Best to Worst: Michael Bay

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Let’s face it, people love to criticize Michael Bay, especially now that Transformers: Age of Extinction just came out. It’s okay, we’re all critics in one way or another. Not everyone likes his style. He makes up for the lack of quality in his stories for quality in his visuals, and even that doesn’t save his movies sometimes. But guess what? He makes a crap load of money either way. With that said, there are a few movies of his–guilty pleasures perhaps–that I have liked in the past, and there are some that I’ve hated. This is all based on my own personal experiences with his movies and a lot of people might disagree with me, which is totally fine. You can tell me about it in the comments if you wish! So here is my ranking of movies directed by Michael Bay from best to worst.

 

1. The Rock (1996)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Sean Connery, Ed Harris, David Morse
IMDb rating: 7.4
Rotten Tomatoes score: 67%

the-rock (1)

This is some early Michael Bay here. The story actually isn’t bad and his characters don’t suck. Aside from the fact that I pretty much love Sean Connery in anything, he plays such a badass role here as Mason. The Rock is proof that Bay is capable of directing action with an actual plot. The action is still prominent, but I feel like it plays second fiddle to the character driven story. Some of the images and scenes I’ll never forget are those neon green gas pearls, the scene where Cage’s character, Goodspeed, stabs himself in the heart with a needle, and the part where Cage calls a guy “the rocket man,” blows him away with a rocket, and yells, “How do you like how that shit works?” It’s just an all around fun action movie with a great script, memorable lines and characters, and awesome performances by all of the actors.

 

2. Transformers (2007)
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro
IMDb rating: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes score: 57%

transformers2007

The first Transformers movie was extremely fun. It still had that stupid kind of Michael Bay humor but it worked, and Shia LaBeouf I felt was rightfully casted in the main role of Sam, because he brought that certain kind of goofy humor to the screen, but could be serious at times as well. Regardless of whatever people say about him and/or his acting, I thought he did an okay job. People started getting on the Megan Fox kick when this movie came out because it was her first big role. She might not be the best actress, but she is a beautiful girl and I felt like she served an actual purpose to the story (minus the obvious sexual objectification with the skimpy clothing, etc.) The action didn’t seem as mindless and stupid as in his other Transformers movies. Even though there’s no shortage of it, it doesn’t completely overwhelm the story. The effects were great and the robot transitions were awesome. Four Transformers movies later, and I’m still for some reason waiting for Bay to make a movie that comes even remotely close to the fun that this one was.

 

3. Bad Boys (1995)
Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Téa Leoni, Joe Pantoliano
IMDb rating: 6.8
Rotten Tomatoes score: 43%

badboys

Bad Boys is not a very original story, by any means. However, it did manage to be one of the few pretty good cop movies of the 90s. It held its own against similar movies like Rush Hour and Lethal Weapon, where the theme of two partnered cops spend most of their time bickering but ultimately become closer friends the more bad guys they take down. Like The Rock and Transformers, I feel like this movie had the right balance of story and action. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are a fun comedic duo, with each of them bringing something different to the film. Téa Leoni didn’t have a bad role either, being the headstrong type who doesn’t want to just sit back and let the boys have all the fun. The buddy comedy genre will probably never get old, as is proven by the widespread enjoyment of more recent movies like 21 Jump Street. Michael Bay’s Bad Boys holds its own special place in that group.

 

4. The Island (2005)
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Djimon Hounsou, Steve Buscemi
IMDb rating: 6.9
Rotten Tomatoes score: 40%

theisland

The Island is more or less a guilty pleasure of mine. I know it’s not the best, but I actually enjoyed it. This kind of story is better portrayed from an emotional aspect in movies like Never Let Me Go, where you really feel bad for the clones whose only existence is to harbor healthy organs for the sick, original versions of themselves. However, this movie is more fun, and that’s all that really matters with a Michael Bay movie. It still brings up the question of morals and ethics when it comes to cloning, but it manages to do that and have a bunch of ridiculous action scenes play out at the same time. Like, of course, why wouldn’t I want to watch the Black Widow and Obi-Wan Kenobi run away from a bunch of people with guns who want to harvest their organs?

 

5. Pain & Gain (2013)
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Ed Harris, Tony Shalhoub
IMDb rating: 6.5
Rotten Tomatoes score: 50%

pain&gain

Pain & Gain is a bit of a different package. Yes, there are explosions involved, but there really isn’t much action when comparing this to any of Bay’s other films. It’s a “true story” based on three very stupid, physically fit men. I haven’t read up on the real story so I have no idea how this movie compares. However, in one scene Dwayne Johnson’s character is cooking human hands on a grill outside where everyone can see him, and words come up on the screen reminding you that this is still a true story. Now if that actually happened, that is really f’d up. Whether it did or it didn’t, it was freaking hilarious in the movie. Actually, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was probably the best part of this whole movie. I am not used to him playing that kind of character, but I found him to be really funny. I actually enjoyed this one more than I thought I would have, it’s a dirty, vulgar and violent story, but it’s kind of entertaining.

 

6. Armageddon (1998)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, Steve Buscemi, Will Patton
IMDb rating: 6.6
Rotten Tomatoes score: 39%

armageddon

I mean really, who hasn’t seen this movie? Armageddon is a guilty pleasure for sure. Even if you haven’t seen it, I’m sure you’ve at least heard Aerosmith’s song on the soundtrack “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” If you haven’t, you’re clearly living under a rock, but that’s okay. I don’t judge rock dwellers. The plot is totally unrealistic, there are a lot of corny parts, a lot of dumb humor, the characters are mostly stereotypical, and I’m no scientist, but I’m pretty sure a lot of the science didn’t make any sense at all. I didn’t bother checking my facts after watching it though, because this movie wasn’t even meant to make any sense. It’s just a fun, stupid sci-fi/action movie about a possible incoming apocalypse that has been done over and over again. It’s not good, but I still find it more enjoyable than some of his other stuff.

