Hiccup Toothless How To Train Your Dragon 2

5 Beefs with How to Train Your Dragon 2

What oh my God what.

Hiccup Toothless How To Train Your Dragon 2

There will be beefs

Let’s be clear. The original How to Train Your Dragon (2010) is excellent, structurally and emotionally. Both it and its sequel are gorgeous, imaginative, and animated by some of the greatest hands in the business. Each individual frame of How to Train Your Dragon 2 deserves nothing but high-fives down every cubicle row in Glendale.

But the story is a head-scratching mess.

Since 2010, the franchise has kept in fighting form with holiday specials and Riders of Berk on Cartoon Network. Though I’m not familiar with this series, I wonder if some of the best sequel ideas got spent there (a local studies dragon-training for his own nefarious purposes!), or whether an episodic story approach infected this script, because this story doesn’t have just a woman problem. This story has all kinds of problems.

Spoilers abounding.

(more…)

Pineapple Express

Is the best non-Pixar comedy I’ve seen since Shawn of the Dead Shaun of the Dead.

There. I said it.

Go see it.

(Not just cos it’s got a bunch of NCSA alum on it.)

Dark Knight, now with criticizing!

I have seen it twice. I am full of knowledge. Also full of spoilers, so beware.

Batman 1
Black is the new black

We all know it is a great, great movie. We know it will beat Titanic. We know it is a crime drama on par with Heat. We know that the writing alone is so good that the movie could just have been shots of the pages and it still woulda broke $100 mill.

Still, I must heckle. For this movie has ONE FATAL FLAW. Perhaps it is a flaw that serves to exaggerate the greatness of the rest of the film, such as the preposterousness of Red Eye, or the creamy pink thing that tastes of fluoride that I just found floating in my coffee. Ewwww.

Perhaps. But this fatal flaw is, again, Rachel Dawes. The character is flouncy where she should be imposing, lisping like Drew Barrymore when she should be simmering like Kathleen Turner. Her connection to Harvey Dent is eventually what drives the entire third act, and yet that connection is utterly unexplored.

I don’t fault Maggie Gyllenhaal for this. I feel the wrongness of her moments in context of the rightness of everything else in this movie points to flawed directing. Plus there’s SherryBaby.

I propose the following small changes to the universe to make Dark Knight perfectly perfect:

  • Cast Rachel McAdams. No disparaging Maggie Gyllenhaal, but Rachel McAdams is a better fit, for a couple of reasons. She has the kind of extravagant beauty that would inspire the Joker to want to destroy it — just like Jared Leto’s in Fight Club. Thus the leering malice the Joker exhibits while handling Rachel Dawes’ face would make more sense.

    More importantly, Rachel McAdams exudes warmth. You could toast a bagel on her close-ups. If Harvey Dent asked her Rachel Dawes about marriage, you would feel her fear of hurting his feelings instead of Gyllenhaal’s mild annoyance. “Ugh! I don’t have an answer! Gawd!”

    Rachel McAdams
    If you need me I’ll be over here exuding warmth.

    Of course, my cure for world hunger is also to cast Rachel McAdams.

  • Some alone time for Rachel. Even just one shot, to illustrate the conflict she feels between her (ostensibly doomed) love for Bruce and her (actually doomed) love for Harvey. Looking at a picture of Harvey while at Bruce’s penthouse would be nice. Hell, Googling his daggum name would be a step in the right direction.
  • When Harvey gets in the armored car, direct Rachel to be upset for personal reasons. Rachel Dawes has been cool to a fault at this point — fearless before the Joker and already indifferent to one attempt on Harvey’s life! When Harvey chooses to become bait, NOW would be a good time to show a human emotion. Some waterworks. Some bargaining. “Please don’t go, Harvey, and I’ll marry you.” That kind of thing.

    At the very least Rachel would seem to take this caper as seriously as everyone else. By flouncing around and telling him it’s bad for the case, she at best seems a bit… medicated.

  • Dress her like a real attorney. “The Wire” would be a good point of reference here. The flouncy blouse and freaky high heels she wears to question Mr. Lau are unforgivable. You don’t even see the heels — but you see how they make her walk, like she’s wearing tiny trampolines. It’s so silly and undermines the gravity of the scene.

    batman-3.jpg
    This is more like it.

