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Reeling it in: Two choices make for a great weekend at the movies

Posted: June 18, 2014 - 4:12pm  |  Updated: June 19, 2014 - 8:37am
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This image released by DreamWorks Animation shows the character Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel, in a scene from "How To Train Your Dragon 2." (AP Photo/DreamWorks Animation)  AP
AP
This image released by DreamWorks Animation shows the character Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel, in a scene from "How To Train Your Dragon 2." (AP Photo/DreamWorks Animation)

“How to Train Your Dragon 2”

DreamWorks Animation

1 hour, 42 minutes

 

“The Fault in Our Stars”

Temple Hill Entertainment

2 hours, 6 minutes

 

Summer is officially upon us and as such I have been faced with the nearly impossible task of trying to choose between all the high profile films currently flooding the theaters. I really wanted to see “22 Jump Street” for a couple of reasons, one being that the original was surprisingly funny, and the other is that it’s directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the guys who brought us “The Lego Movie.”

Ultimately, though, it lost out to one family outting and one date night. As a result, this week I saw two movies, “How to Train Your Dragon 2” and “The Fault in Our Stars,” both very good, though I have to say “Fault” suffered from a serious lack of dragons.

“How to Train Your Dragon 2” is, at first glance, your typical animated sequel. Retreaded story, bigger dragons, new villain.

Surprisingly, the movie goes off in a few unexpected directions. Taking place five years after the events of the first film, the Viking community of Berk is now a thriving dragon based economy. Everyone has a dragon that they ride, work, or just keep as companions. Peace reigns, and the chief, one Stoic the Vast, is looking to retire and turn over the whole shebang to his son Hiccup, the young Viking who previously changed everybody’s worldview by making friends with a dragon named Toothless.

Desiring none of the responsibility of rule, Hiccup has been avoiding his father, riding Toothless beyond the borders of the known world, mapping new territories and finding new settlements of people and dragons. One such outting brings Hiccup and his girlfriend Astrid into contact with perhaps more adventure than they bargained for. First it’s dragon trappers, gathering conscripts for a vast dragon army marshaled by an evil force named Drago Bloodfist. And if that weren’t enough, Hiccup is soon captured by a creature even stranger — one who has a deep secret and no love for Drago.

“Dragon” is bigger, more detailed, and more intricately plotted than the original. The animation is better, though the first one had stellar graphics as well, and the level of creativity put into the different dragons and their abilities, not to mention the “costuming” and production design, is very impressive.

Where the sequel falls short of the original, however, is in humor. The first film is sweet and funny. This time around it seems they were going more for sweet and dramatic. The film is even pretty dark at times — not inappropriately so, but somewhat unexpected.

But maybe it should have been. The characters are all adults now, and look it; the animators having done a great job of aging them. The situations facing the people of Berk and our heroes are dire and dangerous. I don’t want to give the impression that the film isn’t appropriate for little kids — mine loved it — just that it no longer seems to be aimed at specifically that target market.

What it may lack in laughs, however, “Dragon” makes up in sheer excitement. It’s definitely worth a look.

Grade: B

 

While “Dragon” is fun and exciting, “Fault” is downright excellent. I must admit I wasn’t all that jazzed about going to see a movie about two teens with cancer who fall in love and maintain positive attitudes, but I agreed because my wife had just finished the book and because the author of said book is John Green, a writer of young adult drama who also hosts a web series of hilariously inventive short history lessons. Am I glad I went.

Eighteen-year-old Hazel Grace, played superbly by Shailene Woodley, has advanced thyroid cancer which as severely damaged her lungs, giving her a limited amount of time left on this planet. She’s understandably negative when it comes to the subject of her cancer, but nevertheless, one of the members of her support group decides to take the plunge and ask her out. Hazel resists for a while, but eventually the two fire up a friendship that is sweet and funny and supportive, but very rarely schmaltzy.

Gus, played by Woodley’s “Divergent” co-star Ansel Elgort, is a little hard to like at first, at least for me. Somewhat pretentious and pushy, he manages to work his way into Hazel’s heart and the resulting adventures are heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measures.

Though I very much enjoyed the writing and the filming of this movie, the acting is the real shining star. Woodley and Elgort are perfect in their roles, and Woodley shows signs of true greatness. If only she can continue doing more work and less junk like “Divergent.”

Joining the lovebirds are excellent smaller performances from Laura Dern, as Hazel’s mother, and Willem Dafoe as a reclusive author hiding out in Amsterdam.

“Fault” is definitely a tearjerker, but don’t go in thinking it’s a manipulative weepfest like “Pay it Forward,” one of my all-time least favorite films. “The Fault in Our Stars” has a dry wit — sharp, and never saccharine. Yes, it tugs on your heartstrings, but does so in a remarkably even handed, clear-eyed fashion.

Low expectations may have played a part, but “The Fault in Our Stars” turns out to be one of the best films I’ve seen in a while.

Grade: A

“How to Train Your Dragon” is rated PG for cartoon violence, and some scares

“The Fault in Our Stars is rated PG-13 for scenes of sensuality, brief language, and adult situations.

 

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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