 

7. Bad Boys II (2003)
Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Gabrielle Union, Peter Stormare, Jordi Mollà
IMDb rating: 6.5
Rotten Tomatoes score: 23%

bad-boys-2

The problem with Bad Boys II is that it’s just a recycled, less good version of Bad Boys. Nothing really special happens. Gabrielle Union’s character is introduced as a woman who might turn out to be a badass, until you realize she’s stupid and can hardly accomplish anything on her own except looking good in skimpy clothes. The relationship between Smith and Lawrence’s characters is strained and uninteresting. They were like best bickering buds in the first one and here they are just whiny bitches who barely even respect each other anymore, which makes no sense. This movie has some examples of Bay’s attempt at exciting car chases, but really only succeeded in boring me half to death. The only music that I can remember from this movie, because it is played like a hundred times throughout (yeah, exaggerating), is that stupid “Shake Ya Tailfeather” song by Nelly. Not a fan.

 

8. Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer
IMDb rating: 6.6
Rotten Tomatoes score: 18%

transformers-age-of-extinction

Transformers: Age of Extinction suffers from being way too long. A lot of people hated this movie, and while I didn’t exactly hate it, I was thankful for not having to sit through something exactly like Transformers #2 and #3. Mark Wahlberg was a good replacement, but Nicola Peltz’s character was so bad I actually started to miss Megan Fox. A lot of the issues I had with this movie I already described in my full review, which you can read here.

 

9. Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson
IMDb rating: 6.4
Rotten Tomatoes score: 36%

Transformers-Dark-of-the-Moon-2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon held my attention right up until the last hour maybe. This is also an example of a Transformers movie just being too freaking long. I think somewhere in the middle of the robot fights, I wanted to get up and scream and run the hell out. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as Sam’s new girlfriend was just stupid. I mean, how the hell? Even Megan Fox was a stretch, but a Victoria’s Secret model? Even the first scene she was in and the way it was filmed made me feel like I was watching a Victoria’s Secret commercial. The action in this movie was so drawn out. Ken Jeong’s character was random and strange. I can’t even recall most of the plot because it just wasn’t memorable to me, and I haven’t bothered to watch it again.

 

10. Pearl Harbor (2001)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Alec Baldwin, Cuba Gooding Jr.
IMDb rating: 5.9
Rotten Tomatoes score: 25%

pearlharbor

I know, I know, why isn’t Pearl Harbor ranked the worst Michael Bay movie of all time? Well, just one reason really. I was like 12-years-old when this movie came out. I was hooked by that whole love triangle story, not to mention I was pretty much in love with Josh Hartnett. These are stupid reasons, I know, now I feel bad for criticizing Twilight fans. Well that’s the way it is, Bay had successfully managed to reel in unsuspecting pre-teen girls into liking this movie by giving them that incredibly stupid, cheesy love story they had been missing ever since Titanic came out. I haven’t really watched this movie in recent years, but I’ve caught a couple of scenes here and there on television, and yes, it is bad. I see that now–better late than never? At least I liked it at one point, which is more than I can say for some other movies. Actually, the only reason this is ranked after Dark of the Moon is because I can’t in my right, matured mind even pretend like this movie is good, and even though that one wasn’t very good either, this movie tried to be something it isn’t. Bay took an important event in history and turned it into complete ridiculousness.

 

11. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro
IMDb rating: 6.0
Rotten Tomatoes score: 19%

transformers-revenge-of-the-fallen

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is in last place because it began the downward spiral that is the rest of the Transformers franchise. Like with Dark of the Moon, I can barely recall the plot because I just didn’t care. There’s nothing memorable about it. I think I might’ve been daydreaming in the theater when I saw it. I think they go to Egypt or something? Who even cares? Stuff happens, robots clash, explosions happen, something about ancient symbols, Sam goes to college and is almost raped by a girl robot thing. Sam and Mikaela’s relationship is dumb. I mean, how are you going to go from obsessing over and chasing this girl in the first movie, to becoming this egotistical dick who can’t even say, “I love you”? The whole reason he even bought Bumblebee was because he wanted a car to impress her with, and then he turns around and acts like that. Talk about douchebaggery. This movie–for lack of a better word–sucks.

 

So there it is. I’m curious to know what other people think of him and his movies and how stupid you think I am for ranking these as such. Go for it!

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

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To see a movie like Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, you have to go in already expecting nothing short of a lot of CGI, explosions, loud noises, dumb characters, and an underdeveloped plot. If you go in expecting all of these things, then you certainly won’t be disappointed. This latest Transformers delivers all of the Bay-ish qualities of a popcorn movie and then some.

Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) and the Autobots are now in hiding because they are being hunted by the U.S. government after the messy battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons in Chicago. A broke inventor from Texas, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), finds an old, beat up truck he plans to buy and fix up. To his surprise, he finds out that this truck is actually an Autobot–Optimus Prime, to be specific. A CIA unit who is looking for Optimus eventually visits Cade at his farm and threatens him and his daughter. After a car chase in which they manage to escape the CIA and a new alien antagonist named Lockdown (Mark Ryan), Cade, his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), and Tessa’s boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) agree to help Optimus and the surviving Autobots. They infiltrate a company called KSI, which is run by Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), who is using a metal called “transformium” to produce their own transformers. They are also using the heads and memories of some Decepticons, Megatron included, in the process. Megatron uses this as a way to be “reborn” into the man-made Transformer called Galvatron (Frank Welker). Then a lot of other stuff happens, including Lockdown telling Optimus that the “Creators” (the mysterious alien race who created the Transformers) want him back, and then Joshua is given a bomb thing called the “Seed,” which will kill stuff and turn it into transformium, and then there’s some more explosions, car chases, and oh yeah, Dinobots.

Let’s get right to the point here. Is this a good movie? No. Is it terrible? To what standards? I have to say that when I was sitting through Bay’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon three years ago, it felt like torture. Even though some people enjoyed it more than Revenge of the Fallen, I thought it was just as bad. I went into Age of Extinction already hating it. For some reason though, I didn’t feel that same amount of torture that I felt three years ago. Maybe it was the change of cast or something, I’m not really sure. It’s actually quite illogical. Perhaps going in with absolutely zero expectations helped. However, in its defense, there was some entertaining moments in this movie, and even though a lot of the plot was really dumb, I still found some of it to actually be fun.

I have to say I hate Michael Bay for making this movie almost three hours long, though, I really really do. I think the length hurt it more. I would’ve preferred less than two hours of mindless action rather than what I got, but alas, that wasn’t the case. I just feel like since it was so long, maybe he would’ve taken just a few more minutes to actually develop the characters a little. I know, I know, looking for character development in a Transformers movie is a lot to ask, but c’mon. Three hours…three hours.

