How to Train Your Dragon (2010) – 52 in 52: Film 2

“I’LL ADMIT, THE STORY IS GOOD. HOWEVER…”

POSTO

Dragons have always been a main staple of everything fantasy because of their immense ferocity. Every major medium has its own portrayal of a mythical fire-breathing reptilian. Smaug in the Hobbit is arguably the richest fictional character ever. George R.R Martin has his dragons in the literary mammoth that is Game of Thrones. The titular Spyro battled his way through enemies on the original PlayStation… Erm Dragonforce are a band that makes music. Everywhere you look, dragons tend to be popular so it was no surprise that Dreamworks – possibly riding on the success of the first two Shrek films (the latter two less so, but that’s another discussion) – created an animated family film based around the trials and tribulations of the dangerous creatures based on the original book by Cressida Cowell.

Director’s Chris Sanders and Dean DeBois have both worked with Disney to help create some of their classic films such as The Lion King, Mulan, Aladin and, my personal favourite, Lilo and Stitch, so to see them come together again for Dreamworks, I was interested to see how they would do with a clean slate to start from with this 2010 offering.

Hiccup narrates the tale set in the Viking populated village of Berk that is constantly attacked by dragons that take their sheep and destroy their buildings. Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel, is portrayed as the outcast of the society that doesn’t live up to his father’s (voiced by Gerard Butler) battle-hungry persona. Hiccup is young, weedy and clumsy; a trail of destruction normally follows the kid and as such, he has a rocky relationship with his dad and he feels that they are worlds apart and that they don’t have much in common. That is until Hiccup secretly shoots down the infamous Night Fury – a stealthy and agile and somewhat rare dragon – during a night time attack on the village. To prove his mettle, Hiccup contemplates killing the Night Fury to prove to his father and the village once and for all, he can be accepted as a dragon-murdering machine like the rest of them. After all, he has got the life of one of the lesser known species in his hands. He fails and lets the Night Fury go but after he finds the dragon trapped and crippled, he starts to form a bond and names the dragon Toothless and starts to learn that the fire-breather is not as violent as first understood. Hiccup builds a relationship and then a controllable replacement tailpiece that allows him to fly Toothless. The lessons he takes away from his bond with the dragon, he then applies to his battle skills in dragon training with his fellow young vikings, much to their disappointment as this once weedy, outcast is outdoing them in every single way.

I’ll admit the story is good. However, it isn’t amazing and I couldn’t really watch it without seeing shades of Lilo and Stitch in there; outcast terror that only one character bonds with that everyone else is trying to rid only to be captured by the baddie when an ultimately stronger force comes along to end it all, so the baddies and the goodies become acquainted, settle differences and save the day. A lot of stories may do that but Sander’s and DeBois’ Disney film did it before and also did it a lot better. I also found Hiccup, no matter how good I thought Baruchel portrayed him, to be bit one dimensional – ironic, for film that was released in the age of ‘3D everything to within an inch of its life’ cinematography. Hiccup isn’t boring but he also isn’t very enlightening as a hero. I didn’t walk away feeling that I want to be that type of hero in my own dragon-based adventure, whether I was a child or not. I didn’t connect. I also felt the lack of interplay between Toothless and Hiccup to be a bit whimsical; almost as if Hiccup doesn’t really understand how much of a big ordeal shooting down a Night Fury is. Toothless has all the charisma and charm in this relationship and is the true star of the film.

Apart from that, the films technicalities are perfect! There are some stunning backdrops and the flying sequence have depth. You can see it was made for 3D and I don’t feel that any of the drops, swoops and high-speed turns lost any of their magic on a 2D screen. It’s a bright and colourful film even in night scenes and the effects of blazing fires are quite remarkable. I also enjoyed America Ferrara’s acting on the cold and fierce but likeable Astrid as she comes to terms with Hiccup and his skills. Butler’s voicing of Hiccup’s Father Stoik was perfect. So perfect in fact, I fully expected ‘This is Sparta!’ to be ruptured out of his vocal chords more than once during the film. The music is also grand and captures the same atmosphere that from the off, I would expect an epic adventure film to have.

Maybe this is all oversight though. I mean, How To Train Your Dragon was, and has been very successful. I am disappointed that Sander’s and DeBois’ could have done a lot better and I feel that Dreamworks will always be second best to Disney/Pixar’s efforts (although they can still hold their own when it comes just Disney and their own computer graphics animation films. Tangled, I’m looking at you). I just feel there where missed opportunities and arcs that could have been better developed. The things that How To Train Your Dragon does well, it does really well but the things that it does badly, bring that level of polish down and gives it an overall mediocrity. It’s still funny, it’s still beautiful and clean and it is still also rather fresh which for an almost 5 year animated film is no small feat. Who knows? Maybe all of this will be change my opinion if the follow up doesn’t suffer from a bad case of ‘Sequel Syndrome.’

