Thursday, March 25, 2010

"How to Train Your Dragon"

Based almost not at all on the book of the same name by Cressida Cowell, “How to Train Your Dragon” is the story of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel: “She's Out of My League”), son of viking leader Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler: “300”). Hiccup's village is under constant assault by a variety of dragons who steal their food and destroy their homes, and as a result the vikings have made it their purpose in life to find and destroy the dragons.

The film opens with an epic battle as the vikings try to defend their village from an aerial dragon assault. Hiccup, who is the apprentice of Gobber (Craig Ferguson: “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson”), the village blacksmith, frantically tries to cross the village to help sharpen and distribute weapons, all the while being told to get inside by everyone who sees him due to how utterly useless he is.

When Gobber himself goes to join the battle he leaves Hiccup alone to mind the shop, giving the young wannabe dragonslayer a chance to try out his ballista-like bola launcher. With no one else around to see it happen, Hiccup manages to take down the most feared of dragons, a dragon never before seen by anyone who lived to tell about it, the Night Fury.

In order to prove himself in the eyes of his father, his village, and maybe even get himself a date with Astrid (America Ferrera: “Ugly Betty”), Hiccup tracks the dragon to where it crashed, preparing to slay the dragon and bring back its heart. Upon finding his wounded prey he discovers that he does not have it in him to kill the defenseless beast, and further discovers that everything his people know about dragons may be wrong.

“How to Train Your Dragon” is the newest film by Dreamworks, and my first instinct is to compare it to other computer animated films. The movie comes in a little lacking when compared to Pixar masterpieces like “Up”, but compared to other Dreamworks films like “Monsters vs. Aliens” and “Shrek” the movie easily hold its own, and even excels in visual quality. Compared to movies like “Madagascar” the movie seems downright awesome.

The animation is very good, and a lot of attention has been put into the small details. You can make out individuals hairs on the heads and faces of the vikings and their clothes, and the fire effects are probably the best I have seen in a computer animated picture; they were so good in fact that during the film's climax they looked like they would be more at home as an effect in a live action film than a cartoon. Dreamworks may not be quite at the Pixar level yet, but they are making great strides.

The film is not without its problems, but they are minor ones. For some reason that either was not explained or was lost on me all of the adult vikings have Scottish accents, yet all of the kids sound American. Now I'm not expert on vikings, but I am pretty sure they did not come from Scotland or the United States.

Another issue, and I am sure this is because of merchandising, is that the dragons look just a little too cute to be as scary as they should be for a lot of the movie. The Night Fury in particular kept making me think of a Pokemon, and I found that a little distracting as I kept trying to figure out which one it made me think of (I ended up deciding on either Mudkip or Latios, if you are interested).

Like most Dreamworks animated features, “Dragon” has a fantastic cast. Aside from those I have already mentioned, keep an ear out for Kristen Wiig (“Saturday Night Live”), Jonah Hill (“Superbad”), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (“Superbad”), David Tennant (“Doctor Who”), and Ashley Jensen (“Extras”) who fill out much of the rest of the cast. Accents aside, they all do a fantastic job breathing life into their characters.

Sure this movie is no “Up” or “The Incredibles”, but it is also not a “Madagascar 2” or “Ice Age 12.5”, and that is a very good thing. Fans of the book may find themselves wondering what happened to the story they love, but for the rest of us “How to Train Your Dragon” is a well done fast paced family film with plenty of laughs and action to keep you interested. This should prove to be a very strong launch for a new film franchise, something Dreamworks needs if they really intend to retire Shrek.

If you want a film you can take the whole family to this weekend, “Dragon” is easily the best choice. There is some mild (and not so mild) innuendo, but most of that will go right over younger viewers' heads. Without spoiling anything, I will say that there is one bit at the end where parents may have to do a little explaining to their kids, but I liked how this showed that some things are permanent, and if they intend to follow the series of books at all (even if just in titles alone), I am sure that this figures into the sequel.

I strongly recommend seeing this in theaters if you are at all interested (IMAX if you can), as this movie is not going to seem quite so epic on the small screen. Spend a couple of extra bucks for the 3D version, the sense of depth it adds to the movie is nice, and the flying sequences look fantastic. The use of 3D is sure to amaze younger (and some older) viewers.

“How to Train Your Dragon” burns its way into theaters nationwide this weekend.

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

"She's Out of My League"

Have you ever heard something to the effect of “A one doesn't get a ten”? If you haven't, it basically means that the ugly dork doesn't get the hottie, and it's true. There are ways of making your score go up or down, being rich, being in a band, having a nice car, etc, but there is only a certain disparity that can exist between you and your mate. It is this concept that backs up the plot of the new movie “She's Out of My League”.

“She's Out of My League” (which shall be referred to as SOML from here on, as I am too lazy to keep typing it) is the story of Kirk (Jay Baruchel: “Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist”), a TSA screener at the Pittsburgh airport who cannot get over his ex-girlfriend, Marnie (Lindsey Sloan), although it probably doesn't help that she works at the same screening station, and that his family seems to like her more than they do him.

Even though he is a bit of a loser, Kirk still has his close circle of friends. There's a the jerk, Stainer (T.J. Miller: “Cloverfield”), the almost cool guy, Jack (Mike Vogel: “Cloverfield”), and the nice guy, Devon (Nate Torrence: “Get Smart”). They work together, they hang out together, and they alternately jeer and cheer Kirk on for the decisions he makes and has made with his life.

So Kirk is living his craptastic life until the day that Molly (Alice Eve) comes through his checkpoint and loses her iPhone. Molly's bitchy friend, business partner, and airplane seat mate, Patty (Krysten Ritter: “Breaking Bad”) calls the phone and Kirk answers. Molly sets up a time for Kirk to return the phone to her at an event she is organizing, where they hit it off, and the rest of the story is set in motion.

