‘How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World’
My six-year old granddaughter Clementine takes after me. Even though my job is to sometimes trash movies, I’ve always loved them. Clementine loves them, too. These days when I do an animated movie I try to take her with me. No one likes them more. She loved “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” and calls it her new favorite movie.
“It had action and it was funny,” Clementine gushed as we left the theater.
The third film in the series introduces the villain Grimmel. He’s a dragon slayer and especially hates Night Furys like Toothless. Convinced Grimmel will never give up on destroying Berk and the dragon sanctuary, Hiccup, Toothless, Astrid and the gang pack everyone up and look for the end of the world. It’s there — Hiccup’s late father proclaimed — dragons will be safe from humans forever.
However, Grimmel is relentless and introduces the one thing into the mix that can stop the migration in its tracks. Romance. Light Fury is an all white female version of Toothless. With love in the air, Grimmel is convinced that will slow the group down long enough for him to catch and kill them all.
Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? The third film — like the first two — are from the imagination of director and writer Dean DeBlois. He has taken characters from Cressida Cowell’s series of books but little else. DeBlois and his animators do a wonderful job but the script lacks the laugh and action-packed humor of the original and its tepid sequel.
So Clementine’s grandfather — me — found it hard to watch a great movie concept sputter, stall and then drop from the sky faster and harder than one of the animated dragons in free fall. That’s my take on “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.”
Admittedly, as Clementine might point out, it wasn’t made for me anyway.
▪ Rated PG for mature themes. It’s playing at the AMC Classic Kennewick 12, the Fairchild Cinemas Pasco and Queensgate 12s and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
▪ Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5
‘Fighting with My Family’
Here’s a quick summary of “Fighting with My Family.” It’s a wrestling family that wrestles with the conflict of one member fighting her way into a berth on the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) network and another being rejected for a similar deal.
The film is based on a true story.
Florence Pugh is Paige. Her mom and dad own and run a small-time wrestling association in England. They’re done with tongue planted firmly in cheek by “Game of Thrones” star Lena Heady and Nick Frost who — with his pal Simon Pegg — cracked us up in “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz” and “The World’s End.”
After being promoted non-stop by their promoter father, Paige and her brother Zak are offered tryouts with the WWE. She gets a trip to Florida to train for the big time. He gets the boot.
That sets up the family fight.
Vince Vaughn stars as Paige’s semi-cold-hearted trainer. All of the acting is terrific but Vaughn’s work stands out. While he always plays the same type of character, Vaughn is usually best in a role that’s supporting and not starring. Thanks to writer/director Steven Merchant’s excellent script, this is one of his better efforts.
Also of note is a fun cameo from Dwayne Johnson who has a blast with his ex-wrestling persona.
Until the family fighting starts in earnest, “Fighting with My Family” is light-hearted, entertaining and packed with laughs. Once Paige heads to Florida, the story grows more serious and loses a lot of energy.
After Merchant (the creator of TV’s The Office) guides you through a very slow middle act and gets back on track, he finishes his feel good film with a ton of laughs.
Merchant — who also has a funny cameo — got the idea of the movie from a documentary about Paige and the Knight family. This one is so much fun you’ll actually want to see the real deal.
Though it based on a true story, it is not totally close to true. However, I don’t have to wrestle with this one too long before deciding to recommend.
▪ Rated PG-13 for mature themes, some violence and language. It’s playing at the Fairchild Cinemas Pasco and Queensgate 12s, the AMC Classic Kennewick 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas
▪ Rating: 4 out of 5
The Academy Awards
Each year with much fanfare, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hands out the best picture Oscar. Usually it goes to a drama. This year the Academy ought to issue a best drama award to itself.
The first act in this drama casts comedian Kevin Hart as a tweeting homophobe. His abrupt resignation left the telecast host-less. That could be good or bad depending on whether you enjoy the standard 10-minute comic-monologue-about-movies routine that opens the show.
It could also shorten the length of the telecast. One of this year’s goals is to roll credits at about three-hours.
Act two of this award-winning drama comes with instant, heavy-handed outrage. The Academy suggested instituting a most popular picture of the year category to go along with its annual award for best picture. That — of course — gives films like “Black Panther,” “BlacKKlansman” or “Bohemian Rhapsody” a shot at a major award.
That plan went nowhere and lead’s to the nearly show-stopping third act.
It has the producers called on their own red carpet for a decision to skip the performance of some of the best song nominees. Equal outrage happened when the Academy decided to give the awards for cinematography, makeup and hairstyling, film editing, and live-action shorts during commercial breaks.
That — and the song fiasco and the most popular picture premise — generated a script rewrite when very important filmmakers, actors and producers loudly, and very publicly, complained.
Like all good dramas, this year’s telecast has a side plot or two. The most interesting is the Oscar snubs. The most egregious is leaving the Mr. Rogers homage, “Won’t You be My Neighbor” out of the best documentary category.
How is that possible?
Best picture snubs? Three come to mind. All the talk this year is about Alfonse Cuarón’s “Roma” but the film I’d pick as the best last year, “If Beale Street Could Talk” got ignored. So was the wildly popular “Rich Crazy Asians.” It would have been a perfect pick for that now done-away-with most popular picture idea.
