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Friday, December 31, 2010

Top 10 Movies of 2010

According to, these are the top movies in North America for 2010.

1. Toy Story 3
2. Alice In Wonderland
3. Iron Man 2
4. Twilight Saga: Eclipse
5. Inception
6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
7. Despicable Me
8. Shrek Forever After
9. How To Train Your Dragon
10. The Karate Kid

This was a strong year for computer animation. The fact that so many were box office favorites is a tribute to how much the quality of animation has improved over the last fifteen years. I'm talking more about well written scripts and strong characters than the computer technology, although that's also very impressive. We can all thank Pixar for raising the bar for everyone by putting out a string of near perfect movies, beginning with Toy Story in 1995 and continuing to this year with Toy Story 3. The other animation studios are definitely upping their game with better and better movies. How To Train Your Dragon is possibly the best thing Dreamworks has ever put out. Despicable Me is also extremely good and a favorite of my family. It was put out by Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures.
Family movies also did very well this year. All but Inception has appeal to families (Eclipse, HP and Iron Man 2 barely make the cut, but they do appeal to families). I hope Hollywood takes note. Why waste money on trash like Love and Other Drugs, Skyline, The Expendables, or any title with the word Saw in it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My Favorite Christmas Movies

It seems that we now have every Christmas movie imaginable. What with Hollywood re-doing every classic story with modern twists, and the Hallmark Channel giving us a zillion movies about Santa falling in love. It’s easy to get lost in the blizzard of holiday entertainment. If the storm is overwhelming you and you’re ready to say “enough is enough, let’s get back to our usual fair of hopeless, excessive, big-budget movies”, then let me remind you of some of the Christmas movies that are still worth seeing. Here are my favorites.

1. The Muppet Christmas Carol
This movie has all the elements of a great Christmas movie. It’s lots of fun with humor added all along the way, keeping it from ever getting too heavy. At the same time, Dicken’s message of redemption is still loud and clear. The songs are catchy. The movie looks and feels old-fashioned, charming, and magical.

2. Home Alone
Besides being a clever story about a boy who is left alone in his home to fend off a couple of bumbling crooks, this is one of the
great Christmas stories of our time. What better way for a boy Scrooge to learn what’s important in life than to be suddenly without a family during Christmas. The music in this movie alone is heart-warming and brings me into the Christmas spirit every time.

3. Christmas Vacation
I don’t recommend this one for the kids due to off-color jokes and crass words, but for laugh-out-loud comedy coupled with a great story, you can’t beat this classic. Many other Christmas and non-Christmas movies have tried to duplicate the success of the over-
enthusiastic-dad storyline made popular in the vacation movies. Chevy Chase, however, is still the king of that character. His loveable goofiness, coupled with the writing of the National Lampoon wrapped in a family Christmas tale, makes for timeless entertainment.

4. How The Grinch Stole Christmas
Technically, this is not a movie. It’s actually a 26 minute animated Christmas Special from 1966. I had to include it,
because it’s my all-time favorite Christmas story. I looked forward to it’s airing every year as a child and teenager. It was and still is funny, creative, and it teaches a wonderful lesson. The live-action version with Jim Carrey didn’t have quite the same magic for me. Dr. Seuss’s original is still one of the best of all time.

5. The Christmas Carol (2009)
I included this version, mostly because it sticks closer to Charles Dickens’ original story. It’s a much darker, and even more frightening telling of the story then, the Muppet version mentioned above. That’s probably how Dickens meant for his story to be taken, as a ghost story. I don’t recommend this adaptation
for smaller kids, but for older crowds it’s great entertainment. The computer animated characters and heavy special effects are visually stunning. Because of the darker nature of this movie, the change-your-ways-or-go-to-hell storyline is center stage from start to finish. That’s one of my favorite things about this version of the Christmas Carol. I just wish Dickens hadn’t left out the most important part of the story; salvation only happens through Jesus Christ. Oh well. This story certainly brings us close to that truth. Maybe an occasional viewer will reach that conclusion on their own after seeing this powerful movie.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

