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Last updateFri, 03 Apr 2020 5pm

The tale of Toothless the freaking adorable animated dragon comes to a close—maybe—with How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third chapter in what producers are calling a trilogy.

Yeah, that’s the same thing they said about Toy Story 3 before greenlighting Toy Story 4. If the story continues beyond this chapter, you won’t get any complaints from me; I think the dragon beat could entertainingly go on with this franchise.

Hiccup (the voice Jay Baruchel), now the chief of his Viking tribe, and his dragon buddy, Toothless, happen upon another Night Fury dragon—this one a female, and Toothless is justifiably smitten. After a first date that involves some hilarious show-off dancing, the two hit it off, and Hiccup finds himself possibly staring down a future without Toothless.

Before Toothless and his new gal pal can head off for wedded bliss in the mystical Hidden World, where dragons live happily, they must contend with the evil Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), who wants to steal all of Toothless’ beautiful music ideas and pass them off as his own.

Oh, excuse me, that would be Abraham’s Amadeus character. No, his character in this one wants to kill all of the dragons, of course.

The movie clocks in at 104 minutes, but it feels more like 60. Director Dean DeBlois, who directed all three films, deserves credit for making the proceedings breezy and never boring. His only other directing credits are the equally enjoyable Lilo and Stitch, and a Sigur Rós documentary. Thankfully, the great Jónsi of Sigur Rós provides another terrific song for the soundtrack.

While these films have all been visually enchanting, this third chapter definitely tops itself. Scenes where the in-love Toothless and Light Fury soar into the skies and fly together are breathtaking achievements. Also, I have to point out again that the Dragon movies do a fabulous job with human hair. There can be all sorts of amazing things going on, but I sometimes find myself just admiring how Hiccup’s hair waves in the wind. So lustrous and lifelike!

The film also packs a nice emotional wallop. Toothless is like a nice combination of E.T. and your favorite dog, so he’s truly lovable. Seeing him get a nice ending (the details of which I won’t give away) might leave you crying a lot more than you thought you would at an animated movie. This one has an animated tearjerker factor that puts it alongside the likes of Toy Story 3 and Up. Speaking of E.T.: I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of the Toothless sounds owe plenty to the little Spielberg alien. He croaks and purrs just like E.T. He doesn’t touch things and make them better, though; he just kind of spits on things.

Most of the voice cast members from the previous two films return, including Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, America Ferrera and Gerard Butler. Not surprisingly, T.J. Miller doesn’t return as Tuffnut. Like Louis C.K. on The Secret Life of Pets sequel, he got his ass booted from an animated movie for bad behavior.

If this is indeed the end for Toothless and Hiccup, it’s a satisfactory conclusion. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World will keep you and your family entertained. I heard a bunch of folks yelling stuff like, “That movie made me cry!” when the credits were playing. Be prepared: You might wind up crying in front of a bunch of kids.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

A good villain and decent visuals keep 300: Rise of an Empire from being truly awful—but in the end, it’s still a disappointment.

Noam Murro has taken over for Zack Snyder as the director of this sequel to the 2006 film (though Snyder is still around as a co-writer and producer). Murro’s take on the shirtless-ancient-warrior saga lacks any kind of dramatic tension, so the resulting film is just a bunch of boat fights mixed with people in togas emoting slowly on soundstages.

It’s a bit of a prequel to 300 in that we see the origins of Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), the golden-god Persian warrior who gave Gerard Butler (who appears in reused footage from 300) such a hard time in the last film. The Xerxes prologue is easily the most compelling part of the movie; too bad it only accounts for a few minutes. Later in the film, it becomes apparent that the events of 300 are going on at the same time as the happenings in this movie, creating a Back to the Future Part II effect.

The main plot involves Greek general Themistokles, played by Sullivan Stapleton. Stapleton is basically Gerard Butler with a slightly less impressive BMI, and he’s tasked with delivering an always-determined look and shouting a lot.

The nemesis, besides Xerxes, is Artemisia, played wickedly by Eva Green. Artemisia is a memorable badass in an unmemorable film. Her character’s back story nicely explains why she just wants to kill everybody. She has a violent (and awkward) sex scene with Stapleton that I saw in 3-D IMAX. (It was my first 3-D IMAX sex scene. I felt so dirty.)

The film depicts many sea battles, with boats crashing into each other and warriors sinking to their deaths below the surface (courtesy of underwater points of view). These moments are impressive the first couple of times, but they start to blend together after a while. As a result, much of the movie’s action feels redundant.

Because Butler is off making crap movies like the Point Break remake and Olympus Has Fallen, he couldn’t be bothered to really participate in this one. Therefore, Santoro and Lena Headey (who played Butler’s wife in the first film) are left to represent the original 300. Headey gets a chance to swing a sword near the film’s end; she looks respectable while chopping people up.

