Tag: america ferrera

How to Train Your Dragon 2


How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

It was no surprise to me that Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders’ “How to Train Your Dragon” became a big hit upon its release because the story is heartwarming, the animation is visually striking, and the script offers magical, funny, and genuinely sensitive moments. It is perfect for children and adults because the themes it deals with, despite dragons being at the forefront, are relevant and relatable. The dragon can symbolize a pet or a new sibling.

“How To Train Your Dragon 2” is a less impressive sequel but one that still entertains. It looks even better than the original—which is a statement because the predecessor has set a standard on how animated aerial acrobatics ought to look like and how they can transport the audience into an experience. However, although the sequel tries to be as good as the original, it has enough shortcomings script-wise that prevent one from being fully immersed into the central conflict. That is, the looming threat of Drago Bludvist (voiced by Djimon Hounsou) and his army of dragons.

“Expansion” is the word that comes to mind. Although his father (Gerard Butler) wishes to make him chief of Berk, a place where Vikings and dragons have learned to co-exist, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) does not feel that leading his village is the right path for him to take. He would rather ride on the back of his dragon named Toothless, explore unknown lands, and create a map of his discoveries. The film does a good job in making us feel that there is more to its universe than Berk, its dragons, and people. If another sequel were to be made some time in the future, it would be interesting to see what other creatures and cultures reside in undiscovered archipelagos.

It is surprising that the film comes up short when it comes to subtle characterization because that is one of the greatest strengths of its predecessor. Here, although Hiccup and Toothless do get a few cute and amusing interactions, we never get a chance to see their relationship advance or evolve in a meaningful way. There is an emotional scene between them that takes place in the latter half which comes across disingenuous. There is no believable drama there because an arc has not been established.

Most disappointing is its treatment of the side characters—especially Hiccup’s friends. They have a handful one-liners worthy of a few chuckles but they do not really do anything substantial that can change the game completely.

Astrid (America Ferrera) is Hiccup’s romantic interest. Although she is somewhat interesting to watch because she has gusto and is able to handle herself in tricky situations, like the other young Vikings, she appears and disappears to the script’s convenience, seemingly only there to say a few lines of exposition or to set up a joke. It is as if the writers—William Davies, Dean DeBois, and Chris Sanders—have forgotten that the target audience is children. Thus, shouldn’t the younger characters get more dimension and not be relegated to cardboard cutouts?

I very much appreciated the material’s willingness to tackle more mature themes such as reconnecting with family. My favorite scene was when a character sings to reignite the past even though the film is no musical. The song is there not to be catchy or cute or sell the soundtrack. It is there because it holds meaning to particular characters and we are there witness a beautiful and touching moment. I wished that the picture commanded that level of insight and power throughout.

End of Watch


End of Watch (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Officer Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) is attending a film class as an elective so he chooses to document the every day happenings as an LAPD cop even though some of his fellow officers and superior do not like the idea. They think it is a liability waiting to happen as well as a distraction from the job. Unaware that a cartel is forming in South Central, when Officer Taylor and his partner, Officer Zavala (Michael Peña), end up arresting a man carrying multiple wads of cash hidden in soup and a golden firearm underneath the seat of a truck, it is an act similar to shaking a hornet’s nest. The drug cartel’s kingpin puts a price on their heads.

What makes “End of Watch,” written and directed by David Ayer, stand out from yet another film that chooses a hand-held camera style as a conceit to tell its story is its keen attention on the partnership between two characters. And although it has shootings that are expected in cop dramas, they hold an excitement every time because we learn and come to understand what it is at stake for the duo. While they do embody certain stereotypes, mainly cops relishing to command a level of power, they are neither defined nor limited by our expectations.

The chemistry between Peña and Gyllenhaal is a very necessary element that must be done just right in order to be believable. During down times, the two officers share a partnership that is more brotherly than professional. Their conversations in the patrol car quickly come to mind, ranging from the clichés of dating a white woman versus a Mexican woman to seeking each other’s advice about romantic relationships. Conversely, when the they find themselves in the middle of the action, their focus is on the job and yet there is an active attempt to maintain their connection. They keep each other in check just in case one gets too caught up in the moment or his own thoughts. It is expertly communicated that being a cop is as much as an internal battle as it is an external one.

The film put me through a roller coaster of emotions. It is admirable how the funny exchanges are intercut with scenes that hold genuine suspense, sadness, and horror. It is a scary reminder of the reality with which some people live. The image of an infant and a toddler with duct tape around their mouths and limbs because their drug-addicted parents cannot tolerate the crying shook me to the core. This scene, and others similar to it that are best left to be discovered and experienced, is allowed to unravel in a slow and calculated manner until the inevitable horror is reached.

A hindrance is the generous jumping of perspective. There is a noticeable disruption in momentum when a prior scene is through a cop’s eyes and the next that of a gangster’s. While the latter’s world is also very interesting, it might have been better off if the writer-director had not employed the hand-held camera style when they are front and center. There is much talk about needing “respect,” but we do not get to know them as much as Officers Taylor and Zavala.

“End of Watch” scrubs the glamour off policing. It may not have introduced situations I have not already seen but it creates a level of excitement tiers above similar pictures that are louder, badder, and ultimately emptier.

Real Women Have Curves


Real Women Have Curves (2002)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Real Women Have Curves,” directed by Patricia Cardoso, was about a smart Mexican-American teenager (America Ferrera) who wanted to go live her life by seeing the world and getting the best education she can but couldn’t because her family and the family business needed her at home. I thought this movie was very accurate in portraying a person who was capable of so much but was often limited by family responsibilities. I knew people like Ferrera’s character back in high school and I think this movie was great at showcasing someone who was torn between what a teenager wanted to accomplish and what a teenager expected to accomplish. One of the main driving forces of the film was Ferrera’s relationship with her mother (Lupe Ontiveros) who was as dramatic as the characters she watched in her soap operas–which made me laugh because she reminded me of my mom and her Filipino soap operas–and her extremely hardworking sister (Ingrid Oliu) with a surprising amount of depth and heart. The way the three women interacted with each other was fascinating because although their interests often collided, there was a certain level of respect and love that was always present. I also found Ferrera’s connection with her teacher (George Lopez), who pushed her to apply to Columbia University, and a romantic interest (Brian Sites) interesting but they were a bit underdeveloped. With a running time of less than an hour and thirty minutes, that was expected but the picture would have been stronger if those elements were fully realized. After all, as much as the movie was about family, it was also about Ferrera’s struggle to want to reach outside of her community. I found it easy to relate with this movie because I also wanted to see things outside of my Filipino community back when I recently immigrated to America when I was eleven. Although my parents were not strict about sticking to our roots, there were some little things that caused tension between us that were directly related to our culture. I was impressed with “Real Women Have Curves” because it was a solid coming-of-age story that seemed to tackle multiple subjects at once including important issues like body image and self-esteem. There was a hilarious scene in the sewing shop that involved women comparing the amount of fat they had in their bodies. That dose of reality was refreshing to see especially when teen movies nowadays always feature teenage characters who are built and/or skinny but are not at all smart and/or sensitive. And if they were portrayed as smart and/or sensitive, most movies directed for teens felt forced and superficial. But in this picture, it felt genuine and that much more powerful.

How to Train Your Dragon


How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

This enormously entertaining PG-rated children’s movie was about a small and skinny Viking named Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) who had to capture a dragon and kill it so he could prove that he was a real Viking and make his father (Gerard Butler) proud. Well, he managed to accidentally capture one but he decided to train it instead because he saw a part of himself in the dragon’s eyes when it was scared and helpless. In general, what I love about most about children’s movies is their simplicity. But what I think makes a superior animated feature is how the movie can explore that simplicity and extract valuable lessons about life that even some adults haven’t quite grasped. I think “How to Train Your Dragon,” directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, managed to capture that essence so I was highly entertained. But I must warn others that this film was more about the story than the jokes. The humor was certainly there, especially the scenes that involved Hiccup and his rivals (America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig) fighting dragons, but the focus was on the bond between a boy and his pet dragon. I think it’s a great movie for children to watch because it’s highly energetic, colorful, and there were real moments of suspense (the impressive dragon nest scene and the final battle) and wonder. A main lesson that could be learned was acceptance: treating others with respect even though we don’t agree with their beliefs, putting our feet in someone else’s shoes in order to understand someone better, respecting animals and nature, and being comfortable with who we are even though we may not look or feel like the ideal at the moment. It’s funny because I think in some ways this was comparable to Tim Burton’s version of “Alice in Wonderland.” Both movies ask us to jump into a world where pretty much anything could exist. However, “How to Train Your Dragon” was a superior experience because it did not sacrifice its storytelling and character development for the sake of visual complexity (which was very strong but it was secondary compared to everything else). Moreover, “How to Train Your Dragon” was consistently amusing while “Alice in Wonderland,” lest we forget was also a PG-rated movie, left me somewhat confused and frustrated with how it wasted its potential. In a nutshell, “How to Train Your Dragon” was inspired–inspired to entertain and to just tell a story that was simple but highly involving. In the end, it made me want to have a dragon as a pet so I could train it just like in those very addictive Pokémon games.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2


The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

This sequel is arguably just as good as the original mainly because of the exotic locations and earnest acting. Two and half out of the four storylines worked for me: Amber Tamblyn’s pregnancy scare and her fear of everyone leaving her someday, America Ferrera’s accidental acting gig and her fear of growing distant from her friends, and half of Alexis Bledel’s lost love (Michael Rady) in Greece. I usually love watching Blake Lively (and I did love her here) but the storyline involving archeology and her grandmother felt forced. Every time the film would focus on her so-called life challenges, the momentum of the picture slowed down tremendously. As for the part that didn’t work for me regarding Bledel, it mostly has something to do with her acting. This was also a problem in the first film but whenever she’s about to cry, it feels really forced to the point where it’s borderline laughable. I can read it in her eyes–her questioning about whether she’s exuding enough tears and emotion. Out of the four, acting-wise, I think she’s the most dispensable. However, there’s something about this movie’s energy that kept me interested. I believed that the four leads really were college students because of the way they talked to each other and the questions that they raised (and eventually answered) when no one was around. Even though I’m not the target age group, I could relate with some of the girls, especially Tamblyn’s serious and introspective persona (not to mention her love for movies), because I have gone through the fears of losing one’s high school friends when I moved on to college. Overall, I’m recommending “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2” because it has nice life lessons and the actresses are interesting to watch.