Some of the characters were OK, like Mark Wahlberg’s and Stanley Tucci’s. Tucci plays the humorous bad guy so well, he’s perfect in those types of roles. I wasn’t a fan of Kelsey Grammer’s bad guy character, Harold Attinger. He just wasn’t very convincing. Nicola Peltz’s character was very stupid. At least Megan Fox could hold her own, but Peltz served no purpose other than being the damsel in distress and the stupid teenager who doesn’t listen to her father. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s character had almost the same problem in the last Transformers–pretty, but useless damsel. But I suppose what else can you expect from Bay, being the misogynist jerk that he is? Mostly all the women characters in his movies suffer from the same problems, being incredibly gorgeous but incredibly stupid. Props to Jack Reynor, though, who played the “driver” boyfriend for being the most useless character in the whole movie. He was wimpy, had no good lines, and only had one good driving scene. Who the hell needs a professional driver character when there’s a bunch of Autobots who can drive themselves? Someone didn’t think this through.

As for the things I did like–that would include John Goodman and Ken Watanabe’s Autobot characters, Hound and Drift. They were stupidly humorous. Hound looked just like Goodman too, if Goodman were a giant alien made out of metal, smoking a metal cigar. Drift looked like a Japanese samurai, which I guess is a fitting characterization. The Dinobots were cool as well, even if they weren’t in it for very long. The effects were unbelievable, there’s no doubt that’s where most of that $165 million budget went. I also don’t know jack about cars, but I do know when they look awesome, and this movie has no shortage of awesome looking cars racing around. Some of the action scenes were engrossing as well, I’ll admit. Some of the problems I find with Bay movies is that a lot of his action scenes don’t move the film along at all, they become drawn out and boring after the first few minutes, especially his car chases. He’s actually one of the few directors I know who can succeed at taking things you would expect to be interesting and exciting, and making them boring as hell. I didn’t find myself to be bored nearly as often here, though, so that’s a small step up.

So, in my opinion, Transformers: Age of Extinction isn’t a terrible movie, but it’s also not particularly good. For the franchise, though, it’s hard to expect anything more. I think people who choose to go see it will hate it less if they go in with no expectations whatsoever. I think I hated the last two more because I went in expecting to see something that was fun and not-so-terrible, like the first Transformers, which I enjoyed. But I was let down twice in a row. People can hate on Michael Bay all they want, but in the end, he doesn’t give a crap. Yeah, this was a totally unnecessary addition to the franchise, but people are still going to see it. His movies are still going to make money no matter how good or bad they are. If you love the Transformers and don’t mind movies with over the top action and stupid plots that will turn your mind to mush, then I would say, see this. If not, skip it, because you won’t find anything more than what I just described.

1.5/5

 

Boogie Nights (1997)

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Before Mark Wahlberg was making friends with giant alien autobots—as you will find him doing in Michael Bay’s latest Transformers movie this weekend—he was making pornos in 1970s California. By that, I mean he was playing the iconic role of Dirk Diggler, the well-endowed porn star in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights

Boogie Nights is quite possibly my favorite movie of Marky Mark, and that’s not just because he was continuing to give women “Good Vibrations” since 1991. This movie, despite its explicit content, is actually a really well-written story with a lot of emotion, humor, and dynamic characters. It has a way of reminding the audience that “porn stars are people too.”

Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is a high school dropout who is going nowhere fast. He is discovered by porn director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) while working at a nightclub. Jack introduces him into the porn industry, and Eddie takes on the porn name “Dirk Diggler,” giving up his old life for good. He moves in with Jack, and he quickly rises to stardom. He is introduced to fellow porn stars Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) and Rollergirl (Heather Graham), as well as Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), who Dirk Diggler stars in multiple humorous action porn films that become a huge hit. The story plays out kind of like how you would expect a movie about a famous rock star to play out, with the rise and fall of the main character in the entertainment industry, however, it’s not just about Dirk Diggler, it’s about the ups and downs of many characters you come to care about throughout the film.

All of the characters are flawed, each have their own personal issues, and their careers in the porn industry are usually the reason for these problems. For example, Amber has a kid who she never sees and ultimately finds herself in a custody battle with her ex-husband, which she has small chance of winning due to her job in the porn industry as well as the abuse of illegal drugs that comes with it. Rollergirl finds herself disrespected by a former high school classmate, and she feels the hurt and embarrassment that comes with being judged by your profession. Jack struggles for his films to remain relevant in the porn industry and the film industry as a whole. With the technological medium changing from film to videotape and the lack of good scripts, Jack becomes frustrated, desperate, and sometimes loses control of his usual mellow self. Dirk’s quick rise of success eventually gets to his head, and he lets that rock star type of life, with all the drugs and expensive things, overtake him and change him from the innocent (relative term) and naive kid to a spoiled and materialistic guy who thinks the world owes him something.

There’s also plenty of other interesting, but smaller characters like Little Bill (William H. Macy) whose wife is so terrible, she has sex with other men right in front of him and all of his friends. There’s also Todd Parker (Thomas Jane) who has an interesting scene with Dirk where he tries to scam a crazy drug dealer. Dirk also has to avoid the advances of Scotty (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the homosexual boom operator. Then there’s Buck (Don Cheadle), who tries to make a new life for himself and pregnant wife by opening a stereo equipment store, but can’t get a loan because of his involvement in the porn industry.

Most of these characters end up down on their luck at some point in the film, and as in any realistic situation, not all of them bounce back. Even with all of the comedy and outrageous scenarios involved, this is quite a dark movie.

There’s plenty of characters to take in, but I don’t think the abundance of characters with their own story lines take away from the central plot at all, especially when they are all being played by extremely talented actors. All of their stories intertwine in some way, and they are all members of one big porn family. For the most part, they take care of each other, or try to, but it’s not always possible seeing as how they are all screwed up in one way or another.

Boogie Nights is a dark story about how these characters are basically trapped in the porn industry, with their backgrounds allowing them to do not much else, and the lifestyle influencing them to make wrong, life-changing decisions. There’s a lot of dark humor and a lot of great performances. The whole 70s feel really comes alive as well with the set designs, costumes and music. I have to say even the end of this movie just feels right, with Dirk Diggler looking in the mirror and pulling out his penis (don’t worry, it’s prosthetic!) It’s his one prized possession. Thanks to the amazing writing and directing by Paul Thomas Anderson, this is one movie I will likely never get tired of watching.

