Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Reviews of movies.

Penelope – A Review

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Last year at some point, a friend happened to turn on the tag end of the film Penelope. Though convinced to watch the next running of the show, I was less than enthusiastic about it. Too often films have a premise that sounds interesting, only to devolve into lectures on how we should despair, kick the bucket, or otherwise lie down and die. (Yeah, not my fictional forte, thank you very much.)

Anyway, I sat down to watch Penelope, and soon ate my thoughts about how bad this movie was going to be.

Penelope is a fairytale. It starts back in the nineteenth century, when the heir to a rich or “blue blood” family has a fling with one of the servants. She ends up pregnant and he declares to his family his intention to marry her. Well, the family “soon shows him how silly this idea” is and he marries a different woman, a rich heiress and fellow blue blood. Heartbroken, the serving girl kills herself and their baby. The young woman’s mother, a witch, curses the family in a bout of vengeful fury, promising that the first daughter born to this family of “blue bloods” will have the ears and nose of a pig.

No one really pays attention to the curse, mostly because the family line is passed down through the men after this happens. Then a perfectly normal, healthy girl is born in the family in about the 1940s. So much for that curse, right?

Eh, not exactly. Turns out the mother had an affair on the side, and so the girl was not actually related to her “father.”

Then we come to the modern day, when Penelope is born. She is, technically, the firstborn daughter in the family since it was hexed. And she has the ears and nose of a pig, just like the witch promised.

Both Penelope’s parents are upset by this turn of events, but her mother takes it far worse than her father. She goes to extremes to protect Penelope from the nosy press, blinding a reporter (played by Peter Dinklage) in one eye when he hides in the house and tries to snap a photo of her and her daughter. In order to put a stop to all the spying, Penelope’s mother fakes her daugher’s death, going so far as to cremate her coffin in order to make the swarm of reporters leave them alone. Far-fetched as this plan may seem, it actually works. The reporters disperse and the family becomes reclusive after their daughter’s “death.”

However, none of this eases the mother’s fears that someone will discover her daughter is still alive. So like Rapunzel in her tower, Penelope is raised inside her palatial house for the next twenty years or so. She is not even allowed on the mansion’s grounds; her mother has pictures in her windows of day and night skies complete with hillsides and flowers, so she can see something other than the backyard every morning and every evening. Penelope has never been outside the house for more than a few minutes during her entire life.

Penelope’s mother has placed all her bets on the promise of a cure for the curse; her daughter will have the nose and ears of a pig until a “blue blood” accepts her as one of their own – i.e., until a boy from “old money” marries her. To that end, her mother hires a professional matchmaker after training Penelope in all the arts of being a suitable bride from the time she can toddle.

When her daughter reaches marriageable age, suitors are called into an empty room with a mirror above the fireplace. This mirror is a one way window; Penelope stands on the other side and talks to the suitor, who cannot see through the mirror. After the beau of the day has finished proposing his undying love for her, Penelope leaves her secret room to talk to him directly.

Every one of her suitors runs off in fright when they see her pig nose (her hair hides her ears). They jump out of the second floor window or they run out the front door in an attempt to escape her. The family’s butler has to chase them down and drag them back to the house after this so they can sign a non-disclosure agreement, keeping Penelope’s secret. Then the whole process begins again the next day.

But one day the butler is not fast enough to catch an escaping suitor, who blabs about Penelope to the whole world. Everyone laughs at him, of course, except for Peter Dinklage’s reporter. He has never seen Penelope’s face, but he does not believe the story that she died and was cremated. He also holds a personal grudge against her mother for blinding him in one eye.

So with this suitor’s haphazard help, Dinklage hires the down-on-his-luck son of a “blue blood” (James McAvoy) to go see Penelope and secretly take a photo of her. What no one counts on, however, is the young man actually falling in love with her through their mirror conversations.

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Penelope eventually leaves her secret room to see how he will react to her face-to-face. He does not run away like the others until he triggers the hidden camera on his person. But even that would not be enough to dissuade the smitten Penelope, proved when she begs him to marry her and lift the curse.

For a long, heartbreaking moment, her knight in shining armor stares at her. You can see he wants to say yes, that he does love her in spite of the curse. But something makes him say he cannot marry her, though it is obvious he really, truly wants to do so.

