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DVD Releases for November 30, 2010

Twilight Saga: Eclipse

This is the unnecessarily long-named third movie adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, the first two being Twilight and New Moon. It’s about an ordinary girl with a vampire boyfriend and a werewolf almost boyfriend and a psycho vampire enemy sending armies of other vampires after her. It stars Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, and Taylor Lautner, whose faces adorn every issue of Tiger Beat magazine. I am a notorious non-fan of the Twilight series, so it may surprise you to learn that I actually like this movie. Read the full review to find out why this does not mean the Earth is about to fall into the sun.

Buy Twilight Saga: Eclipse on DVD or on Blu-Ray

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The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

If you saw the Harry Potter movies and wished they were lamer, more American, and filled with annoying and/or awful actors, then this is the movie for you. Jay Baruchel plays a NYC college physics student, Nicholas Cage plays a greasy man who can do magic. Saving of the world ensues. It’s not so aggressively bad that it wouldn’t be good to rent if you were bored and wanted to watch a bit of mindless action, but don’t expect anything clever. Most of the cool stuff is ripped off of other (better) movies. Even kids, who have notoriously low standards, won’t be terribly impressed. You can read my full review of it here.

Buy The Sorcerer’s Apprentice on DVD or on Blu-Ray.


Going the Distance

It’s not often you find a romantic comedy that you won’t have to force your male of choice to watch on pain of death. This is one of those movies. It’s about a couple played by Justin Long and Drew Barrymore, who try not to fall in love but do anyway and end up having to suffer through a long distance relationship. It leans more to the ‘hilarious comedy’ end of the spectrum than the ‘sap-tacular romance’ end, and the two main characters have really lovable, funny friends. This is a great movie to rent when you’re having some friends or a boyfriend over. You can read my full review here .

Buy Going the Distance on DVD or on Blu-Ray.


Knight and Day

Tom Cruise is crazy. That’s something we can all agree on, but it doesn’t stop this movie from being totally, totally awesome. It’s in the same vein as Killers: an action comedy where an ordinary woman gets dragged into a bunch of spy action by some random guy she met, but it’s way better. It’s got a plot that makes sense, clever action stunts, funny writing, and Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz are great. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I bet you will too if you have any appreciation for action movies and comedies. Click here to read my review, which will give you five good reasons to see this movie.

Buy Knight and Day on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

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Tangled Review

poster from the Walt Disney Pictures film Tangled

Disney used to be the King of Animation. Between the 30s and the 90s, they turned out so many iconic movies (Snow White, Fox and the Hound, Little Mermaid, etc.) that no other company could hope to even catch up. And then came the computers. Disney didn’t jump on them fast enough, so they were beaten to the CGI punch by Pixar and later Dreamworks. It was only once they bought Pixar that they started to regain lost ground with movies like Meet the Robinsons and Bolt. Pixar is bogged down with making sequels, so with Tangled, Disney seemed poised to regain their former glory.

In a modern retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale, a sheltered stolen princess escapes the clutches of her witch captor with the help of a dashing rogue thief.

Fairy tales are always good source material because everyone knows them and you don’t have to pay any royalties. But Disney’s old “Princess” approach of willowy beauties needing rescue from big strong men wouldn’t fly anymore. Modern females are tough and sophisticated and want characters that reflect this. So does Tangled deliver? Oh yes, all that and more!

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Does Disney Hate Money?

Disney is a paradox. Obviously they love money, or they would have stopped releasing godawful sequels to Air Bud eons ago. But why, then, does the Disney Vault exist? For those of you who are not familiar with the Disney model of DVD releases, it goes like this: Disney releases a version of a classic movie (Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, etc) on DVD. Regardless of how popular and/or timeless the movie is, they will print only a certain number of copies, and then stop. The title is then said to “go back into the Disney Vault” and everyone who wants a copy is out of luck, at least until a few years later, when they bring it out of the vault again for a new version with more special features or a shiner box.

I’ve heard that the theory behind the Disney vault is to make more money by making everyone jump to buy the DVDs when they come out just in case someone they know might want a copy in two years, and also by making superfans buy six slightly different versions of the same movie. I can see that (sort of) but what about all the DVD sales they’re missing out on during the years the movie is in the vault? For those years, anyone who wants a copy is getting it on eBay or in used video stores instead of direct from Disney, so they’re missing out on the money.

