How to Train Your Dragon 2

how-to-train-your-dragon-2-trailer1

DIR: Dean DeBlois • WRI: Dean DeBlois, Cressida Cowell • PRO: Bonnie Arnold • ED: John K. Carr  • MUS: John Powell • CAST: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler

2010’s How to Train Your Dragon took me, like it did the majority of the movie-going public, completely by surprise. Dean DeBlois’ fantasy-family romp, from an animation studio who’d long seemed content to mop up the spare change left by the behemoth Pixar, more often than not to the tune of an ever-tiring Scottish ogre and a zebra of African-American descent, and baring a title more marketable to the pop-up book industry,  proved the finest collaboration of human storytelling with other-worldly elements suitable for all ages since Tom Hanks voiced a cowboy doll. Despite  taking a couple of watches for me to admit my love, my adoration for it grew with each viewing until I, like every other red-blooded audience member who chanced upon it, pondered the cruelty of the sort of world where I could not acquire a Toothless to call my own. Though anticipating this sequel eagerly, I found it difficult to believe that lightning could strike twice to the same extent. My cynicism did not linger beyond the five-minute mark. Cynicism has no place in this movie landscape.

Opening with a ten-minute visual bombardment of a reminder as to why we adored the first film so much (featuring a Quidditch-type game simply titled ‘Dragon Racing’) it does not take long for spectacle to blast a smile on one’s face. The rich spectrum of colours from the original remains intact but the attention to detail is heightened in terms of vibrancy, as is the case with animation sequels. Rather than leaps forward in production design, depth is felt more-so in the textures of beards, scales and weather – which is fine… if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; polish it.

The story this time around stems from conflicts within the realm of the expanding world of the Vikings (thanks to their winged friends) and the importance of defending one’s actual homestead, with themes of stagnancy and environmental control in the face of expansion and understanding warring for the in-story triumph. Returning at centre-stage is Jay Baruchel’s Hiccup as well as the whole clan with the additions of Cate Blanchett voicing his dragon-hippie mum, and a new adversary in the form of one Drago Bludvist, who’s about as nice as he sounds.

The great strength of this sequel is its achievement in evolving the story from essentially a fantasy-pet yarn to a broadened, emotionally involving mythology that balances hope with despair, love with tyranny and slapstick comedy with gripping action sequences. Every review will claim this is attempting to pull an Empire Strikes Back and, apart from the lack of a dark ending, I can’t render a denial of this as a fact on paper. DeBlois has upped his franchise’s game in every sense, with a very special shout-out to composer John Powell for a score that will accompany as many a morning as it will take for this reviewer to tire of it. DeBlois’ script does not miss a beat, with every plot device introduced serving refreshing functions outside of mere spectacle and with the core thematic concept of communication and understanding here, even riskily suggesting homosexual undertones amongst the patriarchal Vikings, in one of the more progressive moves yet seen in child-fiction. For some reason this understanding does not lend itself to sheep, who fall victim to needless cruelty throughout.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 achieves what all children’s films should strive toward. This is by no means necessarily for children and yet it can be enjoyed with children. For a second time Dreamworks animations have produced a work that respects its adult and infant audiences in equal measure. Your move, Pixar.

Donnchadh Tiernan

 

12A (See IFCO for details)
101 mins

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is released on 27th June 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2– Official Website

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The Art of Steal

The-Art-of-the-Steal

DIR: Jonathan Sobol • WRI: Jonathan Sobol • PRO: Nicholas Tabarrok  DOP: Adam Swica  DES: Matthew Davies • CAST: Kurt Russell, Jay Baruchel, Matt Dillon, Katheryn Winnick, Kenneth Welsh, Terence Stamp, Chris Diamantopoulos

Since taking on the role of Stuntman Mike in Quentin Tarantino’s contribution to 2007’s Grindhouse, Kurt Russell has been largely absent from the silver screen. He did make an appearance in stepdaughter Kate Hudson’s short drama Cutlass later that year, and also co-starred in the little-seen sports film Touchback, but by and large, the immensely popular Tombstone actor has been keeping a low profile.

