‘Under The Pepper Tree’ Is A Successful First Family Music Outing For Sara Watkins

Courtesy: New West

Singer-songwriter Sara Watkins has made quite the name for herself over the years as a member of the bluegrass group Nickel Creek and as part of the Watkins Family Hour and I’m With Her.  Now this Friday, Watkins will take her first step into another phase of her career with her debut family music album, Under the Pepper Tree.  The 15-song first outing is a presentation that will appeal to her fans and those of one Diana Panton.  That is due in part to the song’s that make up the album’s body.  They will be discussed shortly.  The musical arrangements that Watkins employs throughout the album add to its appeal and will be discussed a little later.  The sequencing of that overall content puts the finishing touch to the record and will also be discussed later.  Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the album.  All things considered, Sarah Watkins’ debut family music album is a successful offering that the whole family will indeed enjoy.

Sara Watkins’ debut family music album is a work that the whole family truly will enjoy.  That is due in part to its featured songs.  The songs in question are a selection of songs from various classic movies.  Bob Nolan’s ‘Tumblin’ Tumbleweed,’ from Gene Autry’s 1935 movie by the same name is featured here along with the likes of ‘Edelweiss’ from 20th Century Fox’s adaptation of Rodgers &  Hammerstein’s musical, The Sound of Music (1965), and ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ from Disney’s classic Pinocchio (1940).  Also represented here is ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ from 20th Century Fox’s adaptation of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical, Carousel (1956); ‘La la Lu’ from Disney’s Lady and the Tramp (1955) and even ‘Moon River’ from Paramount Pictures’ 1961 movie, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  There is even an original tune in the form of the album’s title track along with everything else.  The songs will relate to listeners of all ages because they are all timeless works that the noted audiences will remember.  Given, parents will recognize some of the songs more than children, but that aside, those songs will still entertain younger listeners.

On another level, that some of the songs (and their related movies) will connect more with older audiences than with children. That in itself serves as a starting point for older audiences to offer younger listeners the most basic introduction to so many classic musicals and movies.  That early introduction could help lead to a lifelong love for said presentations.  So while on the surface, the songs make up a collective of soundtrack works, they actually can and do serve an even greater purpose, bringing families together while building a foundation and love for the great timeless works of stage and screen from entertainment’s golden age.  To that end, the songs featured in this compilation form a solid foundation for the record itself.  It is just one part of what makes the recording so enjoyable.  The arrangements that Watkins chose for these songs adds to the record’s overall appeal.

Watkins largely stays true to the source material in each song that she features in her new record, from one to the next.  For all of that honor that Watkins pays to the original works, she still gives them her own nice touch.  Case in point is her take on ‘Stay Awake.’  Originally featured as one of the songs from Disney’s 1964 musical adaptation of author P.L. Travers’ novel Mary Poppins, the song was a gentle lullabye crafted by  the famed Sherman Brothers, Richard and Robert.  It featured Julie Andrews’ absolutely stunning vocal control alongside some even more subtle strings.  Watkins’ take on the song would have fit just as well into that movie.  It is just as moving with its piano line joining with the strings to make the song even richer.  Watkins’ over vocal delivery is so powerful in its simplicity here, too.  Ironically though being a lullaby, Watkins’ take on the song is enough to make even the most emotionally strong man blubber like a baby.  That is a telling statement. 

On a different note, Watkins’ take on Bob Nolan’s ‘Tumbling Tumblewood’ stays even truer to its source material, complete with fiddle and the slightest touch of a slide guitar.  Of course, gone are the clip-clop of the horse hoofs and the string arrangement featured in the original song performed by Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers.  Instead, Watkins has opted here for the more spit-shined take that even what with everything in mind, the song still sounds quite a bit like something that one might hear playing in the old honky tonk joints of country music’s golden era.  To that point, it is still its own unique arrangement.

‘Moon River’ is another example of the importance of the musical arrangements featured in Watkins’ new record.  Her take on the song does stay true to its source material for the most part, stylistically.  Though there are some subtle differences between the original version composed by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, and sung by Audrey Hepburn, and Watkins’ take.  Right off the bat, the string arrangements and the harmonica featured in the original are absent in Watkins’ rendition.  They are replaced here by the subtle addition of a Hammond organ.  Watkins’ own vocal delivery bears its own identity here.  Her delivery is just as soft and gentle as that of Hepburn and almost as airy.  That whole set against the whole of the original makes Watkins’ take here just as interesting as the other covers featured in the compilation.  When those other songs are considered with this arrangement and the others examined here, the whole leaves no doubt as to the importance of the recording’s overall musical content.  When that content is considered along with the featured songs themselves, that whole gives listeners even more to like.  When all of that is considered along with the record’s sequencing, the record is rounded out and completed.

The sequencing of Under the Pepper Tree keeps the album’s energy light from beginning to end of its 36-minute run time, starting off relaxed in her take of ‘Blue Shadows on the Trail.’  The energy really does not pick back up until late in the album’s run in Watkin’s take of ‘Blanket for a Sail.’  Up until that point, the energy remains relatively reserved.  It pulls back again from there right up to the album’s finale, ‘Good Night.’  So basically what audiences get overall due to the sequencing here, is a record that will serve to relax any listener.  As a matter of fact, one might even be able to use the record to help get to sleep being that the record’s energy is so gentle.  Between that, the unique takes on the songs and the very selection of songs, the whole makes the record in whole a work that is a truly successful family music album.

Sara Watkins’ debut family music album Under the Pepper Tree is a positive new offering that the whole family will indeed enjoy.  That is due in part to the record’s featured songs, the majority of which are timeless songs that are themselves featured in some of the most famous and beloved movies of all time.  The arrangements that Watkins presents here are themselves important to the record’s presentation.  They stay largely true to their source material but also give the songs the slightest of updates, making for even more appeal.  The sequencing of this overall content keeps the record’s energy relatively light and reserved throughout the record’s nearly 40-minute run time.  That means the record’s overall energy will keep listeners relaxed.  That will result in a positive mindset for any listener.  Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of this record.  All things considered, they make the record in whole a successful first family music outing for Sarah Watkins.  Under the Pepper Tree is scheduled for release Friday through New West Records.  More information on the album is available along with all of Watkins’ latest news at:


Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sarawatkins


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CBS All Access’ ‘The Twilight Zone’ Reboot Takes Another Step Back In Its Second Season

Courtesy: CBS All Access/PAramount

Remembering the past is critical to the present.  If one does not know one’s past, then how can one appreciate the present. This is noted as one takes into consideration the forthcoming home release of The Twilight Zone: Season 2.  The second season of CBS All Access’ latest iteration of the classic series is scheduled for release Tuesday exclusively on DVD.  For those who have not yet seen this season of the timeless series’ latest reboot, it sadly does little to improve from the first season of the series’ latest take.  That is proven in part through its stories.  The overt explicit content within the episodes is just as prevalent as in the first season.  It detracts even more from this season.  The general lack of bonus content is the final nail in the coffin of this season in its home release.  When it is considered with all of the set’s primary content, the collection in whole proves worth watching at most once, but sadly no more.

