MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: How to Train Your Dragon, Hot Tub Time Machine, Chloe, and The Eclipse

How to Train Your Dragon (Three Stars)
U.S.; Dean De Blois/Chris Sanders, 2010

The visual flash and dash that the new Dreamworks animated saga How to Train Your Dragon pours into its panoramic 3D scenes of ferocious Medieval battle and Viking sea quests — and especially this movie’s Avatar-like flying sequences, with dorky hero Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) grabbing the reins and soaring cloudward astride a friendly dragon named Toothless — is so truly, technically amazing, so full of such giddy, sky-drunk rapture, that you can forgive this movie almost anything. Almost.

There are some things though that you kind of have to forgive in this generally impressive adaptation of Cressida Cowell‘s young people’s book series, with its exciting tale of a Viking land, besieged by hordes of dragons and by a mysterious queen bee-like monster-in-the-mountain, of the Viking society threatened by them, and of a boy, Hiccup, the more soulful, less warlike son of Viking lord Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler). forced unwillingly into soldiering. Hiccup I the lad who discovers the truth behind it all.

To name one flaw, I thought the beginning, which takes us to Hiccup’s homeland, the dragon-besieged isle of Berk, and immediately subjects us to a horrific dragon assault, shown in a series of hectic, action-packed mobile “tracking shots,” was too instantly and incessantly hyper-active and ultra-violent, especially for a film with a basically pacifist theme — a movie that wants us to root for the non-violent non-warrior who tries to bring peace to a land of constant carnage and danger.

The opening, for me at least, would have been better with something quieter before the storm — however virtuosic that dragon-storm, however riveting that warfare. The movie could have used a lot more initial contrast between the dreamy predispositions of Hiccup, and those bloody dragon assaults that come blasting at us right from the start. Not that Hic should have been more of a fool. But Baruchel’s voice is a little too monotonously dorky and nerdy, even annoyingly so, for the first twenty minutes or so.

And I thought that this movie, or maybe its source material in Cowell’s books, could have used a counter-paternal character: a Merlin-Yoda sort of peaceful mentor to teach or suggest to Hiccup the other side of life (maybe also a gentler, more nurturing female character) — instead of implying that the kid has no real elders and picks it all up by himself, on pure instinct. This lack of emotional modulation and contrast extends to the rest of the kid characters who join Hiccup at the dragon-killing school, an academy run by gruff Gobber: Jonah Hill as Snotlout, Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Fishlegs, T. J. Miller and Kristen Wiig as Tuffnut and Ruffnut, and even America Ferrera, wonderful as the toughie-gal, dragon-slaying Astrid. Couldn’t there have been more would-be peaceniks among them right from the start? (Admittedly that predisposition also could have come straight from the book, which I haven’t read.)

Finally, speaking as a descendant of proud Swedes, I have to register a big objection to the thick Scottish accents which the filmmakers have endowed on alleged Vikings Stoick the Vast and Gobber the dragon master (Craig Ferguson), both of whom seem to be trying to out-burr Sean Connery. For verisimilitude, they should be close to Max Von Sydow‘s knight or Gunnar Bjornstrand’s squire in that other medieval movie saga The Seventh Seal. (Instead, they’re closer to Mike Myers as Fat Bastard in The Spy Who Shagged Me.) Vikings were Scandinavians, dammit, and we deserve as much credit for them as we do for Ingmar Bergman, Bjorn Bjorg, Greta Garbo, or ABBA. The Scots have Connery, Bill Forsyth, Braveheart, kilts and bagpipes. And, incidentally, Craig Ferguson. Isn’t that enough?

Dragon shows its gentler side however, in a marvelous sequence that finally ratchets down the opening violence: the scene where Hiccup stumbles on Toothless, a purplish Night Fury dragon (Cowell‘s world is full of dragon-breeds and the movie delineates them all in loving detail) and heals the wound that the strangely puppy-like creature received (from Hiccup) in the battle just previous.

Then, the movie becomes a variation on George Bernard Shaw‘s Androcles and the Lion, where that gentle Shavian Christian-among-the-Romans Androcles won the lion‘s heart by pulling a thorn from his paw, or on Disney’s The Reluctant Dragon, or many another Why-can’t-we-all-get-along fable. And the magic kicks in for most of the rest of the movie.


Hiccup charms Astrid, uses his dragon-soothing powers to seem to become a star warrior-student, disappoints his dad when Stoick discovers and misinterprets the dragon-bond, is ostracized, and then….Well, you’ll see. It isn’t original, but it is satisfying.


