2015’s First Family Film Is Also One Of Its Least Enjoyable Films

Courtesy:  Anchor Bay Entertainment/The Weinstein Group/Dimension

Courtesy: Anchor Bay Entertainment/The Weinstein Group/Dimension

Anchor Bay Entertainment is one of the biggest and most influential independent studios in the entertainment world today.  It is the driving force behind no fewer than three of AMC’s biggest series, one of which—The Walking Dead—is one of the biggest series on television today.  Its role in the Starz network has also led to the success of series such as Black Sails, Da Vinci’s Demons, and Blunt Talk.  It is also at least partially behind some of the biggest independent movies to come along in recent years.  Those movies include the likes of Henry Poole Is Here, Unfinished Song, and Shanghai Calling just to name a few.  For all of the impressive marks on the studio’s resume, it proved earlier this year with its new big screen adaptation of author Michael Bond’s Paddington books that it is not infallible.  While the movie is a fun little flick for the whole family it is hardly one of 2015’s most memorable movies.  That is thanks in large part to its unoriginal script, which can easily be compared to the equally forgettable 1992 canine-centered movie Beethoven.  Both movies’ scripts are so similar that it is impossible say that this work has any real originality.  This is even despite Paddington sticking to its source material.  As troubling as this is to the whole of Paddington, it would be unfair to say that the movie is a total loss just from this one element.  In the story’s defense, actress Nicole Kidman is to be commended for her work as the villainous taxidermist Millicent.  The movie’s makeup and costume departments are both just as much to applaud for their work in making Kidman into Millicent.  It is thanks to their work that she is nearly unrecognizable.  Sadly their work and that of Kidman herself are the only real shining gems of Paddington.  The special effects used to bring Paddington to life are nothing new.  They can easily be compared to the work of those behind Yogi Bear and so many other CG/live action hybrid flicks before it.  And as beautiful as the story’s backdrop is even it can’t save the movie.  That is even when it is set alongside the movie’s only other positives.  That being the case, the sad reality of Paddington is that even as entertaining as it is for the whole family, it is largely one of this year’s most forgettable theatrical releases.

Paddington was one of the most anticipated family movies of 2015 ahead of its release early this year.  Sadly the hype and anticipation over this new big screen release proved to be all for naught.  That is because it proved in the end to be in fact one of the year’s least memorable movies.  The main reason that it proved to be such an unforgettable work is its script.  In watching this movie, there is no denying its blatant similarities to the 1992 family flick Beethoven.  It’s almost as if the movie’s writing team of Paul King and Hamish McColl took Beethoven’s script and tweaked it to meet the needs of this story.  For all intents and purposes, Paddington was an orphan much like Beethoven when he [Paddington] was taken in by the Brown family.  Sure, Paddington wasn’t adopted from a pet store.  But it can be argued in regards to the character development exhibited through the story’s progression that he does in fact become “adopted” more or less.  It’s just a different scenario.  As the story progress, audiences see Paddington pursued by Kidman’s villainous Millicent only to ultimately meet a rather hilarious end just as Dr. Varnick (Dean Jones—The Love Bug, Clear and Present Danger, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes) does in Beethoven.  For the sake of those that have not seen either movie, neither character’s fate will be revealed here.  Getting back on the subject, it can be easily seen in putting the two scripts side-by-side just how similar the pair is to one another.  That being the case, it is difficult to take Paddington with much seriousness or even respect being that this is the case.

If the similarities between the two movie’s scripts aren’t enough to convince audiences of just how unforgettable Paddington proves to be, a comparison of some of the movie’s characters might help convince viewers.  We will start with a comparison of the stories’ father figures.  Charles Grodin’s George Newton character from Beethoven has been almost identically replicated in Paddington in the form of Hugh Bonneville’s Henry Brown.  That replication is right down to his original, gruff reluctance to take in Paddington when the Browns first meet Paddington.  George Newton was much the same way with Beethoven in that movie.  Young Judy Brown (Madeline Harris—The White Queen, Being Human, Man Down) is a near mirror image of Beethoven’s Ryce Newton (Nicholle Tom—The Nanny, Justice League, Beverly Hills, 90210).  Both actresses portrayed the moody daughter figure in their respective roles.  And just as Sarah Rose Karr’s (Kindergarten Cop, Father of the Bride, Beethoven’s 2nd) Emily was Beethoven’s best friend in that movie so is Jonathan Brown’s (Samuel Joslin—The Impossible) relationship with Paddington much that same in this movie.  Taking into consideration the overall lack of originality in regards to both the movie’s script and its characters (and their growth over the course of the movie’s progression), it should be clear as to why it is so difficult to call this movie anything more than perhaps a one-time watch at best.

