Friday, May 30, 2014

Review of How To Train Your Dragon 2: Hiccup's Fiery Saga Continues

It's been five years since the weak son of a Viking chief changed his island by teaching people how to overcome their fear of dragons.
Now, he is looking for new challenges while trying to avoid another one. He also makes a major discovery and faces a dangerous enemy that will both change his life.

When How To Train Your Dragon came out in the winter of 2010, some wondered if an animated feature about a boy and his dragon would work. It did, in a big way, and now Dreamworks has made a very good sequel that may turn out to be a big hit this summer. It's already has a few sneak previews in the past week in Sacramento, and audiences have loved this movie and are likely to return when it officially opens next Friday.

When the story returns to the island of Berk, the locals aren't afraid of dragons burning their homes or stealing their sheep. They are enjoying a new sport called dragon-riding which may be more exciting that Quidditch. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), meanwhile, is busy flying with Toothless, and discovering what places are beyond his little island. He even has his own wing suit, which may have been a bit much for the movie.
Showing how his engineering skills improved his ability to ride Toothless, and changed Berk overall, would have been enough. What he's not eager to do is prepare to become the new leader after his father Stoick (Gerard Butler) retires.

The other characters haven't changed much. They're older, but still finding their way. Snoutlot (Jonah Hill) is still the brash hero in his own mind, Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) still has his "Magic The Gathering"-style of thinking, Ruffnut and Tuffnut (Kristen Wiig and T.J. Miller) still fight. Astrid (America Ferrera) is still competitive, but also caring, and is destined to be Hiccup's wife and advisor. On the other hand, things have changed, symbolized by the fact that Stoick has his own dragon. That would have been unthinkable five years before. Then again, people who saw the spinoff show on the Cartoon Network are already aware of how these kids have grown. Here's a featurette to show just that...

Anyway, Hiccup and Astrid discover some dragon trappers led by Erit (Kit Harington, aka Jon Snow from Game of Thrones). They work for Drago (Djimon Hounsou), who wants to create his own dragon army and become more dangerous than that Red Death dragon that enslaved the other dragons on the first movie.

Hiccup thinks he can change Drago's mind, but Stoick says that can't be done. Years before, Drago tried to take over the island with his dragons. Hiccup also meets a mysterious Dragon Rider who flies better than he does. She is Valka (Cate Blanchett), who had been caring for dragons for years. She also has a very special connection to Hiccup, and this link will reveal exactly what it is.
Soon, there's a major showdown between Drago and Hiccup, with a result that changes everything. Consider it an "Empire Strikes Back" moment. Some may be puzzled about what happens afterwards, but just realize why it happened.

Dean DeBlois is back as director and writer for the sequel. He's hoping for a trilogy for Hiccup and Toothless, and the story certainly reflects that. In the first movie, Hiccup tried to show that people and dragons could live together through trust. The sequel breaks that trust, and upsets the balance, in an unexpected way. It's restored through another major change, especially in Toothless.

Of course, Gobbler (Craig Ferguson) is also back as comic relief. He also explains why he never got married, kind of. Some people may pick up on why. In the Sacramento showing, people laughed at the first part of his joke, but didn't quite hear the rest of it. Someone will, and that will lead to the usual reactions.
The animation style has also jumped in a big way compared to the first movie. The texture of the dragons' skins is more detailed, while their flying is smoother. Valka's refuge is also incredible, and not just because of the dragons.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a fine follow-up to the first movie, and sets up a lot of possibilities for the final part of the trilogy. It is certain to show Hiccup as the leader of Berk, eager to see what else exists in the world, and whether the dragons can still be part of it.

Finally, here's the first five minutes of the movie:

Friday, May 16, 2014

MST3K vs. Godzilla vs. Megalon vs. The Sea Monster

As you know, Rifftrax's plans to riff on the 1998 version of Godzilla in August have paid off, after the gang was able to raise more than 100 thousand bucks in less than a day thanks to Kickstarter (it's up to 143 thousand as of noon, May 16th). Many fans wanted this version to get the treatment because the big guy's nemesis is Matthew Broderick, and there's a dash of Jurassic Park after it reproduces and creates mini-Godzillas in the subways.

Longtime fans, however, know that Mystery Science Theater 3000 took on Godzilla twice, with two movies from the big lizard's lesser period. They were shown towards the end of season two in early 1991.
In both cases, adding Godzilla was an afterthought. He's not even the star of these movies, but a "supporting role" for the real "star"

Take a look at Godzilla vs. Megalon (2.12), which used to be part of Volume ten of the DVD series until Toho disputed the rights. The plot, such as it is, is that people from Seatopia (a knock-off of Atlantis with dancing girls wearing see-through gowns and Klan hats) decide it's had enough of the nuclear bomb tests from the surface world. So, it unleashes Megalon, which looks like a cross between a motorcycle and a beetle with a hood ornament and two jackhammers for arms:

Godzilla is there in the beginning when Monster Island gets the brunt of one of those tests. After that, we see a couple of scientists who are working on a new robot called Jet Jaguar. Their lakeside holiday with a young nephew is interrupted when the lake suddenly dries up. This leads to a battle between the scientists and Seatopia agents (including one that looks like Oscar Wilde), and Megalon flattening a big part of Tokyo.
So, they call on Jet Jaguar, who has suddenly become self-aware and able to grow to Ultra-Man size, to get Godzilla to help.  The Seatopians even ask for help from other aliens to get Gigan, but that doesn't work.