  • Stay on Harvey when Rachel dies. For the events that are about to follow, it makes MUCH more sense to show Harvey’s reaction rather than Rachel’s death. Harvey refers twice to having to lie to his loved one and listen to her die — that should be a moment we can refer to, too. Yeah, he’s lying on the floor in a pool of oil. Show it anyway.

    batman-4.jpg
    Dent’s sizzled good looks… Chiseled! I meant chiseled.

Oh, man, talking about this just reminds me of how good this movie is. How the Joker actually accomplishes more to take down the mob (taking half their funds) than Harvey Dent does. How absolutely every little plan backfires (even Rachel strategically picking Harvey over Bruce). How the more strategic a person is, the less able he is to meet his goals:

Batman/Bruce Wayne Chaotic Good, highly strategic Girlfriend dies, hope for Gotham (his #1 objective) dies
Joker Neutral Evil, little strategic Achieves all objectives (ferries don’t blow up, but that was a red herring)
Harvey Dent/Two Face Lawful Neutral, highly strategic, arcs to Chaotic Neutral, moderately strategic At first, achieves no objectives (no criminals face justice); then achieves all objectives (confronts enemies, leaves outcome to coin-flip, executes outcome)
Jim Gordon Lawful Good Totally, totally impotent, except when he does something illegal (fake his own death)

batman-5.jpg
Why so Sirius? OMG, I’m sorry I had to…

(Apparently the Complete Scoundrel says Batman is “Lawful Good.” NO. Superman is lawful good. Batman is, definitively, Neutral Good.)

The dog metaphor is completely out of control. Apt that Batman annihilates in hand-to-hand combat, subduing a whole armed SWAT team, but he has no defense against Rottweilers, because there is no strategy to a dog attack. Joker compares himself to a dog to hangs his head out a car window. You could even look at Joker’s gasoline-flinging as a kind of territorial marking.

Oh — and is Harvey Dent dead? I submit that his surviving a fall from that height is double-foreshadowed — Maroni comments that a similar height isn’t enough to kill someone, and Batman himself survives the same fall!

One question — what happens after Rachel and Batman go out the window at the party? Does Joker’s posse just leave, figuring they’ve caused enough havoc? Did they keep looking for Harvey?

Why are Rachel and Harvey both immediately convinced their “friends” are coming for Rachel? Wouldn’t saving Harvey be a better strategic move for Gotham?

HEY! Didja notice that the weapon Joker uses to escape his prison cell (“I just want my phone call”) is a piece of broken glass, generated by his ass-beating from Batman? AH HA HA I LOVE THIS MOVIE. I wondered why Joker goes from so vague to so helpful — he starts volunteering information as soon as he’s got that piece of glass! MWA HA HA!

So Joker does have plans sometimes — they’re just short term. Like a dog rolling over for bacon. Mmm. Bacon.

joker3.jpg
BACON!

I definitely didn’t have these kind of ponderings after Titanic.

Dark Knight

Very good. Very very good.

In fact, I don’t think I have anything to heckle, and you wouldn’t want spoiling anyway, and I just want to make fun of Batman Begins again.

(In other news, I just realized where I recognized Heroes’ Charlie Andrews from.)

Good ti-i-i-imes.

Wall-E

wall-e_2.jpg
R U Ri U R U U Ri

Um.

I am so sorry.

I think there’s something wrong with me.

When a movie has 98% Fresh on RottenTomatoes, and it doesn’t quite do it for me, I think the problem is obvious, and it starts with T.

So if I tell you I preferred Kung Fu Panda to Wall-E — kind of a lot — I know that I am coming from a place of madness. MADNESS. But while I was watching Kung Fu Panda — like, by the second act — I thought, “I’m gonna have to see this again.” Wall-E — not so much.

SPOILERS FOLLOW.

wall-e.jpg
OK but all the robot stuff was ossome

SERIOUSLY. SPOILERS FOLLOW.

I feel like a dystopic future movie needs to have a little more science or a little more whimsy. This one’s Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom just didn’t address the big questions for me — can you just ‘take up’ farming in a polluted city? Hell, is there oxygen, considering there are no plants? How many will die when the first dust storm overtakes them? Where are the other ships? Did everyone get to escape Earth, or just the ones who could afford the intergalactic cruise line? Why does Otto take one order against its will but no others?

