How to Train Your Dragon 2
The first film from 2010 was an endearingly original and sure-footed story of a small boy called Hiccup who, in refusing to engage in his village’s infatuation with killing dragons, discovers that these creatures, if offered friendship, provide a multitude of rewards. It had most of the conventional themes of believing in yourself, personal growth through friendship, happiness through understanding and communication, but the packaging was filled with deftly outlined characters, humor and warmth. It also looked like it was going to be a one off, but given its success, a sequel was inevitable. With no easy hooks, the creators where forced to be original, and in this sequel, have created a movie that probably surpasses the first, and is in contention for best animation sequel ever, right up their with the Toy Story trilogy. The story, which involves the discovery of a whole new dragon Eden, as well as bandits who have harnessed dragons to their own evil ends, has given the animators a huge canvas, and they have stepped up to the plate with abundant invention. The script is full of humor and heart, and the characters gain depth and interest. The voice cast, which did such sterling work, is back, with the addition of Cate Blanchet as Hiccup’s long-lost mother, who is key to giving heft to the powerful story of human relationships that is embedded in this joyful fantasy escapade.
A historical melodrama on a scale and with the depth of Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather and Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, or a vast pageant of tortured souls who fail to be more than a gaudy cabaret act. The Immigrant, which has vast ambitions as a drama of the human spirit, has polarized critics. In terms of the craftsmanship the film is unimpeachable, and the cinematography has a deep tonality that is beautifully suggestive, but whether the ambitions of the film actually manage to make it into the screenplay is a matter of contention. Set in 1921, The Immigrant follows the unfortunate circumstances that drive Ewa (Marion Cotillard), a woman seeking the American dream, into a life of prostitution, and a complex, volatile relationship with two men — her conflicted pimp (Joaquin Phoenix) and his romantic cousin (Jeremy Renner). There is a self-consciously theatrical quality to the acting that is definitely not for all tastes, but the technical skills are most definitely there. The question of whether the actors manage to shoulder the weight of the story’s ambition is quite another matter.
Another high-class biopic from Martin Provost, who directed the award-winning Seraphine, the story of French painter Seraphine de Senlis, discovered by an art collector while working as a house cleaner. Violette tackles the figure of Violette Leduc, a writer who began an intense relationship with Simone de Beauvoir in the years after the war that lasted throughout their lives. Leduc and De Beauvoir are vastly different characters brought together by their joint passion about the power of literature in the lives of women. Emmanuelle Devos as the title character is a powerful presence, and the director takes his mission to explain the power of Leduc’s writing seriously. He shows us her many struggles with herself and her environment, but as worthy as all this is, for the audience, it really is a bit of a slog, though one enlivened by lovely period detail.