‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’ Movie Review

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The Harry Potter film series is truly a world unto itself. Between being both a box office sensation and a franchise that has spawned toys, books and even a theme park. After the release of ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them‘ in 2016 and that film’s commercial and critical success, a new series of movies was a given. ‘The Crimes of Grindelwald‘ picks up where the first film left off with Gellert Grindelwald being transferred from New York to London. Obviously he escapes and from there… the plot gets complicated, to say the least. All of the familiar faces from the original are back: Eddie Redmayne reprises the role of lovable Hufflepuff alum and Magizoologist Newt Scamander. Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller & Johnny Depp also return for the sequel along with newcomers Jude Law as a young Albus Dumbledore, Callum Turner as Newt’s brother Theseus and Claudia Kim as Nagini. Sadly, despite the best efforts of a talented and illustrious cast, this is one sequel that falls woefully short of the mark.

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The problems mainly lay in a convoluted plot that seems to be scattershot at best and downright jumbled at worst. It is devoid of the nostalgic charm & whimsy of the original film and it’s only in the passing references and nods made toward the Harry Potter world we all have come to love that make it sufficiently interesting for the viewer to slog through to the rather lackluster climax. As stated earlier, the actors are first rate and seem to not only embrace their respective roles, but also relish in them as the movie advances. In the end, I feel like I am getting a product that only serves as a step towards the next film, which in my opinion, is a waste of a film. Subplots are waved away with ham-handed carelessness and Harry Potter canon is changed in an eyebrow raising manner. Were I not such a fan of this universe in which I have been immersed now for nearly 20 years, this movie might have caused me to write it off and be done. My only hope is that the next film in the ‘Fantastic Beasts’ series provides some degree of payoff from this shambles. For the sake of the actors involved and for the fans who are invested in the happenings of the greater Potter world, the 3rd entry needs to do some major damage control right off the bat. Due to the reasons listed above, I am only able to “Accio” my way to give ‘The Crimes of Grindelwald’ a muggling score of 4 out of 10. There isn’t enough magic out there to get me to wade through a 2nd viewing of this one, Friends.

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‘Overlord’ Movie Review

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‘Overlord’ (2018)
Bad Robot & Paramount Pictures

Directed by: Julius Avery
Written by: Billy Ray & Mark L. Smith
Starring: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, Pilou Asbaek, John Magaro, Iain De Caestecker & Bokeem Woodbine

Some movies are exactly what you expect based on the previews you see. ‘American Pie‘ always springs to mind for me because if you saw the previews, then you basically saw the movie. Then there are some movies that give you an idea of what you might be getting and then completely take you by surprise when you see the actual film. For me, ‘Overlord‘ definitely falls into this second category. Based upon the previews I kept seeing, I thought I’d be getting a “Wolfenstein” style, World War II era zombie flick. This movie had all that and then some. The story follows a group of American soldiers who drop behind enemy lines in Nazi occupied France in order to knock out a radio tower to give the D-Day forces a better chance of victory the next morning when they attack. Their mission is further complicated when they find that the Nazis are using the townspeople in some ghastly genetic experiments. Now they must not only complete their primary objective, but also save their new friends from becoming horrifyingly mutated agents of the Third Reich.

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The only actors who I immediately recognized from the cast were Bokeem Woodbine & John Magaro & Iain De Caestecker but everyone in the film gave an outstanding performance. The setting and atmosphere of the film permeated the theater and I found myself on the edge of my seat throughout. There is violence aplenty (it’s a WWII film so hopefully that comes as no surprise), a healthy dose of sci-fi gore and some heart-pounding scares all given in equal parts. Unfortunately, there were a few times early on when it tried to become too drama oriented and took me slightly out of the moment as a result. It was almost as if some scenes had been extended to lengthen the run time of the film which, at 1hr and 49min, I think could have been trimmed to make for a sleeker final product. The ending was satisfying with the door left just slightly cracked open for a sequel should the need arise. The plot is very simple and straightforward making this a great popcorn flick for those who are looking for an adrenaline-filled alternative to the normal “holiday movie” fare currently in theaters. Perhaps due to my low expectations going in but mainly due to the outstanding cast who all brought their A-game to their performances, I’m forced to bestow upon ‘Overlord’ a rank of 7.5 out of 10. If a theater near you is offering it in 3-D or IMAX, I can only imagine it would enhance the enjoyment of this movie. Drag a friend out to see it this weekend!!!