The box-office failure of Grindhouse – the underwhelming ticket sales in the US ensured that Death Proof was released a stand-alone film on these shores – may have played its part in this regard, although he did turn down an opportunity to work with Tango & Cash cohort Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables.

However, it was only a matter before the Massachusetts native stepped back into the breach, and having first acted in a 1962 episode of Dennis the Menace, The Art of the Steal ensures that his extraordinary career has surpassed the 50 year mark.

Directed by Canadian helmer Jonathan Sobol – whose only previous feature-length effort was A Beginner’s Guide to Endings The Art of the Steal had earlier operated under the titles of The Black Marks and The Fix. Like many films in the genre, Sobol’s sophomore film kicks-off with a ‘heist gone wrong’, as well as the inevitable double-crossing for personal and/or financial gain.

Owing to his prowess on his prized motorbike, Russell’s Crunch Calhoun is the ‘wheel man’ on a crack team that includes his half-brother Nicky (Matt Dillon), master forger Guy de Cornet (Chris Diamantopulous) and veteran colleague ‘Uncle Paddy’ (Kenneth Welsh).

When a job in Warsaw turns sour, Dillon’s ‘Ideas Man’ is subsequently arrested, but following evidence he supplies to the authorities, Crunch finds himself on the receiving end of a seven-year sentence in a Wronki prison.

After gaining early release for good behaviour, Crunch becomes a third-rate motorcycle daredevil, with the help of his new girlfriend (Katheryn Winnick) and willing apprentice (Jay Baruchel), but is lured back into the game by his brother’s disgruntled former partner.

This forced him to, reluctantly, team up with Nicky once again, but the promise of a massive pay day for the capture of Gutenberg’s Gospel of James helps to aid their reconciliation. The appearance on the scene of a determined Interpol Agent and his informant sidekick (Terence Stamp) means that the reformed team need to be on their toes at all times, and always one step ahead.

With an impressive cast, and a director familiar with the surroundings of Quebec City and Niagara Falls, The Art of the Steal has the makings of a bonafide sleeper hit. Unfortunately, the end product is far too derivative, presenting the audience with scenarios and situations that have been explored in the past in a much more interesting fashion.

There is some pleasure to be had in the central performances, and there is plenty of spark between Russell and Dillon, who have always had the ability to elevate the most mundane of material to a greater level. Judd Apatow regular Baruchel does provide comic relief (especially in one moment that makes reference to Peter Weir’s Witness), and Stamp makes the most of relatively limited screentime.

Other members of the ensemble never quite register, however, with Winnick’s love interest marginalised for much of the action, while Welsh’s Irish accent seems to take a journey across several continents throughout the course of the drama.

In many ways, had Sobol opted to focus more on Crunch’s daredevil escapades (either partly or completely), this may well have been a more worthwhile exercise. As it is, The Art of the Steal is, at best, disposable fare, which comes complete with the standard final act plot twist/reveal.

With films like Fast & Furious 7, Tarantino’s upcoming The Hateful Eight, Bone Tomahawk and Road to Save Nome in the pipeline, as well as a possible Stargate sequel, Russell will continue to be a fixture in cinemas across the nation, and although the latest entry in his expansive body of work is a long way off being his best, his cult status remains very much intact.

 Daire Walsh

 

15A (See IFCO for details)
90 mins

Art of the Steal is released on 20th June 2014

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Cinema Review: This Is The End

this-is-the-end

 

DIR: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg • WRI: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg • DOP: Brandon Trost • ED: Zene Baker •DES: Chris L Spellman • Cast: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Michael Cera, Emma Watson, Rihanna

Expanded from the 2007 short film Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse, This Is The End is the feature film directorial debut of long-time writing and producing partners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Having first worked together on the US version of Da Ali G Show, the childhood friends have subsequently collaborated on a total of nine films, and while Rogen has also become a major Hollywood player in front of the cameras, Goldberg has continued to be an unassuming (but pivotal) presence behind the scenes.

