How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019) – On Growing Up and Letting Go

      “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is a really good film. It isn’t as good as the first 2 films, but this is a solid end to the franchise. If you’ve come this far I’d say it is worth finishing. The ending is one of the most heart touching things you’ll see this year and the animation and action are the best this series has ever been. Also I am biased in that I am glad this is the ending.  A trilogy is a a great way to end any series and when you go beyond that it is easy for studios to mess up.

The film was directed, produced and written by Dean DeBlois, with Brad Lewis being the other producer.

The story involves Hiccup and his dragon-riders continuing to rescue dragons and bringing them to Berk. This leads to overcrowding leading Hiccup to call upon his dad’s dream of finding the “Hidden World” where dragons and humans can live and peace. All doesn’t go according to plan when an old dragon hunter enters the scene. Grimmel who hunted the Night Fury to near extinction. With the warlords at his back he brings war to Hiccup and Berk.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The action in this film is great. Grimmel (the main baddy) and his Deathgrippers (venom-fire spitting dragons) cause some great action sequences when they are escaping, capturing dragons or fighting against Hiccup. Visually the action sequences are a lot of fun. The fact that Hiccup and his main crew now use dragon armor and Hiccup has a burning swords adds to the visual appeal of it all.

The Animation – The animation is the best it is has ever been. It must have been difficult to animate the Hidden World when they finally reach it. There are such a variety of dragons and mirage of colors that it simply draws you in. Same goes for when Hiccup moves the Vikings to find a new land. The sheer amount of characters and creatures in motion is seamless, as well as the reveal of the new forest island they choose to call home. This is a movie animated on an epic scale and it loves it up to that. Every scene has so much detail to it, while still focusing in on the characters who drive the action.

Astrid and Hiccup – This is the core relationship that drives the series. Astrid and Hiccup are the heroes of the film. Astrid is the one who sees the big picture and sees the people, while everything Hiccup does is to protect the dragons. It is a wonderful dynamic and we see how they compliment one another. Hiccup is the idealist while Astrid is much more down to earth. I do wish Astrid had got more development as so much of her development is tied to Hiccup as chief, but it still shows they are partners. This is really them growing as leaders and in regards to Hiccup, him accepting that the dragons should be free and not domesticated.

Toothless and the Light Fury – This relationship is a relationship between two cats. Like Astrid and Hiccup they compliment one another as the Light Fury shows Toothless that he can lead all dragons and be their guardian. The Light Fury is also being used to her getting revenge is a mini-arc that I appreciated, as well as her coming to trust humans when she saves Hiccup after he frees Toothless from Grimmel’s control. This relationship was adorable and was just as core as the main relationship that drove the film.

The Ending – The ending is a reunion of friends. Astrid and Hiccup take their kids to the Hidden World where the dragons are living and meet the Light Fury and Toothless’s babies. It is really sweet and for any fan of the series you will feel. This gave the series a sense of finality too, which “Kung Fu Panda 3” didn’t give in the same way. This was smart and if the studio does go greedy, they’ll have to be really smart to give this trilogy a worthy epilogue.

Okay:

Grimmel the Grisley – F. Murray Abraham is good at giving us a threatening feeling character in Grimmel. His introduction is killing a dragon without reacting and escaping Burk, even with it being full of dragons. He also has the Light Fury that he uses to bait Toothless, which is clever. Traps are his game and they could have been used so much more. He has a trap that nearly works that should have killed at least one of the characters (Hiccup’s dad was killed last film, raise the stakes). But in the end it doesn’t work. This doesn’t help as from here on in he never feels like a threat. Our heroes beat him without their dragons after Grimmel takes control of them when he captures Toothless, and though we are given good visuals it is nothing more. He needed to truly hurt our heroes or have a real personal reason we saw to want to end all dragons. We don’t get either, which makes him the weakest enemy in the Trilogy. Still a decent villain but he deserved so much more lore and development.

