Parents, Children Alike Will Enjoy Grist’s New Book/CD Combo Set

Courtesy:  The Secret Mountain

Courtesy: The Secret Mountain

This June, children’s entertainer Hilary Grist will release her new book Tomorrow is a Chance to Start Over. The book, which is set to be released Monday, June 1st via The Secret Mountain, is a great bedtime story for any young reader and his or her parents. The main reason for this is the story itself. The story centers on two young children–Ira and Isabelle–who can’t get to sleep. The brother and sister can’t sleep because of the noise from the city outside their room. So they end up using their imaginations to sail off to another place, a relaxing place, that leads them to relax and fall asleep. It’s a short story but a wonderful and imaginative story nonetheless. The story by itself is just one part of what parents and chidlren will appreciate about this book. The illustrations (so to speak) add to the story’s enjoyment. That’s because they aren’t necessarily even illustrations in the classic sense of the word. And last but not leat worth noting of the book is its companion CD. The companion CD isn’t just an audio reading of the book. It does feature an audio reading of the book. But along with that reading are ten musical tracks that will lull any young child to sleep. Each element on its own gives plenty of reason for audiences to add this book to their child’s library. Collectively, they make Tomorrow is a Chance to Start Over one of this year’s best new releases for children overall.

Tomorrow is a Chance to Start Over is one of this year’s best new releases for children. It is a great addition to any child’s personal library of books. In examining the book in whole, it proves this in a number of ways. The main way that it proves this is through the story itself. Grist doesn’t just come out and say it, but her main aim with the story presents is to motivate young children to close their eyes and dream of a calm, quiet place as a means to relax and go to sleep. She does this by telling how Ira and his sister Isabelle go off to their own quiet place to escape the noise of the city. What is most interesting about Grist’s story is that she doesn’t clearly explain that the kids have closed their eyes and in reality used their imaginations to create that quiet place. But any grown up will easily make the connection. Just as interesting is how Grist wrote the book. She didn’t just write a short story about two children relaxing in their own quiet place. Her writing style and use of words together especially encourage young children to relax and go to sleep. She wrote of their journey, “Waves rose and fell as miles drifted by. Lit by a lantern and a moon-kissed sky. ” The rising and falling of the waves is insinuated as being gentle. The imagery of the soft light of the moon in the sky and the lantern in the boat is equally calming. It’s just one example of how her writing style and use of words work so well in settling children at bed time. The rest of the story is ripe with examples. Parents and children will see those examples for themselves when they add this book to their own child’s personal library. They will also see that said writing style and use of words is just part of what makes the book so enjoyable. The book’s “illustrations” play their own part in the book’s enjoyment, too.

The story presented in Grist’s new book by itself will impress parents thanks to Grist’s smart writing style and use of calming imagery and words overall. The “illustrations” play an interesting part in the book’s enjoyment, too. That is because the illustration’s aren’t necessarily illustrations in the classic sense of the word. Ira and Isabelle look more like small dolls or even claymation figures. Their surroundings look like model sets. The two elements are set together and photographed to help bring the story to life. It’s an interesting approach that admittedly this critic has never really seen used for a book, children’s or otherwise. It is possible that such an approach has been used before. But at least in the case of this critic, it comes across as something quite original. That originality makes the experience of the story even fuller. They don’t really do much in the way of helping children fall asleep more easily. But they will entertain said young audiences. So to that extent, the pictures used to “illustrate” the story and bring it to life prove themselves just as important to the story in whole as the story itself.

Both the story and the pictures incorporated into Hilary Grist’s new book play their own important parts in the book’s enjoyment as parents will see for themselves in reading this book to their own children. They will also fin that the companion CD that comes with the book is just as important to the whole presentation. The disc features not just an audio reading of the book but ten separate musical tracks to boot. The audio reading is just as enjoyable as the book for so many reasons. Grist actually reads the book to her young audiences herself in the CD’s lead track. The gentility in her approach is itself so calming in its own right. The equally subtle use of music and sound effects in the background makes the story all the richer and more enjoyable for children and parents alike. The stand-alone musical tracks offer their own enjoyment, too. There are folk elements to the songs as well as soft lullabies and even a light jazz piece among so much more. Through it all, Grist’s own vocal style and the equally soft music together maintain such a soft tone that the two together will have any young listeners asleep in no time. It may even cause some parents to start yawning, too. That is meant in the most positive manner possible. That ability to encourage sleep among both grown-ups and children alike more than makes Dream Songs a welcome addition to Grist’s new book. Everything noted here taken into consideration, Dream Songs shows along with Tomorrow is a Chance to Start Over that the two elements together make this set one of the best new children’s releases of the year.

Tomorrow is a Chance to Start Over will be available in stores Monday, June 1st. Parents can pre-order the book online now via Hilary Grist’s official website at http://hilarygrist.com. More information on the book/CD set is available along with her latest tour dates and news both there and her official Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/hilarygristmusic. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Barney Miller’s Seventh Season Shows Again Why It Remains One Of TV’s Top Comedies

Courtesy:  Shout! Factory

Courtesy: Shout! Factory

When ABC’s hit cop comedy Barney Miller first hit the airwaves in 1974, there was little else on television like it at the time. Perhaps the only series to which it could be justifiably compared at the time was CBS’ equally popular medical drama M.A.S.H.. None of the other crime-centered series at the time could be compared to Barney Miller and neither can any of the crime-centered series on television today. Taking that into consideration Shout! Factory’s recent release of Barney Miller: The Complete Seventh Season becomes another breath of fresh air that proving once more why Shout! Factory remains today the leading name in home entertainment. The seventh season of Barney Miller–the series’ penultimate season–is just as enjoyable as the series’ previous seasons. That is thanks in large part to the talents of the show’s writers. Once again, the writers have exhibited the highest caliber of talent, crafting scripts that not only balance the show’s humor and heart but also do so in a way that leaves audiences not caring in the least that each episode takes place entirely within the squad room. Another positive aspect of this season’s episodes is the work of the show’s cast. The cast’s comedic timing is spot on throughout each episode just as much as each member’s ability to handle the show’s more delicate moments. Being that each episode takes place entirely inside the squad room, one can’t deny the work of the camera crew. It’s a very limited set in terms of size. So it goes without saying that those behind the cameras exhibited just as much expertise in catching every bit of the squad room as well as the cast. By themselves, each of the noted elements plays a pivotal role in the enjoyment of Barney Miller in its seventh season. Together, they make this season another joy for any of the series’ original fans and for those today looking to escape the seemingly never-ending barrage of overly violent and overly sexualized cop dramas on television today. They also combine to exhibit once again just why Shout! Factory justifiably retains the title of the leading name in home entertainment.

The seventh season of ABC’s classic cop comedy is one of Shout! Factory’s best new releases so far this year. The series’ penultimate season, it offers plenty for audiences to smile about beginning with the most important element of all, its writing. The series’ writers have once again crafted an entire season of episodes–twenty-two episodes in this case–that expertly balance the series’ humor and heart. That ability to balance the show’s humor and heart is exhibited right from the season’s two-part premiere “Homicide.” Barney and company have to deal with their usual crop of cases, including a bizarre case in which they have to hunt down a hitman hired by a woman to kill her husband. It’s not quite what audiences might think. The search is on after the woman in question actually comes to the squad in hopes that they would find him as she changed her mind about having the man carry out the crime. Both the case itself and its outcome will leave audiences laughing. It’s nice to see the lighthearted take on what would otherwise be a mega-event for so many of today’s unnecessarily overly dramatic and violent crime-centric series. It’s such a welcome change from those series comparatively speaking. The wildly entertaining “Rainmaker” is another excellent example of the writers’ continued ability to balance humor and heart in this season of Barney Miller. This episode sees an alleged rainmaker brought in to the squad room after he had lit a fire in one of the city’s busiest areas, only to find out that he had in fact been hired by the city’s department of water to try to make it rain.  Interestingly enough research proved that he had in fact been hired by the city to try to make it rain just as he claimed in his arrest. What happens from here won’t be revealed. But it will have audiences laughing. It could be argued that what happens from there makes this episode a lightly veiled commentary about the behaviors of those that run America’s cities and the country in whole. Anyone not laughing throughout simply has no sense of humor. If that isn’t enough proof of the writers’ abilities, then the two-part mid-season story “The Movie” will definitely show it just as clearly as any of the season’s other episodes. This episode sees Harris having to put together a fake adult film in order to infiltrate the city’s prostitution Harris ends up going thousands of dollars over budget in the process. He also ends up making something akin to an art film instead of an adult film, leaving his fellow squad members and others in attendance for its viewing in complete disbelief. It’s an approach that had never been used before in any crime-centered series and has never been used since again showing just how talented and brilliant this series’ writers were and remain by comparison to those running today’s crime-centered series. As a side note, audiences will find interesting that writer Reinhold Weege actually uses the name of Harris’ made up film company–Starry Night Productions–for his own company, which would later produce the equally iconic legal comedy Night Court. But that’s a story for another time. Getting back on track, the episodes noted here each exhibit in their own way the writers’ continued ability to balance Barney Miller’s serious and not so serious issues in a way that will entertain audiences in so many ways. They are just a few examples of that talent, too. The other nineteen episodes that much up Season Seven each exhibit the writers’ talents, too. All things considered the twenty-two episodes that make up the seventh season of Barney Miller clearly exhibit the continued ability of its writers to leave audiences laughing and to move them all while keeping most of the show’s episodes within the tight confines of the squad room.

The work of Barney Miller’s writing staff does so much to make the series’ seventh season a joy for both the series’ original audiences and today’s older audiences. From its light-hearted commentaries to its sometimes more zany plot lines, the writers’ are to be commended for crafting twenty-two more episodes that remain as hilarious today as they were so long ago in their original run on ABC. As entertaining as the writing makes this season, one would be remiss to ignore the work of the series’ cast in interpreting each episode’s script. Whether in its more lighthearted moments or its slightly more serious moments, the cast is spot on with its collective talents throughout the season. “Lady and the Bomb” is one of the best examples of the cast’s ability to interpret this season’s scripts. This episode sees a woman upset over her husband’s impotence (yes, his impotence) take the squad hostage with a pressure cooker bomb. She claims that radioactive medical waste at one of the city’s hospitals is to blame for his inability to perform. The very concept of someone taking such drastic measures is serious. The actions of both the woman and the squad members to the situation will leave audiences laughing just as much as their reaction when the woman’s husband reveals that maybe it wasn’t the medical waste in question wasn’t to blame for his performance problems. In any of today’s crime-centered series, the acting would have been just as over-the-top as the show’s scripts. But in the case of this episode, the work of the cast and writers together makes it one of the season’s best episodes overall and one of the best examples of how the cast’s work makes this season so great. The season’s two-part season premiere could be argued as good examples for the cast’s talents, too. The season’s other episodes each exhibit the cast’s talents in their own respective manner. There simply isn’t enough space or time to go into detail about how each one does this. Needless to say regardless of which episode(s) one chooses, audiences will agree that those talents are displayed in every one of this season’s episodes. And partnered with the continued solid work of the series’ writers, proves even more why this installment of Barney Miller is just as enjoyable as its previous seasons and why any fan of the series will want to add to their own home DVD library.