They have enjoyed plenty of creative control on their films to date, but This Is The End finds them being given free rein in a way that must have seemed like a pipe dream just ten years ago. Thanks to their connection with the prolific Judd Apatow, they have come into contact with a number of rising and established comedic actors, and it is therefore no surprise to see the vast majority of them make some form of appearance in this $32 million budgeted comedy romp.

The trump card of this film is that every actor in the film is actually playing themselves, or at least a version of themselves. At the centre of the piece is Canadian actor Jay Baruchel – who featured heavily in Knocked Up and Tropic Thunder but had earlier come to prominence in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby. He arrives in Los Angeles to spend some time with Seth Rogen, his fellow compatriot and best friend.

Not being a fan of the L.A. party scene, he hopes to confine himself to Rogen’s abode, but the Funny People actor has other ideas, and they instead end up at the home of James Franco, who is hosting a housewarming party. There they are accompanied by a plethora of Apatow alumni including Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Michael Cera, as you have never seen him before.

However, what starts as a typically rambunctious Tinseltown shindig quickly descends into something completely different. Initially oblivious to what is happening in the outside world (with the exception of Rogen and Baruchel who briefly exit the party), it some becomes clear to everyone that an apocalyptic disaster is happening before their very eyes.

Numerous guests are violently dispatched as the ground begins to crumble beneath their feet, and we are left with just six survivors – Franco, Rogen, Baruchel, Hill, Robinson and Danny McBride – who barricade themselves inside the luxurious house in an appearance attempt to fend off the horrors that await them should be embark into dangerous terrain.

When you are dealing with a concept like this, it can be all too easy for the film to lose sight of what it is trying to achieve, and it certainly is true that This Is The End has moments of indulgence and is often too self-aware for its own good. As the film moves into the final half-hour, there is a lot of discussion about how they need to be to stop being so selfish and need to treat one another with good will and charity, which could be potentially off putting for some audiences.

In an overall context, though, these are only minor concerns, as given the lack of memorable comedies that have been released during 2013, the main question surrounding This Is The End is whether or not it is able to reach sufficient levels of hilarity. It is a relief therefore to say that the film does have plenty of funny moments, and is particularly at its best when the participating stars display a willingness to send themselves up.

This is especially noticeable in the case of Franco, who has really enhanced his current standing as a truly unpredictable oddball screen presence with recent roles in Oz the Great and Powerful, Spring Breakers and The Iceman. The eccentricities that have often characterised his public persona are on full display in this film, whether it be his unique art collection or peculiar choice of food and household beverages.

Credit must also go to Hill, who does a fine job of pitching his performance somewhere between suspiciously amiable and outright sarcastic. Rogen, Baruchel and Robinson all bring their customary level of comic timing to the fray, but McBride proves to be the ace in the hole as he starts off as the most troublesome and self-centred of the group and actually becomes progressively worse despite the obvious benefits of him being the polar opposite.

With improvisation high on the agenda, the stars riff off each other to telling effect, and as they try to keep themselves occupied while the world as they know it changes irreparably, they try their hand at making an amateur sequel to the popular Pineapple Express, which featured Franco, Rogen, McBride and Robinson in lead roles.

Though much of the action remains confined to the inner sanctum of Franco’s home, the biblical implications of the film dictate that they must eventually be taken out of their comfort zone, and thanks to their reasonably sized budget, they have enough to clout to develop some eye-popping special effects, and although it intends to satirise the current trend for apoca-blockbusters, it does its level best to match them in terms of scale. Whether or not this film will go down as the cult classic that Rogen and Goldberg are clearly hoping for remains to be seen, but come the end of 2013, it will certainly register in the memory banks of cinema-goers to a much larger degree than all the comedy films that have preceded it this year.

