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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Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

After Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is fired by his boss – Mack Tannen (Harrison Ford) and Ron’s wife, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) is given a promotion, Ron is unexpectedly asked by Freddie Shapp (Dylan Baker) to head one of the news teams on the new 24-hour Global News Network. To do so, he gathers his old team – Champ Kind (David Koechner), Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) and Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) – but finds that maybe he’s bitten off more than he can chew.

I went with a bunch of my friends to see this. I figured it was going to be one of those kind of movies, and I was right. So, let me start things off with the obvious: It was a funny movie. However, it wasn’t quite as consistently funny (in my opinion) as the first film.

Most of the jokes we see in this second installment of the legend of Ron Burgundy are recycled from the first flick and beefed up a little more. It’s not a terrible thing, but I would have liked to have seen more original material as well as more play on the fact that this takes place in the 1980’s. In the first film, the sense of 1970’s style was pervasive, but you barely notice the time period in this film and at times, could even be interchangeable. Also, Anchorman 2 is a little bit longer so it’s pretty noticeable.

Still, there are enough genuinely funny parts involved, and there was an effort made to up the ante so that counts for something. If you didn’t like the first film – don’t bother….because it basically is the first film in new trappings. If you loved the first film, try to be content with how great the first one was and look at this second film as a separate entity. Don’t have crazy expectations and you’ll have a good time.

Also, one other thing – the amount of cameos in this film was impressive and worth watching for that alone.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

After Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) emerge victorious (and both alive) from the 74th Annual Hunger Games, they return home for a short while before being enlisted to embark on a “Winner’s Tour” and are forced to travel to all the other districts to congratulate them on their fallen tributes from the Games. However, Katniss and Peeta’s defiance in the face of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has attracted the attention and imaginations of a new wave of rebels, determined to bring down the morally corrupt government around them. This forces Snow to arrange for a twist to the games – and on the 75th year, all previous surviving winners are made to participate in the Games once more, including Katniss and Peeta.

This second installment was far better than the first. While Hunger Games set up the franchise, it didn’t paint a complete picture of the plights of the common people and their struggles. Catching Fire is much more intimate and lets us in on the futility of resistance but also on the hope these people embrace whenever it arises.

The acting by the two main characters was much more polished, and Katniss has gone from being a bit of an annoyance (Screaming, running out into the open because she can’t control her emotions) to actually being a kickass, strong female character. Likewise, Peeta hasn’t all of a sudden become a master combatant after one stint in the games as I’d expected him to do, but he does hold his own. Respectable abilities, but not unbelievable.

The movie is pretty long (two and a half hours….phew) but the director, Francis Lawrence, does such a great job of pacing the film that it doesn’t really feel as long while you’re watching, and by the end you’re going to want to see what happens next (though there seemed to be some ripped-off elements of The Matrix there).

One other notable addition to this film is that of Philip Seymour Hoffman – who usually turns any performance into gold. His role had a subtlety to it that I think you’d have to watch the film multiple times to get.

In closing, go see this film even if you didn’t really like the first film, The Hunger Games. This is really what the first film SHOULD have been. It does everything the first film did but does it better. It’s a little long, but worth it.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

The Wolverine (2013)

The Wolverine (2013)

A mentally-wounded Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) takes to the hermit life in a rugged, backwoods mountain town after the events in X-Men: The Last Stand. When he is approached by associates of an old friend from Japan to come to Tokyo, he reluctantly agrees to fulfill a dying man’s wish. Once there, he finds himself embroiled in a fight between ninja and Yakuza on which the fate of a young woman, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), rests.

I have to admit that I had a lot of apprehension going in to see this film. X-Men 3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine had both really, REALLY let me down. In a big way. So, I didn’t really have much in the way of expectations.

With that said, the movie turned out to be actually good, and I was pleasantly surprised, especially since a lot of it was true to the Miller/Claremont miniseries from the 1980’s.

We get to see the badass Wolverine/Logan that we want to see, slicing up Yakuza and ninjas in all his adamantium glory. BUT – even though we get to see him slice up SOME ninjas, I really wanted to see more of a fight instead of having to see Logan turned into a parody of a porcupine. C’mon, man, where was your rage?

There were many nods to the comics, as I said before, , which was a nice touch and something that Fox has been lacking lately. This time, they did a lot of things correctly and they also made it accessible enough for casual viewers who just want to see a good action flick or want to see shirtless Hugh Jackman flex his muscles.

The characters were all really nice, and the movie being set in Japan gave the aesthetics a distinct quality that was very appealing to the eye.

All in all, this movie is decent. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely not X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Go see it if you liked the earlier X-Men films and wondered what happened to the once-mighty franchise. This installment definitely makes some amends.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Escape From L.A. (1996)

Escape From L.A. (1996)

Original Theatrical Release Date: August 9, 1996
Director: John Carpenter

It’s 2013 and Los Angeles is now an island for undesirables, deported from America by the U.S. Government. Once you go there, you can never get back. The President’s daughter, Utopia (A.J. Langer), steals a doomsday device and heads for the island in order to help free the prisoners there and daddy isn’t happy. He gets Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) to go after her by having him injected with a disease that will end his life in hours and promising him the cure if he’s successful. However, a revolutionary named Cuervo Jones (Georges Corraface) and L.A.’s many dangerous denizens stand in the way.

