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This week:
How to Train Your Dragon

Filthy says:
"You won't fucking hate yourself later."

How to Train Your Dragon has a weird moral. Maybe it's an unintended one. But, for a move that is propped up so heavily on a message of tolerance and taking the time to understand, it's strange. The fancy 3-D doesn't make it any clearer or deeper, just more expensive. In the film, dragons repeatedly attack a Scottish-brogued Icelandic village of Vikings. Every night the dragons shoot out of the sky, steal the livestock and burn down the houses. The Norsemen fight back, taking out as many of the reptiles as they can before getting eaten. Yet, the dragons relentlessly come back every night. Sort of like my cravings for Fig Newtons with gravy.

The dragons are the best part of the movie. They are the most creative aspect with diversity, detail and a range of looks that is fun to look at. They range from Godzilla-like behemoths to sleek, black geckos with wings. Their expressiveness and range of weapons are damn cool. The range of characterization is the most amusing part of the movie.

The weird moral, though, is that How to Train Your Dragon teaches kiddies that all the attacking dragons really need is a little love. See, the dragons aren't really trying to hurt the village. They're just defending themselves while gathering food to sacrifice to an even meaner dragon who terrorizes them. What's weird is that the movie says that the Vikings shouldn't kill the dragons; it should understand and befriend them. But, it also says they should kill the bigger dragon, which apparently isn't worth understanding. Sort of like the people on those shows about celebrity drug addicts.

What if the movie were an epic, maybe six hours longer, the Shoah of animated dragon movies. Maybe the Vikings would learn more about the big dragon and find what in its past turned it into a bully. Then they would choose not to kill it either. Perhaps it had an abusive mother, so the warriors could go after the mom, only to learn that Mom had lived through the Great Depression, invested in Icelandic banks, or had jake leg. Then they could attack those societal woes. And eventually, it would circle back to themselves, and they'd have to look in the mirror and decide whether they are worth rehabilitating.

Other than a truncated moral, though, How to Train Your Dragon is a good example of what moviemakers can do with formulaic material if they try just a little to differentiate it. I compare it to Avatar in that both have preachy, simplistic stories. Both primarily exist as vehicles for dazzling computer effects. How to Train Your Dragon, though, works its story well within its genre and makes an effort to outline characters a bit more finely than "Here is a good guy because he's primitive, and here is a bad guy because he's got shiny hair." There is no Unobtanium and nobody grumbles, "I didn't sign up for this shit."

To be fair, the characters of How to Train Your Dragon are from a template you've seen before. The hero is a whiny, scrawny kid voiced by the whiny, scrawny Jay Baruchel. His father (Gerard Butler), the village leader and an upside-down-pyramid-shaped brute, wishes his boy were bigger and tougher. Bullies mock Baruchel for his wimpiness and he'd love to prove them wrong. There is a tomboy that Baruchel secretly likes, and who grows to love him for who he is. When Baruchel catches a dragon, he doesn't have the balls to kill it, and instead discovers that all it needs is a little tenderness. He is rewarded with friendship and loyalty. We've seen this story before.

Yet, How to Train Your Dragon gets mileage from it by adding a few unexpected jokes and twists. Baruchel doesn't escape from the final battle unscathed. Not a single gag has to do with farting. The main dragon, Toothless, is charming, amusing and surprisingly vicious. He's like a well-described puppy. He is my favorite character in the movie.

The final act of the movie is action heavy, and pretty well done. The premise is the Vikings track down the dragon nest and travel to it to battle, only to encounter the huge Godzilla. There is a load of aerial battle, which works with the 3-D. It is more artfully rendered than most Dreamworks animated shit, which typically feels like it's condescending to little kids, as though the people making the movie don't even appreciate the limitless of the format. Also, this is the first Dreamworks animated flcik that didn't rely on lame pop-culture gags. Kids don't give a fuck about Britney Spears jokes.

The people, though, look bland. There is little visual imagination in the lead or his friends. They look like the kids in every computer-animated flick. There is also a dearth of women. Beyond Baruchel's love interest, I can't remember a single line spoken by a girl. I guess there is one old, silent woman. The adult men are more interesting to look at, mostly because they have huge, grizzly beards.

How to Train Your Dragon works. It works in 3-D and it might even work in 2-D. It's sort of nice to know someone knows how to squander a massive budget and have a plot. Three Fingers.

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Ain't it Cool News

Shutter Island is "A stunning masterpiece!"

Hot Tub Time Machine is "Smart, sharp and unrepentantly irreverent." And "Loved it. Hilarious. The perfect combination of stupidity and intelligence with a lot of charm thrown in."

Leaves of Grass is "Outstanding! Will delight anyone. It is really that great."

Filthy's Reading
Peter Bognanni - House of Tomorrow

Listening to
Dressy Bessy - Hollerandstomp


Whatever Works