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IR Film Review: HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON – THE HIDDEN WORLD [Dreamworks Animation/Universal]

The texture of a trilogy is always based in a texture of resolution and giving perspective on how the characters have grown. “How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” starts off a bit as what we have seen before which is the structure of saving the dragons with Toothless, a Night Fury being able to control his fellow reptiles. The transgression of the movie, without giving too much away, involves the essence of change and what method of acceptance allows all the characters to move forward. Hiccup, as the unlikely hero of his community of Vikings, suffers from the aspect that his identity is defined by Toothless and not what he possibly can become. Even though Astrid is by his side he doesn’t trust his instincts and unfortunately, at times, his would-be princess is used in a more conventional way to push forward the story. Like Hiccup, Toothless suffers in a similar way when a Light Fury under the guise of another agenda (not of her own doing) lures Toothless away. All this is done without malice which is a nice structure but leads back to the themes of identity and loyalty eventually as Hiccup and Astrid make their to the Hidden World. Without revealing the spoilers, the films relates this essence of existing and growing up in a sensible, emotional and literal way without creating too much of an overwrought scenario making it both palpable for the younger viewers (through the pratfalls and comedic awkwardness of both Hiccup and Toothless) while still maintaining a mythic story structure and progression to satisfy many adult expectations.

B+

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: GLASS [Universal]

The essence of the texture of something like “Glass” is taking something that can be so mythic and break it down to its most essential. For the most part of the film, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan captures much of what he found in “Unbreakable”. While not as revelatory as that film and on a significantly lower budget, “Glass” accomplishes much of what it sets out to do. Anchored by a brilliant James McAvoy who more than keeps balance with his older and more seasoned co-stars in Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, the film paces itself well without losing the pathos of the characters. But what seems as a construct (or even more just as an exercise in narrative) can be more seen as a parable of hiding in plain sight of what the general populace can be allowed or trusted to understand.

“Glass” takes place in a much different time than “Unbreakable” but the characters, like many people, are the same. Elijah (aka Mr. Glass) is fascinated by superheroes but knows what role he plays. The Beast that lives within Kevin, McAvoy’s character, is there to protect him, no matter what the damage. And David Dunn is trying to protect the rest of all is us around him. Shyamalan’s direction is the best he has been in years simply because he knows exactly how to pitch these characters but also how to build that story at its bones. If one simply reflects back on the basis of his story which Shyamalan does here, he likely realizes that the simplest progression and thereby resolution can be the truth that sets the characters free. The McGuffin itself, in true Shyamalan fashion, which won’t be revealed here is a little flimsily constructed and needed a bit more exposition but its impact and Night’s ability to push it in this direction under a very restricted budget seems to have reignited what he is capable of (as “Split” obviously showed). Jason Blum, who also produced this film, needs to be given credit as well as he is known for low budget films but also known for making filmmakers think creatively by limiting them. Leigh Whammel said similar when he showed “Upgrade” at SxSW in 2018.

A greater feat was getting Disney to allow Shyamalan to use footage from “Unbreakable” which Night seems to have brokered himself in terms of reaching out. The importance of this undeniably works because there is congruence allowing motion of time and pertinence between 2000 (when “Unbreakable” was made) and 2019. It is no small deal and allows for a sense of connection and depth which might not otherwise be possible (especially since secondary characters from the other two films in the trilogy do play a part). All this said, while not an event film by any means, “Glass” is both forceful and confident without being too egotistical. Many film students can look at this transmutation of a filmmaker and see an interesting path and how inevitably it affects specific decisions both for the better but also at times, against expectation.

In an age of superheroes that, at worst, are simply CG enhanced constructs overarching with myth or, at the best, grand textures of the essence of humanity (yet costing hundreds of millions of dollars to make), it is interesting to see the sequel to a film that started the high concept notion of a superhero do so without the extensive or blown up budgets to accomplish the basic premise. Interesting enough before Night, to give him credit, the one constant is the one and only: Samuel L. Jackson who has found a way to exist in both these kinds worlds from the beginning chords to the present day. The accomplishment of “Glass” is knowing its own true identity which, if one sees the characters as they truly are, is all they could be and more, with an intended impact and meaning.

B+

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: PACIFIC RIM – UPRISING [Universal]

The essence of “Pacific Rim” in its original form lay in the otherworldlyness that always underscores a Guillermo Del Toro film. The fact that all the characters were just the slightest bit off without over-dramatizing the situation. The fact that they were slightly off center. The scenario in the first film was life or death…a world in fear that has to battle against the monsters from the deep. There was also an inherent darkness to the proceedings. Even in certain Godzillas movies and definitely Akira, the viewer got a sense that the world might actually end. That sense of dread or even consequence seems missing here..the human toll.

Granted this is a large robot movie but especially with a huge sequence towards the end the sheer destruction without perception of life including the pulling down of certain buildings lacks a certain depth. Even “Colossal” understood its texture in a larger space. John Boyega of recent Star Wars fame takes on the role of Idris Alba’s son here. Jake’s father Stacker Pentecost was lost during the Kaiju encounter and now Boyega’s character runs in the aftermath.

“Uprising” is a story about the redemption of a hero and granted here Boyega is more likable than as Finn in SW who always seems to be running away until he is caught red handed. The true heart comes though in the form of a teenage girl Amara who possesses technical know-how and a brazen personality but with a lack of social interaction. It is a perfect perception of youth today and her interaction with the Jaeger Academy works well as does her eventual authority.

The twist of the movie interceding with the villain tries to integrate the idea of Del Toro body horror in a way but it doesn’t quite work because the tone is off. Is the film fun in many ways…sure…but fulfilling in the world it creates…not so much. Even the perceived villain who dominates the business end of the film delivers only in the final minutes giving the climax a muted feeling in a way. What results is a spectacle with nacent stakes…or at least those felt in the gut.

D

By Tim Wassberg

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