The second season of CBS All Access’ latest reboot of The Twilight Zone does little if anything to improve on the series from its debut season.  In other words, it does little if anything to make this reboot of Rod Serling’s timeless original series worth watching.  That is proven in part through this season’s featured stories.  Ten more episodes are featured in this season.  The stories themselves are new in comparison to the stories in the original series (and even its 1980s reboot).  The problem is that while the stories are new, they are not necessarily original in content.  Audiences can link at least nine of the season’s stories to those in the original series.  Right from the season’s outset, “Meet in the Middle,” longtime audiences will recognize that all the show’s writers have done is re-imagine the classic episode “Penny For Your Thoughts.”  The difference between the two stories is their execution.  In the original story, Hector Poole (played by Bewitched star Dick York) develops telepathic ability and uses them for what he thinks is good, though things don’t go exactly as planned.  It is a warning about knowing whether what we are doing is really for the betterment of others.  On another level, it takes on the equally timeless topic of whether the “super power” of telepathy is really a good thing.

In the case of “Meet in the Middle,” what audiences get is lonely bachelor Phil (Jimmi Simpson – Date Night, Westworld, Psych 2: Lassie Come Home) developing a telepathic link with a woman in another town hundreds of miles away.  Yes, he gets ahead of himself in his own way, but in this case, the result is far worse, and the topic is more centered on the dangers of social media.  How the story ends will be left for audiences to discover for themselves.  The comparison between the two episodes is important in that where the message in the original episode is timeless, that of the latter episode is more timely.  Yes, being aware of the dangers of social media is important, but people should still be just as aware of simply getting ahead of themselves in any aspect in life.  That is where the original episode wins and this one falls short.  Simply put, this episode lifted liberally from a classic episode and basically just re-imagined it for the 21st century.  It, again, is an example of how this season’s stories are new but not necessarily original.

“Ovation,” which comes almost halfway through Season 2, is yet another story that while new is itself not original.  This episode is a direct lifting of the classic episode “A Nice Place to Visit.”  “A Nice Place to Visit” starred Larry Blyden (Cain’s Hundred, The Witness, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever) as “Rocky,” a career criminal who ends up in what he thinks of a paradise of sorts after he is killed by police in an effort to flee the scene of a crime.  As things progress, he realizes that his paradise is anything but.

“Ovation,” which spoofs all of the karaoke singing competitions on television today, stars (Jurnee Smolllett – Underground, The Great Debaters, Lovecraft Country) as struggling singer-songwriter Jasmine.  Jasmine is given a coin one day by another famous young starlet (who then proceeds to commit suicide – happy thought, eh?) only to gain all the fame and fortune that she wanted and more.  That nonstop fame and fortune eventually leads jasmine to realize her heaven had in fact become her own hell.  Again here is that similarity.  What happens from there will be left for viewers to find out for themselves, but that personal hell becomes even more shocking as star Mynx’s fame increases while her own fades.  The ultimate outcome is Jasmine’s final punishment.  It will also be left for viewers to learn for themselves.  The overarching story here is one that is a direct lifting of the noted classic episode.  Yes the matter is timeless, in that desire that people have for fame and fortune, but it still is not necessarily original, once again.  Just as “Rocky” got all that he wanted in the original story, but ended up despising it, so did the same thing happen with Jasmine in the latter episode.  So again, this is yet another example of how the primary content featured in the second season of CBS All Access’ The Twilight Zone reboot comes up short.

“A Small Town,” the eighth of Season 2’s 10 total episodes is just one more example of how the reboot of The Twilight Zone continues to fall short o expectations in its primary content.  The very title “A Small Town” is a blatant rip-off of the title of the classic TZ episode “Stopover in a Quiet Town.”  That is just the tip of the iceberg here.  The story finds Jason (Damon Wayans, Jr. – The Other Guys, Big Hero 6, Let’s Be Cops) discovering the model of his town, Littleton, in the attic of the church that he attends.  He soon discovers that the changes he makes to the model also happen to the town itself.  This is a direct lifting of the little girl in the earlier episode as she played with the couple in her own model town.  The little girl was, of course an alien and the couple humans that were kidnapped by the girl and kept as pets.  That aside, Jason is still kind of the same way as he tries to improve the town. 

“Stopover in a Quiet Town” is not the only classic TZ episode that is featured in this episode.  The writers also incorporated an element of the equally classic episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” as mayor Conley (David Krumholtz – The Santa Claus 1-3, Numb3rs, The Deuce) accuses Emilio (Andrew Alvarez) of causing the unexplained events to happen.  This is a direct mirror image of the Maple Street residents accusing each other of being aliens and communists.  Keeping that in mind along with the direct lifting of the story’s primary story line, yet again here is another example of how the story might be new but still not necessarily original.  It is hardly the last example of how this season directly lifts from the original series, too, making for even more disappointment.

Even the one “original” story “8” is not entirely original.  In the case of this story, it focuses on a team of scientists in the Antarctic who face off against a killer octopus with the sentience of a human.  The very concept of a killer octopus feels like a direct lifting not of anything from The Twilight Zone, but the 1955 creature feature It Came From Beneath The Sea.  That movie centered on efforts to stop a giant mutant octopus that rises from the depths to try and take over the city of San Francisco.  What does throw back to the original Twilight Zone run is the discussion between two of the team members (one American and one Chinese) about using knowledge gained for good or for military use (I.E. democracy versus communism).  This was a classic theme from the original series.  Even while this episode is maybe slightly original at best in comparison to the original series, it also leads to another problem posed by this season, its overtly explicit general content.

The general content featured within Season 2 of CBS All Access’ reboot of The Twilight Zone is just as concerning as the general lack of originality in the episodes.  Once again, the episodes are rife with excessive foul language and violence.  One of the lowest moments when this happens comes halfway through the season in “Among the Untrodden.”  This episode, which itself can be likened somewhat to the classic episode “Mute,” and to a slightly lesser degree to “The Lonely,” features f-bombs and s-bombs in almost every line.  What’s more, hearing one of the characters talking about one of her friends performing oral sex on a 30-year old man, and another girl watching her own father pleasure himself is just disturbing to say the very least.  There is also the explicit drug and alcohol use by the teens.  This just is collectively not necessary.  On another note, “8” features one character’s eyeball popped out by the killer octopus.  Yeah, that really was not necessary.  “Ovation” features a scene in which a man undergoing open heart surgery starts clapping as he lays on the operating table.  Audiences can see all the blood and gore there.  This was just as unnecessary.  As if all of that is not enough, the way in which the girl commits suicide in the story’s opening is pretty harsh to say the least, as if the very act of suicide itself was not explicit enough.  Going all the way back to the season premiere “Meet in the Middle,” the final act features its own share of blatant explicit content.  It won’t be fully revealed, but it involves lots of blood and a very unsettling scene.  Along the way there are plenty of f-bombs and general cuss words to boot.  It’s just one more way in which the general content featured in these episodes hurts the season even more.  The rest of the season’s content is problematic in this aspect, too.  Yes, art is said to be a reflection of the times, but audiences who are familiar with the original run of The Twilight Zone will agree that said series remains timeless today more than 60 years after its premiere in part because it did not rely on that content in order to be so memorable.  It just relied on good writing, originality and accessibility.  To that end, why the writers behind the series’ latest reboot think that so much explicit content continues to be necessary (they used just as much explicit content in the reboot’s debut season) remains a mystery.  This aspect paired with the general lack of originality in the season’s stories weakens this season’s presentation even more.  The final nail in the coffin for this season’s presentation is its lack of bonus content.

