Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Quick and Dirties: How to Train Your Dragon 2, The Book of Life, Maleficent, etc.


Good evening...or morning...or whatever time of day it is wherever you are. Welcome to another edition of The Quick and Dirties, where I curb my long-winded ways and give you my concise reviews of several movie. This time, if you couldn't tell by the pic, we're talking about fam-friendly fare. Since we are, print off a copy of this post and read it to the kids at bedtime. Or don't. Because that would be weird. And they don't want to hear it. Anyhoo, let's get started.


How to Train Your Dragon 2
(2014)
Picking things up five years after the original, all the dragons in Berk have been domesticated. We catch back up with Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and bestest buddy/pet dragon Toothless, the one and only Night Fury in existence. While out joy-riding their dragons, Hiccup and his girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera) run into some dragon trappers who work for bad guy Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou). Mr. Bludvist or blood fist, is building an army of the creatures whom he has found a way to control and plans to take over everything. The story moseys along, but does nothing to excite or anger us most of the time. The exception being a rather large revelation in the second act. Mostly, it just hits all the beats you'd expect as it barrels toward the finale in which dragons are all over the screen. This plays into the movie's strong suit, the visuals. It's wonderful just to gaze upon. The narrative, however, takes no risks. It just slips in easily agreeable themes about protecting endangered species and being true to yourself. This ride is a perfectly safe time-passer, but lacks the charm of its predecessor.


Arthur and the Invisibles
(2006)
After finding out his grandmother will lose her land unless she can come up with a payment in two days, Arthur (Highmore) goes looking around the property for the treasure his grandfather has supposedly buried. He soon discovers and joins a civilization of really tiny people, said to be about the size of a tooth. Pretty standard kiddie fare with some nice action sequences. Not great, but not bad either. Well, except for the annoying fact that the child of this obviously middle-American family has a heavy British accent. Most kids won’t notice that, though.


The Book of Life
(2014)
Two guys fight over a girl. This time, that fight has far-reaching implications. Our two suitors are Manolo (Diego Luna) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum). Maria (Zoe Saldana) is the girl they love. Complicating things, The rulers of the Land of the Remembered and the Land of the Forgotten have placed a little wager on the outcome that would basically alter the course of human history. It's an often fun and always colorful ride with great turns by Diego Luna and Ron Perlman who plays the ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, or our villain. The style of animation is really intriguing as most of it is not meant to photo-realistic, but evoke a sense of the pageantry that comes with the Mexican holiday which inspired the movie, The Day of the Dead. As morbid as it sounds, it's really a festive occasion used to remember loved ones who passed away. Big props to 20th Century Fox, not only for pulling from a non-American source, but for not 100% white-washing it. To that end, we could nitpick the casting, but I'll leave that alone. Baby steps, people. Speaking of the casting, Ice Cube also plays a memorable part, yet I'm not sure what to make of his work. The writing and his portrayal makes it a role reminiscent of Robin Williams' genie in Aladdin, but not nearly as good. However, it is self-lampooning, which I appreciate. I don't know. Just see it for yourself and you be the judge. Overall, I enjoyed this one a good deal.


The Last Day of Summer
(2007)
Little Luke (Jansen Panettiere) and his two buddies are scared to death that they will be starting middle school tomorrow. He wishes that today, the last day of summer, would go on forever. He gets hit on the head and voila, wish granted. Sort of. He relives today (Labor Day in the movie) over and over, always until the same point in the day when he invariably gets hit in the head and starts over. Yes, this is absolutely Groundhog Day adapted for the Nickelodeon audience. No, it's not anywhere near as good. By the way, it is in fact a Nickelodeon "original." I've no idea if it ever saw the inside of a real movie theater. Every once in a while The Last Day of Summer teeters on the edge of being tolerable. Mostly, it makes adults willing to stomp on newborn babies if it'll get this movie to stop. No, really. It's not funny, even my daughters weren't doing a whole lot of laughing, It didn't help that the kid in the movie  just whines way too much to make it enjoyable. My oldest daughter flat got up and went to her room, declaring "this is boring." She would later come back cuz her cell phone was going dead. That's okay, I'll take family bonding however I can get it. My youngest daughter sorta liked it. I dunno what that means other than fart jokes blow and concussion gags are a knockout. Buh dum bum tshhh. That's my rimshot people, just go with it.


