Coogan And Brydon’s Second Outing Is Another Entertaining And Delectable Trip

Courtesy:  IFC Films/mpi Media Group

Courtesy: IFC Films/mpi Media Group

IFC Films’ latest outing from actors Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan is one of 2014’s best new independent releases. The “sequel” to the duo’s 2011 feature simply (and aptly) titled The Trip, The Trip To Italy stands out unlike any other production released in 2014. It stands out primarily in its approach. It isn’t necessarily a movie in the most traditional sense. Though there is a sense of a buddy road trip to the story. That buddy comedy element is crossed with something that could almost be considered a reality TV sort of approach. The end result is a presentation that one can’t help but watch if only for that reason. The approach taken by those behind the cameras in presenting The Trip To Italy is just part of the whole that makes this rather intriguing and entertaining work so well worth the watch. Brydon and Coogan’s (sounds like a law firm doesn’t it?) jokes and impersonations throughout the trip make for their own share of entertainment. Nothing is off limits to the pair. No doubt the duo’s comic bits and discussions will have any open-minded viewer laughing uproariously. The last element of The Trip To Italy that makes it such a joy is its backdrops. There is no green screen here. There is no movie magic. Everything that audiences see is really the Italian countryside. In its own way, it could be argued that it is a throwback to the golden era of moviemaking. Together with the movie’s comic element and its overall presentation, all three elements make The Trip To Italy a movie that while not a movie in the traditional sense, a production that still stands firm on its own laurels and is one of the best new independent releases of 2014.

The Trip To Italy is one of the best new independent film releases of 2014. The movie, which ironically enough is itself a sequel, proves to be far better than any of the mass of sequels churned out by Hollywood’s Power Five studios last year. The central reason that it outperforms those movies is the manner in which it is presented. The “movie” isn’t necessarily a movie in the traditional sense. Yet the classic buddy comedy/road trip aspect is there. To be more precise, it blends that element with something along the lines of a reality TV show to make for a production that completely stands out from that mass of major name equels. What’s more, being that Coogan and Brydon spend most of their time either eating and driving, one could even compare it to the likes of PBS’ Rick Steves Europe. Go figure, Coogan and Brydon go after so many pop culture figures, movies, and more. But they don’t poke fun at Rick Steves even being in a setting that only encourages such jabs. That will be discussed later. Getting back to the subject at hand, the duo’s travels through Europe was compltely unscripted. It was just them touring Italy, checking out some of the country’s finest cuisine and taking in the sights all while making jokes and trying out their best impersonations. There’s no scripting. So while yes it is a movie, it also shows to be one third documentary and one third reality TV. That The Trip To Italy comes across as such an intriguing hybrid is plenty of reason within itself for audiences to check out this latest release from IFC Films. It’s just one reason to watch it, too. The jokes and impersonations shared throughout the its near two-hour run time make The Trip To Italy even more worth the watch.

The hybrid presentation of The Trip To Italy offers audiences plenty of reason within itself for audiences to watch the “movie” at least once. The jokes and impersonations that are thrown around throughout the course of its near two-hour run time add even more reason for audiences to check it out. Nothing is off limits to Coogan and Brydon, either. From Alanis Morissette to Sean Connery and Roger Moore to Al Pacino and more, Coogan and Brydon go after everyone that they can think of. There’s even a joke aimed at famed Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor. Speaking of public broadcasting, it is interesting that there was no mention of PBS’ travel series Rick Steves Europe anywhere in this production since the duo spent the length of the movie travelling the Italian countryside. Perhaps that was just too easy and too expected. It’s anyone’s guess. Regardles, the jokes and impersonations that are included throughout the “movie”–including a lighthearted jab at Americans’ tendency to use overblown names for themselves and their posessions–make for plenty of laughs and in turn, just as much entertainment. It’s yet another way in which The Trip To Italy proves itself worth the watch. It still isn’t all that makes the production worth the watch, either. The backdrops throughout the presentation round out the reasons to watch The Trip To Italy.

