How to Train Your Dragon 2

How to Train Your Dragon 2 came out when I got my tonsils removed. My mom was in town, and I thought it’d be a great idea to rewatch the first and then see the sequel (I’m all about chronology). Unfortunately, we couldn’t find it at any Redbox kiosks, so I decided to introduce her to the Hunger Games series. Somehow, over time, How to Train Your Dragon 2 lost a substantial amount of excitement for me, and before I knew it, it was awards season and I never saw it. I entirely counted it out of the running, and — BAM! It won the Golden Globe for Best Animated Film. Then, it received an Academy Award nomination while The Lego Movie got entirely left out. Either it was really good or something was going on. Tonight I walked by a Redbox kiosk, and I thought: well, let’s find out!

As you may well understand, sequels — especially animated sequels — attract a lot of skepticism. For the most part, they never build on anything meaningful; they primarily just give the same characters a round two on what happened in the first film. Well, not so with How to Train Your Dragon 2. Turns out that director Dean DeBlois took on the sequel only if he could do it his way, which involved making a second installment in an trilogy. He didn’t want to make a film that regurgitated the same kind of conflicts and resolutions that the first film did. He wanted to make something larger than that, a trajectory that emulates trilogies like Star Wars. For that, this film is a pleasant surprise — and a success. We find lovable Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) 5 years older (and 5 years stud-lier), past his self-conscious issues. He’s a grown man, respected by his father and his tribe, loved by the lovely Astrid (America Ferrera), and companion to the equally adorable Toothless. The village is completely changed, fully accepting of dragons and living harmoniously together. While life seems to be pretty great for him, he’s not dealing with some heavy thoughts: his father wants make him the chief of the village. With that comes thoughts of legacy, competency — and whether he actually wants to do it. These are issues that are more mature than there were in the first film, establishing a more adult tone to the film.

It’s this tone that separates this film from what it is from what it could have been: which was hallow and foolish. From the get-go, Hiccup is older, exploring the world around him — which expands the cinematic world for the audience. It’s not just fun and games at home, there’s a whole world out there. As the movie continues, while many delightful qualities present themselves — like the myriad of darling and unique dragons, the quirky characters, and the gorgeous settings — a darker tone takes hold. Like most second installments of trilogies, things get serious. Hiccup is trying to feel out the duties of his impending role as chief, he tries to grasp diplomacy versus aggression, counsel versus intuition. Personally, he is reunited with his presumed dead mother, Valka (Cate Blanchett) — who creates this Nordic empress of a character, as a dragon shepherdess with an engaging and crafted accent. He gains and loses family members, and has to save his village and scores of dragons from a twisted dragon-hater. Everything is stepped up many degrees in the sequel, and it works quite well.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is thoughtful. It’s aware of its potential shortcomings, and it makes the effort to soar above. Everything is presented on a higher level, from the cute stuff to the serious stuff. Dragons get smaller and bigger, hotter and colder. The world is expanded, potentially even bigger in the third installment. It’s not that everything is bigger and better, but that the scope of this series is focused and concentrated — which is much more meaningful. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, there are dragons in this for goodness sake!

Blue Jasmine

Quote of the film: “But that’s all history boys, I met someone, I’m a new person.” — Jasmine

If you know me at all, you’ll know that Cate Blanchett is one of my all-time favorite actors. She is both elegant and raw, beautiful yet cold. When I heard about this film, I was incredibly eager to watch it. Many months past and I’ve finally made it to a Redbox dispenser on a thundersnowy Chicago day. 

Once again, I wasn’t completely sure what exactly I was in for. Redbox labeled Blue Jasmine as a comedy, but I was skeptical. An hour and a half later, I can confirm that genre labels truly have no meaning. While it is a Woody Allen film, Blue Jasmine (2013) hardly ever dips into the comedic side of the spectrum, if at all. It’s a story about Jasmine (Blanchett) and her fall from grace. Jasmine is a woman who has the fortune of meeting the successful, rich businessman who spoils her with wealth, class, and sophistication. She entertains with lavish parties in New York, enjoys the high-life, all while ignoring all the imperfections in her life: her husband’s infidelity, her sister’s disappointment of a life, her husband’s unlawful business affairs — and her increasingly debilitating anxiety.

The film alternates between present-day scenes in San Francisco and flashbacks  of Jasmine’s old life in New York. Towards the beginning, Jasmine comes across as a condescending albeit naive wife of a shady businessman, but as the flashbacks progress, we realize that all her current strife — losing all her wealth and possessions, moving out of her beautiful homes, relocating to San Francisco with her merely ordinary sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) — was caused by her actions. Because of that revelation, the various scenes where Jasmine is talking to herself with a blank stare or talking the ears off innocent bystanders can be seen as a way for her to complain about herself or attempt to find closure with herself. She has a horrible time in San Francisco — trying to remake herself by finding a job, going to school, looking for love — and everything is plagued by her guilt. She ruined her life, her sister’s life, her family’s life, and she has to realize that she can’t fix any of it.

Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of troubled Jasmine is incredible. Her American accent is flawless, and her characteristic voice is a cocktail of deep and robust tones. She makes it so easy to dislike her, with her pretentious speech and body language. What is particularly remarkable about Blanchett’s performance is how quickly she can go from looking beautiful and polished to looking haggard and ugly. She has such a command with her body that she creates many dimensions for Jasmine’s decaying wellbeing.

Jasmine’s delusional revival is summed up by the above quote. She’s met someone, therefore she is a new person. That may have been true when she was a young woman in college, and her future husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) swept her off her feet and transformed her into the elite and ostentatious woman she is today. However, to say that she’s met someone, Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), a rich and ambitious man, and declare that she’s a new person is irrational. She’s a carbon copy of herself, falling for a man who can sweep her off her feet and give her all the things she loves. Perhaps her downfall is that she is now a woman who loves things and not people.