Movie Valley
March 2010 Movie Reviews
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How to Train Your Dragon
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Directed By: Christopher Sanders and Dean DeBlois
Run Time: 1 hr 30 mins

How to Train Your Dragon is about a land where fighting dragons is a way of life. Enter Hiccup (voiced by Baruchel), a misfit Viking who is skinny and klutzy and not a good dragon fighter at all. His father Stoic (voiced by Butler) is the chief of the tribe and wants his son to be like all other Vikings - a tough dragon killer. He enrolls him in Dragon Training. When Hiccup befriends an injured dragon, he learns that dragons are friendly, trainable, and why they attack the village. Now Hiccup just has to convince the village not to kill dragons... at the same time doing well (which means fighting) in Dragon Training.

I loved this movie. Okay, so it is predictable. You can probably guess how it ends. But I really loved it. Perhaps it was the sweet dragon's huge eyes that won me over. Perhaps it was due to people learning that animals are not scary and should be befriended. Perhaps it was the endearing relationship between Hiccup and his dragon... and all other dragons. Eh, who am I kidding? It was those big green dragon eyes!

One laughable note: Why did all the adults have Scottish accents... and yet all the children had American accents? Did they cast Gerard Butler and the others (Craig Ferguson) just fall into place? And once they had a couple of Scots voicing the characters, they decided all of them should? Would the kids then develop the accents as they got older? I didn't mind the difference. It just made me giggle when it dawned on me.

I sat through the last half of this movie biting my nails the entire time. It was so suspenseful! Please don't hurt Toothless! Please listen to Hiccup! Can't we all just get along? I liked the end battle scene, particularly when Stoic realized the error of his ways (sorry for the spoiler). I cheered at one particular scene...

I liked that although Hiccup was a mis-fit, he wasn't too ostracized (well, not that I felt). People weren't too mean to him. His father loved him, you could tell. He cared for his safety... he just didn't understand his differences. And I liked the people easily admitted they were wrong. And I liked how everyone came together.

This movie has a bunch of fun characters. Strong female Astrid (voiced by Ferrera). Loved Fishlegs (voiced by Mintz-Plasse) and his endless rattlings about everything dragon. He knew his stuff (and I liked how Hiccup counted on his knowledge at the end). Hiccup was wonderful (who doesn't like a smart misfit who means well and people really should listen to?). The twins were a riot, particularly at the end with the two headed dragon.

Although this movie does end how you expect it to end, there is one small twist that's rather interesting. I think it's a first, which is refreshing. Loved the plane reference for how Hiccup had to guide, steer, and manipulate Toothless when flying. Almost expected to hear an engine sputter at one point.

Good movie. Funny. Sweet. Fun. I could almost feel the wind whipping through my hair as Hiccup rode Toothless. I really, really liked it. Good relationships. Fun characters. Good story. Cute dragons.

I just want to ride a dragon. That looked like fun. Dragons may replace my monkey fetish...

The Runaways
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Michael Shannon, Riley Keough
Directed By: Floria Sigismondi
Run Time: 1 hr 45 mins

The Runaways is about Joan Jett's (played by Stewart) first band called the Runaways. It was the first all girl rock group, formed in the 70s. They played their own instruments and sang their own songs. They were tough chicks. And just as they were about to make it really big, they broke up.

Jeff and I debated one claim about this movie. The Runaways are billed as the first all girl rock band. I can come up with a dozen others - like the Supremes - but Jeff says all of those are pop, not rock. Even though the genre might be slightly off, it shouldn't matter. It wasn't the first time the world had seen a bunch of chicks on the stage. How much different should it be to put some instruments in front of them, too? But apparently it was different.

Jeff liked this movie more than I did. I thought both lead actresses were amazing. Kristen Stewart nailed playing Joan Jett. It's probably not far from her own personality - tough, with a touch of sweetness, and wanting to do things her own way. Dakota Fanning was absolutely awesome as Cherie Currie, the lead singer. Fanning seems like a sweet kid and her character was certainly that on the surface - sweet - but was also incredibly tough and tormented. That kid is going to win an Oscar one day. She's quite a little actress.

The movie concentrates on three characters - Cherie, Joan, and their manager Kim Fowley (played by Shannon). Joan really wants to be a musician. Cherie really wants to be loved. And Fowley just wants to make money. I had forgotten that Lita Ford (she sang Kiss Me Deadly in the late 80s) was in the band. No matter, because the movie mentions her once and that's about it. Cherie numbs her pain with drugs and alcohol. Fowley promotes Cherie over the others in the band because she's blonde and pretty. The others, of course, become resentful. Fights ensue. Joan tries to make peace because she just really wants to play in the band. Cherie walks out. All she wants is love. The band breaks up.