The comic element of The Trip To Italy and its original hybrid presentation are both key to its enjoyment. Both aspects play their own important role in the production’s enjoyment. While both are equally important, they still are not all that make the presentation worth the watch. The “movie’s” backdrops round out the whole thing and make it all the more enjoyable. As noted previously, it would have been so easy for audiences to make a comparison between The Trip To Italy and PBS’ Rick Steves Europe in watching this work since Coogan and Brydon were travelling the Italian countryside. It would have been just as easy for Coogan and Brydon to make jokes at that show’s expense. Of course that didn’t happen. Perhaps that’s because it would have been too expected and easy. Regardless, the backdrop of the Italian countryside is a major positive to the whole of The Trip To Italy. As subtle as it is and as little as some might think about it, seeing that countryside is just like watching Rick Steves Europe. It’s like watching a video postcard. There is no green screen. There are no special effects. It is really the duo travelling the countryside. It is more proof of the duo’s (and of IFC Films’) dedication to making the experience 100 real and believable for audiences. It is that reality of the “movie” alongside its original hybrid presentation, and its laugh riot jokes and impersonations that makes The Trip To Italy a trip that audiences will want to take more than once.

The Trip To Italy is available online now in stores and online now. It can be downloaded via iTunes now at More information on this and other titles from IFC Films is available online at:



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Anchor Bay Announces Home Release Date, Details For ‘At Middleton’

Courtesy:  Anchor Bay Entertainment

Courtesy: Anchor Bay Entertainment

Anchor Bay Entertainment will release its new romantic comedy At Middleton this Spring.

At Middleton will be released on Blu-ray and DVD Tuesday, April 1st.  It features an all-star cast headed by Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel, Up in the Air) and Andy Garcia (Ocean’s Eleven, City Island).  It also stars Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story), Spencer Lofranco (Jamesy Boy), Peter Riegert (Dads), and Tom Skerritt (Picket Fences).  The story follows George (Andy Garcia) and Edith (Vera Farmiga) as they meet while joining their children on a tour of the campus of Middleton College.  The pair meet thanks to a divide between themselves and their children.  Their meeting leads to a reminiscing of their own college years.  That reminiscing leads to personal revelations for both figures.

At Middleton has been praised by both audiences and critics alike.  New York Times writer Neil Genzlinger wrote of the movie, that it is “delicate and restrained” and “a surprise of a film.”  Rex Reed writes for The New York Observer.  He wrote of Farmiga’s performance that it was her “best role since she tamed George Clooney in Up in the Air.  Kudos have come in from other major media outlets including: NPR, The Huffington Post and many others; each one as complimentary as the last.

Audiences are treated to a number of bonus features in the home release of At Middleton.  There is an audio commentary with director/co-writer Adam Rogers, producer/co-Glenn German, and producer/actor Andy Garcia.  Also included as bonuses are: a gag reel and bonus music track of ‘There Was A Day.’  Andy Garcia wrote the song’s lyrics and sang the song and partnered with Arturo Sandoval to write the song’s music.  Sandoval arranged the song.

The DVD presentation of At Middleton will be available Tuesday April 1st for SRP of $22.98 and on Blu-ray for SRP of $26.98.  More information on this and other releases from Anchor Bay is available online at and  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at

Constitution USA Makes Politics Enlightening And Entertaining

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

America is one of the greatest nations in the world today.  However, as Constitution USA with Peter Sagal points out, it isn’t a perfect nation.  The four-part documentary sees the host of NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me making his way across the country discussing some of the major hot button issues in America today, and how they relate to the Constitution.  More specifically, he discusses how specific portions of the Bill of Rights and of the Constitution itself still play a major role in Americans’ political views today.  It is one of the most impressive pieces of the year from PBS as it takes some very deep concepts and makes them easy to understand and entertaining all at the same time.

Constitution USA with Peter Sagal is unlike so many political documentaries that are out there today.  It doesn’t talk down to viewers, nor does it talk over their heads, either.  The people behind this program have shown that PBS can be intellectual while still being on the level of average viewers.  One of the figures interviewed in the course of the program is a lawyer.  She notes in her interview with Sagal that her job is to take the legal jargon written and spoken, and interpret it for her clients.  That’s what Sagal and company do in this program.  They take the over-the-top political jargon and make it easy for average viewers to understand and appreciate.  It really serves as a solid starting point for anyone that has any interest in politics.  And it serves to prove even to PBS’ brass that it is possible to make programming that is both entertaining and enlightening for average viewers.  Perhaps if more of PBS’ politically based programming takes this course, it could potentially lead to more eyes and in turn, more contributions to the network.  It’s one more piece that proves just how valuable and important PBS is to viewers to this day.   

