Is How to Train Your Dragon: the Hidden World Worth Your Time?

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ends the long-running trilogy with a fun, wholesome ending.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World was directed by Dean Belois.  This is the third and seemingly final film in the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy produced by Dreamworks Animation.

If you’ve never heard of this trilogy before, these animated films tell the story of Hiccup (played by Jay Baruchel) and his friends who live with their dragons at Berk.  The first film told of the people of Berk domesticating the dragons after initially hunting them down.  It was about the relationships that these people could develop with these seemingly violent and frightening creatures.   It was a wholesome yet exciting film that would launch arguably Dreamworks’ best franchise to date.  The second film then resumed Hiccup’s journey as he searches for his mother that he believed was dead.  In terms of the whole trilogy, this one reigns supreme as the best one in the series; the film carried the most emotion without losing sight of the larger world the series was trying to build.  Additionally, action scenes in The Hidden World were by far and away some of Dreamworks’ best animation to date.

The newest How to Train Your Dragon film starts off following the events of the second film, with Hiccup’s father now dead and his mother back in his life.  After learning about yet another person who wants to take their dragons and destroy their homes, they realize the possibility of the existence of another world in which the dragons can live in peace away from the rest of society. Hiccup, having assumed the role of chief, decides that it’s a good idea to get not only the people of Berk to safety but more importantly the dragons as well.  Things get more complicated when the main dragon, Toothless, meets another female dragon and develops a relationship with it.  While the gang wonder what the best way to accomplish this goal could be, they begin to consider the possibility of releasing the dragons into the wild.

Although this latest entry in the How to Train Your Dragon series has heart and some touching scene, it’s not perfect.

I would say the scenes whenever the characters considered what life would be like without their dragons are probably the best ones of this film.  I further think this is the emotional highlight of the film when it comes to the way this story is structured.  The other aspect I really liked is of course the animation, but I also don’t really think animated movies are released today without top-notch animation.  These movies have always had really nice animation and this film is no exception.

The biggest flaw with this movie is the pacing.  Despite running for 1hr 44mins, the filmmakers still didn’t have enough time to tell the story they wanted to.  This affected certain elements of the film into feeling rushed, whereas other unnecessary elements felt overly drawn out and exhausting to watch.  The film chooses to spend much of its time showing either the characters quickly interact with the villains, the two leading dragons going on their little dates (which admittedly are very entertaining), or the other side characters being goofy and getting into silly shenanigans.   Many of these moments felt like they were only there in order for the film to force either substance or bad comedy into it.  Although it’s been awhile since I’ve seen the first two How to Train Your Dragon films, but I remember them being pretty funny.  I think that’s why it was surprising to me to see this film and acknowledge that it’s really not that funny.  The humor is mostly very juvenile and meant to cater towards children.  If the humor took a backseat to the drama the characters face this wouldn’t be a big deal, it’s just the fact that jokes are thrown in very often which makes this experience very distracting.

Even though I really liked the animation and I thought the emotions shared between the characters and their dragons were strong, this movie overall is somewhat boring.  Honestly, this is perhaps the weakest movie in this trilogy and the reason for that would be because the film does not have much substance to it.  The supposed feeling of dread that these characters have is never fully related or felt by the audience.  My guess as to why this is the case is likely because they don’t want to make the kids watching this feel uneasy.  And while that is understandable, you can still keep the audience engaged and feeling like the stakes are high while still entertaining the kids.  Good examples of this concept are the first two How to Train Your Dragon films or the Toy Story films, as these films showed managed to be entertaining for both kids and adults.

I will say that the resolution to this film and the ending to the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy is very well done.

When it is time for the climax to come that has been built up for the entire film, it feels mostly underwhelming and it comes in really quickly.  I would say the final fight of this film, although very good, is probably under 10 minutes, which is not usual for one of these movies.  What’s interesting though is that I really like the climax and I think it is my favorite part of the film, it’s just jarring to see it come so quickly is all.  What leads after the fight is really wonderful I will say though.  I won’t give away the resolution of what happens to the dragons and to Hiccup and his friends but I thought that was very satisfying.  I just wish the film had a story with higher stakes so that this ending could feel more earned.

