Movie Review ~ How to Train Your Dragon 2

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When Hiccup and Toothless discover an ice cave that is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and the mysterious Dragon Rider, the two friends find themselves at the center of a battle to protect the peace.

Stars: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Kit Harington, Cate Blanchett, Djimon Honsou, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig

Director: Dean DeBlois

Rated: PG

Running Length: 102 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: While How to Train Your Dragon reached massive audiences in 2010, it failed to reach me until a few months into its run when I caught it on a double bill at an IMAX theater.  To get to the film I wanted to see (Hubble 3D) I had to see the animated adventures of a Viking lad making friends with a dragon, the sworn enemy of his people.  Hardly looking forward to it, I ended up being dazzled at what the folks at DreamWorks Animation had dreamed up and impressed that they had strong material (a series of books written by Cressida Cowell) as a jumping off point.

I failed to re-watch the original before going into the second film so it took me a while to re-assimilate myself with the characters.  This was made more difficult because everyone has grown up a lot in the three years since we last saw Hiccup, his dragon Toothless, and the rough and tumble friends, family, and other breeds of dragon that now comfortably share their beautifully rendered coastal village.

Wasting hardly a second in its running length, we’re soon trailing Hiccup and Toothless as they avoid capture by a band of roving dragon pirates and discover a new world of dragons living in a crystalline ice cave guarded by a mysterious figure known as the Dragon Rider.  Keeping this review as spoiler free as possible, I’ll only say that the voice of the Dragon Rider is provided by a recent Oscar winner smelling of blue jasmine.  When a sinister foe appears and threatens to destroy the peaceful harmony Hiccup and his kin have formed with the dragons, it’s all hands on deck for a dramatic showdown that will change everything moving forward.

Though rated PG, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is, like the recently released Maleficent, ever so slightly too scary for young children.  Some events transpire that parents may not feel ready to discuss with their children yet but I applaud the filmmakers for handing some delicate moments with sensitivity that doesn’t feel like hand-holding.  Surprisingly, I found myself choking up a bit through several passages in the film that masterfully tug at your heartstrings.

While the computer animation and 3D effects are the dependably stunning work that DreamWorks is known for, the voices assembled are a bit of a hodge podge.  Eternally squeaky sounding Jay Baruchel (This is the End) doesn’t feel quite right for the role…his character has grown in stature but obviously is in his third year of puberty.  Striking a similar dissonant chord is America Ferrera (End of Watch) whose rich tone feels too old for her spunky heroine.  Though the rest barely can be classified as cameos, it was nice to hear the new and returning ensemble talents of Gerard Butler (Olympus Has Fallen), Kit Harington (Pompeii), Djimon Honsou(Guardians of the Galaxy), Craig Ferguson(Brave), Jonah Hill(Django Unchained), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Kick-Ass 2),  and Kristen Wiig (Girl Most Likely)

What makes How to Train Your Dragon 2 such a success, ultimately, is a maturity not often found in a “family film”.  Yes, it’s stunning in its style and lavish in its spectacle but it has a strong heart beating under its dragon armor that it embraces fully.  I don’t imagine this will be the last of the series so I’m hoping that further adventures will be handled with the same care.

Movie Review ~ 22 Jump Street

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After making their way through high school (twice), big changes are in store for officers Schmidt and Jenko when they go deep undercover at a local college.

Stars: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Amber Stevens, Jillian Bell, Peter Stormare, Wyatt Russell, The Lucas Brothers

Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller

Rated: R

Running Length: 112 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: If 2012’s reboot of 21 Jump Street taught us anything, it’s that star Channing Tatum was more than just a hunka hunka man meat only good for action shoot ‘em ups and making men everywhere feel their time in the gym that week was inadequate.  In fact, Tatum’s 2012 was one for the record books with the release of back-to-back-to-back hits The Vow, 21 Jump Street, and Magic Mike.  He became a true A-lister overnight due in no small part to his solid comic chops as one half of a detective duo tasked with going back to high school to uncover a drug ring.

What 21 Jump Street didn’t have was the overall stamina to make it to the finish line before petering out in the laughs department.  Though Tatum and co-star Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street, This is the End) had that rare chemistry that registered high on the believability scale, they couldn’t overcome the weaknesses in the script (Hill co-wrote it so he has only himself to blame) that saw the final third disintegrate into routine comedy territory.

Artistic merits aside, the film was a box office success landing in a prime hitless spring season before the onslaught of summer blockbusters took over every screen at the local multiplex.  So it’s two years later and the stars have aligned again to get the very in-demand Tatum and Hill back together again for a sequel that changes addresses but little else…and fully embraces its sameness in a way that makes it (mostly) okay.

Teased at the end of the first film, buddy cops Jenko (Tatum) and Schmidt (Hill) are sent to college by their commanding officer (Ice Cube, Ride Along) to track down another drug ring responsible for the death of a young college beauty.  Our re-introduction to the characters starts off rocky but finds a nice rhythm once the script starts poking fun at sequels in a manner more intelligent that you’d find in, say, a Hot Shots! installment but no less silly.  Tatum even gets the chance to take a well deserved dig at last summer’s non-starter White House Down…which I still say is better than the similarly themed Olympus Has Fallen.

Everything about the film feels familiar but it’s never boring…even when directors Phil Lord & Christopher Miller seem to have reached the end about 80 minutes in.  While it still loses steam near the true end of the action, it finds its fresh second wind and pushes forward toward an entertaining climax and riotous extended end credit sequence which is alone worth the price of your ticket.

While Tatum still has the potential to have a long career in both action and comedic roles, at times he overshoots his capabilities and some false notes are struck.  Co-writing the script again, Hill doesn’t keep all the good stuff for himself…in fact his material is some of the weakest in the whole shebang, especially a hardly believable love affair with a co-ed (Amber Stevens) that’s only returned to when the story runs out of other ideas.

Sequels can be a mixed bag because almost always they’re driven by money hungry studio execs and stars out for a quick buck to cash in on.  While 22 Jump Street most certainly was born out of love of profit, it’s nice to see that all returning parties were onboard to share the comedic wealth with audiences as well.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Rover

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Synopsis: A loner tracks the gang who stole his car from a desolate town in the Australian outback with the forced assistance of a wounded guy left behind in the wake of the theft.

Release Date: June 20, 2014

Thoughts: Australian director David Michôd made quite the splash back in 2010 with the release of two films, Hesher and Animal Kingdom, the latter especially gaining traction with critics and Academy voters who nominated Jacki Weaver (Stoker, Silver Linings Playbook) for Best Supporting Actress.  Michôd’s newest offering looks to be a dark as night tale told in the broad daylight following two desperate men, Guy Pearce (Iron Man 3) and Robert Pattinson (The Twilight Saga: Break Dawn), brought together by chance blazing a trail of violence across the Australian Outback.  Good buzz precedes this film and I’m always interested in films from Down Under because they like to break all kinds of rules of cinema.