Friday, February 22, 2019

Movie Review: “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

*** 1/2
104 minutes
Rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor
Universal Pictures

Article first published at

It’s been five years since How to Train Your Dragon 2 proved DreamWorks was just as capable of serving up sequels with the same relish as Pixar. Unfortunately, animated family films have come a long way since then. Hot off the heels of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, it’s been far too long since the last Hiccup and Toothless outing and How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World  just can’t live up to expectations.

After countless video games and Netflix episodes, writer/director Dean DeBlois has managed to make the best looking version of a How to Train Your Dragon film, but The Hidden World suffers from too little too late when it should be going out with a bang. The marketing is making a huge deal about this being the trilogy closer and while it’s nice to have a series where the characters have continued to grow and mature, it’s such a shame the same can’t be said of the story.

The Hidden World picks up after the last film with our favorite band of misfits on a “stealth” mission that winds up being anything but. Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera), Snotlout (voiced by Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Ruffnut (voiced by Kristen Wiig), and Tuffnut (voiced by Justin Rupple replacing T.J. Miller) have just saved a new group of dragons and brought them to sanctuary in Berk.

A new threat rears its head in the form of trophy hunter Grimmel (voiced by F. Murray Abraham). And now they must find the dragon utopia “The Hidden World,” to save their winged friends from Grimmel’s plot. Most importantly to save Toothless, whom was thought to have been the last Night Fury, only to find out Grimmel has one of his own.

The saddest aspect of The Hidden World is how much it follows the exact same beats as the first two films. There’s an opening Hiccup-monologue introducing the new dragons to Berk so the audience can get brought back up to speed. Hiccup must find a way to follow in his father’s footsteps to be the leader Berk needs. And the standard will they/won’t they relationship continues to bloom between Hiccup and Astrid with a possible marriage not too far off.

The best thing is the introduction of the female Light Fury. Toothless and Light Fury’s interactions are the star of the show and thankfully they get plenty of time to interact. Toothless finally manages to become a full bodied character presenting even more charm than ever before. Just wait till you get a load of the mating ritual scene. Hilarious, yet sweet.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World manages to hit all the right notes, it’s just too bad we’ve heard them so many times over the years from repeat viewings of the first two films. Nine years is too long to spread out a franchise into merely three films. Had DreamWorks managed to deliver this a few years ago, it would have felt more fresh. But with DeBlois simply delivering more of the same, it’s disheartening to consider the big finale to be so meh.

To answer the age old question, you really can be whelmed by a movie. The Hidden World is never bad, and it’s gorgeous to look at it, but it delivers nothing we haven’t seen before. For some that may be enough, but for those of us with higher expectations, it just never manages to be as great as it could have been either.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Movie Review: “Happy Death Day 2U”

Happy Death Day 2U

**** out of 5
100 minutes
Rated PG-13 for violence, language, sexual material and thematic elements
Universal Pictures

Article first published at

Considering how lame PG-13 horror has become, Happy Death Day felt like a blast of fresh air and brought in a ton of money. It’s no surprise a sequel has come and thankfully, director Christopher “Son of Michael” Landon returns to keep the tone mostly the same. With Happy Death Day 2U, Landon trails down a new path and introduces a heavy dose of time travel a la Back to the Future. So while poor Tree (Jessica Rothe) may have escaped her deadly Groundhog Day loop, a new wrinkle rears its head and pits her against a whole new twist of fate.

Tree has survived her murderous birthday, but now Carter’s (Israel Broussard) roommate Ryan (Phi Vu) is having his own deja vu. After his time travel thesis project is shut down by the Dean (Steve Zissis), Ryan gets murdered by our favorite baby-faced killer. Thankfully, Tree is around to explain what happened to her and Ryan fesses up that his project was what caused her own time loop.

And just wouldn’t you know it, the Dean storms in to shut down the project, this time sending Tree back to the future (her birthday), stuck in a parallel universe where nothing is the same. Here, this version of Carter is dating Tree’s sorority sister Danielle (Rachel Matthews) and her mom (Missy Yager) is alive and well. Now, Tree must decide if she wants to stay in a reality she has no memory of or say goodbye to her mom to be with the man she loves with the help of Carter, Ryan, and Ryan’s fellow science geeks Samar (Suraj Sharma) and Dre (Sarah Yarkin). All with a whole new killer hot on their tail!

Landon manages to score yet again with Happy Death Day 2U. Armed with a bigger tale, which surprisingly answers some questions from the first, it’s every bit as fun. Rothe continues to lead the films and has tons of fun. The best bits come from finding ways to make suicide as hilarious as Bill Murray did in Groundhog Day. And it should come as no surprise to anyone who’s seen the first film that Tree has never even heard of Back to the Future, something that could go a long way to saving her own life. Not a whole lot has changed, but it is nice to spend some time developing new characters (Samar and Dre), while getting to know Ryan better.

It’s not a spoiler to say Landon has already announced a third film — I can’t wait to hear its title — and it’ll be interesting to see where he takes the franchise from here. Considering he’s already tackled both slasher flicks and time travel, he can probably do pretty much whatever he wants. I guess so long as audiences show up again. And they should, Happy Death Day 2U is a fun ride keeping the audience guessing, all while providing characters you want to root for.

Movie Review: “Isn’t It Romantic”

Isn't It Romantic

**** out of 5
88 minutes
Rated PG-13 for language, some sexual material, and a brief drug reference.
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at

The world sometimes needs a happy go lucky film. And Rebel Wilson’s Isn’t It Romantic delivers in spades. Tackling rom-coms with plucky aplomb, no cliché is left unscathed. Irony abounds in the form of the film’s writers: Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox, and Katie Silberman. When you see a film comes from the creative minds behind The Wedding Date, What Happens in Vegas, Couples Retreat, Hot Pursuit, and How to Be Single, you can’t help but brace yourself. Leave it to them to take everything they’ve pandered to audiences over the years and wrap it up into something hilarious. The art of spoof is alive and well and they tear their own mistakes apart only to reshape them into something the rest of us can love.

Natalie (Wilson) is taught at a young age by her mother (Jennifer Saunders) that watching Pretty Woman is a waste of time and no one will ever love someone who looks like they do. Now a success architect living in New York, she’s stuck being underappreciated at work with a subordinate (Betty Gilpin) who spends her day watching rom-coms and her best friend Josh (Adam DeVine) getting put in the friend zone. But a new world awaits after Natalie is mugged on the subway, knocks herself out, and wakes up in the PG-13 rom-coms she hates so much. Now, she has to defeat the cliches and win the love of her life in order to wake back up and escape the new worlds he hates more than reality.

If you’ve seen the trailer you already know whether you want to see it or not. But for anyone on the fence, or who may have turned up their nose, it doesn’t set out to reinvent the wheel, but damn if it isn’t hilarious from start to finish. Wilson holds the film all on her own, but is given plenty of help from her costars. Liam Hemsworth gets lots of mileage out of aping his brother Chris’s hilarious turn in Ghostbusters. Hey Hollywood, cast them together already! Wilson and DeVine even continue to be charming together here, even after two Pitch Perfect outings. Director Todd Strauss-Schulson continues to keep the laughs flowing with a scant 88 minute runtime. Full of big laughs, and a big heart, Isn’t It Romantic breaks formula while giving it a huge bear hug and makes sure even the most cynical have plenty to ooh and aah at.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Movie Review: “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part”

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

***** out of 5
106 minutes
Rated PG for some rude humor
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at

Whether working in animation or live-action, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller seem unstoppable. Starting with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, they’ve graced us with everything from two Jump Street films, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and a glutton of LEGO films: The LEGO Movie, The Lego Batman Movie, and The Lego Ninjago Movie.

With The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part the streak continues, proving sequels can be every bit as good, if not almost better, than the original. With the big twist out of the way, the duo have a whole new way to play.

The DUPLOs have landed, and Bricksburg will never be the same. Five years after wreaking havoc and destroying the city, Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), Lucy (voiced by Elizabeth Banks), and the remaining citizens, have escaped to build anew in Apocalypseburg. But just wouldn’t you know it, while out brooding, Emmet draws the attention of a whole new set of invaders.

Now, General Mayhem (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz) has taken Lucy, Batman (voided by Will Arnett), Unikitty (voiced by Alison Brie), Metalbeard (voiced by Nick Offerman), and Benny (voiced by Charlie Day) deep into the Systar System. Here, they come face-to-face with Queen Watevra Wanabi (voiced by Tiffany Haddish) who happens to be planning a matrimonial ceremony while Emmet teams up with the dangerously mysterious Rex Dangervest (also Pratt) to save his friends and stop Our-Mom-Ageddon!

Since we know our favorite band of misfit Legos are being played with — Finn (Jado Sand) now being joined by his sister Bianca (Brooklynn Prince) — the tonal shifts could give some viewers a headache. It’s really a brilliant move to further Lego mythos while delivering an even more heartfelt — and at times even sadder — message. While the first Lego wound up being the story of a boy just wanting quality time with his dad, here we get to see how a sibling rivalry can assault our favorite brick characters.

The animation is every bit as stunning as the previous Lego films, and the introduction of additional Lego lines makes for some hilarious new characters. Pratt is living it up getting to play two different versions of who may or may not be the same characters, and everyone else — including the new voice cast — gets to crack wise.

While The Lego Movie 2 manages to hit the sibling rivalry nail right on the head, it’s also a joke-a-second laugh factory. The film is so packed with jokes that it almost feels like it could be too much for one movie. A running gag involving Bruce Willis — and Rex’s Raptor pack — almost steal the show.

The Lego Movie 2 wants to have its cake and eat it too and it’s a fantastic feast from start to finish. Thankfully, Warner Bros., Lord, and Miller — along with director Mike Mitchell — didn’t rush to get a sequel pushed out the door. It really has been five years since the original came out and The Second Part meets and exceeds expectations across the baseplate.