I know I’ve been trashing on this movie a lot, but I really don’t think it’s bad.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think this film was disappointing, but I acknowledge that these films could be so much worse and more childish.  I think this film has the potential to bore some audience members, but I thought it was fine really.    I am happy I saw where these characters ended up and was able to watch their growth and development.  The main characters all go through incredible arcs that changes who they are and that was very interesting to see as well.  If you want to see how this trilogy ends, I’d say check it out.  I would say my enthusiasm for this film is mostly reserved just because I thought the film was underwhelming more than anything, but I still thought it was perfectly fine.  I would just say expect to possibly be disappointed and acknowledge that the film does feel rushed at times.

Written by: Christian Scognamillo

Alita: Battle Angel Movie Review

Alita: Battle Angel is a breathtaking, visceral 3D experience that cannot be missed in theatres!

Alita: Battle Angel was directed by Robert Rodriguez (Sin City and Spy Kids) and written by James Cameron (Avatar and Titanic).  Based off the manga Battle Angel Alita this film was a passion project for James Cameron for almost 20 years after being introduced of the idea by Guillermo Del Toro.  In fact, 20th Century Fox apparently has had the domain “battleangelalita.com” registered to them since the year 2000.  This makes sense for a project with James Cameron’s name on it given that he is known for being an absolute perfectionist.  But now that the project is finally here and we can assume that this is the final version that James Cameron has approved of, is it on par with the other stunning works that Mr. Cameron is known for?

Overall, even if the pacing and dialogue is flawed, this is a film that should not be missed in theatres. 

While there’s a lot to be said with what’s really fantastic about this movie, I’ll start with the negative first.  Although this film is very exciting, there are oftentimes extensive scenes in which characters engage in dialogue that doesn’t necessarily go anywhere.  And while it is mostly fine that characters engage in extended scenes of dialogue, it takes time away from seeing the fantastic action that this film has to offer.  I understand these scenes help the audience to gain a greater understanding of the characters and the world around them, but it greatly affects the pacing and causes the film to be slower than necessary.  Furthermore, the dialogue is oftentimes very unnatural and awkward.  Because of this, some viewers may find themselves struggling to get invested in the story especially if the dialogue and the way it is spoken is slightly off.

And lastly, numerous critics have voiced their disapproval over how this film sets itself up for numerous sequels. This time, I found that this aspect did not bother me as much it usually might.  I think the reason for this was that I was already invested in the world and the characters enough to the point where it felt earned for them to build cliff hangers that are meant to be resolved in future movies.  It reminded me of a pilot for a TV show that I really want to watch more of.  I understand critics have said that this film reminds them of a pilot as a flaw on the movie’s end, but again, I was fine with it.  The only time this trope annoys me is when it is inserted into a movie that doesn’t do enough to introduce and engage the viewer into its world and therefore fails to properly build anticipation for future stories.  An example of this would be 2018’s The Predator or 2015’s Fantastic Four or “Fant4stic” as it is usually called which lacked any intrigue for me to want to see more films made in those franchises.

Alita: Battle Angel is one of the most visceral and breathtaking experiences I’ve ever had in theatres.

Even if critics are finding it hard to be invested in the story, I do not think any critics thus far have denied how fantastic this movie is presented visually.  In fact, I still believe that this is one of the most stunning and visceral experiences I’ve ever had in the cinema.  I went to an advance screening of this film a few days before it came out and I had the chance to view the film in IMAX 3D.  This is how I recommend everyone see this movie.  Select scenes in this movie are presented in an expanded aspect ratio which will give the viewer an expanded view of the action taking place.  What this will mean if you watch it in IMAX is that instead of the movie “letter boxed” (black bars are visible on the top and bottom of the frame) as it usually is throughout when seeing an IMAX film, this time there are select scenes in which those bars go away and the entire screen is taken up by the action seen in the film.  If you are still confused what I mean by this, hopefully this video will help you to understand what I mean.

In fact, the 3D in general is some of the best I’ve ever seen.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen truly great 3D in a film.  The last few times I think I’ve seen actually fantastic 3D was likely Aquaman, Ant Man and the Wasp, and Ready Player One.  But given how many 3D movies come out still even though it is not many people’s preferences, I don’t feel this is much.  I wonder though if a film like this that is being celebrated for its 3D will encourage filmmakers to do 3D justice because I feel when you do it right, the format can be a lot of fun.  It usually is seen as a money sucking waste of time that mostly makes people nauseous.  And while I understand this and even have had similar experiences due to bad 3D, please be advised that this should not disappoint you.  This is a topic that I wish to cover in the future because reactions to 3D films seem to be very strong amongst the movie going crowd whether you love them, hate them, or just do not care whatsoever.

The reason though I advise you see the film in IMAX 3D is because I strongly feel that is the best way to experience the world that James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez has created here.  They’re not only known for crafting really great three-dimensional films; they have a knack to crafting beautiful and engaging worlds utterly unlike our own.  The world of Alita: Battle Angel is so incredible that I truly felt like I was in the world that was created for this film.  And this is not just due to the 3D and the visual effects that complement it.  The gigantic sets they’ve built for this film and the seemingly thousands of extras they have gotten to interact in this environment really sell this world and make it feel real.  I loved that this film was able to get a really good mix of both practical and computer effects to make this world feel alive and real.  I understand this type of filmmaking was new to director Robert Rodriguez as he is used to creating environments made entirely out of computer effects, but I feel the craft on display here really highlights the talent that Mr. Rodriguez truly has when it comes to the art of film and world building within it.  I cannot wait to see what else Mr. Rodriguez has for future movies.  Whether he continues to work with James Cameron on more projects or not, he has a lot of potential when it comes to what he can do as a filmmaker.  Rodriguez has definitely come a long way since his Spy Kids and Sharkboy and Lavagirl days.

For more info on which 3D movies are worth seeing, check out CinemaBlend’s To 3D or Not to 3D.  It goes in depth (no pun intended) on the experience of viewing the film in 3D on every movie that comes out.  I was surprised to find the score for this movie was not as high as I expected, but it’s still a good tool to use nonetheless if you’re interested.

When it comes to action and the scenarios surrounding it, this film understands how to build tension and make the viewer anticipate these confrontations.

Before I saw the film, I was worried that the film would depict Alita as a goddess amongst humans and cyborgs alike, and although she is very strong here the film wisely shows that she has a lot to learn in this journey that she takes.  She loses a lot of fights here and gets hurt, but she manages to keep herself up best she can which is why these scenes feel interesting.  And what further builds tension in these scenes is that we are not entirely sure at first what Alita is capable of, so we are not sure how the outcome of certain scenarios is going to play out.  When we are first introduced to Alita in this film, we see her as very naïve and innocent which makes it all the more surprising and exciting when we eventually see her as an ultimate badass cyborg girl that get herself through a fight very easily if she has to.  Although the confrontations and the dialogue spoken between Alita and other evil cyborgs she encounters can be very over the top and cheesy, it’s all very reminiscent of an anime.  This especially makes sense since the source material for which this film is based off is a manga.  And of course, what makes these action scenes even more fun is the beautiful way which they are created due to the visual effects, choreography, and cinematography.

I also just quickly want to congratulate the actress who played Alita in this film, Rosa Salazar, who gave an excellent performance and who I believe really has a bright future ahead of her in Hollywood.  It’s interesting to see her go from Bird Box to this, but I’m glad that there are films like this that can highlight what this actress truly is capable of.  I even stayed for part of the Q&A shown after the film in which she expressed how hard it was to act in the get-up she needed to in order to deliver a motion capture performance which this makes me have even more respect for her as an actress.  I cannot imagine how hard it is to act with the equipment and costume that she has to be in.  I know many actors are known for putting up with this type of acting and have even made entire careers out of it including Andy Serkis, but I think she is someone who could potentially be seen as a “female Andy Serkis” if you know what I’m saying.

If you care about films and the experience of viewing them, then it is imperative that you go and see this film in theatres!