Sequels are rarely ever able to outshine the originals, and this film is no exception.

The entire movie is a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the entire culture of Los Angeles, and that it probably the most entertaining aspect of the film. It’s an action film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that is fun for the most part but makes for a movie that’s hard to become attached to, unlike the first film Escape From New York.

Kurt Russell really channels his inner Clint Eastwood for this installment, and other actors such as Steve Buscemi and Peter Fonda fall into their roles with seemingly great joy. Who doesn’t want to see Bruce Campbell as the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills?

The movie plays out like an Extreme Sports story, with Kurt Russell taking on extreme forms of basketball, hang gliding and surfing, which is really strange in the context of this film, but made for some entertaining scenes.

The special effects have not held up well over time and some of them, while laughably funny, tend to take you right out of the movie. However, at this point in his career it seemed like John Carpenter was just having some fun, and the fun did shine through and it’s sort of infectious.

Still, for those who weren’t introduced to this series of films back when they originally came out, it might be hard to fully appreciate this sequel by today’s standards, though the original still holds up.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Movie Trailer For Escape From L.A.

Justice League: Doom (2012)

Justice League: Doom (2012)

Original Theatrical Release: February 28, 2012
Director: Lauren Montgomery

The Justice League is a team of powerful superheroes dedicated to protecting Earth from all manner of supervillains and other dangers. Batman (Kevin Conroy), the most human of the Justice League, has created contingency plans to defeat each individual member of the famed superhero team. Vandal Savage (Phil Morris) has plans of world domination and decides to send Mirror Master (Alexis Denisof) to sneak into the Batcave and steal all of Batman’s files, including the weaknesses of the Justice League. This results in Batman, Superman (Tim Daly), Wonder Woman (Susan Eisenberg), Green Lantern (Nathan Fillion), Martian Manhunter (Carl Lumbly), The Flash (Michael Rosenbaum) and Cyborg (Bumper Robinson) all having to fight for their very lives as Batman’s contingency plans prove all too effective.

Taken from the Tower of Babel story line, the events in this film mostly mirror those found in DC Comics, with some differences. However, with only 77 minutes to tell this story, I think they managed to do a good job, overall. Still, some fans of the original material might feel like this doesn’t adequately translate Mark Waid’s original writing. Movies will almost always lack the depth of their source material, so it’s best to treat them as separate entities if you can.

The animation was very slick and stylized. The voice acting was consistently very good, and it was nice to see the Legion Of Doom go up against the Justice League. You could get a sense of the classic rivalries between the characters even without knowing all of the years of back story behind them.

DC seems to really have a handle on all of their animated features – I will give them that. DC characters are sort of larger than life and tend to lend themselves more to animated adventures, where Marvel characters tend to be more gritty and aside from characters like Spider-Man, are more suited to the big screen.

With that said, in this (too) short animated feature, you will find copious amounts of action, danger and adventure…and you will feel that the League really is close to being defeated, because they are…and it’s because of one of their own members. (Thanks a lot, Batman…)

JOE Rating:  ★★★★

Trailer for Justice League: Doom

Assassin’s Creed III (2012 – PS3)

Assassin's Creed III (2012 - PS3)

Release Date: October 30, 2012
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft

In Assassin’s Creed III, players assume the role of Connor Kenway, a Native American brought up in hard times and trained to be an assassin during the 1700’s. Throughout the game, you will experience historical battles such as the Battle of Breed’s (Bunker) Hill and the Battle of North Bridge where the shot heard ’round the world occurred in Concord, Mass. You will also experience other historical events such as the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride.

You will be able to enjoy roaming historically and visually accurate (for the most part) portrayals of Boston, New York, Concord and Lexington. (Though, I couldn’t find The Old Manse while I was near the Old North Bridge, in the game).

Despite a lot of historical things, the game also, of course, is historical fiction and they take liberties (ha, no pun intended) with some of the events in order to facilitate their own sci-fi-themed storyline…which also takes place simultaneously in a near-future where you are a modern day assassin looking back via the Animus. (A device which makes this sort of “time travel” possible)

The game is immensely fun and I really enjoy traipsing over the rooftops of Boston, seeing as I know the area fairly well. The time period is also not done very much in games nowadays, and so it’s nice to see a playable, non-boring representation of combat from that era. (Can we maybe do one during Civil War times, PLEASE?!)

The multiplayer modes are super-fun as well, but a lot of the novelty is lost on many folks who just want to run around and avoid the challenge of trying to blend in with the crowd. This doesn’t happen in every game, but it happened in enough of the matches that it sort of made me move onto other multiplayer gaming options, though I still re-play the hell out of the story.

The best part of the game, in my opinion, are the naval battles you can take part in with your ship (once you complete the missions to get it). It’s really well-done and very fun.

There haven’t been a ton of glitches, (at least, I hear, compared to the Wii U version) but I did run into a cart that was half in the ground (vertically) so the driver was facing the sky, but with no horses.

If you liked the previous Assassin’s Creed games, you’ll like this too…and you’ll especially like it if you’re a history buff, or have been to Boston. It’s really fun to be able to walk around the Freedom Trail in-game.

Check it out!

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Game Trailer For Assassin’s Creed III