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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World Movie Review
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The final chapter of the “How to Train Your Dragon” saga is visually stunning and emotionally satisfying, with a conclusion that may leave the parents in the audience a little tearful. 

The first film introduced us to an awkward Viking boy named Hiccup (Jay Baruchel)—who's also the son of a fierce Chieftain—and a reputedly dangerous dragon named Toothless. On Hiccup's craggy island of Berk, young people were trained to kill dragons, but Hiccup befriended Toothless after he initially wounded the Night Fury dragon, and even created a prosthetic tail for him. Following their example, the Berkians learned that they can befriend and be befriended by dragons.

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Now, Hiccup's father is gone, and Hiccup struggles to take his place as a leader. Meanwhile, Berk is struggling to care for a community that can barely contain the dragons who vastly outnumber the people. 

Two new characters are the focus in this third film, and it turns out that Toothless is not the last of his species. A white female, dubbed by Astrid (America Ferrera) as the Light Fury, arrives—the scene of Toothless attempting to court her with an adorably awkward mating dance is one of the movie’s highlights. But she is part of an elaborate trap by ruthless dragon hunter Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham), who is determined to kill Toothless and as many other dragons as he can. Hiccup, Astrid, and the other Berkians work together to keep Grimmel away from their dragons and from the Hidden World, a secret dragon sanctuary. 

Sometimes the banter in the film can be too silly, and the reintroduction of the characters can be a bit awkward, especially when one of the teenagers tries to flirt with Hiccup’s mother Valka (Cate Blanchett). The script is also weakened by dumb insults between the twin characters, and an over-used storyline about whether a couple is ready to get married. But the opening scene of liberating caged dragons is excitingly staged and the film gets better quickly when it becomes more comfortable with its deeper themes. The characters have to rethink some of their ideas about tradition, change, what makes a home, and loss as “part of the deal that comes with love.”

The film's breathtaking images provide a fitting accompaniment to the characters' emotional struggles. Master cinematographer Roger Deakins served as a consultant on all three movies and I’m guessing he played a part in developing the exquisite quality of natural light, particularly in the flying scenes and a stunning phosphorescent-lit encounter. The visuals keep us inside a rich world of fantasy—the variations in dragon species continue to dazzle—one that is always grounded in human fears and feelings that are very real and very moving. 

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