Tag: jay baruchel

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★

Despite all the dragons, the Vikings, massive ships, and stealth rescue missions gone wrong, “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” written and directed by Dean DeBlois, excels during wordless moments when entertainment is created only through stunning animation and carefully crafted music. These instances, like a dragon courting another or longtime friends coming to terms with the inevitable, are beautiful and moving, appealing to both children and adults who appreciate storytelling more than empty and busy action. Although a third installment in a trilogy, the film is not bereft of introducing ways to dazzle.

This time, the central conflict revolves around Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) learning to become an effective leader of a community of Vikings who have grown reliant on dragons—so reliant that their island has gotten overcrowded. Due to the minute details of animation, we recognize that something has got to give from the moment we lay eyes on their island home of Berk. It is admirable that the answer to the main question is not simply moving to bigger, newer lands offering fresh resources. The screenplay offers long-term solutions both in terms of the needs of humans and dragons. As a result, there is finality to the story and it feels right.

Moving on with life is a recurring theme and it is executed with wonderful perspicuity. I think most important is the fact that the material assumes children are smart. For instance, when Toothless, Hiccup’s dragon companion, comes across a female dragon of the same species, their connection is not reduced to a silly love story or romance. Sure, there are cute moments which involve Toothless’ many attempts to impress the white dragon (with whom Astrid, Hiccup’s betrothed, voiced by America Ferrera, refers to as “Light Fury”), but the point is to generate laughter and to communicate a creature’s sheer joy for having discovered he is not the only one in the world of his kind, rather than to simply introduce a limp romance that merely functions as padding to the story.

Observe closely during these sequences. It is stunning how much range of emotions is communicated through the dragons’ eyes, their body language, how fast or slowly they move, how their nostrils flare at moments of surprise or curiosity, how their limbs relax when they hover the air. One could watch Toothless and Light Fury on mute and yet not much would be taken out of the experience. It is that effective in delivering precise thoughts and emotions. It is here that it becomes readily apparent the film is superior than most animated movies, especially those that rely too much on noise and color to create junk entertainment.

The villain is formidable. Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) is a dragon hunter who takes pride in killing dragons, especially Night Furies. He does not hate these creatures, but he enjoys playing games with them before going for the kill. On more than one occasion, the character is shown to be intelligent, always one step ahead, and experienced in the art of the hunt. However, the final confrontation with Grimmel lacks a certain level of catharsis. For such a detestable character, it would have been preferred if Grimmel had gotten his comeuppance. At the same time, however, an argument can be made that taking on a more expected approach surrounding heroes and villains might have lessened the point that the story is trying to make. It is not about good versus evil.

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.

This is the End

This is the End (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Seth Rogen is ecstatic that Jay Baruchel is visiting L.A. for the weekend because the two of them have not seen each other for about a year. Though Seth knows that Jay is not that fond of Hollywood and its stereotypical lifestyle, he thinks that Jay’s opinion can be changed by allowing him to meet people who Seth thinks are pretty cool. What better way to socialize than to attend James Franco’s wild party. The fun screeches to a halt, however, when a massive earthquake shakes the city and kills the guests–some of whom are very familiar faces either on television or film.

“This is the End,” based on the screenplay as well as directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, heavily depends upon celebrity power in order to amuse. Though it is not consistently funny, losing its way somewhere in the middle, I found myself unable to contain my laughter when the jokes do work.

The picture’s most crucial limitation is the writers’ decision to allow its six central characters to stay in Franco’s house for too long. While the early scenes are effective because we are bombarded by one performer after another, the novelty wears off as the material gets deeper into the survival. Although part of it is amusing because Rogen, Baruchel, and their friends have no useful skill whatsoever (other than being funny), spending so much time in that nicely decorated home is no fun; there are plenty of dirty jokes and bro-mantic lines but the plot fails to move forward.

When it experiments, it shines. It can focused on the actors trying to survive another day but it just has to be creative. For instance, there are a few scenes that are very reminiscent of Frank Darabont’s “The Mist.” Despite being more comedic than suspenseful, I always feel uneasy whenever a character has ropes tied around his torso and goes toward a place where everybody knows, including himself, he should not be heading.

