Review of “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”

Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is the chief of the Viking village of Berk, a haven for Vikings and dragons alike. Hiccup and his best friend Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera) lead a band of soldiers made up of Snotlout (voiced by Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and twins Ruffnut and Tuffnut (voiced by Kristen Wiig and Justin Rupple) on raids against dragon hunters, freeing those captured and bringing them back to Berk. Hiccup’s friend and adviser Gobber (voiced by Craig Ferguson) warns that Berk is getting too crowded with dragons and the hunters are getting closer to discovering where all the freed dragons go. A group of dragon hunters looking to field an army on dragon-back, calls in Grimmel (voiced by F. Murray Abraham), a long-time dragon killer that hunted the Night Fury to extinction, or so he thought. Informed by the dragon hunters that there is one Night Fury left, Grimmel agrees to help them captured all the dragons of Berk and in exchange, he wants to kill the last Night Fury called Toothless. Grimmel has just the bait to bring Toothless in close for the kill: A female Night Fury. Seeing the female, Astrid calls her a Light Fury, Toothless is instantly smitten. Hiccup discovers a trap in the woods near where the Light Fury was seen and knows the hunters have found them. Eret (voiced by Kit Harington) recognizes a tranquilizer dart near the trap as belonging to Grimmel and warns Hiccup he is more dangerous than any other hunter he’s faced. Hiccup remembers a legend his father Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler) told him as a child. A land from where the dragons all came he called the Hidden World. It was to the west where sailors feared to go as it was deemed the edge of the world. Hiccup convinces the citizens of Berk to leave their home and go west with their dragons to find the Hidden World so they could all live in peace and safety. There’s no guarantee the Hidden World actually exists, but they have no choice but to look for it and keep their dragons safe from Grimmel.

“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is the likely end of the “Dragon” story, and it goes out on a beautiful, emotional and exciting note. The visuals of the series have been impressive right from the start, but in this third film, I believe the animators and camera people (yes, they use cameras to shoot some scenes in animated films) have reached a pinnacle that will require a massive leap in technology to beat. It will likely be up for best animated feature at the 2020 Oscars. There are not enough nice things I can say about the film, but I’ll try.

First, as stated above, it looks amazing. There are shots in this film you would believe are live-action if they didn’t have a flying dragon with a couple of people on its back. The imagery is startlingly life-like in several scenes. The water, the hair on character’s heads, the trees, grass and flowers, all move in a believable fashion. The physics, the reactions of objects when thrown or bumped or whatever, is spot on. There is a substance to this world that feels real, despite it being impossible to touch and only existing in computer memory and digital code. I have been a fan of the “How to Train Your Dragon” films, but this may be the best looking of the bunch.

It also has a great story of what growing up and being responsible for yourself and others means. Hiccup was thrust into the job of chief after the untimely death of his father in the second film. He’s never been comfortable with being a leader and needs the support of Astrid and his recently returned mother Valka (voiced by Cate Blanchett) to keep up his confidence. Their support has never been more important than in the fight with Grimmel. More than once, Hiccup makes a mistake that endangers his tribe and the dragons. He questions whether he’s up to being Berk’s chief, and if losing Toothless makes him less of a leader. He must learn that leading is done best with the help of a group of trusted friends and allies and can never be done alone. Hiccup also learns that no one is perfect and there will be mistakes along the way. It is important that he learns from these mistakes and doesn’t repeat them. These lessons he learns from his friends and advisors, discovering the experience of others can improve the leadership of the chief. In other words, those that don’t play well with others don’t necessarily make the best people to be in charge.

The voice cast is stellar, as always, and gives the film both the comedic and emotional punch it needs to appeal to both children and the adults bringing them to the theaters. Jay Baruchel has given Hiccup a believable evolution from teenager to young adult and from son of the chief to being the chief. Baruchel has a friendly-sounding voice and can deliver both the witty aside along with the heartfelt speech to the people of Berk and the kind and loving words to his friend Toothless.

The twins Ruffnut and Tuffnut also get bigger roles in this third chapter of the story. Kristen Wiig again plays the tomboy Ruffnut, while Justin Rupple replaces T.J. Miller as Tuffnut. The pair are annoying together, but nearly insufferable apart. Ruffnut is captured by Grimmel at one point, but is such an unstopping motormouth, he releases her. While there is a purpose in letting her go, it also ends her jabbering about how great she is and how her pigtails are her hand puppet dragon friends. Wiig gives Ruffnut enough femininity to differentiate her from Tuffnut while still showing us she’s as rough and tumble as her brother.

Perhaps the best acting job is by Justin Rupple. He was brought in after the film had been animated and the part voiced by T.J. Miller and had to recreate the role. Miller ran into a rough patch after finishing his voice acting. He was accused of a 2001 sexual assault and called in a drunken bomb threat while riding a commuter train in 2018. The studio decided to pull Miller from the cast and rerecord his part using comedian and impressionist Justin Rupple. There are times in the film when I believed I was listening to Miller, but there are times it clearly isn’t him. Rupple had to match his delivery to the animated mouth movements (called lip flap) and give a good performance. Rupple should be commended for performing well under difficult circumstances, given he was brought in to replace a well-known actor.

F. Murray Abraham is menacing as Grimmel. He gives the villain a quality showing this bad guy enjoys being a bad guy. Grimmel is very good at being evil. He is happy with his life and was a very good dragon hunter, feeling cheated that there is one Night Fury left. His determination and focus on capturing Toothless is daunting and he is prepared for whatever Hiccup and his crew plan. Abraham is a gifted performer, winning the Academy Award for best actor as Salieri in 1984’s “Amadeus,” and winning and being nominated for many other awards. Attracting this kind of talent to do voice work in an animated film says a great deal about how much respect the actor has for the project. “How to Train Your Dragon” has been a series of films that have delivered amazing visuals and performances and this third installment may be the best of the bunch.

“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is rated PG for some mild rude humor and adventure action. There may have been some belches and farts in the film, but I don’t recall there being much in the way of rude humor. There are fights between humans and between humans and dragons. Grimmel has dragons that spew acid instead of fire. Some people are shown being hit on the head and being knocked out. People and dragons are shot with a tranquilizer dart. Humans are chased by angry dragons. There is no foul language.

“How to Train Your Dragon” is one of my favorite films of the last 10 years. The mixture of humor, action and emotion was a surprise in what could have been a run-of-the-mill animated kids movie. While I wasn’t as enamored with the second film, it was still entertaining and visually stunning. Now with the third film wrapping up the trilogy, I find myself wanting more. Not because there’s something lacking in “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” but because I want to spend more time with Hiccup and Toothless and a world filled with friendly, flying dragons. Alas, we will not likely revisit the world of Berk, Vikings and dragons…at least, until Dreamworks animation decides to reboot the franchise in a cynical cash grab. Fortunately, we will be able to look back on this original trilogy of films with fond memories, especially the last one.

“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” gets five dragon-flame stars.

Two new movies open this week. Maybe I’ll go crazy and see both, but I guarantee I will see at least one of the following:

Greta—

Tyler Perry’s A Media Family Funeral—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest in movie, TV and streaming news, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Sausage Party”

In the Shopwell supermarket, the food is fresh…and alive. While the shoppers cannot see the smiling faces of the meats, produce, canned goods and other items, they are sentient creatures that have hopes and dreams for their future. The shoppers in the supermarket are considered gods by the food and being purchased means going to heaven where the gods will love and take care of the food for eternity. One of a 10 pack of sausages, Frank (voiced by Seth Rogen) is in love with a bun stocked next to him in a Fourth of July sale display. Brenda (voiced by Kristen Wiig) and Frank believe they are meant to be together in heaven where they can finally have sex. A bottle of honey mustard (voiced by Danny McBride) is purchased but returned to the store and tells the other foods that they’ve been told a lie all their lives. The gods don’t love and take care of them instead they consume them. When honey mustard is about to be purchased again by shopper Camille Toh (voiced by Lauren Miller), along with Frank and his fellow sausages and Brenda and the rest of the buns in her pack, he decides to kill himself by jumping out of the cart. Frank tries to hold on to him and nearly falls out himself. Brenda grabs Frank in an attempt to save her love. The cart is involved in a mishap and some items tumble out including Sammy Bagel, Jr. (voiced by Edward Norton), Lavash (voiced by David Krumholtz) and Douche (voiced by Nick Kroll) among others. Furious that he isn’t getting to go to heaven with the god that chose him, Douche vows revenge on Frank and Brenda. Meanwhile, Frank, Brenda, Bagel and Lavash try to get back to their respective aisles before the store opens again the next morning while avoiding the Dark God Darren the store manager (Paul Rudd) and being thrown in the dumpster. Along the way, Frank begins to question everything they believe about the gods based on what honey mustard said and starts a quest to find the truth.

“Sausage Party” is a very silly, filthy, raunchy and vulgar movie; but it uses all the smut to hide a deeper layer that questions blind belief, racial stereotypes and sexual classifications. It is on its surface a juvenile adult comedy. Given a bit more thought, it is an intelligent challenge to the preconceived notions many of us live by without a second thought. It is a film that will anger many people and could possibly be the target of misguided boycott attempts. Despite it being animated, “Sausage Party” might be one of the more subversive films I’ve ever seen.

While “Sausage Party” works on levels deeper than what is on the surface, that surface has to be funny to get the message across. Writers Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir have packed their screenplay with plenty of jokes along with visual humor to coax the audience into taking the journey into deeper territory. There are food puns aplenty in the script along with a fair amount of drug humor (which turns out to be very important to the story later on). Dirty jokes run the gamut from mild comments about filling buns with sausages to more direct and vulgar remarks about the size of various types of produce and where they could and couldn’t fit. It is not a film for the easily embarrassed or those that consider themselves to be prudish.

The laughter eases what could be for some a painful trip into realms that give many people comfort. Is there a God? What happens after this life? Why are my beliefs any more correct than those of another person? Why should I care what happens to people that are gay, straight, trans, white, black, Asian, Jewish, Muslim, Christian or any other sexual identity, ethnicity or religion? These questions have been asked for centuries and continue to cause anger and division amongst us to this day. The film asks the simple question of why it matters to any of us what someone else believes. How does what someone thinks or who someone loves or what someone worships adversely affect anyone else? Why should we hate or try to change people simply because they are different? Maybe this is considered a hippie or humanist way to think and ignores the teachings of the Bible or the Koran or the Torah or any other religious text. But consider this: It’s ok to not share someone’s belief system. Live your life and don’t feel like you are the world’s moral center, responsible for the actions of others. That, in essence, is the story of “Sausage Party.”

“Sausage Party” is rated R for pervasive language, drug use and strong crude sexual content. The crude sexual content ramps up near the end of the film with an all-out food orgy. There are plenty of sexual jokes made throughout the film. Drug use ranges from smoking marijuana out of a kazoo to bath salts. Foul language is common from about the first sentence of dialog all the way through the movie. There are also incidents of violence against humans and food including a beheading.

Seeing “Sausage Party” with your brain turned off and just going in for the laughs is perfectly alright. It is very funny and there are plenty of points where you likely will laugh out loud. There are also moments where the deeper meaning of the film will shine through and you may actually have a serious thought. Don’t let that dampen your fun with the film; just know there’s more going on under the surface.

“Sausage Party” gets five stars.

This week theatres will be filled with an historical remake, an animated fairy tale and a couple of gun runners. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Ben Hur—

Kubo and the Two Strings—

War Dogs—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “Ghostbusters”

Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristin Wiig) is about to become a tenured professor at Columbia University when she is approached by Ed Mulgrave (Ed Begley, Jr.) the owner of a historic home in New York City. Gilbert co-authored a book on the paranormal with Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) Musgrave found on Amazon. He says the home he owns is haunted and wants Gilbert’s help to remove the spirits. Gilbert is shocked to be confronted by the book she disowned years ago and tracks down Yates at the small technical school where she works. Gilbert confronts her former friend and colleague about the book when she becomes aware of another person in the lab, engineer Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). Gilbert tells the two how she was approached by Musgrave with the book and they want to be taken to the home so they can investigate. In exchange, Yates says she’ll consider taking down the book. At the house, the three women encounter a ghost that spews slime all over Gilbert, renewing her belief and interest in the paranormal, while also getting her fired from Columbia. She decides to join Yates and Holtzmann in their hunt for proof of ghosts that can be brought into the laboratory and studied scientifically. Meanwhile, mass transit authority worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) has an encounter with a strange man named Rowan North (Neil Casey) who talks about the coming cataclysm. She writes him off as another kook but sees him on the security monitor jumping off the platform and walking down the track. She follows but sees a strange device that sparks then explodes. Immediately afterwards, she encounters a ghost. Tolan is able to find Gilbert and the others in their new headquarters located above a Chinese restaurant. She tells them what she saw and they go and investigate bringing along some equipment Holtzmann has created. They run into the same ghost that tries to attack them while they are almost run over by a train. Tolan, who has vast knowledge of New York City history, joins the team and along with Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), their frightfully dumb but handsome receptionist, and they become the Ghostbusters.

Not since the announcement of Ben Affleck as Batman has the publication of a cast been greeted with so much anger and hostility as when the rebooted female “Ghostbusters” became public. The cries of destroyed childhoods and worst idea ever were deafening. Director Paul Feig and his four new Ghostbusters were targeted for the kind of social media scorn usually reserved for people caught abusing puppies and kittens on video. The first trailer was one of the most disliked videos ever on YouTube. Without seeing one second of the movie, many commenters declared it the worst film in history. Now that it has come out I’m pleased to announce your childhood is safe because the movie isn’t a time machine that can go back to kill your parents and is actually a great deal of fun.

The ensemble cast is a collection of proven comedy pros mostly current or former cast members of Saturday Night Live. Wiig, McKinnon and Jones along with McCarthy prove more than capable of delivering the laughs with a script by director Paul Feig and writer Katie Dippold that gives them plenty to work with. McKinnon proves to be the biggest scene stealer with lines delivered in a way that invokes a sense of threat and menace while also being funny. She aggressively attacks her character and a great deal of the technobabble she is responsible for fearlessly. It is the kind of performance that would make her a breakout star if she wasn’t already popular from her run on SNL.

Chris Hemsworth’s Kevin is a deadpan delight as he plays a character that is almost too dumb to live. Hemsworth is a hidden comedic gem that is now exposed to the light of day with a performance that creates laughs with the simplest of actions. He steals the movie almost as often as McKinnon.

The movie moves at a lightning pace and spends very little time in any one location. This actually proves to be a bit of a detriment as the story isn’t terribly well developed. We are introduced to the main villain of the film and watch as he puts his plan in motion but we are left to guess what exactly led to his turn into a bad guy. He is treated poorly by those around him and I suppose that is meant to give us an idea of what his whole life has been like but it isn’t terribly clear. The rest of the characters also aren’t very well defined or unique other than Leslie Jones’ Patty. She is the “average person” in contrast to the educated eggheads. While each has their quirks, none of the Ghostbusters really is a well-established person. That is something that may need to be addressed in promised future installments in the series (stay to the very end of the credits for a clue as to what the next film might be about).

Visually, “Ghostbusters” is a dazzling film that more than makes up for shortcomings in the story. The ghosts are vibrant and probably better delineated than the main characters. The tools and weapons the
Ghostbusters use prove to be as dangerous to the users as to the ghosts. They also provide a great deal of visual flash and avenues for humor.

“Ghostbusters” is rated PG-13 for supernatural action and some crude humor. The Ghostbusters are attacked on numerous occasions by ghosts of various types. None of it is gory. We see a character thrown out a window. A possessed Ghostbuster tries to kill two others. A character electrocutes himself. The test of their weapons creates some peril. The crude humor is a fart joke. Foul language is nearly nonexistent.

Most of the surviving cast of the original 1984 film shows up in cameos. Even Harold Ramis who died in 2014 gets some screen time. This reboot realizes it has big shoes to fill and pays respect to its elders. This isn’t an attempt to turn your fondest memories into some kind of Title 9, equal opportunity statement. “Ghostbusters” is an effort to breathe new life into a franchise that hasn’t as much as twitched since “Ghostbusters II” in 1989. Aside from several aborted movie ideas and a video game with the original cast providing the voices this film series has been dead as a door nail. Getting in a huff because a very talented group of actors were selected and they all happen to be female is misogyny pure and simple. If you put your Twitter feed on blast and announced your hate for a movie without seeing a single frame you are an awful person that needs to take a hard look at yourself and start making some changes. Also you need to see this movie and realize what a moron you were.

“Ghostbusters” gets five stars.

This week, an animated sequel, some dark horror and the final frontier are all waiting for your attention. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Ice Age: Collision Course—

Lights Out—

Star Trek Beyond—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “The Martian”

Botanist and astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is part of a six-person crew exploring the surface of Mars as part of the Ares III mission. Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) is informed by crew member Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara) of an approaching dust storm that has intensified since the last weather update and may cause their return vehicle to topple over. Lewis orders the crew to head to the launch vehicle and prepare to return to their mothership Hermes in orbit. As they walk from a habitat module to the return vehicle, a piece of equipment is picked up by the wind and strikes Watney with such force that it carries him away from the others. Unable to see him in the blinding storm and receiving telemetry that his suit has been breached, Lewis makes the decision to leave him behind since it appears he is dead. The crew launches and begins the nine month trip back to Earth. Watney wakes up, injured but alive. He returns to the habitat and assesses his situation. He can’t contact Hermes or NASA since his communications equipment was destroyed in the storm. He is in a habitat designed to last 30 days with a limited food and water supply and he’s looking at a minimum of four years before the next mission is scheduled to arrive. Watney begins thinking of ways to extend his food and water supply. Back on Earth, Mars Mission Director Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) asks NASA Director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) to use satellites orbiting Mars to look at the Ares III landing site but Sanders refuses fearing images of Watney’s body on the surface would turn public sentiment against the space program. Kapoor asks an operator in Mission Control to redirect a satellite to look at the Ares III location and notices a rover has changed locations. NASA realizes Watney is alive and begin working on plans to send him supplies. Using his remaining supplies and repurposing the equipment to which he has access Watney does everything he can to stay alive and have the best chance at rescue.

“The Martian” is more than a science-fiction movie. The story wouldn’t be hugely different if the setting was in the wilderness and a lone character had to figure out how to survive with just his wits and limited supplies. While the potential wait for rescue would be significantly shorter, the basics would remain the same. That’s what makes “The Martian” a movie that appeals to those that like sci-fi and those that don’t, as shown by the large take at the box office. It is a film that focuses on one man’s struggle to survive in an environment that has several different ways it can kill him. While the locale is out of this world, the struggle is completely relatable.

Matt Damon is such an everyman he easily fits into just about any role. From a troubled mathematical genius to an amnesiac super spy to a stranded astronaut, Damon finds the humanity in all his characters no matter what insanity might swirl around them. His work in “The Martian” is no different. Damon plays Watney as a brilliant man, cool under pressure, but not someone that doesn’t have doubts about his chances from time to time. The strain of being alone takes its toll on Watney and Damon unapologetically shows us his fear and anger. It’s a brilliant performance on which the entire movie rides.

That isn’t to say the rest of the cast isn’t given a chance to shine. Large chunks of the story take place on Earth and on board the Hermes. As the characters deal with the pressures of figuring out a way to save their stranded comrade and the guilt of having left him behind, we see the kind of political, personal and public relations decisions that go on behind the scenes. There are hard choices that have to be made and difficult calculations on the worth of one man’s life. Is the risk of saving Watney worth the cost in materials, manpower and possible bad PR? It’s the kind of questions the real space program hasn’t had to answer publicly but I’m sure discussions about all the possible outcomes of missions have led to some heated debates. It’s that sort of real-world consideration along with the excitement and tension that make “The Martian” such a grounded story for a sci-fi movie.

“The Martian” is rated PG-13 for injury images, brief nudity and some strong language. We see Watney’s injury and his self-surgery to repair the damage. There are a couple of views of Watney’s bare backside. Foul language is widely scattered but the film does use its maximum allowed number of “F-Bombs.”

“The Martian” is based on a book of the same name by Andy Weir. According to an interview in the podcast “SciFi Geeks Club,” Weir says screenwriter Drew Goddard consulted him on certain aspects of the story and the movie is about 95% faithful to his book. That is almost unheard of in making books into movies. That kind of adherence to the source material may play some part in why “The Martian” is such a great movie. It doesn’t dumb down the science and it keeps the characters grounded with real emotion along with humor to keep the threat of impending death from making the movie too grim. It is well worth your time and money whether you enjoy science fiction or not.

“The Martian” gets five guitars out of five.

This week, there is only one wide release film and that’s the prequel story of Peter Pan. While I may see that visual effect extravaganza, there are some smaller films that look interesting as well. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Grandma—

Hell and Back—

Learning to Drive—

Pan—

Pawn Sacrifice—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.