“How to Train Your Dragon 2” Review (Trailer Spoiler Mentioned)

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I finally saw “How to Train Your Dragon 2” yesterday, and first off I can say that I was not disappointed. I had hoped to catch it in 3D, but unfortunately the showings were a bit too late in the day for my taste. This ultimately didn’t matter, as the movie had plenty of great moments and action to satisfy me.

I hadn’t known back when I saw the first movie that it was loosely based off of a kids book. While I still may read it in the future, I loved the movie and still consider it my favorite of anything Dreamworks has produced. Hiccup and the various viking characters were entertaining, the story pulled many punches and even played things realistically at times, and Toothless was just adorable and awesome. Being a creation from Chris Sanders, the man who also created Stitch of “Lilo & Stitch” fame, I loved the Night Fury dragon from the moment he appeared on-screen.  With all that in mind, I felt the sequel delivered an experience at least on par with the first movie, if not better in some aspects.

This one mostly centers on Hiccup once again, putting some focus on his family life with his father wanting him to become the next chief of Berk, their village. Hiccup would much rather explore the world and expand his knowledge on it and the dragons existing in it. This ultimately leads to him and his friends from the first film discovering a sinister plot involving a dragon army and an unexpected blast from Hiccup’s past (more on that later). The plot felt a little more cliched this time around, but it expanded on the characters, now 5 years older, and on the relationships between the humans and dragons in both good and bad ways. Also, for an over an hour and a half-long movie, the pacing was top-notch and never felt overly slow to me.

To expand upon the universe of the first film, a few new dragons are introduced in this one and I enjoyed all of them, particularly two heavily focused on ones central to the plot. The world looked just as good if not better graphically and the flying sequences were once again done extremely well. I also have to applaud the film for making the characters LOOK like they’d age and not just adding superficial details. You see the grey hairs in Stoick’s (Hiccup’s dad) beard and Hiccup and his friends all look like matured teenagers. Aside from Toothless, you get to better know some of the dragons, including their names and even how they act around each other and their human friends. Toothless himself still remains my favorite of the bunch, still being a little cat-like in behavior and sometimes even dog-like too. He gets a bit of an arc in the movie that reflects Hiccup’s and pays off nicely in the end.

One thing I applauded from the first film was its mature, almost realistic approach to situations despite the fantastical setting. This movie is a bit darker and edgier than the first, and I was very pleased to see it retain that realistic feel when things got serious. One crucial moment in particular had me both holding back tears and silently cheering at the sheer realism it portrayed. Many things in kid-centered movies tend to be sugarcoated, and this was one of those few instances where that was not the case. The poignant scene following that moment was gorgeously done both in tone and depiction.

Now we come to the spoiler I mentioned above, and if you haven’t even seen the full-length trailer let alone the movie, you might want to stop reading here. Just know now that I highly recommend this movie to everyone, both kid and adult alike. With that out of the way, let’s talk about a big part of the movie: Hiccup’s mom, Valka. Yes, the trailer did spoiler this and unfortunately I witnessed it, so her reveal in the film was a bit less impactful to me. I felt like more focus could have been on her and Hiccup, but overall I really liked Valka as a character and if a third film is made, I hope her character is given even more to do. She felt like a good counterpoint to Hiccup’s dad for both this film and the first, and a theme is brought up between both parents in regards to Hiccup’s future that is capped off great.

Another possible spoiler here, but it’s very minor in comparison. The ONE thing I didn’t like in the film was a subplot involving the female twin Ruffnut and her two male friends vying for her attention. She in turn gets infatuated with a new male character in the film to create this psuedo-love triangle (sorta?). While there were a couple jokes from this I chuckled at, I didn’t feel it added much to any of these characters in terms of development. All I could gather was that maybe she was the only other girl their age aside from Astrid (who is with Hiccup) that they could fight over. Either way, it was a bit jarring and with Ruffnut not being one of my favorite of the bunch, I found it a bit pointless and was thankful for how brief each scene tended to be.

Despite this gripe, the movie is one that I would definitely pick up on DVD to join its predecessor. I’ve even looked into the TV series, and while I haven’t followed it, I’m willing to give it a shot despite the drop in animation quality. Between the characters and tones of these movies, I think Dreamworks has a great property on their hands. My only hope is that they don’t settle for lesser quality like the latter half of the Shrek series seemed to fall into (though I personally liked Puss in Boots, Shrek 2 is still my fave of that series). Ultimately, this is a movie that parents should be taking their kids to see if they want to expose them to quality entertainment, and it has plenty of enjoyment for adults as well.

