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

 

Super (2010)

Super (2010)

Frank Darbo (Rainn Wilson) is the world’s most average husband. When his recovering-addict wife, Sarah (Liv Tyler) is seduced back to the dark side and leaves him for the sleazy, drug-dealing Jacques (Kevin Bacon) he loses control of himself, until he has a vision from God telling him that he has to become a superhero and bring Jacques to justice as a new, costumed vigilante calling himself The Crimson Bolt.

I had seen Kick-Ass, which I love, before this…so I thought this would be really similar. In some ways it is, but in a lot of ways it isn’t. This is a good thing, because some of the ways in which it’s different makes it a better film.

Rainn Wilson breathes a lot of life into his character, and even though he’s a bit insane and neurotic, you begin to feel for him. Ellen Page co-stars as his kinetic and sometimes too-energetic sidekick, Boltie. Kevin Bacon is amazing as the sleazy drug dealer and arch-nemesis of The Crimson Bolt, too.

The reason this is mostly a better film than Kick-Ass is because of how dark it gets. You think, at first, that it will be a campy, funny action-comedy. It does that, but it also goes deep into our psyches and makes us confront the worst parts of ourselves. In the end, you’ll find yourself foaming at the mouth as the violence, and body count, ramps up. The film’s mood split also serves as a reminder that being a hero doesn’t go unpunished.

You need to see this film, especially if you liked Kick-Ass. Both of them are very different movies, though.

JOE Review: ★★★★★

Man of Steel (2013)

Man of Steel (2013)

Original Theatrical Release Date: June 14, 2013
Director: Zack Snyder

Kal-El was sent from his dying planet, Krypton,  as an infant by his father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his mother Faora-Ul (Ayelet Zurer). With him, they sent the hopes and wishes of their entire Kryptonian race. Raised by human parents after crash-landing on Earth, Kal-El was renamed Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) and eventually had to come to terms with his extraordinary and god-like abilities, using those abilities to help others though they didn’t always realize it. However, when another survivor from Krypton – Zod (Michael Shannon) shows up and demands that Earth give up this “Superman” or face dire consequences, Clark/Kal must choose a side. The Kryptonians or the Earthlings.

Now, before I get down to brass tacks, I need to say something: I am not the biggest Superman fan in the world. Don’t get me wrong. I love the basic idea of his character, and his abilities are cool for the most part…but the dude is just too invulnerable. Sure, he’s got his weaknesses but they sort of change over time depending on the needs of the story line (in the comics, anyway). Plus, they’re really specific weaknesses – like Kryptonite, a rare green rock from space – really?! Also, Superman is an alien and it’s hard to identify with him already on account of his insane god-like abilities – but when you also throw in the fact that he’s not even human, then there is definitely a disconnect.

With that said, I don’t think this was the worst Superman movie I’ve ever seen.

I came into this film with no real expectations other than to be entertained for a while. I was entertained for the most part, for sure. Zack Snyder’s direction was the usual fare of fight sequences and thoughtful, introspective scenes. The writing by David Goyer was decent, but some of the elements were too clearly designed to be almost like a parable. The acting was decent by Henry Cavill and the rest of the cast, and it was nice to see Russell Crowe back in shape a little bit. He’d been looking a little chubby the past few years. However, some of the special effects were wonky and some of the story elements had me going “really?”, and that’s all on top of the movie being way too long. Two and a half hours with not much really to show for it.

Now, I had been entertaining the idea that this would be sort of a darker version of Superman, sort of how Christopher Nolan brought Batman back to his gothic roots. I was right in a way, but wow…I was not expecting the level of wanton destruction Superman caused during the fighting with Zod. In other incarnations of Superman, Supes would have tried to direct the fight to the countryside or somewhere uninhabited….but in the film, Superman uppercuts his opponents through skyscrapers, toppling the buildings, and he doesn’t have time to save anyone. Crazy. My other gripe was the way in which Jonathan Kent’s (Kevin Costner) character was handled. The writers wanted him to be “Uncle Ben” to Clark but it didn’t translate nearly in the same way as the poignant character of Uncle Ben did to Marvel’s Spider-Man.

All in all, it was decent as an action flick. I wouldn’t go in thinking much more than that, even if you’re a Superman fan. I am interested to see if they change anything up during the sequel. Guess we’ll find out! (EDIT: I’m feeling like the upcoming sequel will be a shit show, but I hope they prove me wrong. They are CRAMMING IN so many characters. It’s crazy.)

