Every once in a while a sequel comes along that positively answers the age old movie question: Can a sequel be better than the original—or at least just as good? “How to Train Your Dragon 2” is one such movie.
Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is back—minus the part of his leg he lost in the first movie. But don’t fret—he and his faithful dragon Toothless, who lost part of his tail in the first movie, both have prosthetics that make them as good as new. Or better, since both prosthetics are mechanically made to interact with one another, making Hiccup better able to ride and steer Toothless. The opening sequence featuring Hiccup and Toothless exploring new areas and pushing the limits of what they can do together in the air is breathtaking, as is the dragon race that his friends Astrid (America Ferrera), Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Tuffnut (T.J. Miller) and Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) are competing in.
However, not all is well in the kingdom of Berk. During his adventures, Hiccup discovers a dragon trapper named Eret (Kit Harrington). Eret works for the villainous Drago (Djimon Hounsou), who can control dragons and is looking to use that power to attack Berk and take control of the town. Looks like Chief Stoick’s (Gerard Buter) plans to retire will have to be put on hold, as once again he and his faithful ally Gobber (Craig Ferguson) must lead men to battle to stop a dragon invasion. Along the way, they pick up another ally in Valka (Cate Blanchett), who lives with the dragons and provides a deeper understanding of who they are and how they operate.
The excitement of the opening race and exploration sets the tone for “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” and from there the movie does not disappoint. The design and scope of the visuals are nothing short of dazzling, especially on the island with Valka and the dragons. The action sequences are suspenseful, but fun and light enough where kids can enjoy them without getting too worried or scared. “How to Train Your Dragon 2” is on par with the first movie and is every bit as good. It’s the sequel that comes along every once in a while that does not disappoint on any level. Buy It, especially if you have the first one in your library already.
Subtitles. They’re not just for foreign films or sci fi movies with made up languages. Know where they’re also useful? In bio-dramas that take place over the course of decades, that’s where. All we need is a little guidance with a note at the bottom that says the time and place. In the beginning of Clint Eastwood’s “Jersey Boys,” we get one subtitle in the beginning that says we’re in New Jersey and it’s 1951. Throughout the whole entire rest of the movie, there is only one other subtitle and it’s meaningless, but I’ll get to that in a few. Sure, there are things that happen that indicate the passage of time, like people getting in and out of prison and whatnot, but how much time is unclear, and a time and place stamp on significant events sure would have helped. I almost fell off my chair when I learned through dialogue that it was suddenly 1959. For example, when Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) and The Four Seasons appear on Ed Sullivan, it’s sometime in the 1960s. We know this because of clothes and cars and, well…Ed Sullivan is on TV. But what year is it? Isn’t appearing on Ed Sullivan a big enough deal to tell me when it happened? Unless you’re some kind of music history buff or Frankie Valli/Four Seasons fan, you’re not going to know. Then the movie has the nerve to flash back to two years earlier. Thanks a lot, Clint, but that means jack nothing to me. You could have told me it was last week or five years ago. Since I have no idea when in time I am in the movie, saying it was two years ago has no meaning. But at least you tried in this case. Better than me finding out it’s suddenly the 1970s because of the sideburns, long hair, and butterfly collars all over the place.
Timelines aside, the movie is well-acted. Young is excellent as Frankie Valli, and if that is him doing his own singing, he nailed it. Vincent Piazza brings some acerbic wit and a domineering presence as Tommy DeVito, the self-appointed head of the group who ultimately drove it into the ground. Erich Bergen plays Bob Gaudio, the creative song writer who wrote perfectly for Valli’s vocal range, and we get to see such classics performed as “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.” Personal note: It was fun for me to hear “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” and think of Christopher Walken, who plays gangster Gyp DiCarlo in this movie, sing along to that song in 1978’s “The Deer Hunter.” Finally there is Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi, the man with the bass in his voice. He regards himself as the “Ringo” of the group, but I think he underestimated himself. His bass stylings were a crucial counterpoint to the falsetto of Frankie Valli. None of those songs would have been the same without his contribution in giving Valli something opposite to play off of. Also, note for the uninitiated: Tommy DeVito also has a brother named Nick. Nick Massi is a different Nick. The brother Nick is casually mentioned in the beginning and never really seen again once the group takes off. I spent at least an hour thinking the Nick who joins the group (Nick Massi) is brother Nick. Don’t make the same mistake when you Rent It.
You know those comedies where all of the funniest parts are in the trailer? That’s “Let’s Be Cops.” The movie stars Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. as Ryan and Justin. Ryan is a struggling actor who only has one commercial for genital herpes medication to his credit (a hilarious moment in the preview that made me want to see this movie) and Justin is a struggling video game developer who is trying to pitch bold, fresh game ideas to creatively bankrupt execs who just want to shell out more of the same to an easily manipulated gamer community who will gobble it up without thinking (*cough* Call of Duty *cough*).
