Audiences Will Say “Yes” To Shout! Factory’s ‘Yes Virginia’ BD Re-Issue

Courtesy: Shout! Factory/Paradigm Entertainment

Believing in those things that cannot be seen is one of the hardest things that we as humans can do. That is because the need to see in order to believe is something that is seemingly ingrained in mankind. Yet sometimes, just sometimes, believing in those things unseen without actually seeing them can and does make us and our lives better. That is the message at the center of the 1991 ABC holiday special Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus, which was re-issued this past October via Shout! Factory. It is also one part of what makes the 142-minute (two hours, 22-minutes) movie such a worthwhile watch this and any holiday season. It will be discussed shortly. The work of the movie’s cast is just as important to discuss in examining this movie as its central message (and by direct connection, the movie’s story). The bonus interview with Andrew J. Fenaday, the movie’s Executive Producer and co-writer rounds out the movie’s most important elements. When it is set alongside the other noted elements, all three combine to make Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus a touching, memorable holiday standard that should be in any family’s holiday movie collection.

Shout! Factory’s recent Blu-ray re-issue of ABC’s classic 1991 holiday special Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus is a must have for any family’s holiday movie collection. That is proven in part through the movie’s central message, which is tied directly to the movie’s story. The movie’s central message is one of hope and faith. It says to audiences that sometimes, just sometimes, believing in those things unseen without actually seeing them can and does make us and our lives better. Given it’s not the first time that such a message has been presented in any movie or TV special (E.g. The Year Without A Santa Claus, It’s A Wonderful Life, The Polar Express), but it is no less impacting here as in those presentations. The world needs those occasional reminders, especially considering the world’s current state. The way in which that message is delivered here (the movie’s story) illustrates that message quite well, too. It does so through a two-part story that sees not only Virginia (Katharine Isabelle — Insomnia, Freddy vs. Jason, Ginger Snaps) looking for something in which to believe but also her father James (Richard Thomas — The Waltons, It (1990), Wonder Boys). While Virginia’s desire for truth about Santa is simple on the surface, that need for something positive to believe in is far deeper, especially with her being in her formative years. James’ need for something in which to believe is so important because he is an immigrant, and he just wants to be able to give his family a better life. Having so much trouble trying to find stable work makes believing things can get better makes difficult that ability to believe things will get better.

Even newsman Francis Church (Charles Bronson — The Great Escape, Deathwish, The Maginificent Seven) finds himself in need of something in which to believe having lost his wife and daughter as the story opens. It is Virginia’s letter that gives him something in which to believe and ultimately emotionally heal. It kind of makes Church’s very name rather ironic in the long run. Of course everyone gets their happy ending. Given, life does not necessarily always have a happy ending, not believing in something doesn’t make us or life any better either. That being the case, it proves the importance of this story’s message for its presentation along with the story itself. That message (and the story through which the message is delivered) is only part of what makes this recent re-issue so enjoyable. The work of the movie’s cast is just as notable as the movie’s story and message.

In regards to the cast’s work, both the main and supporting cast deserves credit for their part in the movie’s presentation. Richard Thomas and Richard Bronson are the movie’s real stars, despite the movie’s title, story and message. One can’t help but root for James and Francis as they struggle with their situations — James as he tries to be that provider for his family and Francis as he tries to come to terms with the loss of his family. While the men’s situations are so different, it is clear in the performances that each actor fully embraced his character’s role and situation. Richard’s reaction as James is harassed by his former co-workers is spot on, and makes one feel so strongly for him. In the same breath, when he brings home the Christmas surprise for his family at the story’s end (that surprise won’t be given away here) leaves one wanting to stand up and cheer for him. On Bronson’s side, audiences will applaud him just as much as they will Thomas for his acting. Both men really come across as method actors in their roles, fully embracing the men and their situations. That embracing is, perhaps, what keeps either from going over the top in their respective performances, and in turn keeping audiences fully engaged and entertained throughout the story.

