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Archive for March, 2010

Hullo there.  My ‘official’ review of ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ is pending its own review on the blog I write for at collegetimes.us.  I’ll link it when it is ready to go.  Until then, here’s the full text of the review (without the score which you’ll have to wait for until the actual review comes up).  Cheers!

Edit: The official review is up!:  http://collegetimes.us/how-to-train-your-pet-dragon-a-beautiful-adrenaline-rushed-animated-feature/

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Many modern-day animated features have fallen into their own clichés and pitfalls.  Either they are too set on bridge the gap between appeasing parents and children with two very sets of different humor and plot or have uninteresting sets of ideas because they fail to approach its medium with much creativity.  The best-animated features freely take ideas and spin them into meaningful and imaginative landscapes, not being chained down by notions of reality.  How to Train Your Pet Dragon is not the perfect representation of this interpretation but goes quite high in creating a unique and creative world.  The animated film utilizes its Nordic Viking backdrop to a great cultural extent while being visually spectacular.

How to Train Your Pet Dragon is set in a mythical Nordic land where Vikings are constantly living in battle against fearsome dragons that take their livestock and ruin their land.  The Vikings are a proud, bulky race with many of them living and breathing the thrill of battle.  Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is a young Viking who seems to have grown the wrong way as he wishes to join his brethren in the heat of battle yet his meek demeanor and different way of approaching situations with his brain seem to speak otherwise.  He becomes the laughingstock of the town and a shame to his father, Stoick (Gerard Butler), the chief of the tribe.  One day, Hiccup runs across a downed dragon that he hit in a prior battle, unbeknownst to the rest of his tribe.  Instead of killing it and taking it back to his tribe, he frees it and slowly begins to bond with the beast.  This begins to change Hiccup’s perspective on dragons although he soon comes to realize he has to either defy his father and tribe or protect a creature he has ultimately come to love.

Perhaps an unfortunate oversight of the film that needs to be noted is the lack of depth in its plots and characters.  Hiccup is perhaps the most developed character among the cast along with his pet dragon, Toothless, getting some fun interactive moments and interesting characterizations.  However, even with these characters, the character development seems more or less by the numbers.  Although I have not read the book, the character progression and narrative seemed fairly predictable from the beginning and most audiences, teen and up, will probably not be too surprised by how the film ends.  Other characters are fairly one-note in their roles and although some may make an always-repeated argument of “it’s a children’s movie,” that is no excuse when other animated features have pushed the benchmark for creating engrossing and developed plotlines.

Yet where the plot is typical, the visual splendor and the rich background are not.  Dreamworks has created a gorgeous film here that is rich in detail and backed by great artistic design.  This can definitely stand as one of the best-animated films to date.  Simply take a moment when Hiccup and Toothless are flying over the sea towards the island as the camera zooms out.  It is a breathtaking shot and an achievement both in the technology and artistry.  Just as well, the 3D acts as a complement rather than a detracting gimmick.  The depth is especially noticeable in the exhilarating choreographed actions sequences that are well done and needs to be witnessed in theaters for the full visual impact.  These set pieces are smart and a pleasure to watch; the best being a flying sequence in the middle of the film that is sure to bring back memories of other similar and great moments like in Star Wars.

In addition to all the wonderful action moments is the attention to detail in terms of the culture and atmosphere.  Directors DeBlois and Sanders has infused the Nordic backdrop well into the film to give it so much personality that sets the film apart from being just a simple animated film with visual bravado.  The music, for instance, is a great draw that punctuates at the right moments in tandem with the film’s action but also includes lots of fiddles and bellowing bass that should bring smiles to viewers as the camera pans out to the beautiful foggy vistas with the music at full volume.  And again, the art design needs to be mentioned again here since the look and feel of the village to the surrounding land and its inhabitants are given a cartoon spin yet is mixed with a lot of memorable designs to have the audience feel a lot of individuality in the models.  For instance, the dragon design hits a good mark between beast and cute pet that the viewer grows more attached to throughout the duration of the film.  The voice work also should be noted as fairly fun-natured and a good fit for the characters.

