I think I see your problem. You have this list. It’s a list of people you need/want to buy a Christmas gift for. The trouble is that they’re into home theatre, and you don’t know Star Trek from Star Wars. You couldn’t tell a Wolf Man from a Wolverine. And you always thought that Paranormal Activity was something too kinky to talk about. Fortunately, Upcomingdiscs has come to the rescue every Christmas with our Gift Guide Spotlights. Keep checking back to see more recommendations for your holiday shopping. These gift guides ARE NOT paid advertisements. We take no money to publish them. With conditions as they are, shopping won’t be easy this season. The nice thing about discs is that they’re so easy to get from places like Amazon that you can give a great gift and stay perfectly safe while you do it.
Universal has made it easy to share an entire library of films in specialized 10-film Blu-ray collections. The collections are based on the output of the various subdivisions of the studio and feature some blockbusters as well as holiday favorites.
Illumination Presents 10 Movie Collection:
Despicable Me, Despicable Me 2, Despicable Me 3, Minions, The Secret Life Of Pets, The Secret Life Of Pets 2, Sing, Hop, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax and Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch.
Highlights of the set include:
Probably the most silly of animated films this year, and that’s a good thing for Sing. Enjoyable, very funny, touching, and absolutely incredibly wacky. The family film targets children, but the adults will enjoy it a lot more than the average toon. I’m surprised the filmmakers waited so long to put the film in theaters, but with no children’s anime to stop it from becoming a blockbuster, it’s a very possible chance it will.
Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey voiced), the grandson of a theatre owner, has the tough job of bringing the venue back to its glory after he inherited the entertainment palace. Heading for oblivion, he will have to come up with entertainment that will bring in the crowds, or it’s doomsday for the young entrepreneur. With his back to the wall, he comes up with a contest for the best singer who will win $1,000, every cent he has to his name.
His assistant, Karen Crawly (Garth Jennings) doesn’t have a clue about her job, but takes orders just the same. One of her duties is to print out the flyers that will be spread all over town for the competition. But, unbeknownst to Buster, Miss Crawly makes a typo on the flyer offering $100,000 to the winner, and a gust of wind blows them all over the city.
The candidates line up for the auditions in droves, taking the whole day to go through the contestants The Voice-style. Directors Christophe Lourdelet and Garth Jennings (who also wrote the script) put their funny cast of animal characters to the test as they try to win the big money. Likable, lovable, kooky, and corny, the singers take the stage one by one belting songs, crooning, and even dancing to their lyrics. The show’s a stitch, and the theater owner Buster Moon has all the pain, nervous conditions, and problems that every production manager has when their back’s to the wall.
Needless to say, the film really makes the grade for the holidays and sets its sights for a huge box office because of school break. Nicely animated, the characters take on the soft, puffy animation that the producer Janet Healy and Associate Producer Brett Hoffman have used in their films Despicable Me and Secret Lives of Pets. Huggable and squishy, it’s the thing right now in animation for families, and especially the youngsters.
Despicable Me 1-3
The Despicable Me series that includes Minions never seems to get tiring as they extend their comedy one more time with Despicable Me 3, opening this weekend. The key to the filmmaker’s success is the handling of the characters and inserting them into the animated movie with a plan in mind.
That plan consists of starting with a little comedy involving the Minions, then working into some intense action that leads to a champion who either succeeds or fails. In the meantime there are multiple stories going on with each one targeting certain audience members. Sounds complicated? Well, the best comedy adventure is intricate, and Illumination Studios does that very well.
The lovable characters are back again with a new twist on Gru’s (Steve Carell) employment. It seems that the government has hired him as a partner for Lucy (Kristen Wiig) in the Secret Service following their marriage. Gru, now an agent looking for the bad guys instead of being one himself, seems to have found his goal in life.
Recovering the largest diamond in the world from super-thief Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), but not arresting him, however, wasn’t good enough for Valerie Da Vinci (Jenny Slate), the new agency director. So in a fit of rage she kicks Gru and Lucy to the curb, leaving them without jobs. On top of all that, the Minions have turned a cold shoulder, because Gru has now become a softie.