The issues with Paddington’s script both in regards to its story and its characters and their development do plenty to keep the movie from being anything that families will remember for years to come.  For all of its problems Paddington is not a total loss.  It does have some positives.  One of those few, rare positives is the work of actress Nicole Kidman as the evil taxidermist Millicent.  Millicent takes the character established by Dean Jones in Beethoven and steps up that role even more.  What that means to say is that she really is believable in her delusions.  Yet at the same time there’s a certain comic element about Millicent that Kidman brings out on camera that audiences will love just as much.  The combination of those two elements together makes Kidman the real star of the movie interestingly enough.  It makes a person want to see the movie if only for her performance.  On a related note, those that were responsible for Kidman’s makeup and attire are worthy of their own credit.  That is the movie’s only other real, noticeable positive.

Nicole Kidman may have played the role of the villain in Anchor Bay’s new CG/live-action hybrid adaptation of Paddington.  But even playing the villain, she was the real shining gem of this otherwise forgettable flick.  That is because the movie’s script—both in regards to its story and characters and their development—is anything but original or even memorable.  Luckily she isn’t the only bright element of this movie.  Those that were responsible for Kidman’s makeup and costume are also to be commended.  That is because collectively, they made her nearly unrecognizable.  If viewers were to see her on screen in this movie without knowing it was her ahead of time, they would not have known at all that it was her.  That is unless they were to have sat through the movie’s credits or researched the character online via a website such as imdb.com, or other similar sites.  From her hairdo (was that a wig or not?) to her costumes to even minute details such as her overall makeup, those responsible for bringing Millicent to life on screen (at least in terms of her look) are to be highly commended for their work.  Maybe that is why Kidman did so well in her portrayal.  She felt that said individuals had done such an impressive job in their charge that she felt that comfortable in her own acting.  That could well be just this critic’s own take of course.  But it is still something worth considering.  Regardless, it is safe to say that the work of those individuals along with Kidman’s own work are the only real elements of Paddington worth watching.  The movie’s script in every one of its aspects really does nothing to make the movie memorable.  That being the case, it is safe to say that while Paddington is not this year’s worst movie—that dishonor currently sits between Marvel’s new Avengers movie and Universal’s new Despicable Me spinoff Minions—it definitely is hardly one of the year’s best new big screen features.

It’s sad to say that Anchor Bay’s attempt to bring author Michael Bond’s beloved furry friend to life on the big screen.  That’s especially the case because its debut early this year marked the first time ever that Bond’s character had been adapted to the big screen.  Sure there was a TV show some decades ago.  But up until this year, no studio had had the gumption to adapt it for a big screen feature.  For that reason alone, Anchor Bay deserves at least some credit for having the bravery to give it a chance.  One can only hope that considering its weak, unoriginal script juxtaposed by the otherwise impressive work of actress Nicole Kidman and those charged with helping bring Kidman’s character to life, that the movie’s now rumored sequel will fare better.  That is because while this movie is not the year’s worst new theatrical offering, it is definitely not one of the year’s best either.  Here’s to hoping, Paddington.  Here’s to hoping.  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.

At Middleton Is A surprisingly Entertaining And Heartfelt Film

Courtesy:  Anchor Bay Entertainment/The Weinstein Company

Courtesy: Anchor Bay Entertainment/The Weinstein Company

Anchor Bay Entertainment’s At Middleton is a complete surprise of a movie. This bittersweet story about love and self-realization completely defies the standard rom-com formula. Instead, it presents a story that in the end is both hopeful and heartbreaking. The story, co-written by Glenn German and Adam Rogers is the central point of this movie’s surprising success. The pair’s overall writing is just as important to the movie’s enjoyment. And last but definitely not least, the acting on the part of stars Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga seals the deal for At Middleton. Their on-screen chemistry will have audiences laughing right along with them and then tearing up as the story progresses. Whether audiences lean more towards the acting, the writing or the story itself, what can be agreed upon is that all three factors work together to make At Middleton one of the best new indie flicks of 2014.

