Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Movie Review: "How to Train Your Dragon"

Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders (who also directed the 2002 Disney hit “Lilo and Stitch” – remember that fact for later), “How to Train Your Dragon” is an hour and 38 minutes of pure fun.

Set on the island of Berk, which is "twelve days north of Hopeless and a few degrees south of Freezing to Death," “Dragon” tells the story of a Viking village beset by a plague of “pests” – in this case, a whole bunch of fire-breathing dragons of all shapes and sizes. The deadliest and fiercest (and never before seen) is the Night Wing.

The Vikings bravely meet all of the dragon raids, led by Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler) and his best friend, Gobber (Craig Ferguson). Stoick’s pipsqueak son (and Gobber’s apprentice) is Hiccup (voiced by “She’s Out of My League” star Jay Baruchel). Hiccup desperately wants to prove his manhood by slaying a dragon, but all of the adults (and other teenagers) in the village think he’s generally a clumsy goofus who can’t seem to do anything right.

One night during a raid, Hiccup accidentally injures a Night Wing. Unable to deliver the killing blow as it lies helpless, Hiccup cares for and eventually befriends the beast, who he names “Toothless” (whose facial features, incidentally, are a dead ringer for the aforementioned Stitch). Hiccup also learns that the dragons are not anything like the vicious monsters that everyone claims – but how to convince the other Vikings?

It was fun to try to identify the voices of the characters. Baruchel and Butler were a snap, as was that of Ferguson. Two I missed (and had to wait for the credits to identify) were “Superbad” alumni Jonah Hill and McLovin himself, Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

It was mildly distracting to listen to the Scottish brogues of both Butler and Ferguson playing Vikings, while all of the younger set seemed to have American accents… but I nitpick.

A bit of advice: spend the couple of extra bucks and see this movie in 3D - preferably IMAX... if you don't, you'll end up doing it eventually anyway.

SO much better than last year’s animated snoozefest, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” “Dragon” is a terrific movie for the entire family.

Good job, Dreamworks!

Movie Review: "Shutter Island" (2/21/2010)

Martin Scorsese scores again with “Shutter Island,” a psychological thriller based on the 2003 best seller by Dennis LeHane. Set in 1954 with Leonardio DiCaprio as U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels, who, with his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), are investigating an asylum for the criminally insane in the middle of Boston Harbor. Apparently, one of the inmates - or “patients,” as spooky head psychiatrist Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley) prefers to call them – has inexplicably escaped. A gale-force storm knocks out the ferry service and forces the two investigators to stay on the island longer than they had anticipated.

Teddy is battling his own demons, including horrific flashbacks of his time as a U.S. soldier liberating the Dachau death camp, and of the death of his wife (Michelle Williams). He’s convinced that there is much more to the asylum than is being revealed, and obsessed with finding the answers. Unfortunately, his own sense of sanity seems to be rapidly slipping away.

This is one of those movies where, the less you know going in, the better. Resist the temptation to read any spoilers, or have your friends tell you any more about the plot. The psychological twists and turns are well worth finding out on your own.

“Shutter Island” is heavy, dark and depressing. It’s not a movie I’d particularly recommend as a romantic first date, and certainly not one for the kiddies, but it’s powerful and thought-provoking.