The work of both the writers and cast in the seventh season of Barney Miller more than makes this stand-alone season set a worthy addition to the home library of any o the show’s fans. They are both key elements of the season’s success in their own right. And as important as they are to the whole of Season Seven, the work of those behind the cameras is just as important to the show. Audiences must remind themselves that the set used for Barney Miller was not that big. And throughout the course of the show’s eight seasons on the air, writers only took the series out of the squad room a total of thirteen times. Of those thirteen times, only one of this season’s episodes took the show outside the squad room. Considering that this series was a multi-camera series and the squad room set not being that large, it meant a lot of tough decisions on camera placement. Luckily those decisions led to the director and camera crew catching every bit of the set without getting in the way in the process. There’s something about the camera crew’s work that makes the look of the squad room so much more believable than those of today’s crime-centric series. That ability to make audiences suspend their disbelief if only in terms of the show’s look is just as important to the show (and this season in particular) as the work of the show’s cast and writing staff. It makes this season all the more enjoyable or fans new and old alike. And when set alongside the work of the show’s cast and its writers, it shows clearly why this latest collection of episodes is just as enjoyable as the series’ previous stand-alone sets. The overall enjoyment of this set also serves once more as a reminder as to why Shout! Factory remains today the leading name in the world of home entertainment.

Whether it be for the work of the series’ writers, for the work of the series’ cast or that of the people behind the cameras, so much can be said of what makes Barney Miller’s seventh season so enjoyable. The writers have once again expertly balanced the series’ humor and heart throughout the season’s twenty-two total episodes. The cast has just as expertly interpreted each of the season’s scripts, too. Those two elements together make for plenty of reason for audiences to pick up this stand-alone season set. That is especially the case for those that already have the series’ previous six season sets. For those that don’t have said sets, this is still just as great a starting point. The work of the camera crew does its own impressive job of capturing the realistically small size of the squad room and its effect on the squad’s interactions. It did this all without getting in the way of the overall production. As audiences should be able to tell by now each of the noted elements plays its own important role in the whole of Barney Miller: The Complete Season Seven. All three elements taken into consideration together, this recently released box set proves without a doubt why it is another welcome addition to Shout! Factory’s ongoing series of stand-alone season sets from what is one of television’s greatest crime-centric series. It is available now in stores and online and can be ordered online direct from Shout! Factory’s online store at https://www.shoutfactory.com/tv/comedy/barney-miller-season-seven. More information on this and other titles available from Shout! Factory is available online at:

Website: http://www.shoutfactory.com

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

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20th Century Fox’s Night At The Museum Series Goes Out On A Low Note With Its Last Installment

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

When it originally debuted in theaters late in 2014, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb ended up being pulled not long after its original run. It comes across as no surprise that it was pulled so quickly. That’s because it is just a hollow shell of the movie that kicked off 20th Century Fox’s Ben Stiller-led franchise some eight years ago with Night at the Museum. The movie is alleged to have had a production budget of approximately $127 million. By comparison, its total domestic take at the box office was rumored to be around $113,531,745. On the surface that may seem like it was a relative success despite coming up short of its budget. It’s deceiving, though. That’s because the box office sales number is the movie’s gross rather than net. After 20th Century Fox recouped its production budget that left the movie to actually keep only $13,468,255. That is a massive loss to say the least. Put more simply, the movie hemorrhaged money. Given, the total domestic plus foreign sales actually garnered the movie a healthy net profit. But it doesn’t make up for the movie’s lackluster domestic sales. It’s even more proof that American audiences are in fact growing weary of Hollywood’s constantly running river of prequels, sequels, and remakes. So what caused this movie to perform so poorly at least at the American box office? The primary issue with the movie is its script. The script breaks absolutely no new ground in comparison to the franchise’s first two movies. As a matter of fact it goes so far as to rehash much of the material from those movies in hopes that audiences would fall for the writing team’s pathetic overall lack of originality and creativity.  The acting is another issue that should be noted in considering what doomed this movie. Having seen the same sort of comic performances twice over in both NATM and NATM 2, Stiller’s acting here—and that of his cast mates—has become old hat and is just as uninspired as the movie’s script. For all of the movie’s cons, there is one saving grace to the whole thing That saving grace is the fact that the movie continues to push the values of the world’s museums and on a larger scale, learning about the history of the world. In simpler terms, it continues to promote the importance of education albeit history education. That is certainly laudable considering that today’s youths are more concerned with the latest video games and the next big viral video than the excitement of the world’s history. Is it enough to save this movie? Sadly, the answer is no. But at least it doesn’t try to fictionalize history and make it something it isn’t in its efforts to entertain young audiences. Taking into account each of its noted elements, NATM 3 (as it will henceforth be known) proves to be just as forgettable in its new home release as its big screen release last year.

20th Century Fox’s third and hopefully truly last installment in its Night at the Museum franchise is the worst of the studio’s three-movie series. There is by and large very little that makes this movie memorable or even enjoyable. The movie’s script is the main reason that it suffers and in turn makes audiences suffer. The script is laughable especially considering that the trilogy first kicked off eight years ago. The story presented in this movie’s script sees Larry (once again played by Ben Stiller) and all of his friends from the original Night at the Museum movie go on a trip across the Atlantic to return the magical tablet at the center of the trilogy to Ahkmenrah’s father in “Egypt.” The trip has to be made because *gasp* the tablet has been away from its proper place for too long. Apparently it hadn’t already sat in the Museum of Natural History in New York for far too long at the time of the trilogy’s first installment. Go figure. So instead of any new story, it all centers on the tablet once again. And not to ruin things for those that haven’t yet seen the movie now that it is available on DVD and Blu-ray combo pack, but the group’s “epic” quest isn’t quite as epic as one might think. Instead of actually going to Egypt, they travel to London’s major museum and have to get to the museum’s Egypt wing so as to return the tablet to Ahkmenrah’s father (played in little more than a cameo role by Sir Ben Kingsley). With a budget allegedly topping $127 million one would have thought that Larry and company might have actually somehow made the trip to Egypt or the country’s main museum instead of the Egypt wing of London’s central history museum. Add in the fact that Larry and his friends have to hunt for their pint size pals Jedediah and Octavius (once again played by Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan respectively) and also have to get the tablet back from a misguided Sir Lancelot along the way all while maneuvering their way through the museum, and audiences get a script that when examined in such full detail, can only be described as completely contrived, unoriginal, and completely lacking in any creativity. That’s not even to mention the underlying plot of Larry’s relationship with his now teenage son who wants to travel the world instead of go off to college. It is all too much.

The script thrown together by NATM 3’s writing team does more than its own share of damage to this movie. The very fact that multiple parties played a role in the script’s creation could in fact be to blame for its numerous issues. As much damage as the movie’s script does to the movie’s overall presentation, it’s just one of the movie’s major setbacks. The work of the movie’s cast does its own share of damage, too. Larry’s back and forth with Dexter and Laa is all too familiar for those that have watched NATM and NATM 2. It’s been done. It’s one of those situations that proves to be anything but funny this time around because it has already been done so much before. Even Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan felt slightly like they were just “phoning it in” during their parts. It was almost like they themselves had grown somewhat tired of the roles and were trying hard to not show it. On a lesser note, Rebel Wilson is just as annoying in her role of Tilly as Jonah Hill was as security guard Brandon in NATM 2. To be totally frank, having a similar character type used as the secondary guard twice over shows yet again the writers’ lack of creativity or enlightenment. They obviously didn’t learn from Hill’s failures as is evident in Wilson’s portrayal of Tilly. For all of the damage that the cast does with its work in front of the camera, it can at least be said that Robin Williams didn’t disappoint in what is one of his final roles before his untimely death. It’s easy to tell that once again he put in his whole effort from beginning to end. The same can be said of Patrick Gallagher in his return as Attila The Hun. While he is not the lead star, he is still just as entertaining as ever. To that extent one can argue that at least the movie has that as its single, shining ray of light in an otherwise dark cloud of a sequel.

The writing that went into NATM 3 and the work of the cast by does a lot to prove this movie to be one more sequel that never should have seen the light of day. Though, not the entire cast is so disappointing. Robin Williams and Patrick Gallagher both shine in their own right. Sadly, their work in front of the camera is the movie’s only fully noticeable saving grace in terms of the movie’s intrinsic value. For all of the problems that show up throughout NATM 3, there is at least one positive that can be noted when looking at the movie from a larger scale. That positive is the series’ continued push for history education and the support of the world’s museums. In an age when the world’s youths are increasingly being distracted by social media, video games, and their cell phones, the continued push to get those same younger audiences interested in history and the houses that keep said history is actually welcome. After all, it has been said that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. Not only that but those who forget the past won’t have an appreciation for what they have today, either. NATM 3 does a good job of reminding audiences both young and old alike of how far the world has come over the centuries. And when coupled with the series’ first two movies, it does in fact make this installment more worth the watch if only for that one reason. Sadly though, it is the only reason other than the work of Robin Williams and Patrick Gallagher that NATM 3 is worth the watch. Other than those two reasons, there is no reason to watch this otherwise forgettable flick.

There is not much positive to say about NATM 3. Other than the work of two of its cast members and the continued solid push for history education and the buildings that house the world’s history, there is not much that can be noted to the movie’s positive side. The script was completely unoriginal and contrived. That is likely because of the number of people working on the script. It just feels like it has all been done before. The same can be said of the cast’s acting, even in the case of new cast member Rebel Wilson. There is no new ground broken in this avenue, either. One could even say that seeing even more museum figures coming to life is anything but new, too. On the other hand though, introducing new historical figures also continues the series’ push for history education and support for the world’s museums. To that extent, NATM 3 has at least that much to its credit. Sadly that is all that it has to its credit. That means that while it’s worth at least a watch, it’s not worth much more than that.

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Unifier Exhibits Great Creative Depth On Its New EP

Courtesy:  Spartan Records

Courtesy: Spartan Records

North Carolina-based rock act Unifier recently released its latest EP Gutted. The five-track disc, released via independent label Spartan Records, offers audiences eighteen minutes of music that emo fans and of the noise rock genre will assuredly appreciate. They will appreciate the record both for its musical side and its deep lyrical content which, as front man/guitarist Aslan Freeman notes on the band’s Facebook page, is meant to reflect the band’s re-invention both collectively and as individuals. It is one of those listens that rather than instantly grabbing listeners’ ears, will instead grow on audiences with each listen. Freeman goes on to note that he and his band mates–Luke Rayson (bass, vocals), and Mike Kane (drums)–wanted to go in a “heavier and darker direction” as part of that re-invention. And in listening to each of the EP’s five tracks, it definitely did that, delving into the emotions felt with some not so happy situations. Simply put, the material included on this record is quite heavy in its own way both musically and lyrically. So it is not one of those records that audiences can just pop in and take in any time. It is one of those pieces that calls for listeners to be in a certain mindset if they are to fully comprehend and appreciate it. This is obvious right from the disc’s opener ‘Fall.’ ‘Break,’ the disc’s second song makes this just as clear as does its closing number ‘Forget.’ ‘Mend’ and ‘Sink’ each offer their own interest as part of the disc’s whole, too. All five songs taken together show that Gutted lives up to everything that Unifier’s members have noted of their new creation. That in mind, the depth and heaviness presented through the course of this record proves it to be a work that both the band’s original fans and those not so familiar with the band’s music alike will appreciate more with each listen.