The rest of the story you will have to discover yourselves, readers. I have spoiled the first twenty to thirty minutes here already. Before I go I have to say that the acting in this film is superb. This has to be one of McAvoy’s best performances – better than his Mr. Tumnus in The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe and far above his version of Professor X. (I say that because the X-Men movies are lousy, not as an attack on Mr. McAvoy.)

Most modern film fairytales are goofy and generally ruin or mock the genre. Penelope does not do that. It wears its fairytale label proudly, in my opinion, refusing to bow to the critics who try to make us think children’s stories are fluff and nonsense. It tells a great story which “kids from one to ninety-two” can enjoy and love. Even if romance films are not your thing, I think you ought to at least try Penelope. I did and, not only did I live to tell the tale, but I actually liked it and want to (someday) add it to my film collection.

Watch Penelope at your next opportunity, readers. It won’t kill you. ;P

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Called and Chosen: Fr. Vincent Capodanno – A Documentary

“A true warrior does not fight because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” (G.K. Chesterton)

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Twentieth century Westerns were not my only film fare growing up, readers. I saw a lot of World War II movies as well. The Longest Day, Sands of Iwo Jima, and many others played across my parents’ television screen when I was young. The films taught me to love and respect America and the Americans that make up our military better than any speech or essay could have.

I loved watching these World War II films. The sense of unity, of purpose, the will to fight and defeat evil, thrilled me. But after 9/11, I learned that the modern world was nothing like the one I saw in those movies about the “Greatest Generation.” It has taken me long years of study to learn how the “Greatest Generation” turned into the generation which protested the Vietnam War, but I am no longer confused about the gap and the change in the way that I once was.

By this circuitous route, we come to the subject of today’s post, the EWTN documentary Called and Chosen: Fr. Vincent Capodanno. Fr. Capodanno was a Catholic priest and Navy chaplain during Vietnam. He did not begin his ministry in the Navy; in fact, joining the military was the furthest thing from his mind when he entered the Maryknoll seminary in New York at the age of twenty.

Inspired as a boy by the stories of martyred missionaries who had left Maryknoll to preach to the Chinese, Fr. Capodanno entered the seminary and was ordained a priest. He was sent to Taiwan for some years, returning home to visit his family after that missionary stint. To his dismay, he learned his next assignment would not be back in his beloved Taiwan but in Hong Kong, which was not then part of Red China.

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Desperate to return to Taiwan, Fr. Capodanno wrote letters to his superiors asking to be transferred there or to be sent home for another assignment somewhere else. He continued to do this even after his requests were rejected. So it was with some surprise that his superiors received an abrupt, new request from the priest: he suddenly wanted to become a Navy chaplain, and he wanted to be assigned to the Marines serving in the jungles of Vietnam.

Well, any request to go to Vietnam would be surprising back in the ‘60s, when the War was being manhandled by politicians and protested vigorously by the academics, the media, and their unfortunate cohorts of young believers across U.S. campuses. Nevertheless, Fr. Capodanno’s new request was granted and he underwent a year of chaplain’s training before being assigned to the Marines. He died in combat September 4, 1967, giving the Last Rites to the Marines who died when his division was ambushed by the Viet Cong.

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I will not spoil any more of the documentary for you, readers. You can find it on DVD through EWTN, Amazon, or Ignatius Press. Toward the end of the film, I had to sniff a lot to keep from crying. Fr. Capodanno’s story of love and sacrifice is moving on its own, but that is only part of the reason why this blogger had to hold back tears.

You see, even when I did not understand the stories about Vietnam completely, I did realize that the men who had served in that war were different than the “Greatest Generation.” Slowly, by degrees, I began to comprehend how they were abused by the public after they came home.

What really stymied me, however, was why they were treated like this. Referring back to the top of this article, you will recall my mention of movies about World War II. Several of these were made before the War had even ended, yet our soldiers who were fighting overseas were being cheered to the echo nonetheless. We didn’t know for a while there whether or not we would win, but the movies of that era never wavered in their morale-boosting narrative that victory was within our grasp.

The incongruence between the lionization of the “Greatest Generation” and the attacks on the Vietnam generation made so little sense to me that I did not pay very much attention to it for quite some time. Learning more about Vietnam over the years, though, I cannot convey in words the profundity of my ire for the academic/journalistic complex who mistreated our men when they came home, nor for the politicians who seized on their narrative in order to remain in power.

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Now, of course, some of you will start yelling about the politics and the reasons why the Vietnam War was wrong. The politicians and people in charge of fighting the Viet Cong did not run the war effort well, I grant you; I believe a number of them actually wanted us to lose it. Their “mistakes” also gave the academics and journalists ample opportunity to attack and demoralize our military, making matters even worse. But none of this means the War itself was wrong.

More to the point, to borrow Fr. Capodanno’s answer to those who challenged him about the War’s politics, the affairs of state were no excuse to abuse our returning veterans. Our men were fighting, bleeding, and dying in Vietnam’s jungles. They were far from home, in a place they didn’t want to be, fighting for a cause no one clearly explained (the defeat of the Communists in Vietnam to preserve freedom there and in the rest of the world).

Yet the populace who should have respected them for their sacrifice was encouraged – nay, goaded – into treating them like trash when they came back. Our men returning from the Hell that was Vietnam were subsequently hounded and derided as cowards, monsters, and demons when they came home.

They were told they were more hideous than the enemy that tortured, maimed, and killed their brothers. They were told that they were worse than the Communists who used women and children as human shields, that they were as evil and cruel as the beasts who used children as suicide bombers, spies, and soldiers. They were treated as ticking time bombs that might go postal on innocent bystanders at any moment because they had been to Vietnam, where you could not tell who was friend and who was foe. They returned from hell to face a new hell; a hell where their families, friends, neighbors, and total strangers tortured them with words, actions, or petulant, suspicious silence.

Never again. I never want to see this happen to our armed forces again. For the rest of my life I will read these stories, hear these tales, and watch these documentaries with tears in my eyes. Those tears will not just be for the suffering of our men and the South Vietnamese during the war. No, they will be for the treatment our men received when they came home, and for the retribution wrought by the Viet Cong on the South Vietnamese after we left them to the Communists.

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Vietnam was not a lost war. It was a war that was thrown away, the one war where we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory – we, who had saved the world in World War II, threw away a war we had won! “When I went under, the world was at war,” Cap said in The Avengers. “I wake up, they say we won. They didn’t say what we lost.”

We lost a lot. We lost a whole hell of a lot, readers. And we lost it because we threw it away.

The sense of shame I feel for what we did to our military and the South Vietnamese becomes so intense at times that it almost makes me physically sick. They did not deserve this abuse – not a one of them earned it. We went from a nation of heroes – a nation with “the Greatest Generation” – to a nation of indecisive cowards in the space of twenty years.

Never again, readers. We cannot – we must not – let this happen ever again.

When you watch the documentary, you will see that Fr. Capodanno understood what I am telling you right now. The Grunt Padre, as his Marines affectionately dubbed him, died making sure his men were safe. In a time when the American people largely regarded them as no less evil than the Communists they fought, one Navy chaplain made a difference by treating the Marines under his care as the human beings they were. You cannot listen to a description of his life in Vietnam and not consider him a hero, readers. Hero is too small a word to encapsulate what Fr. Capodanno did for these men – far too small.

I hope you get the chance to watch this documentary. At some point, I also hope to read and review the book about Fr. Capodanno, called The Grunt Padre, so I can learn more about this chaplain I admire so much. Knowing how much Fr. Capodanno did for those Marines lifts some of the guilt from my shoulders. It is good to know that not everyone in the U.S. hated the military during Vietnam; that there were those who treated our men with the honor, respect, and the love they deserved even when doing so was not popular.

It also firms my determination never to fall into the trap so many others landed in during the ‘60s and ‘70s. Attack the U.S. military at your own peril here at Thoughts on the Edge of Forever, readers. You will find that I do not accept such assaults. Period.

In closing I leave you with this video of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Hymn –

And with the prayer that God will bless you, the United States military, and the United States of America for many more years to come.

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Wind River – A Review

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For the most part, there is a general rule I have about films: I watch them (or their trailers) before I buy them. The last thing I want is to spend money on a film only to find out it is not worth the powder to dispose of it. Sometimes, however, I end up breaking my own rule. It is usually pretty bad when I do not like said film myself, but when I buy it as a present for someone else and we both have problems with it – oh, the mortification!

To be fair, Wind River is a good movie. It’s just not great. I will take on the plot deficits first to get the negativity out of the way before I get to the positive, because there IS a positive here. It just does not make my overeager mistake any less embarassing.

With few exceptions, modern Westerns do not excite or interest me. This is because it has been obvious for years now that Hollywood no longer respects or loves the Western; they mock the genre in general. Nevertheless, whenever I hear about a new “Western” coming out, my ears prick up and I pay attention. It does not usually take more than one viewing of the film’s trailer for me to decide whether or not the “Western” in question is a movie I want to watch.

