REVIEW: How to Train Your Dragon 2

15 06 2014

Stay long enough through the credits of “How to Train Your Dragon 2” and you’ll see an interesting member of the crew: Roger Deakins, on board as a visual consultant.  That name may not mean much to the casual film fan, but he’s the cinematographer responsible for the look of some of the past two decades’ most iconic films.  An 11-time Oscar nominee, Deakins has done remarkable work on films as varied as “The Shawshank Redemption,” “No Country for Old Men,” and “Skyfall.”

His presence on the film signals that DreamWorks Animation is giving the franchise the kind of serious attention that ought to be paid to all their products.  “How to Train Your Dragon 2” may very well be the most gorgeous animated film I have ever seen, no doubt thanks to Deakins’ keen eye.  The film is like a ballet of the skies where humans and dragons soar through the skies with stunning aerodynamic agility.

It’s not just the flight sequences that show off DWA’s fixation on fine details.  The film has a remarkable texture, particularly in the design of the dragons themselves.  I felt like I could envision just what they would feel like if my 3D glasses weren’t an illusion and I could reach out and touch them.

In fact, I loved looking at the film so much that I often found myself lost in the visuals and not in the plot.  For whatever reason, I just felt somewhat less engaged with the proceedings than I was in the original “How to Train Your Dragon.”  The sequel is still sweet and entertaining, though, and the addition of Cate Blanchett to the cast certainly doesn’t hurt.  But it didn’t capture my imagination in the same way, perhaps because it seemed more interested on action sequences and effects and less focused on characters.  B2halfstars

REVIEW: This Is The End

13 06 2013

Now that I know the kind of deep analyses I can write on films, I’ve grown cautious of over-intellectualizing.  It’s like learning to reign in a superpower; just because you can use it doesn’t mean that you always should.  And, often times, I feel like many film reviewers and critics pull meanings out of films that might not even be there.

This Is The End” poses quite a conundrum for me.  I’m weary to read into it too much, but I think the apocalyptic comedy could be subversively smart.  Or it’s just another culturally-savvy product of the Apatow gang (although Judd himself had no part of this film).  Whichever it is, however, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s feature-length directorial debut is an outlandishly good time that packs some killer laughs.

I go back and forth on whether Rogen and pals are brilliant minds … or just stoned out of those same minds.  The fact that stars like Rogen, James Franco, and Jonah Hill are playing themselves certainly seems to indicate a certain level of self-reflexivity.  After all, no one would mistake “This Is The End” for a documentary as everyone seems to be playing an exaggerated version of themselves: Rogen the jovial teddy bear, Franco the off-kilter artiste, and Hill the slightly fruity sass-pot.

But then again, Rogen and Goldberg could easily have just been thinking of a way to make the ultimate end of the world comedy (lest we forget, there has already been the morose “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World“).  When it came time for their silver bullet, perhaps the idea popped into their head that rather than characters, the film should feature real celebrities.  Indeed, there are times that the real comedians feel a little gimmicky.  I’m not going to complain, however, so long as I get to hear Rogen and Franco weigh the relative merits of “Pineapple Express” and “Your Highness.”

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REVIEW: Cosmopolis

16 08 2012

Woah, woah, woah, slow down, there! What on earth did you just say? What could that possibly mean? Why should I care at all?

Such are the questions that will inevitably be invoked by anyone watching David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis.”  While a billionaire driving around the streets of New York in a limousine amidst massive social upheaval certainly packs a timely, relevant thematic punch, you can’t puzzle over the film’s deeper meaning because it’s so difficult to get past the first layer: the dialogue!  I’ve even read another book by Don DeLillo, author of the novel “Cosmopolis” from which the film was adapted, and I found the way the characters talked to be absolutely infuriating.

Everyone speaks in non-sequiturs, and no one ever seems to say exactly what they mean or have any sense of urgency.  At times, the dialogue even seems to delve into absurdism – where nothing relates to anything.  The film’s structure, in addition, jumps from conversation to conversation with very little explanation.  One second, Robert Pattinson’s Eric Packer is discussing the intricacies of global currency with Shiner (Jay Baruchel) … and then a quick cut to the next scene where he’s having sex with his art dealer (Juliette Binoche) – all in the limousine!

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REVIEW: She’s Out of My League

31 08 2010

“She’s Out of My League” makes an entire movie out of the question we asked all during 2007’s “Knocked Up” – wait, how can that attractive woman be with this disgusting slob?  No chance they would be together had he not gotten her pregnant, we thought to ourselves.

It could have been a movie about inner beauty, about falling in love with someone’s personality rather than their appearance.  Yet it’s exactly because Kirk (Jay Baruchel) is a little lacking in the looks department that Molly (Alice Eve) decides to give him a chance.  Tired of the narcissism of guys as good-looking as she is, she drops her standards a little bit in the hopes of finding a decent guy.  The fact that someone as beautiful as her could fall for an average joe like Kirk shocks his immature friends at work, a circle of four that serves as a poor man’s version of Seth Rogen’s stoner pals in “Knocked Up.”

