Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A CHRISTMAS GIFT


There is no way that I can present a Christmas gift to each and every reader of this column. At this time of year I most often let you know about the best Christmas movie to watch. For me that remains constant with IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. But rather than say that once again this year I thought I might pass along some information to each of you, a gift if you will, of something to do with your movie collection in the upcoming year.

For some time now I’ve looked at my movies as they arrived and seen the words ultraviolet and digital on them. The problem was that I never looked deeper into it than in reading those words or noticing the purple and white sheets contained in each DVD. That all changed a while back and now I want to share that with you.

You see we’re moving into a different world, a time when the word digital is becoming more prevalent. First it was music that went from tape to CD to mp3. Now movies are heading that same direction, from VHS to DVD and now to digital format. Like every new idea that comes along the change can be frightening to some. I’m hoping this makes it easy for all of you. If it helps, then my guess is many of you will be placing the DVDs you receive as gifts into your own digital accounts.

To begin with what is this digital world? Well simply put it’s a way for you to take the movies that you own and store them online in the cloud, the ever growing atmosphere of storage that means you can take various items you own and access them through different means. In the case of movies it means you can download the code for the movie you purchased and watch it without ever loading the disc into a machine. It also means you can have access to that movie anywhere in the world as long as you have access to the internet and a device to watch it on like a laptop, PC or tablet. And it’s easier to do than you think. Let me help.

To begin with all you have to do is create an account in your name. Start by going creating an ultraviolet account. Go to www.uvvu.com and do so. It takes just a few minutes and requires little more than an email account, creating a use name & password and a few bits of information. This creates an account to which you can download your digital films. On to the next step.

Log out of that account and you can move on to two different locations to manager your movies, Vudu and Flixster. For myself I prefer Vudu but either will work and both take about the same time and information to start an account. Again, use an email account and come up with a user name and password after supplying some basic information. Go to www.vudu.com to start this. You’ll notice right away that it wants to offer you movies. That’s another benefit I’ll get into shortly.

Once you’ve gone through the registration of this account you can log in. Now you’ll notice that across the top of their page it says “Movies & TV”. If you click on that another offering says “My VUDU”. This will be where your movies and TV series are stored. When you purchase a new movies, let’s use GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY as an example, included in the box the movie comes in is a purple and white sheet that has a code on it. This sheet usually tells you where to go to redeem this code. When you visit that web site it will ask what program to save it under. In my case I select Vudu (though it will be in all of my accounts when I link them together). The other option is to search Vudu for that title. In the case of this film it pops up and I click on it. When the information for the movie pops up you’ll see several options, once of which is “Redeem”. When you click on that it asks for the code on your sheet, you type it in and it adds that movie to your collection. You’re done.

This means that now you can watch this movie anywhere you have the access I mentioned earlier. Not only that you also have the option to share your collection with 5 other people anywhere. This means if you have kids in college and want to share your collection with them you can. Or maybe, as in my case, with your parents. And the sharing doesn’t cost a thing other than time to invite them via email and their creating their own account as well. The nice part is you keep your movies in house while sharing them at the same time.

In using this to store your movies you don’t have to take up shelf space and have easy access to them all. Many blu-ray players come with Vudu installed as do Roku and more. I know that Kindle doesn’t have Vudu but it does Flixster, the other storage program I talked about. All of these programs are user friendly and take little time to deal with. The most time you will spend (other than using it) is in putting all of your movies into it. One thing to note is the difference between TV and movie downloads. Make sure if your download doesn’t show for some reason in one that it isn’t in the other.