Lost and forlorn, Gru gets word that he has a twin brother name Dru (also Steve Carell) and goes to Mom (Julie Andrews) to find out why she never told him. He meets his twin and the two hit it off, especially because Dru wants to be a bad guy to continue the family tradition, something he was not allowed when he was a child. In the meantime, Lucy has been trying to be a mother to Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel), but striking out. Unfortunately Margo, her biggest critic, has been very little help, but that’s all about to change.
This sets the scene for a lot of laughter from a number of ridiculous situations in the world of Despicable Gru. Among them are a sneaky way to steal back the largest diamond, Agnes finds a new pet, Lucy becomes a mama bear, and there’s a little harmony in the jailhouse featuring “Kevin and the hundred minions”.
But it’s not all roses for Despicable Me 3. While it’s better than Despicable Me 2, it lacks the surprises of the first film. So we have to take the bad with the good and accept the repetition as if it were the first time through, the action with a lot of nonsense, and the kiddie heartwarming scenes with less tears of joy. That said, if you like the series so far, then you won’t want to miss this chapter I have dubbed “family matters”.
Dreamworks 10 Movie Collection:
Shrek, Spirit: The Stallion Of The Cimarron, Kung Fu Panda, How To Train Your Dragon, The Croods, Home, Trolls, Boss Baby and Abominable.
Boss Baby (2017)
“Survival of the fittest. It’s the law of the jungle. There’s always someone trying to take what’s yours. How do I know? It almost happened to me.”
Where the heck has Alec Baldwin been lately? I seem to recall he was a pretty hot A-list movie star actor at one time. There was The Hunt For Red October, and then there was… OK, forget the A-list movie star bit. He was really an A-list television star. He killed it in 30 Rock, and then of course there was… OK. Reset. Now I remember. There was that hugely popular radio talk show he had going on for, what was it, five minutes? Hey, at least he’s having fun spoofing Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live. Easy gig, all he really has to do is pretend to be Alec Baldwin. Just when I honestly had completely forgotten the guy, he shows up as the voice for an obnoxious baby on Boss Baby. Who said typecasting was dead?
It appears there is just so much love in the world, and it’s a bitter competition to get a good share of that love. There are two companies playing tug-of-war with the world’s love supply. On one side there is Baby Corp. That’s where babies come from, and they’ve been cranking them out as fast as they can. Some of the babies who show a special toughness get selected to drink a magical formula that keeps them babies forever. These chosen few are the executives who run Baby Corp. They are now also being used to infiltrate the families of their fierce competition in the love department, PuppyCo. Their leader, Francis Francis (Buscemi), has a plan to unleash a new secret weapon that will shift the balance of love from babies to puppies. It’s the Forever Puppy.
The leader of the infiltration team from Baby Corp is Boss Baby (Baldwin). He ends up being the unwanted brother to Tim (Bakshi), who is used to having all of his parents’ love. So that competition for love exists on the micro-level in homes like Tim’s. When Tim discovers that Boss Baby can talk and has a team of other talking babies, he hopes he can get all his love back by exposing the plot. Of course, when Tim discovers that Boss Baby will leave if his mission is accomplished, he decides to help with the plot, and the expected and inevitable bonding starts to happen. It’s all narrated by the older Tim, voiced by Tim McGuire, who has a daughter about to go through the same kind of experience.
The material had to be fleshed out a bit here. It’s all based on a very short children’s book by Marla Frazee. Of course most of the intrigue was added to what was really a look at a toddler’s learning of vocabulary. Not the most captivating of movie subjects. So there is a lot of stuff thrown in, most of it pretty standard stuff for animated kids’ films. You see the jealous new arrival in many of these stories going back to Toy Story and The Secret Lives Of Pets among many others. It’s always the same idea. The two are thrown into an adventure where they learn to like each other. Likely, that’s the way it is with real siblings. One tends to be somewhat hostile toward our brothers and sisters until an outside force threatens them. There’s a lot of that here.