Glenn German and Adam Rogers have crafted in their script for At Middleton a story that is one of the best new indie flicks of 2014. The story, which centers on George Hartman (Andy Garcia) and Edith Martin (Vera Farmiga) completely defies the standard rom-com formula. Audiences start out believing that it will be another rom-com. That’s because George and Edith start out just like any rom-com couple. They start out hating each other, but eventually fall for each other as their visit to Middleton College progresses. What’s really funny is that in the case of this story, the initial hatred for one another happens because Edith is accused by George of having stolen George’s parking space. Garcia’s portrayal of the uptight Hartman makes this moment especially entertaining. The acting will be discussed later. Getting back on track, the bond formed between George and Edith makes the story’s eventual outcome both heartbreaking and hopeful. The ending won’t be revealed here for the sake of those that have yet to see this story unfold. But simply put, the story’s final act is anything but the standard rom-com finale. Those audiences that lambasted the movie likely did so because of this aspect. Audiences in general have been overly programmed to expect the standard gift-wrapped happy ending from stories. So when a story like this comes along with its more emotional ending, it creates a feeling of discontent in those viewers. However, those that are open-minded enough to understand the story in its whole will appreciate that ending. And in retrospect, they will find that they appreciate the story as the endearing work that it is.

German and Rogers’ story is the central point of At Middleton’s success. One reason that the story works as well as it does is the pair’s writing. What parent or student hasn’t had the “joy” of the college campus tour at one point or another? Using that as the story’s base is both original and hilarious. German and Rogers display so much wit with jokes about campus crime and the physical depiction of the tour leader. The tour leader here, named Justin, is depicted by actor Nicholas Braun. And the pair will even have some viewers laughing later in the story thanks to the subtle joke about why college students really attend a given college as Audrey (Taissa Farmiga) snaps in learning why her favorite professor wouldn’t be her advisor. These are just some of the ways in which German and Roger’s writing makes At Middleton work as well as it does. One would be remiss to ignore the more emotional aspects of the writing, too. That also plays a role in the movie’s overall success.

The more comical aspects of At Middleton make for more than their share of laughs. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the story’s more emotional moments that make up the story’s second and third act will leave any viewer tearing up. Edith and George’s ultimate realization about their unhappy marriages is one of the most powerful of those moments. German and Rogers perfectly timed this moment within the context of the story. After all of the fun that George and Edith had enjoyed through the first act, this moment is a clearly defined transition point in the story. It puts the breaks on everything and lets audiences know that things have just changed in a big way. That realization does slow down the story. But it also plays an integral role in the story’s eventual outcome. German and Rogers are both to be commended on balancing this moment with the rest of their story. And again, that outcome will not be revealed here for the sake of those that have yet to see the movie. But it definitely puts the rest of the story into full context. It’s just one more example of German and Rogers’ expertise in writing their script.

The writing on the part of German and Rogers, and their overall story are both important to the whole that is At Middleton. Those that are open-minded enough will agree with that when they watch this surprisingly gripping and entertaining story for themselves. As important as both noted factors are to the whole here, there is one more factor that should be taken into account in the story’s success. That factor is the acting on the part of the cast; More specifically, the acting on the part of Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga. Not to be left out, Nicholas Braun shines, too as campus tour leader Justin. The chemistry between Garcia and Farmiga is so strong throughout the story. This applies both in their lighthearted moments and in their deeper, more emotional moments. Their chemistry is so strong that it pulls viewers in with ease, making them completely forget that they’re watching two people acting. That is a tribute to their work. It is not something that can be said even of today’s major motion pictures.

Not to be outdone by Farmiga and Garcia, Nicholas Braun shines in his own right as campus tour leader Justin. Audiences of all ages will agree that there is a Justin at every college and university across America. Right from the moment that Justin introduces himself to the tour group, holding out his name tag for everyone to see, saying, “I’m Justin,” audiences will be rolling. That’s pretty much how those college campus tours start. He’s just a dopey sort of character that entertains with everything he says. Whether that moment or his semi-dopey joke about campus violence or later when a random girl comes up behind him and slaps him, Braun is spot on in his role. Both Taissa Farmiga and Spencer Lofranco impress as Audrey and Conrad. But Braun, Garcia and the elder Farmiga are the real stars of this movie. Their acting–along with the writing and overall story crafted by Glenn German and Adam Rogers—collectively make At Middleton a story that is one of this year’s best independent movies.

At Middleton is available now on Blu-ray and DVD in stores and online. It can be ordered direct online from the Anchor Bay Entertainment website at http://www.anchorbayent.com/detail.aspx?projectID=08b706e3-61ee-e211-a9b4-d4ae527c3b65. More information on this and other movies from Anchor Bay Entertainment is available online at http://www.anchorbayent.com/Entertainment.aspx, http://www.faceboo.com/AnchorBay, and http://twitter.com/Anchor_Bay. 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.