I mention this now because Tron is a Disney movie, and their bad vault timing is losing them a lot of money. With Tron Legacy coming out in December, everyone wants to see the original Tron (either for the first time, or again out of nostalgia). And you can’t get it. The only DVD copies I’ve seen belong to Amazon resellers who are charging $45-$195 for the 20th Anniversary Edition Disney put out in 2002. They’re planning a re-release for 2011, but that’s too late. There’s a Christmas season going by right now where plenty of people like me are looking to buy copies for their parents, who saw it and loved it when it came out in 1982. Disney’s going to miss out on all those sales.

So, did somebody make a mistake, or did Disney just recently decide that it hates money?

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Trailer Reviews for November 26, 2010

Coming out this weekend: Tangled, Love and Other Drugs, Burlesque, Faster, and the limited release of Made in Dagenham. Plus the Cape Breton Island Film Series also is showing Restrepo. For some reason, all of them except for Made in Dagenham are coming out on Wednesday. What, has Friday lost its cool day status?

TANGLED



It used to be only Pixar and Dreamworks made computer animated movies, but the theaters are overbrimming with them now, even the ones in 3D. This one is from Disney (without Pixar’s help). It’s a modern update of the Rapunzel fairy tale (fairy tales are popular fodder for animation companies because it means they don’t have to pay for royalties or come up with new ideas). And by modern I mean instead of being a helpless damsel who needs a man to save her, Rapunzel is a weirdo with alien being living in her hair that makes it prehensile. Is it just me, or do you find her hair kind of creepy? Anyway, it looks adventurous and funny. Especially the horse, so I’ll probably give it a shot. It goes without saying that kids will like it.

LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS



I’ve been hearing a lot of rumors about Anne Hathaway being nominated for an Oscar for this movie, but I just don’t see it. I mean, I like Anne Hathaway, but since when do generic rom com roles get nominated for Oscars? Has the world gone mad? Or are they just trying to bring the Oscars more in line with what we rabble like? This movie looks cute enough to earn a shot from me, even if Jake Gyllenhaal’s character deserves to be punched in the face. My problems are 1) they showed pretty much the whole plot in the trailer and 2) some of the lines in the screamy upset moments were really clichéd and lame: “You’re a good man!” “I need you more, *sob*” If they put those parts in the trailer, how bad is the rest of it?

BURLESQUE



Must we go through this again, Hollywood? Good singers do not make good actors, and bad singers make even worse actors. I might have shown some interest in this movie (I did, after all, really like Coyote Ugly), but the Christina Aguilera thing put me on my guard. I don’t like her music. Then they had an utterly generic handsome man-candy character who drives a motorcycle and wears a stupid hat. And then they put the main-character-embarrasses-themselves moment in the trailer. TWICE. I hate those moments, so this movie is officially dead to me until such time as it comes out on TV and I am bored enough to not turn it off.

FASTER



Why is this movie called Faster? Is it because Hollywood is recycling the same old revenge themed hit-list murder action movie faster and faster? Or is it because Dwayne Johnson occasionally drives a car in the movie? The trailer doesn’t even seem sure what sort of movie its for – a hit list revenge murder action movie or a dual-between-vengeful-guy-and-baddie type of movie? Likely it switches tracks about halfway through, which is another point against it. You should’ve stuck with the Tooth Fairy type movies, Dwayne, at least they had some semblance of originality.

MADE IN DAGENHAM



Damn, this is limited release, so we’re never going to get it up here, are we? It’s a shame, because this movie looks really great! Funny, charming, plenty of girl power, and British too. I really like Sally Hawkins, she was terrific in ITV’s Persuasion and in Happy-Go-Lucky. But I bet you a box of doughnuts it’ll get crowded out of most theaters by samey crap like Faster. This is one of those movies I’ll have to actively forget about so it can be a pleasant surprise when I see it on the DVD release list… and I can actually have it this time.

RESTREPO



In case it wasn’t clear from the trailer, Restrepo follows a platoon of American soldiers who are posted to a valley in Afghanistan for a year. The trailer doesn’t really make it seem that different from any other modern war documentary, but if they were with them for a whole year they’re bound to dredge up something new. Perhaps they just forgot to put it in the trailer? It was co-directed by Sebastian Junger, that journalist who made a name for himself like ten years ago by writing about that Perfect Storm that killed some fishermen, which was then turned into a George Clooney movie. This is not a George Clooney movie. And no I have no idea why it’s called Restrepo. Maybe that was the operation name or something, they never make any sense (Operation Tuning Fork, Operation Monkey Parade, etc.) Restrepo plays at 7pm on Thursday only.

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DVDs for November 23, 2010

The Expendables

Meatheaded action stars unite! Fan favorites Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, and Mickey Rourke team up with a bunch of ex-sports players to kick bad guy butt, save the girl, and blow up half of South America. It’s pointless and stupid, of course, but jam packed with action, some of which is even slightly plausible if you squint the right way. It’s one of the better meathead movies, but make no mistake, this will appeal to die-hard action fans only. Read the full review here.

Buy The Expendables on DVD or on Blu-Ray

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Eat Pray Love

Have you ever wanted to travel, eat tasty food, and get a boyfriend, all at the same time? Well keep dreaming, because that pretty much only happens to people in movies… and the woman whose story this movie is based on. Most of us will only experience it vicariously though this movie, so plug it in and enjoy. It’s Julia Roberts, so you can’t really go wrong. She travels to Italy, India, and Indonesia in search of herself, and finds Javier Bardem instead. It’s a chick flick. Rent accordingly.

Buy Eat Pray Love on DVD or on Blu-Ray.


Flipped

I was so disappointed I didn’t get to see this movie in theaters. It’s about a pair of kids – Callan McAuliffe and Madeline Carroll – in the 1950s. The girl has a crush on the boy at first, but he hates girls, until that fateful day when he doesn’t, but by that time she doesn’t want anything to do with him so he has to try and win her over. It’s one of those bittersweet, nostalgic types of movies that there really aren’t enough of anymore. Kids will relate, and so will their parents, looking back.

Buy Flipped on DVD or on Blu-Ray.


Pillars of the Earth

This is an HBO eight-part miniseries based on the popular Ken Follett novel from 1989. Why did they wait so long to turn it into a movie? They probably saw an opportunity to cash in, as the novel’s sequel, World Without End came out recently. I’ve read the book – it’s a medieval English story about the building of a cathedral. I don’t remember there being so much swordfighting in it as the miniseries has, but maybe my memory’s going. Check it out if you’ve got about eight hours to spare.

Buy The Pillars of the Earth on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 Review

poster from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Since they tended to come out on the third weekend of November, the Harry Potter movies were always like a birthday present to me. That is, until The Prisoner of Azkaban, when they started switching between summer and winter release dates. Now it’s time for the movie of the seventh and final book, Deathly Hallows. It’s being released in two parts, one now in November and the other in the summer blockbuster season. The part I got for my birthday this year goes like this:

After the ministry of magic falls to the Death Eaters, Harry, Ron and Hermione go on the run to find and destroy the remaining horcruxes, which contain pieces of the evil Lord Voldemort’s soul.

You may notice, if you’re not already familiar with Harry Potter, that this synopsis makes no sense. This is because there is absolutely no point in you going to see this movie unless you’ve already read or seen parts 1 through 6. And read the seventh book for good measure. So if you haven’t done these things already, go and do it now. Are you back? Okay, now we can proceed with the review.

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Top 5 Cat Movies

Cats are complex creatures. They’re independent, they don’t feel the need to please anyone except themselves, and they choose their people instead of the other way around. This makes it very difficult for a lot of writers to relate to them enough to craft sympathetic cat characters and for filmmakers to find trained cats to fill live action roles. It’s why most cats in movies are evil and animated (see my other article on Kitty Film Stereotypes). But if you’re a cat lover, there are some really great cat movies out there that don’t fall victim to the stereotypes. Here are my picks for the top five cat movies of all time.

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Trailer Reviews for November 19, 2010

Coming out this weekend: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, The Next Three Days, Fair Game and the limited release of 127 Hours. Plus the Cape Breton Island Film Series also is showing Get Low.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1



In order to delay the inevitable end of the Harry Potter series (and the yearly oceans of money that come from releasing the films), Warner Brothers has decided to split the seventh and final book into two films. Personally, I would have preferred the Goblet of Fire treatment where they cut out all the extra baggage, because for the first third of Deathly Hallows Harry and company skip school and wander pointlessly around in the countryside. Not exactly thrilling. There might just be enough material in that first pre-humongous-battle half to sustain a normal length film, but Deathly Hallows is two and a half hours long. The first trailers make it look exciting and action packed, but in this latest one there are hits of slower, possibly draggy bits. Can the emotionality of Harry’s struggle sustain them or not? Oh who cares. Of course I’ll see it. It’s Harry frigging Potter!