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‘Instant Family’ Movie Review

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‘Instant Family’ (2018)
Paramount Pictures

Directed by: Sean Anders
Written by: Sean Anders & John Morris
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Isabela Moner, Gustavo Quiroz, Julianna Gamiz, Octavia Spencer & Tig Notaro.

Normally, I’d feel bad for any movie opening on the same weekend as a behemoth such as the sequel to ‘Fantastic Beasts‘, but for my money ‘Instant Family‘ may be a film that is an entity unto itself. It’s got a great story, exceptional cast, heart, humor and a great deal of fun. Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne star as Pete & Ellie, a couple who have a successful home flipping business and, at the peak of their career, decide that maybe they have something missing in their lives. Upon deciding to go through the adoption process, they are impressed by a 15 year old orphan named Lizzy (played by Isabela Moner). The catch is that she comes with a little brother and sister as well. So now, with a sudden influx of 3 children at once, their once normal routine gets turned completely upside down. Hilarity and heart-warming moments ensue from there in rapid succession.

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The director and co-writer of this film, Sean Anders, is mostly known for his screwball comedies like the ‘Daddy’s Home‘ films and ‘Horrible Bosses 2‘. He outdoes himself on this movie with perfectly intermingling humor and heart in a substantial manner. The story is based partly on his own experience with adoption and the results are a truly wonderful film that finds its footing quickly and maintains a perfectly seamless balance between laughs and love. Had it been a PG rating instead of a PG-13 (and it’s a pretty hard PG-13), I’d say it’s great for the whole family, but the language and a few of the situations may not be suitable for small children. Use your best judgment when deciding. With that being the only minor issue I had with the movie, I’d say that ‘Instant Family’ adopts a solid 9 out of 10. If you don’t want to fight the crowds for the opening weekend of ‘The Crimes of Grindelwald‘, then ‘Instant Family’ is an excellent alternative that you will most definitely enjoy!!

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‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ Movie Review

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‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ (2018)
Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by: Lasse Hallström & Joe Johnston
Written by: Ashleigh Powell, E.T.A. Hoffmann & Marius Petipa
Starring: Mackenzie Foy, Morgan Freeman, Jayden Fowora-Knight, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Eugenio Derbez, Richard E. Grant & Matthew Macfadyen

As the holiday season approaches, Walt Disney brings us a big screen adaptation of the beloved story of “The Nutcracker.” At a brisk 99 minute pace and amid a flurry of the classical music and glorious spectacle, ‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms‘ makes itself an instant classic. Those familiar with the tale know that Clara is presented with a nutcracker soldier as a Christmas gift by her godfather Drosselmeyer. She falls asleep and finds that the Nutcracker has come to life! She is magically transported to the Land of the Sweets and fights against the Mouse King. This film contains many of those elements, but presents them in a completely different way so that even people who know the story will be pleasantly surprised.