SOML is equal parts gross-out guy humour and romantic comedy, and is more reminiscent of films like “Meet the Parents” or “There's Something About Mary” than it is “The Hangover”. This makes for a decent date movie (although probably not a first date movie) as it never spends too long on either movie type at a time, and it is equally funny while in either mode.

I only had a couple of problems with this film. The first was that when we Molly enters the airport at the beginning every guy's head turns to her as if she were the hottest woman on Earth. I'm not saying she's not attractive by any stretch here, but I honestly thought that Patty was better looking, although she is a bitch which would lower her a point or two, but you're not going to get that just from her walking into an airport terminal. Clearly your mileage may vary on this based on your own likes and dislikes, so it's not worth dwelling on.

The second problem is that I could never totally buy the relationship between Molly and Kirk. In a movie where all the of the actors have great chemistry you have this alpha couple who just seem wrong for each other. I know that it is meant to be awkward, and I know you are supposed to spend half the movie waiting for her to dump him when someone better looking comes along, or for his low self-esteem to sabotage things, but it still never really worked for me. Their interactions seem just a little too awkward, forced almost. This would be a big problem if the movie wasn't otherwise as good as it is, but the fun script and believable interaction between the other characters cover for this flaw.

One of the best things in SOML has to be Nate Torrence's portrayal of Devon. Torrence steals every scene he is in whether he is refusing to curse for money, offering manscaping advice, or dropping Disney references in regards to Molly and Kirk's relationship. I could not help but smile every time he was on the screen. He brings an unflappable brightness to his role that made me believe that he would actually do some of the things his character does for his friend.

SOML is probably the best comedy in theaters right now, and if you are looking for a good laugh that you can have with your special someone this is likely your best bet. It's rude and crude, but still manages to be sweet when it counts. Compared to larger fare like “Alice in Wonderland” this is really only a rental, but if you just want to have a good time with an adult-oriented movie, then I recommend spending a little time finding out how you rate at “She's Out of My League” this weekend.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

"Hot Tub Time Machine"

Remember the 80's? Day-glo clothes? Big hair? Unsafe sex? Reagan? You showed such promise then, but the 80's ended, and the 90's came and went, and now at the start of the second decade of the 21st century you find yourself drudging through each day at some meaningless job. What if you could go back in time and do it over again? What if you had a “Hot Tub Time Machine”?

Adam, Nick, and Lou are three friends who not only saw all their dreams die, but grew apart from each other as the years passed. Now Adam (John Cusak: “2012”) is a lonely insurance agent with his geeky nephew, Jacob (Clark Duke: “Sex Drive”) living in his basement, Nick (Craig Robinson: “The Office”) works at an upscale dog salon, and Lou (Rob Corddry: “The Daily Show”) is a complete train wreck of a man.

After Lou has a close call with death the guys, Jacob in tow, decide to relive a bit of their youth by returning to the ski resort they went to during their high school years; a winter party Mecca. Unfortunately the resort town has fallen on bad times, and they find that main street is almost abandoned, and their favourite lodge has become a dump.

Depressed and defeated the foursome decides to make the best of it and get completely wasted. After an accident with a can of Russian energy drink, the guys find themselves magically transported, “Quantum Leap” style, into their younger selves during Winterfest '86. Yes, this is an incredibly stupid premise, get over it, you'll be glad that you did.

Combining a lot of the feel of 80's comedies like “Better Off Dead”, “One Crazy Summer”, and “National Lampoon's Vacation” with the modern mentality of films like “The Hangover” and “I Love You, Man” with a dash of the loose science fiction found in movies like “Back to the Future” and “Weird Science”, “Hot Tub Time Machine” manages to create a hilariously raunchy comedy that any child of the 80's should feel right at home with. Sure the things that happen don't always make sense, but it's okay because it's funny.

Aside from the four main cast members, there are also appearances by Crispin Glover (“Back to the Future”) as a disgruntled one-armed bellhop, and William Zabka (“The Karate Kid”) as Rick the gambler. Of course the most prominent small role goes to Chevy Chase (“National Lampoon's Vacation”) as the repairman who offers cryptic advice to the guys that may be about the effects their actions will have on the future, or it may just be about fixing their hot tub.

This movie was clearly crafted by people who liked watching (or starring in) 80's comedies. Not only does it manage to blend a lot of the tropes of the movies of my childhood, but there are clear shout outs to films like “Sixteen Candles” sprinkled throughout the film. Sure there are things that are just wrong like a football game being played on the wrong date, or completely ignoring the concept of creating a temporal paradox, but we accepted that two nerds could create Kelly LeBrock using am MTX512 and that Michael J. Fox could time travel in a Delorean when we were younger, so we can accept this too.

Unlike a lot of the 80's comedies that this movie tries to recreate, this is not a family friendly film. Gross-out humour, cursing, sexual references, and nudity (mostly Rob Corddry's ass) as splashed over this film like butter-flavoured topping on your popcorn. Don't bring the young ones, they're not going to get half the jokes anyway.

While you could easily wait to pick this movie up as a rental there is a certain something about seeing this kind of comedy in a theater full of people that just adds to the experience. There's just something special about cringing at a scene of projectile vomiting with a hundred other people that you cannot recreate at home.

The plot is paper-thin, but the acting and writing make up for it. If you want to see a movie that is funnier than it has any right to be, and will make you long for the days of “Red Dawn” and cassette players, then I heartily recommend “Hot Tub Time Machine”. You can get tub'd in theaters starting March 26th.

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