3D Is Killing Movie Theaters

3D movies have been around since I was a kid. About every 8 to 10 years, it seems, Hollywood would come out with a new 3D movie and proclaim that movies would never be the same. Supposedly, 3D was the next step in movie evolution. Every time it turned out to be nothing but a cheap gimmick and the American public barely even noticed.
Here we are again, in 2010, in the middle of another 3D revolution but this time, 3D has actually made some headway in changing our movies. It's actually expected now, that every big budget movie will be made in 3D. It's become the norm now rather than the cheap parlor trick.
There are two reasons why it's finally succeeding. First, the 3D technology has truly improved by leaps and bounds. Some movies, the ones that are made for 3D, are really fun to watch. The other reason is the powerful marketing machines of the big studios have gotten behind it and convinced us that we have to have 3D for a bigger and better movie experience.
However, the current 3D revolution is only good news for the studios and little kids who don't pay for their own movie tickets. Sure, 3D is fun to watch, but it's not worth paying lots of extra money to see. A few nights ago, I took my wife and two kids to see one of the newest 3D movies and it cost us $48.00 for tickets. Each ticket had $3.00 added for the privilege of watching in 3D. Only, it wasn't a privilege because we weren't given an option of watching that movie in non-3D,. We'd already promised our girls that we'd be watching that particular movie, so we went ahead with it. A stop at the snack bar cost me another $13 for a medium popcorn and a medium drink. By the time I sat down in my theater seat, I felt sick knowing I'd just spent $61 for a movie that I'll be able to rent at the Redbox, in a few months, for $1.
Here's my point. The economy is still way down and money is tight for most of us, and first run movie theaters are the only businesses that don't get it. I understand that their hands are tied. I'm sure big budget movies come with a hefty price tag for the rights to be shown. But, the whole industry is broken if a Mom and Dad have to pay $61 dollars to watch a movie with their kids. Fifteen years ago, movie theaters were justified in raising their prices. The movie experience was fun and unique and way better than VHS movies or watching on TV with all the commercials. Today, we have many more options for our movie entertainment; DVD, Blue-Ray, and Pay-Per-View movies on high-def t.v.'s. Not-to-mention downloadable movies right to your home computer. The competition is intense now, and the movie theaters have responded with over-priced 3D.
How long will this 3D revolution last? I predict not too much longer. Very soon, maybe in 2011, 3D ticket sales will decline as the novelty wears off and the American public realizes it's not worth the cost. We love movies and we love going to the movie theater, but as the price goes up we'll choose the movie theater experience less and less. If theaters want to stay alive, they should give us 3D at the price of the non-3D movie, giving us more reason to come back, and come back again.
Considering all the competition, and the high prices of tickets, I don't see how first run theaters will still be around in 5 to 10 years, at least not in the form they are now. If they do stay around, I expect them to change into some kind of upper class entertainment experience more like a night at a performing Arts center to see a live play.
I hope, before that happens, they'll see the writing on the wall and find a new way of delivering new movies to us in an affordable way so that we can keep going to the movies. If that does happen, I sure hope they'll also figure out a way to bring down the price of a bag of popcorn.

Surprised by Tangled

I had low expectations for Tangled. The trailer made it look like a computer animated B-movie. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The movie was fun and charming with well defined characters that you either love or hate. The story was far more intricate than I expected with lots of action, touching moments and laughs a-plenty. In fact, I will go as far as to say, it's the best thing Disney has put out since Lion King, of course taking all Pixar movies out of the equation (Disney just owns Pixar. They are really two separate production houses, although the head of Pixar, John Lasseter, is now overseeing Disney movies too and it shows.) I believe, with Tangled, Disney is back on their A-game. We even have our first CGI princess. Rapunzel is everything and more that a Princess should be; beautiful, sweet, naive and longing for the life she never had.
One of the many things I liked about Tangled was the relationship between Rapunzel and the leading male, Flynn Rider. Their friendship/romance was more developed than in previous princess movies. Normally, the handsome prince, or love interest character is one-dimensional and exists only as an object for the princess to desire. He becomes a motivation factor to get her to break out of her safe and lackluster existence. The difference in Tangled is that we learn as much about Rider as we do about Rapunzel. He also has a back story, and goals, and weaknesses just like Rapunzel. It makes for an interesting push and pull between the two leads that isn't usually seen in a Disney movie.
Everything else about Tangled was perhaps what you would expect from a Disney movie, but all done with perfection. The villain was just evil enough to make the plot believable but she was never over-the-top like so many kids movie villains today. There were great songs, but not too many. And, one scene involving floating luminaries that was touching and beautiful.
I watched it with my wife and my younger kids. All 4 of us commented afterwards on how good the movie was. I always count it as a plus when a movie is good enough for all ages to enjoy. I'll rate it 235 for entertainment value and 240 for moral character. The total Watcher500 score is 475 (out of a possible 500 points).