JOE Rating: ★★★

Movie Trailer For Man Of Steel

Wilfred: Season 1 (2011)

Wilfred: Season 1 (2011)

Original Air Date: June 23, 2011
Stations Airing: FX
Number Of Episodes In Season: 13

Ryan Newman (Elijah Wood) has had enough of life and decides to take the easy way out. However, when he swallows a bunch of pills and he doesn’t die, he ends up seeing his neighbor’s dog, Wilfred (Jason Gann), as a man in a dog costume…complete with Australian accent. What’s real and what’s not begins to blur as Ryan struggles to regain his sanity.

For the record, I have not seen the original series from the U.K. but I think this American version is great. Not knowing what to expect when I first started watching this, I was pleasantly surprised.

Elijah Wood – I can take him or leave him usually. He’s always just good enough but I have never been a huge fan of his. He was okay in films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind where he portrayed a creeper, or even in Sin City…but he’s painfully average, in my opinion. He works well for this show, however. His sensibilities come through as genuine and it plays off Jason Gann’s Wilfred very well, who is almost the exact opposite of Ryan…his dark half. Jason Gann is great as the dog and is consistently hilarious.

I found myself laughing out loud as I watched some of the episodes, and I can honestly say that I’ve now witnessed a slow-motion graphic sex scene between a man in a dog costume and a stuffed giraffe. Yup. Also, there are a lot of guest appearances as well like Nestor Carbonell from Lost and Jane Kaczmarek from Malcolm In The Middle, and there are lots of others, too.

This is one of the funniest shows out there right now, so give it a shot.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Trailer For Wilfred: Season 1 (Promo)

Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)

Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)

Original Theatrical Release: May 16, 2013
Director: J. J. Abrams

It seems that Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) of the USS Starship Enterprise has a hard time reeling in his rule-breaking habits. When he breaks the Prime Directive to save the life of his friend and crew member, Spock (Zachary Quinto) the ship is handed back to Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood), the ship’s original captain. When it seems that Kirk still has a lot of learning left to do, he pulls together when a Starfleet secret emerges to unravel the entire government in a play for revenge in the form of a one-man army, Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) – but all might not be as it seems.

This movie is essentially a remake of Star Trek II: Wrath Of Khan but there are enough differences that it’s really only the same due to some characters and plot themes. If you’ve seen the original, you may prefer it to this newer incarnation but who knows.

The movie opens with a scene you’d probably find in a Star Wars movie, so I think JJ Abrams has his Star Wars cap on right now in anticipation of the 2015 films. With that being said, I think the same holds true for this second installment as held true for the previous Star Trek film from 2009 – some Trekkies may take issue with the fact that it feels more like Wars than Trek. However,  Into Darkness still has a lot to offer, especially for people like me who didn’t get into the original Star Trek films as much.

My major issues with the film were mostly some spots where terrible acting and some bad sound effects detracted from the action and story. Peter Weller had a terrible scene where I was just laughing because of how ridiculous he sounded during a rant. Also, one fight sequence on a ship made it seem like Abrams was using sound effects left over from Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules television series.

Other than that, some of the character interactions seemed a bit forced and tired, such as the Uhura/Spock dynamic, which I know they threw in because they needed a solid love story (because Kirk’s weird, borderline-bestiality womanizing isn’t enough)…but the dynamic isn’t exactly working because Uhura seems to just let her emotions overtake her while Spock, of all people, does the same – illogical. I was giving it a chance to work after Star Trek from 2009, but it just doesn’t feel right.

Alice Eve as Carol was very appealing to the eye, but her character is really just a plot device. I’m not going to complain about an underwear scene featuring her, other than that it seemed just thrown in there for sexuality’s sake and nothing else. Aside from her role as a plot device and as eye candy, she was pretty useless as a character.

All in all, this was a fun movie. Very good visually (aside from an entire scene with JJ Abrams’ signature lens flare blocking out the characters talking to one another) and I think Benedict Cumberbatch’s acting was the best part of the film. He made a damn good villain, for sure. (Also much less goofy-looking than his predecessor from Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan – though they should have used an Indian actor for the role in this one, as much as I like Cumberbatch)

Star Trek: Into Darkness is not the worst Star Trek film I’ve seen, by any means, but it could have performed a little better. Still, it’s fun for a night out at the movies and I don’t regret seeing it.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Movie Trailer For Star Trek: Into Darkness

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