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Blu Tuesday: Avengers: Age of Ultron, Entourage and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron”

WHAT: After retrieving Loki’s scepter from Hydra, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) attempt to use its power to produce an army of A.I. robots that can protect the world from any threat. But instead, they create Ultron (James Spader), a maniacal robot hell-bent on destroying the Avengers and remaking the world in his image with the help of a pair of super-powered twins (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen) who have a personal grudge against Stark.

WHY: The first “Avengers” was so much fun that it didn’t seem possible that “Age of Ultron” could be a disappointment, and yet it’s hard not to feel somewhat unsatisfied by the final product. Though it’s a decidedly darker and grittier entry that gives its characters actual problems to deal with, some are more successful than others. It makes sense that the three Avengers who have yet to receive their own solo movies – Hawkeye, Black Widow and Bruce Banner/Hulk – are treated the best in terms of development, but it comes at the cost of other characters, particularly Thor, who gets saddled with a pointless subplot involving the Infinity Stones. Newcomers Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are also given little time to make an impression, and though James Spader is perfectly cast as Ultron, the robot isn’t a very engaging villain. The buffet of characters can be a tad overwhelming, but director Joss Whedon juggles the large ensemble and overstuffed action scenes incredibly well, creating memorable moments within each sequence that are filled with classic Whedon banter. In fact, while it’s arguably one of the studio’s weaker entries to date, “Age of Ultron” is still a mostly enjoyable installment that sets the stage for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With that said, I don’t envy the task ahead for the Russo brothers, because if this film proves anything, it’s that the upcoming two-part finale is going to be an even more daunting proposition than it originally appeared.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by writer/director Joss Whedon, there are four featurettes – covering production, location shooting around the globe, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Infinity Stones – as well as deleted scenes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Entourage”

WHAT: Freshly divorced and raring to get back to work, Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) agrees to star in Ari Gold’s (Jeremy Piven) first movie as studio head under one condition: he also wants to direct it. But when the film goes over budget and Vince asks for more money, the financier’s son (Haley Joel Osment) begins to interfere with the production, pushing Ari to the breaking point as he tries to protect Vince’s vision and his job.

WHY: “Entourage” has always operated as a larger-than-life helping of male wish fulfillment, but while creator Doug Ellin was no doubt seduced by the lure of going even bigger for the film version, it’s refreshing to see that, for the most part, the movie is just more of the same. It’s like a supersized episode of the HBO show, not to mention a welcome return to the lighter, more playful tone of the earlier years that made it so popular. Admittedly, the movie doesn’t hit as many high notes as the series delivered at its very best, but fans of the show will like it regardless, and it might even convince some non-fans to go back and watch it from the start. More than anything else, though, “Entourage” is a fitting farewell to a series that never really felt like it got the ending it deserved, and Ellin embraces that second chance with so much fan service that it occasionally gets in the way of the story. The movie tries too hard to please everyone, resulting in a messy narrative, but it’s also sensationalized, fizzy fun, and as fans of the TV series know only too well, that’s all that counts.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette, a roundtable discussion with writer/director Doug Ellin and the cast, a behind-the-scenes look at Vincent Chase’s movie-within-the-movie, some deleted scenes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Yorkville Cellars offers a delicious look at Mendocino County

California’s Mendocino County is roughly 100 miles north of San Francisco and just above Sonoma County. Its climate and terrain make it a perfect place to grow distinct wines. Yorkville Cellars is focused on Bordeaux varietals. In fact one of their claims to fame is that they’re the only winery known to grow all eight of the main Bordeaux cultivars. I recently tasted through some of their current wines and there is a lot to like. Yorkville Cellars estate vineyards have been certified by the Certified Organic Farmers dating back to 1986, making them leaders in organics. Here are my thoughts on the wines you should seek out.

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Yorkville Cellars 2014 Sauvignon Blanc ($19)

This offering is predominately Sauvignon Blanc (91 percent), with some Semillon (9 percent) blended in. Some of the vines are more than 30 years old. Just fewer than 1,200 cases were produced. Bits of citrus and yellow melon aromas leap from the nose. The palate is stuffed with round, fleshy yellow fruit. Peach, apricot and mango all play a role. An undercurrent of lemon curd is present as well. The long, crisp finish is marked by firm acidity. This Sauvignon Blanc has a really lovely mouthfeel.

Yorkville Cellars 2013 Vin D’une Nuit Rosé ($22)

This vintage of Rosé was produced entirely from Malbec. In fact, this offering marked their first time producing Rosé from Malbec. Oodles of watermelon aromas fill the welcoming nose. The palate is loaded with juicy, red fruit flavors and bits of spice. Red cherry and pomegranate are of note. Cranberry and a bit of black cherry emerge on the finish, along with crème fraiche, white pepper and more red fruit flavors. This is a crisp, fruity and refreshing wine; it screams summer.

Yorkville Cellars 2013 Eleanor of Aquitaine ($28)

This wine is a classic blend of Semillon (70 percent) and Sauvignon Blanc (30 percent). Blending took place after separate lots were aged over five months in French oak. White flower aromas dominate the lovely and restrained nose. Lemon ice, orchard and tone fruit flavors are all in play on the layered palate. Tropical fruit flavors such as papaya and mango fill the long, somewhat lusty finish.

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5 Tips for Being the Ultimate Uber Partner

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Uber is an interesting company that is making strides in the personal and professional transportation industry. Simply stated, Uber gets people from one place to another quickly and cheaply. For a century or longer people have hailed taxi cabs. Today, savvy techies hail a personal ride from an Uber driver partner.
Here are some tips for being the ultimate Uber partner.

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Movie Review: “The Walk”

Starring
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Ben Kingsley, James Badge Dale, Clément Sibony, César Domboy
Director
Robert Zemeckis

Philippe Petit’s death-defying walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974 was previously spotlighted in James Marsh’s Oscar-winning documentary, “Man on Wire.” But for as compelling as that film was, it lacked a key element: footage of Petit’s performance. Recognizing an opportunity to recreate that incredible moment (one that only a small crowd of people had the privilege to experience) on the big screen, director Robert Zemeckis gives Petit’s famous high-wire act the Hollywood treatment with the generically titled “The Walk,” and in IMAX 3D, no less. Though a majority of the movie doesn’t benefit from the premium format, it’s worth the upgrade for the big finale, which utilizes the added sense of depth to showcase the danger and awe of what Time magazine called the “artistic crime of the century.”

The story begins six years earlier in 1968, when Philippe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was just a young artist in Paris performing for audiences on the street. While waiting in a dentist’s office one day with a toothache, Philippe sees an article about the proposed construction of the Twin Towers and immediately becomes obsessed with walking between them on a high wire. Several years later, Philippe meets a street musician named Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) and falls in love, eventually enlisting her help, along with fellow friends Jean-Louis (Clément Sibony) and Jean-Francois (César Domboy), to fulfill his dream. There are a number of logistical issues standing in the way of Philippe’s success – including how they’re going to get a 200-foot steel cable across the gap between the buildings – but with construction on the towers almost complete, the group heads to New York City to put their plan into motion. No amount of surveillance and rehearsal could have prepared Philippe and his team for what they were about to attempt, and yet despite numerous close calls and an injured foot, Philippe emerged at the top of the South Tower on the morning of August 7th, with no harness and 1,368 feet in the air, and proceeded to put on a show for the next 45 minutes, crossing the gap eight times (in addition to some other tricks) before surrendering to the police.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to October

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The awards season machine continues to chug along this month, with several high-profile contenders making their debut, including the latest from Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg and Danny Boyle. Of course, if prestige films aren’t your thing, there are still plenty of options for those who simply want to be entertained, whether it’s Guillermo del Toro’s new gothic horror flick, Vin Diesel hunting witches or the origin story of Peter Pan. This is shaping up to be the best October in recent history, and moviegoers won’t want to miss it.

“The Martian”

Who: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels and Kristen Wiig
What: When he’s stranded on Mars, astronaut Mark Watney must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.
When: October 2nd
Why: Andy Weir’s 2011 science fiction novel, “The Martian,” was one of the most talked about books of that year, so it’s not surprising that producer Simon Kinberg was so quick to nab the rights to adapt it for the big screen. Though director Ridley Scott has been in a bit of a rut lately, the premise for this movie is almost too good to mess up. Matt Damon is the perfect choice to play the stranded astronaut (even if it’s oddly similar to his cameo in “Interstellar”), while the supporting cast is comprised of A-list talent that should be headlining their own films.

“Steve Jobs”

Who: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels and Seth Rogen
What: The true story of the life of visionary Apple CEO Steve Jobs.
When: October 9th
Why: Do we really need another movie about Steve Jobs so soon after the 2013 version starring Ashton Kutcher? Probably not, but the fact that it’s written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Danny Boyle makes it awfully difficult to come up with reasons why you shouldn’t see it, even if the film appears to cover much of the same ground as “Jobs.” Michael Fassbender may not be the first person you’d think of to play the Apple co-founder (Christian Bale was originally attached to the project before dropping out), but he’s an incredible actor who will undoubtedly make up for his lack of physical similarity with yet another top-notch performance.

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