Warner Brothers’ Superman Reboot Anything But Invincible

Courtesy:  Warner Brothers Home Video

Courtesy: Warner Brothers Home Video

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

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

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

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

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

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

Da Vinci’s Demons A Surprise Hit In Its Debut Season

Courtesy:  Starz/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Courtesy: Starz/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Da Vinci’s Demons is not the first historically based drama on television today.  It is however, one of the best.  And now thanks to Starz and Anchor Bay, those that aren’t lucky enough to have Starz network can experience the first season of this hit series for themselves on DVD and Blu-ray.  The first season of Da Vinci’s Demons is so entertaining first and foremost because of its clever writing. Unlike so many other historical dramas, this one is more centered on action and adventure than drama.  It’s one part Indiana Jones and one part…well…Da Vinci’s Code tied into one.  Audiences will also appreciate the work on the part of the show’s cast throughout all eight of Season One’s episodes.  And of course what box set would be complete without at least some bonus features?  The bonus features included in Da Vinci’s Demons Season One are relatively brief.  But they play their own part in making the overall presentation of Season One enjoyable.  These aspects taken into consideration, they work in tandem to make this debut season one that is a must see for any fan of historical dramas.

The most important element of Da Vinci’s Demons Season One is its writing.  Credit where credit is due.  Series creator and writer David S. Goyer (Man of Steel, The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Blade Trilogy) has crafted in the series’ first season that is a more akin to Indiana Jones than say Game of Thrones.  It just used setting in question as the backdrop for all of the action.  Goyer and his staff of writers are more than deserving of respect for balancing the story of his search for the “Book of Leaves” with his being wrapped up in the political and religious turmoil of the time.  It would have been so easy for the two separate story lines to step on one another, especially considering the depth of each story line.  Keeping in mind the depth of the story arcs throughout Season One, viewers will have to be fully invested in each episode in order to fully appreciate them.  One cannot simply have any of Season One’s episodes playing while one does housework, etc. and expect to have a full appreciation for the writing.  This is a good thing, too.  It is good because in being fully invested in each episode, audiences will see the value of and originality in each episode and the first season overall.

The writing behind any TV show and movie is the backbone of each.  It can make or break the given TV show or movie.  By direct correlation, the work of the show’s cast makes the show even more of a joy to watch.  Actor Tom Riley aptly fills the role of a young Leonardo Da Vinci opposite his equally talented cast mates.  He shows his acting chops quite well with this subtle wit and control over his character’s deeper emotions.  There are those actors that tend to ham it up on both ends of that spectrum.  But Riley doesn’t do that.  It makes him all the more fun to watch.   He and his cast mates collectively make suspension of disbelief easy, too.  This should come as no surprise considering the resumes of some of the main cast.  The cast is comprised of rather well trained theater actors that are just as experienced in their craft as they are trained.  Elliot Cowan (Lorenzo Medici) is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.  He also holds a degree in Drama from Birmingham University.  He has starred in a number of major films including Alexander (2004) and The Golden Compass (2007).  Viewers will recognize Gregg Chillin (Zoroaster) from his roles in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  And those that have seen Nanny McPhee Returns will likely recognize actor Eros Vlahos.  Vlahos played Cyril Gray in that movie.  He has also starred in none other than Game of Thrones as Lommy Greenhands.  The collective resume of the cast of Da Vinci’s Demons goes on for quite some time.  But one can tell from this microscopic look at that resume just why suspension of disbelief was so easy and why the cast gelled so well together.  It’s one more aspect of the show that makes it such a surprise hit.

The casting and writing behind Da Vinci’s Demons are integral to the show’s success.  Also noteworthy in this triple-disc box set is the bonus features.  The primary bonus features included in the set take viewers into the recording studio, where the show’s soundtrack was recorded.  Also included among the bonus features are the standard deleted scenes, and a look behind the scenes of the show.  Each feature is a short vignette.  But they do their own part to make the overall experience richer.  Even more important to Season One is the inclusion of bonus commentary as well as the option to play each episode with a recap of the previous episodes.  The recap is especially helpful regardless of whether or not one missed any of the episodes presented in this set.  Even if a person has seen each episode, a recap helps remind viewers of what has already happened.  Considering that each episode is just over an hour in length, it makes the recaps even more important an addition to each episode.  It is the proverbial cherry on the sundae that makes Season One of Da Vinci’s Demons such a surprise hit.  Along with the show’s writing and its acting, it makes this box set all the more worth picking up.  It is available now in stores and online and can be ordered direct from Anchor Bay Entertainment’s website at http://www.anchorbayentertainment.com/detail.aspx?projectID=fd093f1f-88ae-e211-b6d4-d4ae527c3b65.  More information on this and other releases from Anchor Bay Entertainment and Starz is available online at http://www.anchorbayentertainment.com and http://www.facebook.com/AnchorBay.  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 Muppets Bring More Joy And Heart To The Holidays With New Re-Issue

Courtesy:  Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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