I give “How to Train Your Dragon 2” a solid 9.5/10.

Orphan Black Season 2 Reflections (Spoiler-Free)

Last night marked Orphan Black’s tenth and final episode of Season 2, and like many cliffhanger episodes it left me with a ton of questions. This isn’t bad thing, though, as it tied up the season pretty well. And now that I have to wait a year for the hopefully inevitable Season 3, I thought I’d take time reflecting on the show so far.

In my opinion, Season 2, despite its many plot twists, felt a little weaker than Season 1 overall in terms of plot advancement. Granted, Season 1 was about establishing the characters and clone aspect, but I often felt that Season 2 sometimes meandered along in earlier episodes. For all the investment placed with Helena’s involvement with the Proletheans, a religious group in the show, I felt some of their parts without her weren’t overly interesting. That said, they were used to better effect, more so than in the first season. It also remains to be seen if the newest shocking development revealed last night will pay off on the part of one of the actors, as his role was relatively simplistic so far. I would say more, but I don’t want to spoil the season’s plots for those still watching.

However, one very big strength Season 2 has had over the first is character development. Each character and especially each clone have continued to grow. Tatiana Maslany has completely nailed each clone’s personality and made them separate and unique characters from one another. Characters like Felix and Kira continue to impress me, and some of the new characters introduced such as Cal and Ethan grew on me. I was even shocked by the sudden departure of one of the mainstays from Season 1, wishing they could’ve stayed longer but somewhat glad to see them go out with a bang. But for me, the best development character-wise was Alison’s husband Donnie. I didn’t pay him much mind in Season 1, but over the course of Season 2 he really grew on me and became very likable. It was one of the season’s pleasant surprises for me.

Despite feeling like Season 2 was a little weaker, I still thoroughly enjoyed it and everything that took place. The show has continued to keep my full interest and I’m eager to see what kinds of crazy things they do for Season 3. My only gripe/wish is for Angie the cop to soon disappear from the show. I just find her way unlikable and annoying, although her purpose for appearing this season was at least expanded on a tiny bit. Other than that, bravo to the creators of Orphan Black for another entertaining season. I haven’t been this addicted to a show since I got into Doctor Who and there are no signs of that stopping at this rate.

 

Post-E3 Thoughts from a Nintendo Fan

Well, E3 ended earlier this week, and fans of each company got a good taste of what games are to come. For my part, I was focused mainly on what Nintendo had to offer. I’m not remotely against playing games from Sony or Microsoft, but for me, Nintendo systems have always had a great price coupled with types of games that interest me. Despite the disappointment over Nintendo not appearing for a live conference, I felt they had one of their best showings in a while thanks to the games.

I’m one of those gamers who is pretty much always behind on the latest hardware. I didn’t get a Gamecube until well into its life cycle, and the same can also be said for the Wii and 3DS. Needless to say, I haven’t picked up a Wii U yet due to several factors, including lack of room space, the need for money, and very few games I felt I’d want. But after E3, I feel like I’d be justified in buying one if I had the means. They showed off a lot of great exclusives, and I think those coupled with the existing games I want makes it a good time to pick one up. Games from some of my favorite characters including Kirby and Yoshi (Kirby and the Rainbow Curse and Yoshi’s Wooly World) have sparked my interest as Wii U only titles. The Zelda franchise got a good Wii U showing in the form of a teaser for an open world Zelda game and Hyrule Warriors, which takes inspiration from the Dynasty Warriors franchise. This one in particular intrigues me because I remember once playing a Dynasty game with my cousin and enjoying the hectic hack ‘n slash nature of it, so having one themed after Zelda really sparks my interest.

I’m especially excited for both the 3DS and Wii U versions of Super Smash Bros. 4 which looks like it’s just gonna be a blast to play. I still hope to see more information and reveals from the game before it releases, because the character roster looks pretty varied and both versions seem to have a lot to offer. I’m very pumped for the 3DS version in particular, not just for the earlier release, but for the opportunity to play it on the go with some of my friends. I can’t wait to eventually add both versions to my existing collection, which consists of the discs of Melee and Brawl and the original Smash Bros. as a downloaded title on my Wii.