Consumption propels the society (blue is the new red) but no one seems to have a job. There are children but people appear too physically weak to reproduce. There’s no hierarchy, no competing objectives — not even among the robots herding them. The film thematically centers on “do what is right, not what you’re told.” Yet the passengers group-think their obedience to the captain as readily as they do to advertising and robots.

wall-e-garlin.jpg
Good luck finding stills of the Wall-E people. Here’s Jeff Garlin instead.

The trailers for Wall-E made me think he would be leaving Earth to join a ship of robots. I think I would have dug that better — robots who have adopted the habits of their long-extinct human originators. Then much of this satire could have proceeded unhindered by an actual need for plausible, reversible human behavior. A unifying feature of dystopic future stories is that the society at large is not redeemed at the end — usually the heroes find their own redemption (or demise) as the group does business as usual, or… you know… they all die. ‘All die’ is a bit of a fixture. ‘Cause of all the dystopia, doncha know.

I could dig a few people electing to go back with the ‘bots. But I can’t really buy so many people overturning 700 years of complacency because the captain walked across a room.

Story Hero(es) Everyone else
Blade Runner escape business as usual
On the Beach die dies
Road Warrior esape business as usual
I Am Legend die dies
Brazil die business as usual
The Stand escape dies
Idiocracy didn’t see it but I meant to

The thing with the plant didn’t make sense to me, either. “If we find just one plant on the entire planet, we can go home.” HUH? REALLY? So in order to turn the ship around, you put the plant in this one thingy, and that’s the only way to do it, by the way.” HUH? REALLY?

So. The human plot didn’t fly for me. The robot plot did a lot better, but still:

  • I wish Wall-E hadn’t held Eve’s hand while she was out of commission. I’ll spare you a rape allegory, but the hand-holding is the big consummation of their relationship, and it should have been left ’til the end. As it is, he sorta force-holds it, while looking at a sunset. It is unclear how he feels about this compromise. So when Eve takes his hand at the end, it’s sort of lacking, like, “Hey, babe — hate to break it to ya, but I already did this with you while you were asleep. OOPS.”
  • I wasn’t moved when Wall-E loses his Wall-E-ness. Contrast this with the fact that Johnny 5’s brush with death in Short Circuit 2 makes me cry every time. I feel like Pixar pulled a Disney here — shying away from the frightening emotional core. Wall-E gets incapacitated by a motherboard-frying, then pulls it together enough to start running around again (or did he get fixed and I miss it? I remember a fade to black in the junkyard). He blocks a lowering platform, but we see this in only wide shots — no indication of what Wall-E is going through. Is he struggling heroically? Is he allowing himself to be killed for the greater good? We speed through Wall-E’s loss of humanity to the resolution — there is no montage of Eve toting him around as he did her, which could have worked.

    wall-e-johnny-5.jpg
    10 if short circuit 2 goto 30
    20 goto 40
    30 sob
    40 end

    Contrast this with the end of Monster’s Inc, where the story so completely convinces that I was fooled twice in a row — and still cry today.

    Hell — I misted over at the halfway mark of Kung Fu Panda.

  • Wall-E disappears for a while. That’s weird. It might have been better if HE was the source of historical information for the captain — if HIS unique perspective of humanity was what convinced the crew to go back. That could have worked. Show his recorded montage of human awesomeness. Convince the captain, convince the passengers. Make the passengers more active uprisers. Dude. I am a genius.

Time for nitpicks!

  • Noise in space. WE HAVE TALKED ABOUT THIS. I know, I’m being unfair — everybody does it. The sound mixer would kick the director’s butt.
  • The ship tilts, and everyone slides, a la Titanic. That shouldn’t work, right? No matter how gravity is generated on the ship, right?

But the closing credits were totally bangin’. J’approve 100%. Kate Bush does Narnia; Peter Gabriel does Wall-E. Everybody happy.

Cloverfield

Re

Com

Mended.

Required viewing for anyone interested in film technique. I don’t mean film technique. That makes it sound prissy. What I mean is, how what the camera does affects how the viewer feels. That one.

I left the theater reasonably satisfied. But the images stayed with me so that… no, that sounds prissy, too. What I mean is, THIS MOVIE HAUNTS MY BRAIN. The “you are there” feel of it totally worked, and improves with time. The beefs I had with the suspension of disbelief, the limits of human endurance, leaps of logic DO NOT MATTER.