THE NEXT THREE DAYS



The Next Three Days is the ADD version of Conviction. Someone is love was wrongfully (you think) sent to prison for a very long time. They try to commit suicide. You want them to get out. You could either go through the legal system and have it take like 20 years or just skip all that, break them out of prison, and ruin everyone else’s lives too. I’m not a Russell Crowe fan to begin with, but even if I was, it would still seem like a stupid idea. Okay, you break her out. Now what? You go live in rural Mexico? That’s a great life for your kid. And if it doesn’t work, now Junior’s got two parents in jail who really actually will be murderers – if not of prison guards than of innocent people on the highways or in the streets. Brilliant thinking. Somebody call Child Protective Services, because this poor kid has two morons for parents. Plus, I bet his mom really is guilty of the murder they put her away for (I’m guessing, it’s not a spoiler, calm down). I’d buy this premise a lot better if there was no kid, but I guess they needed him for the sympathy factor.

127 HOURS



Release dates are kind of screwy for this movie. It came out in some places early in November and is expanding to more theaters this week. Whether it will ever get to a theater I can see it in (it’s not even coming to Halifax this Friday) is another question. Apparently some people are fainting over some of the more horrifying/brutal scenes in the movie. But it’s a survival/life lesson sort of horror, not a gratuitous blood n’ guts horror, so you really ought to see it. You especially ought to see it if you’re one of those carefree outdoorsy people who thinks they’re invincible, because it’s much easier to learn a lesson in a movie than in real life. Ask Aaron Ralston. Even if you’ve got plenty of common sense already, go anyway. There are two very good reasons why you should: 1) Danny Boyle, 2) James Franco. Nuff said.

I talked about Fair Game on November 5th (what, are they releasing movies twice now?) and I talked about the CB Film Series film Get Low on August 20th. It plays at 7 on Thursday only.

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DVDs for November 16, 2010

Avatar Collector’s Edition

Though it was released as a bare-bones DVD last April, this is the edition that Avatar fans (and also me) have been waiting for. It’s got the theatrical and re-released versions with the sixteen extra minutes (including the character-establishing beginning part). It’s also got 45 minutes of deleted scenes, plus documentaries and production footage. The only thing it doesn’t have is 3D, but that’s ok because my TV can’t show it anyway. Buy the Blu-Ray, because it’s got more on it. If you’re not familiar with Avatar, it’s a space movie by James Cameron about blue aliens and it stars Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana. You can read more about it in my review here.

Buy Avatar on Blu-Ray or on DVD

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The Last Airbender

Adapted from a Japanese animated series also ironically called Avatar, The Last Airbender is about how a young boy who can control all the elements gets embroiled in a war. It’s pretty much universally hated, so I can’t really recommend it. Fans of the show complain about how much it changes from the TV series, and people coming to it fresh complain about how boring it is that everything is in slo-mo ballet-o-vision when it’s supposed to be a fantasy action movie. If you’re a fanboy or fangirl, however, you might be interested to know that Jackson Rathbone (Jasper from Twilight) and Dev Patel (Jamal from Slumdog Millionaire) are in it and that it was directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

Buy The Last Airbender on DVD or on Blu-Ray.


Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

This is a sequel to the popular 2001 film Cats & Dogs, which I thought was hilarious, even if it was pretty goony and the special effects sometimes looked fake. The sequel solves the effects problem and is still as goony as ever, but it managed to attract people like James Marsden, Bette Midler, and Roger Moore to do voices, so it’s got that going for it. Plot wise, it’s like X2: X-Men United because the cats and dogs who have traditionally been at odds (the cats are evil, of course) have to team up. Rent it for the kids, but don’t expect too much. The Blu-Ray version even comes in 3D.

Buy Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore on DVD or on Blu-Ray.


The Kids Are Alright

Ah ha! And here you were thinking there weren’t going to be any really original and intelligent movies this week! But you were wrong, because The Kids Are Alright is coming to DVD. No it has nothing to do with The Who. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s a very funny and engaging dramedy about a pair of kids with two moms who go looking for their sperm donor dad and the merry havoc his presence wreaks on their carefully ordered lives. It’s not just entertaining but relevant, considering there’s a woman in BC trying to force sperm clinics to hand over their records to kids born of artificial insemination. It stars Julianne Moore, Annette Benning, and Mark Ruffalo.

Buy The Kids Are Alright on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

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When Movies Are Better Than Books

When I was procrastinating today, I came across an article on the MSNBC website called “Five Reasons the Potter Movies Are Better Than Their Books.” Some of the reasons they give are stupid (Robert Pattinson as a whole reason? C’mon, that’s really pushing it unless you’re 13, female, and obsessed) but they do have a point. Even though people (read: book fans) always make a big deal about movie adaptations being pale imitations of the original novels, sometimes they really are technically better than their sources (not that you’ll ever get the book fans to admit it).