As a fan, the one small disappointment I had game-wise was the lack of 3DS titles. I’ve spent more time playing games on my 3DS than my Wii, so the small selection they presented was kinda a downer. That being said, thanks to E3, I discovered both Fantasy Life and Codename: S.T.E.A.M., one a choice-driven RPG and the other an action-strategy game. Both have interested me and both are genres I don’t normally indulge in much. Heck, I can’t even recall ever playing a strategy game in general. But it’s a genre I want to try out and I feel S.T.E.A.M. offers elements that would make it a fun experience for me. I’m definitely planning to keep my eye on both games and see how they turn out first before I make a final decision.

Overall, I felt Nintendo’s conference and presentation, while lacking that live on-stage fun, was very enjoyable. I liked that they embraced humor this year between Mega64 and Robot Chicken, even if it felt a little hit-or-miss. And I did like the use of the Treehouse team to showcase the games and allow for discussion with the developers, even for titles only appearing on the eshop. They offered a good look at what games to expect, and as is the case with every E3, I hope they live up to their potential.

Top 10 Adventure Time Episodes (Season 5)

Yes, you read that correctly. Today’s list will be a top 10 as Season 5 in its entirety is double the length of the other seasons. I think it’s fitting as the final list, though. This season had a lot of episodes I really enjoyed and it was tough trying to narrow them down. Let’s jump right into it.

10. Red Starved

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I’m a sucker for vampire stories involving bloodlust, so this episode appealed to me right away. In this case, Finn, Jake and Marceline find themselves trapped in a cool-looking underground city. Having eaten Marceline’s snacks and forcing Finn to track down food, Jake is forced to watch as Marceline becomes a red-hungry, Gollum-like creature. I had been hoping an episode like this would come about and I wasn’t disappointed. My only gripe was that the humor didn’t quite catch me as it might for others, though there were some jokes that made me chuckle. Overall, not my favorite Marceline episode, but even my least favorites are still enjoyable to me.

9. Mystery Dungeon

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This episode’s premise initially made me sure I would despise it. Ice King, Tree Trunks, Shelby the worm, NEPTR and Lemongrab are forced to work together to get through a dungeon. While I liked the adventure side of this plot, I was sure these characters would eventually grate on me. Surprisingly, that wasn’t the case, and aside from Ice King this was my favorite appearance by all the others. This was especially true for Lemongrab, who is my most hated character on the show. He seemed a little bit toned down and actually had some jokes that I found myself chuckling at. I liked the ultimate pointlessness of the “quest,” and the final scene was a great cap to a fun episode.

8. One Last Job

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This is easily one of my favorite Jake-centric episodes. I even prefer it over “Jake the Dad”, which I felt was good up until the kinda lackluster ending. The episode kicks off with Jake’s daughter Jake Jr. being held for ransom. I liked it from the get-go as we got to see more of Jake being a dad despite his kids being older than him. This one also dives into Jake’s past as a thief and unveils that he even had a gang. The whole episode is a great spoof of heists and has a unexpected twist ending that I won’t spoil here. I liked the gang, especially the Lettuce Twins in particular for their twin qualities and roles in the gang. For one of the more “crime-based” episodes in the series, it was a fun ride from start to finish.

7. Vault of Bones

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If “Mystery Dungeon” was fun for an adventure, then this was fun for both an adventure AND video game-esque elements. This episode involves Flame Princess joining Finn on one of his dungeon crawls and getting increasingly annoyed by him always doing things his way, such as backtracking for loot. It was nice to see more interaction between the two that didn’t involve the dangerous physical aspect of their relationship. I loved Flame Princess’ approach to solving the dungeon’s puzzles as there are times when I just want to smash through difficult puzzles as well. I liked the dungeon itself and, while there weren’t many, the creatures within it. All in all, this was a very enjoyable episode with some great nods to video games of the genre.

6. Be More

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As much as I love BMO, s/he was one of those characters who got basically no backstory from the start. What you saw was essentially what you got. Well, this episode finally capitalized on that and gave me not only where BMO was manufactured but also a reason WHY s/he was created. I enjoyed the factory and the various BMO-like robots in it. The chase scenes between the security bots and Finn, Jake and BMO were fun and fast-paced. But my favorite part of the whole episode is the ending, when we’re told the purpose for BMO’s creation and see his/her “family”. I thought it was a touching episode for the little bot and delivered some, in my opinion, much-needed depth to the character.