Lastly I mentioned that when Vudu opens you’ll see movies for sale. That’s because they also sell digital copies of movies too. For instance as I’m writing this I see A WALK AMONG TOMBSTONES and THE GUEST both available for purchase in advance of their being released on DVD. I don’t know for sure if they open now or the day of release but you can purchase these movie without leaving your home this way at about the same costs you would pay at the local store. The same holds true for select TV series as well. Want to own THE WALKING DEAD SEASON 1? It’s on sale there for $15.99 in HD or $10.99 in standard definition.
As I said in the beginning this is my Christmas gift to you all, a way to store your movies with easy access or to buy new releases without ever leaving your home. So don’t be afraid of new technology and embrace it instead. You’ll find that using ultraviolet isn’t as bad as you might think and might enjoy it. Above all else I would like to wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Click here to go to ultraviolet

Click here to go to Vudu

Click here to go to Flixster

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: HERE TO SAVE THE DAY


The past few years have been very good to movies based on comic books. While those based on DC comics have been slow out of the gate movies based on Marvel comics licenses have skyrocketed. Perhaps the most surprising of these was a movie based on a lesser known and not hugely popular comic that took the box office by storm. Not only was it a surprise hit it just might be the best of the Marvel movies released to date. That movie arrives on DVD this week and is called GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.
The movie opens with a young boy confronted with the death of his mother to cancer. Running from the hospital he finds himself beamed aboard a UFO. Fast forward some years later and we see that boy now grown landing on a desolate planet devoid of human life forms. He steals an orb from a futuristic safe and is then set upon by minions of Ronan the Accuser out to take the orb for their leader. When he tells them his name is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) otherwise known as Star Lord they are less than impressed, not even recognizing it. That adds to their surprise when he takes back the orb and flees with them hot on his trail.

Quill is out to make some money by taking the orb he was sent to steal to a dealer and bypassing his leader, the head of the Ravagers known as Yondu (Michael Rooker). At the same time Ronan (Lee Pace) has set his own special warrior to retrieve the orb, Gamora (Zoe Saldana). The dealer cancels the deal when he learns of Ronan’s involvement and Gamora tries to take the orb. At that same moment an unlikely pair of fortune seekers reads that Yondu has put a price on Quills head. The pair is Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper) who actually is a raccoon, and his partner Groot (Vin Diesel), a walking talking plant. As the four struggle for control of one another they are eventually captured by the space police known as the Nova Corp.

Sent to the worst prison in the universe the four make a deal to get the orb and take it to a buyer Gamora is aware of. It turns out she hates Ronan and is double crossing him. When they arrive at the prison she is set upon by a few inmates, specifically Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista). When Drax learns that Gamora was not responsible for the murder of his family, he joins with the foursome to plan their escape so he can seek revenge.

Escape they do and from there the adventure moves forward with alarming speed. Moving from one part of the universe to another, pursued by Ronan who is working for a cosmic bad guy named Thanos (Josh Brolin) and wanted by the Nova Corp, the five misfits join forces to do what it right. Eventually that comes down to facing off against Ronan after he has taken the orb and utilized it to his advantage. By the third act the now called Guardians of the Galaxy have united with the Nova Corp and try to save a world from being obliterated.

I have to say that words cannot begin to describe how much I enjoyed this movie, so much so that watching it on DVD was my third viewing. I can tell you that it holds up to multiple viewings and is one that I’ll probably watch every few months, enjoying it each and every time. This movie offers the near perfect combination of action, humor, worlds of wonder and space opera unlike any seen before. Watching this movie brought back memories of the first time I saw STAR WARS. It is that good.
The driving force that brought this about was director James Gunn, a man who labored under some truly bad movies for Troma but who has grown into an accomplished director who knows how to do it right. Once you include some amazing performances by all around and in particular Pratt who brings Quill to life, you have a great flick. That is just added to by the eye popping special effects on scene here from the basic aliens done with make up to the state of the art CGI effects that bring Rocket and Groot to life.

While these things combine to make it look great, the story itself takes it over the top. This is a tale of misfits, a group of people who don’t quite fit in anywhere, who band together to form something good. In the process they begin to become friends and to care for one another. At times they frustrate one another and at others they’re willing to sacrifice themselves to save their group as well as the Universe. In so doing these criminals become the greatest of heroes.