Anchor Bay, Weinstein Company To Release Indie Dramedie Unfinished Song This Fall

Courtesy:  Anchor Bay Entertainment/The Weinstein Company

Courtesy: Anchor Bay Entertainment/The Weinstein Company

Anchor Bay Entertainment and The Weinstein will release one of the year’s most talked about dramedies of 2013 this fall.  Unfinished Song will be released by Anchor Bay Entertainment and The Weinstein Company on Tuesday, September 24th.  The movie features a cast led by Academy Award nominee Terrence Stamp (Get Smart, Smallville, The Adjustment Bureau) and Vanessa Redgrave (Nip/Tuck, Howards End, Cars 2).

Unfinished Song centers on the story of Arthur (Terrence Stamp).  Arthur is an elderly gentleman who has become set in his ways over the course of his ways.  He is happy with his daily routine and his wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave).  But Arthur is thrown a curveball one day when Marion tricks him into joining a local singing group in the couple’s hometown.  The choir is led by the much younger and energetic Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton—Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time).  At first, Arthur is resistant to this new change in his daily routine.  But eventually, Arthur and Elizabeth develop a friendship that leads Arthur to realize his hidden passion for music.  The discovery adds a whole new spark to Arthur’s otherwise predictable schedule.  It also helps him to reconnect to those closest and most important to him in the process.

Writer/director Paul Andrew Williams shared his thoughts on the movie and the influences behind the story in an interview about the movie.  He said of how it came to life, “It’s a very personal story for me” and that he drew from his own family experience as a source for the story’s plot.

Unfinished Song will be available Tuesday, September 24th.  Its bonus features include deleted scenes and a gag reel.  To keep up with all of the latest updates on this and other releases from Anchor Bay Entertainment and The Weinstein Company, audiences can “Like” both companies’ Facebook pages at http://www.facebook.com/AnchorBay and http://www.facebook.com/weinsteinco.  Audiences can also check in at both companies’ official websites at http://www.anchorbayentertainment.com/Entertainment.aspx and http://weinsteinco.com.

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Escape From Planet Earth A Fun Escape For Families

Courtesy:  Anchor Bay Entertainment/The Weinstein Company

Courtesy: Anchor Bay Entertainment/The Weinstein Company

Escape from Planet Earth (Anchor Bay Entertainment/Weinstein Company) was released to theaters in February 2013.  Not surprisingly, it didn’t last very long in theaters after its premiere.  The reason(s) why it didn’t last are anyone’s guess.  But the most probable of reasons would be its comparison to the 2009 family friendly CG “animated” sci-fi comedy, Planet 51.  There is no denying the comparisons to said story.  But in its defense, Planet 51 isn’t the only movie from which Escape from Planet Earth lifted.  There are also influences from the likes of Monsters, Inc. and Monsters vs. Aliens throughout this movie.  And while it does lift from previous movies, it does have some originality in terms of its messages and its comic elements.  Those comic elements include the sci-fi and pop culture spoofs made much in the same vein as in Planet 51.  The spoofs aren’t the same as in Planet 51, either.  This makes them that much funnier and helps to make up for the story’s less original aspects.

It’s difficult to honestly write this and call Escape from Planet Earth the most original movie of its kind.  That’s because of the fact that it can so easily be compared to the 2009 family friendly sci-fi comedy, Planet 51.  On the surface, Escape From Planet Earth can so easily be considered to be Planet 51 in reverse.  Instead of the human astronaut trying to escape from the alien planet, this time, it’s the aliens trying to escape Earth.  It’s not the only movie to which this work can be compared.  It can also be compared to Disney/Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. (2001).  The comparison to that movie comes in the form of General Shanker’s (William Shatner—Star Trek) soldiers.  A close look at the men will bring viewers to note that his men are always running around in yellow, rubber hazmat suits that cover their entire bodies, including their faces.  This is very much in the same style as the agents of the Child Detection Agency from Monsters, Inc.  And the general story itself makes it just as easily compared to Dreamworks’ Monsters vs. Aliens.  It’s just that movie as much in reverse as Planet 51 in reverse.  Knowing all of these influences takes away quite a bit from the movie.  But for all that is taken away from it, Escape From Planet Earth isn’t without its positives.

Writers Cal Brunker and Bob Barlen (hmmmmm Bob, planet Bob…..coincidence?) did a lot of lifting from other previous CG based family friendly sci-fi flicks to make Escape from Planet Earth.  For all of the comparisons that can be made, what can be said of this creation is that it does still manage to save itself.  It saves itself thanks to its theme of family bonds and its pop culture and sci-fi spoofs made throughout the nearly ninety minute movie.  The theme of the family bond is something that those other family films don’t have.  So this serves to help set this movie apart from those movies and give it its own identity.

Just as the movie’s theme of family bonds helps to set it apart from other movies of its ilk, the pop culture and sci-fi references made throughout the movie help to set it apart even more.  The jokes are quite plentiful throughout the course of the movie’s run time.  There are jokes about classic 1950s sci-fi flicks, conspiracy theories and even a subtle stab at director James Cameron.  It’s so subtle that if a person isn’t really watching closely, one will miss it.  Those that catch it will truly appreciate it, considering Cameron’s reputation when it comes to science fiction movies.  There are far more subtle jokes and pokes that are peppered throughout the movie.  And those that give this movie a chance will appreciate the movie even more for them.  In turn, they will see that while it may not be the most original movie in its genre, it really is a movie that is worth at least one watch.  It is available now on DVD and Blu-ray in stores and online and can be ordered online direct from the Anchor Bay Entertainment website at http://www.anchorbayentertainment.com/detail.aspx?projectID=5b081188-3392-e211-b3c9-d4ae527c3b65.  Fans can also check in on all of the latest updates on new releases from Anchor Bay Entertainment at http://www.anchorbayentertainment.com.

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.

Dark Skies A Dark Horse Candidate For One Of 2013’s Best New Movies

Courtesy: The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Courtesy: The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Dark Skies was met largely with mixed reviews when it originally debuted in theaters early in 2013.  This movie proved to be another work for which there was no grey area.  Either audiences liked it or they hated it.  Those that panned it seemed to do so mostly because of the expectations of it being a horror movie.  Those same individuals obviously weren’t or aren’t fans of science fiction, as (not to spoil the movie too much) that’s what it really turned out to be.  It turned out to be more psychological science fiction thriller than horror.  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Even this critic went into the movie, having not seen it during its stint in theaters, expecting it to be just another ghost story.  It was a pleasant surprise to discover that that wasn’t the case.  As a matter of fact, it was that surprise twist that helped to make this underappreciated thriller an edge-of-the-seat thriller that is deserving of being seen at least once.

What makes Dark Skies worth being seen at least once is the manner in which Writer/Director Scott Stewart has managed to take advantage of that line between science fiction and horror that has become increasingly blurred through the modern history of movies.  That same blurred line is what irked many viewers and critics.  But odds are those individuals that were so bothered by the story’s surprise were specifically horror fans rather than science fiction fans or a combination of both.  What’s more, the expectation among so many horror fans today is that a horror movie apparently can’t be horror without a significant amount of bloodshed.  That in itself is a sad statement.  Those expecting such levels of violence and bloodshed won’t get that from this movie.  Stewart has proven that his movie doesn’t need all of that, either in order to be successful.  It does well enough without the sex, violence, and bloodshed, as it pays tribute to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Poltergeist, and specific other classic horror and sci-fi flicks.  There’s even something of a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, The Birds tossed in for good measure.  Stewart was not trying to directly rip off said movies or anger viewers who have become far too accustomed to unnecessary story elements.  Rather, he was paying tribute to the classics and proving at the same time, that movies with real substance still have a place in today’s overly crowded market of otherwise dry works that try to cover up their lack of substance with those unnecessary extremes. 

Dark Skies has quite a bit which makes it a successful work, despite what other critics might want to believe.  For all the positives to this undervalued work, it isn’t without at least one fault.  That major fault would be the scene transitions.  Many of the movie’s scene transitions early on feel like little more than a grouping of jump cuts, making following the story not as easy as it perhaps could be.  Luckily, if one allows one’s self to become engaged in the story, one will see that the jump cut feeling in question does eventually make way for better transitions.  In turn, one will better enjoy the story right up to its surprise twist ending, which is yet another of the story’s positives.

The surprise twist ending is just one more of so many positives that make Dark Skies a movie worth seeing for anyone that is open minded enough to give it a chance.  Just as interesting as the story’s twist ending is the deleted scene that was the original ending sequence included in the bonus deleted scenes featurette on the brand new Blu-ray/DVD/VUDU combo pack.  Viewers can watch the original ending both with and without commentary, along with a whole grouping of other deleted scenes.  The bonus commentary does add even more appreciation for the work that went into making each scene.  Though even in watching the deleted scenes without commentary, audiences can gain just as much appreciation for what was and was not used in the final film.  It’s yet more proof of the value of bonus features in a movie’s home release.  It is those bonus deleted scenes, along with everything else that went into making this movie that makes it worth another watch now that it’s available on Blu-ray/DVD/VUDU.  Dark Skies is available today in stores and online.