Who Is the Next Jackie Chan — By Friends of the Blog

A great article, courtesy of writer Gabe Valdez, where myself and 8 others try to answer the tricky question, “Who is the next Jackie Chan?”

Gabriel Diego Valdez

Jackie Chan Legend of Drunken Master

I went out and asked various writers a loaded question: Who is the next Jackie Chan? It’s tricky because, like Charlie Chaplin, Gene Kelly, or the Highlander, there can be only one. His skills are too unique to duplicate. I was just as interested in what Jackie Chan means to different viewers, and who might best embody those meanings going forward. Without further ado:

STEPHEN CHOW
by Simon Scher

Who is the next Jackie Chan? To answer this we must first ask, who was the last Jackie Chan? When he first burst onto the international stage, his high-flying kung fu action and peerless speed were instantly compared to the father of international martial arts media, Bruce Lee. Chan did not hit the big time until after the death of Lee. So it would be hard to identify the next Jackie Chan until he too passes on or stops making…

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Netflix: Expiring Soon (6/30)

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All of these movies are expiring at 11:59 PM on June 30th.

 

220px-Chinatownposter1Chinatown (1974)

Director: Roman Polanski
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston
Genre: Drama/Mystery

Private investigator J.J. “Jake” Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is hired by a woman who claims to be Evelyn Mulwray to investigate her husband who is the chief engineer of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Through this investigation, Gittes soon realizes that there is a scandal happening within the department, and that the woman who hired him wasn’t the real Evelyn Mulwray. He eventually meets the real Evelyn (Faye Dunaway), and with her help he tries to crack down on what is really going on with the water supply. This movie was nominated for 11 Oscars including Best Picture, and won one for Best Original Screenplay. The script really is a gem, and something you rarely will find anymore in movies. The characters are written so well and the actors all do a great job of portraying their given roles. This movie is a classic that shouldn’t be missed, especially by movie lovers.

 

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)215px-Close_Encounters_poster

Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Melinda Dillon
Genre: Sci-Fi

Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) has a life-changing moment when he first encounters a UFO. He begins to see images of a landmark he can’t recognize, and his family starts to think he is going crazy. He soon finds out he isn’t the only one experiencing this, and he goes with Jillian (Melinda Dillon), a woman who also encountered a UFO and whose son was abducted, to the landmark in the desert to find out what it all means. This is honestly one of my favorite sci-fi movies of all time. It’s not about aliens crash landing on Earth and then starting war or killing people. Yeah, they are kind of jerks for abducting people but they don’t fly around, alien guns blazing. Towards the end we get to see the giant spaceship, which is really amazing. The effects are very impressive for a movie made in 1977. This is one of Spielberg’s best sci-fi films and proves how talented he is when it comes to directing the genre.

 

Dr. Strangelove (1964)220px-Drstrangelove1sheet-

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden
Genre: Comedy/War

U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Jack Ripper (Sterling Hayden) orders an unwarranted nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. The President, along with his staff, advisors and a former Nazi named Dr. Strangelove (Peter Sellers) try to recall the attack before they start a nuclear war, which proves hard to do since they can’t get a hold of Gen. Ripper or the men he sent out to bomb them. This is a black comedy that basically takes the Cold War and the fear of nuclear attacks and makes you laugh at it. Kubrick was able to take a very serious and relevant topic at the time and turn it into satire, and people loved it. It’s brilliantly scripted and directed, and it’s still funny even now. Dr. Strangelove is a hilarious character and Peter Sellers does a great job playing not one, but three roles in this film. The ending is epic and funny, too. This is a must see for people who have enjoyed other Kubrick movies, but really, everyone should watch it.

 

Event Horizon (1997)220px-Event_horizon_ver1

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Cast: Laurence Fishburne, Sam Niell, Kathleen Quinlan, Jason Isaacs
Genre: Sci-Fi/Horror

A rescue crew of astronauts find a ship that has disappeared into a black hole and has now returned…and then some really messed up stuff happens. This isn’t the best movie ever, but I am recommending it because horror films that take place in space are simply awesome, and it’s actually pretty scary and disturbing. With the abundance of horror films out there about ghosts, devils, and things similarly related to ghosts and devils, this is a breath of fresh air. It’s also not your typical “aliens invading Earth” or “go to another planet, find hostile aliens” plots that you usually will find in space movies. It’s worth a watch, especially for those who like horror movies.

 

Gattaca (1997)gattacaposter

Director: Andrew Niccol
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law
Genre: Sci-Fi

Taking place some time in the future, a genetically inferior man named Vincent (Ethan Hawke) befriends a genetically superior man named Jerome (Jude Law) and assumes his identity in order to pursue his dream of traveling into space. I love the story in this movie. You really feel for both Vincent and Jerome’s characters because Vincent has to go through so much just to achieve his dreams, and all because he was a normal human instead of a genetically engineered one. Jerome, despite the fact that he is genetically engineered, isn’t happy with his life. He is paralyzed from the waist down and that is only after he tried to commit suicide and he even failed at that. It’s a sad story and happy story at the same time. I love Ethan Hawke and Jude Law, and even Uma Thurman does a great job. This is definitely one of the better sci-fi’s I’ve seen in my day.

 

Girl, Interrupted (1999)girlinterruptedposter

Director: James Mangold
Cast: Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie, Clea DuVall, Brittany Murphy, Whoopi Goldberg
Genre: Drama

Susanna (Winona Ryder) ends up in a mental institution after a suicide attempt. While she’s there, she meets a lot of interesting people, including Lisa (Angelina Jolie), a woman who seems sane at first compared to the rest, but eventually reveals herself as a sociopath who is very controlling. She ends up influencing Susanna in all the wrong ways. The story here is not so much depressing as it is simply moving. Angelina Jolie pulls off an amazing performance in the movie and Winona Ryder is impressive as well, although I think Jolie steals the scenes from her often. She even won an Oscar for a Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Even if you’re not a Jolie fan, which a lot of people aren’t for some reason, you can’t deny that she has talent after seeing her role in this movie. There’s actually a lot of great performances in this movie, including Brittany Murphy and Clea DuVall as mental patients and Whoopi Goldberg as a nurse who tries to guide Susanna.

 

Rocky (1976)220px-Rocky_poster

Director: John G. Avildsen
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers
Genre: Sports Drama

The boxer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) gets his big break when he is given the opportunity to fight Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Actually, all of the Rocky movies are going to be expiring from Netflix–I, II, III, IV, and V. But those who have never yet seen the Rocky franchise should obviously at least see the first before they expire. Rocky is an inspiring tale and Stallone is in his prime here. It is a true underdog story that makes you feel like you can accomplish anything if you really try. It was nominated for 10 Oscars and won 3–Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing. If for no other reason, you should watch it just to say you’ve seen it. It really is an enjoyable movie, though, and an enjoyable franchise in general.

 

220px-Taxi_Driver_posterTaxi Driver (1976)

Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd
Genre: Drama

Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is a discharged marine who applied for a job as a taxi driver in New York City. It soon becomes obvious that Travis isn’t exactly mentally stable, becoming obsessed with a woman who is a campaign volunteer for the Senator of New York. He has a few interesting encounters with people he picks up in his cab, including a young girl (Jodie Foster) who tries to run away from her pimp but ultimately fails. Disgusted by the pimp and the obvious moral decay around him, he starts to have violent thoughts about what he will do about it. Anyone who continuously reads this blog will soon realize that I am a huge Scorsese fan. That’s not the only reason I’m recommending this movie, though. The amazing script really paints a disturbing picture of a lonely man living in a big city. He’s very complex, he’s not just some obvious, emotionless psycho. He has a rather endearing personality at times, and the ability to feel empathy for a young prostitute who can’t help herself. This was the time when De Niro was making amazing movies and really showing off his superb talent. I highly recommend this movie to anyone who hasn’t seen it, at least you’ll be able to see the real, “You talkin’ to me?” scene instead of the countless impersonations of it.

 

220px-Terminator1984movieposterThe Terminator (1994)

Director: James Cameron
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn
Genre: Sci-Fi/Action

The Terminator is a cyborg assassin in the form of Arnold Schwarzenegger who is sent from the future back to 1984. His mission is to attempt to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) who is pregnant with the child, John Connor, who will grow up to lead a revolution against the machines. Aside from this movie being totally entertaining and cool, it also acts as sort of a message saying, “our technology will ultimately kill us all some day.” Kind of frightening, I must say. As cool as robots are, I wouldn’t really want one that looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger to blow me away with a shotgun. Actually, scratch that, if I had to be killed by a robot, he might as well look like Arnold Schwarzenegger because that would be a unique and awesome way to die. Getting off track here. I think this is basically a must see for anyone who hasn’t. Plus, they’ll be coming out with a new Terminator in 2015 or something like that, and it seems like some kind of a weird remake. My motto: originals are always better.

 

There’s also a bunch of James Bond movies on Netflix that are expiring. So if you’re a fan of James Bond and haven’t seen these yet, you might want to check them out.

Sean Connery’s Bond:
From Russia With Love (1963)
Goldfinger (1964)
You Only Live Twice (1967)
Never Say Never Again (1983)

Roger Moore’s Bond:
Live and Let Die (1973)
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
A View to Kill (1985)

Timothy Dalton’s Bond:
The Living Daylights (1987)

Jersey Boys (2014)

JERSEY BOYS

Jersey Boys had a lot of potential, and aside from the fun musical performances, it ran on a 134-minute story that kind of fell flat. I’ll admit that I did not see the Broadway version of Jersey Boys, so I can’t compare this film to that. As a stand alone movie, though, there were some things that I enjoyed and some things I didn’t.

Clint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys is about the beginning and the end of the beloved musical group from the 60’s, “The Four Seasons.” It is the story of four boys from New Jersey who struggle for success in the music industry–Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young), Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), and Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen). As with any kind of rock group, they have their ups and downs.

I think that since the story covered such a long period of time–from before they first formed the band to the moment they are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990–it struggled to add any kind of depth to the characters or the story in general. It seemed like a bland chronological order of events. Stuff happens, then they write a new song and perform it, then more stuff happens, then they perform another song. It’s like the story is just filler for the actual musical performances. You’re unaware of exactly how much time passes between these performances because the movie doesn’t tell you. You have to judge for yourself by the clothing style, how much Frankie’s daughter ages throughout the film, and by the songs they’re singing. I, for one, am not well-versed enough in the history of “The Four Seasons” to know the release dates of all their hit songs, so I was a little lost. Things happen very quickly in this movie. In one scene, Frankie takes this rather aggressive girl (Renée Marino) out on a date, and in the next scene they’re walking out of a church after having just got married. You don’t really have time to get a sense of who Frankie really is. Even when tragedy strikes him, there’s hardly enough emotion involved there for it to seem real. It’s kind of like, “OK this happened, look sad for a few seconds, all right let’s move on.”

I did really like the music, though. The performances were amazing, with the actors singing live on set. Honestly, it was the best part of the movie. Like I said, everything else just seemed like unexciting filler. The actors did a pretty good job despite the fact that they were working with a script that barely gave their characters anything real to work with. Vincent Piazza, who plays Tommy DeVito in the movie, was my personal favorite here. Maybe I’m biased because I love him as the infamous Lucky Luciano in the HBO show, Boardwalk Empire, but I thought he really carried the movie in a lot of ways. His character is rude and hot-headed and yet I still found him likable in a story where mostly all of the characters are presented as unlikable.

Christopher Walken plays Gyp DeCarlo, who is probably one of the nicest mob bosses I’ve ever seen in a movie. It’s really not any different than any role he would play…like anywhere. He’s pretty much playing himself at this point. Or maybe I can blame The GodfatherThe SopranosGoodfellas, Boardwalk Empire and countless other mob movies/shows for making me stereotype all mob bosses as being not-so-pleasant killers.

There’s also a character in the film who hooks Bob Gaudio up with the rest of the band, and his name is Joe Pesci. According to the narration by Piazza’s character, he is indeed the Joe Pesci who would later end up being the film actor we all know today. That was sort of random, but cool. Which brings me to another point–the narration. Throughout the movie, the characters look into the camera during scenes and add their commentary to the story, breaking the fourth wall. This has been done plenty of times before, most recently, in Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Sometimes this tactic works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Here, I think it added a little more to the film. It was a chance for the characters to get personal with the audience and add their usually humorous commentary as to what was going on. Some might hate it, but not me. It was a chance to see things through the individual’s perspective, adding a little bit more charm to the characters overall.

While Jersey Boys wasn’t a perfect film, I would be lying if I said I didn’t really enjoy some parts of it. The musical performances sounded great and were really entertaining and the actors were perfect for their roles. There were some moments when I actually laughed and some where I was just bored. Even with all the potential of Brick Marshall and Rick Elice’s script, the story just didn’t quite hit the mark. There was so much as far as quantity, but it lacked the quality it needed to really make it a great film. I’d say that, unless you’re only going specifically for the music, this is more worth watching at home when it comes out on video.

2/5

Enemy (2014)

enemy

Enemy is a movie that is based on José Saramago’s novel, The Double. It is the second film from director Denis Villeneuve and actor Jake Gyllenhaal, who worked together on the thriller, Prisoners, which came out last year. Enemy is also a thriller, but very different from Prisoners in that it is more of a cerebral film. Not everything is what it seems at first glance. 

Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a history professor who lives in a small, barely furnished apartment and has a pretty, blonde girlfriend named Mary (Mélanie Laurent). Anthony (also Jake Gyllenhaal) is a small time actor who has a pretty, blonde wife named Helen (Sarah Gadon), who is six months pregnant. Upon the recommendation of a co-worker, Adam rents a movie and happens to see his exact double, Anthony in it. He becomes obsessed with the idea that he has a double he doesn’t know about and tries to contact him. They eventually meet, and ultimately end up desiring one another’s lives.

Warning: Lots of Spoilers!

There were plenty of things in this movie that just confused me, but I’ll try my best to make sense of it here. The most obvious fact is that Adam and Anthony are the same person. Even though Anthony has an overall more aggressive personality, we see that Adam is capable of also having an aggressive personality from time to time, especially when it comes to having sex with his girlfriend, Mary. It may be that Adam suffers from multiple personality disorder. I’m pretty sure that Adam is his real name because it is what his mother calls him in the beginning of the movie when she phones him and he doesn’t pick up. She also mentions something about him moving in to a smaller apartment. So, what I can conclude from this is just a theory, but I think that perhaps Adam has an affair with Mary, and maybe he’s not actually with Helen at that time. Or, his life with Mary is just some dream he’s making up in his mind. However, Helen does confront him at one point when she suspects he is talking to a woman on the phone and she asks, “You’re seeing her again, aren’t you?” So, it’s more likely that, yes, he has cheated or is cheating, and it’s not just something that is all in his head.

There is also a lot of imagery of spiders used in this movie. At first, we see a spider when Adam/Anthony is in a sex club in the very beginning, and a woman with very high heels is about to step on a tarantula. Later in the film, there is a giant spider looming over the city, which is my personal worst nightmare. We also see a spider web design made by a cracked windshield when Anthony crashes the car with Mary inside. Then at the very end, when Adam finds the key to the sex club and tells Helen he’ll be “going out tonight,” suddenly, Helen turns into a big spider, an image that would haunt me for years to come. I think that spiders are a metaphor for feeling fear and feeling trapped.

The spider represents the wife and impending fatherhood. In the beginning when the spider is crushed, it’s like Adam is trying to break free and indulge in his sexual desires with other women. It might even be Mary crushing the spider, but you can’t see the woman’s face in the scene because it’s not focused. Either way, Adam’s life with his girlfriend isn’t perfect, in fact, it’s rather empty, and he eventually longs to find his other self. The version of him that is married. However, his other self (Anthony), finds himself attracted to Mary and blackmails Adam to let him steal her away for a night. While this happens, Adam goes to see Helen and she asks him, “how was school?” He is confused by this because he thinks he’s a completely separate person from “Anthony.” But this also shows that his real profession actually is a college professor who might’ve had a few small acting roles that have lead him nowhere in life. This is further shown when Adam visits his mother and she tells him to give up his dreams of being a third rate actor. Anyways, Adam sleeps with Helen while Anthony is out with Mary. Anthony and Mary end up in a car crash right at that exact moment, which I guess could mean that Adam actually killed off his other half along with his affair by actually going back to his wife. Then life seems like it might go on normally for Adam and his wife until he finds the key to the sex club, and the vicious cycle starts all over again, hence the image of the spider at the very end.

There might be a few points in this movie that I’ve missed, or my theory is totally wrong, but that is what I got from it. I might be horrible at explaining, but I tried. The whole story is about a man’s battle with himself. He is his own worst enemy–maybe that’s where the title comes from. Even his lecture in the beginning of the movie about dictatorships and that they rely on patterns could be a way of saying that Adam’s sexual desires dictate his life, and the cycle that I just attempted to explain in the previous paragraph is the pattern that leads to this dictatorship’s success.

It’s a pretty dark film for the most part. Jake Gyllenhaal does an amazing job playing two separate characters who are actually the same person but not the same person. I give him credit for having double the on-screen presence and actually making it good. It’s tough to say how I feel about this movie, but I did have to take a while to actually dissect it and make sense of it. So that in itself is an accomplishment. Even if a movie isn’t particularly good in all aspects, if it makes you take the time to actually think, then there’s something in it that is worthwhile. However, I must say that I didn’t enjoy this film as much as I enjoyed Prisoners. It could be due to the fact that I had a hard time understanding this movie, but it could also be that I think Prisoners is just an all around better movie, with more suspense, a better plot, and a lot more talent.

In the end, if you like movies that make you think, then I would recommend this. But if you’re just looking for something fun to watch where you don’t have to try and figure out, “what the hell does that mean?!” then perhaps you should skip it. I don’t think it’s a great film, but it’s also not a bad one.

3/5

The Raid 2: Berandal (2014)

The-Raid-2-Berandal

The Raid 2: Berandal is an Indonesian action film that made its way into U.S. theaters in the beginning of April of this year. Its predecessor, The Raid: Redemption, was a surprising and refreshing addition to the action film genre. It is one of the best action movies I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. Not surprisingly, Gareth Evans’ The Raid 2 is a great sequel that is similar in its action and fight sequences with a more developed story, bigger budget, and lengthier run time. This is possibly my favorite movie of 2014 so far, so I apologize in advance if this review is a little long. I was lucky enough to catch it a few times in the theater despite its very short stay (it was only in local theaters for about a week). People who haven’t had the chance to see it, however, can watch it via digital purchase this Tuesday, June 24th on iTunes and other digital platforms. The DVD/Blu-Ray will be available on July 8th in the U.S. and Canada (August 11th in the UK).