I saw it. I would see it again in the theater. That is saying a lot.

Anything else would spoil it. I went in not knowing more than the trailer, and so should you. The feeling of hurtling blind into the unknown is half the fun.

The Golden Compass

Golden Compass
Whoot, there it is

Not good. And meaning no disparagement to the friend I went with, because I’m glad I saw it. They say a bad movie teaches you as much as a good one. Well, a movie that has everything working for it but the story beats both hands-down.

This might be a good time to explain what makes a movie “good” for me. My tastes are not terribly sophisticated, and I have much to learn in terms of studying filmmaking as an art, or even as just a medium of communication. But I don’t know if study will ever change the fact that, for me, a “good” movie is one that runs my show emotionally.

Little Miss Sunshine
The whole third act, people

This is why Little Miss Sunshine, with its quirks and implausiblities, rocks my socks. As did Return of the King, Castaway, and Enchanted, despite my deep reservations about this last. I will always praise Grindhouse with high praise because Planet Terror made me care about the characters while pretending it didn’t care if I did, and Death Proof had me screaming at the screen.

This is also why some movies in the critical canon don’t do much for me. Silence. Contempt. Film noir. Most Hitchcock, except maybe Dial M for Murder, because if you can’t get worked up about Grace Kelly you can’t get worked up.

I can admire a great movie that is sophisticated *and* moving, like Schindler’s List and the three-day depression it engendered, and (sublime to the ridiculous here, but bear with me) The Sixth Sense, which left me breathless and utterly bewildered that it was still summer outside the theater.

Still, there are some movies that rate well because they are, how do you say, *transporting*. How can I explain my affinity for the catharsis-forbidding The Last Unicorn, or the arbitrary dolly-opera of The Nightmare Before Christmas — that for some reason I still prefer over the good and moving Corpse Bride? I dunno. Got nothin’. But the movies in this category are fantastical and breakneck-paced, with well-differentiated characters and a story that spools from their choices, however vague their motivations.

Dark Crystal is in this category, heaven help me, and Shaun of the Dead. The point of this is that The Golden Compass had the hope of being moving, as well as the opportunity to be transporting, and yet accomplished neither.

Why not? Great cast, gorgeous art direction, wicked costumes and, saying this as one who despises digital characters, good digital characters. The outline is rousing enough — in a parallel universe,

Hell, even the characters are pretty good. Lyra is plucky, tempting fate and showing outrage when called a “lady.” Mrs. Coulter’s fire and ice persuasion techniques are vicious and delicious.

Golden Compass Nicole Kidman
I had to fake-hug a primate in “Eyes Wide Shut,” too. Owowowo!

The problems?

  • Story. Events are set in motion by circumstance and exposition, not characters making choices. Once Lyra arrives in the North, the movie becomes a high-tone role-playing game, with problem, quest, solution, problem, quest, solution with no insight into the characters or relationship to what had gone before. Sam Elliott I half-expected Lyra to join a guild and +5 Agility.
  • Pacing. Events proceed at the same pace, so everything is given equal weight. It’s not clear what’s important, much less how we’re supposed to feel about it. Lyra finds her (preternaturally beautiful) friend shattered and maimed, brings him home to his mom, wide shot of reunion, reaction shot of Lyra, and that’s it. That’s it? The ride across the ice to *go get* him was treated with more importance — tracking shot, slow motion, soaring music. And it was totally awesome, don’t get me wrong. But the ride *to* the kid is more important than the kid himself? Doesn’t his mom have something to say? Is Lyra maybe wracked with guilt for arriving too late, or horror at the realization that this is the fate that awaits the kidnapped? Couldn’t say.

    polar bear riding
    But the polar-bear-riding was way sweet.

  • Constant exposition. I believe this movie could have been A++ with different editing and about a third of the dialogue cut out. It’s like Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – EVERYTHING has to be said aloud. (“Your phoenix blinded my basilisk, but I’ll still get you!”) EVERYTHING is handled in dialogue. The tenth time someone does something, and then announces it, you have to wonder about the ego situation.

    Daniel Craig Golden Compass
    I hope we don’t get attacked by northern raiders OH MAN THERE THEY ARE WHAT ARE THE ODDS!