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In this story, Clara attends a party at her godfather Drosselmeyer’s home and, while searching for her Christmas gift, finds her way to a magical realm and is escorted to a large castle by The Nutcracker. There she meets Hawthorne, Shiver & Sugar Plum who are from 3 of the 4 realms. The fourth realm is controlled by Mother Ginger & The MOuse King who, according to the others, seeks to rule all of the realms now that Clara’s mother (who was the Queen) has died. Tchaikovsky‘s classic score resonates throughout the movie and the film itself is equal parts ‘Narnia‘ and ‘Wizard of Oz.’ The acting is solid from the entire cast with the standouts being, not surprisingly, Morgan Freeman as Drosselmeyer and Helen Mirren as Mother Ginger. Mackenzie Foy and Jayden Fowora-Knight as Clara and The Nutcracker, respectively, were also very good in their roles. What I enjoyed the most was the change-up of the story and giving us a fresh take on a well-known and beloved tale. I found the final battle to be slightly anti-climatic, but it didn’t ruin my enjoyment of this otherwise stunning film. This is a great movie for the whole family and one that will be a perfect fit for the holiday box office! On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give ‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ a royally solid 8. Get your tickets this weekend at a theater near you!

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‘Halloween’ Movie review

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‘Halloween’ (2018)
Miramax Films & Blumhouse Productions

Directed by: David Gordon Green
Written by: David Gordon Green, Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Nick Castle, Haluk Bilginer, Will Patton, Rhian Rees & Jefferson Hall

With a film series spanning 11 entries (counting this newest one) and a rather confusing sequence (which ones count and which ones don’t???) the newest installment in the ‘Halloween‘ franchise will arrive in theaters this weekend and it arrives in style! This movie acts as a direct sequel to the original film from 1978 with both Jamie Lee Curtis and Nick Castle reprising their respective roles of Laurie Strode & Michael Myers. Set 40 years after the events of the first ‘Halloween’ movie, Laurie Strode has spent her life since then preparing for the inevitable showdown with her tormentor, Michael Myers. While being transferred to a more secure facility, Michael escapes and cuts a swath of violent death through Haddonfield once again to find and kill Laurie and her entire family. It’s a climatic battle 40 years in the making and, for my money, it does not disappoint!

Trying to follow the ‘Halloween’ movies can be confusing at best. Different storylines with different plots set in a different order than chronological… it’s a lot to process. The one constant throughout is the menacing, silent mountain of pure evil that is Michael Myers. Since the first film in 1978, the stark white visage (which is actually a Captain Kirk mask) and eerie theme music by composer John Carpenter have become synonymous with horror and now, even after 40 years, this new movie doesn’t miss a beat. Jamie Lee Curtis is absolutely outstanding in her role and having her back as Laurie helped make an already impressive sequel even better. Director and co-writer David Gordon Green expertly creates tension and suspense throughout the movie in a way that seems almost effortless. This film may be one of the very best horror sequels of all time and can even stand on its own without any need to have seen the original in order to enjoy this entry. Judy Greer as Laurie’s daughter Karen and Andi Matichak as Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson also give harrowing & wonderful performances. I was pleasantly (if that’s a term one can apply to a horror film such as this) surprised a few times with  this one as the film occasionally zigged where I expected it to zag. A phenomenal job was done of honoring the source material, paying subtle homage to a few other films in the series and also delivering an incredibly visceral movie all while giving us a near-perfect sequel to a legendary classic bit of terrifying cinema. I have little doubt that ‘Halloween’ will manage to scare ‘Venom’ out of the #1 spot at the box office this weekend. Get your tickets now! You’d have to be crazy to not see this one on the big screen!

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‘First Man’ Movie Review

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‘First Man’ (2018)
Universal Pictures

Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Written by: Josh Singer and James R. Hansen
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Olivia Hamilton, Corey Stoll, Pablo Schreiber, Kyle Chandler & Ciaran Hinds.

First Man‘, the story of Neil Armstrong’s path to being the first man to walk on the moon (based on the book by James R. Hansen), comes to theaters this weekend. Ryan Gosling plays Neil Armstrong and Claire Foy portrays his wife Janet. The film covers key points and pivotal moments for Armstrong and his surrounding friends, family and colleagues including Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin, Lukas Haas as Michael Collins (the other two crew members of the Apollo 11), Kyle Chandler as Deke Slayton, Pablo Schreiber as Jim Lovell (who would go on to command the Apollo 13 mission), Ciarán Hinds as Gene Kranz, Jason Clarke as Edward White, Shea Whigham as Gus Grissom and so many more. Obviously many of these characters also appeared in Ron Howard‘s ‘Apollo 13′ film but rather than dealing with the aspects of the space mission itself, this movie focuses squarely on Neil Armstrong‘s personal life and then culminates with his famous Apollo 11 moon landing.

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While there is plenty of drama to be had, there is also plenty of aeronautical action to suit nearly everyone. Director Damien Chazelle does an excellent job of clearly maintaining a great eye for detail throughout the process both from the perspective of being a strong period piece and in capturing all the complexities of the technical side of several NASA missions. The entire cast is excellent with Claire Foy giving a standout performance. The score by Justin Hurwitz is never overpowering but always present adding just the right musical elements when and where needed. What I thought would be a slow film was actually quite dynamic with only a few places where I would have liked to have seen things press on a bit more. While biopics are not always for everyone, I found this to be a great glimpse into the life of an American hero and a time in our history where the world watched with wonder as we raced to the stars. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give ‘First Man’ a space-faring 7. I also would recommend that this would be a film worth seeing in IMAX if you’re able to do so.

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‘The House with a Clock in Its Walls’ Movie Review.

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‘The House with a Clock in Its Walls’ (2018)
Amblin Entertainment

Directed by: Eli Roth
Written by: Eric Kripke and John Bellairs
Starring: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Kyle MacLachlan, Renee Elise Goldsberry & Colleen Camp

The House with a Clock in Its Walls‘ opens this weekend. It’s family friendly fright film to cap off the summer movies as we move into fall. The previews did a great job of setting up my expectations for what the film would be and it neither surprised or disappointed based on that. The movie you’ll get is exactly what you think it will be – an orphaned child goes to live with his eccentric uncle in a large house which he inherited from his recently departed friend. That friend died performing dark magic and now it seems the house is counting down towards the end of the world. Only young Lewis Barnavelt (played by Owen Vaccaro), his warlock Uncle Owen Barnavelt (Jack Black) and Owen’s long time friend and neighbor Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) can save the day!

The acting is above the mark for a movie of this sort. Both Jack Black and Cate Blanchett were perfectly suited for their respective roles (seriously…. when was the last time any of us didn’t enjoy one of Cate Blanchett’s performances?!?!) and young Owen Vaccaro is a star on the rise with an already impressive list of movies under his belt (you may remember him from ‘Daddy’s Home‘ and its sequel as we as ‘Mother’s Day‘). Kyle MacLachlan camps it up as the resurrected evil warlock Isaac Izard and that’s my one real take away from this movie – it’s just plain fun. The story is a bit vanilla and rather predictable but the cast pull it off in a way that leaves you wanting more. For me it seemed one part ‘Harry Potter‘, one part ‘Goosebumps‘ with a little bit of ‘The Haunted Mansion‘ sprinkled in for good measure. Some of the special effects are good (the army of creepy puppets) while some looked a little threadbare (the haunted pumpkins) but I still enjoyed the film and, most importantly, the target audience (aka: children) seemed to really love it as evidenced by the cheers and guffaws I heard in my screening. So if you’re a parent looking for a lightly scary movie to take the kids to as we enter the Halloween season, then this movie would be a great fit. Otherwise, it may be one to hold off on until it hits Redbox or Netflix. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say that “The House with a Clock in Its Walls only manages to tick it’s way up to a 6. If you are on the fence, just watch the preview again and decide whether or not you want more based on that. Depending on your tastes, you may find it to be a bit more “trick” than “treat”.