Kat says: “I have read the book How to Train Your Dragon and although the plot differs from the film I did enjoy it. I can see why they didn’t follow the same story as the book but I actually prefer book over the film. I do, however, like Toothless from the film”

Words by Jimmi and Kat

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Maleficent (2014) – 52 in 52: Film 1

DISNEY GOT DARK”

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Alas, a new challenge is upon us, and what a great way to start than with a unique twist on one of Disney’s classic and best known fairy tales. In a world where 2014 was a-wash with Frozen, Maleficent cuts through the songs, talking snowmen and over-night relationships with betrayal, tense battles and an irreversible curse; Disney got dark!

Directed by Robert Stromberg Maleficent portrays the other side of the Sleeping Beauty story but this time from the perspective of the villain. Or should we say “villain” as this retelling puts a different spin on how Maleficent became to seek out vengeance.

Jimmi says: “I have never really taken much interest in anything with Angelina Jolie in, not that I fault her as an actress or anything, but they just never really struck me as ‘must-watch’ (maybe that will change over the next fifty weeks or so?). That was until I watched this and I must say she put on a very good and very striking performance as the malevolent fairy. Jolie makes Maleficent and depicts her as powerful yet graceful, like she is always a force not to be reckoned with and is always in control of the situation no matter how sinister it may be.”

Kat says: “From the point of view of having watched the original Sleeping Beauty as a child, it was thought-provoking to see Maleficent as more than a one dimensional villain that she was portrayed as initially. I like the fact that she was showed as a human character with emotions, feelings and motives rather than someone who was outright evil for no discernible reason, something that Sleeping Beauty never really touched on; she was bad and that was that. This film shed light on this misunderstood character and created a more mature narrative.”

From the beginning, it was clear that the character set up in Sleeping Beauty was of course, very wrongly portrayed. As a child, Maleficent was a kind, sellfless and sensitive fairy, protecting the Moors and all of its amazing creatures. After meeting a human boy, Stefan, the two grow close and start to fall in love. As they grow apart and grow older, we learn that a powerful king wants to claim the Moors as his own. This doesn’t sit very well with Maleficent who summons vast tree-creatures of the forest in their droves and fights back taking out the King’s army and wounding him in the process. No small task but it showed us how much the Moors mean to Maleficent and the lengths she will go to. As the King lies on his deathbed he states he needs an heir for the throne and his daughter; the man who overcomes Maleficent will inherit the throne and his daughter’s hand. Stefen steps forward as he knows he had a bond with a younger Maleficent and uses this to deceive her for his own personal gain, claiming the throne. Seeing Disney use such underhand tactics gives the film darker edge. Disney has always done death and characters being killed off but what they did in Maleficent isn’t really the norm. Jimmi says “the emotion Jolie puts into her character once she knows she has been deceived was rather unsettling for me to watch and would perhaps go over some children’s heads. It’s interesting to see it be done but at the same time, very irregular.” The motive of how she became evil is suddenly apparent and the rest of the story plays out with that in mind hence why she curses Princess Aurora with an unbreakable spell, the same spell that was cast in the original film, word-for-word, something that Jolie insisted on during the production. “At first, Aurora is the chance for revenge and so Maleficent makes sure nothing gets in the way until her sixteenth birthday when the curse comes into effect. However, when the two start to bond, I sense that Maleficent sees that innocence in Aurora that was once in Stefen and as she watches over her, she grows to love her” Kat adds. The rest of the story shows how Maleficent battles not only with the true enemy, but also her regrets.

This is all set on a backdrop of amazing set pieces. In one scene the colourful, neon Moor creatures evoke a similar sense of awe that was found in the alien rainforests of Avatar and having the palette  change when things do inevitably get dark, it sets the right sinister tone making this film get the right balance between good and evil. Sam Riley is great as Maleficent’s human-formed raven Diaval and the dialogue between the two is a sharp contrast to the slapstic and comedic three pixies Knotgrass, Flittle and Thistlewit (played by Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple respectively). Sharlto Copley as King Stefen is also remarkable at out-villaining the villain too and Elle Fanning’s Aurora recaptures the carefree sweetness of the typical Disney princess.

Rather than seeing the villain as just a villain and a means for the protagonist to finally defeat, seeing this sort of twist is unusual of Disney to do but something that we would like to see them do more often. Normally the villains have a better tale to tell than the hero and learning about how they came to be is bound to be very interesting. Maleficent proves that this type of storytelling can be crafted extremely well.

Words by Jimmi and Kat

Our 5 Most Popular Posts in 2014

Happy New Year! Bit late we know but we’ve given you enough time to sleep off your hangover. And what better way to start 2015 (albeit, a bit belated) than a peruse of our most popular posts of last year. Yes, 2014 is over and we can’t think of any better way to celebrate this New Year than living in the past and showing you our top five articles.

The Baby’s Coming by Virginia Howes: 52 in 52 Book #25

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Kat read this autobiographical account by Virginia Howes – a Kent based midwife – back in August as part of her 52 in 52 challenge. At the time Kat was in training to become a midwife also and so this book served her well as it was engaging and informative as the author described the trials and tribulations of this highly important role played in lots of peoples lives.

Robot Wars Live – Glow at Bluewater, Dartford, Kent

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Back in September, Jimmi took us on a nostalgic trip down childhood memory lane when the opportunity came up to go to see Robot Wars – the very popular robotic combat sport previously shown on the BBC – and relive the carnage that kept him tuning in every Friday evening. But once the TV show was cancelled, a live show was set up to keep metal shredded and sparks flying. It didn’t disappoint!

Gabriel’s Angel by Mark A Radcliffe: 52 in 52 Book #9

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Another one of the 52 books, Gabriel’s Angel saw Kat delve into this interesting premise after she came by it by sheer luck. Gabriel has been hit by a car and rather than going to heaven, he becomes involved with a therapy group ran by angels that caters for people who are on the verge of passing into the afterlife. Characters include a murderer and their victim and also the woman who hit Gabriel. It set out to be a rather fascinating journey.

Body Double by Tess Gerritsen: 52 in 52 Book #35

Body Double

Body Double was book number 39 in Kat’s challenge (there is a pattern emerging here) and one of many by Tess Gerritsen that featured from the Rizzoli and Isles series. Full of murder, twists and turns, this had Kat gripped from cover to cover.

Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith: 52 in 52 Book #29

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The very first Kat read back in January 2014 was Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and nine months later, she read Tears of the Giraffe – it’s sequel. Although she felt it suffered from “sequel syndrome” where the previous installment came across as better, she did enjoy the vivid imagery of the charming African landscape; the creation of new and interesting plot lines and the easy pace that this detective story gave.

Vanish by Tess Gerritsen: 52 in 52 Book #36

Vanish

Another Rizzoli & Isles book and somehow, I didn’t love this as much as previous novels. It’s still a great read and if you’re a fan of the Rizzoli & Isles series or crime writing in general, you’ll find this hits the mark. But here are my grievances:

If the maternity care in this book is even vaguely close to the reality in America then I feel really sorry for American women. Waters broken for two hours and already wanting to induce… really? My midwife brain took over and a similar reaction occurred that happens when I watch birthing programs. As daft as it sounds, American obstetrics and poor support for new mothers ruined several parts of this book for me!

The plotline itself felt a little lacking. Maybe I’ve been spoiled with intricate and twisting plotlines but I felt no surprise as the revelations came about. This is an even bigger shame as reading the first few chapters I felt excited about where the story was going. As I said before though, the plotline is good, I just feel it didn’t address the elements I like in a crime novel.

With big changes for Jane Rizzoli, we get to see another side of her character: new mother. Despite the horrific aforementioned maternity care and maternal support systems, it was good to read about her developing into this new role in her life and I feel that Tess Gerritsen did do an excellent job at conveying the huge range of emotions and stresses a first-time mother goes through. It’s often difficult to portray this well and I feel this was one of the best aspects of this book.

Not bad, but I was hoping for better. The Mephisto Club is next on my list so I hope the series will return to its usual high standards and I can enjoy some good old murder again.

Kat

Body Double by Tess Gerritsen: 52 in 52 Book #35

Body Double

Firstly, I’m sorry for how long it’s been since my last review! I’ve recently started a new job and have been very busy. Over the next week, my backlog of reviews will be written up and published for you all to enjoy!

So back onto the Rizzoli & Isles series by Tess Gerritsen (I plan to read all the available ones by the end of my challenge) and in Body Double we delve into Maura Isles’s roots after a woman who looks exactly like her is murdered outside her house. Determined to find out who this woman is, Maura goes on a journey of self discovery and what she finds is a family… but is it one she wants to be associated with?

The character development for Maura is very good in this book. Obviously with a lot of the book focusing on Maura’s discoveries this needed to be the case. We also learn a lot about Jane Rizzoli and her expanding personal life (and uterus!). We also meet new characters who help to deepen both the book specific and series-arching plot lines.

As for the murders, a compulsory part of this book series, they are interesting. The gore of some of the previous novels is not present here but that doesn’t take away the disgust and horror at the way these deaths occur and the motivations behind them. I found this novel particularly creepy in terms of its murderers.

A very installation in the Rizzoli & Isles series and one I would wholeheartedly recommend! Just start the series from the beginning as it will help with understanding the series-arching plotlines much better.

 

Kat