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‘How to Train Your Dragon 3’ Proves How to Finish a Trilogy

MOVIE REVIEW
While not exactly a golden rule, it is known fact that if a movie does well in the box office, chances are good that it will be followed by sequel and more often than not, we’ve come to expect that the sequel won’t measure up to the original. Add a third movie to the mix and you’re just asking for trouble. With animated movies, the expectations are often even lower. (Is anyone really surprised that the Ice Age movies keep getting worse?) But sometimes, as is the case with the Disney/Pixar Toy Story movies, we’re pleasantly surprised. Now you can add How to Train Your Dragon to that short list too.

One thing that DreamWorks Animation has understood about this series is that the story comes first, the hijinks come later. The very first Dragon movie proved that way back in 2010 with a strong story and with each chapter that has come after it, that story just keeps getting better. What started out as a cute kid’s story has become a powerful trilogy. We've seen these chara…

Chris Evan Proves He Can Do More Than Just Punch Bad Guys in ‘Gifted.’

Review of the movie "Gifted."
McKenna Grace and Chris Evans in Gifted. (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

MOVIE REVIEW

If you were extremely smart with an IQ that had the potential of literally changing the world, would you feel that you had a responsibility to act upon it? That is one of the questions raised in Marc Webb’s Gifted starring Captain America himself, Chris Evans. As a Christian, if I felt that God had giving me a calling to do one thing or another, I would (like to say) say “yes,” but in Gifted, the answer is a lot more muddy and the concept weighed down heavily on me while watching the film.

Review of the movie "Gifted."
Jenny Slate as Teacher Bonnie.
Gifted takes place in a small coastal town in Florida where Frank (Evans) works on boats. He is the guardian of his seven-year-old niece, Mary (McKenna Grace). Mary’s mother (Frank’s sister) committed suicide when Mary was very young, so Frank is pretty much the only family that she knows. She calls him by his first name, which seems odd, but given the circumstances of this relationship (that gets explained as the movie goes on) it makes sense for this type of relationship. They live in a small house and are good friends with Roberta (Octavia Spencer) who is their landlady and Mary’s best friend. The story begins on the first day of public school. She whines asking why she can’t be home-schooled by Frank, but he wants her to live life like a normal kid. Almost immediately at school, we realize that Mary is anything but normal. Her teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate) picks up on this too and tells Frank that she thinks his niece is “gifted,” something he just brushes aside and then later scolds Mary for “showing off.”



Review of the movie "Gifted."
Octavia Spencer, McKenna Grace and Chris Evans.
It doesn’t take long for the school to recognize Mary’s brilliance and Frank’s mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) shows up unannounced. Up until now, Evelyn has shown no interest in her granddaughter and Mary doesn’t even know who she is. She is the one pushing for Mary to leave her normal, yet imperfect life, behind and use her brain skills for the greater good. Frank argues that his sister wanted Mary to live a normal life. Not surprisingly, the two butt heads on what is best for Mary and soon they find themselves in court to battle it out.

There is much to like about Gifted. The acting is good (Grace is exceptional) and there is a strong message about the importance of family as well as how damaging a dysfunctional family can affect a child. However, the story itself is a little too unrealistic as some situations presented feel too forced or unbelievable and there are plenty of cinematic clichés too. For instance, there is the obligatory “I’m so depressed that I better to the bar to get drunk” scene, Bonnie becomes more than just Mary’s teacher and becomes a love interest for Frank and the Mary herself is tasked with some of the film’s stronger swear words. While some may find this funny, it really just falls flat. It also tends to make Mary’s character look like a brat, which is the opposite effect the story is asking for.

Review of the movie "Gifted."
Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) and Mary
It appears that main conflict of Gifted is discussing which life would be best for Mary, but the film is so one-sided that if fails to make a good argument for the other side. Evelyn is a wealthy Bostonian who comes across as a Cruella de Vil character, but not as nasty. Despite the fact she has virtually no connection to Mary up until the current circumstances, she does possess some nurturing instincts. Mary even says that she likes her because she looks like her mom. But Evelyn’s (or should it have been Evilyn?) true colors do show up and you can understand why she and Frank are estranged.

The other part of the story that doesn’t seem to work is the relationship between Bonnie and Frank. The film tries to make a love connection there, but it just doesn’t work. It would have been better to have given Spencer more to do with the story instead. Still, the acting is good enough to get you choked up a bit here and there.

A favorite scene of mine is when Mary asks Frank about God and Jesus. He admits that he doesn’t know for sure if God exists, but as for Jesus he says, “Love that guy. Do what he says.”

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