The first season of CBS All Access’ reboot of The Twilight Zone offered audiences at least something to appreciate in its home release thanks to its bonus content.  This season is the polar opposite.  All audiences get in this season is a very small handful of deleted/extended scenes and a “gag reel” as bonus content.  The extra footage is not companion to every episode.  It is at the most, featured along with about three episodes.  One of those episodes is the blatant re-imagining of “The After Hours,” “Downtime.”  The scene that is featured is all of maybe three seconds at best.  Yes, it is that short.  It features star Morena Baccarin – Deadpool, Deadpool 2, Serenity – running to the rooftop of the hotel that she manages.  That is it.  There is nothing else.  When audiences watch the episode in whole, the overall scene is long that the shortness of the extra footage is largely forgotten.  To that end, that “bonus” footage proves more inconsequential than any bonus.  The other notable “bonus footage” comes with “Ovation.”  It shows Jasmine losing her cool so to speak when she discovers that Mynx had taken her fame.  Watching the episode in whole, it is understood that the story could have kept the footage or left it out.  It did not really matter.  Other than those two episodes, audiences really will not find much more bonus footage.  The only other extra content is the noted gag reel, which is short in its own right.  Keeping this in mind, this general lack of any redeeming bonus content works with the concerning general content and unoriginal stories to make the second season of The Twilight Zone’s latest reboot another disappointing offering from CBS All Access.  It is more proof that some things are just better left as they were.  It proves not everything needs to be rebooted.

The second season of CBS All Access’ latest reboot of The Twilight Zone is a step backward for this series.  Where the reboot’s debut season offered at least some positives, this season fails to provide audiences much if anything to appreciate.  The stories that are featured in this season are new, but not necessarily original.  Like the episodes featured in Season 1, the stories in these episodes  once again lift liberally from the original, timeless series launched more than six decades ago by Rod Serling and CBS.  They just re-imagine so many of the original series’ episodes for their own presentations, rather than offering audiences anything truly original.  The general content featured within the stories is problematic, too.  The original series continues to be timeless today in part because it relied on good writing and acting, rather than a bunch of explicit foul language, blood and gore.  The lack of any worthwhile bonus content in the season’s forthcoming home release puts the final nail in this season’s coffin.  All things considered, this season falls even shorter than the rebooted season’s debut season.  It is worth at the most one watch if only for its stories, but sadly little more if at all.  The Twilight Zone: Season 2 is scheduled for release Tuesday on DVD.

More information on this and other content from CBS All Access is available online at:




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Re-issues Saved Movie, TV Studios During Pandemic

Courtesy: Arrow Video

This year was another rough one for television and movie studios alike.  Movie studios were forced to postpone the release of so many new movies until either 2021 or beyond and TV studios were forced to shut down production all as they faced the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  On top of all of that, the movies and TV shows that did release this year and that were announced for release were largely another massive batch of prequels, sequels, reboots, and movies based on actual events.  That, again, made for very little for audiences to really appreciate.  Thankfully, there were a lot of worthwhile box sets for families and grown-ups alike.  There were also lots of enjoyable re-issues.  That is why Phil’s Picks once again is presenting a list of the year’s top new DVD and Blu-ray re-issues.  MVD Entertainment Group and Arrow Video released some of the best of this year’s re-issues, with re-releases of classics, such as Black Angel, Flash Gordon, and The Last Starfighter.  Shout! Factory meanwhile produced its own interesting re-issues in the form of Thomas and the Magic Railroad, The Spider, and Attack of the Crab People.  CBS DVD and Paramount even had their share of interesting re-issues in the form of Mission: ImpossibleThe Original TV Series, Police Squad: The Complete Series, and Gunsmoke: The Complete Series 65th Anniversary Edition.  Audiences were even treated to re-issues of more classics, such as Roman Holiday, To Catch a Thief, and The Flintstones: The Complete Series.  All of these titles and others are on Phil’s Picks 2020 Top 10 New DVD and Blu-ray re-issues.

As with each other list from Phil’s Picks, this final list of 2020 features the Top 10 New titles for the year along with five additional honorable mention titles for a total of 15 titles.  Without any further ado, here is Phil’s Picks 2020 Top 10 New DVD & Blu-ray Re-Issues.


  1. Black Angel
  2. Flash Gordon
  3. Mission: Impossible: The Original TV Series
  4. The Last Starfighter
  5. Thomas & The Magic Railroad
  6. The Spider
  7. The Flintstones: The Complete Series
  8. Warning From Space
  9. Mallrats
  10. War of the Colossal Beast
  11. Attack of the Crab People
  12. To Catch A Thief
  13. Roman Holiday
  14. Police Squad: The Complete Series
  15. Transformers: The Complete Series

That’s it for this year’s year-ender lists.  With 2021 already coming fast, plans are already in the works for lots more new music, movies, and TV shows.

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

Grown-Ups Got Plenty Of TV To Enjoy In 2020

Courtesy: itv/PBS Distribution/PBS

Families nationwide got a lot of worthwhile ways to spend time together during the COVID-19 pandemic this year, thanks to all of the new DVDs, Blu-rays and box sets.  Of course while families got plenty to watch together, grown-ups also needed something of their own to enjoy.  Thankfully this year produced just as much for grown-ups to enjoy as children.  That is why Phil’s Picks is taking a look at what were among the best of this year’s new DVD and Blu-ray box sets for grown-ups.  This year saw a bunch of new content from Warner Brothers and DC, some better than others (E.g. the new Swamp Thing reboot and new seasons of Black LightningBlack Lightning proved better this year than Swamp Thing, but the latter still proved worth watching at least once.  Itv and PBS presented a rather intriguing new season of itv’s crime drama Endeavour.  The season was okay but left something to be wanted.  The short-lived deep comedy The Good Place finally met its end this year and also received its only full-series release on Blu-ray thanks to the folks at Shout! Factory.  In an even more surprising move, ABC’s hit comedy Modern Family got a full series release this month exclusively through Target.  While not inexpensive, it is a presentation that devotees will appreciate.  It is just one more entry in Phil’s Picks 2020 Top 10 New DVD & Blu-ray Box Sets For Grown-ups category. 

As with every other list from Phil’s Picks, this list features the Top 10 titles in the category along with five honorable mentions for a total of 15 titles.  Without further ado, here is Phil’s Picks 2020 Top 10 new DVD & Blu-ray Box Sets for Grown-Ups.


  1. Endeavour: Season Seven
  2. The Good Place: The Complete Series
  3. Modern Family: The Complete Series
  4. Doctor Who: Season 12
  5. The Expanse: Season 4
  6. Black Lightning: The Complete Second Season
  7. Black Lightning: The Complete Third Season
  8. Stargirl: The Complete First Season
  9. Mission: Impossible: The Complete Series
  10. Gunsmoke: The Complete Series 65th Anniversary Set
  11. Gunsmoke: The Movies
  12. Penny Dreadful: City of Angels Season 1
  13. Swamp Thing: The Complete Series
  14. Star Trek Picard: Season 1
  15. The Twilight Zone: Season 1

One more list is up to finish up this year’s lists.  That list is the year’s top new re-issues.  Stay tuned for that.

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

‘Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels’ Is Not Dreadful, But Tough To Watch

Courtesy: CBS DVD/Paramount/Showtime/Sky

Showtime and Sky’s Penny Dreadful spin-off City of Angels is an interesting addition to the franchise.  The 10-episode series, which ran for approximately two months this year from April 26 to June 28, is an interesting presentation.  While it only ran for one season, it is a presentation that will find its specific audiences.  That is due in part to the story featured in the program.  This element will be discussed shortly.  While the story does give audiences reason to watch, the general content that accompanies the story unarguably detracts from the show’s presentation to a point.  This will be addressed a little later.  The work of the series’ cast puts the finishing touch to the show’s program.  Together with the story, those two elements are enough to make up for the show’s somewhat overly gritty content and make it worth watching at least once.

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels is an interesting addition to Showtime and Sky’s original Penny Dreadful franchise, which originally launched in 2014 and ran for three seasons. It is a presentation that fans of hard boiled crime dramas will find at least somewhat appealing.  That is proven in part through its expansive story line, which spans the show’s 10-episode run.  Unlike the original series, which is based on a series of Victorian-era monsters and their experiences, City of Angels is centered more on the real world.  The gritty, hard-boiled crime drama takes place in pre-World War II Los Angeles, California.  It follows the murder of a well-to-do white family in Los Angeles.  The murder is initially blamed on members of the city’s Hispanic community, but of course the truth is eventually revealed at the series’ end, not to give away too much.  This frame-up highlights the racial tensions that did in fact exist between the white members of the city’s citizenry and its immigrant population, especially in the interactions between the city’s all-white police force and the members of the city’s Hispanic population.  Adding to the mix is the impact of the Nazi party in the region at the time.  As if that is not enough, Magda, in all of her various forms, keeps the tension high throughout each of the story lines that interweave throughout the series, adding even more intrigue to the story.  Her actions add to the never-ending discussion on whether human behavior and thoughts are innate or are influenced by external factors (I.E. the sociological discussion of nature versus nurture).  This is discussed in the bonus content that accompanies the series’ home release.  That overarching aspect makes for so much interest in this series.  Of course it cannot be denied that through it all, there are moments when all of the story lines do cause the series to get bogged down in itself.  Each of the story lines do ultimately tie together, but because there is so much going on, it was clearly easy for the writers to get lost in their project.  As a result, audiences end up getting a little lost, too.  Luckily that is not enough to completely ruin the series’ presentation, but it also cannot be ignored.  The fact that the story occasionally gets bogged down in itself is just one of the problems from which this series suffers.  Its general content creates its own problem for the its presentation.

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels was intentionally presented as a gritty, hard boiled crime drama.  There is no denying that.  This brand of crime story is nothing new to audiences.  It has been around since at least the early to mid 1920s and 30s.  The thing is that this series takes the general elements of hard boiled crime to a new and somewhat controversial level.  The gruesome fate of the family that was killed is explicit to say the least.  It is reminiscent of Heath Ledger’s look of the Joker in The Dark Knight only far more extreme, complete with blood and gore, oh and nudity.  This is just one over-the-top element of the show’s content.  The overt displays of homosexual (and bi-sexual) intercourse are completely unnecessary, and another way in which the show’s content goes way too far over the top.  As if that is not enough, a moment, such as that in which a police officer’s neck is slashed with a razor and his body left naked and covered in blood (yes, this really is shown) is far too explicit, too.  Between these moments and all of the unnecessary foul language that is used throughout, the general content featured in Penny Dreadful: City of Angels proves to be anything but angelic.  Maybe that is because the show’s heads could get away with it, being on Showtime after all.  Regardless, the noted content (and more) does a great deal to detract from what could have otherwise been a great classic crime hard boiled style crime drama.

For all that the content displayed in Penny Dreadful: City of Angels does to detract from the series’ presentation, it is not enough to make the series completely unwatchable.  The work of the series’ cast on camera works with the story to help save it at least somewhat.  Most notable of the cast is star Nathan Lane.  The veteran actor, Lane serves as a supporting cast member here.  Even as a supporting cast member, he still shines both by himself and alongside fellow cast member Daniel Zovatto (It Follows, Lady Bird, Don’t Breathe).  Lane is known typically as a comedic actor, but his dramatic turn here is so powerful.  When he’s by himself, he stands out so much because he takes the full chance to let Michener’s personality develop.  His years of experience on stage and screen comes through fully and fully entertaining.  When he is working alongside Zovatto, who shines in his own right as Tiago, he never tries to outdo the younger actor.  Rather, the duo works so well together, sort of building their characters’ personalities together.  Natalie Dormer meanwhile shines in her own way as Magda as she takes on her various roles.  Among the best of her moments comes as she portrays Alex, clerk to Councilman Townsend.  The way in which she basically plays him is classic clerk to an evil business.  At the same time, she makes her evil intentions just barely noticeable enough really balance things out and make her character so wonderfully despicable.  Going back to Zovatto, the way he presents Tiago’s personal identity struggles as he works with the police and tries to balance that with his identity as a Latino is moving in its own right.  There are moments when he hams it up a little too much, but for the most part, he takes on his portrayal quite well.  In the same vein, the way in which Tiago’s police counterparts take on their roles is fully believable, too.  There is no way that doing and saying what they did could have possibly been easy, but sadly there is a lot of reality about those racial tensions even in that era.  To that point, the actors made it easy to have a strong dislike for their characters and their awful behavior.  That means that they did a good job of showing the vile nature of how horribly they treated minorities even back then, so they are to be commended for that, as difficult as it must have been, morally.  Taking in the performances noted here, that of Lane’s fellow veteran actor Brent Spiner (who does well in a rare non-Star Trek role), and those of all others involved, it can be said easily that the work of the series’ cast plays well into the overall presentation of Penny Dreadful: City of Angels.  Together with the story, they do just enough to counter the questionable content featured within the story, and make the series worth watching at least once.

Showtime and Sky Network’s short-lived series Penny Dreadful: City of Angels is an interesting addition to the franchise, which started six years ago as a fantasy type series.  Its overall story, which incorporates multiple story lines does relatively well to engage audiences.  Given those story lines do bog the series down at times, but not enough to make the series a failure.  The content that is displayed throughout the series does quite a bit to make it difficult to watch, as has been noted here.  It goes way above and beyond the content presented in classic hard boiled detective novels and movies, basically throwing it all out the window just for the sake of having something shocking.  It really is the series’ biggest detractor and makes the series difficult to watch more than once.  The work of the series’ cast works with the story to make up for the problems created by the content at least somewhat.  Those two elements are positives, and do make up for the problems posed through the content to a point.  Taking everything noted here collectively, Penny Dreadful: City of Angels is a powerful addition to Showtime and Sky Network’s franchise that crime drama fans will find worth watching at least once.  Hopefully if another addition to the franchise comes along, it will not be as explicit as this series and worth far more.  If not, then the franchise has closed out on a difficult note.  It is available now.

More information on this and other programs from Showtime is available online at:

Website: http://www.sho.com

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/Showtime

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‘Mission: Impossible’ BD Re-issue Will Appeal To Series’ Most Devoted Fans

Courtesy: CBS DVD/Paramount

Retro television networks are among the greatest networks out there today.  They are free and they offer audiences who grew up during television’s golden age (which ended, sadly in the late 90s) a great, safe alternative to all of the garbage that currently pollutes the airwaves.  From the likes of The Munsters and Emergency! to Betwitched, Black Sheep Squadron, and The Flintstones, networks, such as Me-TV, CoziTV, H&I, and Antenna TV have grown in popularity as worthwhile viewing options steadily decline on broadcast television (and even streaming outlets).  While the retro networks that are out there offer so much great programming, there are still some shows from TV’s golden age that are still not on any of those networks.  One of those shows is the timeless action/adventure series Mission: Impossible.  Luckily though, the series has gotten new life on Blu-ray thanks to the folks at Paramount and CBS DVD.  The series was re-issued Dec. 1 on Blu-ray marking the first time that the series has ever received the Blu-ray treatment.  Its release last week comes more than seven years after the series’ most recent DVD release in 2012.  This latest presentation is as good as the series’ most recent DVD release if not a little better.  That is proven in part through the presentation’s collective audio and video quality, which will be discussed shortly.  The one negative to the set is its lack of any bonus content.  This does detract from the set’s presentation at least to a point.  It will be discussed a little later.  The collection’s packaging is a slight positive that deserves its own examination.  It will be addressed later, too.  All things considered, the new Blu-ray presentation of Mission: Impossible The Original TV Series a presentation that every vintage television fan will appreciate.

Paramount and CBS DVD’s new Blu-ray re-issue of Mission: ImpossibleThe Original TV Series is a mostly positive presentation that will appeal easily to fans of real television.  That is proven in part through its production values; its audio and video.  Considering the age of the footage (the show ran from 1966 – 1973 over seven seasons), the audio and video is largely impressive.  There are a few moments here and there in which audiences will find themselves having to adjust the volume as the episodes progress, but those moments are so few that it cannot be said that they really detract from the series’ presentation.  The explosions, car chases and everything else are well-balanced with the dialogue throughout the series.  Adding to the pleasure brought by the audio is the largely high quality in the video.  The colors that were used in the scenery are so rich.  The explosions (everyone’s favorite part of the show) are bright and fully capturing for viewers.  Even ordinary scenes, such as jail cells, hotel rooms in which the team stays on its missions, and car scenes look full.  This is a tribute to those who transferred the footage from the series’ previous standalone season sets and its most recent full-series set.  The full impact of the set’s production sets a strong foundation for this re-issue.  Considering the strength of this aspect and the award-winning series’ equally enjoyable writing, those aesthetic elements collectively give this classic series’ fans plenty to appreciate. 

While the audio and video presentation in Mission: ImpossibleThe Original TV Series (and the series’ writing) goes a long way toward making the series’ re-issue a success, the set is not perfect.  It is missing any bonus content.  Considering the series’ legacy and impact in America’s pop culture realm, it would have been common sense to have at least discussions on the writing (E.g. how did the writers develop the ideas for the Impossible Missions Force’s adventures).  On another note, the series saw cast changes as it progressed, along with a variety of guest stars.  The series’ first season saw guest appearances from at least two actors who appeared in timeless episodes of The Twilight Zone.  Discussions by the series’ creative heads and/or writers would have enriched this aspect even more for the series’ most devoted fans.  Considering that Mission: Impossible was yet another product of Desilu Productions (which was also responsible for other timeless series, such as The Untouuchables, Star Trek, and of course I Love Lucy) a discussion on those shows and the overall legacy of Desilu Productions would have enhanced the viewing experience even more.  All things considered here, there is so much extra content that could have been included for audiences in this latest iteration of Mission: ImpossibleThe Original TV Series.  The lack thereof does not make the series’ re-issue a failure, but there is no denying how much it does detract from the series.  Without that content, the re-issue is essentially a bare bones presentation.  Thankfully though, the content in the episodes does manage to make up for that lack of still keep viewers fully engaged and entertained.  Keeping all of this in mind, there is still one more aspect of the set to examine.  That aspect is its packaging.

The packaging for the new Blu-ray re-issue of Mission: ImpossibleThe Original TV Series is another interesting aspect of the set.  That is because while it is an improvement over that of the series’ DVD release, it is still imperfect.  The previous set contained all of the series’ discs on their own discs inside cans that are themselves inside a bigger package shaped like a stick of dynamite.  The overall packaging was bulky and anything but ergonomic.  What’s more, getting the discs in and out of the inner cases was problematic in its own right.  By comparison, this set’s packaging uses gatefold style packaging for each season.  The slim cases open up to reveal the discs placed inside in their own spots.  This does make the overall packaging less bulky and more space conservative.  The problem here is that while the packaging is more ergonomic, there is nothing securing the discs inside their respective season “cases.”  The result is that the discs can easily slide right out of the “cases.”  That, in turn, increases the chances that the discs can be damaged by scratching.  Yes, it is – again – something of an improvement over the packaging for the series’ DVD set, but still does leave something to be wanted. 

Keeping everything noted here in mind, this latest presentation of Mission: Impossible proves to be such that the most devoted of the series’ fans will enjoy regardless of whether they own the previous DVD set.  That is especially considering the average price point of $118.37.  That price was obtained by taking prices from Amazon, Target, Best Buy, and Barnes & Noble Booksellers.  It was not listed at Walmart or Books-A-Million at the time of this posting.  Amazon’s price listing of $99.99 is the least expensive while Target’s listing of $132.99 easily topped that average price.  Best Buy was able to join Amazon in staying below the average price point, listing the set at $109.99.  Barnes & Noble Booksellers meanwhile was well above the average, listing the set at $130.49.  That low price of $99.99 is a welcome aspect considering, again, the aesthetic value of the primary content and the lack of bonus content.  The series did run, after all, for 171 episodes over seven seasons.  So even without bonus content, audiences will still get their money’s worth at that lowest price.  What’s more considering the series’ long run, there likely will be no perfect answer to the packaging issue.  It will always be there.  All things considered here, Paramount and CBS DVD’s latest presentation of Mission: ImpossibleThe Original TV Series proves itself to be, again, a welcome presentation for the series’ most devoted fans. 

CBS DVD and Paramount’s new Blu-ray re-issue of Mission: ImpossibleThe Original TV Series is an interesting new presentation. Audiences will assuredly appreciate the high quality of the show’s audio and video in this presentation. The lack of any bonus content does detract from the series’ presentation in this iteration, but does not ruin the set’s presentation. At the same time, that needed bonus content definitely would have benefited the set’s appeal. The packaging of this set is a step up from that of the series’ DVD set, but still poses its own problem. Keeping all of this in mind, the set’s average price point and separate listings play (primarily those at Best Buy and Amazon) make for some more appeal. Hopefully when and if the series gets its next re-issue, there will be bonus content and more improved packaging.  Regardless, it is not *ahem* impossible (yes, that awful pun was intended) to appreciate this latest presentation of a timeless series that still is not on any of the major retro TV networks.

More information on this and other titles from CBS Home Entertainment is available online at:

Website: http://www.viacomcbsexpress.com/cbs-home-entertainment

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/CBSHE

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

Courtesy: Nickelodeon/Paramount/Viacom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Panton’s New LP Is “A Cheerful Little Earful” For Listeners Of All Ages

Courtesy: Little Things

Diana Panton will release her latest album next month.  The album – A Cheerful Little Earful – is scheduled for release Oct. 18 through Little Things Records.  The 15-song, 53-minute album is Panton’s second family music album — coming four years after her debut family album 2015’s I Believe in Little Things — and her 12th overall album.  This latest offering from Panton is fittingly titled.  That is because it will leave listeners of all ages feeling cheerful after they get an earful of the record.  The album’s featured songs plays directly into that effect.  They will be addressed shortly.  The musical aspect of the album also plays into that positive impact, and will be addressed a little later.  The same can be said of the album’s sequencing by connection.  Each item noted is key in its own way to the whole of the album’s presentation.  All things considered, they make A Cheerful Little Earful a work that will leave every listener feeling cheerful.