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Hyde Park On Hudson One Of The Worst Historical Works In Years

Courtesy: Universal Studios/Focus Features

Courtesy: Universal Studios/Focus Features

Hyde Park on Hudson is one of the least enjoyable movies of 2012 and just as uninteresting now that is has been released to DVD and Blu-ray.  The problem with this attempt at a semi-biopic is the lack of balance between the story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s relationship with his mistress Margaret “Daisy” Stuckley and that of the visit by King George and his wife, Queen Elizabeth.  The script attempts to tie the two storylines together.  But in that effort, writer Richard Nelson and director Roger Michell have instead crafted a story that ends up plodding along at a near snail’s pace all while not really amounting to anything by the time it ends.  The story is narrated by what is supposed to be Margaret Suckley, explaining her relationship.  Herein lies another issue with the story.  Because it is told from the vantage point of “the other woman”, there’s no way to ignore the comparison to the Madonna helmed W./E.  Just as the latter was an art film, this movie comes across the same way, eventually amounting to nothing.

The initial comparison to W./E. is only one problem with Hyde Park on Hudson.  Anyone that has any knowledge of presidential history or even the slightest interest in said history know that Roosevelt was just one of so many political figures that has been anything but faithful in their marriage.  Keeping this in mind, it makes the storyline of FDR’s relationship with his mistress–and only certain people knowing about it—all the less interesting.  Had the story been more focused and aimed perhaps at the political relationship between the British royals and the President, it might have actually had more substance about it.  But sadly, Nelson opts instead for the more dramatized side of things, going more for the intended soap opera that surrounded FDR and his mistress, again causing the story’s pacing to drag along slowly, and thus leave audiences feel robbed of their time.

For all of the negatives surrounding Hyde Park on Hudson, it does have at least one positive.  That positive would be its backdrops and associated cinematography.  The beautiful countryside backdrops of the story are beautiful.  And thanks to the expert work of the movie’s film crew, those backdrops became the real stars of the movie; even more so than lead star Bill Murray who did quite the job of portraying the late President.  Murray’s portrayal leaves one wondering if he did so well, then how much better could this script have been had Nelson and Michell come to terms on which story was more important.  But because of Hollywood’s seemingly insatiable appetite for prequels, sequels, and reboots, one can only hope that should the story of Roosevelt’s “secret” ever be retold, it will star Murray again, but actually have more worth seeing.

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Lay The Favorite A Tough Bet For Audiences

Courtesy: RadiusTWC/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Courtesy: RadiusTWC/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Lay The Favorite is not a movie for everyone.  There are at least two possible reasons that this movie—which is another movie based on actual events—that despite an A-list cast, it might not appeal to all audiences.  The first of those reasons is that while it is based on actual events, the ability of audiences to relate to either the story or its characters is not there. That inability of audiences to connect to the story or its characters virtually eliminates suspension of disbelief and interest.  The second of the reasons it might not appeal to a wider swath of viewers than it could have is that it is a noticeably niche film, which ties directly into the ability of audiences to relate to it. As has already been noted, Lay The Favorite was a “gamble” of a movie.  And while it has its issues, there is at least one good thing that can be noted of it.  And it’s not what one might expect.  That one positive is the movie’s makeup department.  The people behind the cameras did a top notch job making Catherine Zeta-Jones near unrecognizable in her role as Dink’s (Bruce Willis) wife, Tulip.  It’s the one real saving grace to a story that otherwise struggles to reach audiences.

The biggest problem of Lay The Favorite is its lack of ability to be relatable to audiences.  The central story is of a young woman played by Rebecca Hall who starts out a stripper and ends up turning her life around, becoming a journalist.  Along the way, she experiences the trials and tribulations of love and life in general.  The problem is that there is simply something about Raymer’s character and her journey to which relating is difficult at the least.  Some might even draw quick comparisons to the likes of perhaps Erin Brokovich in watching Raymer’s story.  Perhaps it’s that somewhat subconscious comparison that makes Raymer’s story less than relatable.  It might lead some audiences to say to themselves, they’ve seen it already, and thus increase the odds of turning it off.

Audiences’ lack of ability to relate to Raymer in Lay The Favorite is just one problem from which the movie suffers.  It’s directly tied into the movie’s other issue, which is the inability of viewers to suspend their disbelief and be pulled into the story.  Right from the story’s outset, the story does little to pull viewers into its world.  There’s little to no back story other than the obvious note that Raymer started out as a stripper.  It does make an attempt to explain some back story.  The attempt is brief at best during a conversation between Raymer and Dink.  This is just one of many issues that bog down the story.  Though, in its defense, so few movies based on books and real life events ever have ever been entirely faithful to the original story.  So one can only wonder just how much this movie left out from Raymer’s original memoirs.         