In regards to the supporting cast of Ed Asner (as Church’s editor, Edward P. Mitchell), Tamsin Kelsey (as James’ wife Evie O’Hanlan) and Colleen Winton (as Francis’ co-worker), their work is just as impressive to note as that of Bronson and Thomas. Asner, already having racked up plenty of accomplishments and accolades years ahead of this movie (including his time on Mary Tyler Moore, Roots and Route 66) plays the editor/semi-father figure to Francis expertly. Asner showed each time he was on camera that he knew his was a supporting role, yet still made Edward a strong foil to Francis. While Winton’s resume was not as extensive as those of her cast mates at the time this movie was released (who was best known by then for her work on the 1988 movie Watchers), she still played her part expertly, too as Andrea worked to bring Francis back to his old self. In the same vein, Kelsey’s work as Mrs. O’Hanlan makes Evie such a warm character even as little as she is on-screen. Yet even as little as she is on-screen, her chemistry with Thomas makes her so believable and entertaining. She is that loving mother who works hard even as a housewife to be the best she can be, which is fully admirable. Between her work, that of her fellow supporting actors and that of Thomas, Bronson and Isabelle, it becomes clear in examining each why each actor’s work on camera is so important and impressive here. Each actor put his or her best foot forward throughout, not trying to outdo anyone else, but rather playing off of his or her cast mates. The end result is a group of performances that collectively does just as much for this movie as the movie’s story and its connected message. Those collected performances are not the last of the movie’s most important elements, either. The bonus interview with Andrew J. Fenaday, the movie’s Executive Producer and Co-Writer rounds out the movie’s most important elements.

C. Courtney Joyner’s interview with Fenaday adds its own special touch to the movie’s home presentation because of the insight and entertainment that it offers audiences. One of the key insights offered through the interview comes as Fenaday talks about casting Bronson as Francis Church. He reveals that Bronson had in fact had his own tragedies not long before taking on the role of the famed reporter — both his wife and his agent had died not too long before he took the role — who had lost his wife and daughter before receiving Virginia’s letter. On a lighter note, Fenaday also jokes about his work on so many action flicks and how it played into this movie’s fight scenes being added to its presentation. That moment is one of the interview’s most memorable of its light-hearted moments. There are also discussions about how Fenaday came to take part in this TV special’s creation, its life as a stage play and so much more. The whole interview proves to be a fully in-depth presentation that audiences of all ages will enjoy and appreciate. When it is set alongside the main feature’s story (and message) and the work of the movie’s cast, the whole of those elements makes this movie truly a special holiday presentation — one that should be in every family’s holiday collection.

Shout! Factory’s recent Blu-ray re-issue of ABC’s 1991 holiday special Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus is a release that deserves a spot in any family’s holiday collection. As has already been noted above, that is due in no small part to the movie’s story and the powerful message contained therein. The cast’s work on camera adds its own special to the movie’s presentation. The bonus interview with the movie’s Executive Producer and Co-Writer Andrew J. Fenaday puts the finishing touch on the movie’s home presentation. Each element is important in its own right to the movie’s presentation. All things considered, they make this re-issue of the holiday standard a must have for every family’s holiday collection. It is available now in stores and online. More information on this and other titles from Shout! Factory is available online now at:

Website: http://www.shoutfactory.com

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/ShoutFactory

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The Great Escape Is A Great War Movie

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox/MGM

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox/MGM

The world celebrated what is one of the most important dates in history last week with the remembrance of VE Day.  That was the day that the war in Europe ended.  Interestingly enough, last Tuesday, MGM and 20th Century Fox released the fiftieth anniversary edition of what is one of the most talked about films centered on the war in Europe in The Great Escape.  This is hardly the shortest movie made about events from the war.  It clocks in at nearly three hours long.  And even with certain fictionalized portions as noted in the movie’s bonus features, it still proves almost half a century later to be one of the greatest WWII themed movies to ever be crafted.

What makes The Great Escape enjoyable, despite its run time, is that while it is on the surface a story based in WWII, it is more a story about the power of teamwork and of the human spirit to survive.  Having so many P.O.W.s from so many different backgrounds in one confined area could be argued to be a microcosm of the nations of the world.  This likely wasn’t the primary intent of script writers James Clavell and W.R. Burnett.  But seeing this and the ability of the men to work together for a singular cause despite their varied backgrounds helps to illustrate the power of teamwork and the human spirit to survive.  Those messages are made even more powerful when juxtaposed against the ideologies of the Nazi party.  It shows that no matter how great the odds, even ordinary people can do extraordinary feats when they come together.