    The scene in which Lyra convinces the Ice Bear King to fight Iorek could have been GREAT — we know he wants a daemon, and look at him fondle his doll, eww, that’s creepy. But Lyra explains everything aloud to her daemon (is the Ice Bear King hard of hearing? He stares at her throughout her chat.) All that is necessary here is “Pan, I want you to hide.” And her expository challenge to the Ice Bear King takes WAY too long. Imagine this version, peppered with uncomfortable silences, and the ensuing battle has much more menace:

    Ice Bear King – “Who are you?”
    Lyra – “I’m Lyra. Sent by Iorek.”
    Ice Bear King – “Iorek?”
    Lyra – “I’m his daemon.”
    Ice Bear King – “(Oh hells no)”
    Lyra – “But I would rather be yours, great king. Challenge and defeat him, and it will be so.”
    Ice Bear King – “Daemon? No ways. Prove it.”
    Lyra – “Ask me something I could not know.”
    Ice Bear King – “(Asks something she *couldn’t* know, as opposed to the question he does ask, which Iorek’s daemon would DEFINITELY know!)”
    Lyra – “(Consults compass). Yes, it’s yours.”
    Ice Bear King – “(ROARS INSANELY!)”

    In the movie, this episode takes about four minutes. ALL episodes take about four minutes. Meet Sam Elliott? Four minutes. Meet Iorek? Four minutes. Get Iorek’s armor? Four minutes. Random expository interstitial between church elders that never get close to the narrative? Four minutes. Ice bridge that eventually collapses? Four absolutely peril-free minutes. Which brings me to…

  • No suspense. A good question is, how do you imbue a story with suspense when you *know* the good guys are going to win? You *know* Lyra isn’t going to fall into the ice chasm and die — why would it ever be suspenseful?

    The same way you can believe ANYTHING a movie tries to sell you — that gorgeous, healthy Julia Roberts is a street-walker, that Steve Buscemi is broke, that Michael Clarke Duncan is simple-minded — by having the characters behave in relatable ways, which forces you to relate to their plight.

    Golden Compass Ian McKellen
    Naw, let’s just talk about it some more

    If, confronted by the ice bridge, Lyra had done something most people could see themselves doing, the troubling facts of the situation would make the audience squirm. If Lyra gets down to slide across the bridge on her belly, you see how treacherous it is. If the skin of her arm sticks to its surface, and she has to pull it off, grimacing and leaving a pink welt, then you see how cold it is. If a piece of ice tumbles into the chasm, and Lyra holds still, listening for the sound of it hitting the bottom, and it’s a lo-o-o-ong delay as we hold close on her face, it’s a bit cliche but still makes the point.

    If Iorek stands by, helpless and silent, instead of barking instructions, it only enhances the effect.

    I’m just sayin’.

Now the smaller stuff:

  • Iorek the Ice Bear is “Iorek Byrnison.” Serafina is “Serafina Pekkala.” Always! Sam Elliott gets to be “Scoresby” — so it’s not a legal thing. The full name business gets to be very silly, and I know because I use full names for silly effect alla time, even when the joke is hella old. Plus — why does an Ice Bear need a last name when there are, like, twenty of them?
  • Speaking of, in the last battle (which I daresay actually takes a little longer than four minutes), new Ice Bear King Iorek shows up to fight… but doesn’t bring any other bears? Dude — I know you are new to this king thing, but CATCH UP.
  • Sam Elliott is hot but he doesn’t do much. Possibly he didn’t need to be in this movie. No offense.

    Sam Elliott
    Sorry I couldn’t find a still of the “Mustache Rides” shirt

    Same goes for Eva Green. The witch stuff just didn’t pay off enough to justify the time spent on it. Although she was righteous awesome.

  • All the cutting away to churchy people talking — not ONE of these scenes was needed. They discussed only things we already knew or didn’t need to know. They reminded me of the Star Wars prequels — good actors in gorgeous costumes and gorgeous rooms, lit gorgeously, talking with dead seriousness about things that don’t matter. Alas.
  • I don’t know if this is a small thing, but there are ABSOLUTELY NO people of color until the northern mercenaries show up, being all Asiany and speaking Asianese. OK, there are like two “Gyptians” who are people of color (oh my God irony) but they don’t get to talk. And later about half the rescued kids aren’t white, but, again, they don’t get to talk. No talking, any of you, unless it’s foreign and menacing! I mean, GEESH.

