Sherman’s Studio’ “Concert” Is A Performance Of A Lifetime

Courtesy: PBS/Public Media Distribution

This year was another strong one for live recordings.  Between recordings released in bundles and those released either as standalone CDs or DVDs/BDs, the recordings that serve audiences who might have otherwise not been able to take in a live show, proved on both fronts to be largely solid offerings.  Given, there were some disappointments including Jane’s Addiction’s latest live recording Alive at Twenty-Five and the archived Les Paul tribute concert Live From Universal Studios Hollywood.  For the most part though, this year’s field of new live recordings — both on CD and DVD/BD — has proven to be quite impressive as has already been noted in the previous live recordings lists.  Keeping that in mind, it is only fair, having noted the best live CDs and best new live DVDs and Blu-rays to present one list of the year’s best new overall live recordings.

This year’s best overall live recordings pull from both audio and audio-visual fields, proving that recordings can be enjoyable in both arenas.  Topping this year’s list of best live overall recordings is PBS’ in studio “concert” from Richard Sherman, one half of the famed Sherman Brothers creative team, Songs of A Lifetime.  Slipknot’s new live recording Day of the Gusano is on this list, too thanks to the combined impact of its CD and Blu-ray presentation.  Of course while Alter Bridge, Jon Cleary and Experience Hendrix, LLC all released new recordings that were CD only, they deserve their own spot on the overall list.  Eagles of Death Metal’s new live recording Live at the Olympia Paris also deserves to be on that list along with The Rolling Stones’ new From The Vault offering Sticky Fingers Live at the Fonda Theatre 2015 — again because of the overall impact of its audio and audio/visual sides.  It’s just one more on that list.

As with every previous list, this entry offers this critic’s 10 best new titles in the category along with five additional honorable mention titles for a total of 15 titles.  Enough rambling.  Without any further ado, here for your consideration is Phil’s Picks 2017 Top 10 New Live Recordings.


  1. Richard ShermanSongs of a Lifetime
  2. Slipknot — Day of the Gusano
  3. Mumford & Sons — Live in South Africa
  4. Between The Buried & Me — Coma Ecliptic Live
  5. Jon Cleary — Live at Chickie Wah Wah
  6. Curtis Knight presents Jimi Hendrix — Live at George’s Club 1965 & 1966
  7. Eagles of Death Metal — Live at Olympia Paris
  8. The Rolling Stones — From The VaultSticky Fingers Live at The Fonda Theatre 2015
  9. Foghat — Live at the Belly Up
  10. Black Sabbath — The End
  11. Jeff Beck — Live at the Hollywood Bowl
  12. The Who — Live at the Isle of Wight 2014
  13. The Winery Dogs — Dog Years — Live at Santiago & Beyond 2013 – 2016
  14. The Who — Tommy Live at Royal Albert Hall
  15. The Dead Daisies — Live & Louder

That’s it finally for the live recordings categories.  Up next will be the year’s top new albums overall.  It’s going to be an interesting list, needless to say as it may well change before it even gets posted up in the next day or so, so stay tuned!  Also on the way is a handful of lists for the year’s new DVD and Blu-ray titles including box sets for families and for grown-ups as well as family DVDs and Blu-rays.  Stay tuned!

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PBS’ Richard Sherman Studio “Concert” Hits All The Right Notes For Phil’s Picks’ 2017 Top 10 New Live DVDs/BDs List

Courtesy: PBS/Public Media Distribution

Experiencing a live performance by one’s favorite acts is a special experience.  The sights and sounds — from the performance itself to the enjoyment and excitement experienced alongside other fans — come together to make the live experience something almost as magical as it is memorable.  Of course it’s not always that easy to have that experience because of work, family or maybe other items.  Enter the live DVD and Blu-ray.  These recordings are pivotal for audiences the world over because people don’t always get to see their favorite acts.  They also often prove to give audiences an experience that is at least slightly different from that offered in their CD counterparts.  Keeping that in mind, it is fully justifiable for critics to present lists of the year’s top new live DVDs and Blu-rays as well as live CDs.  That is exactly what this critic is doing here.

This year, as with so many years past, Eagle Rock Entertainment has proven to have the majority of the year’s top new live DVDs and Blu-rays, once again proving why it is the leader in live recordings.  Of course it is not the only label represented in this critic’s list this year.  Live recordings from The Winery Dogs, The Dead Daisies, and even famed songwriter Richard Sherman (one half of the famed Sherman Brothers creative team) are all on the list, too alongside new material from Between The Buried and Me and Michael Schenker.  Those noted recordings are all from other labels.  In other words, this year saw a healthy range of new live DVDs and Blu-rays.  With that in mind, here for your consideration is Phil’s Picks’ 2017 Top 10 New Live DVDs and Blu-rays.  As always, the list includes this critic’s Top 10 choices as well as five additional honorable mention titles, for a total of 15 titles.  Let’s go!


  1. Richard ShermanSongs of a Lifetime
  2. Tedeschi Trucks Band — Live From The Fox Oakland
  3. Slipknot — Day of the Gusano
  4. Mumford & Sons — Live From South Africa
  5. Between The Buried and Me — Coma Ecliptic
  6. Black Sabbath — The End
  7. Jeff Beck — Live at the Hollywood Bowl
  8. The Rolling Stones — Sticky Fingers Live at the Fonda Theatre 2015
  9. The Who — Tommy Live at the Royal Albert Hall
  10. The Winery Dogs — Dog YearsLive in Santiago and Beyond 2013 – 2016
  11. Eagles of Death Metal — I Love You All The Time — Live at the Olympia Paris
  12. Sting — Live at the Olympia Paris
  13. Spock’s Beard — Snow Live
  14. The Dead Daisies — Live & Louder
  15. Michael Schenker — Michael Schenker Fest Live Tokyo International Forum Hall

That’s all for this list and still not all for the live recordings.  Still to consider is the whole of the combo packs and the standalone recordings.  In other words, there is still a list of the year’s top new live recordings overall to consider.  Also still on the way are the year’s top new albums as well as a handful of DVD and Blu-ray lists.  As many as possible will be covered before the year lets out, so stay tuned for all of that.

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Something Old, Something New Makes ‘Power Rangers Jungle Fury’ A Hit for Power Rangers Devotees

Courtesy: Shout! Factory

The Power Rangers will go full throttle again this coming March when Shout! Factory releases the 16th season of the hit franchise, Power Rangers RPM: The Complete Series. The four-disc collection is currently set to be released March 27 in stores and online. That is still quite a long wait. Luckily though, Power Rangers fans do have another recently released installment to enjoy while they wait for its release — Power Rangers Jungle Fury: The Complete Series. Released just last week on DVD, the series is another interesting addition to the long-running Power Rangers franchise. One of its most important elements is its plot. The elements that are tied into the plot are just as important to note as the plot itself. They will be discussed later. Last but most definitely not least of note to examine here are the lessons tied into each of the episodes’ stories. Each noted element is key in its own right to the whole of Power Rangers Jungle Fury: The Complete Series. All things considered, they make this addition to the Power Rangers universe another installment that will give fans plenty to appreciate and enjoy.

Power Rangers Jungle Fury: The Complete Series is a welcome addition to any Power Rangers fan’s collection. That is due in part to the series’ plot, and by relation its setup. In the case of this series, the conflict is set off by an arrogant, power-hungry student of the Pai Zhua named Jarrod. When Jarrod kills his master, he inadvertently sets free an ancient, evil spirit. This season is not the first time that the Power Rangers franchise has ever used an ancient evil spirit’s release as the basis for its plot. That goes all the way back to the days of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. The manner in which the spirit, Dai Shi, was released is what makes the plot original here. What is really interesting to note here is that Dai Shi was released as a result of Jarrod’s arrogance and anger. It’s a sort of Star Wars sort of vibe. Given, it might not have necessarily been an intentional link to the long-running sci-fi franchise, but Jarrod being angry and arrogant, leading him to the proverbial dark side while the Rangers try to stop him makes arguing Star Wars’ influence on this series easy. Who ever would have thought there could be a link between Star Wars and the Power Rangers?

The plot at the center of Power Rangers Jungle Fury is in itself a critical aspect of the series’ presentation, as has been pointed out. Of course as important as the series’ plot proves to be to its presentation, one would be remiss to ignore the importance of the elements tied into the plot, as they play their own important part in the series’ presentation, too. One of the most important plot elements to note is how the Rangers gradually gain their new powers and tools. Over the course of the series, the Rangers learn new skills and, in turn, gain new tools and powers in the fight against Dai Shi and its minions. In seasons past, the Rangers gained their new powers and weapons when they were at their lowest. That sort of “earn as you learn” approach used here is a new approach for the franchise, strengthening the series’ plot that much more It is not the only one of the series’ most notable plot devices. Having the Rangers use a pizza place for their cover and their leader a man in his 20s are also key plot elements. In so many series past, the Rangers’ leader has been an older, wise figure. Having a young, carefree yet equally experienced figure as the Rangers’ leader adds a new touch to the franchise, breathing new life into the series. As if that is not enough, both the Rangers and even the bad guys get their own “teachers” throughout, essentially keeping the series fresh from start to finish, rather than just relying on one sort of conflict throughout. Audiences will agree that even with at least one somewhat familiar plot element, its new approach and the other new approaches taken this time out (including a number of other items not noted here) make the series’ plot and its setup pivotal to the series’ presentation. Those items, both noted and not, combine to make the series’ overall plot and setup clearly their own collectively important part of the series’ whole. They are not its only key elements. The series’ stories are just as important to the series as its plot.

The stories that make up the body of this series, and their lessons, are so important to the series because of how much they add to the series’ presentation. One of the most engaging and entertaining of the series’ stories comes as R.J. fights to keep his wolf spirit from getting out of control due to his battle with Dai Shi. It is in itself an original way for any Power Rangers season to introduce an extra Ranger. What’s more, keeping RJ from becoming that all-too-familiar reluctant hero that has been used far too many times before makes that story even more interesting. The Rangers’ own separate training stories that are added to the series are interesting in their own right, too. That is because they present the lessons of determination and perseverance while also serving as plot devices to help advance the series’ overall story. Other stories presented throughout the series feature lessons of friendship, teamwork and other familiar values while also not just rehashing stories from the franchise’s previous installments. The very fact that the series’ writers couple those fresh new stories with the familiar lessons instead of just rehashing previous stories and scenarios proves why those and so many of the series’ other stories and lessons are so important to the series’ presentation. They give audiences something new and something more familiar all in one package. When this is set alongside the series’ overall plot and its related plot elements, the whole of these elements does plenty to make this season of Saban’s Power Rangers another powerful installment of the franchise. That’s not even mentioning the work of the series’ cast in front of the cameras, the special effects and other items. All things considered, this collection is another that any Power Rangers fan will enjoy and appreciate whether waiting for the franchise’s next installment or just to have.

Power Rangers Jungle Fury: The Complete Series is a collection that any truly devout Power Rangers fan will appreciate and enjoy. That is due in part to a plot that while slightly familiar, is still original by and large. The elements used to advance the series’ overall plot add a second touch to the series. The stories and their lessons join with the cast’s work to make the series even more enjoyable. Each element is important in its own way to the series’ whole. All things considered, they make this latest addition to the Power Rangers universe yet another welcome release. It is available now in stores and online. More information on this and other titles from Shout! Factory is available online now at:




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“POTC 5” Is A Welcome Return to Form For Disney’s “Pirates Of The Caribbean” Franchise

Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios

More than 14 years ago, Disney brought to audiences what was one of the company’s biggest and best movies of its rich, decades-long history when it released Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. That nearly two-and-a-half-hour movie, based on a ride at one of the company’s theme parks, proved to be its own enjoyable and successful action packed cinematic ride. In the years since its July 9, 2003 theatrical debut, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has become less enjoyable with each entry. It fell so far from the glory of that first movie that when it was originally announced that Disney would make the franchise’s fifth film, Dead Men Tell No Tales, much speculation was raised along with plenty of eyebrows. Every bit of that speculation was justified considering the problems with the franchise’s second through fourth installments. The reality of the franchise’s latest (and hopefully last) installment is that it proves to be a surprisingly enjoyable addition to the series. that is due in part to its story, which will be discussed shortly. The movie’s stylistic approach is just as important to note in examining this movie as the story itself. It will be discussed later. The work of the movie’s cast puts the finishing touch on its presentation. Each element is important in its own right to the movie’s overall presentation. All things considered, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales proves itself a treasure in its own right even with its problems.

Pirates of the Caribbean : Dead Men Tell No Tales is a treasure of a movie, looking at the overall picture of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. That is because in comparison to the franchise’s second through fourth installments, its story brings the franchise full circle while also wrapping up the loose ends created over the course of the series’ previous entries. That includes its very first offering. This time out, Jack Sparrow has to evade yet another high seas villain who he wronged years ago all while trying to locate yet another powerful treasure. All the while, young Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites — Maleficent, Oculus, Gods of Egypt) is trying to lift the curse on his dad, Will Turner, much as Will tried in previous movies to lift his dad’s curse. Henry ends up meeting his own love interest Carina (Kaya Scoldelario — Moon, The Maze Runner 1 – 2) very much in the same fashion in which Will and Elizabeth met in the franchise’s first movie). The twist that the writers put on Carina’s back story is a positive because it doesn’t just outright repeat Will and Elizabeth’s love story, but gives it new life so to speak. Henry trying since his childhood to lift his father’s curse is just one of the loose ends that this movie’s writers wrap up this time out. It is directly connected to the reunion of Will and Elizabeth, which is also addressed in this story, in turn bringing the entire franchise full circle. What is truly interesting to note in those attempts to tie the franchise together, the writers even acknowledge, albeit briefly, the events of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. That very brief mention of that movie is actually a good thing considering how…well…strange it was.Considering all of this, the story at the center of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales forms a relatively solid foundation for the movie’s presentation.

Relatively is emphasized because there are some issues with the story that cannot be ignored. First and foremost is the fact that in the original trilogy, it was hinted that anyone who controlled Davy Jones controlled the seas. Yet in this story, anyone who wields Poseidon’s trident also controls the seas. It’s kind of misleading to have two separate ways to control the seas. Also of note is the number of scenes that likely could have been cut without harming the movie’s overall story. There was a handful of scenes throughout the two-hour, nine-minute movie that could have been cut, not only cutting down the movie’s run time, but also keeping the movie’s pacing from slowing at those points, too. The dual presentations of Salazar’s back story not once but twice is a prime example of material that could have been cut back. It would have made more sense to tell how Jack lured Salazar into the Devil’s Triangle when he was initially introduced rather than introducing him initially and then later telling his back story. Some of the early interactions between Carina and Henry could have been trimmed back, too. Given, two hours and nine minutes is not a bad run time for this installment of the POTC series, but the material that could have been axed made the movie feel almost two and a half hours, which became the series’ standard run time. Cutting the noted material would have easily cut the movie back to about two hours flat, but considering as quickly as the story already manages to progress, it would have progressed that much faster without losing anything along the way. Keeping that in mind, the movie’s story is not perfect, obviously, but it also is quite an improvement over the stories at the center of the series’ previous entries. To that end, this story forms, again, a relatively solid foundation for its presentation. It is not the movie’s only key element. The movie’s stylistic approach is just as important to note as its story.

The stylistic approach taken in this movie is so critical to note because it takes audiences back to the very first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. The action is there throughout along with the comedic timing, prat falls and more that made Pirates of the Caribbean so surprisingly enjoyable in its first outing. The over-the-top drama of the franchise’s second and third films were largely absent this time out, too, making this stylistic return to form quite welcome. Jack’s unlikely re-introduction and the early island fight sequence between Jack, his crew and the British soldiers are prime examples of what makes the movie’s return to form so welcome. The big high seas battle scenes between Salazar’s ship and crew and those of Sparrow also show how this movie stylistically returned to the franchise’s roots. There are also the liens traded between Jack and Henry as well as other dialogue that returns to form just as much. Between the lines and scenes noted here and so many others not noted directly, viewers will find that the movie’s creative forces went to great lengths to stylistically take viewers back to POTC‘s roots in a new setting and story. Those efforts paid off greatly here, strengthening even more the movie’s overall presentation. When those efforts are coupled with the work of the movie’s cast, the movie’s presentation proves even more why it is worth the watch.

Johnny Depp and company entertain audiences throughout the course of POTC 5 with their performances. That includes funny moments such as Jack and Henry’s first meeting and even Barbosa’s men as they discuss Salazar’s escape from the Devil’s Triangle with Barbosa as well as so many other moments. What audiences will note in these interactions is that even these moments are themselves another stylistic return to form for the movie. The same can be said of the more emotional moments between Henry and Carina. Audiences familiar with the series’ history will agree very similar chops were shown between Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley in the original trilogy. Thwaites and Scodalerio are just as impressive as the pair’s characters slowly fall for each other. Rather than just go over the top, the growth is gradual, keeping audiences fully engaged. That subtlety in the pair’s acting shows experience beyond its years, and shows the promise for each actor’s future. Even Geoffrey Rush deserves his own applause as he has to keep himself from being run through by Salazar. He shows a side of Barbosa that rarely had to be seen in any of the franchise’s previous entries, and did so professionally, too. It made those moments just as interesting as any other from himself and his fellow cast mates. Those moments in question, when joined with the moments noted here, make even clearer why the cast’s work in front of the cameras just as important to the movie’s presentation as its story and its stylistic approach. Speaking of those elements, when they are joined with the cast’s work, the whole of the noted elements keeps Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales afloat much more easily than its predecessors, and makes it honestly the series’ best entry since Curse of the Black Pearl. keeping that in mind, Dead Men Tell No Tales sees Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise sail off in style, putting a positive final note to an otherwise doomed franchise.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a positive final statement for Disney’s otherwise sunken high-seas series. It takes audiences back to the glory of the franchise’s first film both in terms of the cast’s acting and the movie’s stylistic approach. While the movie’s story does have at least one plot hole — which is more powerful, controlling Davy Jones or Poseidon’s trident? — and suffers from some minor pacing issues related to unnecessary scenes, it still is a fun story that easily allows audiences to suspend their disbelief. Each item noted here plays its own part into the movie’s overall presentation. Good and bad considered side by side, this movie sees thankfully, Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise sail off in style, putting a much-needed positive final note to the otherwise maligned franchise. It is available now in stores and online. More information on this and other titles from Walt Disney Studios is available online now at:




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‘Cars 3’ Is A Fitting Final Lap For Disney/Pixar’s ‘Cars’ Franchise

Courtesy: Disney/Pixar

Cars 3, the latest entry in Disney/Pixar’s high-octane Cars franchise, was one of the most hotly anticipated movies of this year ahead of its nationwide theatrical debut this past June. That is because of just how disappointing the franchise’s second installment — released in 2011 — proved to be. That movie, which was essentially just an acting vehicle for Larry The Cable Guy, was little more than a cash grab for Disney and Pixar. While Cars 3 did make up for the wreck that was Cars 2, it didn’t do so without some issues. That is not to say that Cars 3 is unwatchable. As a matter of fact, one of the elements that makes it worth at least one watch is its story. At the same time, the story is also the movie’s primary negative. It will be discussed shortly. While the movie’s story makes up two of its most important elements, divided into two sides, it is only one of the movie’s most important elements. The work of the movie’s cast rounds out its most important elements. Both elements are critical to the movie’s overall presentation in their own fashion. All things considered, Cars 3 still manages to make it to the checkered flag, albeit on seven cylinders. Yes, that awful pun was intended. That aside, Cars 3 does go the mile and in turn proves itself worth at least one watch.

Cars 3 is a fitting finale for Disney/Pixar’s Cars franchise. It is not a perfect period to the franchise, but is still an enjoyable presentation that is worth at least one watch. That is due in part to the movie’s central story, which brings the franchise full circle. Eleven years after Lightning McQueen first debuted, he has become a beloved veteran of the Piston Cup Series in this movie — beloved both by fans and by his fellow race cars. However, he also finds that his heyday has passed and must come to terms with moving on and moving forward. If this sounds familiar, it should. A very similar story was presented approximately seven years ago in Toy Story 3, another Disney/Pixar flick. The movies’ writing teams are not the same, but the story is quite similar, just presented in a different scenario. It is also a story that, much like that of the franchise’s freshman entry, reminds audiences of racing’s roots. While Thomasville Speedway does not exist in the real world, it instantly conjures thoughts of North Wilkesboro and so many of the tracks that formed NASCAR’s foundation. It was nice to see the movie’s writing staff bring back this focus on the sport’s past (including its moonshining connection) once again, especially considering the direction that NASCAR has gone since the early 2000s under its current leadership regime.

Paying tribute once more to NASCAR’s roots while also presenting a message of letting go and moving forward are both key to making the story Cars 3‘s central story entertaining. They are only a portion of what makes it watchable. Not to give away too much for those who perhaps haven’t yet seen this movie, but there is also a surprise twist in the movie’s final scene that is just as certain to entertain audiences while still tying directly into that theme of progress. It makes the story that much stronger. Keeping all of this in mind, the movie’s central story forms a strong foundation for its presentation. While that foundation is strong though, it is not entirely solid. There are some noticeable cracks in that foundation thanks to the writing team’s apparent struggle to decide if they wanted to throw back to Cars or make this movie more a tribute to the voice of Doc Hudson, the late great Paul Newman.

Throughout the course of Cars 3‘s one-hour, 42-minute run time, the story references Doc Hudson so many times that it becomes easy to lose count of said references, even going so far as to use what must have been some material that never made it to Cars’ final cut in this case to try to advance the story. The problem here is that rather than advance the story, it leads the story to get sidetracked, ultimately slowing the story’s pacing. That pacing problem is in the end, the second of the movie’s most important elements to discuss. It almost makes one want to fast forward the movie at times as Lightning McQueen progresses on his journey of re-discovery just to make it through the movie’s traffic. Yes, that bad pun was intentional, too. Getting back on the subject at hand, the diversions created through the references to Hudson include extra scenes, such as Lightning’s discussion with Smokey about Doc and his recollections of his own conversations with Doc among others. Those extra scenes probably should have hit the cutting room floor as they do not do much to advance the movie’s central story. Considering all of this, it becomes clear why Cars 3‘s central story is both a positive and a negative. That duality is so important that it in itself gives audiences plenty of reason to watch this sequel at least once. Also making Cars 3 worth at least one watch is the work of its voice cast.

Owen Wilson returns once more as the voice of Lightning McQueen for this ride as do the original voice actors who brought life to Radiator Springs’ residents and even Dinoco owner Tex’s voice (Humpy Wheeler), that of Chick Hicks — Bob Peterson (Cars, Up, Finding Nemo) — and Lightning’s hauler Mack — John Ratzenberger (Cars, Cars 2, Toy Story 1 – 3). Both the seasoned cast and the new additions — Armie Hammer as the voice of Jackson Storm, Chris Cooper as the voice of Smokey, Cristela Alonzo as the voice of Cruz Ramirez and Kerry Washington as the voice of Natalie Certain — do their utmost to make the movie enjoyable for audiences of all ages. While Jackson Storm is the movie’s main villain, he is not really on camera very much. Keeping that in mind, Hammer (The Lone Ranger, The Social Network, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) easily could have hammed it up as the self-centered, high-performance race car. He didn’t allow that to happen, though. Instead he showed his understanding and respect for his part in the story’s bigger picture each time, making Storm a villain that audiences will love to hate. To that end, Hammer is deserving of his share of applause for his work. Alonzo (Mind of Mencia, Cristela) is just as entertaining as Cruz. This includes both Cruz’s funnier moments — such as when she accidentally digs herself into the sand and when she is acting as the racers’ trainer — and her more emotional moments –such as her confrontation with McQueen following the demolition derby and the equally moving climax in the story’s final act (not to give away too much). Considering the situations into which the movie’s writers put Cruz, it would have been easy for Alonzo to go over the top, too. But She shows time and again so much talent, ensuring even more audiences entertainment and engagement. When her work and that of Wilson couples with work of the movie’s supporting cast (the Radiator Springs cast, announcers, etc.) the whole of their work strengthens the foundation formed by the movie’s story, and makes the movie that much more worth the watch. That is even considering the issues raised in the story’s balance. When this is considered along with the movie’s standout CGI, which has clearly been stepped up since the franchise first debuted 11 years ago, the whole of Cars 3 proves to be a surprisingly enjoyable watch. It doesn’t live up to the legacy left by Cars, but definitely does make up for Cars 2 while potentially even leaving the door open for a whole new series of Cars movies, leaving it a fitting finale for the Cars franchise.

The third and likely last entry in Disney/Pixar’s Cars franchise is a fitting final lap for the series. It proves in the long run that it really should have been Cars 2 instead of the movie that turned out to be Cars 2. That movie never should have even existed. Even with that movie having been made, Cars 3 will likely be considered the real rightful Cars 2 by most viewers. That is due in part to a story that despite struggling to balance its tribute to Paul Newman with an actual continuation of Cars, still proves to have some heart — enough heart to make it worth at least the occasional watch. The work of the movie’s voice cast — both main and support — strengthens the movie’s presentation even more. Add in some impressive CGI work that that clearly is another step up from the franchise’s freshman film, and audiences get a movie that definitely makes it to the checkered flag. It is available now in stores and online. More information on Cars 3 and other Disney/Pixar movies is available online now at:




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ESPN To Debut New ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Trailer During ‘Monday Night Football’

Courtesy: ESPN

ESPN is giving audiences extra reason to tune in to Monday Night Football.

The network will debut the first full trailer for the forthcoming Stars Wars movie The Last Jedi during its Oct. 9 broadcast, which will see the Bears and Vikings face off under the lights.  According to a news release from the network, the trailer will debut during halftime.  Game coverage is currently scheduled to start at 8:15 p.m. EDT.

Details have been scant about the movie’s plot ever since the announcement that the movie was being made.  What is known is that it picks up where The Force Awakens left off, with Rey (Daisy Ridley) locating Luke Skywalker.  The trailer that has currently been made available hints that despite Luke’s reluctance, she convinces him to train her while also learning some deeply held secrets about the force and the Jedi.

Mark Hamill returns to reprise his role as Luke Skywalker alongside the now late Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern and Benecio Del Toro.

Rian Johnson wrote and directed the movie.  Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman produced while J.J. Abrams, Tom Karnowski and Jason McGatlin each served as executive producers.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi will debut in theaters nationwide Dec. 15.  More information on Star Wars: The Last Jedi is available online now at:










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‘Soul on a String’ Survives By More Than A Thread

Courtesy: Film Movement

Late last month, independent movie company Film Movement brought the Chinese epic Soul on a String to audiences when it released the movie domestically on DVD.  The movie, which originally debuted in its home nation June 15, 2016 and domestically Oct. 22, 2016 at the Chicago International Film Festival, is a an interesting cinematic experience.  It crosses elements of east and west for a story that makes the movie worth at least one watch.  The story will be discussed shortly.  While the story itself makes the movie worth at least one watch, its pacing sadly detracts quite a bit from the movie’s overall presentation.  It will be discussed later.  While it takes away quite a bit from the movie’s presentation, the movie’s stunning cinematography makes up for that pacing and makes it at least somewhat bearable.  It will be discussed later, too.  Each element is key to the overall presentation of Soul on a String.  All things considered, the movie survives by more than a thread.

China’s imported epic journey of self-discovery Soul on a String is one of 2017’s most intriguing independent home releases.  Released domestically by Film Movement, the movie follows one man’s journey of redemption as he tries to return a sacred stone to its rightful place.  If this sounds oddly familiar, it should.  Disney’s hit animated movie Moana presents a very similar story, just with some minor changes.  In the case of the latter movie, the protagonist is a young woman on a coming-of-age journey as she travels to return a sacred stone to its rightful place.  Considering that Soul on a String came along first (Moana debuted Nov. 23, 2016 domestically, roughly five months after Soul on a String debuted in China), one can’t help but wonder about the connection between the two.  Getting back on the subject at hand, the story at the center of Soul on a String is in itself reason enough to give this movie at least one watch.  Audiences will be moved by Tabei’s personal growth over the course of his journey.  He starts out a very reluctant figure, wanting nothing to do with the journey or his two unlikely companions who join him along the way.  However, as his journey progresses, Tabei becomes more welcoming of them and grows personally, accepting even more his journey and fate.  That growth over time makes the problematic pacing of the nearly two-and-a-half-hour movie almost bearable.  Speaking of that pacing, it is the movie’s one major negative.  It is a major issue for the movie’s presentation, too.

The pacing of Soul on a String’s story is the movie’s only real notable negative.  That may not seem like much on the surface, but in the grand scheme of the movie’s two hour, twenty-two minute run time, it is extremely problematic.  Obviously the story’s intent is to follow Tabei on his long journey.  However, the story’s pacing plods along at points nearly at a snail’s pace, making one quite encouraged to fast forward through those many points.  In defense of the movie’s writing team of Zhaxidawa and writer/director Yang Zhang, the movie’s oftentimes dragging pace could have been fully intentional as a means to illustrate the length of Tabei’s journey.  If that is the case, then it definitely leaves viewers feeling like they are right there on that expansive journey.  Regardless of whether or not that was the intent, the pacing’s problematic nature cannot be ignored.  That is especially the case when there is so little actual action to the story.  Luckily, as problematic as the story’s pacing is, it is not enough of a problem that it makes the movie unwatchable.  The movie’s cinematography makes that plodding pace at least somewhat bearable.

Soul on a String won the “Best Cinematography” award at the Shanghai International Film Festival last year at the film’s Chinese debut.  That win was fully justified, too.  From start to finish, those behind the cameras and those charged with putting those shots together did an exceptional job of setting each of the movie’s scenes.  The vast expanses with their rich colors (both on land and in sky) are visually stunning throughout the movie.  The same can be said of the tight canyons through which Chung and Pu are forced to travel late in the story.  Each scene harkens back to the American Westerns which the movie strives (and succeeds) to emulate.  As a matter of fact, it could easily be argued that the scenes established in this movie actually outdo those in their American counterparts.  Audiences will revel in the juxtaposition of the lake to the mountains in the story’s final act and the natural beauty of the countryside throughout Tabei’s journey.  All things considered, the visual aspect of Soul on a String is truly the movie’s cornerstone.  It makes this Chinese import worth watching even more than the epic journey of self-discovery at its heart.  Of course when both elements are set alongside one another, they make the movie’s pacing throughout an issue that while clearly problematic, is also at least somewhat bearable.  Keeping all of this in mind, Soul on a String proves to be an independent offering worth at least one watch and that survives by more than a thread.

Soul on a String is a work that while definitely not perfect, thanks to its pacing, is one that is worth at least one watch.  That is thanks to its story and cinematography, which collectively ensure viewers’ engagement at least through most of its nearly two-and-a-half-hour run time.  If not for the positives that both elements prove, the movie’s plodding pacing would have ultimately doomed it.  That–again-was not the case, though.  Since it wasn’t the case, the movie ultimately survives by more than a thread.  It is available now.  More information on this and other titles from Film Movement is available online now at:






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