Warning: Possible Spoilers

The Raid 2 picks up right where the first one ends. Rama (Iko Uwais) seeks out a cop named Bunawar (Cok Simbara) in order to seek justice for Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), the cop who was responsible for organizing the raid on the drug lord, Tama (Ray Sahetapy), which got all but one of his men killed. Bunawar tries to convince Rama to go undercover in order to weed out the corrupt cops who are working with crime bosses in Jakarta. At first, Rama refuses, but after hearing of his brother Andi’s (Donny Alamsyah) murder, he accepts in order to seek vengeance for his brother’s death. In order to infiltrate the crime syndicate, Rama must create a new identity which requires him to be imprisoned for an indefinite period of time. While in prison, he gets close with Uco (Arifin Putra), the overly ambitious son of Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo), a known crime boss. When Rama finally gets out of prison, he is employed by Bangun and works alongside Bangun’s right hand man, Eka (Oka Antara). He soon finds himself mixed up in a mess full of over ambition and betrayal. His main target, though, is Bejo (Alex Abbad), the outsider who is responsible for Andi’s death. He soon figures out that Bejo has big plans for himself, but first, Bejo must turn the partnered Indonesian and Japanese gangs against each other, and he uses Uco to help him carry this out, resulting in a ton of violence and a lot of badass scenes thanks to the addition of Bejo’s three deadly henchmen–Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman), Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle), and the Assassin (Cecep Arif Rahman).

Gareth Evans, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite action directors, did an amazing job with The Raid 2. It is the most fun I’ve had at the theater in a long time. I was able to see the premiere in New York City with a full theater, and the audience’s reaction to a lot of the scenes were priceless. This movie, as well as the first one, are very violent, which might not be for everyone, but I don’t mind it at all. The fight scenes in these movies are ridiculous, and even more so in this one because with the bigger budget, Evans was able to do a lot more, like car chase scenes, as well as using different locations as opposed to being filmed in just one building. 

The action plays out sort of like a video game, especially towards the end when Rama goes through fights with what I would call “mini bosses” and then “the boss.” It was similar in The Raid: Redemption, too, with Rama working his way up the floors of the building and finally reaching Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), who I would consider to be “the boss” of that movie. What is even cooler is that Evans decided to keep Yayan Ruhian, one of the most skilled Silat fighters I’ve ever seen, and make him a new character in this movie named Prakoso. Prakoso, a hired killer for Bangun, is one of the few characters who has a few softer, more emotional scenes, which you wouldn’t expect from a hired killer.

The other actor who I have to praise for a great, emotional performance would be Arifin Putra, who surprised me after having seen his sub par performance as a killer in the Mo Brothers’ horror film Macabre. He brings a complexity to his character, Uco, and he really steals a lot of the scenes he’s in. If being the son of a crime boss isn’t complex enough, he struggles with his inability to have patience as the hunger for power overtakes him, and he has to decide between power and loyalty.

Iko Uwais was discovered by Gareth Evans while he was doing a documentary about the fighting style, Silat. Together, they made their first movie together in 2009, Merantau. I have to say that in all three movies I’ve seen him in, Iko Uwais is one of the most impressive fighters I’ve ever seen. The fights are so well choreographed I swear the actors don’t miss a single beat. Unfortunately, Uwais kind of steps out of the spotlight a little bit in this movie, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a decent amount of very entertaining action scenes. This guy simply kicks ass.

There is a lot of ass kicking in this movie, actually. Bejo’s three henchmen, for example, are amazing. Hammer Girl is absolutely brutal, a silent killer with sunglasses who uses her claw hammers to smash faces and rip the guts out of grown men. Baseball Bat Man should play for the Yankees (yeah, I’m a Yankees fan, so what?) because he can hit a guy square in the head with a bat and ball from like fifty feet away, now that’s precision. The Assassin is incredibly skilled with his fists, but his specialty is using two karambits (small knives with curved blades) to slice and dice his enemies to death. They are a fun bunch, really, and it’s even more fun when you get to see Rama fight them.

The action in these films are so well-developed, it’s beginning to influence some other western directors. For example, Anthony and Joe Russo, who directed this year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, have said that they used the fight scenes in The Raid: Redemption to help them develop more hard hitting action for the film. Hollywood has even decided (as usual) to do a remake of The Raid to be directed by Patrick Hughes (The Expendables 3). Surprise, surprise! Remakes are Hollywood’s favorite. It is said that Frank Grillo, who starred in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, has signed on for a part.

I applaud the Americans who actually don’t mind reading subtitles. It’s the lack of love for subtitled movies that let awesome movies like this slip through the cracks. I hardly know anyone who has ever heard of The Raid, especially other girls (there must be some out there!) However, I suggest them to whoever is willing to watch (and read). So before The Raid remake comes out, watch the originals, originals are always better!

With that said, The Raid 2: Berandal is a worthy successor to the first. It’s full of action, including car chases, prison mud fights, bathroom stall fights, restaurant fights, subway fights, kitchen fights, you name it. It also has a more complex story than the last, as well as skilled martial artists and some great actors. It never drags in its 2 1/2 hour running time, and if you can’t tell already, I’m a huge fan. I highly recommend this to anyone who loves action and has the stomach for violence.

5/5

Enter the Dragon (1973)

enter_the_dragon

Director Robert Clouse’s Enter the Dragon is a great example of martial arts movies at their finest, and arguably one of Bruce Lee’s best films in his short-lived, yet influential, career. It is certainly one of my personal favorites as a movie that really stands out amongst an abundance of other martial arts films that exist in the genre.

