Monday, December 3, 2012

Two worth your time

We haven't had much snow so we didn't feel the need to ski all that much this past weekend; spending more time at the house enabled me to watch two very different movies, both of which I really, really enjoyed: Safety Not Guaranteed and How to Train Your Dragon.

Safety Not Guaranteed is a lovely little indie film, which I've seen described as "a time travel film that's not really about time travel."  Starring Aubrey Plaza (Parks & Rec), Mark Duplass (The Puffy Chair, Humpday) and Jake Johnson (New Girl), it's a remarkable movie in that every main character experiences growth - which is all the more impressive when you realize it's only 85 minutes long.  Jeff (Johnson), a Seattle magazine reporter, and Darius (Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni), interns, head south to a small coastal town to investigate a curious classified ad:
Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.
Kenneth (Duplass) is the odd, paranoid and yet earnest erstwhile time traveler and author of the ad.  While Jeff alienates him with his douchebaggy ways, Darius manages to make a connection, slowly earning Kenneth's trust and discovering that he may not be as crazy as she thought. As the two of them ready themselves to go back (all the way to 2001), Jeff tracks down an old summer flame and Arnau is reluctantly dragged into his own.  I'm not going to say more because Safety is just wonderful to watch.  By the end of the movie, I was rooting whole-heartedly for the time machine to work - I may have even teared up a little.  Great stuff.

Also great stuff: the animated How to Train Your Dragon in which a scrawny outcast defies the status quo, makes a new friend and saves the day.  The scrawny outcast is Hiccup, an undersized, accident-prone teenage Viking, who just happens to be the only son of the huge and entirely manly head of the clan.  Their island is particularly afflicted with dragons, which fly in, torch the buildings and carry off all their sheep.  The dragons have killed hundreds of Vikings; the Vikings have killed thousands of dragons.  During one nighttime raid, Hiccup manages to wound the fearsome Night-fury dragon, a fast and deadly beast that no other Viking has ever seen, much less killed.  He tracks the Night-fury down the next day, finding it wounded and defenseless ... and is entirely unable to kill it.  Instead he frees it, and it spares his life in turn, and then he sets out taming it and fixing it with a prosthetic so it can fly again.  Of course, when this comes out it doesn't go over well with the other Vikings and it isn't until Hiccup and Toothless (the dragon has retractable fangs) save everyone from certain death that they are accepted.

There's much more to it, of course: the fact that dragons are misunderstood and under the thrall of a more more horrific power; Hiccup's crush on the pretty and entirely bad-ass Astrid; Hiccup's struggles to fit in with his dragon-training peers; the strain between an alpha male father and his bookish, weird son; the charming, sweet relationship between Hiccup and Toothless.  The best parts are absolutely with the boy and his dragon: the animators - who had done very impressive work here, particularly with the ocean, the forests, Hiccup's hair - nailed it with Toothless, who is strong and sleek and full of personality, with some adorable cat-like and dog-like behaviors and expressions.  I must have a soft spot for animated dragons: I cried at the end of Dragonheart (CGI dragon voiced by Sean Connery) and I teared up at the end of HtTYD (but not for the same reasons).

Speaking of voices, How to Train Your Dragon is LOADED with a great cast: Jay Baruchel as Hiccup; Gerard Butler (finally allowed to use his Scottish accent) as Hiccup's father, Stoick the Vast; Colin Ferguson as blacksmith and dragon-trainer Gobber the Belch; America Ferrara as Astrid; Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintze-Plasse, Kristen Wiig and David Tennant as various Vikings.  One teensy quibble: if someone would explain to me why all the adult Vikings have thick Scottish accents while the teenagers are all American, that would be swell.  (Plus, since when were the Vikings from Scotland?)  Regardless, it's a sweet, fun movie and absolutely worth your time.

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