This year I’ve seen more movies than usual not just on DVD but in theaters. I can say now without a doubt that this was by far my favorite film of the year. My guess is that due to its popularity and the fact it is comic book based it won’t be nominated for any major awards with the exception of effects. That’s too bad because for me this was the best movie of the year. Add it to your collection today.
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WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL: IT’S ABOUT CHARACTER


There have been a number of movies based on true life tales that involve football. All of them are inspirational in their own way. It seems as movie goers we must love these tales because each one has done well at the box office, some becoming movie favorites that last forever in the hearts of those who view them. Just added to that list is WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL. Does it deserve to be on that list? Indeed it does.
The movie is based around the De La Selle High School Spartans, a team that held an incredible winning streak of 151 games undefeated. No other football team, pro or high school, has held a streak to match. And yet the soul of the team is what makes it special. Coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) does want to have a winning team but for him the most important thing is the team itself, the men that these young boys will one day become. It striving for that goal the winning team follows suit.

The film begins with the team on their winning streak and a new season about to start soon. It offers us a glimpse into how the team comes together to form a bonding unit rather than single stars. At the same time we get a glimpse of how a rising star can fall short of the goals the coach sets out to achieve. It’s not about that single player but about the team as a whole.
And then two crushing blows come to the team. The first is a heart attack suffered by the coach. Secret cigarette smoking has led him to this and it nearly costs him his life. It’s a set back for the team as he works to recover from his illness while his backup coach puts them through the paces that summer as they prepare for next season.

Things go from bad to worse when one of their best players, a young man who has a bright future ahead of him is gunned down. The shooting is the result of his bragging attitude on a basketball court, a gunman who wants to show him he’s not all that he thinks he is. The death of this player affects his best friend most, a player who feels that people are dying all around him and he doesn’t deserve a chance at a better life. The pair had played together since grade school and been in line to start the next year at Oregon University. But the death also takes its toll on the rest of the team as well.
The coach recovers and takes control of the team once again prior to the new season. But something has happened to them in the meantime. The events of the past few months have become a burden on the team. Coupled with the extra burden of carrying on the tradition of no losses it becomes too much and the team is beaten in their first game. Distraught and disillusioned with the game, they now face a dilemma. Can they regain the glory they once had or are they doomed to failure? More importantly has it all boiled down to making records, to being victorious or is it about brotherhood, bonding together and becoming the men that the coach intended them to be from the start?

Fans of football will love this movie. There is more on field action here than in most movies I’ve seen in this genre. At the same time there are the stories of those involved with the team. The coach who has put his family on the back burner for years while getting close with his teams. The son who only wants to have his father in his life as his coach. The young man who feels the weight of having no one left in his life but his little brother and now has the opportunity to move forward. The father who lives so vicariously through his son’s achievements that he places more value on the prizes than he does the affections of his child. These characters and their stories make this movie more than just a football film.
Caviezel does a fine job in the lead, showing a maturity that has come with age and is on display in all his moves. Laura Dern as his loving and supportive wife who longs for more time with him is equal to his performance. Michael Chiklis as his right hand man and fellow coach comes through in a pinch when needed. Clancy Brown as the glory seeking father living through his son’s achievements is the heel of the film and does it gloriously. And each of the young men playing the team members act as a team as much as the characters they portray. They don’t stand out alone but work together to bring the story to life.

The movie is an inspiration as opposed to a look at how football is played. As I said, it’s about the team and the boys who make up that team on their way to manhood. Knowing that someone like coach Ladouceur was out there helping to form these boys this way gives you hope for the future. What more could you ask for?
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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

THE GIVER: A WORLD ALIKE

Movies that predict what our future will be like have always shown a world where something is just not quite right. They’ve veered from the fatalistic showing us a barbaric world with marauding hordes to pristine worlds that had no hope. But on occasion those worlds differ from what we’ve been offered before and we get a glimpse of what could be as well as what we could become.

THE GIVER takes us to a future more in line with that second category. In this future, everyone is content and has their job to do. There is no war, no illness, no suffering. While no one is sad and expressions of happiness are limited, they exist and do well for themselves, living in the Community. Everyone lives in a clean home with a generic family. Young people grow knowing that one day they will be chosen for the job they’ve been destined to do, one they are suited for. But the price paid for this seeming utopia is high. With nothing bad how can anything good be recognized?

The story focuses around Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), a young man about to turn 18 and face his focus in life. But therein lies the problem. While others have known what they were suited for, Jonas has never felt comfortable in any choice. He sees the world differently than most and can’t explain it.

The annual ceremony is held where the elderly are sent to elsewhere and where 18 year olds are given their positions. When Jonas’ turn arrives he is skipped over. This is not because he isn’t suited for a position but because, as they all discover, he is chosen for the most exalted position, that of the future Giver.

When he shows for his assignment at a house on the edge of the Community, he meets the current Giver (Jeff Bridges). He is slowly developed by the Giver to receive information. It has been passed down this way for generations. All that once was is transferred from the old to the new, everything from emotions to history. Jonas is suddenly aware of all that he has never experienced and at first wants more. When he sees pain and war he hesitates though.

With each passing day Jonas feels more alive than ever. In a bland world of black and white he suddenly sees a world of color (they’ve even chosen to forgo colors because it might lead to confrontation). In his joyous state he begins sharing some of these things with Fiona (Odeya Rush), a friend and girl he’s felt something for without ever having been able to recognize that emotion…until now. When he convinces her to stop her morning injections (the entire world has them) she begins to see and feel too.

Under the watchful eye of the government and its main leader the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep), Jonas’ indiscretion is caught. His trying to share things with both Fiona and his family are not taken lightly. His own mother (Katie Holmes), a chief enforcement agent, turns on him and tries to stop him. But with the door open to a new way of living, with the possibilities that are out there, Jonas wants to share this new world and give people the chance at true freedom. When he learns what elsewhere truly means, how it not only does the unexpected with the elderly but with newborns as well, his mind is made up.

With the help of the Giver, Jonas intends to change his world forever. But the entire Community is told he has gone rogue. A land of passivity wants nothing to do with freedom nor the possibilities it holds. The leaders will do everything in their power to stop Jonas. Only he holds the key to the future.

So much of this tale is told in the trailers that were seen before the movie was released. Many already knew the story having read the best seller. What is fun to watch here is the world and its beauty laid out for Jonas to see as his eyes are literally opened. It’s a look at a world that many of us currently take for granted and one that people in his world have no knowledge of.

Everything about the production of this film ranks high. The photography, acting, story and effects combine to make a mystical tale of what could be. What happens in the end, if Jonas can succeed or not, holds you in a tight grip. You’re not sure if he will win the day or be stopped. In today’s films that sometimes happens. But the journey to discover what will occur is one that you will enjoy. Another movie to add to the collection on the shelf.

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THE EXPENDABLES 3: BACK FOR MORE

I’m often surprised by critics who find cause to ridicule action films. They decry the lack of a deep plot, find the acting to be wooden at best and in general discuss how unbelievable the movie is. What they miss is that these are the exact things that fans of those films love about them. This is why little was heard about THE EXPENDABLES 3. Then again it seems they love to pound on star/writer Sylvester Stallone anytime he makes a movie these days.

As most already know the series of films revolve around a group of mercenaries led by Barney Ross (Stallone). Unlike most merc groups this one seems to have a heart and doesn’t take on jobs that they don’t approve of; they’re not a do anything for a buck type group. They’re also very loyal to one another and consider honor something worth dying for.

As the film opens up the team is on and rescue mission, saving a prisoner from a moving train named Doc (Wesley Snipes). The usual hair raising, death defying, explosion filled moments come and go but it isn’t until things settle that we discover this was personal. Snipes was one of their own they just now were able to rescue. In need of his skills for a new mission they set out to get started.

That new mission begins fine with everything moving along as smoothly as possible. Things begin to go badly when the leader of the group of arms dealers they’ve been sent in to stop is revealed. His name is Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) and he’s an ex-member of the group thought to be dead, killed at the hands of Barney Ross. Knowing just how unscrupulous and deadly he can be, the team ends up trying to complete the mission and get out as fast as possible alive.

The team crawls home, wounded with one man out of commission. Barney begins to think perhaps it’s time to move on. Realizing that the men he’s come to love as brothers are in harms way, maybe even more so since Stonebanks knows them in and out, he decides it’s time to bring in new blood to face this threat to the existence of the Expendables. After receiving a threat from Stonebanks, he turns lose the old crew and begins recruiting a new one. Once gathered he leads them on a mission to take out the bad guy.

But things go wrong and the new team ends up in trouble, some captured and filmed by Stonebanks who taunts Barney into coming after him before he takes out “the kids”. When all else seems to be going wrong who but Barney’s original team can back him up to save the day and the new group?

Some have slammed the film asking why Barney would recruit new blood rather than his dependable team. For me this was simple, he was trying to protect them from being killed by someone he thought had the knowledge to do so. Sure it was probably also done to bring in some younger faces which would result in younger audience members. But it might also be a way of giving the series of films longevity with new recruits and eventually a new leader.

The gathering of action stars young and old is a perfect fit for this series, the new faces doing a commendable job. Harrison Ford taking over in the position Bruce Willis once had does a fine job though his days of leaping from vehicles, machine gun in hand may be long behind him. Snipes does a perfect performance here and shows he still has what it takes if only he could get a decent script in front of him. The stand out though is Antonio Banderas who steals the movie from the rest. His character becomes so annoying and yet loveable at the same time that you want to see more of him. Gibson has shown he can portray a fantastic bad guy and continues with this film. The rest of the new faces do an equally admirable job and are fun to watch.

Watching THE EXPENDABLES 3 will not save the world. It will not help push forward a cure for disease. It will not feed the hungry. What it will do is entertain. For 126 minutes you will forget about your day to day problems escape into a world of pure action fueled fantasy. You’ll have fun, you’ll laugh and you’ll wish well for the heroes of the film. For me that’s enough. I’ll add this film to the collection on the shelf and have fun with it more than once. I suggest you do the same.

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THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN: TRULY TERRIFYING

If you’ve read my reviews for some time then you know I’m not a fan of what is known as “found footage” films. For me it usually involves jumpy camera shots that add nothing to the suspense being filmed and just makes me nauseous. That being said on occasion a truly good movie in this genre comes along, but not often. That can’t be said of THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN, one of the scariest and disturbing movies I’ve seen in some time.

The basis for the film revolves around a grad student named Mia (Michelle Ang) who is shooting her thesis around the life of a victim of Alzheimer’s disease, Deborah Logan (Jill Larson). Mia has contacted Deborah through her daughter Sarah (Anne Ramsey), dedicated to her mother but dealing with problems of her own. One of those problems is finances which will improve with the money Mia is paying her to film Deborah’s story.

Mia and her team set the house up with cameras so they can monitor Deborah in every area of the house as the disease takes its toll on her. When they begin those effects will be long term and take some time to manifest as Deborah is in the early stages. But things aren’t always what they seem.

Where most Alzheimer’s patients deal with things like memory loss or short term forgetfulness Deborah has symptoms unlike most patients. She is prone to rages that result in battles with those trying to help her. Eventually as the movie progresses she also begins to do things like have a rash appear on her body which in turn causes her to pull strips of skin from her body. As these symptoms become more alarming she’s taken to the hospital rather than allowed to stay home. Those days have her under observation but she eventually returns to the home she loves.

While we watch the deterioration of Deborah we also get a glimpse into the life of Sarah at the same time. We learn about her personal life, about her hopes to one day sell the house and return to her own place. While she continues to drink throughout the film it’s never quite to the point that it affects her taking care of her mother. But there is something that’s always there beneath the surface that we’re not privy to at first.

Back in her home Deborah begins to show more signs of being not quite there. Footage shot with stationary cameras show her moving faster than seems possible with the time stamp on display. Sleepwalking leads to her doing incredibly strange things like hammering nails into the window panes to nail the windows shut, windows that are later flung open as if the nails were not there. She begins walking the grounds of the property in the middle of the night seeking something but never quite saying what. When Sarah begins to understand what she might be looking for the movie takes a turn into a whole different plane. At that time we begin to wonder is Deborah truly dealing with Alzheimer’s disease or is something more deadly, more sinister at work here. Trust me when I say you don’t want to know the answer but will watch anyway to find out.

