“How to Train Your Dragon” Soars into Your Heart

How to Train Your Dragon
Starring: Voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill
Directors: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders
DreamWorks Animation
Rated PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language

When it comes to CGI-animated films, the conversation generally steers towards “Pixar this” and “Pixar that.” But for the past fifteen years, two studios have dominated the CGI-animated feature film market—Pixar and DreamWorks Animation. The problem is that DreamWorks Animation tends to be thought of as the red-headed step-child. While both studios have turned out hit after box office hit, only Pixar has achieved simultaneous critical success. For too long, DreamWorks Animation has had to live in the shadow of Pixar. All that has changed with DreamWorks Animation’s release of How to Train Your Dragon, a charming and adorable adventure comedy that has given the studio the critical success it has always struggled to attain.

How to Train Your Dragon tells the story of a young Viking named Hiccup (Jay Baruchel). Hiccup has always wanted to become a strong Viking warrior, like his father, Stoick (Gerard Butler), but his small stature, scrawny frame, and meek personality have forced him to apprentice for the local weaponsmith (Colin Ferguson). He longs to become a warrior to seek his father’s approval, and to do so, he plans to kill the deadliest-known dragon, the elusive Night Fury. During one of the frequent dragon attacks on their village, Hiccup launches a net to capture the Night Fury. He succeeds, but since no one saw it, no one believes him. The following day he discovers the tangled dragon. He prepares to kill it, but he cannot—it’s just not who he is. He instead frees the injured dragon and attempts to help it heal. Though apprehensive at first, the dragon, who Hiccup affectionately names Toothless, eventually comes to trust him. Hiccup soon realizes that dragons have been greatly misunderstood. Now he has to prove to his father and his village that dragons and Vikings can peacefully co-exist before the dragon-Viking war goes too far.

Everything about this film clicks. It has a broad range of appeal, with humor and a story that can be enjoyed by all ages, men and women, boys and girls alike. The overall look to the film is something that hasn’t been seen before in a DreamWorks Animation film. The textures, scenery, and character designs are the most realistic looking the studio has ever created. The cinematography also proves to be a visual delight. The scenes featuring Hiccup riding Toothless through the air are an absolute thrill. Each scene of flight is begging to be turned into a rollercoaster ride at an amusement park.

The voice cast behind the characters is also a highlight of this film. Whereas previous DreamWorks Animation titles have relied on A-list celebrity superstars to carry their films (e.g. the “Shrek” films, the “Madagascar” films, “Kung Fu Panda”), How to Train Your Dragon makes the wise choice in casting voice actors that are name and face recognizable, but none have achieved the celebrity status that would overshadow the film. By allowing the story and animation to carry the film, the voice actors aren’t burdened by over-the-top, wacky performances. Their voices suit their characters perfectly, and add a level of authenticity and emotion that is more than welcome.

How to Train Your Dragon has truly brought DreamWorks Animation up to Pixar’s playing level. If they can continue to create films with this kind of compassion and pedigree, the friendly rivalry between DreamWorks Animation and Pixar is about to get really interesting. VUDU is proud to offer How to Train Your Dragon, now available to own for $14.99, and in high-quality HD and HDX beginning October 29th.

DID YOU KNOW?

Acclaimed and award-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins served as a visual consultant to How to Train Your Dragon, assisting in the overall look of the film in order to give it a live-action feel. This is the second time he has done so with an animated film, the first being Pixar’s 2008 film, WALL-E.

The “Grass” Is Always Greener

Leaves of Grass
Starring: Edward Norton, Tim Blake Nelson, Keri Russell, Susan Sarandon, Richard Dreyfuss
Director: Tim Blake Nelson
First Look Pictures
Rated R for violence, pervasive language, and drug content

There are those in the film community that believe a movie should conform to a specific genre—a comedy should make you laugh, a horror should scare you, and an action should thrill you. But then there are those who buck the norm, blending genres, or even leaving the genre vague. Leaves of Grass from writer-director-actor Tim Blake Nelson falls into the latter ideology. It is at times dramatic and poignant, then comedic and farcical, and even at times bloody and thrilling. In a sense, Leaves of Grass has no genre. It is like life, where anything and everything can and does happen.

Edward Norton stars in the dual roles of identical twins Bill and Brady Kincaid. While many twins share similarities, these twins share mainly differences. Bill is a respected collegiate classical philosophy professor, frequently thought of as the leading scholar in his field. Brady grows and sells marijuana, and leads a less than reputable life. Right as everything seems to be going perfectly in Bill’s life, Brady lures him back home to Oklahoma under false pretenses. Much to Bill’s chagrin, he’s forced back into a life he abandoned to help in his brother’s scheme against a local drug lord (Richard Dreyfus). Bill agrees to help Brady only when he realizes Brady is serious about trying to leave the drug business to support his pregnant girlfriend (Melanie Lynskey). Bill also meets one of Brady’s friends, Janet (Keri Russell), a beautiful high school poetry teacher. As he struggles to help Brady become an honest man, he grows closer to Janet, and begins to realize that maybe returning home isn’t so bad after all.

