‘How to Train Your Dragon’ review

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Aside from “Kung Fu Panda” and the first two “Shrek” films, DreamWorks Animation hasn’t really produced any good films. They’re often over-stuffed with pop-culture references and just seem sort of…lifeless. (Examples: “Madagascar”, “Bee Movie”, “Monsters vs. Aliens”) Which is why I was somewhat hesitant to see “How to Train Your Dragon”. The movie does differ from DreamWorks’ previous body of work in that it isn’t laced with blatant references to pop culture, but it’s still a generally bland, uninteresting offering.

This is likely due to the fact that every single aspect of the film has been done before, and better. Strained relationship between father and son? Check. Misfit who wants to impress the girl and eventually does? Check. Epic action scenes at the end that although are visually impressive still feel forced and tacked-on? Check. There just wasn’t a real aspect of the film that really wowed me, not even the widely-praised 3-D effects.

The film is set in a village of Vikings quite some time ago. Although its a generally amicable environment, there still is one major local problem: Dragons frequently ravage the village, damaging the village and harming its inhabitants. Masculinity plays a really large role in this village’s culture, and as a result the general mind-set amongst the people concerns killing dragons. Enter Hiccup, a scrawny young teenager who wants to impress his father and his crush, Astrid by slaying a dragon. Yet when he encounters one, they instantly take to him. Hiccup begins to (assuming the title hasn’t informed you) train a dragon to be civilized.

The voice acting is quite good. Gerard Butler is amusing as Hiccup’s masculine father, Jonah Hill and Christopher Mintz-Plasse are funny as his obnoxious school-mates, and Jay Baruchel as the protagonist is quite good. My real problem with this film is that the plot is generally quite uninspired. The characters are interesting and varied enough, but the scenarios they encounter in this film are far too akin to that of other, better movies. A major problem I had with the musical score: It was over-dramatic, loud, and was literally in every scene of the film. There’s many moments that should have come off as low-key and dramatic, but there was music playing that would have adequately suited one of the film’s eventual battle scenes.

There’s one scene in “How to Train Your Dragon” when the main character and his friend ride a dragon, and as they accelerate past a large body of sea, you (the viewer) feel a rush of pure joy. Its moments like this that not only 3-D was made for, but film-making at large. It’s really quite a shame the rest of the film couldn’t maintain the sense of sheer ecstasy that it displayed so well in that moment. (P.S.: The 3-D isn’t worth it for this one.)

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‘The Crazies’ review

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Good horror films are a rare commodity these days, good horror remakes even more so. That said, “The Crazies” is an entertaining, suspenseful film that will often catch you off-guard, just because of how well-made it is. It’s never particularly scary, at least in this reviewer’s opinion. I got slightly irritated at the film’s over-reliance on “jump-scares”, but the film tells a compelling story really quite well, a rare feat not just for the horror genre but recent film in general.

It’s yet another “disease outbreak” story, the plot being essentially this: Government airplane crashes with dangerous chemical aboard, taints town’s water supply, turns most into zombies. The town sheriff, his deputy, wife, and her friend all attempt to survive. It doesn’t help that the army has been deployed to seal off the town and shoot anyone who tries to escape.

It’s really a masterfully-made film: Not often does one stop to marvel at a particularly beautiful camera shot, but it happened to me several times during “The Crazies”. It’s fairly well-acted, with Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell in the lead roles. Timothy Olyphant has been in tons of somewhat trashy, yet very entertaining films recently (I submit to you “Die Hard 4” and “A Perfect Getaway”). He’s really quite good here as the sheriff of the town afflicted by chaos. One aspect of the film that rather bugged me: The four main characters go through a fair amount of physical pain throughout the movie, but are bandaged up and press onward without the slightest showing of pain.

“The Crazies” is a fairly gruesome film. There’s a few shots in the film where one winces. But what makes “The Crazies” exceptional is that it doesn’t squander terror for cheap scares; rather, it harnesses it to help tell a cohesive story. Seeing “The Crazies” won’t change your life, but it’s probably be the last good horror film for a long while.

3

‘Alice in Wonderland’ review

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‘Alice in Wonderland’, for all the hype, the marketing, the trailers, and the buzz, is shockingly…average? Normal? An obvious attempt to spurn yet another Disney franchise? And perhaps most offensive of all…boring? I wish I could praise Tim Burton’s latest fantasy, but it’s just so bland that I can’t really bring myself to do it.

Now don’t get me wrong. Visually, ‘Alice’ is a fantastic display of CGI prowess. The setting of the film, “Wonderland”, rendered in 3-D is awesome and although it doesn’t look particularly realistic (an intentional effect) it looks stunning. Another great aspect of this film: The acting. Burton assembled a fantastic cast for this film. Johnny Depp is wickedly bizarre as the Mad Hatter. Often switching accents mid-sentence, and always being an interesting presence, Depp breathes a good deal of life into the film. Alan Rickman as the Blue Caterpilllar, Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat, and a welcome return from Crispin Glover as the Knave of Hearts all add to the film to a degree, yet none have the impact on the film that Helena Bonham Carter does.

Playing the Red Queen (a perpetually angry woman with a very, very large head), Carter is endlessly amusing. She steals every scene that she’s in, even against Johnny Depp. However, there is one casting flaw: Alice herself. Played by Mia Wasikowska, she simply has no personality. She resembles one of the children from the “Narnia” movies: Lifeless, dreary, and boring to watch. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with her for the 110-minute film.

Speaking of “Narnia”, that’s sadly what the film often resembles. You’d think, seeing as Tim Burton has directed it, it would be lively and interesting. Instead, it’s yet another good vs. evil film, with only one fore-told person who can finish the fight. (Alice, in this case) The film is generally up-beat and somewhat entertaining until the final act, which just simply kills the film and beyond. Not only does it devolve into an (uninteresting) battle sequence, but Johnny Depp has one 15-second moment that is horrendous in every possible facet.

So, all in all, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is a massive disappointment. Although the performances are great (that is, aside from the lead role), the film is generally bland and uninteresting, and it entirely falls apart in the last 30 minutes.

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