Friday, September 19, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

The first movie was a epic tale with great story, character development, awesome visuals, great voice acting.....good action....good this...great that. It was a solid movie that delivered on all fronts. The second movie had a lot to live up to, and frankly I would have been surprised if they had managed to come up with something better. As it stands they did not, they didn't even come in at the same level as before. So the question simply is, Was it still a good movie?

In the first movie Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel, is the son of the chief of his village. He is expected to becomes a great dragon killer, and a all around fearsome viking. He instead comes to care for the dragons and sees they are not the evil creatures everyone thinks they are. He unites the two and they fight a big bad dragon in the end. Simple enough but we see a lot of growth. Dragon 2.0 is 5 years later. Hiccup has changed the village to be more like him, but he still does not want to be part of it. His father wants him to take over as chief, and he has no desire to do so. He simply wants to fly around and map out the surrounding areas. As in the first book, he is more interested in Knowledge then anything else. While traveling he finds out there is a man named Drago Bludvist who is trapping and controlling dragons to make a army for conquest. Hiccup gets his attention and he decides to take his villages dragons. There is a big fight and that is the story. There is a side story that goes on about Hiccups family, but I won't ruin that for you. It was the one decent thing the movie had going for it.

So the story is weaker, and we have already met all these dragons so the wow factor is gone. They do introduce some new species, but it is not done with the same exuberance as the original film. As this is more of a battle movie then the first, you would assume that is where the movie would shine. Sadly not so much. The flying sequences in the first film out shine the ones in this one. Hiccup has fashioned a flying suit so he can soar around with his dragon. It was a cool idea but they seem to focus on that more then trying to create exciting moments around the dragons. The flying portions are still neat, but simply don't get the attention they did in the first film. The battles also seem quite tame, which is odd as they are the main focus. The trappers won't kill the dragons, as they want them. So there is no real suspense for the most part. The dragons won't really kill the people either, as it is a kids movie. There is a lot of flying around, and a few focused moments of combat, but it just feels lacking. The big moment of the film does involve somebody finally killing somebody else, but it was not enough to save the film. Also the final fight was just a dragon sitting still taking pot shots at a much larger foe.

So less excitement, a bland what does the movie do right? Well the visuals are still cool. The animation is well done, and if you enjoyed the original you will still enjoy this one. It may not be as good, but it is still far from bad. It seems to lack the direction of the first film, and doesn't seem as focused on providing a quality story. But the story is still fun for what it is. The humor was hit or miss for me, miss more often then not. But it was still nice to see more of Hiccup and Toothless. If you have kids, they won't care about the parts I didn't like. While I did expect a lot more, I still had fun with it.

Trailer has a Huge Spoiler in they all seem to these days. If you have not seen much advertising for this movie yet, maybe skip the preview. 

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Based on the novel "All you need is Kill" by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Edge of Tomorrow is a Science Fiction movie that focuses on Time Travel and a endless loop. Think Groundhog Day, but more violent. The planet was attacked by a group of aliens we have dubbed "Mimics." They fell to earth in a asteroid and then sprang forth and have been taking over with alarming proficiency. The movie is based around a battle where the humans are trying to invade France to start taking back the territory they have lost.

Tom Cruise plays Major Cage, a sales person of sorts for the army. He cuts promotional videos and drives up recruitment numbers in order to avoid going into actual combat. As that would be a boring action film, things don't go well for him and he ends up under the command of Bill Paxton as Master Sergeant Farell. Paxton forces Cage into a battle using a mechanical suit he is not trained on, and he is killed very quickly. The entire plot of the movie is based around the fact that he then wakes up at the beginning of that day. Every time he dies he just resets back to that morning. Like "Groundhog Day." Cage has to figure out how to progress, and the majority of the movie is him figuring out why this is happening and how to fix it.

The other lead is Emily Blunt as Rita Vrataski, the "Full Metal Bitch." That name is a reference to the metal suits they wear to fight, but also one she was given after winning a huge battle as a untrained rookie. She was credited with 100 Alien kills and was called the Angle of Verdun, which is where the battle took place. We find out she also had the time loop power, which is why she was able to go from no experience to a killing machine. She simply relived the day over and over again until she memorized every detail of it. Used that to kill everything, and survive it herself. She serves as a mentor to Cage as she trains him each new day, and helps him understand the limits and meaning of his new power. She also has a way to win the war, and provides a way to move the plot forward to a resolution.

There are plenty of other characters in the film, but they are all minor parts. Cage was part of a squad who they could have focused more on, but in the end you never really felt attached to them. As they had their big moment at the end of the film, it seemed lessened by that fact. You had no real interest in them, as they were never fleshed out. The actual character development was one of my main issues with the film. We see Cage change from a coward that you genuinely disliked, into a true hero as the movie went on. We saw him care for other people and put them before him. He was the only one to really get this treatment. Blunt's character Rita never really got explored sadly. There was a great line in there where Cage is trying to get her to trust him, and is rattling off info she told him in past loops to show her that at one point she had trusted him. He gives her a name, her middle name, and she says it is not correct. Later on when she is dying for the dozenth time, she tells him her real middle name. This would have been a perfect chance for them to expand on the character. In the book her parents were killed by the mimics and she faked her identity to enlist as a minor to fight for them. The middle name she gave Cage was probably the fake one she used, before telling him her real one later on. Small details like this could have been easily fitted into many of the dialogue scenes and really helped better establish the roles. In the end though Rita just feels closed off.

The actors all did well with their respective roles however. Cruise had a nice range as he almost felt like a different character by the end of the movie. And while Blunt didn't get the development I would have liked, she did very well with her role. Rita was a bad ass, and exuded coolness. The other minor roles were done well, and Paxton is always fun to watch.

The battle scenes are one of the main draws for the movie. If you see any of the trailers, they take the main stage. The CGI was good enough for me, though I have heard complaints about it from others. I never saw any real glaring issues with it myself though, and I enjoyed all the cool visuals and battle sequences. The Mimics looked very interesting, and would be terrifying to face in real life. The way they had the tendrils moving and spiraling around really made a cool effect. And I loved how they moved and just seemed to thrash and roll about. The metal suits were awesome looking, and seeing the two fight was exhilarating. The movement for the suits could look fake at times, but it was rare and not overly noticeable. The only real draw back was the big bad Alien design. He just looked boring, but it made sense given the context.

So good acting, fun battles, and a interesting story and concept....why did the movie get mediocre reviews upon its initial release? Well other then the mentioned Character Development, the main issue most people seemed to have with it was the ending. It didn't really make sense, and required you to make up your own reasons for why it happened that way. For what it is worth, the movie does have a different ending from the book. I won't spoil anything here, but the complaints against the ending are valid. It does not work within the given information we have, and as such you feel cheated once the movie is over. Still though, even with was still enjoyable overall. I think "Looper" is still the best modern Time Travel movie right now, but "Edge of Tomorrow" has plenty to offer if you can get past the poor ending.

If you are interested in how the book ended, I will tell you. Rita and Keiji(Cage) kill the big bad alien....and the loop resets. They decide they missed one of the antenna attached to it, and that is what allowed it to reset the day. This time they take them all out, but then Rita attacks Keiji. Basically their brains have been altered by the alien substance that gave them their looping powers. They now serve as weaker versions of the antenna, and while both alive they are able to function enough for the alien to force a reset. They fight to the death so that one can live, and Keiji ends up killing her. He ends up telling her he loves her, as she has spent something like 160 days with her at that point. She is unable to say it back as she just met him, but she does understand the feeling as she has experience her own loop before. He then becomes the new hero of the war and gets the name Killer Keiji. He tries to live out his life for her. If they could have incorporated some of that into the film ending it would have been much better. If nothing else it explains why Cage is now able to telepathically connect to the Alien, which is a huge plot point mid way into the film.

This was a fun movie, and I enjoyed it. However a weak finish did lesson it quite a bit. There are a few other cases of 4 or even 5 star movies dropping greatly in the last few minutes. Stephen King's "The Mist" being the best example. However that does not completely take away the rest of the film.

3.5, its the best I can do

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Neighbors (2014)

I heard about this movie from somebody at work, they hyped it up and said I had to see it in theaters. Getting on the same schedule as my wife, and getting a baby sitter is difficult right now though. So when we finally did, we saw Godzilla instead. Clearly Godzilla is awesome, and that was the correct choice. But why bring it up now? Well because it fits in with this movie so perfectly. Neighbors is about just that, neighbors. The main group is played by Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne. They have a small child, who appears to be just over 1. They still want to feel young, and are still trying to rebel against the responsibilities that having a child comes with. One scene shows one of their friends inviting them to a rave, they are so desperate to get out of the hose they decide to bring the baby with them. By the time they get everything ready, and together they are to exhausted to go. As a new parent with a 17 month old, I can tell you that is spot on. I think that fact alone is why I was able to identify with this movie so much. The other half of the equation is a frat house that moves in next door. The main 3 are played by Zach Efron, Dave Franco, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse...or McLovin as you probably known him.

The Frat house moves in, and Rogen and Byrne are worried about it disrupting their lives. So they try to act cool, make friends, and tell them to quiet down. Guess what, it doesn't work. They end up making things worse when they break a promise made to Effron, and it ends up a all out war between the two houses.

The humor in this movie is pretty standard for anything with Seth Rogen in it. It has drug use, sex jokes, and everything from witty to very lowbrow stuff tossed in. Most of it works pretty well, and not knowing much about Zach Effron, I was surprised to see him flourish in this type of role. He played off of Rogen very well, and was able to hold his own with some of the more established comedy workers. The acting wasn't anything award winning, but this movie didn't call for any of that. Everybody did well, and the casting for the Frat members was perfect. It does turn into a sort of Party movie, but with a story who seems only there to set up the jokes, it works very well.

One thing I did like was that the movie had resolution. At the end everybody seemed to grow and develop. For a movie like this, they could have easily skipped all that. They actually did a great job with the development to, as you could see it happening as the movie progressed. It was far more complex then I thought it would be. Plus we get a scene with Rogen and Efron topless outside of a store trying to entice the female customers. It had me in stitches, and I don't know why. Seeing Efron react to Rogen trying to sexy dance was just to much.

I enjoyed this movie much more then the other comedy I saw on my days off. But still I would not put it up to the other works this cast is known for. Mintz was enjoyable, but he still has not been able to get out of the shadow of Superbad. And Rogen's other latest offereing "This is the End" was far more enjoyable and humorous to me. This was still a good movie, and a decent rental. Just don't go into it expecting it to be amazing, and it might pleasantly surprise you. Also litle Franco does a beautiful De Niro impersonation.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)

Seth MacFarlane is well known for his particular style of comedy. Family Guy, Ted, The Cleveland Show. Chances are you have heard of and seen some of his work before. They all have the same kind of comedy to, similar jokes and characters. So it should come to no surprise that this movie follows that same pattern. If you are a fan of his previous works, you will probably enjoy this one to. If you can't stand his other stuff, well this will not do anything to win you over. I would equate it to a long episode of family guy, that tries to keep focus on a story that even it wouldn't waste more then 15 minutes on. If you don't read anything else, think of it this way. Would you watch a hour plus long episode of Family Guy? That should determine whether you should check out "A Million Ways to Die in the West."

MacFarlane plays Albert, a sheep farmer who hates everything. He also complains about everything, and that leads up to the big on going joke throughout the movie. He is dumped by Seyfried's character Louise and falls into despair trying to figure out how to get her back. She is now with Neal Patrick Harris who plays Foy, a rich Mustache enthusiast. There is more to it then that, as a second women played by Charleize Theron does enter the picture later on. The movie is about Albert growing up and becoming less pathetic, and realizing he can be happy. But for me he never really manages to be likable, and his journey never seemed to finish. He seemed the same at the end as he did at the beginning. Other known actors are Liam Neeson playing outlaw Clinch and Sarah Silverman playing the religious Prostitute Ruth.

Acting for this film was good, no real complaints. Everything seemed to be done in a more conversation like tone which helped keep it at a good level. There were some more dramatic moments, but nothing that ever really stretched the abilities of those on screen. Liam Neeson did a good job of always being serious and pissy sounding. MacFarlane and Theron had decent chemistry, and she was easily the high point of the movie. I think it helped she was the only really likable one in the movie. Sarah Silverman's prostitute Ruth was enjoyable at first, but her only real joke soured very quickly. She is dating Albert's only friend, but she is also having sex with many men each day. She will not have sex with him however because they are not married, it would be un-christian. You now know how every scene with her goes. Also expect a lot of sex based jokes, such as why she has bad breath after being with a client.

That actually is a decent enough segue for me, let's talk about the comedy. This is a comedy, so surely it must be funny. If not what is the point? Well the earlier reference to family guy comes into play here. Albert is Brian the dog, as in they lifted that character and put him in this movie. If Brian annoys you, you will hate Albert. If family guy is not funny to you, this movie will not be either. One thing family guy does a lot is random bits to try and elicit a unexpected laugh. Albert gives a big long speech about why the west sucks, and how you can die doing anything including the mundane. The movie goes to great lengths to show this to you, and the running gag is killing people in stupid ways at unexpected times. The first time it does kind of shock you, the 2nd you just shake your head. By the end it is annoying, it just keeps happening. The movie seems aware of this and stops for the last 30 or so minutes, as if it knew you were tired of seeing it. Other then that the comedy is based off of farting and poop jokes. The big showdown actually has poop in it, and detracted from the build up. There are some funny parts of the film, like the first time we see Albert do drugs. But for the most part everything just fell flat.

The entire movie felt like it could have been 40 minutes long, and better for it. It was easily one of the weaker comedies I have seen in a long time. I don't care for Family Guy, but I did enjoy Ted. I was hoping this would be more in line with that movie, but I was disappointed when pretty much every part of it. The racism was not funny, the constant poop and fart jokes were not for me. The story was poorly implemented and never really gripped me. The only good thing about this film was the casting outside of MacFarlane, and then they used everybody so poorly that it no longer mattered. The high points of the film were the cameos, which I won't ruin. But the only two memorable scenes were throwaways, one of which was when the credits were rolling.

If you are a big MacFarlane fan, check this out. But rent it first, don't buy it. Everybody else, just pass on it. There are better comedies out there right now.

After watching that trailer, the best joke from it is not even in the movie. And that awesome Balloon sequence.....where was that at?