The gore in this movie is quite comical, with CGI blood spurting everywhere. The action scenes range from serviceable to overkill. I did like the POV shot of Xerxes swinging his ax, as well as the shot of a soldier jumping off a wall, with the camera tracking him as he pounces on a victim.

Sadly, the cool moments wind up getting lost in a sea of repetition and diminishing returns. The ending leaves things open for another sequel, so I’m guessing we will be seeing Mr. Xerxes again.

300: Rise of an Empire is slightly better than, say, your average direct-to-video sequel or prequel. But without Butler starring and Snyder directing, the product is ultimately inferior to the first movie—and the first movie wasn’t all that great to begin with.

300: Rise of An Empire is playing in various formats at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Gerard Butler stars in one of the most ridiculous action films you will see this year.

He’s a Secret Service agent on duty the night something very bad happens to the president (Aaron Eckhart); he winds up with a desk job. Later, some nasty North Koreans hilariously infiltrate the White House and hold the president and his Cabinet hostage—so it’s time for Gerard to dispense with the paper clips, and pick up an automatic weapon! Yes, it’s Die Hard in the White House, or at least it wants to be.

There’s some fun to be had here, but the movie has some tragic flaws, including terrible CGI and mawkish patriotic crap that distracts. (Melissa Leo screaming the Pledge of Allegiance as she is dragged to certain death comes to mind.) This is one of those “so bad it’s almost good” movies.

Olympus Has Fallen is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I didn’t care all that much for Movie 43, a new-millennium attempt at something akin to Kentucky Fried Movie. But I won’t be trashing it, because it crosses many lines, is terribly offensive, and is often screamingly disgusting. I’m a little demented when it comes to comedy, so I say: Bring on the farts, excessive curse words and scrotum necks!

However, if you are going to do a gross sketch comedy, you had better do gross well. Your jokes better have the proper punch lines and kickers, and your sketches have to end strong.

Many of the sketches in Movie 43 end like bad Saturday Night Live sketches. Too many of the sketches, which are directed by various directors, just aren’t funny. They land with a thud.

First, I’ll talk about the good stuff. I must give props to real-life couple Naomi Watts (a current Oscar nominee) and Liev Schreiber for their funny turn as a couple proudly homeschooling their son. They want their kid to get the full high school experience, so they humiliate him, alienate him, nail him with dodge balls and ultimately try to make out with him. Yes, I laughed hard at this. Movie 43 would’ve been better if it had been 90 minutes with these nuts.

I must also praise Terrence Howard as a black basketball coach who gets fed up with his youngsters being afraid of a bullying white team. Yes, this joke has been done to death, but Howard sells it big-time. This is one of the sketches that ended badly, but not before Howard had me laughing out loud.

Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott kidnap a foul-mouthed leprechaun (Gerard Butler)—and excessive violence and obscenity ensue. Real-life couple Anna Faris and Chris Pratt deal with a desire to get pooped upon—yet they somehow make it romantic. Jason Sudeikis gives us a commentary on Kristen Bell's bush. There are some laughs to be had in these uneven segments.

Hugh Jackman (another current Oscar nominee) shows up for a blind date with Kate Winslet sporting testicles on his neck. This would be the first time in movie history where an Oscar nominee, mere weeks away from hearing whether he has won the golden boy, appears onscreen with hairy balls protruding from his neck. I’m thinking that this moment in movie history will cost Mr. Jackman a few votes. It’s also not funny.

Another sketch (directed by Elizabeth Banks) features Chloë Moretz and her Kick-Ass co-star Christopher Mintz-Plasse. It has, not surprisingly, a menstruation theme: Moretz gets her first period after her first kiss, and two brothers spaz out until their dad (Patrick Warburton) comes home—and doesn’t help the situation. Another dud.

Even worse would be Elizabeth Banks starring in a post-credits segment that has her getting peed on by a masturbating/animated cat. And even worse would be a truth-or-dare sketch in which Oscar-winner Halle Berry makes guacamole with surgically enhanced breasts. Far worse would be a skit in which Emma Stone and Kieran Culkin talk dirty at a supermarket, unwittingly broadcasting over the PA system.

Worst of all would be Richard Gere as an executive confused at the notion that young boys are trying to have sex with the iBabe, an MP3 player that looks like a supermodel but has a nasty, member-mangling exhaust fan in its nether regions.

The bad far outweighs the good, and that’s what makes Movie 43 a loser. I dare Hugh Jackman to wear his scrotum neck on the Oscar red carpet.

Movie 43 is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews