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 ~ RoboCop (2014)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: In 2028 Detroit, when Alex Murphy – a loving husband, father and good cop – is critically injured in the line of duty, the multinational conglomerate OmniCorp sees their chance for a part-man, part-robot police officer.

Stars: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle, Marianne Jean-Baptiste

Director: José Padilha

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 108 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Even uglier than the recent trend of Hollywood eating its own by remaking many a film barely 30 years old is the nasty critical backlash lobbed at these remakes.  While some of this ire is warranted (I’m looking at you 2012’s Total Recall) there seems to be efforts that become collateral damage,  wrongly tossing commendable efforts like José Padilha’s update to RoboCop into the junkbin.

Listen, Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 RoboCop is a not-minor classic but one that I wasn’t overly attached to, so treating it like a precious property isn’t going to allow anyone to really enjoy the 2014 remake.  The thing that made the ’87 sci-fi action film so razor sharp was its cynicism toward violence and the media, a concept reaching its peak in the final years of the advent of the “me” generation.  The digs taken at the alarming change in what was considered entertainment came at the right time and right place. 

That same approach wouldn’t have worked for this update;  after all we live in a time when stardom can be achieved for doing nothing so Padilha and screenwriter Joshua Zetumer wisely jettison that impossible to match angle for something admittedly less special and memorable…but one that provides the kind of entertainment that is engaging, if altogether fleeting.

The structure of this RoboCop is largely the same: in the not-too-distant future robotic technology has become more advanced and popular opinion is that it’s still too early to embrace the benefits of a robot protected society.  The head of tech giant OmniCorp (Michael Keaton, Gung Ho!, a welcome presence) decides that the public needs to be shown the light and wonders what would happen if there was a beating heart in one of his robot warriors.

That’s where Detroit cop Alex Murphy comes in.  As played by Joel Kinnaman (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), he has that same blandness that worked for previous star Peter Weller…though Kinnaman has significantly more “face” time in this film allowing us to see the man inside the machine.  Injured in the line of duty while investigating an arms dealer and police corruption, he’s saved by OminiCorp technology and becomes their RoboCop.

I’m not sure if adding more heart to the film is what audiences expected or wanted but if the cynicism was lost in the reboot there had to be something to fill the gaps.  This means Murphy’s wife (a non-presence in the first film) has more to do…even if Abbie Cornish winds up delivering most of her lines like she’s shivering in sub zero temperatures.  Where the previous film introduced the refurbished Murphy as an emotionless drone that gradually remembers his humanity, the new Murphy wakes up with the memories of his past, only to see them next to erased by corporate bottom-lining that ordered a machine without scruples.

Rounding out the quite well acted ensemble of performers are a kindly Dr. Frankenstein-like character played with dimension by Gary Oldman (Lawless) and a blowhard political reporter etched out by Samuel L. Jackson (Django Unchained) on a CGI-graphic heavy set that looks remarkably like the one Jackson shoots his credit card commercials on.  Hints at the dark comedy of the original film come through Jackson’s character and he’s given enough free rein to be over the top while eschewing winking knowingness.

Had the film cannibalized the original loyal fans would have gone crazy (and rightly so)…and I find it a bit unfair critics have knocked the film for not going that direction…maybe it was a lose-lose situation for all involved with updating this story.  For me, I was able to keep the tonally different film from ’87 at enough of a distance and take this revamp for ’14 for what it is – handsomely rendered entertainment that’s serviceable at its worst and involving at its best.

The Silver Bullet ~ RoboCop (2014)

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Synopsis: In 2028 Detroit, when Alex Murphy – a loving husband, father and good cop – is critically injured in the line of duty, the multinational conglomerate OmniCorp sees their chance for a part-man, part-robot police officer.