In addition, the last fifteen minutes feel fresh because the characters are finally given a chance to roam outside where anything can happen. The most successful comedies maintain an element of surprise–whether it be situational, within the dialogue, or through subtle character development. Here, the writing is not very deep–and does not need to be–and so, in a way, the amusement inspired by situations should be exaggerated even further. A good twenty to thirty minutes of the middle portion rests on its laurels.

I enjoyed that everyone is willing to poke fun of themselves. Jonah Hill giving himself a not-so-subtle pat on the back for being considered as a “serious actor” after having co-starred in Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball” is a laugh riot. Craig Robinson, meanwhile, capitalizes on his familiar nice-guy persona. I wished the screenwriters had given him a more dramatic angle to play with–again, an element of surprise–because he seems to be up for it. Still, no one tops Michael Cera in playing a cocaine-snorting firecracker. I want to see cokehead Cera starring in his own movie.

Ultimately, inconsistency prevents “This is the End” from becoming more than good entertainment. It will likely hold up on repeated viewings but keep the remote in hand in order to fast-forward through the slower, lumbering, less inspired digressions.

Good Neighbours

Good Neighbours (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Grade school teacher Victor (Jay Baruchel) moves into an apartment building in Montreal. He meets Louise (Emily Hampshire) and Spencer (Scott Speedman), a cat-lover who works in a Chinese restaurant and a wheelchair-bound man who recently lost his wife, respectively. Victor wants to be friends with both of them, but he is kept at arm’s length. It seems like Spencer considers Victor a threat between he and Louise. Meanwhile, Louise is paranoid because, according to the news, a serial killer who murders and rapes women is prowling around the area.

Written and directed by Jacob Tierney, “Good Neighbours” is successful in establishing the setting and the circumstances surrounding the characters, but the camerawork neither matches nor enhances the material’s level of intensity when the tone shifts from small curiosities to big revelations.

The biggest problem is the picture’s lack of critical reaction shots. We are supposed to be watching people who are suddenly thrown into unbelievable situations, but we never get the sense that they are in disbelief when they realize that they can never pretend they did not see what they saw or undo what they did. Watching the events unfold would have been more enthralling if there are more close-ups to provide us the opportunity to observe the fear and worry in the characters’ eyes. Instead, there are a lot of intercutting scenes which serve no purpose, a technique most utilized in romantic comedies when it is obvious that the writing has stalled and the editing crew is desperate to keep our attention. Also, reaction shots might have been useful in order to engage the audience and help determine killer’s identity.

Eventually, it is suggested that one of the three main characters is the murderer. Each becomes a suspect in his or her own right. Although Victor is wiry, Spencer is stuck in a wheelchair, and Louise is constantly afraid, there are times when they do the unexpected with respect to their limitations. Is the killer really one of them or is it a completely different person who makes no appearance in front of the camera? Instead of allowing us to be detectives, I felt as though the answers are spoon-fed. I found myself relaxing more than tensing up as the mystery unfolds.

Although somewhat heavy-handed, I grew to like the movie’s use of animals as symbols for their owners’ instinct for survival. It suggests that, animals, even very tame household pets, are just like people: when pushed into an uncompromising situation where our lives are on the line, we will fight to live. Further, the imagery of cats making their way in and out of people’s apartments also symbolizes the gossip that penetrates through walls and goes around the neighborhood. The latter is mostly played for laughs as older ladies make observations of the young people in their building and the strange happenings outside of their comfortable walls.

Based on a novel by Chrystine Brouillet, “Good Neighbors” has its own style of thrill and dark humor. It does not always work due to the inconsistencies of the screenplay, but it is difficult not to appreciate a film’s efforts when it tries to do something different. After watching the movie, it made me wonder if my neighbors have a dark secret that they will do anything to keep hidden.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Many years prior, Merlin had three apprentices: Balthazar (Nicolas Cage), Horvath (Alfred Molina), and Veronica (Monica Bellucci). However, Horvath decided to team up with the evil Morgana (Alice Krige) and take over the world. Veronica decided to sacrifice herself, through a series of magical spells, by emprisoning Morgana’s soul in her body. Fastforward to the 21st century, Balthazar recruited a geeky Physics student (Jay Baruchel), Dave, who he believed to be the so-called Prime Merlinian, Merlin’s successor, to prevent the release of Morgana and defeat Horvath once and for all. Naturally, nerdy Dave had other things on his mind like romancing a girl he knew when he was still in grade school. There was a lot of unnecessary backstory in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and it did not have a lot of payoff. Special and visual effects were abound, some were, admittedly, impressive (I highly enjoyed the scenes when statues would come to life and attempt to kill the protagonists), but what it lacked was a strong and defined emotional core. As much as I like the adorable Baruchel as an actor, I believe he might have been miscast because he failed to inject multidimensionality to his character. Yes, Physics and the girl were very important to him but what else was he passionate about? When he found out he was supposed to be the next Merlin, there was no sense of wonder and I did not feel a conflict moving enough to keep me wanting to see how things would unfold. Furthermore, I felt as though Cage was too campy for the role and most of his one-liners fell completely flat. It was almost desperate. The writers should have trimmed the parts when Cage made heavy-handed speeches about embracing destiny and focused more on the twenty-year-old who was supposed to wield a great power but did not know what to do with it. Considering that the picture was essentially a Disney film, perhaps it felt the need to cater toward children and that was the reason why pretty much everything was oversimplified. However, I think a bit of edge could have greatly benefited the movie in terms of tone. Not for a second did I believe that the bad guys had the upper hand over the good guys. Directed by Jon Turteltaub, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” delivered many action-packed adventures all over New York City but, other than occassional thrills, it lacked a range of other emotions. Its references to “Fantasia” were highly enjoyable but since the filmmakers did not take the material to the next level, I’m not quite sure if modern audiences (especially younger kids in which it catered toward) will recognize the allusions.

She’s Out of My League

She’s Out of My League (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

I just realized that the more I watch Jay Baruchel, the more I like him. There’s something very geek-chic about him that’s just adorable–I don’t know if it’s the voice or the awkward body language but he manages to pull it off with such ease. In “She’s Out of My League,” directed by Jim Field Smith, he plays an airport security agent with dreams of becoming a pilot who one day meets a really good-looking girl (Alice Eve). After some coincidences and strange (but amusing) circumstances, she ends up asking him out on a date, leaving the lead character’s friends (T.J. Miller, Mike Vogel, Nate Torrence) shocked and confused. I enjoyed watching this movie as a whole but I think it could have been edgier and it could have used more focus in terms of the odd couple’s romance. I think the movie spent too much of its time with the highly obnoxious family (I think if I met them I would run the other way) and in a way, I saw it as an excuse to deliver the gags so it wouldn’t have to tackle the deeper psychology of an insecure man as often as it should have been. And although I did think that the main character’s friends were funny, they couldn’t just accept the fact that their geeky friend was going out with a gorgeous woman. Their sometimes lack of support irked me and it made me question whether they were really good friends. Perhaps the picture was trying to show the friends’ own insecurities through denial but it would have been nice if they didn’t make fun of the lead character as much. The bit with the ex-boyfriend (Geoff Stults) was also another distracting element that didn’t need to be there. Nevertheless, as a romantic comedy, I think the picture worked; it may have been pretty standard most of the time but there were nice moments when I felt like Baruchel and Eve had a good connection. I think the film was at its best when the two characters were just engaging in conversation about their dreams and failures with all jokes aside. We’ve all seen couples that make us think, “What the heck does she see in him?” This movie was essentially that little (sometimes nagging) thought in our heads. The lessons might have been obvious (beauty on the inside matters) but it’s nice to be reminded of it because there’s a universal truth to that lesson. “She’s Out of My League” has both laugh-out-loud and cringe-worthy moments (mostly with that annoying family) but I think it’s worth watching for its own merits.

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.