For all the issues that Lay The Favorite has, there is at least one positive that can be taken away from the movie.  That one positive is the movie’s makeup department.  Veteran actress Catherine Zeta-Jones co-stars alongside Bruce Willis as Dink’s wife, Tulip.  Jones is almost entirely unrecognizable in her role.  Her hair and makeup have been done in a manner that makes her look like a completely different person.  The costume department is just as much to praise for this, too.  The two together truly got her into her role.  It’s proof of both departments’ talent in what they do.  Audiences can at least take this away from a movie that otherwise was a tough bet for its studios.

Undefeated A Championship Contender Among Sports Documentaries

Courtesy:  The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Courtesy: The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay Entertainment

With a name like Undefeated, one would think that The Weinstein Company’s new sports documentary would be like so many other tear-jerker sports documentaries and sports-centric big screen dramas that have been created throughout Hollywood’s modern era.  But the reality of Undefeated is that while it does bare some semblance to other fictitious football dramas and sports documentaries, this documentary stand out in that it is actually less about football than it is about the struggle of a group of young men to overcome the challenges of their surroundings and escape those environs.  It just so happens that the main means of escaping all of that is through football.

What is most impressive about Undefeated is that while it is a documentary film, the progression of the story makes it feel just like it was a scripted work.  That’s thanks to equally solid editing and cinematography.  Rather than simply being another par for course documentary, what audiences get in this program is more of a fly on the wall point of view.  There is no interaction with the camera throughout the story.  And the first person testimonials of sorts are kept to an extreme minimum.  Yes, there are times when audiences are offered Courtney’s personal thoughts on his journey with his players.  But those “testimonials” are more along the lines of voice-overs than someone sitting in front of the camera, talking to viewers.  That angle gives the story an extra amount of emotional depth.  That depth will pull viewers in even more and keep them engaged throughout the course of the story’s near two-hour run time.  And in being so emotionally invested in the story, no viewer will be left dry-eyed by its final moments.  Even the strongest of male audiences will be moved by the story’s final closure and its epilogue included in the end credits.  And that’s okay.  That emotional openness just shows character, which as coach Courtney notes is revealed through football.

The shooting and the editing go a long way toward making Undefeated a moving story for all audiences.  But what would the shooting be without the story itself?  Yes, it bears some semblance to so many big budget sports based dramas.  But as audiences will see in this story, it is its own original story.  For starters, Coach Courtney (who looks a little bit like comedian Louie Anderson) isn’t one of Hollywood’s beautiful people.  He is an ordinary person who leads this group of roughnecks for absolutely no pay.  He is a volunteer coach.  How often have audiences ever seen such a story on the big screen?  And he shows his love and respect for the young men he leads not by some script loaded with flourishing soliloquies and moments of epiphany.  Rather, he shows them a mix of tough love and respect.  That mix is used as many of these young men have no male role model in their lives.  This is very much a reality in everyday life.  Courtney himself admits to having grown up without a father.  That makes his determination to make these young men into respectable individuals and athletes that much stronger.  And it’s because of this that audiences will easily find themselves rooting both for Courtney and for the group of young men whom he leads into battle every Friday night on the high school gridiron.

Those on-field battles help key players O.C., Money, and Chavis become better.  They also help the whole team become a stronger unit and become one of the best teams that Manassas has ever had.  Of course it all leads up to a rather unexpected ending, which won’t be revealed here.  But even with that ending, it is the personal wins of O.C., Money, and Chavis and the entire team that makes the title of this documentary so fitting.  It’s that understanding that leaves Undefeated a rare touchdown of a sports documentary that audiences will want to watch over and over again.

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.

Bully Is A Painful Yet Powerful Documentary

Courtesy:  The Weinstein Company

Courtesy: The Weinstein Company

The Weinstein Company’s documentary, Bully, is one of the most powerful documentaries that have been released in recent years.  This is a documentary that will always be relevant.  It’s something that every single parent and every single child in this country and around the world should see.  Period.  It is a completely unbiased look at the reality of bully that plagues not just one community or county, but the entire country.  It shows children’s’ lives who have been ravaged because of bullying and the complacency both of adults and their fellow students alike.  They are young people who have been pushed to the brink and beyond as a result of these factors.  It is that unbiased point of view that makes this feature so powerful.