The Cons:

The Villain Warlords – There are 4 warlords who clearly have different looking armor so should have had differing personalities and goals, but they don’t. Instead we have 4 people who hate Berk, want to kill dragons but not use them in anyway we ever see (resources, etc.) and are all just stupid fighters. The only thing that sets them apart is their armor sets and the fact that 3 are men and 1 is a woman. This isn’t good. They should have been in a more adversarial relationship against Grimmel (or split between them in loyalties) or at least have different expressed goals at what they’d do with the killed dragons. They served no purpose beyond paying Grimmel to take on Berk. David Tennant voiced one of the warlords, and I couldn’t even tell. He’s one of my favorite actors so it was such a horrible use of such great talent.

If you’ve come this far, you deserve to finish. The film itself is solidly good with a great ending and it does give a bit more lore. Where it fails is in the minor characters, which is a shame is that is the only thing keeping the film from greatness. I wanted more time with Hiccup’s mom Valka and his Uncle, or any of the Warlords. They deserved better development. I would still recommend to any who love the series and great animation. This film knows that this is the end and it goes all in on the operatic fights and the core relationships. This is a film that knows how to say good-bye.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

Top 5 Films of 2014

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This is the first time that I’m doing a Top 5 list for the year, but there shall be many more to come as the blog continues to exist. This was a great year for films and there are a lot of films I’m going to mention that didn’t make the list that I still think you should watch, again this was a great year for films. The films that made the list are ones that stand out to me though and are ones that I plan to own and would watch multiple times…these are the movies that stand on their own as a film and are the best of the best for this year. So, before I get into the list, here are the honorary mentions.

“Big Hero 6” Disney Studios did it again, it’s rich and deep and worth seeing. “X-Men Days of Future Past,” Bryan Singer is back and the X-Men series is great again. “Gone Girl” and “Interstellar” almost made the list but after re-reading my reviews I realized that the problems they have don’t elevate them to best of the best. Still worth seeing, “The Book of Life,” excellent animation and story, which “How to Train Your Dragon 2” also did and had loss, in a kids film just like “Big Hero 6.” This was a good year for animated stories. None of these are in the top 5 though, but you should still check them out. Also, “Mockingjay Part 1” is the best of that Franchise so far too.

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5) Guardians of the Galaxy

Director James Gunn

This script is hilarious, the characters are rich and you know what…you will care about what happens to a talking Racoon and a Tree Alien that can only say, “I am Groot.” That is the magic of this story as it shows just how expansive the marvel universe really is.  James Gunn is clearly the right guy to be put in charge of this franchise and I can’t wait to see how he expands the universe. These characters are broken and flawed and we love them because of it. They are forced to grow from the mistakes they make and they learn to care about each other. It also has a rocking soundtrack full of that 70’s rock n’ roll that adds humor to scenes and provides an epic feel in many scenes. My issue with why it isn’t higher on the list are two reasons…Thanos is just kind of hanging around, and Gamora’s development doesn’t really happen. The guys have great character arcs, but Gamora doesn’t get enough screen time for her character and and her character’s motivations to be developed. Still made the top 5 for a reason though. Definitely worth checking out and multiple watches. It truly is a masterpiece.

Score: 9.8 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/08/03/guardians-of-the-galaxy-2014-a-masterpiece-of-sci-fi-action-and-comedy-gold/

Captain America Winter Soldier

4) Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Director Anthony and Joe Russo

I didn’t care about Captain America in “Captain America: The First Avenger,” after “Winter Soldier” he is my favorite member of the Avengers. This is a movie with consequences which “Guardians of the Galaxy” lacked in regards to the Marvel Continuity. One of the major parts of the world is destroyed and we learn that one of the enemies that was a nobody enemy before is like a virus in the world of Marvel. This is powerful as we finally have an enemy that feels like a threat, Captain America has to wrestle with being a moral hero in questionable situations where there isn’t a clear good or bad. Hell, the bad guy is sympathetic even though he only appears in this movie. We also realize just how complicated Black Widow is, it was this movie that made me want the Black Widow film…her story is rich and we get glimpses of this in this film. We are also introduced to Falcon who is one of my favorite characters now in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He may someday be Captain America’s replacement too when Chris Evans leaves, at least the new comics leave that option open which makes me happy. Again, this is a movie with consequences in the world of Marvel as a whole and has so many rich characters who all receive development. The scenes at the end also set up “Age of Ultron” really well in regards to two characters who will be appearing in it. Only issue with the film is that the Winter Soldier doesn’t get enough of development. He is a force of nature more than anything else. Still worth checking out though. It’s my favorite of the Disney Marvel films so far and stands strong on it’s own as a part of the greater whole. Not only that the issue of freedom and security is addressed in an awesome matter. It answers the “So what?” in regards to it’s own existence better than any Marvel film prior.

Score: 10 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/07/31/captain-america-the-winter-soldier-an-amazing-spy-thriller-that-changes-the-marvel-universe/

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3) Birdman

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu

Alejandro truly created a masterpiece here. This movie critiques the culture of New York City, reveals the nature of lies (acting in a way is a lie, playing pretend and people want the lie for the story) and dealing with Ego and pride as Michael Keaton plays his greatest character so far in his best performance of all time. Not only does the film deal with issue that actually matter and how to grow beyond the ego and have an all star cast but it also has beautiful cinematography and the music which as a constant drum throughout is great at adding tension. This film was also filmed to look like a continuous shot so you feel like you are in a lived in world. The characters are all flawed and all of them are forced to grow from circumstances and situations. My only issue with this film is the ambiguous ending. So much of the film is about breaking out of ambiguity which is embraced at the end which sadly takes away from what could have been a perfect film. I put it above “Winter Soldier” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” even though it has a lower score since it is an original film and not part of a franchise. In the era of franchises I greatly value the self-contained story.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/12/01/birdman-2014-a-surreal-exploration-of-meaning-and-ego/

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2) Noah

Director Darren Aronofsky

“Noah” is the best of Darren Aronofsky’s work in my opinion. It has a much better reason for it’s existence than “Black Swan” which is another favorite film and tackles if humanity is truly worth saving. It also has some of the best cinematography I’ve seen in any movie. What elevates this film above “Birdman” it isn’t ambiguous. “Noah” is mad clearly and God is an abstract. It’s such a beautiful take on a mythological tale that I can’t help but appreciate it simply for existing. It gives fallen angels the look of giant rock golems and we see just how dark humanity can become and just how flawed Noah and his family are. There are no heroes in this film which gives the dilemma of humanity being worth saving truly an issue. It’s dark which is what Aronofsky’s specializes in, though as far as the ending goes it is more bittersweet than some of his other films… which is saying something,  given the premise of Noah is mass genocide of the human race. Great performances from Connelly, Watson and Crowe as well. Some of the best work I’ve seen from all of them. Definitely check it out if you like dark films with a point.

Score: 10 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/noah-2014-the-meaning-of-humanity/

The Grand Budapest Hotel

1) The Grand Budapest Hotel

Director Wes Anderson

The greatest film of 2014 goes to “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” This film tackles the very nature of story in that it is presented to us as the author talking about the book, which before is lead into with a child reading the book, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” at his monument. From here the richness only goes deeper as we see a country torn apart by war and corruption that our heroes live in. From the refugee Zero finding love with Agatha as they are both poor people with nothing except each other and Gustave H. who lives only for them and The Grand Budapest Hotel which is his legacy and what he puts his lifeblood into. The film explores the nature of humanity and we see cowards, heroes, villains and people of all types living in a harsh world where the people who have the ability to push forth their will use it to supress others…from the outcast immigrants like Zero, to Gustave H. because he doesn’t come from money and was loved by an old woman who was old money. This film shows us that family is more than blood and that sorrow can be around any corner, just like the good moments and adventures we have will always be with us. This is the best Wes Anderson film and one of my favorite film of all times. If you are looking for a timeless film and the best film of 2014, check this one out. It is worth every bit of praise it has received and is one of the greatest films of all time.

Score: 10 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/12/28/edthe-grand-budapest-hotel-2014-of-story-the-nostalgia-from-loss-and-a-life-lived/

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014): Of Story The Nostalgia From Loss and a Life Lived

The Grand Budapest Hotel

      Wes Anderson is one of my favorite directors and this is my favorite film he has done…it’s either this or the “Royal Tenenbaums.” both capture drama, are full or rich and real humor and have an element of tragedy pervading through them. Both are also stories being read too, which I think is Wes Anderson in his element. I’llAb get into more of what i mean in the assessment. This is also my second time watching the film, as I saw it when it came out in theatres before I started the blog.

    “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was written, directed and produced by Wes Anderson with the other producers being Jeremy Dawson, Steven M. Rales and Scott Rudin.

      The premise of the story begins with a girl at the monument of one of her nations heroes somewhere in Eastern Europe in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka. The hero was the man who wrote the novel only known as the Author (Tom Wilkinson as old author, Jude Law as the young author) the Novel is “The Royal Budapest Hotel.” The story begins with how the author met Zero Mustafa (F. Murray Abraham old Zero, Tony Revolori as young Zero), the owner of the The Grand Budapest who tells the story of how he began there as a Bell Boy the drama he and the Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) are pulled into when one of his clients is murdered and  Gustave is blamed for it after getting “Boy with Apple” from her inheritance. Gustave H and Zero steal the picture, the story unfolds from there.

The Pros: The Premise – The idea of a story within a story and how it relates to the present is powerful…the fact that the story begins with a child reading the story and showing us that the author looking back on the past shows that things have changed over time, but the traditional music playing the cemetery shows an awareness of time too and how even as things change they stay the same.

The Cinematography – Wes Anderson uses a lot of physical sets and paintings and some actual beautiful locations. This gives the world a very lived in feel and Anderson’s masterful use of shooting a scene symmetrically gives so much charm as well as bringing about some great tension when it needs too.

The Script – The dialogue is witty, comedic and tragic, which is saying a lot since at time the Author is literally reading us what is happening. Though telling is going on it is shown in such a way that it doesn’t matter that we were told, it all fits into the overall narrative and lends weight to when the story stops and Mustafa shares where he is with the author and the losses he has experienced in his life.

The Characters – Wes Anderson has so many of his old crew in this film…from Bill Murray and Owen Wilson, as well as countless others who make small to large appearances as intriguing characters. I’ll get more into the details but this and the story are the strongest parts of the film.

The Grand Budapest Hotel – The Hotel is living history. We see when it has become more run down and modern with the usual clients who keep their solitude like “The Author” and the Hotel of the past where it was full of rich clients and tons of workers where legacy is huge and the Hotel is an institution. The Hotel itself is a living character in a film in a matter of speaking and a lot of the minor characters who don’t have names or have very small parts (Owen Wilson here during the military occupation when he is the Monsieur Chuck since Gustave is in hiding with Zero).

Madame D – Tilda Swinton plays the rich heiress who fears for her life for good reason and has a deep love for Gustave H. We learn she always loved him and The Grand Budapest Hotel and what scenes she is in she is amazing as she is the stress to Gustave’s calm. They also have great chemistry together. Her death sets everything in motion.

Dmitiri and Jopling – Dmitri (Adrien Brody) plays the son of Madame D (the one killed) who killed his mother in order to get her fortune. He is a fascist and has Gustave arrested and blamed for the murder of his mother. He is evil and goes to any means to get what he wants, largely using his enforcer Jopling (Willem Dafoe). Jopling is brutal, at one point killing the lawyer in charge of the will and killing the man who learned about the murder in order to keep it covered up. The two of them are also a sign of the encroaching war and fascism upon their nation that is going on too. They are priveldge with no awareness of people, the opposite of Gustave, Zero and Agatha.

The Prisoners – Gustave makes friends with the prisoners since through Zero he gets them cupcakes which later become their way to get tools from Agatha and Zero to break out. It’s a lot of fun and one of the prisoners dies in the escape before a taxi driver is killed the rest of the convicts showing how Gustave is not of that world…especially after he hurts Zero for being an immigrant and not doing everything perfect but apologizing when he’s so repulsed by his words and privilege. The scenes are so rich and the prison feels deadly and the escape means something and has a cost.

The Society of the Crossed Keys – The Society of the Crossed Keys is a group of Monsieurs  who help Gustave escape and find out where the butler of Madame D is hiding and help Zero and Mustafa get there. There is Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, and others who play Monsiuers who have been in Anderson’s other work. It is a great scene and is callback to all the people who have made so many of Wes Anderson’s great movies possible.

The Chase – Zero and Gustave go undercover as monks to meet up with the Butler who confesses that Madame D was murdered and has the evidence but Jopling kills him. They chase Jopling which leads to Jopling falling to his death after Zero knocks him off the cliff. They than steal his motorcycle to get back to the Grand Budapest Hotel as Inspector Henckles pursues them.

Deputy Vilmos – Jeff Goldbloom does an awesome job as the Deputy who is in charge of the will and the finances from the Grand Budapest Hotel. He is taken out by Jopling when he refuses to submit to Dmitri. He has integrity and his resistance leads to Dmitri and Jopling eventually being defeated. He’s one of the good few.

Inspector Henckles – Edward Norton plays one of the good people. When some of his men are roughing up Gustave for defending Zero because he doesn’t have his paper he lets them go free and even later writes a card for Zero to travel freely through the country. He is one of the good ones just doing his job and he greatly admires Gustave which adds sadness that he has to hunt after the prison breakout. Luckily the document the butler hid leads to Gustave’s freedom and their relationship being good again.

Gustave H. – Ralph Fiennes plays one of my favorite characters  that Wes Anderson has done. He sleeps with old ladies, wears tons of perfume and has high standards for the Hotel. The Hotel is his life until he builds an actual brotherhood with Zero who all his money goes too since Gustave has no family and all we know was that he was at one point a Bell Boy like Zero and worked his way up. He is a major people person though and makes friends with prisoners, monks and is highly respected by the Society of the Crossed Keys. He is a great man who stands by Zero too against fascist thugs who oppress immigrants and in the end this costs him his life when he stands up for Zero after Zero and Agatha’s wedding. R.I.P. Gustave H. He even admits that when he was angry how horrible it was that he bashed Zero being an outsider and never does so again. Everything he has becomes Zero’s.

Agatha – Saoirse Ronan is the glue of the story and the person who keeps Zero going. They marry and both start out with having nothing but one another. This all changes when they support Gustave in his escape and help find out that Dmitri murdered his mother. After they marry and we see she is the clear headed one to Zero’s idealism. From this we get part of why Zero misses her so much. She died of an illness that was easily treated in the modern time of him telling his story and we learn Zero kept the Grand Budapest Hotel because he and Agatha had great memories there. She is also really smart as she hides tools in the cupcakes for Gustave’s prison break.

Zero Mustafa – Both Tony and Abraham do a great job as Zero in the different points in his life. Young Zero is idealistic and committed fully to the Hotel, while old Zero is lost in memories of his lost Agatha and that humanity is cruel and so many of the good people like Gustave H. are dead. His life is contrast. As Zero he had community, Agatha and Gustave but had lost his family in the war in his home country making him a refugee and outsider…and in the present he doesn’t have any of them but is one of the richest people in the country. His story is one of sadness but also human connection as he saw something in the Author. He is one of my favorite characters and I love his relationship with Gustave and Agatha.

The Message – The messages I found were that the past is always with us, and that as much as things change, elements stay the same. That you don’t need money to be happy and that there will be people who will stick with you through the toughest of times. Money as a corrupting influence was huge as so many people were wealthy while the nation was in extreme poverty both in the past and in the modern era.

The Ending – The Author relates how after the story was done that if the Hotel was kept for Gustave, and Zero says Gustave was a man outside of time but that he kept the hotel for Agatha, “We were happy here.” That’s why he sleeps in the servants quarter when he visits. It ends on a sad note where the story touches the heart of the little girl reading the book showing how even though this is all the past, it is still touching the present and is still relevant.

   I think this is my favorite Wes Anderson film. It has politics and war as well as family and human relationships and the sheer depths they can reach, as well as having a diverse, rich cast of characters and a point about how timeless stories are. As a writer this speaks directly to me. There are stories that are timeless whose themes stick with us for as long as we live and fully define what it means to be human. This movie is about our humanity and both the good and bad about what it means to be alive. Definitely my favorite movie of 2014.

Final Score: 10 / 10. The perfect Wes Anderson film.