This also explains why Wind River slipped past my defenses; I never really saw the trailers for the film. I read the description for it months after it came out (took that long for someone to actually write a proper report about it), and it sounded interesting, almost like an extended episode of Longmire. That is an impressive series which I can no longer watch and so, with this in mind, I got the film for a friend as a Christmas gift.

For the most part, I would say we were impressed with it. But there were problems with the story. If you do not want any spoilers for the movie, sorry, you are getting them. Here we go:

The premise for Wind River is that an Arapaho Indian girl is found raped and frozen to death out on the Wind River Reservation by a Fish and Wildlife hunter (Jeremy Renner). This brings up bad memories for him, since his own daughter died similarly three years ago. Plus, the current dead girl was his daughter’s best friend. So we have a one-two gut punch here, and a pretty compelling one at that; so far, so good.

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He alerts the Reservation police to his discovery and they call in the FBI. In their typically abstract, disinterested fashion, the Feds send in a young inexperienced agent from their Nevada office (Elizabeth Olsen) to investigate the girl’s death. Having recently transferred there from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Olsen’s character is far from prepared to deal with the Wyoming spring. They take her out and show her the body after getting her warm clothes. Once at the scene Renner’s character, Cory Lambert, positively identifies the dead girl (again).

Now we come to the disappointing parts of the film. One recurring difficulty in the movie was that the actors and actresses tended to speak Soto Voce. It meant we had to dial the sound up way too high for comfort to hear them, and even then they were hard to understand. Then we have the villains, identified as “oil field trash,” who are guarding a couple of nearby rigs which have been shut down.

This was a big, BIG sticking point for me and my friend. I knew of the plot point going in, and though it stuck in my craw, I was willing to watch the film anyway. My friend is more accustomed to the demonization of oil field workers than I am, so that was not mi compadre’s main difficulty with that part of the film (though it was still irritating). No, what got my amigo here was something else entirely.

During an after-film discussion, my friend explained that once oil rigs are started, they do not shut down until the rig strikes oil or gas. Only after this is it shut down and then dismantled to be moved to a different site or stored inactive for use at a future time and place. Drilling rigs are generally owned by third parties, who rent or lease them to a company or other corporate entity for the obvious purpose of drilling for and finding oil or natural gas. From the time the rigs are under contract, they cost everyone involved in running them constantly. This is whether they are moved from storage to active site, active site to active site, or from active site to storage. Lease or rent is due and payable, active or idle, by whatever entity is using the rig. Thus these rigs would not be set up, ready to go, and standing idle.

Yet in Wind River, this is exactly what is going on. There is no reason given for the rigs’ deactivation and there should be. Real rigs are run through rain, sleet, snow, or shine, in Wyoming and elsewhere. To have these two turned off on an active site for as long as the story implies is assinine because it would never happen in real life. Two idle rigs standing so close together anywhere in the world today is yet another affront to reality.

The next hitch with the story was the fact that none of the culprits scarpered after killing the dead girl’s boyfriend (guess why she was running away that night). They also all come back from town drunk on their snowmobiles. Uh, what? None of them have cars or trucks? None of them, after awakening from their drunken stupor, realize, “Oh bleep, we just killed a guy” and run for the border?

Yeah, right. One or two might have been stupid enough or mean enough to stick around and try to cover up the murder and the rape, but not the whole crew. Most people scram when they realize they have murdered someone, unintentionally or not. That did not happen in this story, and it should have.

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Next we have the O.K. Corral style standoff at the oil rigs. I can actually buy Olsen’s character getting everyone killed. It is (a) a typical, by-the-book rookie/junior mistake and (b), the Feds are all about throwing their weight around. In this case, they had Olsen’s character at least being sincere, so I can forgive her character a little for this fisaco.

What is unforgiveable is that the writers did not let the Wyoming deputies (whom they showed were obviously aware of immanent danger) protect themselves. This could have been done by placing one or two of the deputies in trailing or flanking positions for the rest of the law enforcement guys in case a problem arose. These might be jaded, cynical cops who are too accustomed to “getting no help” on the Res from the Feds, but that does NOT make them stupid or unwilling to preserve their lives. This was just typical, annoying Hollywood disdain here.

