour recently wrapped its third season on The Hub network.  Allegedly, a fourth season might be in production.  That gives ample time for both seasons Two and Three to be released to DVD while fans await the show’s return to The Hub.  Until then though, these last two volumes of Season One will keep audiences coming back again and again.  All four volumes are available in stores and online and can be ordered online direct at http://www.shoutfactorystore.com

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