Sagal and company make politics accessible and entertaining for average viewers of any age through Constitution USA.  They have also crafted a feature that through its roughly four-hour run time, is entirely unbiased.  Opinions are shared on both sides of the issues through Sagal’s interviews.  What’s more, they are shared by every day people, rather than politicians.  This circles back to the ease of understanding and entertainment value for audiences throughout all four segments of the program.  This is because in using a variety of subjects for interviews, audiences are seeing people just like themselves sharing their opinions instead of only some talking head in a stuffed shirt.  Of course, Sagal’s own rapport with his interviewees helps set these people at ease just like he does on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.  He has taken his interview skills from his NPR news quiz show and translated it so well to this format.  In its own way, this is another positive to this presentation. 

As minor as it may seem, Sagal’s rapport with his subjects plays its own part in the success of Constitution USA.  Far too often, political documentaries are presented either with a nameless, faceless narrator that speaks off camera over the presented material.  This is the exact opposite of those all too common presentations.  Whether or not audiences are familiar with Peter Sagal from his show on NPR, they will enjoy watching him as he gathers information and opinions from people on every level from ordinary citizens to academics and even politicians.  Sagal shows time and again his ability to talk to anyone at any level.  He shows that he has the ability to get them to loosen up and open up, rather than put on airs.  It’s a refreshing change of pace, especially being that this is a documentary about politics.  What’s more, his interviews are held in a variety of settings.  They’re not always in some sterile office environment.  Many of the interviews culled for the show are held outside or in classrooms.  That plays into Sagal’s interviews.  Because they aren’t all done inside those sterile office environments, they help establish a calmer mood both for the interviewees and for viewers.  Much like the use of colors in a movie or TV show, the variety of settings is a very psychological aspect.  Viewers won’t entirely recognize it on the surface, but it very much plays a role in keeping audiences’ attention.  Combined with everything else that went into bringing it together, it is one more piece of the puzzle proving the importance and value of Constitution USA with Peter Sagal.  It also serves to prove just why w as Americans need to better understand the Constitution.  It is available now and can be ordered online via the PBS online store at

After ordering Constitution USA with Peter Sagal, audiences can go online to the official PBS Facebook page at and “Like” it to find out about all of the latest programming news and more from PBS.  Audiences can also keep up with all of the latest news from PBS on its official website,

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Sam Cooke To Be Honored At Annual SHOF Ceremony

Courtesy:  ABKCO Records/merlis for hire

Courtesy: ABKCO Records/merlis for hire

Sam Cooke is set to receive a very special honor.  His song, ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ is one of a small handful of songs to receive the “2013 Songwriters Hall of Fame Towering Song Award.”  The presentation will be made at the 44th annual Induction and Awards Dinner on Thursday, June 13th.  The dinner and awards ceremony will be held at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York City. 

The song—which was originally written by Cooke in 1963 and recorded in 1964—was referenced as recently as the 2008 election by President Barack Obama after winning the election that year.  It was also used as an anthem during the Civil Rights movement.  Since its original release, it has been covered over five hundred times by various artists from the likes of: Aretha Franklin, Al Green, and Otis Redding to more modern artists such as: R. Kelly, Gavin DeGraw, and Seal just to name a few.  These are just a few of the song’s accolades.  It has even been deemed by National Public Radio (NPR) as “the most important ever recorded” and has been selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion into its National Recording Registry.  Cooke himself was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987.       

‘A Change is Gonna Come’ will be inducted into the SHOF along with works from Tony Hatch, Mick Jones & Lou Gramm, Holly Knight, JD Souther, and Steven Tyler & Joe Perry.  A full list of inductees and bios is available online via the SHOF’s virtual museum at

Tickets for the induction ceremony are available now.  They start at $1,000 each.  They are available through Buckley Hall Events by phone at 212-573-6933.

