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Entries in Jay Baruchel (6)

Thursday
Jun122014

How to Train Your Dragon 2

If you’ve seen all their movies, it should go without saying that DreamWorks Animation is not the most consistent animation studio in the world. For every terrific film they make like “Shrek” and “Kung Fu Panda,” they make equally bad movies like “Shark Tale” and “Madagascar.” Watching them in order of their release is like riding a roller coaster full of gigantic peaks and very low valleys. They always lagged behind Pixar for a number of reasons, but with the release of 2010’s “How to Train Your Dragon,” it seemed like they were finally catching up. It was their most beautiful and mature film to date and, though it had some problems, it was perhaps the first time you could visualize DreamWorks nipping on Pixar’s heels. Its sequel is good, but less successful, even if it does retain the same aspects that made the original so good.

The film once again takes place in Berk, the best kept secret this side of “well, anywhere,” as Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) explains. Since the last film, his people have learned to tame and live alongside dragons, domesticating them as pets and using them to help with their everyday lives. Hiccup, along with his dragon, Toothless, tasks himself with charting the surrounding areas, since the ability to fly gives him a greater ability to travel long distances. On an adventure one day, he runs into Eret (Kit Harington), a dragon trapper working for the evil Drago (Djimon Hounsou), who is rounding up dragons to build an army and using them to take over the land. Hiccup, having already changed the minds of his father, Stoick (Gerard Butler), and the people of Berk about dragons, sets out to do the same to Drago.

“How to Train Your Dragon 2” has one very clear deficiency: its story is rushed. There’s a revelation about Hiccup’s past regarding someone missing from his life, which is introduced through minor dialogue, only to be explained, explored and resolved just as quickly after. There’s no real emotion behind Hiccup’s character, so little drama comes through, even when the film takes dramatic detours and plays out huge events that will change Hiccup’s life forever. When it looks like one of these moments will work, the film doesn’t linger on it enough for it to resonate. Simply put, Hiccup by himself just isn’t a very interesting character.

Luckily, he has Toothless. Much of the fun of the film is watching the dragons frolic in the background like caffeinated puppies, chasing each other and rolling around on the ground, while the human characters speak in the foreground. This gives the film a playful charm—even if these moments do ultimately serve to distract from the story at hand—but when Hiccup and Toothless are together and away from these diversions, the film is at its best. As they soar through the clouds, each defending the other from any perils they come across, their bond grows. They trust each other, as evidenced by Hiccup’s reckless attempts to fly himself with a makeshift wingsuit, and the natural majesty of the beautiful flying scenes (which are enhanced by the 3D, one of the only times the format has benefitted its host film) really make their companionship special.

Of course, this is still a DreamWorks animated movie, so it still relies heavily on silly humor to push it along, doing its best to negate its overbearing drama, and it mostly succeeds. There are some genuinely amusing jokes here, including those of the “pay attention or you’ll miss it” variety, like the Vikings humorously exclaiming “Oh my gods!” when something exciting happens. While this isn’t the funniest movie in the world, its humor keeps things lighthearted enough to spice up some of its duller moments.

But it all comes back to the poorly handled story. The entire thing is generally sloppy, failing even to follow its own internal logic. “He can’t fly by himself!” Hiccup yells when Toothless is left falling to the ground; that is except for all those other times before and after that he does. Because of issues like this, “How to Train Your Dragon 2” is a clear step down from its predecessor, which is par for the course for most sequels, yet its world is vibrant and wonderful, brimming with exciting stories that could be told. Future sequels will inevitably take advantage of that fact. “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” while still a solid adventure, stumbles too much to make much of an impression.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 receives 3/5

Tuesday
Jun112013

This Is the End

Ensemble comedies usually come at a price. They usually have too many characters and most aren’t given the screen time they need to feel relevant. Most of the time, and this seems to often be the case, it’s merely an excuse for some millionaire celebrities to hang out with each other and get paid for it. The quality of the film in question means little. Take 2010’s “Grown Ups” as an example, a movie that was almost universally hated by both critics and moviegoers alike that somehow made enough money to get an ill-advised sequel next month. Despite the (mostly) likable cast, it was a film devoid of laughs, heart or even a moderately amusing story. If that movie stands as an example of how to do an ensemble comedy wrong, “This Is the End” is an example of how to do one right. Although it’s by no means perfect, it nevertheless remains laugh-out-loud funny and features a unique and inspired post-apocalyptic story with an interesting message about divine forgiveness.

The film takes place in the real world, with every actor onscreen playing themselves. It’s a typically interesting night for the Hollywood elite and James Franco is having a party to break in his newly constructed home. Craig Robinson is there schmoozing Rihanna through sexually suggestive piano tunes, Danny McBride is doing what he does best and is passed out in the upstairs bathroom, Jonah Hill, being the nicest person in the world, is complimenting his friends at every turn and Emma Watson is relaxing with a beer while Michael Cera, playing against his nice guy onscreen persona, sniffs coke off a nearby table. Jay Baruchel has just flown in from New York with every intention to just hang out with his best friend Seth Rogen, but Seth insists they head to Franco’s party, so they do, despite Jay’s dislike for those present. While there, all hell breaks loose, literally, when the apocalypse starts.

While it would certainly be a stretch to call “This Is the End” a message movie, this set-up leads to an interesting dichotomy between holy grace and a sinful Hollywood lifestyle. Perhaps unsurprisingly, our characters are left behind while those who have led good lives are whisked skywards to heaven. These celebrities have used their fame to sleep with women, buy lavishly expensive material objects and waste their lives away partying and doing drugs. They’re the walking definition of sin, but as the movie goes on, it explores the forgiving nature of a truly loving God, one that shouldn’t be feared as many Christian communities believe, but rather as a God that truly believes in redemption.

Granted, the events that play out are merely there to give the movie somewhere to go (without the hope of salvation, what would be the point?), so I doubt even writers/directors Rogen and his buddy Evan Goldberg would argue their movie has some deep meaning. Everything that happens is there to set-up a joke, a cameo or something so outlandishly absurd you can’t help but laugh at it, yet the film’s greatest strength is in its self-satire. Because it’s playing with fictionalized versions of real actors, it can acknowledge their past work and even poke fun at it. One of its standout moments comes when the guys realize they’re stuck in that house while the world crumbles around them, so they decide to shoot a gritty version of “Pineapple Express 2.” At one point, they even reference 2011’s abysmal “Your Highness,” which Franco and McBride co-starred in, siding with the rest of the film population by commenting that they should never make “Your Highness 2.”

The film goes on to make fun of Seth Rogen’s laugh and one paparazzo even asks him when he’s finally going to start acting, given that every character he plays is exactly the same. Moments like these, coupled with some truly great and inspired cameos that should remain unspoiled, make “This Is the End” the single funniest movie since “21 Jump Street.” Where it falters is in its length, pacing and misunderstanding of the horror genre. With the apocalyptic setting, some fun is had with demonic creatures (particularly when the gang performs an exorcism by quoting lines from “The Exorcist”), but Rogen and Goldberg don’t know how to set up a scare, not so much missing the beats required for it, but rather bypassing the set-up entirely. Most of what happens does so suddenly, usually in the middle of a conversation, and though they work as jump scares, they’re cheap jump scares, similar to a little kid jumping out of a bush on Halloween and yelling “Boo!” It’s a tad startling, but it’s hardly scary.

Its pacing issues come from a padded runtime and jokes that go on for far too long—Jonah Hill’s nice guy shtick quickly becomes grating and one particular scene involving the discussion of ejaculate is too much—yet despite all this, and a really whiny story arc revolving around Baruchel’s dissipating friendship with Rogen, the film succeeds because, well, it’s just plain funny. At the end of the day, comedies don’t need great performances or stylistic direction or a complicated story to work. They only need to make you laugh. If they do, they have succeeded, so by that standard, “This Is the End” certainly does.

This Is the End receives 4/5

Friday
Apr202012

Goon

What is it about sports that bring out our bloodlust? Why do we cheer for and encourage hard hits in football, fistfights in hockey and beatings in the ring? For one reason or another, normally peaceful human beings turn into barbarians when watching sports, but why? It’s a question I can’t answer and, evidently, neither can the new hockey “comedy” Goon, a movie without purpose, structure, flow or brains. It celebrates our desire for sports related violence without ever truly saying anything about it. It doesn’t add to the conversation; it’s merely an example of it. It’s not insightful, interesting or funny in the slightest and you should absolutely skip it.

Apparently based on a true story, the film follows Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott), a dimwitted bouncer living in Massachusetts. He’s never known how to do anything except for protecting others through fighting. One day, while at a hockey game with his best friend, Ryan (Jay Baruchel), a disgruntled player jumps into the stands and attacks him, only to be beaten down easily by Doug. The coach of the team is impressed and brings him on to drum up interest. Eventually, his notoriety begins to travel and he is promoted to a minor league hockey team in Canada, to an area where people end their sentences with “eh” and pronounce “out” closer to “oat.” Soon, another player by the name of Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber), who is also well known for his ability to beat down other players, catches wind of Doug and their big game is coming up. Who will win the fight?

Who cares? Goon has one of the lamest, most inconsequential stories I’ve seen in a while. When the crux of your film rests on who’s going to win in a fight between two no name minor league hockey players, you’re in trouble. This story isn’t like one of last year’s best films, Warrior, where the fighting worked as a metaphor for something greater, which transcended the brutal act of beating each other mercilessly. No, Goon is just about cheering on the senseless violence the sport is known for while ignoring the actual playing of the sport itself. Eventually, you’ll learn a playoff berth is on the line for Doug’s team, but the movie seems so uninterested in their actual record that you have no choice but to reciprocate the feeling. So while his fighting is supposed to mean something greater to the team and the players on it, it instead simply feels unnecessary.

The violence is brutally depicted and glorified to the point of sickness, made all the more so since, as mentioned, the story about glory through fighting is so bare. There’s no momentum to it and no true character arc; Doug ends the movie just about the same way he began it, albeit with a swollen eye and numerous lacerations. There’s so little going on here, even in its brief 85 minute runtime (sans the credits), that the filmmakers threw in a flimsy, poorly developed schoolboy crush side story with a random girl he meets named Eva (Alison Pill) that exists only so someone will actually care about him in his time of need, since his parents are only in two scenes total, working as the obligatory villains who aren’t proud of him, and with good reason—they don’t want to see him make a living off brutalizing others. Clearly his parents are being unreasonable.

Goon also boasts ugly cinematography and horrible editing, with so many obvious jump cuts you’ll swear the copy of the film you’re watching is missing bridging shots. It’s nice to see Seann William Scott break his usual typecasting as the outgoing, crazy character—he’s timid (at least when he’s not fighting) and not so quick with the tongue here—but simply accepting a role that’s different than your norm isn’t enough to make a good movie. There has to be some meat to it, some type of theme or meaning to hold everything together. Goon has nothing of the sort and it’s a complete waste of time.

Goon receives 1/5

Wednesday
Jul142010

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Nicolas Cage has had a bumpy ride. Never mind his personal life and tax problems. His cinematic endeavors alone have yielded mixed results. Raising Arizona, Con Air, Face/Off, Adaptation, all have showcased his considerable skill as an actor in a variety of ways. But the last few years have shown a dip in his ability to perform. National Treasure, Ghost Rider, Bangkok Dangerous and the atrocious Next have rounded out his recent portfolio. However, he seems to be making a comeback. With his darker, comedic turns in movies like The Bad Lieutenant and Kick-Ass, he is once again proving himself as more than capable of carrying a film. His latest movie, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice isn’t quite what you’d expect next from a re-blossoming career such as his, but its good hearted nature, interesting premise and sly humor make it worth a look.

Cage plays Balthazar, a sorcerer who has been on the search for the one known as the Prime Merlinean for centuries. On happenstance, he finds him in physics nerd Dave, played by Jay Baruchel, and takes it upon himself to teach him the ways of sorcery, explaining that sorcerers can use their brains to their fullest extent, which explains why physics comes so easy to him. He is told that he holds the power that will help him defeat Horvath, played by Alfred Molina, who plans on breaking free the evil sorcerers of the world who have been trapped inside of a wooden doll for hundreds of years. Despite his reluctance, Dave agrees to help, though he finds himself sidetracked by the beautiful Becky, played by Teresa Palmer, and unwittingly drags her into the fray.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a movie that gets by on its charm alone. It’s a marginal movie that verges on the brink of self-destruction with problems persisting throughout its runtime, but I found myself smiling and laughing nevertheless. My brain says no, but the small child within me says yes. Chalk this one up as a guilty pleasure.

Such praise may come off as negligible, but I couldn’t be happier. See, I’ve already discredited John Turteltaub as a competent action director. After two unwatchable National Treasure movies with action scenes that have the same effect as a shot of NyQuil, I didn’t expect to find much pleasure here, but I did. While still not particularly memorable, Turteltaub is getting better, although much of the action hinges on special effects with which the actors unrealistically interact.

Baruchel in particular is unconvincing, especially during the dragon chase scene midway through. He has a niche type of talent that fits certain types of movies, like this year’s She’s Out of My League, but he has a tough time pretending to be scared of something that isn’t truly there. It’s good for him then that he’s allowed to venture into other territories away from the action. When not screaming at mythological beasts or throwing his arms around to conjure up plasma balls, he gives a winning performance that makes us care about him and root for him to get the girl. He steps away from the whiny, pity me personality he has inhabited in past films and shows that he can carry some charisma when given the chance.

