Movie Review: “How to Train Your Dragon 2″

Starring
Jay Baruchel, American Ferrera, Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, Djimon Hounsou, Kit Harrington, Craig Ferguson
Director
Dean DeBlois

“How to Train Your Dragon 2” does something simple yet amazing: they allowed their characters to age. That is unheard of in animated films, but it’s a savvy move here, for two reasons: it gives the writers the opportunity to truly make a man out of Hiccup, and it also allows them to be more forthright about the romance between Hiccup and Astrid, because watching two 15-year-olds kiss on screen, real or CGI, is kinda icky. Twenty-year-olds, totally different story.

Kung Fu Panda 2” seems to be the blueprint for the story (and that makes sense, since they’re both DreamWorks properties), in that it raises the stakes about the importance of what Hiccup has accomplished, and it develops Hiccup’s family. Sadly, it doesn’t work as well as it did for “Panda.” It’s entertaining and gorgeous, but disjointed, veering between wildly emotional scenes on both ends of the spectrum without much thought for how they should flow together.

Five years after the events of the first film, Berk is doing remarkably well now that the residents have embraced the dragons (and vice versa), and the tribe’s chief Stoick (Gerard Butler) plans to swear in his son Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) as the new chief. Hiccup isn’t sure if he’s ready for that much responsibility, but he forgets about becoming chief after he runs across dragon trapper Eret (Kit Harington), who works for a madman named Drago (Djimon Hounsou), who is building a dragon army. Stoick knows Drago and prepares for war. Hiccup, however, wants to try and reason with Drago, and receives some help in the form of someone who’s known him since the day he was born: his long-lost, presumed-dead mother Valka (Cate Blanchett).

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Movie Review: “22 Jump Street”

Starring
Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Ice Cube, Wyatt Russell, Amber Stevens, Jillian Bell, Peter Stormare
Directors
Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

For a while, it seemed like everything that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller touched turned to gold, adapting difficult source material – from a children’s book (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”), to a cheesy ‘80s cop drama (“21 Jump Street”), to a popular toy brand (“The LEGO Movie”) – into successful comedies with a flair for visual gags. But they haven’t had quite the same luck with sequels, as evidenced with their work on “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” (albeit only as writers and producers) and their latest film, “22 Jump Street.” Lord and Miller were reportedly so busy making “The LEGO Movie” that they didn’t have time to do script revisions on the buddy cop comedy, and that was a major oversight on their part, because “22 Jump Street” is a fitfully funny sequel that lacks the surprise factor of its predecessor.

After going undercover at their old high school to bust up a drug ring, Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) have been assigned more grown-up police work, only to end up humiliating themselves and the department in the process. So instead, they’re shipped back to the Jump Street program (having moved to the Vietnamese church across the street, hence the address and title change) to “do exactly what [they] did the last time.” The only difference is that now they’re going undercover at the local city college to find the source of a new synthetic drug called WhyPhy (pronounced “Wi-Fi”) that resulted in the death of a student. But when Jenko becomes friends with the main suspect, football star and frat boy Zook (Wyatt Russell), his relationship with Schmidt becomes strained as they split up to investigate different leads, which threatens to derail the entire mission.

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Movie Review: “Edge of Tomorrow”

Starring
Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson, Noah Taylor
Director
Doug Liman

There’s a pretty good chance that every review about “Edge of Tomorrow” will reference the 1993 comedy “Groundhog Day” at least once, and that’s because both films feature a very similar plot device, not unlike the one that was also employed in Duncan Jones’ underseen sci-fi thriller, “Source Code.” But while it may not be the first time that someone has thought of the loop-based time travel concept, “Edge of Tomorrow” is a truly original piece of science fiction that Hollywood should make more often. Clever, fun and surprisingly bold, the film also represents a return to form for director Doug Liman, who makes up for his last foray into the genre (the dull and disappointing “Jumper”) with the first great movie of the summer season.