How To Train Your Pet Dragon is a wonderful and exhilarating animated film and is one of the better 3D films to grace theaters in recent years.  It does lack depth in terms of its plot and character progression, boiling down to an action creature film melded with a boy’s forbidden pet backdrop and lacks a greater purpose in character progression.  However, the movie is visually spectacular, one of Dreamworks’ best so far, with a great sense of choreography, complemented by its smart use of 3D that does not feel tacked on or gimmicky.  And much like Dreamworks’ previous great-animated feature, Kung Fu Panda, it embraces a cultural design well and sticks to it throughout: here being the Nordic background with a great musical composition and great artistry/design.  These types of rich and cultural animated features from Dreamworks are a joy to see and one that should be continually embraced by the studio and fans of animated works.

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So the term is just about up.  I’m about to slam my head into my desk.  We’re finally at the close and past the halfway point for the year and yes indeed, to be blunt, ‘the shit hit the fan.’  The workload, no matter how well and hard I planned it all out is amazingly insane.  I just finished one of the term papers this past weekend and on moving to the next.  Although they are due week two of the next term, if the first term was a hint to anything, it is to work hard and fast.  The other reason is because I have a dissertation to research for and a lot of exams to prepare for as well.  Additionally, USC is finally a-go in terms of transition.  I just got my official USC email and beginning to fill out fellowship forms for funding and putting my mindset on Los Angeles.  Crazy, huh?  So yea, Week 9 work-wise has hit the pinnacle (and is still there in Week 10) with loads of last minute researching with a couple books every night before I head back to the US once again.

Some cool tidbits from the week:

-As you kind of saw from the pics and the header, I finally got on the overpriced yet still awesomely cool London Millennium Eye, the second (I believe) largest ferris wheel of its kind in the world.  It was the 10th birthday/anniversary of the wheel being open to the public in London and so they celebrated with a nice light show that isn’t usually there (I think!) along with balloons and free champagne on the actual ride itself.  So at first, I wasn’t going to go on the thing because I didn’t have much time left to make it.  But with my uncanny new ability to rush in and off of subways, I made it 5 minutes before it closed and was able to be part of the last ride.  Think of any ferris wheel you’ve been on in the past, give it a nice big car, make it silky smooth, and put it really high and that’s what the London Eye was like.  You get a gorgeous view of all of central London standing in the wheel that is unparalleled by any other tower view in my honest opinion.  You can see almost every major landmark and at night, it looks beautiful.  Although I’d agree that’s it’s overpriced and not worth it if you’re conserving money, for a beautiful introduction and view to all of London, it’s worth the ride at least once (plus in March, its 10 pounds, nearly 40% off the regular ticket price).

-London loves to drink and party.  London also loves to use Trafalgar Square for major events.  Mesh the two together, take the closest holiday and wham…you get the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Celebration.  I went to view the whole celebration (and a nice walking break).  I bought myself a nice Irish flag and scarf to be somewhat green and join in the festivities.  Having those on and not being Irish gives you temporary Irish powers I soon learned with cheering drunk Irishmen and women cheering and laughing with you at all stops.  The parade was pretty wacky with a random assortment of bands, floats on trucks, dancing children doing the Irish jig on said moving trucks, giant costumes, and other interesting sights.  There was a funny moment when a dog went to the restroom in the middle of the street and the audience had a fun time expressing their disgust whenever anyone stepped on said thing.  Trafalgar Square was packed soon afterwards where all the drinks and performances were at.  It was actually the first time I’ve seen police limiting who gets to go in and out.  Simply insane.  Just as much, I wanted to buy a huge green Guinness hat to take back home.  Unfortunately, those are only for specific cases in some pubs that I wasn’t aware of.  But yea, it was all in good fun.

-Oh yea, the weather’s been slowly getting warmer and sunnier.  Less gloominess means actually happier personalities all around.  Either that or it’s because Spring Break is soon arriving…

Ok…I’m going to stop procrastinating now and get a move on with creating the best damn dissertation ever and finishing it in record time.  Wish me luck, pray for me, do a dance…whatever to bring me some good aura.  Gonna need it…

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Hello.  I’ll add a bit of a story with the header in the upcoming weekly post but took this just this past day.  Night shots are very hard to do with a cheap digital camera so unfortunately, the quality isn’t as clear.  However, I thought it looked pretty cool.  I’m playing around with the image to make it look the best but for now, enjoy the Westminster area of London.  🙂

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Eyes darting everywhere.  Running from place to place with as much energy and force.  Opening up a book and reading through it quickly before moving onto the next one.  Yea, that’s pretty much how these weeks are rolling now as I am now at the peak of this Lent (Winter) term.  It’s been a bit brutal (as brutal as Term 1, I’d even say the workload has become worse) and I’ve attempted to create the perfect plan to make this all work at the very beginning with a relentless work schedule.   Has it all worked?  That answer won’t be official until the end of Week 10.

One of the biggest reasons for all this planning was a quick trip to the States.  Having to save lots of money in the first 6 weeks and be patient in making it all work was difficult but ultimately, the trip turned out well.  (So yea, that’s the summary of Week 7, :P).

Week 8 was a return back to the battle in London.  Schoolwork has been (again) ramping up continuously.  There’s a ‘symposium’ coming up at Week 10, a long arduous day (combined with our regular classes) of discussions, presentations, and our update on our dissertation.  Learned about it just the other day actually.  Additionally, I have two formal essays due for two classes (one relying a lot on interviews and analysis) and one that’s more reliant on readings, an assignment due for an advanced labs class, and just a hecka lot more research coming up.  Ahhhhh.  I partially list these all out as well to keep my own mind checked as to all the work that needs to be done.  Overall, it’s been a better term so far in terms of streamlining and understanding the work.  I can actually tell you, the reader, if you weren’t part of the program what I learned and the different layers among it.  What should have been expected was the heavier amount it came in.  After Week 5 or so, the gates of work flooded with so many different elements, it was headache-inducing.

Additionally, Week 8, we met our USC counterparts who were already doing their 2nd year through a Skype conference.  Although we learned more about the pains and struggles of the transition, it was helpful in that it helped to solidify the transition process as officially beginning with finances, forms, and scholarships now all underway.  Brilliant.  More work.  Haha.

In terms of other little tidbits, the weather in the UK is a lot more sunnier nowadays with the usual rain sprinkling in every now and then.  This means that I do tend to venture off a bit more because I can only stand being indoors for so long before going crazy.  One trip was to the restaurant Cubana.  It was my second official attempt at eating Latin food in London (the first being merely ok).  The restaurant decor was interesting…very Cuban with posters of Che and machine guns littering the aesthetics.  The food itself was healthy but as with the last Latin restaurant, it was simply ok.  A hot pocket chicken and stew were not the best although as time and time again London has proven me, their meats are tasty.  There was a sausage that came with the stew and it was simply delicious.

The next restaurant I tried out for the first time was the Cafe in the Crypt at St-Martins-in-the-Fields Cathedral.  Its a small one next to Trafalgar Square but a very modern elevator takes one down to the crypt area to eat in a cafeteria-style setting.  It’s nice and quaint.  The salad bar was surprisingly very good.  Londoners love their vinegar and this was no different.  The highly rated pudding (bread pudding to be exact) wasn’t as tasty though.  Maybe it was the overabundance of custard but yea, it didn’t do much for me.  I remember cooking better bread pudding when I camped way back when.  Otherwise, it was a fun random experience.

Finally, I did a quick tour of Regent St. again/Covent Garden for some random shopping.  Just some quick observations:

-Anthropologie in London is just as exquisite if not even zanier than the ones in California.  A wall of fauna and crazy bottle chandeliers make for quite a treat.

-Hamleys is the ultimate toy store that compares to the Toys R Us (I think) in New York.  Its just zany.  So much stuff going on…6 floors of mayhem of stuff animals, magic tricks, RC racers and helicopters, video games, Lord of the Ring memorabilia, and giant dinosaurs made out of…what I think is…gumdrops or something.  It fascinated me that this kind of shop still exists anywhere in the world.  It’s like entering Santa’s Toy Shop.  Definitely something I’m coming back to.  🙂

-London is boring is the worst statement anyone can make.  There’s always something going on.  Take for instance the random feminist protest that was going through Regent St.  What more can I say?

Here’s to the final 2-week battle!

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Sorry…lagging a bit on a new blog post.  A new one will come up in a little bit.  Until then, feel free to view my Oscar Predictions 2010 on my other blog.  Cheers!  🙂 http://collegetimes.us/oscar-predictions-2010-the-david-v-goliath-story/

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