Unifier’s new EP Gutted is an aptly titled release from the North Carolina-based band. The five tracks and approximately eighteen minutes that make up this new record successfully echo the sentiment of front man Aslan Freeman in regards to the emotions that it is meant to evoke. This is evident right from the disc’s opener ‘Fall.’ Musically speaking, it creates a certain, raw emotion among listeners right from its opening moments. The way that it builds to a climax before pulling back in those opening moments shows a real attention to detail and appreciation for the impact of dynamics in music. This is especially true as Freeman sings over his own reserved guitar line and Mike Lane’s time keeping, “It’s been wrong all along/throw them out/The thoughts you knew then/Wasted time/the place that you’d been/Changing minds and clothes again.” Freeman seems to go on to admit in the song’s closing lines that the uncertainties felt by the song’s subject are on him. At least that is this critic’s interpretation. That can be inferred as he sings in those closing lines, “Just a little less talk and a little more action/Now that you never walk/The blame has been all mine.” He even seems to express his own uncertainties about the presented situation as he sings in the song’s chorus, “Standing in the back/And watching as you take the fall/So what/A better way to say that I just wanna write you off.” Like so many songwriters across the genres out there, Freeman writes seemingly in metaphors. So even if these interpretations are incorrect, the sheer depth of Freeman’s writing in this case shows why it was such a wise choice as an addition to the record.

The raw, powerful emotion generated by the combination of ‘Fall’s’ music and lyrics makes clear why this song was chosen as one of the songs to be included on Unifier’s new EP. They show just as much why the song was chosen to open the EP. ‘Break’ the EP’s second track proves in its own way to be just as worthy an addition to Gutted. Musically speaking, this song could be argued to be the disc’s best song. It is the closest that the band comes to a radio ready single on the record. That is thanks to its relatively catchy hooks and choruses. Its thought-provoking lyrical content will have listeners talking just as much as Freeman sings, “Failed enough/I know it’s all for fun/Just a little closer/You know I’ll do anything/I’m ready to break/I keep holding on at times I should walk away/I can’t ask you to stay/But I’ll keep holding on/I’m holding on for/So much for right now/If I come down/Do you need doubt from everyone/Show up and get loud/Cause I’ll do anything.” Again, Freeman comes across as writing in metaphors again here. But the first inclination is that the song is rooted in relationship issues. That thought is raised as he writes, “I keep holding on at times I should walk away/I can’t ask you to stay/But I’ll keep holding on.” The tension in Freeman’s voice as he sings makes the song’s emotion all the stronger and in turn makes even stronger the argument in regards to the song’s lyrical topic. Regardless of the topic, one thing can once again be agreed upon in listening to the song’s lyrical and musical side: the depth of both its lyrical and musical side together makes clear why this song is another good addition to Unifier’s new EP and why it makes Gutted in whole a record that any of the band’s fans new and old alike will enjoy.

‘Break’ is a definite contender to represent Unifier on the band’s new EP. That is because of the depth of both its musical and lyrical content. The band members’ talents considered alongside the song’s thought-provoking lyrics will have audiences talking in the best way possible. It isn’t the disc’s only high point, either. ‘Forget,’ the disc’s closer, is just as much a candidate for a representative single, too. That is obvious right from the song’s first thirty seconds. Freeman, Rayson, and Kane exhibit what this critic feels to be direct influences from Jimmy Eat World in this case. Because of that influence, Unifier is certain to hold audiences’ ears not just through the song’s first thirty seconds but straight through its near four-minute run time. The song’s musical side managing to hold listeners’ ears, its lyrics will most certainly engage audiences just as much. This song perhaps more so than any of the EP’s others, comes across as echoing the disc’s title and the band’s explanation behind the title. Freeman sings in this song, “Tear it all up/Everything/You’re not a one in ten/You never were/You’ve never been/Can you live with it/They won’t call you anything/Is that what you intended/Never wrong, never right/Blending in/Are you fitting in?” Freeman comes across as addressing someone here. Maybe a former band mate or friend, considering the language and references used throughout the song. Or of course he could simply be writing in metaphors yet again, using the live performance imagery to get across another message. Once again, here is an example of Freeman’s attention to detail and that of his band mates, too. Considering the lyrical content that makes up most songs on mainstream radio and those songs’ musical side, a comparison of those songs to this composition and its possible lyrical message proves without doubt why this song is another positive addition to Gutted. It shows, too why this song along with the disc’s other songs makes Gutted in whole yet another solid work from Unifier.

‘Forget,’ ‘Break,’ and ‘Fall’ are each clear examples of how much Unifier has to offer audiences on its new EP. Each song exhibits quite the depth both musically and lyrically. The disc’s remaining songs–‘Mend’ and ‘Sink’–each exhibit their own value to Gutted, too. All five songs taken fully into consideration, they show collectively and clearly that while it may not be as well-known as certain other bands of its ilk, it still proves itself a band worth the listen with a new record worth at least one listen. Gutted is available now and can be ordered direct from Spartan Records’ official online store at http://spartanrecords.limitedrun.com/products/546661-unifier-gutted-ep. More information on Gutted is available online now along with all of the latest updates from the band at:

Website: http://unifiermusic.com

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

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

Ryan Reynolds Shines In Lionsgate’s New Horror/Thriller

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

Ryan Reynolds’ new horror flick The Voices is one of the most disturbing and unsettling movies in its genre to be released so far this year. The movie is billed as a dark comedy. But on a deeper level, it is a much deeper, troubling story that stands completely apart from all of the other slasher flicks that crowd theaters each year. What’s more, it isn’t just another CSI, Criminal Minds, or Law & Order: CI, either. It is something far more disturbing. So disturbing in fact that it puts even the likes of Psycho to shame. That is just one part of what makes The Voices a piece that even horror fans will find so unsettling that they can’t help but watch. Star Ryan Reynolds’ work in the role of Jerry adds even more interest to the movie. Being that he is more familiar with comedies and action flicks than horrors in large part, this movie was a big risk for him. And he succeeded in a big way here. Simply put, his work in this movie is the kind of work that will give audiences nightmares. Rounding out the movie in whole is its bonus material. The standard “making of” featurette is there. There is also a look at how Reynolds brought to life the voices of Jerry’s dog and cat as well as deleted and extended scenes among other bonuses. All three elements pose their own part in the strange success of this so grotesque and troubling that one can’t ignore it movie. Collectively, they make this movie one of the most original and strangely entertaining movies of this year.