5. Betty

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In this episode, we get more backstory on the Ice King aka Simon in the form of his former fiancee, Betty. Thanks to a bit of magic, the Ice King is turned back into a regular human. Unfortunately, because he was kept alive for so long, he starts aging rapidly and is on the verge of death. Through some time travel antics, Betty is reunited with him and tries her best to save him from death. I thought this episode was very heartwarming and I immediately took a liking to Betty as a character. The way everything is resolved felt bittersweet, but it did open up plenty of opportunity for Betty to return once in a while. While that hasn’t happened yet, I’m hoping more is done with her in the future.

4. Earth & Water

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I had considered putting “Frost & Fire” on this list, but my enjoyment of that episode was dampened by Finn’s attitude throughout it. However, I can safely say that “Earth & Water” still remains one of my favorite Flame Princess outings. In this, she forms an unexpected but kinda sweet bond with the dimwitted Cinnamon Bun and recounts to him how she came to be trapped in the Fire Kingdom. We get to see her as a little kid and dive more into her backstory, also witnessing just how evil and awful the Flame King is. We also get hints that Princess Bubblegum is much older than she lets on, appearing as her 18-year-old self while Flame Princess is basically still a toddler. My absolute favorite aspect of this one is her asserting herself and overthrowing her father, taking control of the kingdom and not immediately running back into Finn’s arms once she has. Ultimately, this episode seemed to show the very best aspects of Flame Princess as a character.

3. The Vault

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This episode plays off an element seen in “The Creeps” with Finn being haunted by a green, ghostly lady. It’s soon discovered that she’s essentially a reincarnation of Finn, and we get to see bits of her life as he taps into the “vault” in his consciousness. This cements Bubblegum as definitely being very old, at least a few hundred years or so. I thought Finn’s reincarnation, Shoko, was awesome and as someone for hire, you can see how she’s at war with herself when she strikes up a friendship with Bubblegum. Her death is also a bit sudden and tragic. This episode also shows part of the past that hadn’t been seen up to that point, namely the early stages of the Candy Kingdom’s creation. I really enjoy these episodes that expand on how the Land of Ooo became what it is, and it also gave Finn a bit of depth outside of what was known about him.

2. Bad Little Boy

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Okay, granted, I’m very biased toward the Fionna and Cake episodes as evident from the previous list, and I will admit that this one’s not as strong as both the first episode and the ones under it on this list. However, I just can’t get enough of the genderbent universe and the way they twist the story to be told from different viewpoints. In this case, the story is seen through Marceline’s interpretation and thus features her male counterpoint, Marshall Lee. Seeing as I’m a sucker for vampires, especially male ones, I immediately liked him and his kinda antagonistic relationship with both Fionna and Prince Gumball. I liked the main song song by him and Fionna and thought that despite the lack of an adventure in this, it acted as a good sort of character episode. I especially found it interesting that Marshall Lee seemed reminiscent of Marceline when she first appeared in the show, being not overly nice and very much a trickster. Overall, I enjoyed it a lot and having learned that a third episode will appear soon in Season 6, I can’t wait to see what they do next.

1. Simon & Marcy

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Much like “Bad Little Boy,” this episode expands on the events briefly shown in “I Remember You.” It depicts an average, post-apocalyptic day for the Ice King, then Simon, and a young Marceline as they just try to survive the barren landscape. We see the effects of the crown as it slowly makes Simon less and less stable and more forgetful, just as it was mentioned previously. I liked how it shows that Marceline kinda has a sense of what’s happening to him and reacts appropriately to it. There are even two renditions of “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” (the theme from “Cheers”), with one that’s meant to be light-hearted and the other that’s depressingly bittersweet. The ending is also a bit tragic in light of what Simon eventually becomes. While I still prefer “I Remember You” as a tragic episode, this one is still the highlight of all of Season 5 for me for being equal parts heartwarming and heartbreaking.

Honorable Mentions:  Finn the Dog/Jake the Human, Frost & Fire, The Red Throne, Jake the Dad, Blade of Grass, Box Prince, Shh!