Kung Fu Panda (2008)
Jack Black stars as a Panda named Po who works in his family’s noodle shop. His dreams, however, aren’t of noodles and broth, but of Kung Fu. He fantasizes of hanging out with the famous furious five, the living legends of Kung Fu. The five are made up of the actual animal poses in Kung Fu. You have Tigress (Jolie), Crane (Cross), Monkey (Chan), Mantis (Rogen), and Viper (Liu). Together they have been training with the Master Shifu (Hoffman). Under the guidance of Grand Master Oogway (Duk Kim) they are preparing for one of them to take on the mantle of Dragon Warrior. Then they will inherit the sacred Dragon Scroll and be the great protector of Peace Valley. When Po learns that the time has come to select the Dragon Warrior, he just can’t miss being witness to such an awesome event. The palace is high on a great mountain, and Po tries all silly means of getting to the event. Finally, strapped to a fireworks-propelled chair, he makes a grand entrance and finds himself selected as the Dragon Warrior. Much to the dismay of all gathered, Master Oogway insists that Po will become the great warrior needed to protect the Valley. Shifu must overcome his own doubts and work fast, because the imprisoned Tai Lung (McShane) has escaped from the world’s most secure prison. “One way in. One way out. One thousand guards and just one prisoner” Tai Lung. Tai Lung wants the dragon scroll for himself, and not even the Furious Five are able to stop him. Po must learn the “secret ingredient” that will give him the strength and courage to face up to this most ferocious of enemies.
The CG animation craze has no shortage of lovable and cute animals these days. It seems that the animal kingdom has become the greatest fodder for these family animated blockbuster films. Dreamworks might be in the lead with these kinds of efforts. They’ve given us bears, penguins, and lions among others. Now they deliver perhaps one of their better ideas in a lovable Kung Fu Panda. As much as anything else, you really have to give most of the credit for the film’s success to Jack Black and the wonderful voice cast that support him here. Honestly, the script is pretty simple, and like most children’s films it tends to be oversimplified and rather silly throughout. But give a cast like this an even average script and you can pretty much sit back and watch them go. OK, maybe sit back and hear them go.
All of the cast is very good here. The animators did a fantastic job of designing creatures that fit the voices, or the casting crew did an equally fantastic job in picking the right voices for the right characters. Whatever way, it worked, and I suspect it was a little of both; the combination is the film’s greatest strength. The standouts are unquestionably Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman. The two breathe life into their characters with such ease that they become real and totally believable to us.
The Croods (2013)
For years it seems DreamWorks Animation has been living in the shadow of Pixar. Sure, DreamWorks has had their success with Shrek and Ice Age, but when you stack the films next to Pixar’s library, you see Pixar just seems to be the best at what they do. That is until The Croods came along; with the new DreamWorks release it would appear the animation studio has stepped up their game and released their best-looking 3D film to date. My expectations were not too high with this release, but I was at least relieved I wouldn’t be watching Ice Age Ten: The Ice is Still Melting. With a theater screening filled with what appeared to be thousands of little screaming children (remember in Gremlins when they were watching Snow White?) before the film I had been face- palming myself, feeling this had been a bad idea, but once the lights dimmed and the film began, my worries faded away. The story may be a little weak, but there is something there that hooked me and kept me engaged throughout the Croods’ journey, and it turned out to be good eye candy that the entire family can enjoy.
From the start no time is wasted as Eep (Emma Stone) narrates the dangers of living in this dangerous world. As far as Eep knows, she and her family, the Croods, are the last of their kind. Fearing the night (and everything unfamiliar or unknown) the family takes shelter in a cave until the sun reappears and everything is thought to be “safe” by Grug (Nicolas Cage), the father and leader of the group. Grug is a neurotic, overprotective parent who simply expects at any point something could happen and kill them all, so with the exception of family hunts, they never stray too far from the cave. And as a teenager, living this cramped lifestyle surrounded by her family is becoming overwhelming for Eep, and her sense of adventure (and being a rebellious teen) is just too much. Besides, living in a cave with your overbearing father, mother, brother, and grandmother from sunrise to sunset is enough to make anyone want to venture anywhere despite all forms of danger.
Eep manages to escape the cave after seeing a light in the middle of the night. She’s mesmerized by this light that seems to travel on its own along the canyon walls. The light eventually leads her to a young man disguised in a warthog costume who claims to be able to create fire. Guy (Ryan Reynolds), possibly the only other human in this prehistoric world, believes that the world is ending and claims it’ll be destroyed by earthquakes and fire and that to survive they must escape. When Grug wakes to discover his daughter is missing, it’s no surprise when he panics and goes after her.