The Voices is one of the most unsettling and disturbing horror flicks to come along in a very long time. The story follows Jerry (Ryan Reynolds), a schizophrenic who murders a trio of his female co-workers. It is obvious in committing the murders that Jerry’s schizophrenia has almost completely overtaken him as he has almost no sense of morals in regards to his horrible, grotesque acts. While he does show great separation from reality throughout most of the story, he shows that he does have some sense of what he’s doing albeit not until the story’s thrilling climax. It is one of the most original stories to come along within the horror genre this year if not the most original. Instead of just being another run-of-the-mill, cookie cutter slasher flick that throws out a bunch of blood and gore for shock value, it uses it to illustrate just how far gone Jerry proves to be. The comic elements are darkly funny. And audiences will find themselves to be ashamed of themselves for laughing at the comic elements in question. But they serve, too to illustrate the depth of Jerry’s mentality or rather lack thereof. Considering all of this, the script behind The Voices proves that it is not only not just another carbon copy slasher flick but that it even stands out from the likes of Criminal Minds, Law & Order: CI, CSI, Dexter, and any of those TV crime dramas. It proves to be something much deeper and more unsettling right to the end. It is a work that is so deep, unsettling and grotesque that audiences won’t be able to help but watch it.

The story behind The Voices proves undoubtedly that this movie is one of the year’s most original horror flicks if not the best of the genre. It stands out completely from its big screen slasher flick counterparts and even all of the crime dramas that over-populate television’s broadcast and cable networks today. It is just one part of the whole of this movie that makes it one of those works that audiences can’t help but watch. Lead star Ryan Reynolds’ work in the role of Jerry adds even more reason to watch this movie. Anyone that is familiar with Reynolds’ body of work know that he is more commonly associated with comedy and action flicks than horror. Aside from this new movie, Reynolds is also starring in another new thriller from Lionsgate titled The Captive. Other than that movie, the only other well-known experience that he has in the horror/thriller genre is the 2005 remake of The Amityville Horror. Considering his overall lack of experience in the horror/thriller realm in comparison to his work in comedies and actions, Reynolds is to be highly commended for his work in this movie. His performance as Jerry makes Norman Bates look like a saint as he basically chops up and disembowels (yes, disembowels) the three women and puts their remains in Tupperware and pizza boxes. This is the kind of behavior that puts even the crimes from Se7en and Silence of the Lambs to shame. Reynolds is especially frightening as he finally begins to realize (without his medications) that there is something seriously wrong with him and confronts his psychotherapist Dr. Warren (Jacki Weaver–Silver Linings Playbook, Gracepoint, The Five-Year Engagement) in the movie’s climax. He knows what he has done and is now desperate for some kind of help, any help. His reaction here is especially interesting because it shows that Jerry is not entirely gone and has at least some sense of humanity left in him. It is just one more of so many moments in which Reynolds shines in his role and proves his surprising versatility as an actor. That surprisingly entertaining portrayal shows both Reynolds’ potential as an actor worthy of being taken seriously and one more reason that audiences won’t be able to help but watch The Voices.

The script behind The Voices and lead actor Ryan Reynolds’ portrayal of schizophrenic killer Jerry are two clear reasons that audiences won’t be able to help but watch this sleeper hit of a horror flick. Both are solid reasons that audiences won’t be able to help but watch, too. They are not all that should be taken into consideration in what makes this movie surprisingly worth the watch, either. The material included with the movie as bonus features makes it even more worth the watch. More specifically, the bonus “Making of” featurette and (surprisingly) deleted scenes make the movie more worth the watch. Audiences learn in the bonus “making of” featurette how those behind the cameras brought Jerry’s four-legged friends to life and the real feelings of the cast among many other tidbits. It’s interesting to learn that those behind the cameras actually took a real dog and cat, and completely reconstructed their heads via CG to make them talk. They didn’t just go the cheesy route and make it look like they were talking. The special effects crew discussed how they went to painstaking efforts to make the animals look as real as possible as they talked. Those efforts paid off in spades. Just as interesting to hear is that most of the cast echoed the sentiment that they were drawn to the movie because of its original script. That is a powerful statement considering that Lionsgate is not typically thought of as one of Hollywood’s Power Five Studios. The deleted scenes hold their own importance as bonus material. There are some scenes presented that audiences will agree deserved to be cut. In another case such as when Jerry meets his now deceased, abusive father and discusses his [Jerry’s] fate, one can’t help but wonder if maybe such a scene should have been left in the movie. The same can be said of the scene in which Fiona’s remains are discovered by the police. It is actually a scene that really could have been left in or taken out. Its removal neither hinders nor boosts the story in any way. But it is a good part of the whole story even in its short few moments. It’s one more example of how the deleted scenes presented here help to enhance The Voices and prove that sometimes a movie’s bonus material can in fact make a movie better and even as worth the watch as any major name horror and/or thriller.

The bonus material included with Lionsgate’s home release of The Voices actually goes a long way toward making this movie so surprisingly worth the watch even as unsettling and grotesque as it proves to be. The same can be said of lead actor Ryan Reynolds’ portrayal of Jerry, and of course the movie’s script. All three elements combined, The Voices proves itself to be one of the most surprisingly intriguing and original works to be released so far both in the horror world and in terms of movies overall. It is a movie that because of not just its unsettling nature but its depth that audiences won’t be able to help but watch. It is available now in stores and online and can be ordered online direct from Lionsgate’s online store both on DVD and Blu-ray at http://www.lionsgateshop.com/search_results.asp?Search=The%20Voices. More information on this and other titles from Lionsgate is available online now at:

Website: http://www.lionsgate.com

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

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

Blackberry Smoke Holds All The Roses Among So Many Other Albums With Its Latest LP