It is a shame that Edward Norton has notoriously made a name for himself as one of Hollywood’s hardest actors to work with. He’s infamously demanded a significant amount of creative control in his films, often alienating writers, directors, and even studios. Despite this reputation, Edward Norton continues to prove he is one of cinema’s finest actors. Leaves of Grass is no exception. Norton completely immerses himself into both Bill and Brady. The scenes where appears on camera simultaneously as Bill and Brady are nothing short of brilliant. Norton’s performances are so convincing and engrossing that it’s easy to forget that special effects were in play to accomplish the dual roles.

The supporting cast also shines in this movie, most notably from writer-director-actor Tim Blake Nelson. He is perfect as Bolger, the slack-jawed best friend and business partner of Brady, a role he’s been accustomed to in the past in the film like “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” He offers great comedic relief to the more dramatic and thrilling scenes. Keri Russell as Janet continues her streak of adorable love interest. Her presence always lights up the scene. As Janet, she pulls Bill out of his steadfast mindset, and opens him up to new worlds and ideas. Cameo performances by Susan Sarandon and Richard Dreyfus also bring emotional and suspenseful elements to this thoughtfully developed story.

When all is said and done, Leaves of Grass is really a story about family. Your family, for better or for worse, is sometimes all you have, and as Bill learns, he better make the most of it. Leaves of Grass is a quirky and provocative indie film that deserved to be seen by more people during its theatrical run. Film critics and film festivals everywhere have hailed the merits of the film. Now is your chance to see what they’re talking about. Leaves of Grass is now available to rent and own in SD, HD, and HDX.

DID YOU KNOW?

Writer-director Tim Blake Nelson only had Edward Norton in mind for Bill and Brady when he was writing the script, so much so that had Norton turned down the roles, he felt like he couldn’t have moved forward with the film. However, Norton was so impressed with the script that he actively pursued the part, to the point that he accepted a salary of half of what he normally makes.

VUDU Unveils Major Upgrades: Adds HDX, Social Media to Streaming Content

Good news, everyone.  VUDU boxes just got more incredible.

The major set top box updates allow our most passionate VUDU customers to experience the full streaming VUDU capabilities enjoyed by our embedded partners’ HDTVs and Blu-Ray Players.  Sweet.

Here are some of the key updates we are rolling out:

  • VUDU Apps: Stream video, browse photos, listen to music on demand and more with a world of apps designed for your HDTV.
  • HDX: Watch HDX movies without waiting for them to download! (Requires minimum broadband internet connection of 4.5 Mbps).
  • Coming Attractions: The best part of the movies?  The previews!  Check out the latest Hollywood trailers directly through VUDU.
  • Social. Media. Tweet and Facebook your favorite flicks. Check out every Tomatometer movie score at Rotten Tomatoes before you rent. Access Wikipedia and the New York Times right on your TV.

The new VUDU experience is entirely streamed to your system so we are able to update and release new features instantly. So keep an eye out for more capabilities and improvements to the set top box.

Enough talk. What’s on the updated VUDU box? Oh yeah, everything.

Want more details? Click here.

“Arrival” of the Fittest

The Arrival
Starring: Charlie Sheen, Ron Silver, Teri Polo, Lindsay Crouse, Richard Schiff
Director: David Twohy
Lionsgate
Rated PG-13 for some sci-fi violence and terror, and for brief language

In the 1990s, the concept of global warming was beginning to gain credibility as a worldwide issue. In the mid-90s, Hollywood hypothesized the effects global warming could have in Waterworld, a film about a post-apocalyptic world where the polar ice caps have melted. Almost a year later, another film would explore global warming, albeit in a far different way. David Twohy’s science fiction thriller, The Arrival explored the notion that climate change was the product of something much more sinister.

Charlie Sheen stars as Zane Zaminsky, an astronomer working on the SETI project—the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. With his partner Calvin (Richard Schiff), they discover a signal from a distant star. However, the signal is too brief for them to authenticate. They are unable to receive support from their boss (Ron Silver), who dismisses the signal as invalid. Obsessed with proving he’s correct, Zane sets up a home satellite system. He rediscovers the signal, only this time it is coming from Earth being sent into space. He tracks the signal to Mexico. He travels there where he meets Ilana Green (Lindsay Crouse), a scientist investigating the dramatic and potential climate change that is plaguing the world. Following the signal’s destination, he uncovers an alien conspiracy, where aliens are pumping greenhouse gas into the atmosphere to raise the temperature. Realizing the alien signal and rising temperature are related, he sets out to expose the conspiracy to the world.

Charlie Sheen might not seem like the most likely choice to headline a science fiction thriller given his current status as star of television’s highest rated sitcom. But before sitcom stardom, Sheen proved his versatility by appearing in everything from sports and war films, to action and dramas. Indeed, as Zane, he proves he has the ability to tackle any role in any genre. He does an amazing job as a man obsessed and utterly paranoid, necessary for any leading star of a conspiracy tinged film.

Twists and turns abound in The Arrival. As with any movie dealing with conspiracies, no one can be trusted, and no one is who they appear to be. David Twohy, who pulled double duty as writer and director, has crafted a taut and engrossing story that pumps up the adrenaline and never slows down. It is more of a mystery story with elements of science fiction thrown into the mix. Sheen’s Zane character is essentially a detective hunting for the truth. It even contains elements of classic noir: a damsel in distress, a shady organization, and even a femme fatale, played perfectly by then unknown actress Teri Polo. As Zane delves deeper and deeper into the mystery, we are taken along for the ride as we try to solve the puzzle with him.

The Arrival has gained notoriety as a cult classic. It’s a great spin on the classic story of alien invasion and aliens living among us. Considering the film’s modest budget, the special effects are excellent, and effectively enhance the film as a whole. The Arrival is now available to own for under $5. Go to “Explore Catalog” and select “Steals for Under $5” for this and many other great films.

DID YOU KNOW?

Waterworld, the other global warming science fiction film from the 1990s, was also written by David Twohy.

A “Splice” of Life

Splice
Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac, Brandon McGibbon, Simona Maicanescu, David Hewlett
Director: Vincenzo Natali
Warner Bros.
Rated R for disturbing elements including strong sexuality, nudity, sci-fi violence and language

If film history has taught us anything, it’s that science should never tamper with nature. From the early days of cinema with Frankenstein to modern films like Deep Blue Sea, scientists meddling with nature invariably results in disaster. Director Vincenzo Natali’s latest science fiction thriller, Splice, is no exception to the rule. Natali has crafted a suspenseful and intriguing film that has instant cult classic written all over it.

Scientists Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) have genetically engineered creatures from a variety of different animals in a process known as “splicing.” The purpose of these creatures is to take the best aspects of other animals in order to create a creature that produces certain proteins. These proteins can then be synthesized to develop drugs that can fight Alzheimer’s, cancer, and a variety of other diseases that plague mankind. Clive and Elsa want to take the next step—introduce human DNA into their experiment to achieve their goal. However, the pharmaceutical corporation that funds their research forbids them, ordering them to focus on their current experiment. Elsa convinces a reluctant Clive that they need to take the next step now while they have the opportunity. However, things don’t go as planned, as their new experiment soon gives birth to Dren (Delphine Chaneac), a human-animal hybrid. As Clive and Elsa struggle to hide her from their superiors, Dren begins to evolve much faster than anticipated, and soon develops violent tendencies that could threaten all of humanity.

As with other films where science goes wrong, the experiment is always initiated with the best of intentions. Clive and Elsa have a noble goal of wanting to cure human ailments, but their vision is short-sighted at best. Sarah Polley gives a versatile and disturbing, yet powerful performance as Elsa. She is completely obsessed with allowing Dren to live. Having grown up with an abusive mother, Elsa sees Dren as her chance to experience a childhood she never had. But Elsa’s family history rears its ugly head, and Elsa displays the abusive traits of her mother. Elsa and Dren’s relationship begins with great hope and love, but ultimately ends in tragedy.

Film history has shown that the “mad scientist” is often a man, so it is interesting to see here that Adrien Brody’s Clive would be the voice of reason, more often than not. However, he often proves too ineffectual. Though he objects to their experiment, he allows Elsa to push forward. His love and commitment to her prevent him from forcing her to stop. His love and commitment, though admirable, blind him from the horrors that are developing. Brody gives an excellent performance as the conflicted Clive, proving once again that he has the ability to take on any role in any genre.

With Splice, the true terror isn’t in the child-like Dren, but in the science itself. The concept of gene splicing is already happening in today’s scientific community. Science fact is rapidly catching up with science fiction—ideas like cloning and teleportation are now realities. Splice’s real horror comes from knowing that what is presented in the film might not be far off. As science and technology rapidly advance, the “what ifs” of science fiction become potential truths. Splice does a brilliant job of playing off this notion, effectively heightening the fear and suspense.

Splice isn’t a horror film, per se. It doesn’t have the conventions of a traditional horror film, but it does create the atmosphere of horror. Splice is the perfect way to kickoff October to lead up to all the thrills and chills of Halloween. Splice is now available to own on VUDU for under $10. For this and other movies of horrific science, go to “Explore Catalog” and select the collection “Science Gone Wrong!”

DID YOU KNOW?

The characters of Clive Nicoli and Elsa Kast are named after actors Colin Clive and Elsa Lanchester. Colin Clive and Elsa Lanchester co-starred in 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein which is thematically similar to Splice.