By the way, when will the movies make use of Jack Vance’s The Dragon Masters? The time seems ripe for it. The time and the technology were certainly ripe for director-writers Dean de Blois and Chris Sanders on this movie. Earlier, in 2002, they made Lilo and Stitch, a feature cartoon which has all the childlike joy and gentle lyricism that this movie lacks and could use. So maybe it’s a matter of the original material or creative choices. I don’t think Dragon is dragged down much from its soaring heights, flaws or not. But I also don’t agree with some of “Dragon’s” admirers that it’s somehow better than either Avatar or Alice in Wonderland — two gargantuan hit fantasy movies that shouldn’t be penalized simply because so many people like them. Comparisons aren’t necessary, not even to Androcles and the Lion. But How to Train Your Dragon could still use more sweetness. And, as far as I’m concerned, more Swedes.

Hot Tub Time Machine (Two Stars)
U.S.; Steve Pink, 2009

Hot Tub Time Machine — a silly title for a movie that often lives up to it — is a blowzy, bathroom-minded sci-fi sex comedy about three discontented buddies, sick of their current 2010 lives, who are suddenly reminded of mortality by the near-suicide of one of their number, who then try to cure his blues and relive their ’80s youth, by going on an old-fashioned horny, boozy, orgiastic ski lodge vacation together. Fate, a hot tub and Chevy Chase, intervene. And instead, they accidentally go back in time to a crucial weekend in 1986, where they get a chance to mess up all over again.

It’s a sometimes funny show with a good cast and a bad high concept: a movie that would like to be The Hangover crossed with Back to the Future, but instead plays a lot closer to Sex Drive, struggling to be an Old School but instead sinking closer to Bio-Dome.

As wish fulfillment, I thought it was a bust. Who wants to go back to the ‘80s, a lousy decade for movies, for pop music, and for politics? And who wants to go back especially if, as happens here for a while, the guys are supposed to do everything exactly the same way they did it the first time around, in order to keep from screwing up their chances to get back.

Who gets nostalgic for the ‘80s? Somebody who was young in the ‘80s, natch — like star-co-producer John Cusack (Say Anything…), or supporting actor Crispin Glover, who was Michael J. Fox’s dad in Back to the Future. So the hot tubbers are played by a talented trio, headed by Cusack as would-be writer turned frustrated insurance salesman Adam (he gets off a good, nasty insurance man gag line), Craig Robinson as would-be rocker turned henpecked hubby Nick, and Rob Corddry as Lou, would-be party guy turned lonely self-destructive wreck.

Accompanying them, for reasons that seem to be largely movie-demographic, is Clark Duke (of the actual Sex Drive) as Adam‘s nerdy, irreverent twenty something nephew Jacob. These guys, except for Jacob, went through the ‘80s together and now, they want to revisit the past by returning to the place where they chased women, chugged booze and crashed on the slopes lo these many years ago.

At first the weekend seems a bust. The ski lodge is falling apart, and the joint is about as jumping, and as funny, as The Shining’s Overlook Lodge in the off-season. But thanks to their porch hot tub, which accidentally turns into a time machine when some kind of chronological whoozits is triggered by a spilled drink — and thanks also to repairman Chevy Chase, as a kind of Caddyshack version of the wise old codger — they zoom back to the heyday of Reagan, Michael Jackson and Red Dawn. (And, not coincidentally the near-heyday of Cusack, Glover and Chevy Chase.)

What a blast! What a concept! What a fantasy! Old and new girlfriends — brightly played by Lyndsy Fonseca, Lizzy Caplan, Collette Wolf and others –await them, stripped for action and sexed-up to the nines. And though the trio of buddies look the same to each other, the world sees them as 20-year-olds on the prowl.

Cusack, in the actual ’80s, starred in one of that decade’s best sex comedies, The Sure Thing. And this movie — directed by Steve Pink (who write one of Cusack’s best movies, Grosse Point Blank) and co-scripted by Sean Anders and John Morris (who actually did write Sex Drive as well as She‘s Out of Your League) — has some funny moments. But too often, the jokes are sloppily done, swimming in lazy shtick, and slimed over with the kind of calculated bad taste comedy that gives bathroom humor a bad name, and that the Farrelly brothers have turned into an excremental goldmine. I’m getting sick of toilet and bodily function jokes, not because they‘re dirty, but because they’re usually forced and show-offy. And sometimes too damned callous.

If you’re stoked though to go Back to the Toilet, to hear a lot of jokes and dialogue about forced fellatio, suicide, catheters spraying you in the face, ejaculation in the men‘s room, mothers and taxidermy, a fork in the eye, and a running gag about whether or when Crispin Glover, as morose bellhop Phil, gets his arm amputated or not (at one point, he juggles an electric chain saw), you may have a good time at Hot Tub Time Machine. I didn’t.

The whole wish-fulfillment point of time travel movies, especially sex comedies, is usually to get the second chance of living through your youth and not making the same damned dumb mistakes again, or to mingle with past people and times which appeal to you, or to try and change things for the better, but not be able to. In this case though, maybe that’s a lost cause. Everything that happens in Hot Tub, in the past, present, or (probably) future, is pretty damned dumb. I’ll give the movie one thing, though. It’s better than Hollywood Hot Tubs, which was a real ‘80s movie. But not better than The Sure Thing.