Courtesy:  Rounder Records

Courtesy: Rounder Records

Atlanta, Georgia has been known for decades as one of America’s major hotbeds for musical talent. Much like Austin, Seattle, and Los Angeles it has produced some of the biggest names in the industry over the years. Those names come from nearly every genre of the music world. They include the likes of: Sevendust, Stuck Mojo, Collective Soul, Zac Brown Band, Black Crowes, and so many others. The list goes on and on. It could take days or even weeks to name them all. For the case of this review, the focus is set on the Southern Rock Band Blackberry Smoke. For roughly fifteen years now, the members of Blackberry Smoke–Charlie Starr (vocals/guitar), Richard Turner (bass/vocals), Brit Turner (drums), Paul Jackson (guitar/vocals), and Brandon Still (keyboards)–have been making music and touring. Of those roughly fifteen years together, Blackberry Smoke has released three full-length albums, the most recent of which–The Whippoorwill–was released on Zac Brown Band’s own Southern Ground Records in 2012. This past February, the band released its fourth full length album titled Holding All The Roses. The album was released via Rounder Records. For those that might not be so familiar with the band’s body of work, Holding All The Roses serves as a good introduction to the band. And it is just as enjoyable for those that are more familiar with its work up to this point. The sound spread across the album’s dozen tracks shows influences from some of the greatest southern rock bands of the 20th Century including: The Marshall Tucker Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Crowes, Doobie Brothers, and others of that ilk. While the influence of said bands is there from start to finish on this record, Blackberry Smoke still maintains its own identity in each song. That is evident right from the album’s opener ‘Let Me Help You (Find The Door).’ The same can be said of the album’s title track and the somewhat sexually charged ‘Rock and Roll Again.’ These three works in themselves more than exemplify what makes Holding All The Roses such a joy. By themselves they are just a minute fraction of what makes it such an enjoyable record, too. There are nine other tracks from which audiences will find their own favorite(s) on this record. Those songs, coupled with the trio noted here, prove Holding All The Roses in the end to be one of the best new rock and country records of 2015.

Blackberry Smoke’s fourth full length album Holding All The Roses is one of this year’s best new rock and country records. There are some issues here and there throughout the record in terms of its production values. But they are not enough to make HATR unworthy of being heard. From the album’s opener to its end, the songs that make up this album make it one of those rare records that audiences will actually want to listen to without skipping even one song. That is evident right from the album’s opener ‘Let Me Help You (Find The Door).’ On the song’s musical side, audiences will hear a clear influence from famed classic rock band Black Crowes throughout the song. It could even be argued that the song’s bridge, which features quite the guitar solo, bears a rather noticeable Lynyrd Skynyrd influence. Lyrically, it offers audiences just as much of a punch with front man Charlie Starr seemingly addressing certain types who simply don’t want to change their ways. Whether it be those musical acts that refuse to change and those that push said albums or the sheep that give in to everything that is fed to them whether in terms of music, politics, etc.–as front man Charlie Starr sings about in both the song’s first and second verse– it is a clear statement that hits quite a few chords, no pun intended. One could even argue that it even indirectly addresses those audiences that expected this album to be just like the band’s previous released. As Starr sings in the song’s opening verse, “Why’s it got to be the same damn thing/Same damn song and everybody wants to sing/Same sons of b****** still riggin’ the game/They sell the same old faces with brand new names/No matter if I’m wrong or right/I ain’t losin’ sleep tonight/I’ve heard it all before/I can’t take it anymore/If that’s all you got/Let me help you find the door.” The song’s second verse seems to address those sheep that believe everything that is fed to them, from music to news, to politics and more with Starr singing, “Here we go diggin’ the same damn ditch/Just line ’em up/Can’t tell you which one’s which/Standin’ in the back with a s***-eating grin/They were buyin’ it once/I bet they’ll buy it again.” Starr hits on so many subjects with so few words in this song. And he hits the nail right on the head, too. It’s a sharp, yet in an odd way, slightly lighthearted indictment of said subjects that ironically will in fact have Blackberry Smoke’s own fans singing along. One can only hope that in singing along, the band’s own fans will catch the message being presented by Starr and his band mates here rather than just taking the song for its musical side. Those that take both the song’s musical and lyrical side into full consideration will agree just how important it is both in itself and to the album in whole.

‘Let Me Help You (Find The Door) is a solid opener for Blackberry Smoke’s latest full-length record. Its statement urging people and bands who refuse to change to go away is sharp yet witty at the same time. And it ironically will have the band’s own fans singing along every time. One can only hope that said fans will catch the message embedded within the song and take it to heart in catching it. Those fans that do catch the message in question, coupled with the song’s infectious musical side will agree that it is just one part of the whole that makes HATR one of this year’s best new rock and country records. The album’s title track is just as important to the whole of the record. Much like the album’s opener, it boasts its own classic rock influences yet still continues to maintain the band’s own identity, too. The song’s driving, 2/4 tempo will instantly have audiences dancing and clapping along. Having hooked audiences with it musical side, Starr and company–Richard Turner (bass, vocals), Brit Turner (drums), Paul Jackson (guitar, vocals), and Brandon Still (keyboards) make just as powerful a statement with the song’s lyrical side. Starr sings in the song’s first verse about a subject overcoming all of his or her odds and coming out on top, fittingly “holding all the roses” just as a winner would. Starr Sings, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost/I don’t think it’s even gonna be close/Your rabbit’s foot and your four-leaf clover/Throw them all away and start all over/Here I am see me coming around/Swinging out wide with the hammer down/There I go watch me leave you behind/Holding all the roses on the other side.” The subject here is addressing those that called the odds against him or her, proving all those people wrong as he or she holds the proverbial roses of a winner. Speaking of those odds, Starr goes on to sing of overcoming the odds as he sings, “The odds against me were 20 to 1/Carry that weight like it weighs a ton/Ain’t no luck in a gasoline rainbow/Come on, drop that rag/Away we go.” He comes across as saying his subject is using the weight of those odds as motivation to keep pushing on to the very end. Such lyrics are words that will reach so many listeners and potentially have quite the impact. It will leave listeners saying if Starr’s subject can press on against all odds then so can the band’s fans. The song’s driving musical side added to the mix, the song in whole shows once more exactly why it is one more enjoyable and equally important part of the whole that leaves Holding All The Roses in fact holding all the roses on any critic’s list come year’s end.