The messages of teamwork and the human spirit are integral to the enjoyment of The Great Escape.  Those same messages are illustrated even more through the movie’s main storyline and its action sequences.  The movie’s main storyline is not that difficult to follow.  A group of P.O.W.s is sent to what is supposed to be an inescapable P.O.W. camp created by the Nazis.  The allied prisoners find every way to hide their “great” escape plan from the Nazi guards manning the camp.  The ways in which the plan is covered up are funny.  From singing Christmas music to using special code, it all seems so outrageous.  But it’s that outrageousness that is so entertaining.  As soon as audiences allow themselves to be pulled into the story, and get over the fact that some of the story was in fact fictionalized, they will find themselves appreciating the story even more.

Staying on the matter of the fictionalized portions of The Great Escape, the bonus features included in the movie’s fiftieth anniversary Blu-ray edition do a lot to justify the fictionalized portions of the story.  It is noted in the bonus features that portions of the story were in fact added that didn’t happen, such as Steve McQueen’s famous motorcycle chase.  It is noted that he made the demand that unless this scene was added, he was not going to star in the movie based.  Perhaps most interesting to note in the included bonus features is that despite some changes and additions here and there, the men that actually escaped from Stalag Luft III were quite accepting of the movie and even tried to claim that this character and that was based on him.  One can’t help but laugh at the pride brought out in those men when they shared their stories and joked about being the influence behind given characters in the movie.  The pride of the men on whom the movie was based is the most important reason for the movie having been made.  And it’s the most important reason for the movie to be seen to this day.  It is a tribute to just one more group of individuals of what former newsman Tom Brokaw properly called “The Greatest Generation.”  With members of this generation passing away each day, a movie like this is increasingly necessary in order to keep the memory of that generation alive.  It’s a movie that members of every generation should see at least once.  It is available now in stores and online and can be ordered direct online via the Fox store at http://www.foxconnect.com

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Fan Favorites BD Re-Issue A Good Introduction To The Twilight Zone For New Fans

Courtesy:  Image Entertainment

Courtesy: Image Entertainment

Image Entertainment is preparing to re-issue the first three seasons of The Twilight Zone on DVD in May, June and July respectively.  Whether these new lower cost re-issues will be available in stores or exclusively via Amazon.com is still up in the air.  Even if they will be available exclusively online via Amazon, they are still sets that will be worth ordering considering that they will be far less expensive than their previously released DVD counterparts and will allegedly have much the same features as said sets.  In the meantime, audiences who are perhaps new to The Twilight Zone can check out last year’s Blu-ray release of The Twilight Zone Fan Favorites.

The Twilight Zone Fan Favorites is a good introduction for anyone that is new to the world of this classic series.  The recently released Blu-ray collection is a mirror image of its DVD counterpart.  It boasts all of the same episodes in the same order, only in high definition.  For this critic alone, this set is made enjoyable by no fewer than half of the included episodes.  The reason for that is the writing of said episodes.  Among the best of those episodes is: ‘The Monsters are Due on Maple Street ’,‘ The Lonely and what is in this critic’s eyes the series best episode hands down, ‘Night of the Meek.’  The writing on these episodes is just a small sample of what makes this classic show timeless.  In the case of ‘The Monsters are Due on Maple Street’, audiences get a commentary on human nature in dire circumstances that still stands true decades after it originally debuted.  ‘The Lonely’ offers viewers commentary on the basic human need for companionship and what it can do to a person.  And the most underrated of Twilight Zone episodes, ‘Night of The Meek’ is one of very few episodes from the series that has a happy ending.  It’s also the show’s only holiday themed episode.  Now, none of these episodes are the only ones from the series that offer such themes.  But they do offer a solid glimpse into everything that has made The Twilight Zone a hit to this day.

The writing behind The Twilight Zone goes a long way toward the show’s continued success for so many decades.  It’s just part of what makes this latest set of fan favorites a solid release.  Audiences get in this collection, a full set of episodes presented exactly as they had run in their original airings, complete with promo for the next week’s episode of The Twilight Zone and even for other shows on its home network, including The Andy Griffith Show and others.  That Image would strive to maintain the show’s episodes from their original airings in this set is a credit to this company and gives great hope for the upcoming DVD re-issues of the show’s first two seasons over the next two months.  The Twilight Zone Fan Favorites is available now and can be ordered online via Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007FZ7LRI/ref=s9_psimh_gw_p74_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=0X7DGQ8H39NK7G3P4Q4X&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1389517282&pf_rd_i=507846.

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