While it received a best animated feature nod, the nothing short of amazing “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” was completely ignored in the best picture category. Some — like me — will argue it’s the best Marvel movie ever. In this critic’s opinion “Into the Spider-Verse” is a far better movie than any of the pictures on this year’s best list.
Robert Redford’s last acting hurrah in “The Old Man and the Gun” also got dissed. And how do you leave Bradley Cooper out of the best director category when his movie, his acting and that of his leading lady, and their song are there?
Fortunately, the side-stories of our Oscar drama won’t have a lot of political controversies for the celebrity presenters and award recipients to rant about.
Like many great movie productions there is a lot of tension and drama going on behind the scenes. It starts with the plummeting viewership of the annual Oscar telecast. Each year millions more tune out.
My reasoning for the viewer loss is also presented in three acts. We start with the telecast length. It’s always over three-hours, and features too many features, long song and dance sets, comedy routines and — yes — too many awards. Plus, in the past, the movies that get the most focus are films that aren’t familiar to the average person.
With a script reboot a few years ago, the Academy has done a pretty good job of fixing that problem. A decision was made to open up the best picture category and add up to 10 films to the best picture list.
That put more popular — and known — movies onto the list.
It didn’t help. Act two of the behind the scenes drama has to do with awards shows in general. From the Oscars to country music shows to the Grammys to the People’s Choice Awards, these telecasts don’t matter anymore. They simply don’t.
Viewers just don’t care to sit in front of their TV for three hours to watch celebrities pat each other on the back. Here’s another major flaw in the programming. Viewers have grown tired of the political rants of award recipients and award givers.
That gives us a seamless segue into the third act. I — like many others — will continue a personal boycott and won’t watch this year’s Oscar telecast. A huge percentage of my life — 29-years — has been devoted to reviewing movies. Of those years, 27 have been with this newspaper. Yet, I haven’t seen any of the movie awards shows in three-years.
I want a broadcast that honors the industry I love. It hurts to not watch the culmination of a year’s work, but the political digs have ruined the experience. For years the purpose of the show was to honor movies. In a way, it still is, but celebrities with political agendas have — sadly — taken over.
In other words, the climax of my behind-the-scenes drama ought to be a telecast that is about movies and not about opinions.
Enough of my rant and onto this year’s not-so-dramatic two-hanky climax. “Roma” and “The Favourite” each had 10 nominations. “Roma” will win at least four Oscars and three of them — best picture, best director and best foreign Film — are biggies.
“The Favourite” takes home a best original screenplay Oscar and the non-dramatic and barely noticed awards for costume design and production design.
Best Picture: “Roma.” At awards time producers will often send critics copies of the film on DVD, or trinkets, T-shirts and things like that. From December until about two-weeks ago, I got something from “Roma” almost daily. I’ve never seen anything like the lobbying for “Roma” by Alfonse Cuarón and his producers. I was sent two copies of the movie, hard-bound and soft-bound scripts, candy, posters and a pillow.
Is it the best picture? No. It’s very good but not the best. My pick as best picture isn’t on the list. Since I’m required to choose from the list, I go with “Vice.” However, no other film has a chance.
“Roma” takes home the Oscar.
Here’s another impressive accomplishment for “Roma.” Cuarón’s movie joins four other movies nominated in both the best picture and best foreign film categories. The first was “Z” in 1969. Almost 30 years later, “Life Is Beautiful” picked up both nominations in1998. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” did it in 2000. Micheal Haneke’s “Amour” from 2012 rounds out the list.
None of them won both. “Roma” will be the first to do it.
Best Director: Alfonse Cuarón. Again, no one else has a prayer.
Best Actor: In a category with just three very good performances, “Bohemian Rhapsody’s” Rami Malek — who became rock star Freddie Mercury — is the easy choice for best actor.
Best Actress: Only Lady Gaga has a chance to upset Glenn Close, who should win the award for her brilliant work in the little-seen “The Wife.” I’m torn between Close and Melissa McCarthy, who blew me away in “Can You Ever Forgive Me.”
Best Supporting Actor: While he’s a main character, not supporting, and ought not be in this category, Mahershala Ali will take home the best supporting actor Oscar to add to the one on his mantel for 2017’s “Moonlight.” My favorite performance — and the best acting last year in any category — is Richard E. Grant’s exceptional work in “Can You Ever Forgive Me.”
Best Supporting Actress: The two best performances by actresses last year in either category came via Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz in “The Favourite,” but the Oscar will go to Regina King for her stellar work in “If Beale Street Could Talk.”
Best Animated Feature: Three of the films in this category are terrific. One is one of the most creative movies EVER, and it’s the award recipient. As good as “Isle of Dogs” and “The Incredibles 2” are, nothing tops “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”
Best Documentary: Since Mr. Rogers and the smile and tear-inducing biography “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” isn’t on the list, the dramatic, and beautifully filmed, “Free Solo” about Alex Honnold’s scaling of El Capitan freehand and without ropes, gets handed the Oscar.
Best Song: It’s a no-brainer. “Shallow” from “A Star is Born.”
Best Adapted Screenplay: “If Beale Street Could Talk” gets Barry Jenkins his second screenwriting Oscar.
Best Original Screenplay: “The Favourite”
The Oscar telecast is Sunday at 5 p.m. on the Tri-Cities ABC station, KVEW.