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Wreck-It Ralph Offers More family Fun From Disney

Courtesy:  Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph was originally said by the company to be the first in a movement to attract more young male audiences.  Disney made the announcement in 2010 when it released what was said to be its last princess movie for the foreseeable future in Tangled.  Ironically enough, Wreck-It Ralph proves to be a movie that will appeal to both young male and female audiences as well as parents.  Kids will enjoy the movie thanks to the backdrop of the video game world.  Parents will appreciate the movie for its multi-pronged moral story placed against the video-game based world.

Wreck-It Ralph is an interesting story.  On the surface, some might argue that it’s just a blatant advertisement for the video game industry.  That is true, but only partially.  It’s more than that.  It pays homage to both the video game industry’s golden era and its more modern era.  It’s more than that though.  Anyone that remembers Pixar’s groundbreaking movie, Toy Story will almost instantly recognize something a similarity between that movie and this work.  It is basically Toy Story set against the world of video games.  Just as the toys in Toy Story had their own secret world and life, so do the video game characters in Wreck-It Ralph.  And just as Woody was worried about being replaced, the characters in Wreck-It Ralph worry about their game being permanently unplugged.  The lesson of friendship is also present in both stories.  As can be seen, there are quite a number of similarities between Pixar’s groundbreaking CG based story and this latest release from Disney.  For all the similarities between the two works, Wreck-It Ralph does manage to establish its own identity.  It does this through its multi-pronged moral story.

The primary moral of Wreck-It Ralph is one of self-acceptance.  Ralph—voiced by veteran actor John C. Reily (Cyrus, Talladega Nights, A Prairie Home Companion) learns to accept himself and be comfortable with himself despite the labels placed on him by the social structure of the video game world.  But it isn’t until he develops a friendship with young Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) that he reaches this epiphany.  He realizes that he should be happy with himself because he sees in Vanellope someone just like himself.  And just as he sees a kindred spirit in Vanellope, she sees a hero in him, thus leading to the revelation that he doesn’t need a medal to be a hero.  As long as he is a hero to one person, that’s all that matters.  This is something to which any child and adult can relate, thus giving the story part of its heart.  The other part of the heart behind Wreck-It Ralph lies in the topic of social acceptance. 

Ralph learns in this story that regardless of the labels put on him by the video game world’s standards, he can be a hero to at least one other, thus leading to his epiphany of self acceptance.  He isn’t the only one that learns a valuable lesson though.  Those around him learn to be more accepting of him, too.  That’s thanks to him uncovering a “royal” sized secret that could have had a major impact on the video game world in his journey of self-discovery.  He ends up being a hero and saving the day.  How he does won’t be revealed here for the sake of those who have yet to see this movie.  But because word spread to his fellow video game characters, everyone’s view of Ralph changed.  And sure he was still the “bad guy” in Fix It Felix, Jr., but he was much more accepted than at the movie’s outset.  This lesson of social acceptance is one from which the entire family can benefit.  And it’s one more positive to what is another fun and family friendly story from Disney.  It may not be Disney’s finest.  But it is still an enjoyable work.  Wreck-It Ralph is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered online direct via the Disney DVD store at

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Sleepwalk With Me Original, Funny, And Heartwarming

Courtesy:  IFC Films

Courtesy: IFC Films

Movies based on actual events are far too many in today’s era of film making.  And far too many of those movies over-glamorize the events on which they are based.  However, among that genre of movies though, is thankfully an occasional diamond in the rough.  One of those diamonds comes from veteran comic Mike Birbiglia and NPR host Ira Glass.  That movie is the indie flick, Sleepwalk With Me.

Sleepwalk With Me is quirky.  It’s sometimes bizarre.  And it’s original.  There is nothing like this movie out there today either in the mainstream or indie world.  The story behind Sleepwalk With Me centers on Mike’s character Matt and his attempt to become a big time comedian all while trying to very precariously balance his relationship with then girlfriend Abby (played by Lauren Ambrose).  In the middle of all of this is Matt’s sleeping disorder called “R.E.M. Behavior Disorder.”  According to the doctor that Matt listens to on his book on tape, “R.E.M. Behavior Disorder” is the tendency of a person to actually physically act out his/her dreams.  That behavior makes for more than its share of both funny and emotional moments.  Added into the story’s balance of comedy and drama, it adds its own touch to make for both more laughs and emotional moments, making for a movie that is entirely original and entertaining at the same time.