A Shaolin martial artist named Lee (Bruce Lee) is approached by a British Intelligence agent named Braithwaite (Geoffrey Weeks) who urges him to accept his invitation to a martial arts tournament in order to help with the investigation of the man who invited him, Mr. Han (Kien Shih). Han was previously a Shaolin student who had been expelled, and he is suspected to be involved in drug trafficking and prostitution. Lee agrees to the mission, and upon his journey he learns that one of Han’s bodyguards was responsible for death of Lee’s sister. Lee is then fueled by revenge as well as saving the honor of Shaolin. Lee meets a couple of other competitors including Williams (Jim Kelly), a smooth-talking African American who has fled the United States after defending himself against two racist policemen, Roper (John Saxon), an ambitious gambler who is on the run from the mob, and a woman named Mei Ling (Betty Chung), an agent who was put on the island in order to gather intelligence for the investigation. After sneaking out of his bedroom one night, Lee finds an entrance an underground location where Han runs his drug business from, and ends up in a massive fight with a bunch of guards. When Han finds out one of his competitors has been sneaking out and snooping around, things begin to escalate and cause trouble for Lee and the other competitors on the island.

Enter the Dragon was Bruce Lee’s last film before his untimely death–six days before its release in Hong Kong–and it was also his most successful movie. It was also the first Hollywood produced Chinese martial arts film. It familiarized the western world with martial arts culture, and made the kung fu craze quite popular. This was before people widely knew who martial artists like Jet Li and Jackie Chan were (Chan actually has a small cameo in this movie–he gets his neck snapped by Lee, poor guy). It has all the elements you would expect in an older martial arts movie–the main actor posing and glaring into the screen, unrealistic sound effects, cheesy dialogue and not so perfect dubbing. Despite whatever you may be thinking from that description, none of these things take away from the film’s greatness. It’s a real epitomizing example of martial arts cinema. They weren’t made to be super realistic. They were made to entertain, to familiarize people with different cultures, to make use of actors’ awesome fighting talents, and to just plain kick ass, and this movie does all of that.

The fight scenes are incredible, with the master, Bruce Lee, doing all of his own stunts. You don’t really find too many martial arts movies from the 70’s that seem as hard hitting as this one. Plus, this movie is sure to please those who like martial arts without wires. The scene where Lee sneaks into the underground drug lab and fights off like fifty guys on his own is not only entertaining, but also very well choreographed, almost like a dance number, except way more brutal.

Bruce Lee was a captivating individual when seen dishing out his impressive fighting skills to large, impending groups of bad guys. I can only imagine what kind of a career he would’ve had, had he not left this earth at the young age of 32. Despite having such a short career, he has remained to be one of the most influential martial arts actors of all time, so influential, in fact, fans raised thousands of dollars in order to erect a memorial bronze statue of him in Hong Kong, and it resides there today along the Avenue of Stars.

Enter the Dragon is still highly praised to this day, which shows how well it stands the test of time, aside from the very 70’s hair cuts and outfits. This is a movie that has introduced a lot of people into the world of martial arts. The actors bring a lot of charisma to the screen, especially Jim Kelly and John Saxon, the fight scenes are well choreographed and expertly executed without the use of any wires, and Bruce Lee brings a philosophical element to the story that might not have existed otherwise. It’s a shame that he was not able to expand upon his success with not only just western audiences, but audiences in general. However, we were lucky enough to get this last film, and Lee’s legacy will continue to live on through its influence and success for many years to come.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

how-to-train-your-dragon-2

Director Dean DeBlois’ How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a sequel that likely won’t disappoint fans of the first. The story manages to maintain the same amount of heart as the first with its humor and lovable characters. Although, this movie didn’t have as big of an impact on me as its predecessor, there’s no denying that the animation and plot development is, at the very least, very close to what a sequel should be like.

The story this time around is a little bit more on the serious side, since it is taking place 5 years later and dealing with an older Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) who is coping with getting older, and figuring out his role in his community. He is pressured by his father, Stoick (Gerard Butler), to one day fill his shoes as Chief of Berk. Hiccup doesn’t see himself as a leader, however, and he would rather ride around with Toothless and discover new lands. Berk has changed a lot since the first one. The land is teeming with dragons now and everyone has their own dragon to ride. On one of their adventures, Hiccup and Astrid (America Ferrera) come across a destroyed land that is covered in ice, and here they meet Eret (Kit Harrington), a dragon trapper who tries to capture Hiccup and Astrid’s dragons. Eret says that there are other dragon riders out there, and he also claims to work for a man named Drago (Djimon Hounsou), who is building a dragon army. Hiccup is convinced that if he talks to Drago, he will be able to convince him that everyone can live in peace. In the meantime, he discovers a huge cave full of all new kinds of dragons and encounters a mysterious dragon rider.

All of the same great characters are back for this sequel, including Tuffnut (T.J. Miller), the hilarious Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig), and the two boys trying to win her affections, Snotlout (Jonah Hill) and Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Along with Gobber (Craig Ferguson), this group brings the movie back into a light, humorous tone when things start to get heavy. One of the funniest scenes is when Ruffnut sees Eret for the first time, and her eyes catch his muscles glistening in the sun. He shoots a net at her as she’s swooping in on her dragon, and she opens her arms wide and embraces the capture, saying, “Take me!” So, there are probably a few scenes in this movie that are more geared towards adults, but all that stuff will most likely go right over the kids’ heads anyway. Kids will probably love it regardless.

There is a lot of beautiful animation here, the action is executed so well, and all the swooping and soaring done by the characters and their dragons makes you wish you had one of your own. Toothless is such an adorable, playful dragon, you can’t help but love him. All of the dragons are really humanized in a way that they each have their own little personalities, and you grow to care for them as you would any of the actual human characters in the movie. The sentimentality sets in when the scenes slow down their pace, and the characters really have a chance to develop, learn things, and mature. Hiccup believes his responsibility to his people is to risk his own life by going out to find Drago and stop him from coming to destroy his village, instead of battening down the hatches and waiting for him to come, as his father suggests. He also learns that even though he has made peace between dragons and his people, dragons aren’t perfect. Under the control of bad people, they can be deadly, even the dragons he trusts can make mistakes. It’s a coming-of-age story that is presented in a different, fun way that is enjoyable for both kids and adults.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a story full of well-developed characters, wit and humor, worthy underlying messages, beautiful animation, adorable and scary looking dragons, and enough fun to hold kids off for a while until the next animated movie comes out (I have no idea what that’ll be). People who loved the first movie as much as I did will appreciate this sequel and all that it is trying to achieve. Some may not like it as much, some may like it more. Regardless, I believe they are both very close to being on the same level. It is definitely worth going to see in theaters.

4/5