Daire Walsh

106 mins
16 (see IFCO website for details)
This Is The End is released on 28th June 2013

This Is The End – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Cosmopolis

 

DIR/WRI: David Cronenberg • PRO: Paulo Branco • DOP: Peter Suschitzky • ED: Ronald Sanders • Cast: Robert Pattinson, Jay Baruchel, Juliette Binoche, Kevin Durand

David Cronenberg’s decade-long run of reality-grounded character dramas has come to an end following his last venture, the disappointingly sterile A Dangerous Method. His latest, Cosmopolis, feels more like a film from the director of Videodrome and Crash than anything since the 1990s, but is this shift back towards his roots one for the better?

Um… yes?

Based on the 2003 novel by Don DeLillo about a corporate high-roller’s disassociation from reality, Cronenberg’s film could be seen to be more relevant in a world in recession, post-Occupy Wall Street, than its source material.

Robert Pattinson stars as Eric Packer, a 28-year-old magnate travelling across New York City in his fortress-like stretch limo, just to get a haircut. A fan of routine, nothing will stop him from getting his hair cut at the barbers where he has always got his hair cut; even as fate conjures all the traffic-halting forces it can to prevent him from reaching his destination. A presidential visit, a funeral march for rap star, and an apocalyptic anti-capitalism protest keep this finance-themed Waiting for Godot from reaching its destination.

Along the way Packer engages in corporate back-and-forths with his underlings (amongst them Jay Baruchel’s financial wünderkind, Samantha Morton’s top adviser and Juliette Binoche’s art expert), all of whom he summons to his limo-cum-office, while making time for various sexual encounters and even undergoing his paranoia-induced daily prostate exam. He also finds time to squeeze in meetings with his already-estranged new wife Elise (Sarah Gadon). But as these run-ins become less polite and the markets begin to tumble, Packer’s mindset becomes dangerously self-destructive.

Largely set within Packer’s high-tech iLimo, there’s a very stagey feel to proceedings; dialogue is adeptly scripted but highly self-aware, and much of the film feels like a play imperfectly adapted. Pattinson is strong in the lead role, carrying the dignity of a reckless, self-made man and the madness of a man about to lose it all. But at times it feels too much like he is delivering lines unnaturally, performing the character’s more bizarre decisions without the necessary certainty – a fault with the complex story perhaps more so than with Pattinson himself. The cast is strong across the board, especially Morton and an enjoyably hammy Kevin Durand as Packer’s head of security. A last-minute appearance by Paul Giamatti in a very Paul Giamatti role feels a little too easy, but he fits the character fine.

Cronenberg fans may be a little disappointed that it is not quite the mind-bender anticipated, although there are plenty of Cronenbergian touches. The fetishisation of technology, especially the limousine itself, echoes back to Crash. While not made of biological matter like in Videodrome or eXistenZ, Kevin Durand’s personalised, almost en-souled sidearm, feels like a subtle hark back to those most Cronenberg of movies.

The unimpressive effects designed to pass Toronto off as New York take time to get used to, but once you get past that there is plenty to admire, or be horrified by, in Cosmopolis. Some of its longueurs however will frustrate viewers, and the film’s central message of how capitalism controls our lives does not always strike home.

It’s a wildly straight-forward film from Cronenberg, which shows him at his best and worst, but most often at his most middle-of-the-road. Which is, curiously, where this movie is mostly set.

David Neary

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
Cosmopolis is released on 11th June 2012

Cosmopolis – Official Website


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The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

DIR: Jon Turteltaub • WRI: Matt Lopez, Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard • PRO: Jerry Bruckheimer • DOP: Bojan Bazelli • ED: William Goldenberg • DES: Naomi Shohan • CAST: Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Teresa Palmer, Alfred Molina, Toby Kebbell

The long wait is over and here at last is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. I kid, I kid. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is indeed another of the many Harry Potter clones to grace our screens, this one based on the segment of the same name from Disney’s Fantasia (as far as original source material goes, it’s certainly better than a theme park ride). Director Jon Turteltaub teams up with his National Treasure star, Nicolas Cage, to bring us on an energetic journey into the realms of magic and physics.

The plot will raise no eyebrows as following the death of Arthurian wizard Merlin his apprentice, Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage), is assigned to await the birth of Merlin’s successor, who alone can defeat their evil nemesis. This gifted youth turns out to be an oblivious and clumsy physics student, Dave (Jay Baruchel), in present day New York. While it is an unabashed Harry Potter clone, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice emerges as a surprisingly funny and highly entertaining addition to this rapidly expanding sub-genre.

The cast make a good go of it with Baruchel exhibiting charisma and humour as the titular apprentice while his Conan O’Brien modelled quiff makes up for his added years. Nicolas Cage is entirely at home playing the outwardly grumpy Balthazar while the film had a real coup with the casting of its villains. On the side of evil is Balthazar’s peer, Maxim Horvath, played with relish by Alfred Molina, along with his own apprentice, Drake Stone (Toby Kebbell). Kebbell is excellent as the rock star magician complete with ostentatious penthouse and 6-inch heels while you can’t help but root for thespian Molina as he chews through scenery with reckless abandon.

Visually, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a real treat as the many set-pieces feature very impressive special effects. These aren’t just the usual good and evil opposing beams of light either – as with Fantasia, the film gets some great work out of the sorcerers’ possession of inanimate objects.

What is most striking about this film is how it manages to be entertaining as a magical tale but also to include physics and, shockingly, make it cool. Just like the similarly entertaining Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief which makes Greek mythology appealing for a young audience, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is highly recommended as a film to entertain children but which may also have the added bonus of rousing their interest in science.

Peter White

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
is released on 11th August 2010

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice Official Website

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She’s Out of My League

She's Out of My League

DIR: Jim Field Smith • WRI: Sean Anders, John Morris • PRO: Eric L. Gold, David B. Householter, Jimmy Miller • DOP: Jim Denault • ED: Dan Schalk • DES: Clayton Hartley • CAST: Jay Baruchel, Alice Eve, T.J. Miller, Mike Vogel

There’s a pattern at work here. Someone somewhere comes up with a neat little way of explaining something that seemed obvious to the rest of us – for example, why beautiful people tend not to go out with ugly people. This idea makes its way through society from conversation to website to glossy magazine before coming to its final resting place in a Hollywood romantic comedy, the elephants’ graveyard of ideas. This romantic comedy will have a hero who is the last person in the Western world to hear of this idea, so that the action can come to a complete stop about a third of the way through for it to be explained to him (or her) at length by one of his (or her) cynical, sassy, sarcastic friends. In She’s Out of My League our hero is Kirk (Jay Baruchel) and the idea is that if you rate a person’s attractiveness out of ten, that person will never go out with someone more than two points above or below them. You see Kirk, a ‘nice guy’ in a dead-end job – in other words a 5, has fallen for the beautiful, successful, charming Molly (Alice Eve), a 10.

Baruchel turned in a great little performance in Tropic Thunder and was one of Seth Rogan’s group of goofball friends in Knocked Up. Well here he’s come of age with a group of goofball friends of his own. Chief of which is T J Miller playing Stainer and clearly desperate to stake his claim as next in line to lead a rom-com and group of friends (although I preferred Nate Torrence as the more optimistic and less loud Devon). So far it’s all bog-standard, sub-Apatow rom-com stuff.

The film did make me laugh once or twice and there are some good ideas in there. I liked that Kirk is perfectly cool around Molly, until he realises he actually has a chance with her. It’s a pity that the whole thing mostly relies on tired comedy set pieces that are either misjudged (the final one in particular) or just fall flat. The real pity is that Baruchel and Eve are a likeable and believable couple. Their scenes together are the only times the movie comes to life and I think they could have carried it if it wasn’t for all the dead weight.

Geoff McEvoy

She’s Out of My League is released on 4th June 2010

Rated 15A (See IFCO for details)
She’s Out of My League – Official website

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