Diana Panton’s latest full-length studio recording is a presentation that fits its title quite well.  That is because it does in fact prove itself A Cheerful Little Earful of music.  The record’s featured songs play their own part in that impact.  The record opens with Panton’s own take on the classic Rogers & Hammerstein song ‘Happy Talk,’ which is featured in the duo’s beloved musical ‘South Pacific.’  It is followed up by the song ‘It’s A Most Unusual Day,’ which was written and arranged by Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHughes, and made famous by Jane Powell in the 1948 MGM movie A Date With Judy.  Harry Woods’ 1926 hit song ‘Red, Red Robin’ – made famous by actress Lilian Roth – is also featured in the album, along with works from Perry Como (‘A, You’re Adorable’), Jimmy Van Huesen and Sammy Cahn (‘Pocket Full Of Miracles’ – taken from the 1961 movie of the same name), Sammy Fain, Bob Hilliard and Fr. Louis Sauvat (‘All In The Golden Afternoon’ – From Walt Disney’s 1951 classic animated movie Alice in Wonderland) just to name some more songs.  As if that isn’t enough, Panton once again offers at least one work for children in the form of the timeless Sesame Street tune ‘I Don’t Want To Live on the Moon.’  Of course likely just as many grown-ups know that song as do children, so to that end, that song will appeal to lots of adults as well as children.  Along with all of this, there is a Cole Porter work featured in the album in the form of ‘Experiment’ and even a cover of the Michael Jackson hit ‘Music and Me.’  That song was written by Michael Cannon, Don Fenceton, Mel Larson and Jerry Marcellino.  Simply put, Panton once again runs the proverbial gamut with this album’s featured songs.  That is just as evident in the other songs not noted here.  What is truly interesting here is that while the variety of songs is plentiful, they defy the standard definition of “Family Music.”  Most of the music here is jazz, and jazz is music for everyone, like with bluegrass (E.g. The Okee Dokee Brothers).  So it is a family music album, but also an album of music for audiences of all ages and backgrounds.  To that end, the songs featured in this album gives it a strong foundation.

That foundation is strengthened even more thanks to the songs’ arrangements.  The arrangements will appeal just as much to Panton’s longtime fans as they will to those who might be less familiar with her work.  From the light, easygoing piano-driven arrangement at the center of the album’s opener, ‘Happy Talk,’ to the more gentle, reserved arrangement at the center of ‘I Don’t Want To Live on The Moon’ (which is also centered around Don Thompson’s gentle, flowing piano line), to the equally reserved, guitar-centered arrangement of ‘If You Feel Like Singing, Sing’ to the more light hearted (and also guitar-centered) ‘Aren’t You Glad You’re You’ – which was used in the soundtrack to the 1945 Bing Crosby classic The Bells of St. Mary’s – and beyond, the arrangements featured throughout the album are really what make the featured works so easy on the ears.  Thompson’s work on the vibes from  point to point conjures thoughts of the one and only Lionel Hampton while Panton’s own vocal delivery once again is comparable to that of Diana Krall.  The arrangements are easy on the ears not just because of the instrumentation, but also because of their simplicity.  There are no over-the-top performances and solos at any point.  Rather, each song is simple and straight forward from beginning to end.  That adds even more appeal to each composition.  All things considered here, the arrangements presented in each song do just as much to make this record appealing as the songs themselves.  They still are not the last of the album’s most important element.  When the arrangements and songs are considered along with the record’s sequencing, all three elements work together to make the record that much more enjoyable and entertaining.

The sequencing of Cheerful Little Earful is important to note because it ensures listeners’ engagement and entertainment by keeping the record’s energy stable throughout its run.  As already notes, the album opens on a high, light hearted note in ‘Happy Talk.’  From there, the album’s energy gradually changes with the tempos gradually slowing until it reaches that famed Sesame Street classic tune.  Things pick back up a little after that in the album’s title track before pulling back again in ‘If You Feel Like Singing, Sing’ and ‘Music and Me.’  The change in the energies are subtle though the next few songs before picking up again more noticeably in ‘Aren’t You Glad You’re You.’  The album ends with two more gentle arrangements that take listeners out on a soft note.  Again, the album’s sequencing keeps the album’s energy just right from beginning to end, not changing too much from one song to the next.  That stability in the songs’ energies means listeners are more apt to remain engaged throughout as the variety in the arrangements and the songs.  When all of those elements are noted together, the end result is a record that truly is a cheerful little earful for listeners of all ages.

Diana Panton’s forthcoming album Cheerful Little Earful is a fittingly titled-album, especially for jazz and cinema fans.  That is because so many of the songs featured in this album are classic jazz tunes that are featured in some great classic major motion pictures.  They are not the album’s only songs, though.  As noted, there is at least one song taken from PBS’ long-running series Sesame Street and even a Michael Jackson cover.  That variety of songs and associated backgrounds means a wide ranging appeal in itself.  The songs’ arrangements add even more appeal to the record.  The album’s sequencing ensures the energies in those arrangements remains stable from the album’s opening to its end.  Each noted item is important in its own way to the whole of the album.  All things considered, they make Cheerful Little Earful an earful that will leave every listener cheerful.  More information on the album is available online now along with all of Diana Panton’s latest news and more at:




Website: http://www.dianapanton.com

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/pantonda5




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CBS All Access’ New ‘Star Trek’ Series Fails In Its First Season

Courtesy: CBS Television Studios/Paramount

In a little more than a month, CBS All Access’ latest entry into the Star Trek universe – Star Trek: Discovery — returns for its second season.  While audiences count the days until the fledgling series returns, they have its debut season to take in on DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of CBS Television Studios and Paramount Home Entertainment.  Released in stores Nov. 13 on separate DVD and Blu-ray sets, Season One’s home release offers both pros and cons to note, beginning with the series’ very writing.  It will be discussed shortly.  The set’s bonus content is its own positive, and will be discussed a little later.  The set’s average price point is also important to discuss, and will be addressed later.  Each item noted here is important in its own right to the whole of the season’s presentation.  All things considered, the debut season of Star Trek: Discovery proves to be a new start for the Star Trek universe that is worth at least one watch, but sadly not much more.

The debut season of CBS All Access’ new Star Trek offering, Star Trek: Discovery is a rough new start for the Star Trek universe’s latest offering.  It is not the franchise’s worst entry, but definitely is not the franchise’s best entry, either.  That is due in part to the writing, which like Paramount’s 2009 big screen Star Trek reboot, is little more than just another revisiting of the Star Trek universe’s past.  It takes audiences into the past, attempting to show what led to the never-ending tensions between the Federation and the Klingon Empire.  The result is a presentation that conjures thoughts more of SyFy Channel’s most recent Battlestar Galactica reboot than any Star Trek entry, either on the big or small screen.  This is just the beginning of the problems with the writing, because the set-off is actually somewhat ambiguous.  Were the Klingons already planning to rise up before the incident with Michael Bernham and the Klingon warrior, or did it only happen after that incident?  Audiences know that said incident played at least in part to the conflict, but because of the dialogue featured throughout the early episodes of Season One, audiences will be left scratching their heads to a point as to that setup.

As season one progresses, it resurrects some ST story elements that are all too familiar to longtime ST fans.  One of those elements is a time loop arc. Another is the alternate universe story arc.  The time loop has been done already in Star Trek: The Next Generation while the alternate universe arc was used in Star Trek: TOS.  This series’ writers try to freshen up the time loop arc by setting it off through a character that fans of TOS will recognize, and while it does work to a point, the story starts to plod along after a while, getting lost in itself along the way.  The alternate universe arc proves even more problematic not only because it’s already been done, but also because it creates its own share of plot holes.  Not to give away too much for the sake of those who haven’t yet seen Season One, but if the alternate universe has the evil twins of the Discovery “prime” universe – the term “prime” is actually used by Berham in this arc – then where is the “good” twin of Capt. Lorca and the “evil” twin of Bernham?  Bernham’s doppelganger is mentioned by the “evil” Phillipa, but the writers never address where she is in a bigger sense.  Nor is it mentioned where the “good” Capt. Lorca is or if there even is a “good Capt. Lorca.  The writers try to explain it away in an early scene in the arc between Discovery’s Bernham and Lorca, but it is still ultimately left up in the air.  Even Paul Stamets’ double is introduced as he sits in a coma.  This is its own problem as one can’t help but make comparison to so many soap operas, as every major soap opera has done the coma “dream sequence” way too many times.  Getting back on track, even as Discovery gets back to its own universe, the whereabouts of the “evil” Discovery ship is not addressed, either.  Where is it?  Did it go back to its universe when Discovery jumped back to its universe?  Again, here audiences have a plot hole that is left wide open even as the writers struggle to address the situation in the story arc’s finale.

Another plot hole that is left wide open involves Bernham’s adoptive father, (who also proves to be the father of another even more well-known Star Trek character) Sarek.  Again, not to give away too much, but Sarek is rescued after his ship is sabotaged (in a moment that makes one think of something from Iron Man 3), but after his rescue, his character is ignored until the season’s final two episodes.  Audiences don’t hear from him after Bernham leaves him laying in sick bay, recovering from his wounds.  Next time he’s seen, he’s in full health.  This is problematic as it doesn’t take long after that instance for the problems to start again for Discovery.  Was Sarek still on the ship at that point?  When did he leave the ship?  Again, this is a plot hole that simply cannot be ignored.  It proves the writing that much more problematic.  This still is not the last of the issues raised through an examination of the writing.  The introduction of Lt. Tyler creates its own issue.

The introduction of Lt. Tyler is a direct comparison to Battlestar Galactica.  This critic will attempt to not give away too much information here, but the revelation about who and what Tyler is makes that comparison far too easy.  The recent reboot of Battlestar Galactica saw the Cylons infiltrate the humans’ ranks by making them look like the humans.  This in itself was a lifting from Terminator 2 (if not other previous movies and TV shows).  What the writers did here with Tyler is very similar, but instead of making him a robot, they made him something else.  Audiences who have yet to see this season will be left to make that discovery themselves, but it goes without saying that it has been done before.  In this case, it is the same thing, just altered slightly and in more gory fashion.

As if the general story elements, the plot holes and that they create, and the rehashing of another element are not enough, the smaller items of the writing prove just as problematic for this presentation.  There is lots of overt bloodshed, gore, sexual content and foul language.  Given, maybe her and there, there has been some mildly suggestive material in previous Star Trek incarnations, but never was it to the point that it is here.  There are flashes of a sex scene between one of the lead Klingon characters and another character late in the season’s run.  There is also enough bloodshed and overt violence to appease the most bloodthirsty person.  It’s a disappointment because none of the Star Trek universe’s other series’ needed any of that in order to be even mildly entertaining.  So, why did the writers think it was needed here?  Have audiences really become that dependent on violence and sexuality?  If so, then that is in itself is a troubling statement.

While the writing exhibited in the debut season of Star Trek: Discovery does a lot to detract from its presentation, the set is not a total loss.  That is thanks to the bonus content featured throughout the set.  Throughout the set, audiences are treated to featurettes, which focus on the series’ sets, costumes, makeup and even the philosophical aspects of the storylines as well as other items.  The discussions on the stories’ deeper ruminations are interesting, and do create at least a little bit of appreciation for the work that the writers put in.  After all, this is not the only Star Trek entry that has striverd to use its stories to create dialogues on certain deep topics.  However, it sadly is not enough to make up for the bigger problems posed through the writing.  The discussions on the sets and costumes make for fun glances behind the cameras,  Audiences will be interested to see how the costume and makeup departments used modern 3D printing technology alongside more traditional methodology to create the look of the Klingons.  In the same vein, the thought and effort put into the sets is just as interesting.  This feature will appeal just as much to theater production specialists as it will to general audiences.

As the season comes to an end, audiences are treated to another, different type of feature in the season retrospective, “The Journey of Season 1.”  This roughly 20-minute featurette features discussions from the show’s cast and creative heads about their favorite episodes and the importance of those episodes to the season’s overall presentation.  This brings everything full circle in regards to the bonuses.  It brings back those discussions on the season’s philosophical elements while also letting more people offer their own perspective on those themes.  Of course it is just one more of the bonus features worth watching.  The bonuses, including deleted scenes (at least one of which gives a hint about Season 2), are spread throughout the season’s discs.  This is important in that it shows Paramount and CBS Television Studios did not try to just cram a bunch of random featuerettes onto the last disc, unlike what so many other studios do.  It shows the companies wanted to give audiences the biggest bang for their buck.  They succeeded at that, too.

Speaking of bang for the buck, the set’s average price point is respectable.  The average price point for the season’s Blu-ray presentation – using prices listed at Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million – comes to $39.86.  In other words it comes in at just under $40.  The DVD set’s average price – using those same outlets – comes to $32.14.  Both sets feature the same bonus content and the same episodes.  There is no real difference between the two platforms in terms of content.  Considering this, the pricing here is on part with other DVD and Blu-ray sets for other TV series, so there is that to appreciate.  Considering the entertainment that the bonus material (and to a slightly lesser degree, the primary content) offers, that makes both platforms’ average pricing respectable.  When this is considered alongside the noted bonus and primary content, the whole of Discovery: Season One proves worth at least one watch, but sadly, no more.

CBS All Access’ latest journey into the Star Trek universe, Star Trek: DiscoverySeason 1 is a presentation that is nothing like its predecessors.  More akin to Syfy’s most recent Battlestar Galactica reboot and Disney’s most recent Star Wars movies, this latest revisiting of the Star Trek universe history’s past (it has already been done in 2009 with Paramount’s big screen Star Trek reboot) suffers severely from writing problems, such as lagging story arcs that are often times overflowing with plot holes and general lack of creativity.  Additionally, the overall cinematic nature of the season, and the knowledge that the series is a serial (unlike its predecessors) makes this season feel more like one big movie than a general TV series.  Some people will like it, but others – like this critic – will very much dislike these aspects.  The bonus content spread across the set’s discs does at least a little bit to make up for the problems posed by the writing.  The average price point for the set’s separate DVD and Blu-ray platforms lets audiences know that their money spent was not entirely wasted.  Despite that affordable price point and the positives in the bonus material, the problems posed by the writing are just too much to overcome.  In general, the positives of the pricing and secondary content makes this set worth at least one watch, but sadly no more than that.  Star Trek: DiscoverySeason 1 is available now in stores and online.  More information on Star Trek: Discovery is available online now at:




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‘The Beverly Hillbillies: The Official Fifth Season’ Is Another Welcome Addition To Fans’ Collections

Courtesy: Paramount/CBS/CBS Home Entertainment

The 1960s is one of the greatest eras of the television industry.  It was during this great age that American audiences were treated to what has since become some of the most memorable television series of all time over just three networks.  ABC had Bewitched, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Batman.  NBC had Star Trek, Bonanza and Get Smart.  CBS meanwhile was the real powerhouse, turning out The Andy Griffith Show, Gilligan’s Island, The Beverly Hillbillies and so many other major hit series.  Thanks to a partnership between Paramount and CBS Home Video, many of those classic series have recently been released and re-issued on DVD and Blu-ray, either in part or in whole in recent years.  Nearly 40 years after the series was canceled as part of what has since become known as “the rural purge,” fans of The Beverly Hillbillies finally started getting proper, official releases of that award-winning series with the release of the series’ second season.  Almost five months after its release, Season Three got its first-ever official release.  Seasons Four and One would follow in 2014 and 16 respectively, and now on Oct. 2, Season Five finally will make its DVD debut thanks to that partnership between CBS and Paramount.  The fifth season of The Beverly Hillbillies is another enjoyable offering for audiences.  That is due in part to the work of the series’ writers.  This will be discussed shortly.  The work of the series’ cast is just as notable as that of the show’s writers, and will be discussed a little bit later.  The set’s average price rounds out its most important elements.  Each element is important in its own way to the set’s presentation, as will be pointed out here.  All things considered, they make The Beverly Hillbillies: The Official Fifth Season another welcome addition to the home library of any of this classic series’ fans.

The first-ever release of The Beverly Hillbillies: The Official Fifth Season is a welcome addition to the home library of any of the classic series’ fans.  That is even with the release being a bare-bones set lacking any bonus features.  Even with that lack, it still proves a success overall.  That is due in no small part to the work of the series’ writers, as is evidenced throughout the season’s 30-episode run.  Right from the season’s outset, audiences get a nonstop laugh riot as Jethro tries to install a party line for Granny, so that she can be nosy.  It’s obvious in watching this episode, that it played a distinct influence in so many telephone jokes used in another of series creator Paul Henning’s series, Green Acres.  What makes this episode so entertaining is that it is still just as relevant today as it was way back in its debut on Sept. 14, 1966.  Every neighborhood, whether rich or not, has that one person who is a busybody and thinks that he or she just has to be all up in everybody’s business except for their own.  The result offers plenty of laughs.  The season’s Christmas episode, “The Christmas Present” is another wonderful example of why the writers’ work is still deserving of kudos to this day.  The Clampetts turn Christmas on its ear this time as they end up selling Mrs. Drysdale’s clothes; clothes that she was going to donate.  Of course, the Clampetts don’t know that she was going to donate the clothes.  Their whole purpose is to use the money to buy a present for her, so obviously, the comedy of errors (of sorts) that happens as a result offers its own share of laughs.  “Super Hawg,” which comes late in the season’s run, is yet another fun, original offering from the series’ writers this season.  This time out, the Clampetts discover a hippo for the first time and mistake it for a giant pig.  Of course, it just so happens that it’s in the Drysdales’ back yard because they are using it for another of Mr. Drysdale’s many schemes.  On a side note, one can’t help but think many of the same people who wrote for The Beverly Hillbillies must have written for Bewitched considering that Darrin’s boss, Larry Tate always had some scheme up his sleeve, and was very much like Mr. Drysdale in terms of his personality.  Getting back on track, the episodes noted here are just a few examples of what makes this season’s writing so enjoyable.  Even among the seemingly endless stream of stories centered on Granny trying to marry off Ellie May, Jethro trying to get a girl, and Jed having to play peacemaker in it all, there is still some originality this time.  One could cite the laugh riot episodes, “The Flying Saucer,” (which played on the B-movies of the time, and was also very similar to a certain episode of another hit CBS show, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.) “Jed in Politics” and “Granny Retires” as three more examples of that continued originality.  When all of the episodes noted here are coupled with the rest of the season’s episodes, it becomes clear why the writers behind The Beverly Hillbillies deserve their own share of credit in this season.  Of course their work is only some of the work that deserves praise.  The cast’s work on screen deserves its own share of credit, too.

The cast’s work on camera, even despite some of the recurring story lines, shows why the series continued to be a leader on television even five seasons in.  Case in point here is Buddy Ebsen’s handling of Jed in ‘The Indians Are Coming.’  This episode, which came about halfway through Season Five, is one that clearly was so politically incorrect that there’s no way it would ever be on television today.  The episode sees Granny concerned that Native Americans want to take over the Clampett’s land back in the Ozarks, when in reality the issue is just a minor land dispute.  Jed, always having to play peace keeper, has to try to convince Granny that there is nothing to be concerned about.  His straight-man persona, set against Granny’s manic, close-minded character, makes for one of those classic odd-couple performances that makes classic television in general so beloved.  As the episode progresses, Mr. Drysdale, in his own uneducated mindset, dresses up as a Native American Chief to greet the two Native Americans who have come to Beverly Hills to discuss the land boundary issue.  Raymond Bailey (Vertigo, Tarantula, Picnic) does a spectacular job here displaying how close-minded and uneducated Americans of European descent were about Native Americans and their culture.  Sadly, many Americans are still somewhat uneducated and close-minded about Native Americans to this day.  To that end, Drysdale’s presence in this moment is another of those moments that is just as relevant today as it was in its original presentation.

A little earlier in the season’s run, a marketing scheme from Mr. Drysdale in “The Flying Saucer” leads to another outstanding performance from the series’ cast.  This time, Drysdale has hired a group of height-challenged (is that the correct term to use?) Italians to pose as aliens for yet another of his marketing schemes to promote his band.  Of course, being that the scheme is under wraps, Granny and Jethro (Irene Ryan – The Woman on the Beach, Petticoat Junction, Will You Stop! and Max Baer, Jr. – Macon County Line, The Wild McCullochs, Ode To Billy Joe) believe that the trio really is from another world.  Baer’s reaction, taking his suitcase out to the front of the Clampett mansion, waiting to be “picked up” is another of those classic moments because he really believes that other aliens are on the way to Earth.  Ryan’s take on Daisy/Grandma is equally entertaining as she is rather scared.  Again, there is that contrast of personalities.  The juxtaposition of Jethro and Granny’s reactions ensures audiences’ engagement, and again shows the continued talent of the series’ cast, give seasons into the show’s run.  It’s just one more example of the cast’s talent this season.  “Jed in Politics” is yet another example of that continued talent, as is “The Soup Contest” and “The Dahlia Feud.”  Between all of these noted episodes and those not noted here, it is clear from the season’s premiere to its finale, that the cast offers audiences just as much to appreciate as the show’s writers.  When the two elements are coupled, they form a solid foundation for The Beverly Hillbillies: The Official Fifth Season.  When one takes into consideration this season’s average price point, it proves to be money well-spent.

Using prices from Walmart, Best Buy, Target and Amazon, the set’s average price point comes to $21.48.  The most affordable price seems (at the time of this posting) to be from Amazon, at $20.59.  Considering that the set is a bare-bones presentation that lacks any bonus features, one might think that even $21.48 is a little expensive.  But taking into consideration the enjoyment that all 30 episodes offer audiences, that lack of bonus material can actually be overlooked.  What’s more, the very fact that audiences are presented with 30 episodes (instead of the current standard of 12-13 episodes presented in today’s shows), that leads to nearly 12 hours of enjoyment for audiences of all ages.  That enjoyment will lead audiences to agree that even without any bonus material to compliment the episodes, that noted average price of almost $22 is in fact actually quite affordable and worth paying in the end.  Keeping all of this in mind, that affordable price point, set alongside the entertaining writing and acting, makes The Beverly Hillbillies: The Official Fifth Season another enjoyable addition to the home library of any of this classic series’ fans.  More information on this and other titles from CBS Home Entertainment is available online now at:


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