How To Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release: June 13, 2014
Director: Jean DeBlois

Five years have gone by on the Viking island of Berk since the heroic deeds of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon Toothless resulted in the once-feared beasts becoming allies and pets. During a training flight to help train Toothless to maneuver better, Hiccup discovers a sect of dragon hunters who are led by the insane Drago (Djimon Hounsou), who has a desire to subjugate dragons at any cost, including all-out war.  Add that to pressures from his father Stoick (Gerard Butler) to take on the throne and the appearance of a mysterious dragon rider who steals dragons in the night and young Hiccup certainly has his hands full.

This is obviously a sequel and I loved How To Train Your Dragon so much that it was out of the question for me to miss this movie. I haven’t read the books by Cressida Cowell, but I hope to check them out soon.

The animation, as always, was fantastic. Toothless has never been cuter and there were some new things to look at in the form of new armor, new weapons and new dragons. All the old cast has returned including the aforementioned Hiccup and Stoick, and aside from the sinister Drago there are a handful of new characters as well.

The best part of this film is that it has more complexity to it than the original. In the last one, both Hiccup and Toothless were younger. Though it’s only five years that have gone by, the characters have grown. As a result, the mood of this sequel is a bit darker than the previous entry. There are darker themes and concepts and I think it provides a richer film experience. The relationships between characters have also grown, with Stoick becoming warmer toward Hiccup as well as Astrid and Hiccup being more mature in their romantic relationship – which is not overdone and sappy but you can still tell how much they care for one another. Hiccup’s mother is introduced, as well – which provides for a new dynamic between Hiccup and his parents. (Not giving anything away…it’s in the trailer.)

There were a couple of things I felt could have been improved, but they are sort of trifling. It was a bit too long for my tastes, and the pacing felt chunky at times but mostly because of all the interwoven narratives happening simultaneously. I took my young nephew and he sort of needed to get up and move around before the movie had ended, so watch out if you bring the kiddos. It may be too long for them to sit still. However, with all the cool dragons flying around on screen it’s hard for anyone to not be captivated.

Overall it was a great film and a sequel that I believe is mostly superior to the original, which is rare in many cases. It’s fun, it’s rich, it’s exciting. It’s definitely an adventure.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For How To Train Your Dragon 2

 

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The Sixth Gun – Book One: Cold Dead Fingers (2011)

The Sixth Gun - Book One: Cold Dead Fingers (2011)

 

The Sixth Gun – Book One is a trade paperback which collects issues of the Oni Press comic book written by Cullen Bunn with art by Brian Hurtt.

Six guns with individual arcane powers were found during the American Civil War by General Oleander Hume and distributed among his most trusted (and wicked) associates. Over time, however, one of them – with the ability to grant its wielder visions of the future – disappeared. Then, in a time of need, the gun makes its way into the hands of a young girl – Rebecca Moncrief – who is later joined by a mysterious gunfighter and treasure hunter, Drake Sinclair. The two of them must unlock the secrets of the gun and its origins and figure out a way to lose their pursuers who are none other than a long-dead-but-returned-to-life General Oleander Hume and his posse.

If you know me at all, you know I love comic books and that I also love anything having to do with the American Civil War, so this book was a natural choice for me to check out. I had seen it once or twice and then one of the local comic book guys I know reminded me to try the first volume and I picked it up.

The artwork by Brian Hurtt is really nice and perfect (in my opinion) for the type of story The Sixth Gun is. The writing was pretty decent, too. The story moved along at a nice pace and I never really wanted to take a break. I flew through the first volume and it has a real cinematic feel to it. I’m betting this will be a mini-series or a movie in the future. I liked the characters, too. They never really felt forced and some of them were kind of complex (while others were throw-aways).

If you’re looking for straight-up Civil War action, this book doesn’t have a ton. The Civil War aspect is more just for “flavor” than anything else and provides a bit of context for the story and the world this book is set in. I’m sure if you like magic or fantasy or westerns or steampunk, then you’ll enjoy this.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Star Trek (2009)

Star Trek (2009)

Original Theatrical Release: May 08, 2009
Director: J. J. Abrams

James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine) is a hot-headed young man with a lot of potential. Under the tutelage of Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), he is expected to rise in rank although he sometimes goes against the grain and earns the ire of instructors such as Spock (Zachary Quinto). When the planet of Vulcan becomes endangered, the newly-commissioned USS Enterprise and her crew must come together to stop an evil Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana).

Let me start out by saying that I was never a massive Star Trek fan, so I’m not sure how my review would hold up against a true fan of the original series. I did watch a lot of the original, with Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner as Spock and Kirk, but it was such a long time ago that I don’t remember a lot of it. I am more familiar with Star Trek: The Next Generation, and even then, I’m a little fuzzy on the Star Trek mythos.

With that said, I do have to say that I enjoyed this entry into the Star Trek franchise. Say what you will about JJ Abrams, but the man knows how to direct action. There were plenty of fight scenes to wet the palate, and there is even a Beastie Boys cameo (in the form of music – lest we forget, the Beastie Boys are huge Star Trek nerds) during a cool action scene.

