Category: DVD Reviews

Top 5/Bottom 5 of 2011

It’s the New Year, which means all of the movie sites are slapping together “Best of” lists and starting their Oscar predictions. I don’t bother with Oscar predictions (that would require caring about the Oscars) but I do like to put together a Top 5/Bottom 5 just in case you missed something good or want to revisit a terrible movie and make fun of it some more. Only movies that I’ve seen count, so there are about 65 movies in contention out of the six million or so that were released in 2011. My criteria for winners and losers are rather nebulous – it all boils down to how I feel about it rather than acting or the directing or the effects or whatever.

Wondering if I picked what you’d pick? Click below to find out!

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Eragon: It’s Star Wars With Dragons

For a long time, I was completely puzzled by the fact that I liked the movie Eragon enough to buy a copy, but I couldn’t get through more than a chapter of the book version by Christopher Paolini before tossing it aside, annoyed at its juvenile language (he was, after all, fifteen when he wrote it) and blatant lifting of world rules from other stories. The world is heavily influenced by The Lord of the Rings, the dragon rules are the same as the ones from Anne McCafferty’s Chronicles of Pern series, and so on.

Eragon the book vs the movie

Movie: awesome. Book: lame. Go figure.


I was rewatching the film for the first time in years the other day when it hit me: The Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Pern weren’t the only things Paolini copied off of. The plot was lifted wholesale from Star Wars! I like Eragon because it’s basically A New Hope with dragons.


Eragon is Star Wars with dragons


Observe. Here is the plot of Eragon, with the Star Wars equivalencies in brackets. If you don’t want any spoilers, stop reading after three paragraphs. But keep in mind: if you’ve already seen Star Wars: A New Hope you already know the ending.

Eragon (Luke Skywalker), a young farm boy being raised in backwater called Carvahall (Tatooine) by his Uncle Garrow (Owen) is disappointed that he can’t go off and have adventures like his cousin (friend) Roran (Biggs). Then one day he comes across an egg (droid) that gives him a vision (hologram) of the princess Arya (Leia) who needs his help. The egg (droid) hatches into a dragon (runs away) and Eragon (Luke) must turn to the village crazy man Brom (Ben Kenobi) for help.


Arya is Princess Leia

Help me Brommy Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope!


Eragon (Luke) find out that he is the last of the dragonriders (Jedi) who were all wiped out in a war over dragons (The Clone Wars) except for Brom (Ben), who is now in hiding in Carvahall (Tatooine). Chief bad guy Galbatorix (Grand Moff Tarkin) tracks the egg (droid) to Carvahal (Tatooine) and sends his underling Durza (Darth Vader) and his minions the Razac (Stormtroopers) to kill Eragon (Luke)’s Uncle Garrow (Owen) to try and get the egg (droid) back because it contains a dragon named Safira (Death Star plans) that could ruin them.


Brom is Ben Kenobi

Here, this is your father’s lightsaber… I mean sword.


Now that there’s nothing left in Carvahall (Tattooine) for Eragon (Luke), Brom (Ben) convinces him to go on a quest across the land (galaxy) to bring the dragon (Death Star plans) to the Varden (Rebel Alliance) who will use it to vanquish Galbatorix’s regime (The Empire). So first they travel to Darfit (Mos Eisley), which is a hive of scum and villainy, to get help on their travels. There they pick up a young warrior (pilot) named Murtagh (Han Solo) who will show them the way to the Boer Mountains (Alderaan). Before they can leave Darfit (Mos Eisley), they’re attacked by the Razac (Stormtroopers) and they have to high tail it out of there.

On the journey, Eragon (Luke) learns about magic (the Force) from Brom (Ben) and obsesses over the princess Arya (Leia). When Eragon (Luke) receives has a vision (feeling) that Arya is being held in a fortress (Death Star), he disobeys Brom (Ben) and goes looking for her in the dungeon (detention level). He is almost caught by Durza (Darth Vader) who can do a scary mind poke (force choke) but is helped out by Murtagh (Han) and rescued by Brom (Ben), who sacrifices himself to save Eragon (Luke).


Durza is Darth Vader

I will bend you to my magical will, etc.


Eragon (Luke), Mutagh (Han), and Arya (Leia) escape to the Boer Mountains (Yavin 4) on a dragon (Millennium Falcon) where the Varden (Rebel Alliance) has a secret hideout (base). Unfortunately they are followed by Galbatorix’s army (the Death Star), which is poised to wipe them out if they don’t do something quick.


X wings are dragons

Like blast them!


Eragon (Luke) suits up in armor (a flight suit) to use his skills as a dragonrider/magician (X-wing pilot/Jedi) to help the Varden (Rebel Alliance) win the battle. He hopes Murtagh (Han) will help out, but it turns out that he the son of their enemy (a scoundrel) and he is thrown in jail (takes off with his reward) instead. Eragon (Luke) is very effective against the enemy until he has to go head to head with Durza (Darth Vader) on dragons (starfighters). Eragon (Luke) uses his magic (force skills) to win, but his friend Safira (R2-D2) is badly injured and only help from Murtagh (Han), who came through at the last second, can save them.


Murtaugh is Han Solo

Yahoo! You’re all clear, kid! To do… whatever.


After this climax, Galbatorix’ regime (the Empire) is weakened and Eragon (Luke), Safira (the droids), Murtagh (Han), and Arya (Leia) are heroes.

It’s so obvious, I can’t believe I missed it when I watched it the first time. I’m not the only one who has noticed it, either. There’s a whole thread devoted to Eragon‘s similarities to Star Wars on IMDB. There are even a few tidbits (Eragon rushing off to the fortress like Luke rushed off to Bespin, the ending, Durza killing a minion with magic for screwing up and then promoting the one underneath him) that are lifted from The Empire Strikes Back.

Which begs the question: how did this get published, let alone made into a movie, and how long will it be before George Lucas figures it out and sues the pants off them?

And why do I still like this movie??

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The Quiet Earth Review

I was looking forward to this Friday. I was going to see Country Strong, and I was going to like it. And then I was going to write a review of how I liked it. Friday came, and I went online to buy my ticket. AND IT WASN’T PLAYING! What gives!? It’s a big movie. It’s been advertised everywhere. It has big names in it. Apparently the bastards-that-be at Empire Theatres just decided that I don’t get to see it. Instead, I had the choice of Season of the Witch or nothing. I chose nothing, because the last thing I want to do is reward those stupid theater people for screwing me over. So Empire Theatres’ loss was Blockbuster’s gain. The movie I’m reviewing for you this week is The Quiet Earth. Here’s a run down on what it’s about:

A scientist working at an astronomical observatory in New Zealand wakes up to find that he seems to be the only person left on Earth.

What a killer idea for a movie, eh? Are you surprised you’ve never heard of it? Well, that’s because it’s a sci-fi movie from New Zealand made in the 1980s, so that’s three strikes against popular dissemination. I had originally intended to review Flipped, which is what I rented from Blockbuster, but although it was cute, plenty of reviewers have called your attention to it already, and I have way more to say about The Quiet Earth.

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Top 5 and Bottom 5 Movies of 2010

happy old year
Well, 2010 is over. Even though, if you’re like me, you still keep writing 2010 on everything, it’s officially 2011 now and time for a whole new crop of movies. Before I push on, however, I’d like to go back and review the best 5 and worst 5 movies I’ve seen this year, just in case you were living in a cave or something and now you have time for five movies ONLY before you go back in again. Those of you who’ve read my top 5/bottom 5 of 2009, know that only movies I’ve seen are in the running and since I am not a bottomless well of time and/or money, I can only see one a week (sorry, The Town, and Get Low you missed out) and I generally try not to pick ones I KNOW are going to be horrible. You know, like a normal person.
So onward, with the normal non-rich person’s bestest and worstest movies of 2010!

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Thunderstruck Review

poster from the movie thunderstruck

Do you know AC/DC is Australian? I didn’t, at least until I watched Thunderstruck. No, it’s not a documentary or a concert video or a music video of the famous song. It’s an Australian road trip comedy. Since I’m away this weekend at Hal-Con, I thought I’d review Thunderstruck and continue the “review Australian movies on DVD when I go away” trend that I started in August with Newcastle. If you haven’t heard of Thunderstruck (and very few people have) it goes like this:

Four washed up AC/DC fans reunite to steal their dead friend’s ashes and bury them next to former AC/DC singer Bon Scott.

Despite the emphasis on AC/DC, you don’t have to be a fan of the band, or even know of the band, to enjoy this movie. The boys know enough about AC/DC to cover for your lack of knowledge and at heart it’s a road trip movie about friends and unfulfilled dreams, which pretty much everyone can relate to. Plus, it’s just plain fun to watch.

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Newcastle Review

poster from the Dragonfly Pictures film Newcastle

I love water. I also love Australian movies. So when the auto-suggester on my DVD rental company’s website suggested an Australian water-sports film called Newcastle, I rented it right away. I’ve written a bit about this movie already in my article on Australian Dopplegangers but I’m only just now getting around to doing the review because it’s been such a busy summer for movies. (I’d see another theatrical film this week, but I’m at Girl Guide camp.)