For all of the seriousness of HATR’s opener and its title track, Blackberry Smoke isn’t all work and no play on its new album. It also boasts some fun moments, too. One example of that lies in the song ‘Rock and Roll Again.’ The song’s musical side shows obvious influence from The Marshall Tucker Band, The Allman Brothers Band and others of that ilk yet once again maintain’s Blackberry Smoke’s own identity along the way. Lyrically, it will put just as much of a smile on listeners’ faces as the music alone. Starr sings about a woman who definitely gets the subject going in all the right ways so to speak. He writes of said woman, “She knows me well and never fails/She knows just how to put the wind back in my sails/She’s got the key to set me free/It’s just so easy to see/The way she makes me rock and roll again/Put the dirty in my mind again/Ain’t nothin’ to it/But she pulls me back in/My baby made me rock and roll again/Yes, she made me rock and roll again.” The rest of the song goes on in much the same fashion, lyrically speaking, with Starr noting of that same woman putting a swagger back in the subject’s step, and gets him moving. The song’s musical side boasts its own swagger, which perfectly complements Starr’s lyrics. Both sides of the song taken into full consideration, they show that Blackberry Smoke can be just as fun as it can be serious. Because of this, it proves to be one more example of what makes HATR such an enjoyable work for every rock and country fan. Taken into consideration with the likes of the album’s title track, its opener, and those pieces not noted here, it proves to be one more piece of an album that again, holds all of its own roses among the masses so far this year.

Blackberry Smoke is currently touring in support of HATR. It is in the last leg of the North American leg of its tour, which wraps up May 24th in Monteagle, Tennessee. The band will take a few days off to rest and recharge after before heading overseas for the European leg of its tour, which kicks off May 29th in Munchen, Germany. After finishing off that leg, the band will return stateside again on June 19th in Alpharetta, Georgia. Fans will be able to pick up HATR at any of the band’s upcoming live dates. In hearing the band live and on its new album, audiences that haven’t yet heard the band’s music will agree, too that HATR more than deserves a spot on any critic’s list of the year’s best new rock and country albums come December. Fans can check out Blackberry Smoke’s latest tour dates online now, along with all of the band’s latest news at:

Website: http://blackberrysmoke.com

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/blackberrysmoke

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

ESPN Announces 2015 Monday Night Football Broadcast Schedule

Courtesy:  ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

The NFL announced its full season schedule last night. And in accordance ESPN has announced its Monday Night Football broadcast schedule, too.

ESPN kicks off its 46th season of Monday Night Football with an NFC double-header on Monday, September 14th. The Atlanta Falcons open the night as they host the Philadelphia Eagles and their latest addition, DeMarco Murray. The broadcast is scheduled for a 7pm ET start time. The Vikings head into San Francisco to face the 49ers in the second game of the night in an NFC West/NFC North matchup. Broadcast for that game is set for 10:15pm ET/7:15pm PT. There is a strong likelihood that embattled player Adrian Peterson will be back on the field with the Vikings for the game, too, making this game even more intriguing for fans. Mike Tirico will have the call for the early game. He will be joined by analyst Jon Gruden–who just re-upped with ESPN last season–in the booth. Lisa Salters will be on the sidelines for additional commentary and interviews. The broadcast team for the late game will be announced at a later date.

The complete ESPN Monday Night Football schedule, including pre-season, is listed below.

ESPN’s 2015 Monday Night Football Schedule

Preseason

Date Time (ET) Teams

Aug. 20 8 p.m. Buffalo Bills vs. Cleveland Browns

Aug. 24 8 p.m. Cincinnati Bengals vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Regular Season

Sept. 14 7 p.m. Philadelphia Eagles vs. Atlanta Falcons

10:15 p.m. Minnesota Vikings vs. San Francisco 49ers

Sept. 21 8:15 p.m. New York Jets vs. Indianapolis Colts

Sept. 28 8:15 p.m. Kansas City Chiefs vs. Green Bay Packers

Oct. 5 8:15 p.m. Detroit Lions vs. Seattle Seahawks

Oct. 12 8:15 p.m. Pittsburgh Steelers vs. San Diego Chargers

Oct. 19 8:15 p.m. New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Oct. 26 8:15 p.m. Baltimore Ravens vs. Arizona Cardinals

Nov. 2 8:15 p.m. Indianapolis Colts vs. Carolina Panthers

Nov. 9 8:15 p.m. Chicago Bears vs. San Diego Chargers

Nov. 16 8:15 p.m. Houston Texans vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Nov. 23 8:15 p.m. Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots

Nov. 30 8:15 p.m. Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns

Dec. 7 8:15 p.m. Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins

Dec. 14 8:15 p.m. New York Giants vs. Miami Dolphins

Dec. 21 8:15 p.m. Detroit Lions vs. New Orleans Saints

Dec. 28 8:15 p.m. Cincinnati Bengals vs. Denver Broncos

Every MNF game broadcast on ESPN will also be available on a variety of online platforms including: Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Fire Stick TV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox 360, and Xbox One via WatchESPN. Audiences can also access additional MNF “game around the game” content throughout day across a variety of ESPN platforms including ESPN’s MNF pre-game show Monday Night Countdown and post-game coverage on SportsCenter. ESPN will also carry its MNF broadcasts on ESPN Deportes for its Spanish-speaking audiences. All of the latest information on ESPN’s MNF schedule is available online now along with all of the latest NFL news at:

Website: http://espn.go.com/nfl/mnf

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

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