Although I'm pretty sure the movie was just following how the story really went in real life, I found it to be a pretty predictable and formulaic. Band forms. Band gets semi-famous. Band has inner turmoil. Band breaks up. For that reason, the movie was a bit boring. I mean, I can't name one Runaways song so I know they didn't get too famous nor are they around today. They didn't encounter anything really unique or interesting (because, like I said, I thought there were all girl bands before...). There was nothing that really popped about their story for me. The movie is also a bit discombobulated. I have no idea what the timespan was for the scenes - a couple months, a couple years, what? As a result, it just didn't pull me in. In my head, the band formed and broke up within a couple of months. Why should I care? Of course, the band did pave the way for Joan Jett herself (I Love Rock n Roll) so I do care... a bit. Ah, I can remember the days when I'd skate around the roller rink to Do You Want to Touch Me. Joan Jett made me feel cool. I was 8.

If you want to see some really great acting, see this movie. If you want to hear some catchy songs (Ch-Ch-Ch Cherry Bomb), see this movie. If you want a unique story... don't. You know how it ends. Oh, and be prepared to have "Runway" by Bon Jovi ("Ooh, she's a little runaway. Daddy's girl learned fast all those things he couldn't say. Ooh, she's a little runaway."), even though it has nothing to do with the band or the movie, stuck in your head.

The Last Station
Starring: Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, Paul Giamatti, James McAvoy
Directed By: Michael Hoffman
Run Time: 1 hr 52 mins

The Last Station is about the last years of Leo Tolstoy's (played by Plummer) life. He struggles to balance fame and wealth with his commitment to a life devoid of material things. Just before Tolstoy's death, the Tolstoyan Movement begins to catch on, a movement whose basic tenets are brotherly love and world peace through pacifism, and a denouncement of material wealth and physical love. His wife, on the other hand, is the Countess Sofya Andreevna Tolstoy (played by Mirren), who rather likes her big house and her servants. Vladimir Chertkov (played by Giamatti) is his chief follower, and is determined to separate Tolstoy from his wife - physically and emotionally. Sofya has a way of luring Tolstoy back to "her" side and Chertkov wants to make sure Tolstoy stays in line with the movement. The real reason Sofya and Chertkov battle over Tolstoy is Tolstoy's will. If Chertkov lures Tolstoy away from Sofya, then he can persuade Tolstoy to leave his fortune to the cause. If Sofya can persuade Tolstoy to stay with her, the will - and his fortune - stays with her and their 13 children. Enter the moderator - Valentin Bulgakov (played by McAvoy). He's hired by Chertkov as Tolstoy's secretary. He's instructed to write down all exchanges between Sofya and her husband so that Chertkov can keep track of Sofya and her attempts to lure her husband back to her side. Although Valentin wants to do the job he's hired to do (he's an avid Tolstoy fan), he realizes that there's a lot of manipulation going on... and he starts to realize that Sofya is getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop. He becomes the voice of reason... whenever Chertkov doesn't overpower him.

Note quite sure what to make of it. It's about love, deep love, but love torn apart by outside forces with manipulation and sycophants. As a married person, there are often times when I'd kill for an outside source to step in and say, "No, Jeff, Robin's absolutely right... and you're wrong." In an argument, someone always wants to be right and always assumes the other person is wrong. Unfortunately for Tolstoy's wife, he had an entourage, people who were always hanging around. Wanting to drive a wedge between Sofya and Tolstoy, the entourage would always side with Tolstoy (thus boosting his ego). Tolstoy began to believe that all of his thoughts - denouncing material possessions - were correct because everyone else kept telling him that. Only his wife disagreed. He began to loathe his wife. Yes, she was concerned about money, but she wanted to make sure everything that she had helped Tolstoy earn (she hand-wrote his novels so that they were in her legible handwriting, and, according to her, she often wordsmithed his thoughts) would pass down to their children - their 13 children. She feared living in poverty. Tolstoy sought to distance himself from his wife because their philosophies of life were so different. Sofya loved her husband and each "loss" of an argument crushed her spirit. She became desperate... and a bit crazy. Paranoia set in. She felt that everyone was against her (which they actually were). She felt helpless. She would do anything to keep her husband, but sadly, her actions pushed him further away.

One thing that bothered me about this movie: The characters were all Russian and yet they all spoke with English accents... (I'm ignoring the fact that they all spoke English). At least it was consistent, which was nice. Everyone had an English accent; no one had a Russian accent. Even Paul Giamatti, who's American, had an English accent. Consistent. Inaccurate, but consistent.

It's a good movie. It speaks volumes about love, and how love can drive you crazy. I wonder how the two would have got along had it not been for Tolstoy's entourage. He loved her. She loved him. Their views about life were different, very different, but somehow I think they could have overcome that if it weren't for his stupid entourage telling him he was right every five seconds. Ego booster for him, demoralizing for his wife.