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‘A Simple Favor’ Movie Review

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‘A Simple Favor’ (2018)
Lionsgate

Directed by: Paul Feig
Written by: Jessica Sharzer & Darcey Bell
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Jean Smart, Rupert Friend & Bashir Salahuddin

Every six months or so, there comes a film that takes me slightly by surprise. It may be better than I thought it was going to be or not nearly as good as I’d hoped it would be or I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, etc, etc. ‘A Simple Favor‘ is a film that certainly surprised me but only because it wasn’t really the type of film I thought I’d be seeing. If you saw the preview, then I assume you thought. as I did. that we were getting a murder mystery type flick with the audience remaining unsure as to who our protagonist (in this case, Anna Kendrick) could trust until the very end. Instead, we get a semi-mysterious, lightly comedic film with a good deal of intrigue containing a rather fun plot. Let me explain: Anna Kendrick plays single super mom Stephanie Smothers who, while taking her son on an impromptu play date, ends up sipping martinis and befriending her son’s friend’s mother Emily Nelson (played by Blake Lively). After a few weeks of play dates and sharing secrets over martinis at Emily’s immense home, Emily asks Stephanie for “a simple favor” – watch her son while she goes out of town for a business emergency. After several days go by without Emily returning, Stephanie finally contacts Emily’s husband Sean Townsend (Henry Golding) who was in England helping his mother at the time of Emily’s disappearance. When Emily turns up dead, things move forward quickly and Stephanie finds herself embroiled in a mystery of trying to find out just who Emily really was, why she disappeared so suddenly and what actually happened to her. To say much more would spoil certain plot points and you know that I wouldn’t do that to you.

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Some movies can’t seem to make up their mind as to what type of movie they want to be. ‘A Simple Favor’ was dark and had great elements of humor in it (mostly due to Anna Kendrick’s character being such a perfect fit for this role) but it wasn’t what I would classify as a “dark comedy” in the vein of ‘War Of The Roses‘ or ‘Very Bad Things‘. It’s also technically not a “who done it?” type of film in that we get a reveal fairly fast as to what exactly happened. So where this might be a detriment for some films, ‘A Simple Favor’ uses this to its advantage and is able to straddle the dark aspect of the story without ever totally going ‘Diabolique‘ and also retains some fantastic humor without ever getting campy. For this, I have to not only credit the cast but also director Paul Feig and writers Jessica Sharzer and Darcey Bell. The plot itself, upon viewing, may not be terribly original, but the execution of the tale is where this movie rises above the pack. Add a strong cast that play to their strengths and you’ve got a fun mystery that is quite the palate cleanser from the normal crop of movies that come out towards the end of the summer season. I’d recommend this movie for anyone who is a fan of the actors or for anyone interested in a change of pace from the normal September box office type fare. On a scale of 1 – 10, I’d award this film a 8.5! Grab your tickets, get yourself a cocktail and spend some time with Anna & Blake this weekend. All the cool kids are doing it!

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‘The Predator’ Movie Review

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Everything old is new again. Hollywood keeps giving us remakes and reboots of various movies from the 80s and 90s so it should come as no surprise that ‘The Predator‘ is being revamped for today’s cinema. However, this is one of those rare instances where Hollywood may have found a proper way to go about it. Writers Fred Dekker and Shane Black keep the original film (‘Predator‘) and it’s sequel (‘Predator 2‘) in-play but, thankfully, ignore the later two entries into the franchise. What we get is much more than a remake with a fresh cast and updated effects – this is a follow-up entry that gives us something new while also acknowledging and paying proper homage to its roots along the way.

A quick summation of the slightly complicated plot: A predator crash lands on Earth after fleeing another predator in outer space. A ragtag group of soldiers and a scientist fight to stay alive after they discover that these creatures have not only been to Earth before, but that they are also causing themselves to evolve. There are a lot of moving pieces going on with a multitude of different characters so you definitely have to be paying attention to this film in order to keep up (aka: no bathroom breaks!). That being said, the entire cast does a phenomenal job with their assigned roles in what is truly and ensemble piece. Special credit to Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Trevonte Rhodes, Sterling K. Brown, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane and Jacob Tremblay not only on playing their parts well, but on appearing to be having a great deal of fun doing so! The action scenes are great if, from time-to-time, a bit too unbelievable. The story was good, but I can’t quite put my finger on whether the plot was just a bit overly complex or if it was a case of having too many characters muddying things up. As I said, you will definitely need to pay close attention to avoid missing a detail here or who a character was there, etc. Overall, this film definitely paved a smooth path going forward for a sequel and made for a very enjoyable 1 hour and 47 minutes of movie-going fun! I saw it in standard format but I suspect that an IMAX showing may help increase the “Wow!” factor. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say ‘The Predator’ manages to hunt its way to robust 8. Get out and see it this weekend at a theater near you!!