After the inevitable destruction of the cave, it seems there may be something to these prophecies Guy is having. The film then shifts gears and turns into a road-trip-esque type picture. To some extent this could be the story of the first family road trip with enough disastrous hilarity to make any Griswold smile. Grug’s constant disappointment as Gran (Cloris Leachman) manages to survive throughout the film is one of the film’s highlights that seemed to deliver laughs from the audience, though my favorite bit with her involved Grug using her as a coin to flip in the air.
The world the Croods venture into is dangerous and beautiful but seemed to remind me too much of the world of Pandora that Cameron created in Avatar. The creature designs are absurd and beautiful all at once (elephantmice for example). The moment the characters entered this new land, all I could think about is how I wished we were brought here sooner, and it simply left me wanting more. Later in the film the animators show off with a 180-degree diving scene plunging the character in the water. It’s these visuals that are worth forking over the cash and escaping to this other world the 90-plus minutes.
Focus Features 10 Movie Spotlight Collection
“You’ll die right here. On a frozen, blood-soaked battlefield, the moans of a generation of young men in your ears, dying in agony around you, for a lost cause. For a vile and wicked idea! For the sin of slavery! Can you hear them? God don’t mean people to own people, Gideon!”
Harriet Tubman, born Araminta Ross, is a staple of black history. Her deeds have been told and retold in history books for generations as one of the most successful conductors of the Underground Railroad, a network of anti-slavery activists and safehouses. Aside from her contributions to history, I knew very little about her individual history; that is a failing of mine. I’m not sure that an autobiographical film is the best avenue to correct this failing, given the propensity for things to be altered and sensationalized in order to draw crowds. However, even a sensationalized film has to have some basis in fact. Therefore, I am glad that this film made it into my queue, as it gave me a better understanding of Tubman’s accomplishment than I had previously. Bad Times at El Royale’s Cynthia Erivo takes on the monumental task of representing the historical figure on the silver screen, joined by Leslie Odom Jr. and Janelle Monae.
Araminta Ross is a slave married to a free man on the Brodess farm along with her mother and sister. Two of her sisters have been sold to another slave owner. When her father approaches Mr. Brodess regarding an agreement his great grandfather made to free Minty’s mother, Harriet Ross. when she reached the age of 45 (despite the fact that the mother has surpassed the agreed upon age by more than a decade), Brodess reneges on the deal. causing Minty to pray for his demise. Skeptical of such a thing, Brodess dismisses her prayers, that is, until his death. Upon his death, his son, Gideon, decides to sell Minty as punishment. Minty flees alone rather than be sold, not allowing her family to join her due to risk.
She is pursued by Gideon, and rather than face consequences, jumps from a bridge and is presumed dead. However, she makes it to Philadelphia where she meets Marie Buchanon and writer/abolitionist William Still. Inspired by their cause, Minty reinvents herself, and becomes one the greatest conductors of the Underground Railroad. As her accomplishment become legend, so does her speculation regarding her origins, putting her on a one-way track to confront the demons of her past.
“I’m gonna be free or die.”
That is the story, and though I do believe there to be many elements of matters being sensationalized, I must admit to it being a very compelling story. Interestingly enough, based on my own cursory research, the story appears to closely resemble fact, including the bit about sustaining a head injury in her earlier life and her experiencing vision and vivid dreams. It turns out that she was struck in the head by an irate slave owner with a heavy metal weight. According to historical record, Harriet believed the vision to be premonitions for God, just as it is illustrated in the film. I found that tidbit to be of particular interest, because I initially figured that bit had to be a product of the aforementioned sensationalization. As it turns out, it was true. Further speaking to the historical accuracy was the fact that Harriet did in fact escape from the Brodess family. Whether or not it was a Gideon Brodess, I cannot say, but given the other facts, I deem it to be possible.
That’s 30 films in just three gift sets. That’s a lot of family time. “Double the guards. Double the weapons. Double everything.”