I understand that this is a film that does not look great based off the marketing, but I truly believe that we need to see more movies like this today.  Although the script can be better, this is the type of movie that needs to be experienced in the theatre.  We need to show Hollywood that movies like this that choose to adapt stories that are strange and unusual to the average mainstream moviegoer should be made and celebrated.  I want more movies that can create huge worlds out of properties that are not as well known including anime or even out of original concepts.  Especially if those films build these worlds in the right way.  I want more movies like this that celebrate the concept of telling familiar stories of finding yourself in unique and creative ways.  I am sick of seeing remakes of films that I’ve already seen like what Disney has been doing or the same Marvel movie over and over again.  And even though I like Marvel movies, the majority of them have a set formula that we have all just gotten use to as time passes.  I want films like this that can instead adapt an anime and do it in a very fun and engaging way.  I just wish moviegoers could be open to more stories that are not safe or those they have seen a million times.  And for the love of god, don’t be that guy that waits for this movie to stream it illegally online, see this movie the way it was meant to be seen.  I know it’s a big commitment to go to the theatre to watch a movie, but if this movie has even made you slightly interested based off my review or perhaps anything else you’ve seen related to this movie, then be sure to check it out!  Even if you absolutely hate 3D and it makes you vomit every time you see a movie in that format, just see it in 2D then.  As long as you give this film the attention it deserves and see it on the biggest screen you can in a format most convenient for you.  But if you can handle it, opt for 3D.

And hey, if you do end up seeing it, tell me about it!  I want to hear your stories whether you loved it, hated it, or thought it was fine.  I know this film is very polarizing for many people which is perfectly fine, but I encourage people to take therisk and just watch the movie for themselves.  If you decide to see this movie because of this review, here is what I will encourage.  First follow me on Twitter at the handle @christianscogs, I will follow you back.  Then tweet me either a picture of you at the theatre or a reaction to this movie whether it be positive or negative.  I may want to join in on the discussion if I feel so inclined to do so.  I feel that would be awesome to build a community of people who care about filmmaking and the experience associated with it.  Again it doesn’t matter what you thought of it, because I think it can be fun to debate films like this with others as well.  As long as we can make some noise and get some people talking about something as fun and nerdy as this.  The goal of my blogs going forward is to cover whatever movies I feel like covering whether they’re old or new just because I think the discussion of them is so much fun!  I especially implore you to see this given that the box office numbers coming in right now are not looking so strong at the moment.  I understand this film is not a masterpiece, it will not win Oscars, and I don’t even anticipate this being remembered as one of the best movies of the year, but I still feel most people will be able to find some enjoyment in it.  So please, go see the movie and let me know your reactions to it.  I hope those of you who take my advice have a great time!

Written by: Christian Scognamillo
You can buy tickets to Alita: Battle Angel here.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part Movie Review

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part: a Delightful, Funny, and Worthy Follow Up to a Game Changing Predecessor!

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part was directed by Mike Mitchell (director of Trolls) and penned by Phil Lord and Chris Miller of the first Lego Movie and 2018’s critically acclaimed Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.  After The Lego Movie was released in 2014 to critical and financial success, film fans waited in anticipation to see what these Lego movies were going to do next.  Many acknowledged the potential for many different types of stories to be told after that original movie, and what we ended up getting was interesting.  We first had The Lego Batman Movie in 2017, which was generally seen as a really fun and creative film that was self-referential but could also serve as a great animated standalone Batman film.  Then we also got the Lego Ninjago Movie later that year which, admittedly, I still have not seen.  To be fair, however, you probably haven’t either as the film was a financial flop and was mostly forgotten upon its release.  This was likely since it came out the same weekend as the highly anticipated Kingsman: The Golden Circle (which I saw at the time over Ninjago)But now that we have a new Lego Movie which follows up the original, one major question remains…

Is this family adventure as good as the first two outings of the franchise?