One critic wrote of the movie that it has a failing in that it only shows the “bad” schools and not the “good” ones.  The problem is that the “bad” schools outnumber the good schools by such a massive number that more people can relate to the “bad” schools than those that would be “good.”  The stories from those “bad” schools are shocking and at times painful and angering.  They show that it’s not just the parents who are guilty of allowing bullying to happen in our nation’s schools.  The peers of those students are just as liable for what happens to victims of bullying.  And it is up to both those same adults and youth alike to band together in order to bring an end to bullying.  Otherwise, nothing will change.  As the program notes in a single line at its end, “Everything starts with one.”  One person standing up will lead to another and another until thousands stand up and say no more.

One of the most intriguing factors highlighted here is that of bullying victims being punished for standing up to their bullies.  This is something to which so many parents and kids alike can relate today.  Kids seem almost expected in schools to take bullying while administrators would rather simply turn a blind eye and blame the victim, rather than take that stand.  That is especially exemplified when young Alex’s mother confronts the assistant principal at his school about her son being bullied.  The assistant principal in question claimed that the kids on his bus were so good.  Of course they were.  They had an administrator in front of them.  When the cat’s away, the mice come out to play.  And the way that she seemed to simply want to shoo his parents away was absolutely sickening.  It’s just one of so many moments that are equally powerful throughout the course of the documentary’s almost two hour run time.  There are so many moments other than just this that will leave audiences in shock and will hopefully make them want to be part of that movement to end bullying.  With any luck, those same parents and kids will spread the word to others who haven’t seen this documentary, and that fire inside will burn brighter with each viewer to make a difference.  And perhaps maybe, just maybe, one day when enough people have taken a stand, the world will finally no longer need documentaries such as BullyBully is available now in stores and online.

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.

Crime Drama Fans Will Love Lawless

Courtesy: The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Shia LaBeouf’s new starring vehicle, Lawless, is a good movie for any fan of the crime drama genre of movies.  This gritty, violent movie follows the story of the infamous Bondurant brothers.  The brothers were known throughout Franklin County, Virginia during the prohibition era.  Knowing this, it’s tough to not make a quick comparison to the likes of The Untouchables.  And while knowing that it’s another period piece that takes place during the Prohibition era, it would also be wrong to compare it to The Untouchables.  It really is its own movie.  It shows a completely different side of life in the Prohibition era.  The story itself is compelling.  And it’s nice to see lead star Shia LaBeouf starring in a less typecast role this time out instead of running around screaming nonstop.  He actually is convincing in the role of Jack Bondurant.  This dramatic turn is a nice change of pace for him.

Shia LaBeouf’s take on Jack Bondurant is one part of Lawless’ success.  The movie’s cinematography and backdrop make for another pair of high points here.  The manner in which the movie was shot does an especially impressive job of capturing the intensity of the gunfights between the Bondurant brothers and their rivals.  And the way Virginia’s countryside was captured helped to make the story’s period setting that much more believable.  Speaking of that setting, everyone behind the cameras should be commended for making the story believable.  From the characters’ attire to the vehicles to minutiae such as the coca-cola signs and markings of the nation’s racial divide on the buildings helps to establish that all important suspension of disbelief.

For all the positives that Lawless offers, there is one blaring downside to this movie.  It’s a problem that so many writers face in trying to make a good story.  That problem is pacing.  As impressive as the story is thanks to all of the work that went into bringing it to life, its pacing is problematic to say the least.  Considering that the movie runs just shy of two hours, it feels as if it took forever for the entire thing to unravel.  It’s almost as if writer Nick Cave wasn’t sure where to take the story as he attempted to adapt it from Matt Bondurant’s original book about his family.  Ironically, it’s Bondurant’s own words in the bonus feature, “The True Story of the Wettest County in The World” that helps to make up for that slow pacing.  And that bonus feature brings up another interesting point about this movie.  That point is that this is one more home release in which the movie’s bonus features help to make the movie, too, rather than break it.

The bonus features in the home release of Lawless are rare.  Typically, a home release’s bonus features can be saved for viewing after the movie.  But this is one of those rare times when they should be viewed first.  To go into the movie without some understanding of its background will undoubtedly change how one views the story presented here.  Among the most important of those features is “The True Story of the Wettest County in The World.”  Matt Bondurant, who is a direct descendant of the original Bondurant brothers helps tell the brothers’ story along with those behind the cameras.  The comparison of the original story to that of the movie actually helps make the story’s pacing more bearable, and thus makes the movie more watchable.  Add in the director’s commentary both on the Blu-ray and DVD feature included in the set, and any crime drama fan has on their hands a movie that’s worth at least one watch.