This isn’t a movie from the so-called “Apatow Factory,” and it shows in several key missing components.  Aside from Kirk and Molly’s relationship, we don’t really buy any of the other characters or their relation – Molly’s foul-mouthed best friend, Kirk’s strange family and ex-girlfirend situation, or any of his work friends.  They are an incredibly improbable bunch – a confident self-obsessor, a loser who claims to have all the answers, and a married dork.  And maybe I’d have an easier time getting to like them had the actors not been substitutes for the people who could actually play them right.  In an ideal world, Jason Segel would be the self-obsessor, Jonah Hill would be the loser, and oddly enough, Baruchel would probably be playing the dork.

But thankfully, Eve and Baruchel work as the 2010 make of the Katherine Heigl-Seth Rogen pairing.  Eve manages to be a lot more likable and down-to-earth than Heigl (which apparently isn’t too hard), and Baruchel has a very dorky charm about him that proves to be quite winning.  Yet this appeal and chemistry can’t atone for the dearth of laughs in the movie.  Frankly, it just isn’t funny, something that I blame mostly on the uninspired script.  Baruchel tries his best to breathe some life into it, but nothing really works.

It’s a shame that this movie wasn’t better for Jay Baruchel, who really has a likable, average-joe charm about him.  He really deserves a breakout role to make him a marquee name, but he’s more recognizable for a movie where he didn’t show his face, “How to Train Your Dragon,” than he is for anything else.  It will come one of these days, but for now, we wait.  C+ /

REVIEW: How to Train Your Dragon

4 04 2010

Ever since the dawn of full-length computer animated movies, Pixar has been the most reliable brand name in the business.  But in the past few years, DreamWorks Animation has been slowly gaining ground and clipping at their heels.  With each movie, they move closer and closer towards raising their game to the Pixar standard.

Their latest output, “How to Train Your Dragon,” isn’t quite at that level.  But the bright side is that it is one of Dreamworks’ best animated movies so far.

The story or the morals aren’t highly original, yet the movie still works and delights.  The hero, Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel), is a plucky youngster with a tiny frame.  In his Viking society, where bigger is better, that isn’t exactly a positive.  His father (a heavily accented Gerard Butler) has little faith in him, and the village doesn’t either as a result.

But this tiny little village has a big problem.  We like to think termites and ants are bad; they have to put up with dragons who terrorize their town, killing people and destroying houses.  The Vikings fight and kill the dragons, training the youth of the village to do the same.  But Hiccup has a different approach: he learns how to tame and train dragons after he rehabilitates one of the most dangerous species, which he affectionately names Toothless.  He then learns in a very Jake Sully-ian fashion that the creatures they had been treating with hostility could become great friends if they are treated with respect.

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What To Look Forward To in … March 2010

12 02 2010

There’s more to March than just the Oscars.  Finally, March arrives and we can stop dwelling on 2009.  In my opinion, March is usually a pretty decent movie month.  This year’s crop looks especially promising with new movies from Tim Burton, Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Ultimatum”), and Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”).

March 5

After almost 3 months, “Avatar” will have to cede those illustrious 3-D and IMAX screens to Tim Burton’s twist on “Alice in Wonderland.”  The titular character is played by relative newcomer Mia Wasikowsa, who will look quite a bit older than the Alice you remember from Disney’s 1951 animated classic.  If that’s not a big enough draw for you, surely Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter (who will hopefully channel more of his glorious Jack Sparrow than his Jacko-esque Willy Wonka) will suffice.  No?  How about Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen of Hearts?  Or Anne Hathaway as the White Queen?  Perhaps Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar?  No doubt about it, this is one exciting cast, and I’m sure Tim Burton won’t have any problem distinguishing himself from the numerous “Alice in Wonderland” rip-offs that have sprouted over the past few years.

“Brooklyn’s Finest” is directed by Antoine Fuqua, helmer of “Training Day,” which was enough to get me interested.  However, it really looks to be little more than a mash-up of every cop movie ever made.  But hey, that may be your thing, which would make this your potpourri.

March 12

I’m excited for “Green Zone,” which looks to be a smart political thriller. See my previous post at the release of the trailer for more info.

On the indie side of things, Noah Baumbach looks to return to Oscar form after “Margot at the Wedding” underwhelmed with “Greenberg.”  The movie stars Ben Stiller as Greenberg, the grouchy misanthrope who finds a reason to be pessimistic about everything.  However, a special woman comes along and begins to melt his heart.  I’m looking forward to a double-edged performance from Stiller, one that can show off his dramatic chops but also give us plenty of hearty laughs.

Seth Rogen’s four roommates in “Knocked Up” were equally as funny as he was. Each of them have slowly gotten their “moment”: Jonah Hill in “Superbad,” Jason Segel in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Now, it could be Jay Baruchel’s turn. “She’s Out of My League” pits him similar situation: the uncomely guy getting the smoking hot babe. Hopefully Paramount gives this the push it deserves, maybe making Baruchel a breakout comedic star of 2010.

Could “Remember Me” get Robert Pattinson the Razzie for Worst Actor? After narrowly missing the cut for his two performances as Edward Cullen, this could finally be the one to get him the kind of awards attention he deserves.

Forest Whitaker is an Academy Award winning actor. What on earth is he doing in “Our Family Wedding?” For that matter, America Ferrera has won SAG and Golden Globe awards, and Carlos Mencia was once actually funny! This looks not only insufferable but almost racist. Plus, didn’t I see this movie in 2005 when it was called “Guess Who?”

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