Tuesday, March 30, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

By Michelle Welker Scott - FilmNut's good friend.

Hiccup is a teen-aged boy who lives in a place where, “it snows nine months of the year and hails the other three.” Berek Island, his home, is nearly uninhabitable. But one of the biggest challenges facing the Vikings who live there isn’t the weather or the terrible food. No, it’s the marauding dragons.

In order to keep their village safe, everyone on Berek Island slays dragons. Everyone, that is, but Hiccup.

In some ways, How to Train Your Dragon resembles another high-grossing film that recently came out. Think of it as Avatar lite. In both movies, the establishment fights against an unappreciated alien race until a single individual speaks out against the mindless slaughter. Like its Oscar-winning predecessor, How to Train Your Dragon is about questioning what others take for granted. It’s about opening your mind to new possibilities. It’s also about how utterly cool it would be to tame and ride a winged creature, be it dragon or mountain banshee.

Although this movie’s straightforward plot doesn’t offer many surprises, the animation is a marvel. From the spectacular scenes of soaring above the clouds on dragon’s wings to the final battle scene, How to Train Your Dragon is a visual wonder. Additionally, the character’s facial expressions and gestures are charmingly rendered. Toothless is a wonderfully expressive creature with mannerisms so realistic that any pet owner can surely identify. And the dragon’s relationship with Hiccup is as timeless as that between Travis and Old Yeller.

It’s nice to know that Hollywood finally got the memo: it’s okay to make a funny, family-oriented movie that will not only delight the kids but make the parents sit up and enjoy themselves as well.

Hot Tub Time Machine

By my good friend and avid movie reviewer: Michelle Welker Scott

Maybe the only thing more fun than a parody of angst-ridden teenagers who struggle with their adolescent insecurities is a parody of angst-ridden, middle-aged adults who struggle with their mid-life crises. Combine those these two in the same movie and you get Hot Tub Time Machine.

Just reading the title of the movie pretty much gives the plot away. Three middle-aged men and one post-adolescent boy take a trip to a mountain ski resort in order to escape their miserable lives. During the trip, the four of them inadvertently get into a hot tub that takes them back in time to in 1986. Hilarity ensues.

Okay, so it’s not Tender Mercies. But it is, surprisingly, funny.
Reminiscent of those rollicking party movies like Animal House and Porky’s, Hot Tub Time Machine is full of stupid, tasteless humor. But it’s humor with unexpected appeal.

For starters, there’s always something hilarious about the 80’s; with its Kid ‘n Play hairstyles and Miami Vice fashion sensibilities, it’s a decade that’s just begging to be mocked. Additionally, actor and producer John Cusak lampoons his own early career in such movies as Better Off Dead and Tapeheads, by playing the same kind of earnest, lovable everyman (er, boy) that made him a heart-throb nearly three decades ago. Crispin Glover puts in an appearance as well, playing the straight man against a very funny running gag. And Craig Robinson (who plays the character Darryl Philbin in the TV show, The Office) holds his own as the wannabe musical star cum doggie athletic trainer.

Be warned, however. Hot Tub Time Machine is rated ‘R’ for good reason. It’s crude, offensive and vulgar. There are jokes about drugs, alcohol, vomit and – of course – sex. Viewers who are offended by foul language or nudity should not even venture in the door.

But despite its crassness, obscenity and utter lack of a moral message, Hot Tub Time Machine is a very funny movie.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Short Reviews: "Alice" and "Green Zone"

"Alice in Wonderland" is delightful, zany, entertaining and just plain fun to watch. Johnny Depp captures the madness of the Mad Hatter, and Mia Wasikowska is terrific as Alice. All in all, a lot of eye candy with the wonderful story of a young girl with dreams, who's "gone around the bend?" as she wonders with her imaginative father, and who later becomes a young lady determined to chart her own course in the face of social and family pressure to knuckle under and marry the young man everyone expects her to marry.

For entertainment value, "Alice" is high on my list, with plenty of laughs and a fine message for young women.

I saw it in old-fashioned 2D (sorry about that) - friends tell me that I should see it in 3D - I may just do that.

Worth seeing, for sure, either way.

But don't wait for Netflix - see it soon.

"Green Zone"

If you want a kick-ass message, please see "Green Zone" starring Matt Damon as Chief Miller, a soldier doing his duty - looking for WMDs in Iraq, coming up empty-handed at every site, beginning to wonder what's up with intel. He begins to raise questions and finds himself enmeshed in a deadly clash between Bush Administration officials and the CIA.

Greg Kinnear, as point person for the Bush Administration adds another brilliant role to his resume. Playing a political slime-ball more interested in PR than truth, Kinnear brings a deadly rationality to a blood-thirsty role. God save us from such evil monsters. I couldn't help but think of ultimate slime-ball, Paul Reiser, in his brilliant performance in "Aliens" as Carter Burke, a man who would gladly sell his grandmother, his mother and everyone else to promote his rise to power and wealth. Or the latest Mr. Corporate Slime Ball, "Avatar's" Giovanni Ribisi as Parker Selfridge.

One the classic roles goes to Brendan Gleeson, a Michael-More look-alike, the CIA guy on the ground, who sees through the Bush Administration lies, as does Chief Miller. They hook up and seek to bring some truth to the whole mess, but ultimately, they fail, as we did in Iraq. The Bush Machine plowed on, telling us one lie after the other, and we were were helpless to stop it.

Another must-see film ... but, be prepared; it'll make ya' angry!