The movie works because of one simple thing, it seems real. Rather than have the non-stop jumping camera work seen in so many we fluctuate between that and the surveillance cameras that are picking up what is happening. The combination of the two along with most scenes being shot in a darkened room with nothing more than the light on the camera for illumination makes for some truly skin crawling sequences.

As the film moves into the final chapter it truly becomes frightening in a way that can’t be described without revealing far too much of the story. The camerawork here combined with some fantastic effects make for images that will stick with you long after the DVD is taken out of the player. Add with that performances from all involved that make you feel this is real and not just a movie and you have a disturbing movie that qualifies as true horror.

I can’t recommend this movie enough. For me, it is rare that I find a movie that will make me jump at times and make me feel uneasy. I’ve seen tons of horror films over the years and few of them have that effect on me. This one made my skin crawl at times, made me jump more than once and has left images in my brain that will remain there for some time. The thing is that’s all meant in a good way. To be affected like that by a movie doesn’t happen often and it does that from start to finish. There is no doubt this is one that will stay on my shelf to be watched when I need a good scare or when I need to scare someone else. I dare you to watch it with the lights off.

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NOCTURNA: A RETURN TO REAL ANIMATION

If you’re wondering what I mean by “real” animation I’m speaking of the classic style of animation, drawn for the most part, as opposed to the CGI animation most movies are made from these days. This is not to discredit those films, they’re wonderful as well. But there are times when you just long to see that classic Disney style of animation from the past. So it was a wonderful welcome when I put in NOCTURNA and pushed play. I was taken not just to a time when that form of animation was the standard but to a wonderful world and story that’s great for all ages.

Made in 2007 the movie makes its way to DVD now. The story revolves around a young orphan named Tim, a boy who dreams of a much bigger world and who is obsessed with the stars. That’s in part because he has a fear of the dark. Each night when the lights go out he pushes his bunk bed to the window and unlocks the shutters so he can look at the stars in the sky, in particular one he calls his own.

When his secret handle is stolen so he can’t open the shutters, Tim goes to the roof to look at the stars and notices that they’re beginning to disappear, starting with his star. As he worries about this he notices a large number of cats on the roof followed by a huge person who identifies himself as the cat Shepherd. The cat Shepherd is part of an unseen world to humans, people who control the night and sleep of children around the world. Each cat is supposed to make sure his human child is asleep. Tim’s cat is more prone to sleep on the job rather than help Tim sleep. When Tim tells the cat Shepherd what is going on he receives a deaf ear. When he threatens to stay awake until he sees the man in charge the cat Shepherd takes him to headquarters.

Rather than be taken to this ruler as he wished, Tim is forced to sneak in to see him. At that time he is given a quest to help solve the problem of the missing stars. The journey takes him to various parts of the city at night, eventually landing at a light house where he may or may not find the answer that he seeks. Along the way he bonds with the cat Shepherd and faces dangers that many in this land of night might not survive from if he isn’t successful in his task.

The movie is not only a joy for the eyes with old style animation that glows on the screen but offers a nice story as well. Tim is the hero that children will root for, one of them, a young boy who is afraid of the dark and unwilling to admit it at first. As the story progresses he must face his own fears if he is to save the world as we or they know it. It’s a story of heroism in the face of danger but not a danger that might seem actually life threatening to a child.

The movie holds your attention from start to finish with what has been described as a Tim Burtonesque style of city. I can see the comparison a bit but not near as much as most. There are similarities but not enough that this movie doesn’t offer its own world for us to enjoy. The characters we are treated to are at times odd, at times humorous and always interesting. Tim’s acceptance of each of them displays the innocence of a child who doesn’t see the differences in the rest of the world.

The movie offers a great story, great animation and a lesson that all children can benefit from by the last panel. It offers something rare to find these days, entertainment that the entire family can enjoy without adults being bored and that children will be delighted to watch. For some just looking at the visual treat will be enough. I’d suggest that you take it all in though and enjoy every bit of it. Not one to rent but one to put in your collection, even if you don’t have children.

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