The Friday Movie Blog

This week: A delightful How to Train Your Dragon, a disappointing The Runaways

Happy Film Friday, everyone! This week’s Friday Movie Blog has some electrifying changes in store for you.

First, you may notice a change in the grading system. This is due to a very scientific, insta-focus group I had with my Facebook friends. After receiving thousands of responses—okay eight—I decided the current scheme (G-Glorious, PG-Pretty Great, etc) was too confusing. So I have devised a new one based on logarithms, factors of 7, and star placement. Just kidding. Instead, I’ll be using the tried-and-true system that we all love and abhor, letter grades.

So should you see that new movie opening this weekend? Well, look no further. Starting this week I’ll give you thoughts not only on movies that I’ve been watching, but also on a movie coming out the same day. This week, I’ve got my thoughts on How to Train Your Dragon, opening today. [SIGNUP]

As always, hit me up with your own rants, raves, and movie suggestions.


How to Train Your Dragon (PG)
When I was younger, I probably watched Aladdin or Beauty and the Beast nearly every day — to the great annoyance of my older brother and sister. I was able to recite every line; I knew the words to every song — again, to the great annoyance of my older brother and sister. Hell, I even bought the vocal scores so that I could play them on the piano. (Yet another example of my immense nerditude.) While the catchy songs and the bright animation were major factors, I think the storytelling was what really attracted me — then as well as today. I don’t agree when many dismiss animation as “kids stuff.” Instead, what studios have proven in the last decade, with movies like The Incredibles, The Iron Giant, Spirited Away, Wallace and Grommit, and Shrek, is that animation can still be fun, but also provide incomparable stories. How to Train Your Dragon, I’m glad to report, is another example.

While elements of the film are standard animation fare — the young, puny protagonist, Hiccup, continues to disappoint his Viking father — the movie continually surprises and envelops you. Without the typical exposition, you are immediately thrown into the decades-long battle between Viking and dragons. You wince as Hiccup trains to become a dragon warrior and cheer as he befriends a dragon. For 90 minutes, the audience of children (and adults) barely squirmed or took their eyes off the screen. What is most surprising is the look of this film. From the feathery, yellow hairs on the Vikings’ arms to the awesome image of flying dragons emerging from the clouds, the animators provide some glorious visuals. The creators’ imagination becomes so fully realized that you wish, akin to Harry Potter, that the world truly existed.

Before the movie began, I felt uncomfortable. Here I was: an adult sitting in front of an enormous IMAX screen completely surrounded by hundreds of children. But when the lights went down, something happened. In the darkness of the theater, I again was sitting on my childhood couch singing along to “Be My Guest.” I didn’t feel like an adult anymore wearing ridiculously large 3D glasses; I was simply a big kid… with a huge grin illuminated by the screen. (In theaters.)
My Grade: A-

The Runaways (R)
I’ll be honest right away: I didn’t care for The Runaways. While it recounts characters bucking the system in order to become their own individuals, the movie is formulaic. Knowing Joan Jett was a producer on the film, you would expect her to be featured. Yet her character (played by Kristen Stewart) is left as a bystander to the story of Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning). You do get an occasional scene of Jett by herself — the longest, and most baffling, being a scene where she rips, spray-paints, and safety pins together a t-shirt. Nevertheless you leave wanting to know more about her background.

While Dakota Fanning gives a strong and sometimes campy performance, the same cannot be said of her costars. Kristen Stewart is listless and lackluster. Michael Shannon (Kim Fowley) apparently decided to take a page out of the Nicholas Cage Book of Acting and chews up every set and fellow actor to bits.

The only time the movie shows any life is in performance of the music. These moments allow the audience to experience the genre-breaking, gut-wrenching music. Yet these scenes are few and far between. Instead, you witness an endless array of clichéd, music-video imagery. Following the breakup of the group, the camera looks down on Stewart as she lies in a cloudy bath, smoking a cigarette, and beginning to develop the music of her future career. She then slowly sinks beneath the water and we see an image of her in a swimming pool.

Yeah. I’m don’t know why, either. The director probably just thought it was a great symbolic representation for Joan Jett. Or maybe she just really liked the Nirvana Nevermind cover. (In theaters.)
My Grade: C-

See It: The Art of the Steal (2009). See the documentary chronicling the controversy surrounding the Barnes’ impending move to Philadelphia (at Ritz Five). Grade: B

Rent It: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). Wes Anderson’s fantastically quirky stop-motion animation brings Roald Dahl’s story to life. Grade: A

Queue It: Blood Simple (1984). Before Raising Arizona and Fargo, there was this first, gritty offering from Joel and Ethan Coen. Grade: A

A few weeks ago, Roman Polanski’s Ghost Writer opened at Ritz East. While it has gotten some great reviews, a few of my friends refuse to see it because Polanski directed it. There are, of course, actors & directors that I dislike, but I don’t think that I purposefully avoid seeing something if they are a part of it. What are your thoughts — are there certain celebrities that prevent you from seeing a movie?