This leads to a big battle that seems silly to anyone over the age of ten.This attempt at a drop kick at Megalon says it all:

And here's Jet Jaguar and Godzilla celebrating their victory:

The episode is best known for lots of riffs on Japanese movies, which will serve Joel, Tom Servo and Crow well when they get assaulted by Gamera movies in season three. There's also a classic host segment that shows what would happen if Eugene O'Neill wrote a commercial for Orville Redenbacher popcorn. Of course, there's also Mike Nelson's "translation" of the Jet Jaguar song.

The other movie was Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, which aired two weeks later. In this one, some guy steals a boat to look for his brother, who has been missing at sea. He finds his brother at an uncharted yet busy island. There's some natives trying to wake up Mothra with the help of twin priestesses.

An evil army has taken over the island, and a large lobster called Ebirah is threatening everyone.

Then, the heroes find a sleeping Godzilla, who is awakened by lightning. This, of course, leads to Godzilla battling the oversized lobster. When Mothra is finally awakened, it helps out, too. the brothers are reunited, and the natives are rescued. Godzilla also escapes before the island is destroyed.
This movie was supposed to "star" King Kong, but they used Godzilla instead. Too bad he acts like King Kong in this movie anyway.
The version that MST got was from Film Ventures International, which explains the sloppy editing and the opening credits that have scenes from Son of Godzilla. The host segments include the Godzilla Geneology Bop, and a cameo by Mothra (aka Mike).

You can get either of these episodes through CheesyFlix, but you can see shortened MST3K versions of Megalon and Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster through YouTube.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Rifftrax Presents Kickstarter II: Godzilla vs. Ferris Bueller

History shows again and again
How nature points out the folly of men.....GODZILLA...Blue Oyster Cult

About a year after the Rifftrax gang asked its fans to donate for plans to do a live riff of Twilight, which was later changed to Starship Troopers, in theaters, and hit its goal very quickly, they're back with another project,
On August 14th, they plan to take on the 1998 "re-imagining" of the classic movie monster Godzilla. They already have approval from Sony. The gang just needs 100 thousand dollars for the event, movie rights and such.
Naturally, the goal was met at supersonic speed. It took about 20 hours, and the money's still rolling in. They're still taking donations to put more money on the presentation, possibly including a life-sized left foot, and maybe plans for "Bambi vs. Godzilla III, the Last Stand" Some extra bucks to grease Sony's palms won't hurt, either.

I've already come up with a web ad....

Now, a little history lesson:
The 1998 remake of Godzilla featured Matthew Broderick, Hank Azaria and Jean Reno. It mixed in the classic story of the big guy being created by nuclear testing, plus some political conspiracy. It also showed Godzilla laying eggs, and reproducing. It was considered a new take on a classic movie monster, without Raymond Burr being in nearly every scene of the American version (and that includes a very short 1985 version).
The movie was also written and directed by Roland Emmerich, who gave us Independence Day, Stargate, 2012, 10,000 BC, and White House Down. These days, it's not even considered a true Godzilla remake. People, especially Japan, refer to the beast as Zilla, considering the monster never gets anywhere near Tokyo.

The announcement of the Kickstarter project comes just a few days before the new Godzilla movie, which at least will guarantee the big lizard will show Bryan Cranston the real definition of Breaking Bad.

Anyway, here's the link to the Kickstarter page. Fans who chip in will get special rewards, depending on the contribution. They include a shorts package featuring a re-riff on "A Case of Spring Fever", the Cold War short "Duck and Cover", and one of those "At Your Fingertips" shorts. Major contributors can get a limited-edition t-shirt, the original scripts from the event, signed posters, and even a chance to come up with your own riff that'll be used on the show. That's about the same as being an "associate producer."

Again, the Kickstarter page for Rifftrax taking on the post-grunge version of Godzilla is right here.

UPDATE:  with two weeks to go, the crew is shooting for a goal of 250 thousand dollars to also get the rights to Anaconda, a 1997 movie with  Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Owen Wilson and Eric Stoltz. They're part of a National Geographic crew looking for an Amazon tribe, but is forced to help a crazy hunter played by Jon Voight. Apparently he's hunting the Great Green Anaconda, Moby Hiss. It's a pretty cheesy movie that still made enough for a sequel or two. If they can hit this goal, it'll be riffed October 30th.

Of course, Rifftrax will also take on Sharknado on July 10 and 15th. Tickets are available, and you can go to for more info.