How to Train Your Dragon 2

ImageDreamworks Studio is celebrating its 20th year producing films, and it seems appropriate that the film that marks this occasion is about a 20 year old underdog who has managed to succeed by charming and befriending the supposed enemy rather than brutalizing it. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but wait until I get to the part where I discuss How to Train Your Dragon 2 as a metaphor for American foreign policy!

How to Train Your Dragon 2, finds our hero, Hiccup (voiced once again by Jay Baruchel), enjoying the good life on his home Isle of Berk. Viking and dragon now live harmoniously thanks to Hiccup’s efforts to expose the compassionate nature of the once feared beasts. Now, dragons are domesticated pets on Berk, and the once relentlessly busy weaponry armory has been transformed into a saddle and bridle shop. Recreation is booming with the advent of a game that crosses polo with quidditch, and exploration is thriving with the swiftness of dragon transportation as opposed to Viking ships.

So the question remains, what conflict could possibly arise? The conflict comes in the form of an infamous villain by the name of Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) who captures dragons in order to enslave them and march on neighboring lands on a quest for power and land with the help of dragon catchers like Eret (Kit Harington). Upon the mention of Drago’s name, Hiccup’s father Stoick (Gerard Butler) promptly initiates a preemptive strike on Drago before he and his army can move on Berk. This, of course, angers Hiccup who prefers a more diplomatic approach, famously successful in the previous film.  

Now I’m not saying that How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a thinly veiled allegory about American foreign policy and diplomacy in the 21st century. What I am saying is that a thriving civilization’s leader repeatedly ignores diplomatic methodologies in favor of military actions when dealing with foreign totalitarian enemies who may or may not be armed with stolen or illegally procured weaponry of domestic origin. Take that Disney!

Analysis aside, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is an enjoyable follow up to the 2010 original. A talented voice cast features America Ferrera, Kristin Wiig, T.J. Miller, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Craig Ferguson, and Cate Blanchett among others.  When it comes to recommending animated features, I ask myself three questions: Is it enjoyable and appropriate for kids? Is it meaningful? Will it at least amuse adults? This film is most certainly amusing for adults. There are well-rounded characters and a beautiful animation style the keeps you engaged. The difficulty comes with the first two questions. Kids love the dragons, and Dreamworks’s first priority was clearly to up the quantity of dragons: Mission accomplished. However, a complexity arises in the film’s quest for meaning at the sacrifice of appropriateness. Parental figures are often on death-watch in the majority of children’s animated fare for some twisted, sick reason, and that statement applies here as well. I won’t go too into the details surrounding this element as it is one of the film’s major reveals, but I will say that if one takes a moment to empathize with the film’s most tragic moment, one might find oneself getting a prescription for an anti-depressant. Nonetheless, the family angle and its relevance to the film’s climax vigorously enhances the film’s overall meaning and sets the stage for a parallel battle of “alphas” that is both visually stunning and intensely engaging. Since the film has already dabbled in the darkness by giving us a violently disfigured protagonist (Hiccup lost his foot in the previous film), we may as well accept the lesson that if you’re going to play with dragons, you might get burned. B+

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is rated PG and has a running time of 1 hour and 42 minutes.      

Neighbors

ImageRobert Frost once wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” The new Seth Rogan film, Neighbors pokes numerous holes in that philosophical statement and illustrates why Frost’s New Hampshire home was very, very well isolated.

This is not the first comedy film to go by the title Neighbors. In 1981, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi followed up the success of The Blues Brothers with a dark misfire about a suburban man (Belushi) whose life is flipped upside down by his obnoxious neighbor (Aykroyd). The film was a production nightmare and was also the last teaming-up of Belushi and Aykroyd before Belushi’s death. It was also a missed opportunity from a simple and potentially brilliant film idea.

Now, Rogan and co-writer Evan Goldberg seem to have righted a wrong by bringing their signature raunchy wit to their latest production.

Rogan plays Mac Radner, a new father, who with his wife Kelly (Rose Byrne), is trying to adjust to a new responsible life now that the carefree days are behind him. Caring for a newborn proves to have its challenges but none measure up to the challenges of having a fraternity move in to the house next door. Not wanting to be the square neighbors who have to tell the kids to, “Keep it down!” Mac and Kelly decide to play it cool at first and let these frat brothers know that they are still hip and young. They approach fraternity president Teddy (Zac Efron) and awkwardly suggest he and his buddies keep the noise down. Within days, however the frat parties are out of control forcing Mac to call the police and report a noise violation. It may as well have been the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand because it’s an all out war from that point forward.

Image
Robert Frost’s home in Derry, NH.

Teddy and his band of brothers (including such familiar faces as Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Jerrod Carmichael) pool all of their intellect and creativity and aim it not at academics but at the Radners. Carefully placed air bags, hysterically themed parties, and shenanigans aplenty increase the Radner’s misery and decrease the Radner’s home value, making it impossible for them to move.

But don’t count those Radners out yet. Mac and Kelly, along with their divorced friends Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and Paula (Carla Gallo), do not go down without a fight.

Neighbors has the edge, pacing, and cringe-worthy raunch we’ve come to expect from the best of Rogan’s efforts. The jokes are funny, but we may be starting to see Rogan start drawing from the bottom of the well. Much has been made of Rogan transitioning from playing characters who are more juvenile to those who are more mature and adult. This “maturity” seemingly comes along with some retreads or re-purposing of jokes that he has used before. One example would be the interesting biological party trick Dave Franco’s character Pete is able to “produce.” This is identical to the interesting “gift” Jason Mewes’s character Lester is able to “achieve” in Zack and Miri Make a Porno. This is more of an observation than a criticism, but it will be interesting to watch how Rogan “comes of age” as a major player in the world of comedy. What certainly does work for this film is how well suited the rest of the cast is for supporting Rogan and Goldberg’s script. Rose Byrne holds nothing back in her performance as Kelly and with this film as well as her uptight and hilarious turn in Bridesmaids she has become a surprisingly comic actress for one originally so suited to drama. Efron is perfect as Teddy and plays the character with endearing charm compelling the audience to both revere and revile him. Much of the film’s heart is a result of the tumultuous relationship scenes between Efron and Franco. Lastly, the baby (played by twins Elise and Zoey Vargas) is flippin’ adorable!

Neighbors is a top-notch comedy and capitalizes on a simple but brilliant concept. B+

Neighbors is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 36 minutes. Stay midway through the credits for more scenes of that flippin’ adorable baby!

The To Do List

ImageThe easy comparison is that The To Do List is “American Pie in the female voice.”  In a nutshell that’s pretty much it, but writer/director Maggie Carey is cognizant of the likely association to the 1999 raunch-fest and offers enough deviations to keep it original…enough. 

Aubrey Plaza makes her feature lead actress debut as 1993 valedictorian Brandy Klark who is looking to spend her summer before college shedding her bookish persona for one who is on a sexual agenda.  This “agenda” is the driving force for the film as Brandy chooses to transfer her obsessive determination towards schoolwork to checking off items on an expansive list of sexual acts culminating in actual intercourse with hot college guy, Rusty Waters (Scott Porter). 

Brandy’s summer job as lifeguard at the local pool where Rusty works allows her to stay close to the man of her list as well as allow for the addition of a number of funny supporting roles from familiar faces like Bill Hader, Donald Glover, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Andy Samberg.  Brandy’s decision to go on a sexual quest is also propelled by her being a virgin surrounded by more experienced friends and a sexpot sister (Rachel Bilson).  The “list” element is very funny and the film is at its best when it is being outrageous (the freeze frames are hilarious).  Furthermore, the 1993 Boise, Idaho setting creates some excellent opportunities for some great Midwestern 90s gags.  Writer/Director Carey purposefully cites and references some classically shocking cinematic films in order to proclaim the company she hopes this film will keep: American Pie, Caddyshack, and Pink Flamingos to name a few.

I’m not yet a parent, and I don’t consider myself old or closed-minded, but I can’t help but sense a real shallowness in Brandy’s endeavor.  A bright girl victimized by peer pressure with a moral that sex is just sex is hard to get behind, even for a self-proclaimed outrageous comedy. The film’s issues lie in its oddly cold and indifferent attitude towards sex, love, and humanity in general.  These decisions seem to be made in order to distance the film from some of its predecessors, but the film’s final act is far from romantic and actually, rather ugly.   

The To Do List has some great comedic moments and Plaza is pretty fearless in her performance.  The film does accomplish some enjoyable outrageousness and reveals the budding talent of Maggie Carey as new voice in the envelope pushing comedy.  However, the tone is as awkward as its protagonist and actually goes as far as to present some very judgmental views towards making good and reasonable choices.  C+

The To Do List is rated R (obviously) and has a running time of 1 hour and 43 minutes.  Comedy is hard, and the film is moderately successful, but it is not a must see.  Expect The To Do List to gather its audience as a DVD commonly found at sleepover parties.  Also, it appears this film sat on the shelf for a little while since its actors are noticeably younger.  Look out for an infantile Nolan Gould (who plays Luke on Modern Family).

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