Based on the Japanese novel “All You Need is Kill” (a title that Liman should have fought tooth and nail to keep), the film takes place in a near future where Earth has been invaded by an alien race known as Mimics. With most of Europe already lost, the world’s leaders plan to launch a synchronized, all-or-nothing attack on the enemy in an attempt to gain the upper hand. But when Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) – a hotshot spin doctor for the U.S. Army – is ordered onto the front line in a bid to rally public support, he tries to blackmail the general (Brendan Gleeson) responsible and is arrested, stripped of his rank and deployed anyway. Cage has absolutely no combat training, and he dies within minutes of landing on the battlefield… only to wake up back at the base camp 24 hours earlier. Caught in an infinite loop where he must repeat the same day over and over again (with his death serving as the reset button), Cage discovers that he’s been infected with the Mimics’ ability to control time. Desperate for answers, he teams up with Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) – a celebrated war hero who acquired the same powers before eventually losing them – to track down the alien hive and put an end to the war.

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Movie Review: “Maleficent”

Starring
Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, Juno Temple
Director
Robert Stromberg

“Maleficent” seems scared of itself. There is a dark beauty that occasionally escapes, only to be squashed by clumsy and completely unnecessary attempts at humor. This is not to say that the movie had no business trying to be funny, but rather that the tone of the jokes is all wrong. They went for slapstick, even though the material is screaming for a dry wit. There is a movie to be had here, but the film plays out like a teen Elsa locked up in her castle: it’s eager to please, but lacks the confidence to stand on its own. This is not the only thing “Maleficent” has in common with “Frozen,” but we’re not about the spoil the other one.

The story is “Sleeping Beauty” in a parallel universe. Maleficent is a fairy that lives in the enchanted moors with a wealth of fantastical creatures. One day she meets a boy named Stefan from the nearby kingdom. Though the humans and woodland creatures stay away from each other, they become friends, and ultimately more than that as they grow older, but Stefan (played as an adult by Sharlto Copley) thirsts for the throne and, knowing the king’s desire to conquer the moors and exploit its untold riches in gems, leverages his boyhood romance with Maleficent (played as an adult by Angelina Jolie) in order to betray her – he cuts off her wings – and succeeds the king upon his death. When Stefan and his wife have a baby girl, an embittered Maleficent exacts her revenge: she places a curse on the baby that will cause her to fall into an endless sleep on her 16th birthday. Stefan entrusts three pixies (long story) to take care of daughter Aurora (played as a teen by Elle Fanning) and to hide her away until after she turns 16, thus outlasting Maleficent’s curse, but Maleficent finds her rather quickly, and watches her from the shadows. Before long, Maleficent finds herself serving as Aurora’s unofficial guardian (the pixies are idiots, basically), even saving her life on more than one occasion. Maleficent eventually grows fond of Aurora, and this, naturally, complicates things.

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Movie Review: “A Million Ways to Die in the West”

Starring
Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, Giovanni Ribisi, Liam Neeson
Director
Seth MacFarlane

There’s a reason why there aren’t many comedy Westerns, and even fewer that are actually any good, and that’s because the subgenre as a whole is very difficult to pull off. So you have to credit Seth MacFarlane for not only having the cojones to follow up “Ted” with such an offbeat genre hybrid film, but actually succeed where so many others have failed. “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is probably his most ambitious project to date, and although that may sound strange for a man who made a movie about a talking teddy bear, it’s nice to see a filmmaker with that kind of confidence. Like most things in MacFarlane’s career, “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is guaranteed to divide audiences, but it’s a really solid comedy with more than enough laughs to offset its minor shortcomings.

MacFarlane stars as Albert, a cowardly sheep farmer who’s astutely aware of just how horrible life is in 1882 Arizona. After weaseling his way out of a gun fight, Albert’s embarrassed girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) dumps him for Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), the arrogant owner of the local moustachery. While contemplating leaving town for a fresh start, Albert saves a beautiful woman named Anna (Charlize Theron) and they immediately bond over their shared hatred of the Wild West. When Albert challenges Foy to a duel in the hope of winning back Louise, Anna agrees to help him become a better gunfighter, falling for the lovable loser in the process. But what Albert doesn’t realize is that Anna is married to a dangerous outlaw named Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), who rides into town upon hearing of Anna’s infidelity to kill the man that stole his woman.

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