Still, this is a kids oriented movie, complete with inconsistencies and juvenile humor, which is to say it’s harmless. Perhaps I was in a good mood, or perhaps it was due to the humorous nods to other Disney franchises—the homage to Fantasia (which this is very loosely based on) was fantastic—but I latched onto The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and never let go. I try to walk into every movie with my mind set to neutral, but realistically, one can’t help but have predetermined thoughts on whether or not a movie will be good. In this instance, my expectations and the actual outcome did not match.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice receives 3/5

Friday
Mar262010

How to Train Your Dragon

There's no denying that the king of computer animation is Pixar. That juggernaut has released 10 movies and all have been good. Their track record truly is amazing. DreamWorks, on the other hand, hasn't fared so well. After two solid films in Antz and Shrek, they went downhill quickly, releasing junk like Shark Tale, Over the Hedge, Bee Movie and the two Madagascar pictures. They redeemed themselves a tad with Kung Fu Panda and Monsters Vs. Aliens, but their newest film, How to Train Your Dragon, may very well be their best. They still have a long way to go before they start nipping at the heels of the folks at Pixar, but this is a step in the right direction.

The film takes place in a village where Vikings rule. For hundreds of years, these Vikings have been at war with the local dragons who come to their land, burn down their houses and steal their livestock. To these people, dragon hunting is the most admirable thing you can do and those who do it earn the most respect. The leader of the warriors goes by the name of Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler), a man who finds shame in his puny son Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) because he has never amounted to anything. Hiccup desperately wants to be accepted and wants to kill a dragon to prove himself, but his weak stature doesn't allow him to. One day, however, he lands a hit on the most dangerous dragon of them all, a Night Fury, but can't bring himself to kill it. Instead, he lets it loose, but its tail is severely damaged and it loses the ability of flight. Hiccup bonds with the dragon, whom he names Toothless, and creates an artificial tail to help aid him. He quickly learns that dragons aren't dangerous creatures at all and, with the help of Toothless, tries to convince his village the same.

Story-wise, How to Train Your Dragon is DreamWorks most complete film to date. It hits a range of emotions they previously could have only hoped for. Like a Pixar film, this movie creates a distinct relationship between its two characters, in this case Hiccup and the dragon, and you come to appreciate their bonding. Toothless is like a stray dog who wants to be loved, but is wary of anybody offering it because he simply isn't used to it. He looks at Hiccup as he approaches him, all tied up in the projectile net, desperate and afraid. After Hiccup releases him, he attacks him based on the assumption that Hiccup means harm. It isn't until he spends time with him that he starts to let his guard down. It's truly amazing how much emotion seeps through this creature just by the way he looks at Hiccup. His character development rivals everybody else in the movie and you see him grow throughout.

The bond they create is the crutch of the film. You'll love them as soon as they start to love each other. Despite its colorful nature and appeal to children, its the drama that comes through the best. You'll care about the characters, sympathize with them and fear for their plight. It's the humor that doesn't necessarily work.

Much like most animated features, How to Train Your Dragon tries real hard to produce laughs, but it feels more strained here than in others. I wouldn't say this is a dark film, but it's not exactly happy-go-lucky either and deals with rejection, loneliness and crippling injury, both to humans and animals. However, it doesn't go all the way. Nobody dies in this movie. When the dragons shoot their fire, the humans jump out of the way and it passes right by. Due to what I assume is fear of excluding children, the film is toned down in every area, which includes its forced humor to lighten the tension. None of it works. Had it gone a more adult route and had the chutzpah to show the violence and drama unfold more naturally, this would be a modern day adult animated masterpiece.

It doesn't quite reach that height, but it's a solid tale nevertheless. The animation is beautiful, the close-to-being-overdone 3D works magic and the voice acting is wonderful. Despite a few too many recognizable voices from the likes of Jonah Hill, Butler and Baruchel, who just recently starred in She's Out of My League, they fit their characters well and by the time you reach the high flying, pulse pounding climax, you will have forgotten that there were actual people voicing these characters, though it does take a bit of time to get to that point.

I've always been a person fascinated with flight. Ask me who my favorite superhero is, I'll tell you Superman and I'm astonished when someone in a window seat on an airplane puts the cover down so they can't see out the window. Being up that high and being able to soar through the clouds holds a sense of wonder for me. It's a sight so beautiful it brings tears to my eyes. Perhaps this is why I loved How to Train Your Dragon, because it tells a story not always through dialogue, but through flight showing how their friendship develops while they are in mid-air swooping up and down and around. The beauty of these scenes is reason enough to buy a ticket. It may not be the next Wall-E or Finding Nemo, but it's a pleasurable diversion that promises a more promising future from DreamWorks.

How to Train Your Dragon receives 4/5