Movie reviews: 'How to train your dragon: The Hidden World' pushes the boundaries
Film critic and 'Pop Life' host Richard Crouse reviews three new movies this week: 'How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,' 'Fighting With My Family,' and 'Never Look Away.'
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD: 4 STARS
IMDb lists dozens of titles containing the phrase “dragon slayer.” The Hobbit author J.R.R. Tolkien described dragon Smaug as “a most specially greedy, strong and wicked worm.” The Flight of the Conchords have a song called “Albi the Racist Dragon,” and on Dragon Day at Cornell University, an effigy of one of the giant beasts is burned while students shout and dance.
From “Game of Thrones” to “DragonHeart” the winged creatures are portrayed as fiery, fearsome creatures. Only one movie franchise shows the flip side, cinematic dragons who are more misunderstood than actually evil. “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is the final instalment of the wildly successful trilogy of tales about a dragon whisperer and his flying pet.
Hero Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel), now the chief of the dragon-friendly Viking Isle of Berk, and his fire-breathing friend Toothless are growing up. Romance is in the air. Hiccup may or may not propose to Astrid (America Ferrera) while Toothless falls for a Light Fury, a smaller dragon whose colouration allows her to hide in clouds.
All is well until Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), a dragon hunter whose goal is to exterminate all dragons, disrupts Berk’s romantic idylls. As Grimmel’s dark threat hangs over Berk, Hiccup searches for a safe haven for both dragons and Vikings, the fabled Hidden World. “I don’t see a way of staying here any longer,” he says. “If we want to live in peace with our dragons we need to disappear off the map.”
The “How to Train Your Dragon” movies have always been cinematic. Director Dean DeBlois’s camera is in constant motion capturing the choreography of flocks of dragons as they soar through the air or Hiccup’s more outlandish adventures. “The Hidden World” is no different. Beautifully animated, it makes the most of its visuals, presenting gorgeous landscapes of Berk and the beautiful phosphorescent caves of the Hidden World that feel like they sprang from the pages of one of Cressida Cowell source novels.
The dragons come in all shapes, sizes and colours. From fierce to funny they each have distinct personalities. The mating dance between Toothless and the Light Fury is goofy, sweet fun, like something out of a NatGeo documentary on dragon rituals. DeBlois’s animators have found new and subtle ways to add expression to their scaly faces that helps bring them to vivid life.
There is less story in “The Hidden World” than the previous franchise entries. There are good messages about selflessness, the importance of love—the old chestnut about loving something enough to set it free is emphasized—topped off by more timely ideas about finding ways to co-exist.
The goofy humour that gave the other films much of their charm is intact but the emphasis is placed on large-scale action sequences and set pieces. The characters have grown up and so has the action. Dragons spew green acid and the swashbuckling is frenetic which may be too much for younger viewers.
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” feels like a film that has grown along with its core audience. Determined to supply a satisfying ending to the franchise DeBlois delivers a movie that pushes the boundaries of the series while still maintaining the soul that earned the fans in the first place.
FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY: 4 STARS
Everyone knows wrestling is fixed, stage for pure entertainment, but behind the costumes, the death matches and the five moves of doom are real people. “Fighting with My Family,” a new comedy written and directed by Stephen Merchant, dropkicks one real life story from the ring to the big screen.
Norwich England native Saraya-Jade Bevis (Florence Pugh) comes from a wrestling family. Her parents Ricky (Nick Frost) and Julia (Lena Headey) a.k.a. Rowdy Ricky and Sweet Saraya and siblings all throw down in the ring. When WWE trainer Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn) offers Saraya-Jade, known as Britani, and brother Zodiac Zak (Jack Lowden) a chance to audition it looks like they’re on the verge of going big time.
Well, at least one of them is.
After receiving some backstage advice from The Rock (who is also a producer on the film) and trying out, Hutch only calls one name, Saraya-Jade. Switching her name to the more American sounding Paige (inspired by the Rose McGowan character on “Charmed”) she begins in a training camp in Orlando where she will be assessed to see if she has the right stuff for the WWE. She’s an outsider who must fight for every win, both in and out of the ring. “Don’t worry about being the next me,” Says The Rock. “Be the first you.”
There are suplexes, trash talk galore, likeable actors like Nick Frost, Lena Hadley and Vince Vaughn but it isn’t the wrestling moves and sports movie clichés that sell this movie. It’s the film’s beating heart, Florence Pugh, who plays Paige has a mix of empathy, ambition and self-doubt. Her path is a difficult one, from her brother’s jealousy to American audiences taunting her because of her jet-black hair, English accent and piercings. “Come on Ozzy Osbourne! Sing something!” We’ve seen this underdog character before, but by the time she says, “I am a freak. This belongs to the misfits who don’t belong,” it’s hard not to call a TKO on Pugh’s performance.
“Fighting with My Family” is about wrestling but like all good sports movies it isn’t just about what happens in the inevitable game or match at the end of the picture. It is a more universal story about outcasts who create community through sport and heart combined with the kind of “soap opera in spandex” storytelling that has made wrestling so popular.
NEVER LOOK AWAY: 3 ½ STARS
Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s Oscar nominated “Never Look Away” (German title: “Werk ohne Autor”), uses biographical details from the life of painter Gerhard Richter to explore memory and meaning in postwar Germany.
We first meet Kurt Barnert (played as a child by Cai Cohrs) in Dresden as he and his Aunt Elisabeth (Saskia Rosendahl) tour a 1937 exhibit of modern—or as the Nazi call it, “degenerate”—art featuring works by Max Beckmann, Paul Klee, and Oskar Kokoschka. The raw emotionalism of the paintings has a profound effect on the youngster, a feeling encouraged by his free-wheeling aunt who tells him, “everything that’s true is beautiful.”
The war brings with it trauma for Barnert (now played by Tom Schilling). From a father forced to join with the Nazis to suffering unimaginable losses the young man grows up to attend art school and pursue his dream. Funnelling his pain and experience into his work he becomes a socialist realist painter in East Germany before defecting to the West with his wife Ellie (Paula Beer) in the early 1960s.
The story of Barnert’s life is told against the backdrop of some of the 20th century’s most turbulent times. At three hours “Never Look Away” qualifies as an epic but it still feels intimate. Shocking scenes of gas chambers and the arcane eugenic practices that see Aunt Elisabeth unceremoniously taken to a facility run by the vain and villainous Dr. Carl Seeband (Sebastian Koch) provide the historical perspective necessary to tell the story but the focus is personal. Donnersmarck harnesses all the story points—some of which are, admittedly, melodramatic—to focus on the devastating multi-generational impact of the Second World War and the actions of the Third Reich.
Near the end of the film Barnert says, “I don’t make statements, I make pictures.” With “Never Look Away” Donnersmarck has done both with a film that envisions a life and comments on finding meaning in a troubled past.
Richard Crouse shares a toast with celebrity guests and pundits on the talk show Pop Life on CTV NewsChannel and CTV. Catch up on all the entertainment news, reviews and interviews at the Pop Life website.
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