The central story of Sleepwalk With Me is original in that as star Mike Birbiglia notes in the additional Q&A bonus feature, it is in large part autobiographical.  So rather than being just another one of those movies that is based on actual events, Birbiglia and friend Ira Glass (NPR’s This American Life) have crafted a story that while somewhat fictional still is a very close mirror to Birbiglia’s life.  And what’s more entertaining that someone telling a story of their own life in their own words?  Birbiglia’s story is both funny and at times heartwarming.  As is the case with any movie though, it is a niche film.  So it’s not a movie for everyone.  But those who are fans of Ira Glass work on NPR or Birbiglia’s work will appreciate this movie.  Niche film aside, it’s still nice to see this movie as it’s nice to see that among all the prequels, sequels, and remakes that abound in today’s movie industry that original and enjoyable scripts are still out there.  Sleepwalk With Me will be available on DVD and Blu-ray next Tuesday, December 18th.

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Mister Rogers & Me a wonderful tribute to a wonderful person

Courtesy: Wagner Brothers/PBS

The one thing that makes me mad is one person demeaning another.  That’s a near direct quote from the recently releaed documentary, “Mister Rogers & Me.”  That statement came from the lips of the legendary Mister Rogers himself before his death, as noted in this documentary.  As simple as that statement is, it speaks volumes about a man who lived a simple life both on camera and off.  It also explained what makes Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood one of the most highly revered children’s programs to ever be created.

“Mister Rogers & Me” isn’t so much about Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood so much as it is about the man after whom it was named, Fred Rogers.  In watching this new documentary, audiences get a glimpse at the impact that Mr. Rogers had (and still has to this day) on audiences young and old alike.  Mister Rogers was welcomed into countless households every day.  From authors to television personalities to regular every day families, Mister Rogers had a profound impact on people at every level.  The Wagner Brothers–David, Benjamin, and Christofer–interviewed personalities such as Arthur creator Marc Brown, NPR correspondent Susan Stamberg, and the late Tim Russert about the impact that Mr. Rogers had on their lives.  The sentiments shared by each one are enough to make audiences of any age tear up.  Their stories are that touching and powerful.  The stories shared by average every day audiences and their families are just as moving.

The stories shared by the Wagner Brothers’ intervewees make for an amazing story.  In an age when it’s next to impossible to know which adults can be trusted to be around our children, Mr. Rogers is still one of the rare individuals that parents have always been able to trust.  The Wagner Brothers explain what it was that that made Mister Rogers the beloved, trusted personality that he was, and even is today, even though he’s no longer with us.  Each segment of the documentary shares the values by which Mister Rogers lived, and in turn, shared with parents and children alike.  Each segment of the documentary is separated by a quote that explains Mister Rogers’ different values.  The separation helps to keep audiences’ attention from Benjamin Wagner’s first meeting with Mister Rogers to the final sentiments shared by the television icon with his audiences in his final broadcast.

Fred Rogers was everything that personalities on television today aren’t.  He was a simple person.  He lived a simple life.  He was genuine.  This documentary proves to audiences that the man they saw in front of the camera was the same one they saw behind the camera.  He wasn’t just some personality.  He didn’t try to push products.  He just wanted audiences of all ages to know that no matter who they were (and are) he liked them just the way they are.  And as the interviews shared in this documentary prove, one simple statement is all the world needs.  Call him a dreamer.  But if the entire world shared one kind word with one another each day, odds are, this world would be a much better place in whcih to live.  It would certainly be a fitting tribute to a man who lived this belief every day of his life.  Thankfully, with this new documentary, The Wagner Brothers and PBS have reminded everyone that all the world needs is a little kindness.  With any luck, this reminder will get more people to try to share that kindness and pay tribute in their own way, too.  And maybe one day, we’ll all be able to say to one another, “I like you just the way you are”, too.

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