Chloe (Two and a Half Stars)
U.S.; Atom Egoyan, 2009

There’s some great acting in Chloe, mostly by the superb Julianne Moore as Catherine, a loving, but neglected academic wife who suspects her seductive, neglectful musicologist husband (Liam Neeson) of cheating, and hires a beautiful prostitute (Amanda Seyfried) to find out the truth.

Moore has one of those transparent ideal actress’s faces that register every emotion so cleanly, with such effortless naturalism, that almost nothing she does seems forced or calculated, even when her movies, as here, take wild dives into melodrama. Moore is also well-supported by Neeson, Seyfried (in a noir baby doll femme fatale role) and by Max Thierot as Catherine’s obnoxiously self-absorbed piano prodigy son. Neeson is similarly skilled at making it real. And, as for Seyfried, well, what can I say? She may be from Allentown, Pennsylvania, but she looks Swedish to me.

Moore’s playing of the wounded, suspicious wife, Catherine Stewart, wins sympathy for a character who might otherwise seem pathetic, sinking into a film noir whirlpool with the enigmatic Chloe. And that sympathy is crucial, because of the self-flagellating misery of the character, the undertow of ruinous eroticism, and the nightmarish plunges Chloe keeps encouraging and Catherine keeps taking.

The story itself is an interesting neo-noir romantic thriller adapted from another interesting neo-noir: Anne Fontaine’s 2004 French drama Nathalie, where Fanny Ardant was the wife, Emmanuelle Beart was the whore, and Gerard Depardieu was the husband. Nathalie was better, though Chloe isn’t bad.

Egoyan also visualizes it lushly and directs it well, immersing us in a high-end world of great eateries and apartments, possible infidelity and hookerdom. But if his movie is much richer visually than Fontaine’s, it seems a bit thinner dramatically, despite Moore. And the ending, I thought, didn’t work at all, simply petered out. A shame, because like Chloe herself, this movie is beautiful, surprising and sneakily intelligent. At its best, it gets under your skin, a pickup more arousing and more luscious-looking than the average show.

The Eclipse (Two and a Half Stars)
U.K.; Conor McPherson, 2009

The Eclipse is another high-end, brainier-than-usual erotic thriller, this time with supernatural undercurrents: better-written than Chloe (by prize-winning playwright Conor McPherson), almost as well-acted, but not as well directed (by McPherson again). The setting is quite unusual and very well-done: a book festival on an overcast British ocean-whipped town, with Ciaran Hinds as Michael Farr, a bookish man and father whose life is becoming oddly haunted, and who works as a driver for the festival author-guests.

Aidan Quinn and Iben Hjejle play two of his riders, successful authors confused and unsettled in their lives, ex-lovers who perhaps don’t love literature as much as their driver. They’re all good, and Quinn seems to revel in his nastier, crueler, more selfish-than-usual aspects of his role. He makes us hate Nicholas Holden, and he’s right on.

Neil Young Trunk Show (Three Stars)
U.S.; Jonathan Demme, 2010

He’s still got it. Forever Young. Like rock n’ roll itself, Buffalo Springfield, CSNY and “Rust Never Sleeps” will all never die. Neither will this one.

– Michael Wilmington
March 25, 2010

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.


awesome stuff. OK I would like to contribute as well by sharing this awesome link, that personally helped me get some amazing and easy to modify. check it out at All custom premade files, many of them totally free to get. Also, check out Dow on: Wilmington on DVDs: How to Train Your Dragon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Darjeeling Limited, The Films of Nikita Mikhalkov, The Hangover, The Human Centipede and more ...

cool post. OK I would like to contribute too by sharing this awesome link, that personally helped me get some amazing and easy to customize. check it out at All custom templates, many of them dirt cheap or free to get. Also, check out Downlo on: Wilmington on Movies: I'm Still Here, Soul Kitchen and Bran Nue Dae

awesome post. Now I would like to contribute too by sharing this awesome link, that personally helped me get some beautiful and easy to modify. take a look at All custom premade files, many of them free to get. Also, check out DownloadSoho.c on: MW on Movies: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Paranormal Activity 2, and CIFF Wrap-Up

Carrie Mulligan on: Wilmington on DVDs: The Great Gatsby

isa50 on: Wilmington on DVDs: Gladiator; Hell's Half Acre; The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Rory on: Wilmington on Movies: Snow White and the Huntsman

Andrew Coyle on: Wilmington On Movies: Paterson

tamzap on: Wilmington on DVDs: The Magnificent Seven, Date Night, Little Women, Chicago and more …

rdecker5 on: Wilmington on DVDs: Ivan's Childhood

Ray Pride on: Wilmington on Movies: The Purge: Election Year

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon