Author Archive for vargheim

19
Apr
10

How to Train Your Dragon

Imagine standing on a cliff that hangs over the ocean. And imagine that the sun is shining brightly and the ocean waves are sparkling. Imagine that the cliff you are standing on is not the only cliff; many more line the ocean horizon. This is a beautiful, quiet day, probably around two in the afternoon. Maybe you are having a picnic on the cliff. In short, you are enjoying yourself immensely.

But suddenly, a loud cry, almost a scream, breaks the silence. You hear a sharp whistling, as if a plane is hurtling downwards. You see, far off in the distance, a black speck coming down towards you. As it gets closer, you realize that it is an animal, and there’s a person sitting on its back. And just before it hits you, huge black wings flare out. You see a flash of teeth, and certain death is avoided.

You might have had this very experience had you been living in DreamWorks Animation’s Berk, the fictional land in which How to Train Your Dragon is set. This is the latest in DreamWorks animated film repertoire, following the likes of Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, and Monsters vs. Aliens. In How to Train Your Dragon, actor Jay Baruchel plays the role of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, the son of the viking lord Stoick the Vast, voiced by Gerard Butler. Stoick, like any good parent, wants his son to succeed at what vikings do best: killing dragons. But the scrawny Hiccup has other plans. Instead of killing and fighting dragons with his bare hands like his father, Hiccup prefers to build contraptions in order to capture the dragons. His aim is to capture the elusive Night Fury, a dragon that no one has ever seen, but always wreaks havoc upon the viking village. However, Hiccup’s inventions often go wrong, hurting rather than helping. But by the time we see the story, Hiccup has perfected his invention, a crossbow/catapult weapon. He still causes damage, but this time, he’s sure he caught the beast. And the audience is led to think so too. As the viking warriors set out to find the nest of the dragons and destroy them once and for all, the viking children sat at home, to be taught dragon-fighting by Gobber the Belch, voiced magnificently by CBS’s Craig Ferguson.

How to Train Your Dragon has the potential to be yet another “follow your heart” film, made popular by 2000s-era Disney. A rebellious son knows more than his parent, and ends up being the better character as the father must apologize to his kid. But this movie takes a different track. Sure, Hiccup is not doing what his father wants (and there’s a penalty for that later, but that’s a SPOILER). But instead of Stoick falling to his knees in front of his son, both make amends. It’s refreshing to see good morals pushed in an animated films. For far too long, those types of films have been the threshold for rebellious kids and dumb parents who just don’t understand. However, DreamWorks is by no means the pioneer of such storytelling. Pixar holds that title.

In any review of an animated film, it’s hard to not compare the film with one of Pixar’s amazing efforts. DreamWorks has long been Pixar’s lesser rival, and in recent years, has been churning out some grand movies. Kung Fu Panda was epic. However, I believe it suffered from being released in the same year as Wall-E, a virtuoso piece of filmmaking. The more recent Monsters vs. Aliens does not even compare to the emotion-filled Up, either. It remains to be seen how How to Train Your Dragon will measure up to Toy Story 3. But in my opinion, at least, I think How to Train Your Dragon is a better movie than a couple of Pixar’s.

But this is a review of Dragon, so I best bring it back to that film. The plot, based on a series of children’s books, is well-written, as are the characters. Are they a bit stereotypical? Of course they are. Two of them are twins, named Tuffnut and Ruffnut, and, you guessed it, they fight a lot. One is named Snotlout, a chunky fellow who is brave but stupid. Yeah, they’re stereotyped, but it’s OK, because this is a comical animated movie about training dragons. They should be stereotyped. They represent all sorts of people, just trying to live.

One more observation before I finish this review. This is an epic movie. This is Lord of the Rings epic. Many scenes look like they were filmed in New Zealand, where Lord of the Rings was filmed. This has become DreamWorks’ specialty, taking fairly mediocre stories and turning them into epics.

Instead of crashing badly into the ocean waves, the dragon pulls up at the last moment, which is not too unlike this movie. I was afraid the movie would fall into cliche territory. But instead, it throws a number of curveballs, becoming quite a good movie.

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02
Jan
10

Sherlock Holmes

“I have a request. Someone I want to see. Sherlock Holmes.”

Sherlock Holmes is, undoubtedly, one of the most, if not the, most famous detective character of literature. He’s so popular he’s spilled over into cinema and TV. From Basil Rathbone to Jeremy Brett, the world’s most famous detective has had every aspect of himself discussed and debated, from his stature to his cocaine addiction to his sexuality (he’s straight, folks). His partner, Watson, has, for some strange, inexplicable reason, always been portrayed as no more than a bumbling sidekick who happens to show up at the right time with his pistol. Indeed, one has to wonder where in the world all the traditional elements of Holmes originated, especially that ridiculous deerstalker cap (really, who else in the world do you know that has ever worn one, outside of a costume?).

Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels; Snatch) brings us a fairly faithful adaptation of Holmes. Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man, The Soloist) plays the detective, probably marking the first time an American has portrayed the markedly English character. And play it he does. One may argue as to the amount of explosives and modernity the film has been infused with. What one cannot argue with is the fact that he played the character to a T. Granted, a Holmes purist (and I don’t only mean by the books) might find complaints here and there, but such complaints would appear to only be nitpicking to the casual, even the dedicated, moviegoer. Jude Law (AI: Artificial Intelligence)  portrays Holmes’ dedicated friend, Dr. Watson. I breathe a sigh of relief as I write that Law’s performance brings Watson to an equal of Holmes. Surely, he lacks Holmes weirdness and proficiency as a detective, but he isn’t the idiotic sidekick anymore. He’s Holmes’ friend.

Supporting characters include Holmes’ love interest Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), the evil Lord Blackwood (not Andy Garcia but Mark Strong), and Holmes’ reluctant colleague Inspector Lestrade (a competent performance from Eddie Marsan). The story itself is not an original work of Conan Doyle, but is based upon a Holmes’ graphic novel. Surprisingly, it works admirably well. I won’t give much away, but supernatural aspects run throughout the film. I’m glad to report that the end pays great homage to detective films and literature of old: Holmes explains his theories ala Encyclopedia Brown, revealing all to the hapless audience.

I know that the portrayal of Holmes is something long discussed. For those who really do not care, go see the movie. You’ll love it. For those who do, consider that things are always going to be reinvented. For something so superficial as a literature character, it isn’t much to let go of for a while. The film succeeds on its own, without being a Sherlock Holmes film. If it really matters that much, substitute different names.

4/5 for 2009’s Sherlock Holmes. Here’s to a Happy New Year and the hope that Brad Pitt is announced as Moriarty in the next film.

20
Dec
09

Avatar

“Everything is backwards now, like out there is the true world and in here is the dream.”

And in this quote is presented everything about my feelings for Avatar. Jake Sully (played by blockbuster newcomer Sam Worthington), a paraplegic Marine, is called in to Pandora, a planet chock full of biotic and abiotic wonders, to fill in for his brother. His brother had spent many years training in the Avatar program, a US military program designed to allow Marines and scientists to inhabit the bodies of Na’vi, the indigenous beings of Pandora. The program is used to study and interact with the Na’vi, in order to relocate them to allow the US to gain access to a copious supply of Unobtainium, a mineral that is extremely valuable for some reason. Jake “gets lost in the woods,” or “twitterpated,” falling in love with Neytiri (well portrayed by Zoe Saldana, who made her debut earlier this year in Star Trek), the daughter of the Na’vi chief. And so we see the unfolding of faith and flesh versus greed and iron.

James Cameron stays true to his reputation, bringing us a pretentious film that presents a LOT of wonders to discuss, but leaves us hanging as far as story goes. Really, a robot traveling through time in order to kill the mother of the future leader of revolution is ingenious… but why not travel back right as the boy is being born? And why not send the shapeshifting Terminator first? And why does a movie about a sinking ship need to be over an hour and a half? I’ll be sincere: Avatar is a spectacle. It really is. You know how science fiction/space movies show us completely new planets but then populate them with only one specific type of species and they all act the same (the Star Wars prequels and later episodes of Star Trek are particularly sadly guilty of this)? Yeah Avatar does nothing of that. Cameron takes the Tolkien route and completely creates a new world. The Na’vi coexist with six-legged horses, six-legged panthers, six-legged rhinoceros type beasts (yeah, they are six-legged, which would actually make sense from an evolutionary point of view), dragon-like beasts of burden, and monstrous hammer-headed leather-bodied eagle things. There’s also a nifty chameleon/dragonfly creature that flies on multi-colored whirligig wings. That aspect of the movie is certainly not lacking; Cameron really does show you a new world, as predicted.

And yet, the story feels… somewhat recycled. Is this not what Spanish conquistadors did to Aztecs? Didn’t American cowboys fight this one out with Native Indians? Is this not… what we are doing now to rainforests etc? Naturally, 14% of the earth’s surface is rainforest. We’ve cut that down to 7%. And it could be argued that what conquistadors and cowboys did to Aztecs and Indians was wrong. While these could be virtuous ideas (we are stewards), Avatar is a different beast.

Pantheistic beliefs run rampant. The Tree of Souls, the primary place of worship for the Na’vi, is linked by root systems to all the other trees, and they are sentient ala Grandmother Willow. The Na’vi chant and sing to the trees. They can even attach their tails to the trees and hear the voices of the ancestors. Neytiri even sings “Can You Paint With All the Colors of the Wind” to Jake. (Alright, well I made that one up.) But it wouldn’t be amiss. It’s the same idea. Gold is hard to get, somewhat ‘unobtainable,’ right? Yep.

Avatar does not suffer from stereotypes, as some would have you believe. And yet, its story is fairly old. So while the effects are amazing, groundbreaking, even, and the score is one of the absolute best I’ve heard in a long time, agendas, political correctness, and recycled storylines are truly present in this film. Three out of five stars.

However, I would love to see Jake descending upon that red bird one more time.

07
Dec
09

I’M BAAAACK!!!

Hello readers!! I’ve decided to use this blog as a place to review films and my other blog, thefunvee.tumblr.com, as a place to share my discoveries and/or new ideas I have. We’ll see how maintaining two blogs goes. Up first (because this is the last week of classes and next week is finals, it won’t be up for probably a week and a half) will be a review of Blade Runner, my all-time favorite default film. Looking forward to working on this.

23
Jan
09

Repost: The Patriot

I claimed that I’d do a review of four films before I realized I’d already reviewed The Patriot, which is one of them. So here’s a repost. 

 

Let me start and say I loved the movie. It was the first movie I’ve seen with Heath Ledger besides The Dark Knight. And Mel Gibson did a fantastic job as a concerned parent. But let’s get into the themes of the movie. There was definitely a respect for parents. Unlike some movies, where parents are shown to be annoying, dumb, uncool, and indecisive, Mel Gibson’s Benjamin Martin was portrayed as smart and decisive. Heath Ledger’s Gabriel Martin is also a good example of how a young man might mature. Many 14-16 year olds (and younger and maybe older) don’t think much of their parents. At first, Gabriel considers his father to make terrible decisions. But as the movie goes on, you can see the respect in his eyes. Now for the theological themes. In one scene, a church service is interrupted by Gabriel, who is recruiting for the army. The scene gives you the feeling that worshipping God is good, but doesn’t mean anything if you aren’t willing to back it up. I think that this is an excellent scene. I’m not saying in any way that churchgoers are lazy and cowardly. No, instead I think that this is a great way to say that Christians shouldn’t hide behind the Scripture. Christians should be prepared to back up what they say, whether it be fighting for our independence (which I doubt any of us will be doing soon) or evangelizing at county fairs.

I would recommend The Patriot for any one 14 or older. The movie has an R rating, but it’s for violence. I think most 14 year olds would be able to handle the violence in te movie, although some scenes are pretty graphic (a hatchet being embedded into a man’s head, a cannonball taking off a man’s leg)

21
Jan
09

Gladiator

Now for the first of the “quadrilogical” reviews. Yes, I just made that word up. Yes, it’s pretty clever, I know. Gladiator comes first because chronologically speaking, it’s set before the other three. 

This film is fast becoming my favorite film of all time. (If you socialize with me on other sites, you probably know that by now. Follow me on Twitter: MaximDecimus) I’ve maintained before that my favorite genre of film is Sci-Fi, but I’ve recently realized that all my favorite movies would fall under the “Action” category. So I’ve officially changed favorite genres. Gladiator is, IMO, on a level higher than most action films: the story is fantastic. Perhaps slightly cliched and a bit predictable, but as far as action films go, this one’s pretty good. The dialogue is fantastic, the actors give perhaps their greatest performances ever…it’s a great film.

Almost from the start of the movie, we see that the main character, Maximus, is a man of faith. He prays to his little gods (which, no, I’m not encouraging idolatry, but it’d probably be helpful to our nation if our generals prayed to God before a battle) and he’s true to his wife and son. He doesn’t want to give them up, even for being the most powerful man on earth. He’s also a virtuous man, having the chance to enter into other relationships but turning them down. Joaquin Phoenix as the evil emperor Commodus gives a good performance also, playing an extremely believable and creepy villain. I’d say that the only themes that are glorified in the film are positive themes, with no grey areas. The good is good and the bad is bad, and that’s the way it should be. 

All in all, a definite 10 out of 10 for Gladiator, starring Russell Crowe and directed by Ridley Scott.

21
Jan
09

Heads Up On New Posts

Just to let everyone know, I’m going to be writing four reviews in the upcoming future. I’ll review four movies that, to me, form a loose quadrilogy that spans the time periods from Ancient Rome to modern era. Each of these movies features a big name actor in a hero type role. It’ll be fun for me to write the reviews and hopefully fun for you to read them.




Quote of the Amount of Time I Want to Leave it Up Here

"I've... seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I've seen C-Beams... glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost... like tears... in rain. Time... to die." ~Roy Batty (Blade Runner)
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