[#2015oscardeathrace] How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

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Director: Dean DeBlois

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

Screenplay: Dean DeBlois

102 mins. Rated PG for adventure action and mild rude humor.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

 

How to Train Your Dragon was a film that needed to have a sequel. Two, in fact. The first film had a very SAGA-like feeling to it. It had some more story that needed to be told. And it was, in last year’s How to Train Your Dragon 2.

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Hiccup (Jay Baruchel, TV’s Man Seeking Woman, Million Dollar Baby) and his dragon Toothless have come a long way in their relationship, and their home Berk has changed along with them. Hiccup’s father, Stoick (Gerard Butler, 300, Olympus Has Fallen), has learned to respect him as a son and a man. Hiccup’s girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera, TV’s Ugly Betty, Cesar Chavez) has furthered her affection for him. Everything is going just great for Hiccup, until he discovers a dragon army led by the terrifying Drago (Djimon Hounsou, Gladiator, Seventh Son) and comes face-to-face with Valka (Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Knight of Cups), his missing mother in this sequel from director Dean DeBlois (Lilo & Stitch).

How to Train Your Dragon 2 excells in almost every way further than its predecessor. Visually, it is stunning. Emotionally, it resonates. The above developed relationships are tested further and further as the film progresses. Cate Blanchett, Djimon Hounsou, and Kit Harington (TV’s Game of Thrones, Pompeii) are great additions to the voice cast.

DeBlois’ sequel is a tightly-knit thrill-ride, with beautiful music, and gorgeous set-pieces. It also has the distinction of being the first animated film to contain an openly homosexual character (I won’t say who, but it shouldn’t really matter). For that alone, the film deserved praise.

The flaw, and there is a big one, comes at the end, when the film takes a fairly mediocre and cliché turn developing in an underwhelming finale. Hiccup and Toothless have a respect that is stretched to its lengths, yet the plotholes near the end make one question what it was all for.

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The ending aside, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is still a massively successful sequel and well worth the viewing. I only hope the open threads are continued throughout the future installments.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders’ How to Train Your Dragon, click here.

[Oscar Madness] How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

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Director: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders

Cast: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig

Screenplay: William Davies, Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders

98 mins. Rated PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

 

How to Train Your Dragon was doomed in the Oscar race by the basic fact that it was nominated next to Toy Story 3. Damn comparative Oscars!

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How to Train Your Dragon is the story of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel, TV’s Man Seeking Woman, Million Dollar Baby), a Viking who cannot live up to the image his father Stoick (Gerard Butler, 300, Olympus Has Fallen) has built up. He can’t win over the love of Astrid (America Ferrera, TV’s Ugly Betty, Cesar Chavez). He has no friends, until a rare shot during a dragon raid on his home island of Berk causes him to meet a Night Fury dragon he calls Toothless. The bond they create begins to change the way Hiccup sees dragons and their motives for attacking.

The voice work here is nice, but not great. The big flaw of the voices is that we have Vikings that don’t sound like Vikings. The performers are comedic nonetheless.

The story, although vastly different from the one in Cressida Cowell’s book of the same name, but the changes all seek to create a more compelling story, and they do.

The animation is gorgeous and the characters well-designed. Sometimes, in movies with monsters or aliens, the characters and species don’t feel different, but in How to Train Your Dragon, they are dynamically different. Toothless’ design, based on cats, dogs, and horses, is quirky and cute.

Lastly, the music is everything I wanted it to be. It engaged me and kept me involved throughout and it’s the kind you keep humming after you leave the theater.

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How to Train Your Dragon isn’t the strongest Dreamworks Animation film and it definitely wasn’t stealing the Best Animated Feature Oscar from Toy Story 3, but it is still a pretty strong piece of animation that compels audiences of all ages and is well worth a viewing.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

31 Days of Horror: Day 6 – Resident Evil (2002)

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Director: Paul W.S. Anderson

Cast: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Eric Mabius, James Purefoy, Martin Crewes, Colin Salmon

Screenplay: Paul W.S. Anderson

100 mins. Rated R for strong sci-fi/horror violence, language and sexuality/nudity.

 

I think every video game player in the world has played Resident Evil at some point. My association with it came from Resident Evil 2 for the Playstation. My brother had it, and I would sneak into his room, watch the opening cinematic, and die really quickly before turning off the system and running back into my room before he noticed. I never thought much more of it until I heard that a film version was coming out, on my birthday, no less.

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Resident Evil is, in essence, a prequel to the game series and beginning of a franchise with five films and a sixth on the way. It is the story of Alice (Milla Jovovich, The Fifth Element, Faces in the Crowd), who awakens in a mansion with amnesia. She very quickly finds that not all is even close to what it seems as her home is attacked by several commandos, among them Rain (Michelle Rodriguez, Avatar, Machete Kills). She is taken to an underground facility beneath her “beard” home where, hours earlier, a deadly virus was unleashed on its employees, turning them into the undead. Now, she and another civilian, Matt (Eric Mabius, TV’s Ugly Betty, The Crow: Salvation) must discover the secrets behind the facility known as The Hive and the artificial intelligence known as The Red Queen governing its walls.

It is tough to grade Resident Evil on its merits as a technical film. Movies based on video games have a separate code of ethics to abide by. I wasn’t watching it to be ready for the Academy Awards that year. I was just hoping it didn’t suck. While not being a massively important film, it was an enjoyable and fun ride. The cast was comprised of actors having a lot of fun with the action set pieces, among them series star Jovovich, the only actress to appear in each installment thus far.

We understand that many of these characters will not survive. It is almost a sure thing that Rain won’t, given that she is the female Sean Bean.

Writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson (Death Race) can definitely create some awesome moments, though, and he crafted his movie as though it were a game. He did the same with the film adaptation of Mortal Kombat. A great writer he is not. A great director he is not. A maker of fun films he is. Almost like Michael Bay, Anderson creates some amazing action but little more. Definitely still leagues ahead of Uwe Boll, Anderson seems more like Ang Lee by comparison.

The score, with assistance by Marilyn Manson, helps further the fact that we are dealing with popcorn and eye candy.

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Resident Evil remains one of the stronger entries of the series, and given the enjoyment I felt while watching, definitely belongs on the list of better video game movies.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 2 – Urban Legend (1998)

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Director: Jamie Blanks

Cast: Jared Leto, Alica Witt, Rebecca Gayheart, Michael Rosenbaum, Tara Reid

Screenplay: Silvio Horta

99 mins.  Rated R for horror violence/gore, language and sexual content.

 

If I had to classify the 1990s with a specific kind of horror film, it would most definitely have to be the slasher film. In the 90s we had classics like Scream and its sequel, we had messes like I Know What You Did Last Summer, and we had Urban Legend, which exists somewhere in the middle.

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Urban Legend is essentially Scream in practicality, but instead of horror film staples as the moniker, we get urban legends, the scary stories that everyone swears happened to someone who knew someone they know. Natalie Simon (Alicia Witt, Two Weeks Notice, A Madea Christmas) gets entangled with the killer after several close classmates get picked off, but who is it? Is it Paul Gardener (Jared Leto, Requiem for a Dream, Dallas Buyers Club), the strange school paper writer, or is it best friend Brenda Bates (Rebecca Gayheart, Jawbreaker, G.B.F.), or perhaps party king Parker Riley (Michael Rosenbaum, TV’s Smallville, Hit and Run), or could it be radio student Sasha Thomas (Tara Reid, The Big Lebowski, Sharknado 2: The Second One)? The answer is simple, if you know latin. In fact, in a SPOILER ALERT but not really SPOILER ALERT note, the killer’s identity is actually revealed in the school motto in latin.

The plot and slasher tool of Urban Legend isn’t all that bad. In fact, it can have some meta connotations in that the very belief of urban legend is that they are true, so turning fiction to fact would be a very interesting to play with, but screenwriter Silvio Horta (TV’s Ugly Betty) doesn’t play with it as much as just present the idea in its plainest of ways. That’s the real death of the story in that it is wasted. The main concept becomes little more than campiness on a stick.

None of the performances are very good, nor are any of the characters very likable. The greatest win of the acting in this film comes from the many cameos associated with horror films, from Brad Dourif (Chucky the killer doll) in the opening, Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger) as the professor everyone admires and fears, and Danielle Harris (Michael Myers’ niece Jamie Lloyd) as the goth dorm mate to Natalie.

Take an opportunity to enjoy the 90s soundtrack as it pulsates of musicians you might find at The Bronze from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The sets are interesting. I love the university, it just oozes creepy.

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My advice, watch this movie as it does have some thrills to it (the opening itself is nearly perfect) but be warned that it is far from far from perfect. You heard that correctly, far from FAR FROM perfect. That is twice removed.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more from the 31 Days of Horror, click here.

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