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‘MacGyver’ Season 2 DVD Review

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I will admit that I’m still one of those people who runs out and buys the actual DVDs & Blu-rays of movies and TV shows. I like to physically have possession of them, I like to change the discs in my video player, I like looking at the lithograph and arranging my collection alphabetically. Filing the season 2 of the new ‘MacGyver‘ series into the “M” section of my collection was almost as satisfying as watching the series itself. For those who are somehow unfamiliar, the new ‘MacGyver’ on CBS is a reboot of an 80’s show of the same name. It follows the adventures of the titular character Angus MacGyver (Lucas Till) who is an operative for a covert U.S. Government agency called The Phoenix Foundation. He manages to rig together (or “MacGyver”) some clever inventions with his ingenuity and whatever items happen to be on-hand to help save the day. He is supported by a team consisting of ex-special forces member Jack Dalton (George Eads), savvy hacker Riley Davis (Tristin Mays) and his best friend Wilt Bozer (Justin Hires). This season is a marked improvement over last season in terms of action, effects and story. But this review isn’t about the season itself. It’s all about the Special Features that the DVD set offers. Let’s get to it!

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The first two items are “Mac Hacks” from both Season 1 and Season 2 of the show. They walk you through how to, on a much smaller scale than in the show, make things like an electromagnet, a Leyden jar, a pulley system, a floor jack, a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher, a chemical detector and many more cool items. A stern warning is given – “DO NOT ATTEMPT TO RECREATE” but I am relatively certain that some people will try to recreate a few of these as they are rather cool.

Next up is a feature called “MacGyver In Cuba” in which members of the crew (I.E. Executive Producer Craig O’Neill and Stunt Coordinator Jeff Wolfe) talk about filming the opening of the season’s first episode. It’s a great behind-the-scenes look at filming the actions sequences on location in Cuba and then getting some of the pick-up shots back in their home base of Atlanta, GA (where the vast majority of the series is filmed).

Then we get into “Saving The Day, Season 2”. This special feature basically serves as a quick synopsis of the season and takes highlights of several of the episodes and provides commentary by members of the cast and crew. It’s always enjoyable to hear the people involved comment on what they loved about a particular scene or the difficulty in doing a certain stunt. This was definitely one of my favorites of the Special Features offered.

Our 5th item on the Special Features list is self-explanatory: “MacGyver: Special and Visual Effects”. Other than the Gag Reel, this was probably the shortest entry on the list and we really only got to see 2 or 3 of the mentioned effects. With such a stunt-heavy show, I feel like this could have been given more content and I confess to being quite underwhelmed by this feature.

A highlight, for me, of any movie or TV series is getting to see the actors as real people. That’s right – it’s the “Gag Reel”. As expected, more of the gag clips come from George Eads and Justin Hires, but there are plenty of clips of the entire cast to go around.

Finally, we get to the “Deleted Scenes” which are always interesting. Usually one can understand why a scene was cut, but it’s still a treat to see that missing piece of the episode that, sadly, had to be relegated to the cutting room floor. We get nearly a dozen scenes here spanning the entire season which is perfect for those of us who can’t get enough ‘MacGyver’ in our lives.

Overall, this was a great season with a lot of bonus features. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say there are enough special features included here to cobble together a solid 7. If you’re a fan of this show, then the DVD set has a lot to offer you and will be available for purchase beginning on September 18 at a suggested retail price of $29.98.

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