A-a-a-and spent.

I Am Legend

I Am Legend 4
Even my legends have legends

Ahhh… moments of greatness, non-sequitur moments of “Signs,” and questionable CGI. Altogether, it is like a beautifully built, racehorse lean Will Smith with a skinny neck — not quite right, but still worthy of praise.

SPOILERS AHEAD — and ones on a movie whose experience benefits from no prior knowledge. I read and enjoyed the novel, and that’s a healthy amount of suspicion-but-no-knowledge going in to the movie.

Moments of greatness

  • The dog. Specifically, Neville’s depicted relationship with the dog. Too often a movie dog is treated like a special effect (which, to a certain extent, it is) — alone in frame, performing a command, and focused on its trainer. Almost never do you see a person making out with their dog in the way that, say, I do Jake — holding and cuddling and kissing their head and chewing on their ears. Neville does not chew on Sam’s ears, but he does get some bathing and sleeping time, and that is essentch.
  • The cityscape. Neville hunts deer from a Mustang, and there’s something to be said for that. And that thing is “wicked.”
  • Judicious use of flashbacks. They’re moving and effective and intense, and tell you everything you need to know (though I don’t quite grasp why Neville needed to be a Lieutenant Colonel, and why that young, hot, active-duty Lt. Col would be stationed in New York.)
  • Will Smith. That a master of cocksure sass, and sassy cocksurity, could convey utter submissiveness to a video store mannequin, affirms why I like him so damn much. That and the workout scene, which got an amusing ripple of female appreciation from the theater I was in.

    I Am Legend 2

Moments of “Signs”

  • CGI monsters. Why? Why. As soon as they were revealed to be Gollumy golems all their menace was sapped for me. Plus I was hopelessly distracted by the fact that the sedated female Dark Seeker’s boobs stuck straight up. Note to digital animators, and animators in general — please research boobs in horizontal position they fall toward the arms kthxbye.
  • Mysterious knowledge from earlier in the timeline. It was the weakest part of Signs — why is it here? The choice it motivates — Neville sacrificing himself — doesn’t need it. The three living people make their last stand. The attacking Dark Seeker obviously wants vengeance on Neville — I would have liked to have seen Neville realize he wants the captured female Dark Seeker (callback to the male risking sunlight to pursue her) and try to return her, coming to terms with the humanity of the monsters and the monstrousness of his humanity, Matheson-style. But no.

    ShandasRobots: Legend was A+ (except for digital monsters) and then twenty minutes from the end went all generic B action movie
    ShandasRobots: Like Terminator 2 if you introduced two new characters with twenty minutes to go and everything before it had been like Bourne Identity

    Also in hopes for the novel’s ending is the look on Anna’s face when she surveys the wall of dead Darkseeker photos. And how she’s smiling when Neville says that Bob Marley got shot. I was all like, how are they going to reconcile the digital monsters with the flesh-and-blood Anna? Oh, wait, they’re not.

I Am Legend 1
Now would probably be a good time to get up on my good leg and hop. But I’ll wait

Other thoughts

  • Trailer for Poughkeepsie Tapes. Great. All the moral atrocity of a snuff film without the illegality of actually killing people. Let’s watch some women die! I don’t get enough of that on CSI!
  • Why was I not crying at the death of Sam the dog? I think they way it played out was just too much. My choice on the cry-yours-eyes-out-ometer would have been Neville euthanizing Sam just as she started to get sick. We would see her trust him to the very last — she would hide, and he would have to call her to him so he could put her down — the last goodbyes, the emotional breakdown. I’m really in touch with my inner Whedon when it comes to writing animal tragedy, because of my profound and rather irrational love of Jake.
  • And oh yeah — why is Will Smith’s neck so skinny? I have a theory that they wanted his look to be elite survivor at some moments, and hopeless case at others, and that you can put a jacket on a man, but it’s hard to look tragic and vulnerable when you have an 18″ neck.

    I Am Legend 3
    Just your average forty-year-old lieutenant colonel super-scientist immune to the virus he created. How’s tricks?

A-a-a-and spent.