In this first film, the characters (I think) were a little more true to their television counterparts than in the second film, Star Trek: Into Darkness. I actually liked the casting choices of Zoe Saldana as Uhura and Zachary Quinto as Spock. (And, of course we get to see Leonard Nimoy back as Spock as well. Shhhhh!) I think Chris Pine plays a great Kirk. He is arrogant, a womanizer and indeed looks “corn-fed”. You want to hate him but his charm wins out.

Bana was lackluster as Nero – screaming and full of rage.  The Romulan ship was pretty neat. Not sure I was sold on the Uhura/Spock love entanglement, however.

All in all, this film might frustrate some hardcore Trekkies I know, but people must remember that it’s supposed to be an alternate timeline. Whether or not that helps, I’m not sure. As a non-Trekkie, I found this an easy introduction to the Star Trek characters, and I enjoyed the ride. It didn’t get too involved in the normal political mess (boring) of the television program and instead focused on the action and drama.

(Oh, and the weird thing is that you get to see Chris Hemsworth as Captain Kirk’s dad. Yup.)

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Star Trek

 

Northlanders: The Cross And The Hammer (2009)

Northlanders: The Cross And The Hammer (2009)

Publisher: Vertigo
Creative Team: Brian Wood, Ryan Kelly

Set in Viking-era Ireland, Northlanders Book Two: The Cross And The Hammer, collects issues #11-16 of the DC/Vertigo comic book series written by Brian Wood (DMZ, Demo) and illustrated by Ryan Kelly (Lucifer, The New York Four).

It is 1014 in Viking-occupied Ireland. One lone man, only known as Magnus, refuses to bow to the will of the Viking overlords and is leaving a bloody trail of insurgency in his wake. Magnus has no ties, no weaknesses, nothing to lose…except his daughter Brigid. Magnus’ killing spree and defiance catches the attention of Lord Ragnar Ragnarsson, a forensic specialist and confidant of the King who becomes obsessed with finding Magnus and ending his uprising.

When it becomes apparent that the only way to draw Magnus out of hiding is to provoke him by senselessly murdering innocent Irish families, it sends the two foes into a circle of psychological warfare and intrigue.

I was really looking forward to this volume after having already read Northlanders: Sven The Returned, which was amazing…so maybe my hopes were a little too high.

First off, don’t get me wrong. I would rather read this volume than not read this volume. Northlanders is a great series, and Brian Wood is doing some great stuff. Even the premise of the arc in this volume is decent and had me intrigued, but it all ended up falling a little flat.

Ryan Kelly is a great artist but I was honestly, the entire time, comparing his style (without meaning to) to Davide Gianfelice’s, who did the art for the issues collected in the first volume. In some ways, Kelly’s artwork is better for this Irish story but in others it just doesn’t feel up to par. There was nothing wrong for it save for the flavor, and despite some great splash page work some of it seemed a bit cartoony.

On top of that, I was sort of brought out of the story some by the way Lord Ragnar Ragnarsson spoke/wrote in the way that you might see a character do on an episode of CSI. I kept thinking to myself “This is so modern sounding. WTF is going on here?

Another thing to watch out for is the twist ending. It seems to be all the rage nowadays to give a twist ending on everything, but I don’t think they had to do so, here. It wasn’t super-compelling as it was and then to sort of glaze over it all with a twist ending such as the one found within the pages of this TPB, it just dulled everything down even more.

Overall, I wouldn’t miss this entry into the series, but it could have been much better. I hear that Volume III is, indeed, much better…so I’ll have to check it out. So, give this a read if you follow along but I’m not so sure this will be a favored volume in the series.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Here’s A Sample Page From Northlanders, Vol. 2: The Cross And The Hammer
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The Matrix (1999)

The Matrix (1999)

Original Theatrical Release: March 31, 1999
Director: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski (As the Wachowski Brothers)

Neo (Keanu Reeves), a computer hacker, feels a bit out of place in the world. He’s constantly on the search for something he feels is missing in his life and finds it in the form of Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss) who explains to him that not everything is what he thinks. She leads him to Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), who tells Neo that he may just be the one who can save mankind from their evil machine overlords.

When I first saw this movie in theaters, I don’t remember having any special expectations of it. My uncle and I had just returned from a trip to Boston, where we tried out the Omnitheater; a massive screen that wraps around you and makes you feel like you’re actually there. Still jittery from that experience, we were uncomfortable in the normal theater as The Matrix started, re-living the discomfort we experienced just a day or two before in Boston.

When the movie started, though, and the beautiful images and great story unfolded on the screen, it was all forgotten. From the moment Trinity leaped into the air and froze before kicking the police officer in the chest, I was hooked and my jaw was dropped open in enjoyment and appreciation the entire time.

I hadn’t seen anything like it, up until that time. I don’t really like the sequels as much, but Matrix: Reloaded isn’t bad. (I really disliked Revolutions, but I will get to that in another review)

This movie changed the game in cinema-land and we are still seeing copycats and works inspired by the Matrix even in 2013.

The actors were all great (yeah, even Keanu). The soundtrack was amazing. The cinematography and special effects were astounding. The fight choreography from Yuen Woo Ping was great, and the script by the Wachowski Brothers was tight. The film was just one slick package all around, and I don’t think we’ll have another great spectacle like it for quite a while. (Watch, I bet there will be a re-boot soon).

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For The Matrix