Kruger, Wahlberg Give New Life To Paramount’s Transformers Franchise

Courtesy:  Paramount Studios

Courtesy: Paramount Studios

Paramount’s big screen Transformers franchise has been the center of a lot of discussion ever since the series kicked off seven years ago.  Ever since the series’ first installment was released in 2007, the reactions from fans and critics alike have been either hate or great.  There has been no gray area at all from audiences.  The reason for that clear division is that unlike other action flicks past and present, the Michael Bay-led series has ignored up to this point any real story and substance in favor of an overload of the action genre’s other standard elements.  Where those works fell, Transformers: Age of Extinction actually makes up for its predecessors if only slightly.  The reason that it works is the same reason that those movies didn’t work.  It doesn’t sacrifice story for standard action fare.  And perhaps the biggest reason of all for that is that writer Ehren Kruger had sole control of the movie’s script.  Kruger actually included some interesting elements to the story to balance out the standard action sequences and elements.   On the other hand, while Kruger’s writing actually made Transformers: Age of Extinction work better than the previous movies in the Transformers franchise, it also did just as much damage to the end product, too.  Making up for that is the surprisingly enjoyable acting on the part of lead actors Mark Wahlberg and Jack Reynor.  The duo’s back and forth makes for its own share of laughs as an occasional break from the more brainless elements of this flick.  If not for those more lighthearted moments Transformers: Age of Extinction might not have actually turned out to be as bearable as it did.  Thankfully though, that wasn’t the case.  It’s one more way in which Transformers: Age of Extinction outperforms its predecessors and proves to be worth at least one watch.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is an interesting work.  In comparison to both its own predecessors and all of the other prequels, sequels, and remakes that have been churned out this year, it surprises.  It actually proves to be a movie worth at least one watch.  The central reason for this is its writing.  Perhaps the biggest reason of all that the movie’s writing actually succeeds (even remotely) is the fact that only one person handled the movie’s script.  All three of the movies that came before this one in Paramount’s rather divisive franchise were developed by teams of writers, rather than one single person.  This time, Ehren Kruger, who also played a role in the franchise’s third film, was the sole individual handling the movie’s script.  The end result is a movie that has all of the trappings of the series’ previous installments, but also adds actual substance.  The story’s substance comes in the form of both Optimus’ and Cade’s own inner struggles.  Cade is struggling with having to let his daughter grow up and move on with life all while trying to keep from losing his family’s farm.  One the other side, Optimus must come to terms with his own feelings toward humans as a result of the events post Chicago (taken from the series’ third film).  While Yeager’s own personal struggles have no direct link to the movie’s central story, it serves as a nice diversion from all of the constant standard action flick elements.  The same can be said of Prime’s own struggles.  The only difference is that Prime’s personal struggles are directly linked to the story and do quite a bit to help him and the story evolve.

The addition of the inner struggles on the part of Cade and Optimus is one part of Kruger’s writing that makes this story work.  Another reason that the movie works as well as it does is that audiences aren’t made to feel like they have to have invested themselves in the series’ previous films.  Yes, it makes mention of the series’ third installment.  It also makes light reference to the events of the series’ first two films.  But thanks to Kruger’s writing, the movie actually standsjust as well on its own two proverbial feet as it does as part of the whole series.  This is something that every viewer will appreciate in this movie.  It also goes to show how right things can go when only one person has his or her hands in the pot.

Kruger did a lot right with the script for this latest installment in Paramount’s Transformers franchise.  For all of the positives to the movie’s script, there were also some blaring negatives, too.  the most obvious of the script’s negatives is the overt use of the standard action fare.  The nonstop chase scenes, fight scenes, and explosions are all there.  So is the standard damsel in distress figure.  This is the 21st Century.  America has come a long way since the days of women’s liberation.  So audiences should be offended (especially female viewers) that a female lead is once again shown as being helpless, cowering in fear, and in need of being saved while the men go out and save her and the universe.  Such writing does only a disservice to a story that otherwise is actually relatively enjoyable.  Hopefully if Micheal Bay and Paramount come to terms on another installment in the Transformers franchise, this is something that will be taken into account for said story.  If not, it would be no surprise if audiences take notice and start speaking up even more.

Paramount Studios and director Michael Bay giving full creative control of Transformers; Age of Extinction’s script was the best thing that could have happened for this movie and the franchise in whole.  Sure, the standard elements that weighed down the series’ previous movies are still present here.  But Kruger actually injects some real substance into this movie with the personal stories centering on Cade and Optimus.  Those stories add at least some depth to the movie.  Adding even more enjoyment to the movie’s enjoyment is the constant back and forth bickering between Cade and his daughter’s boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor).  It adds a little bit of a buddy comedy element to the story to help lighten the story’s otherwise rather tense mood.  Those that have seen Wahlberg’s work alongside Will Ferrell in The Other Guys will see a little bit of that same chemistry with Reynor here.  Taking into consideration Wahlberg’s other overly serious roles, this rare comedic take is a welcome breath of fresh air from Wahlberg.  Even in the movie’s big fight scenes, the pair still find time to bicker between one another.  Those moments make for some rather interesting moments that believe it or not are entertaining in their own right.  Their acting along with Ehren Kruger’s writing more than make up for this movie’s biggest downfalls.  The end result is a movie that will leave audiences agreeing that should Paramount not take another chance on the Transformers, Age of Extinction makes up for the series’ previous films and is a good way for the franchise to go out.  If Paramount should take another chance on the franchise one can only hope that Paramount and Michael Bay will bring back Kruger and Wahlberg once more as the pair has given hope that there is still life left in this franchise.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is available now in stores and online.  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.

Pound Puppies’ Latest Compilation One Of The Show’s Best Yet

Courtesy:  Shout! Factory/Hub Network/Hasbro Studios

Courtesy: Shout! Factory/Hub Network/Hasbro Studios

Shout! Factory has teamed up with Hasbro Studios and the Hub network once again another compilation of episodes from Hub’s Pound PuppiesPound Puppies: Holiday Hijinks is one of the best compilations from this family and kid favorite series to be released yet.  That is largely because of each episode’s writing.  This compilation offers viewers some of the series’ most heartfelt episodes to date.  Just as noteworthy in this compilation is the guest voice talent.  Both parents and kids alike will recognize the celebrity voices that are included in some of the episodes in this set.  Something more subtle, but just as worth noting in this collection of episodes is that each one features its own musical number.  It’s something that hadn’t been seen (or rather heard) in previous collections.  It’s a nice touch to the episodes in question.  The reason for that will be discussed later.  All things considered, Holiday Hijinks is one more great addition to any family’s home DVD library, whether it’s their first introduction to the new Pound Puppies or not.

The latest compilation of Pound Puppies episodes includes five more episodes from the Hub network’s hit children’s series.  This follows the same format as the previous DVD compilations that have been released.  The episodes collected for this collection stand out because they are some of the series’ most heartwarming episodes yet.  The collection’s opener, “I Heard The Barks on Christmas Eve” is the collection’s only actual holiday themed episode.  It’s still a wonderful story, nonetheless.  For the first time ever, viewers see that Mr. McLeish actually has a heart and isn’t the mean middle aged man that he comes across as being in most episodes.  It presents those classic messages that everybody needs somebody and that everybody deserves somebody, especially during the holidays.  Audiences will appreciate how writer Joe Ansolabehere expanded on the show’s central theme of family in the set’s second episode, “I Never Barked For My Father.”  Lucky meets his long lost father and brother for the first time ever in this episode.  These are two of the collection’s finest.  What’s more, older audiences will appreciate the guest vocal talent shared here.  That is another positive to this set of episodes.

The episodes collected for Pound Puppies: Holiday Hijinks offer plenty of heart and laughs.  The writers behind the show are to be applauded for their work.  Just as worth noting of these episodes is the guest vocal talent recruited for these episodes.  Lucky’s father is voiced by none other than Gary Cole in “I Never Barked For My Father.”  And his long lost brother is voiced by one Gary Cooksey.  Cooksey is best known for his time on Diff’rent Strokes as well as voicing Montana Max on Tiny Toon Adventures and portraying Robert “Buddy” Budnick on Nickelodeon’s hit 90s series, Salute Your Shorts.  Older audiences will recognize Gary Cole from his roles in Office Space, Dodgeball, Talladega Nights, and Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law just to name some of his work.  Cole and Cooksey are just a couple of the well-known names that grace this collection of episodes.  Fred Stoller (Wordgirl, Everybody Loves Raymond) guests on the collection’s opener as the voice of Ralph.  Ralph is a stray that has lost his Christmas spirit because he has never had a single owner.  That all changes thanks to the Pound Puppies.  Wayne Knight (Seinfeld, Scooby-Doo & The Goblin King, Jurassic Park, The Exes) also shares his talents as the voice of Ralphie, Mr. McLeish’s old friend in “Good Dog, McLeish.”  If that isn’t enough, then the addition of both Tress MacNeille (Futurama, The Simpsons) and Charles Shaughnessy (The Nanny) as guest talent in “Prince and the Pupper” will certainly convince parents to check out this latest collection of Pound Puppies episodes with their kids.  The list of guest talent included in Pound Puppies: Holiday Hijinks is only a glimpse of the big name actors and actresses that have lent their talents to this series over the course of three seasons.  And it’s just one more reason for families to enjoy this collection together.  There is one more reason that families will enjoy the episodes presented in this set.  That reason is that each of the set’s five episodes includes its own musical number.  It would have been so easy for the writers to go over the top considering the history of musical numbers in shows that aren’t known for musical numbers.  Instead, the show’s writers made each episode’s musical number respectable and within limitations.  They didn’t make them big, cheesy tongue-in-cheek numbers.  They actually add a certain amount of emotion and comic relief where necessary.  Just as with the guest vocal talent and the equally enjoyable writing overall, the musical number become one more part of the whole that makes Pound Puppies: Holiday Hijinks well worth the watch any time of the year.  It is available now on DVD in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct from the Shout! Factory store at http://www.shoutfactory.com/product/pound-puppies-holiday-hijinks.  More information on this and other Pound Puppies DVDs is available online at http://www.shoutfactory.com and http://www.facebook.com/shoutactoryofficial.  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 Giving Cubs Fans A Special Treat Next Sunday On SportsCenter

Courtesy:  ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

Courtesy:  ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

ESPN is giving Cubs fans a special treat next weekend as Major League Baseball nears its annual halfway point.  “The Sports Leader” will run a special next Sunday morning during SportsCenter celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of celebrities who have led Cubs fans in the time honored tradition of the seventh-inning stretch.  Next week’s SportsCenter Featured piece, it is narrated by veteran actor Jim Belushi.  Belushi is himself a Chicago native.

The special focuses on the variety of celebrities that have led fans in the singing of ‘Take Me Out To The Ballgame’ after the passing of the late great Harry Carry.  The feature will air this Sunday morning at 10am EST on ESPN.

More information on this and all the latest on SportsCenter is available online at http://www.facebook.com/SportsCenter and http://www.sportscenter.com.

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.

Wreck-It Ralph Offers More family Fun From Disney

Courtesy:  Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

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

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

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

Ralph learns in this story that regardless of the labels put on him by the video game world’s standards, he can be a hero to at least one other, thus leading to his epiphany of self acceptance.  He isn’t the only one that learns a valuable lesson though.  Those around him learn to be more accepting of him, too.  That’s thanks to him uncovering a “royal” sized secret that could have had a major impact on the video game world in his journey of self-discovery.  He ends up being a hero and saving the day.  How he does won’t be revealed here for the sake of those who have yet to see this movie.  But because word spread to his fellow video game characters, everyone’s view of Ralph changed.  And sure he was still the “bad guy” in Fix It Felix, Jr., but he was much more accepted than at the movie’s outset.  This lesson of social acceptance is one from which the entire family can benefit.  And it’s one more positive to what is another fun and family friendly story from Disney.  It may not be Disney’s finest.  But it is still an enjoyable work.  Wreck-It Ralph is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered online direct via the Disney DVD store at http://www.disneystore.com/wreck-it-ralph-blu-ray-and-dvd-combo-pack/mp/1326674/1000316/

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.