Tuesday, February 26, 2019

[Film Review] How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Lifting off as the third tale in the wonderful How to Train Your Dragon series, the fiery and fun The Hidden World astounds and tugs at your heartstrings. 

After the events of How to Train Your Dragon 2, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) has taken pride in his duties as Chief in the sprawling village of Berk where vikings live peacefully among dragons. But their existence is threatened when the film’s evil villain Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) concocts a plan to steal and enslave all the dragons, including Hiccup’s beloved, winged companion Toothless. From there, Hiccup and his friends set out to find The Hidden World (an “unreachable” utopia which may or may not exist) in order to deliver the dragons to safety.

This final installment is just as fantastic as the predecessors, and it continues with the same lofty ambitions and wide-eyed spirit. The animation is absolutely dazzling and immensely detailed, down to the striking shadows to the textured grains of sand. There are plenty of beautiful sequences, from electric blasts through storm clouds, to flights through skies painted with aurora borealis, to journeys through luminescent caves. The film also boasts some thrilling action and combat sequences, but the most powerful moments come from the quieter, calmer scenes — like Hiccup’s tender flashbacks with his late father, along with Toothless’ playful courting scenes with his newfound mate. Truly majestic. 

Get the tissues ready, because the last 15 minutes of the film pack some intensely emotional wallops, building upon each other like bittersweet daggers to your heart. It’s so gorgeous. A magnificent crescendo of culminating endings. I’m getting teary-eyed while writing this review. 

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World perfectly concludes a trilogy that soared to the greatest of heights.

* 9/10 *

Sunday, February 24, 2019

My Top 10 Films of 2018

#10. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Swooping in as a
vibrantly animated  
coming-of-age tale

#9. Leave No Trace
Harsh and heart-wrenching
“The same thing that’s wrong with you
isn’t wrong with me.”

#8. If Beale Street Could Talk 
A beautiful and
somber portrait of love, life
and complications 

#7. Green Book 
Viggo Mortensen 
folding a pizza in half
Very iconic 

#6. Hereditary 
Horror film about
a family that is not
very friendly, ahh!

#5. Black Panther
Vibrant and prideful 
An entertaining journey
Worth celebrating 

#4. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Amazing story
Melissa McCarthy and
Richard E. Grant stun

#3. First Man
Chilling and spectacular
Your feelings will float 

#2. BlacKkKlansman
Spike Lee’s best in years
Stop hate, rally together
Important, urgent 

#1. Paddington 2
Sweet like marmalade 
The equivalent of a
warm and cozy hug

Friday, February 15, 2019

[Film Review] The LEGO Movie: The Second Part

2014’s The LEGO movie was a surprisingly awesome blast of humor and heart, and now here we are five years later, ready to unbox The Second Part. While this sequel never quite stacks up to the greatness of its predecessor, it’s still a fun and clever addition to the crafty construction of this movie series. 

Chris Pratt and Elizabeth Banks check in as the voices of Emmet and Wyldstyle, and this time around their existence is upended when space invaders touch down upon their snappy world. From there, Emmet is forced to save his friends from the almighty Queen Watevra Wa’Nabe (Tiffany Haddish - she’s great here), who insists that she isn’t a villain through a cheeky musical number. 

Speaking of musical numbers, the film boasts a lot more songs this time around (At one point, one of the characters asks “Are we in a musical?”), and they’re all pretty catchy. One of them is even titled “Catchy Song” and it’s guaranteed to get stuck inside your head. In fact the chorus goes “This song is gonna get stuck inside your head!” Very meta.

Just like the first one, this film is packed with referential humor and winky in-jokes. The script isn’t as consistently hilarious this time, but it mostly does the trick. Fan favorite LEGO Batman (who got his own spinoff, because of course he did) returns in all his brooding glory and often steals the show. There’s also some visually thrilling journeys through space and time warps, as well as a place called Apocalypseburg, which is blatantly reminiscent of Mad Max: Fury Road. And while this film doesn’t quite tug at the heart strings like the first one did (the first one made me cry), it still has some sweet messages of inclusivity and themes of sibling bonds.

So, there’s definitely still some awesomeness left in the LEGO world, and it’s important to keep the imagination alive. 


Monday, February 11, 2019

[Film Review] Green Book

Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali star in Green Book, a heartwarming buddy dramedy about two very different souls who embark on a road trip across America in the 1960s. 

Meet Tony Vallelonga (Mortensen), a hard-nosed Italian-American struggling to make money outside of local mob activities and hot dog eating contests. Early on, Tony unceremoniously lands a gig as a driver (and bodyguard) for Don Shirley (Ali), a wealthy African-American pianist — to call him a virtuoso would be an understatement. 

As the mismatched pair set out for Don’s music tour, they clash in more ways than one, whether it’s their backgrounds and cultures or their personalities. But the further they go, the more respect they gain for each other. The film does a swell job of giving these characters dimension and forming their relationship, which evolves from awkward and misunderstood to loyal and heartfelt. 

The performances from Mortensen and Ali are both absolutely terrific, and they play impressively well off of each other. Viggo gets the Goodfella-esque accent down and embodies this initially not-super-likable character in an amusing manner, displaying humor and a well-meaning soul along the journey. On the other side, Mahershala is stoic and restrained, demonstrating a lot of emotion and information with his eyes and the pure conviction of his voice. Both actors are definitely deserving of their Oscar nominations.

Green Book unfolds as a great blend of laughs and more serious themes, like the racial injustices and discrimination that Doc faces throughout his tour. The film gets its messages across in an effective way, and it all leads to a very sweet conclusion that actually reminded me of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. In the end, friendship, acceptance, and understanding wins all. As Doc says, “It takes courage to change people’s hearts.”

* 8.5/10 *

Sunday, February 10, 2019

[Film Review] If Beale Street Could Talk

After the Oscar sensation Moonlight, director Barry Jenkins returns with If Beale Street Could Talk, and its another beautiful and somber portrait of life, love, and it’s crucial complications. 

Based on a James Baldwin novel of the same title, the film follows a young woman named Tish (KiKi Lane) and her longtime friend and lover Fonny (Stephan James). The two are expecting a child, but there’s one big problem: Alonzo has been sent away to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. 

What unfolds is a poignant, poetic, and contemplative drama that stirs with soul and heartfelt humanity. The richly detailed and meaningful story dives into the power of romance, the trials of familial conflicts, and the tragedies of racial injustices.

It’s all so beautifully shot and vibrantly realized, with each frame looking like a picturesque painting and each scene moving with deep emotion. The performances are superb all-around. Regina King is especially affecting as Tish’s compassionate mother, but I may have most impressed by Stephan James, who conveys so much with just a few words and through telling facial expressions that are filled with pain, thoughtfulness, determination, and unwavering love. If Beale Street Could Talk, Fonny’s eyes would say it all. 

* 8.5/10 *