A lot of it boils down to: good idea, poor execution on the part of the original writer. With proper application of the screenwriter’s rules of adaptation – you owe nothing to the original, but everything to the intention of the original – you can theoretically produce a better story. It’s rare, but it does happen.

I have a short list (a very short list) of stories I have experienced in movie and book form where I felt the movie version was stronger. I’ll share some of these with you now, along with the reasons why the movies are better. A note to book fans: please don’t firebomb my house.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

I absolutely hated the Lord of the Rings books. Though I am capable of making language and length concessions when reading the work of historical writers (in fact, I quite enjoy the work of Charles Dickens, and he never wrote a word where ten would suffice) I found J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing to be rambling and unfocused. His fantasy world was fantastically detailed, but decidedly lacking in conflict, at least for the 150 or so pages I managed of The Fellowship Of The Ring. I was over a third of the way through the book and the main character hadn’t even reached the elf village where he would START his quest to get rid of an extremely powerful ring. I can see writing a story about two hairy little men eating ten breakfasts and walking through the woods AFTER your series has developed an enormous following, but starting the first book with such uneventful, rambling, unnecessary chapters should be a recipe for rejection by publishers.

In the film version however, screenwriters Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, and Peter Jackson only had two hours in which to depict that entire book. Naturally the first things to go on the chopping block are all those bits where nothing happens, which tightened and strengthened the story. Gone too are the large blocks of text describing elf faces and hobbit breakfasting rituals in minute detail, because they can be slapped up on screen in a split second and still convey the same information. A picture really is worth a thousand words, and for that I am beyond thankful, because it means I can skip reading the rest of Tolkien’s epic.

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

This movie, directed by Brad Silberling, is based on the first three books in the Series of Unfortunate Events sequence by Lemony Snicket (which is a pen name, obviously). In each book, three orphaned children with special skills are sent somewhere to live with an aggressively clueless, spineless adult. They almost fall prey to the evil Count Olaf, who wants to steal the fortune their parents left them, and then they escape by forming an ingenious plan that would obviously never work. There’s also a maddeningly opaque overarching mystery plot throughout the series regarding their parents’ deaths that is very dissatisfyingly concluded. The only really charming and redeeming qualities are how devoted the three siblings are to one another and the dark, macabre, depressing, semi-invented world that they inhabit.

In the film version, screenwriter Robert Gordon kept everything that worked (the sibling devotion, their unusual skills, Count Olaf’s disguises, the dark fantasy world) and changed everything that didn’t. He tweaked the children’s escapes until they actually seemed semi-believable, balanced out the adult characters so they didn’t seem like such utter retards, and clarified and resolved the mystery plot. The result was still episodic, charming, and quirky, but also tight and more believable. Even though they left it open for a possible sequel that never happened, they managed to forge a satisfying conclusion – something the books never managed to do despite completing their 13 volume run.

The Road

Cormac McCarthy’s book, The Road which is about a father and son trekking across a post-apocalyptic landscape, won the Pulitzer prize, so I realize I’m not making any friends by suggesting that it was anything other than the greatest book ever written by anyone ever in the world. But I’m going to say it anyway: I didn’t think The Road was that good. It was McCarthy’s writing style that really brought it down. He never grounded the reader in a location before starting in on whatever it was his unnamed father and son characters were doing, and he never really described their world at all except to say it was grey. He was also annoyingly vague about how it all started (apparently, it’s not supposed to matter, but that doesn’t stop him from giving his characters flashbacks). The events were harrowing, the circumstances bleak, and the characters endearingly devoted to one another, but McCarthy’s confusing sentence and paragraph structures were frustrating.

In the film version, obviously, you didn’t have to endure McCarthy’s writing to get at the story because it was all displayed right there on screen for you. Likewise since it was visual, it had to have a setting. It couldn’t just look like a formless grey cloud. It had to have roads and bridges and trees and skies and such. The harrowing events transfer easily to the screen and when screenwriter Joe Penhall flashes back to show their lives pre-apocalypse, there’s little doubt as to how the world got that way (nuclear war) and what happened to the boy’s mum. McCarthy was right that we don’t need to know WHY the war started, but we did need more than: “okay, the world is ruined, let’s go for a walk.”

I’ll also tentatively add Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to the list, even though I haven’t seen it and I preferred the books to the other movies, because Harry, Ron, and Hermione spend about a third of it wandering around in the countryside doing nothing, and I’d like to see that part of the cutting room floor.

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