Release Date:  February 7, 2014

Thoughts: I’m not usually one to get behind remakes of films that were just fine to begin with.  My biggest problem is the more often than not these remakes/reboots do very little to make any strong case that the film needed to be revisited in the first place (case in point…2012’s Total Recall).  Still, I must admit that I was intrigued by the prospect of a re-envisioning 1987’s RoboCop.  Though by no means a classic, it’s still a genre favorite of mine thanks to its clever take on the future of law enforcement and its copious amounts of violence (that originally earned it an X rating before director Paul Verhoeven went back and made some trims).  While the just released trailer is interesting enough to not make me roll my eyes totally out of my head, it’s distressing to hear that the filmmakers are aiming for a PG-13 rating…something that just doesn’t work for this character or the series which was all about a next generation weapon being used to combat decaying violence.  Delayed for release several times doesn’t bode well but February is a long way away…I’m open to seeing where this one goes.

Movie Review ~ This Is The End

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The Facts:

Synopsis: While attending a party at James Franco’s house, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and many other celebrities are faced with the apocalypse.

Stars: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill

Director: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen

Rated: R

Running Length: 107 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  The Red-Band trailer for This Is The End was tough to get through – don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any problem with crude language or content but I always appreciate something of substance to back it up with and I wasn’t sure that the rest of This Is The End would be able to support the foul-mouthed tangents that would surely come with the film.  So I was pretty apprehensive going into a screening of the new film from Evan Goldberg and star Seth Rogen because I didn’t want to be the only one not laughing for two hours.

Turns out, I laughed a lot in the film though a day later I feel kinda bad about it.  Playing like the longest Funny or Die Video ever, This Is The End has moments of comedic glory that are pinned between vile nonsensical tangents (a two minute discussion over who defaced James Franco’s Penthouse Magazine  goes on precisely one minute and fifty-eight seconds too long),  questionable special effects, and an entire set-up that flames out long before the credits roll.

The first twenty minutes of the film are so very meta with Seth Rogen picking up visiting friend Jay Baruchel at the airport ready for a weekend together.  Seth brings Jay over to James Franco’s housewarming party where they meet Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and a host of other famous faces from the same circle these actors travel in (if you’re a fan of Freaks and Geeks you’ll be in heaven).  Everyone is playing themselves (or a movie version of themselves) and there’s some laughs to be had from seeing how certain actors behave when they aren’t in front of the camera.  Warning: fans of Michael Cera better brace themselves for a few visuals they won’t be able to un-see.  Another warning: if 90’s boy bands give you hives you’d better taken your allergy medicine because there’s a great cameo at the end that was pretty hysterical.

After those first twenty minutes, an apocalypse happens…literally.  Now, holed up in James Franco’s fortress of a house, Rogen, Baruchel, Robinson, Hill, and Danny McBride must band/bond together to face the end of days together.  Along the way they get a visit from Emma Watson (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), perform an exorcism on Hill, and wax poetic about everything from Milky Way’s to the trust between friends.

There’s a lot of big ideas and interesting moments in the film but it’s all covered with a frat-boy slime that starts to wear thin pretty fast.  Fans of the actors will find a lot to like here and any/all weed jokes are covered – including a home movie filmed sequel to Pineapple Express that for some may be worth the price of admission.

Still, there’s something to be said for a little bit of restraint and I couldn’t get over the notion that this would have been a lot funnier if it were a viral video making the rounds (not surprising this was based on a short viral video…go figure!) rather than a full length feature that can’t quite make it over the finish line.  That may all sound like I’m being a big ‘ole fuddy-duddy and I probably am.  Like I said, I guffawed with the best of them and found a lot of the more offensive material to be laughably over-the-top.  With The Hangover Part III releasing in May, June’s This Is The End may be exactly what Dr. Feelgood ordered for moviegoers that need some extra party time this summer.

The Silver Bullet ~ This Is the End (NSFW)

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Synopsis: While attending a party at James Franco’s house, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and many other celebrities are faced with the apocalypse.

Release Date: June 14, 2013

Thoughts: Incredibly Not Safe for Work, this is one annoying trailer.  If endurance is tested with a 2:10  preview, I’m wondering what the actual experience of seeing the film will be like.  Though it is chock full of familiar faces playing themselves, I’m not convinced that this will be anything other than one long exercise in who can be the dirtiest or most outrageous.  Written and directed by longtime collaborators Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, I’m sure This Is the End won’t be the end of the careers of anyone involved but if the final product turns off as many people as the trailer…it could truly start that 15 Minutes of Fame countdown clock for more than a few of the players.