Season 5 had a lot of downs to go with the ups, but there were plenty of gems made between both halves of the season. With that, my lists for each season of Adventure Time are complete. Once Season 6 is finished, I’ll probably pick up my favorites and blog about them as well. Until that time, I hope these have been a good indication of some of the best Adventure Time has to offer.

 

Top 5 Adventure Time Episodes (Season 4)

Welcome back to today’s AT installment! Strangely enough, season 4 was a bit less of a struggle for me to pick and choose from. This doesn’t mean there aren’t many good episodes, and I feel I’ve represented some of the season’s highlights in my list and honorable mentions. Let’s get it started!

5. Five Short Graybles

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It was between this and “Card Wars” for me, and while I enjoyed the latter, I’ve always had a soft spot for shows that can do little vignette episodes and do them well. This one is set up to tell five short graybles (a play on fables) that all sort of tie into each other and feature various AT characters. I like each individual story and the payoff, an unexpected theme that ties them together, was really clever. There have been two more grayble episodes since this, but this one is still my favorite as it introduced a fresh spin on the vignette concept. Of the season’s “lighter” episodes, this one is very well executed.

4. The Lich

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While I can’t say it led to an overly satisfying conclusion, I really enjoyed this season finale above all the others. The Lich makes his return having killed the warrior Billy and stolen his body. I liked how dark this one got, as the Lich plots to destroy the world and make it in his image. Finn and Jake do all the right things to stop him, but they don’t take into account that they’re playing into his (or, as they think, Billy’s) hands. The cliffhanger ending was great and I can imagine how eager I’d have been seeing it play out live on television. Season 4 seemed to have a lot of dramatic episodes, and this was the perfect finale to appeal to that and hype up what was to come.

3. Burning Low

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I said last time that I enjoyed Flame Princess’ first appearance in “Incendium” and that remained true for Season 4’s premiere “Hot to Touch.” However, for this season, “Burning Low” was my favorite appearance by the little firestarter. This episode establishes her as Finn’s official love interest/girlfriend and the possible devastating consequences (to Ooo, anyway) of their relationship. In regards to that, this is also one of my favorite Bubblegum episodes, as she’s played off as being jealous but is actually trying to save the world and its inhabitants from Flame Princess’ destructive power. My favorite part, aside from the rescue at the end, was Finn blowing up at her, admitting he had liked her but now just wants to move on. This was an episode that I felt showed great development for the show and especially Finn, and for me is the highlight of his and Flame Princess’ relationship.

2. Return to the Nightosphere/Daddy’s Little Monster

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This two-parter was one of those rare times where I actually enjoyed the world building more than seeing Marceline (though I of course still liked that too). Finn and Jake wake up to find themselves in the Nightosphere, which is literally a Hell dimension, and have to both figure out how they got there and how to find Marceline and her dad. It’s basically like a mystery spliced in with a lot of humor and action. There’s also a little bit of development between Marceline and her dad, with her not wanting to take his place as ruler and he tricking her into doing so. Luckily, he sort of comes to his senses by the end. Being a Hell dimension, there’s also a lot of awesome and freaky character designs, including Finn becoming a demon at one point. I don’t feel they’re the strongest Marceline episodes in the series, but they had a lot of good laughs and creativity.

1. I Remember You

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Anyone who’s seen AT long enough knows this one’s a no-brainer as my top pick. “I Remember You” builds upon the backstories of both the Ice King and Marceline by making them intertwined. This is revealed mostly through song, as Ice King wants Marceline’s help to write a love song to land a wife. The episode starts off goofy in this way, but as it progresses, it slowly becomes more bleak and bittersweet as Marceline’s connection to him is revealed. I absolutely love the songs in this episode, whether they’re meant to be silly or incredibly emotional. The episode’s namesake song, “I Remember You,” is my favorite of Marceline’s and is made even more poignant by actually showing a hint of the Ice King and Marceline’s past. It’s just an amazingly powerful episode for such a typically silly show.

Honorable Mentions: Card Wars, Hot to Touch, Reign of Gunters, Hug Wolf, King Worm

So, that’s my list for Season 4. As usual, feel free to chime in with your own thoughts or personal favorite episodes. See you all here Tuesday, when I tackle the lengthy and diversive Season 5!