Anyway, Newcastle is set in the Australian town of (you guessed it) Newcastle, which is a mid-sized industrial town just north of Sydney in New South Wales that everyone seems to want to escape from. (You may remember this from another Australian film – about tap dancers this time – called Bootmen). Here’s what the movie’s about:

Jesse, a teenage surfer, struggles to balance his dreams of becoming a pro surfer, his tumultuous family life, and having fun with his mates when he fails to make the cut for entry into the big-time surfing contest hosted in his hometown.

It’s kind of a nebulous logline, I know, but it’s kind of a nebulous movie. Not by any means bad, but like the tagline about being young forever suggests, Newcastle’s story is about as focused as a teenage boy’s attention span.

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Love Happens Review

image copyright Universal Pictures

So, you remember that “recession” thing, right? The one where everyone stopped making so much money and had to cut back on fun stuff? Well, if you’re disappointed I’m not reviewing a theatrical film and looking to lay blame, lay it on the recession. I actually have to PAY for my tickets, remember? Anyway, so today’s film is Love Happens, which was released last year but is not a remake of the film of the same name from ten years ago that you’ve probably never heard of but will come across if you IMDB the title.

THIS Love Happens stars Aaron Eckhart and Jennifer Aniston goes something like this: A new relationship with an eccentric florist forces a psychologist who leads seminars in grieving to finally come to terms with his own loss.

Sounds depressing, right? And maybe also a little boring and formulaic? Yeah, it did to me too when I read the blurb, but these two actors have a decent track record for picking movies so I gave it a shot and liked it.

Click here to see why I would call it interesting, hopeful, and only semi-formulaic:
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Free Willy 2 Review

It’s Christmas vacation, which means it’s time once again to delve into your movie collection and find something inoffensive you can put on when your parents, grandparents, nieces, nephews, and tiny innocent puppies come to visit and you find yourselves at loose ends.

The ideal film for this sort of gathering is one that takes no risks, pushes no envelopes, and doesn’t even need 100% of your attention, which is I guess what the New York Times reviewer meant when she called Free Willy 2 “the ideal family film.” I can’t imagine another context in which that statement would have been appropriate other than “the ideal family film… to pass over at the rental store.”

So for those of you who are looking for a mindless, bland-across-the-board, background film to supply flickering lights to a room without a fireplace, Free Willy 2 is indeed ideal.

It follows the kid from Free Willy and his little brother (that they had to throw in there to preserve their under-10 demographic because the original kid is like 16) as he goes on a Pacific Northwest camping trip in search of whales and girlfriends and ends up trying to save them all from an oil spill.

This is pretty much all you need to know if the only people who are going to be paying attention are under 10. However, if you can’t avoid watching the idiot box when it’s on and want to know how badly this movie is going to make you want to drill through your own head:

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Taken Review: The Fist That Walks Like A Man

It’s almost Christmastime, and if your dad is anything like my dad, you’re probably out there looking around for some smash-em-up movies on DVD or BluRay to present to the man who has everything on Santaday.

My dad’s already seen this one (and given it two broken, electrocuted thumbs up), so I thought I would generously donate it to you as a gift idea.

The generic, nonjudgmental blurb for Taken would go something like this:

When his teenage daughter is kidnapped, a former spy working a security detail must plunge headfirst into the world of gangs, drugs, and prostitution to get her back.

For females and other discerning persons wondering whether to offer to watch it with dad, or trying to mentally disentangle this particular shootyfest with the litany of other, similar shootyfests you’ve seem, here’s my more judgmental take:

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Terminator Salvation Review, or Why You Should Never Get Into a Helicopter With John Connor

 good Terminator Salvation poster: the one without the giant metal face

Six years after the rather lackluster Terminator 3 came out and one year into the canon-bending Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles improbably named director McG got the go-ahead for a fourth film in the Terminator series: Terminator Salvation.

Terminator Salvation picks up the “John Connor is the hero of humanity” story from the first three Terminator films, but in the future, then the machines rule. Instead of following John this time, our hero is Marcus Wright a convicted murderer who wakes up in post Judgment Day Los Angeles fifteen years after his own execution to find himself in the middle of an all out war between the last remaining humans and the machines controlled by Skynet.

Sounds cool right? Unfortunately some people, even some people who are Sam Worthington have criticized Terminator Salvation for being plot-holey and a little unfocused. (FYI Sam Worthington played Marcus Wright, in case you were wondering why anyone cares what he says).

Click below to read more about that these mythical “some people” say, and what I say back to them.

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