Maleficent
(2014)
Right at the start, we're told that the story of "Sleeping Beauty," as we know it, doesn't tell the whole story. Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), whom we've come to know as the villain proceeds to give us her version of events. Basically, she plays a giant game of "it wasn't my fault." That's okay. Honestly, getting to see things from another perspective is an intriguing idea. Unfortunately, it's not well executed. To be fair, the beginning is actually pretty good, and so is the end. It's the middle that sags hopelessly as our villain/would-be heroine mopes around in jilted lover mode. Angelina Jolie does what she can and serves up a performance worthy of what the material could have been in place of what she actually has to work with. Kudos to her for doing so. It's just not enough to save the film.


Dolphin Tale 2
(2014)
After Mama Dolphin from the first Dolphin Tale dies, the other one, named Winter, goes into deep depression. Harry Connick Jr. leads a crew of do-gooders on the quest to rehabilitate her and find her a companion. Really, he just stands around looking exasperated, while the two kids, Sawyer (Gamble) and Hazel (Zuehlsdorff) do all the heavy lifting. Every now and again he just gets flat out pissed. Ashley Judd shows up from time to time and smiles. Even less of a presence than her is Morgan Freeman who chuckles his way through a colloquialism or two and disappears. Even less present than him is Kris Kristofferson who grumbles something wise the way he always does and exits stage left. Try as they might, the film-makers fail to generate any real tension even though this is based on a true story. Part of the problem is they always go for the cutest possible angle. If all else fails, they just cut to the pelican doing whatever he wants for comic relief. If somehow that doesn't work, we're sure to get one of those "awwwww" inspiring shots of the turtle they're also rehabbing. We never really feel that the dolphin in question is in any danger whatsoever. It just becomes a bunch of people, both those on the screen and us in the audience just sitting around gawking at dolphins and waiting for them to do something. Another issue is our two teen leads. Zuehlsdorff plays every instant like its a life or death situation. It gets to be laughable rather quickly. Gamble gives us Josh Hutcherson-lite. I already think Hutcherson comes off like a blank slate most of the time. I kept waiting for someone to check to make sure this kid had a pulse. To be honest, I went into a catatonic state and my family checked to make sure I had one.

12 comments:

  1. I kinda liked Maleficent largely because of Jolie and Elle Fanning as the former showed some humor and relished in playing someone that is quite evil.

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    1. Didn't hate it. It just didn't come anywhere near it's promise. The performances are great, though.

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  2. Oh, thank the heavens I've finally found someone who didn't fall head over heels for HTTYD2! I enjoyed it but didn't love it like the first. I'm really glad to see you liked The Book of Life too, I've been meaning to see that for ages now :)
    - Allie

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    1. HTTYD2 didn't blow me away. It was okay and looks great, but not near as charming as the first one. The Book of Life is excellent. I highly recommend it.

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  3. I loved HTTYD2. I didn't mind Maleficent. My mother came to visit me and we saw it together, so that was kind of nice. Probably why I liked it more. Great mini reviews!

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    1. Lots of people loved HTTYD2. Didn't work quite as well for me. Didn't mind Maleficent, just a little annoyed because it had potential to be much better.

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  4. The Book of Life was quite enjoyable. Angelina Jolie tries to salvage Maleficent, but it fails. It could have used better structure, though the retelling from her perspective seemed interesting.

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  5. I've only seen Dragon and Maleficent...and I liked but didn't love either. Jolie is delicious...so there is that...but like you, I felt that Dragon just lacked what the original had...and I wasn't a huge fan of that one either.

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    1. Jolie was great. The movie, not so much. Dragon 2 could've been much better.

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    1. It was. Dolphin Tale 2 is for sentimental saps only.

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