One night Ryan gets the words “costume” and “masquerade” mixed up, and he and Justin wind up going to a masquerade party dressed as cops. Leaving the party in disgrace, they walk around the streets of LA and discover that people actually buy them as real cops. Ryan is then inspired to keep taking the ploy to the next level, but Justin has his reservations about the idea, especially after he researches the penalty for impersonating an officer. This leads them getting taken as police officers by real cops, and getting mixed up in real danger.
The first half of “Let’s Be Cops” is a lot of where the clips in the trailer come from. When Ryan and Justin are cruising around and doing things like messing with kids smoking pot, or taking free drinks at a night club, the movie is pretty funny and it works. It’s great to put yourself in the reality of the situation and ask yourself what you’d think if you saw what you thought were real cops try to tear it up on the dance floor. But then the plot kicks in once they’re mistaken as being for real by cops and criminals alike, and the movie stops being funny. There are attempts at humor to be sure, but the film becomes so grounded in the “reality” of being a cop that the humor is out of place and doesn’t work. But to its credit, even though it’s no longer funny, the story is still decent and leads to a good conclusion. “Let’s Be Cops” is certainly a mixed bag, but it barely passes by enough where I give it a Rent It.
“Tammy” (Melissa McCarthy), the lead character in the movie “Tammy,” is so stupid and unlikeable that she makes it painful to spend an hour and forty minutes watching her. I get the stupid part. Stupid characters doing stupid things is a comedy staple going all the way back to the Three Stooges. What doesn’t work is the fact that she is unlikeable. Main characters in movies can be rude, obnoxious, self-centered, and loud. They can be bitter and spiteful and hate most people they come into contact with. Jack Nicholson won an Oscar for it for “As Good As It Gets.” But Nicholson in that movie has an endearing quality to him. He was a misunderstood grump that deep down had a heart and cared about people, in spite of his gruff and sometimes unpleasant exterior. As nasty as he could be, he was at least likeable—and entertaining. Tammy is neither.
In the beginning of “Tammy,” she hits a deer with her car. After a mildly funny and predictable scene where she tries to give the deer mouth to mouth, she gets fired from her fast food restaurant job for being late. The scene tries to play it off as if her boss Keith (Ben Falcone) is some kind of un-understanding jerk for letting her go. Honestly, after that scene, in which she throws things at him (that’s assault, sister) and tries to ruin the food that her innocent bystander co-workers have prepared, I’d say she is the jerk. If her attitude in that scene is any indication of what she was like on the job, that place is better off without her.
Next she comes home and discovers her husband Greg (Nat Faxon) has decided he no longer wants to be with her in favor of a neighbor lady he’s been seeing on the side (Toni Collette, talent wasted in a small, thankless role). She once again throws a hissy fit and a temper tantrum and says nasty things. Again, if this is an indication of who she is as a wife, I don’t blame Greg one bit for kicking her to the curb. Good riddance and good for him. We’re only ten minutes into the movie and already we’ve seen Tammy act really rude, immature, threatening, and abusive in two separate situations. It’s appalling, nothing about it is funny, and instead of feeling bad for her because she seems to be having a really hard day, I applaud her boss and her husband for doing what they probably should have done a long time ago by getting her out of their lives. The rest of movie doesn’t get any better from there, even with Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, Gary Cole, and Dan Aykroyd (another waste of talent) in the cast, and Tammy acts like a stupid idiot the whole way through. So does Susan Sarandon as her diabetic, alcoholic grandmother, now that I think about it. This won’t be the worst movie of 2014 (I can tell you right now it looks like it will be one of those god-awful “Hercules” movies), but it’s certainly on the list. Skip It.
Also out this week: “Demons,” presented by Dario Argento and directed by Lamberto Bava, about a movie theatre holding a special screening that comes under attack by a ruthless demon horde; “Demons 2,” more of the same from Argento and Bava, this time with tenants of a high rise building fighting against the demons—watch these two movies back to back and see the same actors in different roles; “White Lightning,” with Burt Reynolds as bayou good ol’ boy and moonshiner Gator McKlusky, out to get to the bottom of the murder of his brother at the hands of a corrupt sheriff (Ned Beatty), and don’t forget the Burt Reynolds –directed sequel “Gator,” also out this week, with Reynolds returning to role of Gator McKlusky, this time to go undercover to expose the crooked dealings of boyhood friend Bama McCall (Jerry Reed); “True Blood: The Complete Series,” so now we can watch the entirety of the show as it starts off good, gets better through to season 4, gets worse through season 6, and redeems itself in the seventh and final season; “UHF,” twenty-fifth anniversary of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s wild and wacky comedy about a struggling radio station and the crazy programs they put on—funny movie, and an early screen appearance from “Seinfeld” alum Michael Richards.
Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.