The answer to that I would say is mostly yes! The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is very funny, creative, and above all entertaining.  Although, it’s not as good as the first one is, I still really love this one and think it’s an absolute blast that you should see in theaters!  The first aspect that I can rave about here is the incredible animation present.  Done by Animal Logic once again, the animation in this film is lifelike, creative, and incredibly realistic.  Seeing the film in theaters helped give the animation more justice as small details present in the animation really came to life here and likely would not have been noticeable on a standard screen like a phone, tv, or computer screen.  In fact, I would advise you avoid putting on those dark 3D glasses for this one as you’ll want to be able to see the bright screen to notice every detail.  The detail is so incredible that some of the Lego characters have traits in their design like bite marks, tears in their accessories, and even faded designs of clothes on their block bodies that were so much fun to notice.  The character animation as well including the way they move as so fun to watch as not one character is identical in their movements.  Since all these characters possess different designs in their bodies, they all walk differently.  Some walk normally, others hop, and even one character floats and shape shifts.  That character, Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi, voiced by Tiffany Haddish, had such fun and creative animation that admittedly must have been very difficult to work with.

But these films are not just good for the style, the substance is good too!  These films have a reputation for being fast, funny, and entertaining and this film does not disappoint.  Phil Lord and Chris Miller are very talented when it comes to writing hilarious and entertaining scripts that leave you watching from the first scene to the final one.  And if you’re wondering what other movies they’ve done besides these two Lego Movies, they’ve also worked on 21 Jump Street22 Jump Street as well as Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  They really understand what makes a film entertaining and worth watching, and I truly believe studios should want to hire more people in Hollywood like these guys. It’s a shame then, that we never got to see what they’re creative interpretation of Solo: A Star Wars Story would have been as I’m sure it would have been great compared to what we got instead (a controversial take). However…

I really don’t think this film is as great as I would have liked it to be though.

It feels a little more like The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is simply a fun adventure, rather than a groundbreaking cinematic film like the first one was.  The only reason I’d classify the first one as such is because it showed us that you can make fun and interesting ideas for a film out of any concept no matter how mundane or strange the idea may seem.  It continues the story and the fun traits present in the Lego Movie and when new things are added, they don’t necessarily add to the story or to the enjoyment of the film.  Some things they add that I wasn’t a fan of included musical numbers.  The songs in general for this film were really hit and miss for me.  Some of them were great like “The Catchy Song” which is definitely stuck inside my head as the song promises, and I like the song they played at the end credits and thought it was funny.  However, there were two songs sang by Tiffany Haddish in this film that I did not care for.  These were full blown musical numbers and they were not fun to watch.  They felt somewhat childish and I found myself waiting for them to end in all honesty.  I also didn’t care for the villain.  Without giving too much away, it is not who you expect the villain to be.  And while this person is very funny and the set up is very clever, his backstory doesn’t make sense and it raises more questions about this universe that are never answered.  The revelation of this villain and his backstory also creates more plot holes that makes this universe confusing to me.  If you’ve seen the movie, you likely are aware of what I’m talking about.  I found myself confused with this twist and I suspect the kids who see it will be lost as well.  I understand that this was likely an attempt to expand the universe that they’ve set up, but they instead make it more confusing.

In fact, there were a few jokes here that made this already complex universe more complex.  Without giving too much away, they make a joke in the movie about Batman going on his own stand-alone adventure and they explain he left the other characters for some time for that reason.  I understand this was just a funny joke to make a reference to the fact that there was a Lego Batman movie but this poses a question.  Since all these movies take place inside the imagination of one kid and his Lego set, was the stand-alone Batman film on another individual Lego set that this kid has of Gotham City?  I know this seems insignificant, but this is the type of stuff I left the film asking myself and thinking about.  The film in general too just feels like it’s more oriented towards kids which is disappointing because these films have always have been made for generally older kids and adults.  The jokes are still funny, but quite honestly not as funny as they usually are in these films.

With that being said, I overall really enjoyed this one!  I don’t think it’s as good as the other Lego movies, and I do hope we don’t get too many of these movies at one time and get tired of them, because every time I check out one of these films I always find myself really enjoying them.  The script may not be as funny as the last few were, but the pacing was on point and the film remained consistently entertaining from start to finish.  I am not sure how many more of these we are going to get, so if you want to see this movie and more like it in the future, be sure to go support it in theaters while it’s still out.  And see it quick if you have any interest in it because with the low box office numbers it’s receiving right now, it might not be there for much longer.  It’s not a masterpiece of film like the first film was, but The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is definitely entertaining, and you will likely enjoy it overall.

Written by: Christian Scognamillo