Another drawback for the film was that there was not enough for the main characters to do. This story takes place over the course of two or three days, and in that timeframe barely anything happens. Even as I watched the movie all I could think was, “Yes, I get that you want to convey Lambert’s grief, and you’re doing it really well. But come on – add a little extra dialogue, some banter, or some movement, a little action – SOMETHING to help carry this scene forward instead of letting it drag like this…”

The other big catch with the movie was the rape scene. Placed as it was in the film, it was utterly superfluous to the story. If it was truly necessary, the place to use it was at the earliest possible point in the film for the purpose of emotional impact. Its location before the gunfight wastes the opportunity. It would also have been much simpler and better if the writer(s) had skipped this and used Lambert’s forced confession from the bad guy at the climax of the movie to tell us what happened. We would have gotten the gist of the rape scene just fine with that; there was no need to show us what happened.

The fact that the writer(s) wasted film on the rape scene means they were either trying to make a point about how evil oil workers are, or they wanted to make a statement about how bad it is for Indian girls on the Res. Thanks, but I did not need this scene to know it was bad. The dead body near the beginning was a pretty big clue (which even the FBI could not miss), that things are bad out there; the movie really did not need this scene.

Something else important which the writer(s) for the film neglected to mention is that Federal law ends at the borders of every Indian Reservation in the country. If an Indian commits a crime – any crime – and gets back to the Res before he is caught, then the Feds cannot go in to get him without securing the help of the Reservation police. Their assistance – real or otherwise – must be obtained before a Fed can set foot on a Reservation.They also cannot wander around the Res looking for the culprit alone.

Likewise, you can literally do anything on an Indian Reservation and get away with it. The Reservation police are the only law and order on the Res, and they are either spread too thin to cover all the territory or they look the other way, allowing people to get away with whatever they are doing – except in certain cases, I am sure.

Another flaw in Wind River is that Renner’s character, Lambert, is apparently the only Fish and Wildlife hunter for the Wind River Reservation and the territory surrounding Lander, Wyoming. It also appears that he goes to Pineville a lot while on the job, since he was there with his wife on the night his own daughter was raped and froze to death.

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How could this be a problem for the movie? I did not understand it, either, until my friend pulled out a map to show me that Pineville is far too out of the way for an overnight trip, which is what was implied in the film. Thermopolis or another town closer to Lander would have been a better choice because it could have been reached within the stated timeframe.

This leads to another snag in the story: who in their right mind would leave their sixteen year old daughter home alone to babysit her five year old brother for the night? These days, misbehavior on the part of minors is encouraged. It is rare for anyone to leave their children home alone like the Lamberts supposedly did in Wind River. It would have been more sensible for the writer(s) of Wind River to have the Lamberts’ daughter be out at a party which got out of hand and ended badly, or something along those lines, than what we were told in the film.

Finally, we come to the point of intensity for the film. The climax for the movie was satisfying, but not as much as it could have been. As my friend said, Wind River could have been an update of The Searchers, showing a longer search over time and giving us more of a look at Wyoming’s scenery. (My friend would really have liked to seen Wyoming shown in all her glory through the four seasons.) The bad guy Lambert eventually does in could have been responsible not only for this girl’s death, but for the death of Lambert’s daughter as well. Taking him out would thus have been far more fulfilling for everyone involved. None of this is to say that the climax was bad. It just could have been better, like the rest of the plot for the movie.

You can see now, readers, why I feel embarrassed for getting Wind River for mi compadre without watching it first. After sifting the story a little, we are not left with much more than a carapace, a shell of what could have been. I felt more than a bit mortified after the first three or four conversations we had discussing this movie.

Still, my friend insists Wind River is a good film, and I did enjoy it. We both would have liked it more if these glaring plot holes and virtue signals had been absent or mended, but on the whole we actually came to the consensus that the film deserves three stars. Why?

For one thing, the acting by every member of the cast is superb. I do not often say this about a movie – I really do not – but the acting here was just that good. I have seen both Renner and Olsen in and out of the Avengers’ franchise, although I admit that that is where I like them best.

I have seen Renner in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and in advertisements for other movies. Frankly, while I liked Ghost Protocol and thought he was good in it, his performance there did not equal his work in the MCU. In Wind River, I think he managed to up his game; if the plot had been better, I would have enjoyed his performance even more than I did.

Olsen – I saw a little of her in the Godzilla remake. Blech, I hated it – not her, the film. My revulsion for the last Godzilla movie colored my appreciation for Olsen’s acting there. Not so in Wind River. She did a very, very good job in this film. Wind River should put her on half a dozen casting call lists at least.

Graham Greene was great as the world-weary, quietly cynical, yet still friendly Reservation police chief. I hated watching him die; for a minute there, I thought he might have been spared and that the description of the film had mistakenly listed him among the dead. No such luck – dang. He was really good; too good to croak.

The rest of the cast did a great job, too, absolutely phenominal. It will not get most of them put down for casting calls, unfortunately, but the fact is they all performed well. So the acting alone lands this movie, in my opinion, two full stars. And although we did not get to see near enough of Wyoming, I liked what I did see. Chalk up another half star for that. I should probably add that the bad guy getting his just desserts gives extra weight to this half a star.

I think, personally, that the subject matter earns the second half of the third star, along with the palpable conveyance of grief and loss. Like Longmire, Wind River tackled the issues on the Res. It did not do so in the same fearless manner that the TV series did, but that is because the writer(s) for the film played by Hollywood’s rules.

Longmire did not do this, which is why it got booted to Netflix from A&E. That series stared the rampant problems on the Res in the face and made its viewers do so, too. Wind River fell short of this mark, which is sad. While it certainly showed that the Feds do not care about the Indians on the Reservations (until the next election, of course), it also made it look like the rest of the country does not care about the people on the Res, either, and that is wrong. But the fact that anyone in Hollywood was willing to come within a hair’s breadth of admitting the real troubles on the Reservations in a film is something. Maybe it will get more people to pay attention to the Res.

We can but hope. I certainly will.

So, readers, this is my opinion of Wind River. It is worth watching – but not necessarily worth buying. If you love it, flaws and all, then go ahead and buy it. I will just sit here in my corner of the Internet and continue to suffer occasional, intense bouts of buyer’s remorse.

‘Til next time. 😉

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An Avengers: Infinity War Trailer Breakdown – Sorta

Finally – FINALLY!!! The trailer for Marvel’s third Avengers film has been released! The first major teaser trailer for Avengers: Infinity War appeared on the Internet yesterday, readers. And it is a doozy!

You can find another breakdown of the trailer here, which I enjoyed reading immensely. But while I was watching (and rewatching, and rewatching….) the trailer myself the other day, I noticed a few things which Mr. Finn did not mention. Being the Avengers’ fan that I am, it seemed reasonable for me to do a trailer breakdown myself. I need some way to burn off my excitement and trepidation, after all, and this appears like a good way to do it.

Why the trepidation? Well, for a start, this is Infinity War. This is the battle between Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and the Mad Titan, Thanos, wannabe paramour of death’s female incarnation himself. The way he plans to woo her is by uniting all six Infinity Stones to wipe out most of the universal population. (Hence the title Infinity War, Mr. Pine; it isn’t about ‘infinite war’ but six mega-powerful rocks which can reshape the universe from the ground up at the whim of whoever holds them. They’re so powerful the energy they produce is incalculable, i.e. infinite.)

At least, in the comics, Thanos’ aim is to make Death fall in love with him. In the movies he might just be a galactic overpopulation nutjob worried that the universe is becoming too crowded, which means everything has to be put in ‘balance’ again. (Translation, a lot of people “have” to die – fast.) And since he is the best and brightest guy who noticed the rising population in the first place, it makes total sense for him to be the bringer of that balance to the cosmos. Yeah, sure; please insert scoffing raspberry here, readers.

Of course, this means that all our heroes are on the chopping block. We can be sure that a few will survive to be in more movies, but for others, there is no guarantee. Nada. Zip. Zilch. This brings me to my first observation about this trailer….

WHERE THE SAM HILL IS HAWKEYE?!?!?!?! (And Ant-Man, can’t forget about him….)

Two whole minutes of trailer, and my favorite archer does not even get a cameo?!?!?! Are you kidding me?!?! Where is Clint Barton? Why isn’t he in this trailer, at least as a voice? I thought we established waaay back in Age of Ultron and Civil War just how important Hawkeye is to the team. But he doesn’t show up AT ALL in this trailer. Neither does Ant-Man, who would be a BIG help when our guys run into hordes, multitudes, and fireteams of alien monsters.

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Where are these two?

Okay, now that I got the big problem out of the way, we can delve into the trailer.

The first picture we see is of a storm-tossed desert planet, followed by a shot of Tony sitting down somewhere. He is rocking back and forth on his heels, apparently trying not to cry. From later shots, it looks like this is a world where he and Spider-Man get trapped after they first face Thanos.

I’m guessing Peter gets seriously hurt here. I say hurt and not killed because Tom Holland still has two or three Spider-Man films in his contract. These films are set between the Avengers’ movies, so they cannot afford to knock off Peter Parker here. Not yet, anyway, or at least not permanently. We also have a voice over throwback to The Avengers where Fury explains the Initiative to Steve on the Helicarrier. But it is Fury’s only line in the trailer as Tony, Vision, Thor, and then Natasha finish his speech for him.

The next scene shows Dr. Strange and his buddy Wong looking down at a confused and shirtless Bruce Banner, who has literally dropped into the Sanctum Sanctorum from above. Aside from the fact that this is another nice nod to The Avengers, it apparently has something to do with the end credits for Thor: Ragnarok. I am guessing, since I have not yet seen the film, that Hulk somehow got blown off of Asgard when it went BOOM and has landed, as Banner, in Dr. Strange’s house. I thought he left Asgard with Thor, but apparently he decided to take the quick way home. Probably for the best, considering what we see later on….

Next image we have shows Paul Bettany, sans Vision makeup, throwing curtains open on a rainy day/evening/dawn. Now if you watch this clip and do not stop it, you will miss an important thing. You will miss the fact that Wanda is in this room as well. Look to the left of the frozen image and you will see her in a bed. THIS IS A BEDROOM, PEOPLE!! AND SHE IS SHARING IT WITH A HUMAN VISION!!!!

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Holy cow, I did not see this coming, although I did see the romance part coming. (Spoiler alert, they married in the comics. It was fine for a while, but then the writers abused them, so it got weird.) Looking at this still shot, it appears that Viz woke up and went to look out the window at something, waking Wanda up in the process. But why is he human? And when did they start rooming together (or did they actually get married in the films after all)?

Unfortunately for Wanda and/or Vision, I am pretty sure this is a hallucination. Or someone is poking around in their head(s), looking at their desires/dreams, taunting them by using these fantasties. (Vision cannot ever be physically human, readers; that is why I say this is a fantasy.)

One of the reasons I think this may be a hallucination is because the Black Order, five or six alien warriors who follow Thanos and who want to bring death to everyone everywhere, are said to be a part of this film. Given that the next scene shows the Mind Stone still in Vision’s forehead, I am thinking Ebony Maw or Supergiant, two telepathic/psychic members of the Black Order, are playing around with either his fantasies or Wanda’s. If it is Wanda they are messing with, I hope the Scarlet Witch pastes them. If it is Vision, the Black Order might have captured him, meaning that they may be trying to interrogate him.

Another theory I have for this scene is that this is Wanda’s fantasy, and Vision is working to snap her out of it. Or Vision has found a way to disguise himself so that he looks human, which means that he and Wanda are actually living together here. This might explain a later scene which makes it appear that the Scarlet Witch hasn’t been hanging out much with Team Cap. If she’s been living with Vision, then the guys on Team Red, White, and Blue knew she was safe and happy, so they let her go with Viz to live off of the U.N.’s radar while they kept Avenging.

Our next throwback scene shows Thor looking out of what appears to be the Milano’s viewports. How he ended up with Quill and the gang when he was supposed to be taking care of the Asgardians he saved in Ragnarok is anybody’s guess at this point. I think those who have seen the film probably have better theories about the how than I do, so let me finish by saying why this is a throwback scene. Anybody remember Fury standing in a similar position aboard the Helicarrier in The Avengers? I sure do!

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Next we have Bruce, in full attire, standing beside a Hulkbuster fist in what is apparently Wakanda. He is sharing a smile with a blonde Natasha Romanoff. (Really? Blonde? She originally had black hair in the comics, what was wrong with that color…?) I do not know if they will be picking up their relationship where they left off in Age of Ultron. I kind of hope they do; it was so unexpectedly sweet and suited them so well that I would really like to see them get back together. But we may get a Natasha/Bucky romance during Infinity War and its sequel instead. I would be happy with that, too, mind you, but the romantic in me still wants Bruce and Natasha to start dating again.

Up next we have scenes of Tony, Bruce, Strange, and Wong in the Sanctum, with a voice over by Thanos. We follow this up with Peter Parker’s arm hairs rising. This could be a sign of his Spider sense activating, or it could be that the massive alien teleportation ring we see hovering over New York is generating enormous amounts of energy. Static electricity, after all, makes hair stand up straight. The energy the ring is producing may not be powerful enough to make long hair stand up, but it could make arm hairs raise. Just saying.  🙂

Then we have Tony, Bruce, and our two sorcerers standing out in the street staring at the big Ferris wheel in the sky. At least Strange and Wong are powered up and prepared to fight. Even Bruce is standing in ready position. Tony’s the only one doing the “Oh, bleep!” blind staring act here.

Does he have another arc reactor in his chest? It is hard to see, since Tony’s jacket is almost zipped closed, but I think there is actually another arc reactor powering his heart here. How did that happen? I thought it was removed in Iron Man 3. Did he have it taken out, or just replaced? If the latter, why haven’t we seen it in the other films? Or is this a new, fancy Iron Man suit that he can hide under normal clothes, like some of the ones he has in the comics?

Well, we’ll find out one way or the other. After this we see someone stepping over the bodies of a lot of dead people, followed by a shot of Loki holding the Tesseract out to Thanos. (Big surprise there – that rotten little weasel would get away from a dying Asgard with the Infinity Stone he promised to deliver to Thanos way back in The Avengers….grrrr.) From the looks of the backdrop and the apparel on the dead bodies, I would say this scene occurs in Knowhere.

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Loki, you @#%*$!!!

This is very bad, since this could be where Thanos goes to pick up the Aether/Reality Stone from the Collector. Not to mention it seems he killed a whole lot of people here for no good reason…. But then, he wants to kill everyone for no good reason. So this scene isn’t really a surprise at all.

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And Spidey got an Iron Spider suit. Shiny – and it is good at grabbing the rotating innards of that portal gizmo. Nice. Does it come with missiles and extra legs, too? Those would be helpful right about now…

Whoops, looks like Thor is standing in the center ring of an even bigger portal doohicky. And he is trying to tear it apart. Or is he trying to activate it? Those look like the controls for the Milano in his hands, but that big bubble-wand is not Peter Quill’s ship. So what are we looking at here, exactly? And what is Thor trying to do?

All right, quick, stop that next scene!!! Did you see that?!?!?

No? Try again, as many times as you have to. We know who catches the glowing blue trident, but did you see who threw it?!?!

If you missed her despite your best efforts, don’t worry, I did, too. A lot. But then I managed to catch a glimpse of her. That, my dear readers, is Proxima Midnight – one of the leaders of the Black Order and a nasty, nasty lady. Did I say she was nasty? She gives nasty a bad name. That trident is her signature weapon.

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Proxima Midnight

It is hard for me to say just where she is standing. Looks like it could be an airport or a subway tunnel; maybe a factory or a gas station. Either way, it is dark, so someone cut the power here, or this scene happens at night. Proxima Midnight – Near Midnight. Ha-ha, very clever, Marvel.

The person she threw the trident at is none other than Captain America. (Seriously, let the man shave already!!! Beards are not meant for combat – they’re too easy for an opponent to grab and hold. Evans may get away with a beard, but Cap does not!!!) He is still shieldless but just as clearly still on the job.

I say this last because of the next scene where we see Steve. After Proxima tries to shish-kabob Cap, we see him step out of the shadows, looking like Star Wars RebelsAgent Kallus. Nevertheless, Wanda appears to be very happy to see him. To me, she almost seems ready to cry at the sight of him. Judging by the stuff in the background and the fact that her hands are glowing, it looks like Wanda engaged Proxima first, which means Steve came to back her up.

But if she is about to cry on seeing him, that might mean she was not expecting him to show up. This concerns me; Steve may not be using his Captain America moniker for the beginning of Infinity War, but he is not the kind of man who will sit back and let evil have its day. The fact that he shows up fully suited and combat ready, if a little scruffy, suggests he has been maintaining his superhero status since the end of Civil War.

I thought the rest of the anti-Accords Avengers would be with him. But if Wanda is so near tears when she sees him stop Proxima’s trident, plus the fact that she is wearing civvies and looks like she showed up to the fight underdressed, does that mean Cap disbanded his team and went solo? That doesn’t add up. They’re stronger and safer together, at least in pairs. I also don’t see the guys letting Wanda run around on her own, not after Ross locked her up in solitary on the Raft in Civil War. That is not like them.

Of course, maybe she didn’t give them a choice. Maybe she left of her own volition and has been staying off the radar her own way. If I were the guys, I still wouldn’t be willing to let her go off alone. The fact that no one kept an eye on Wanda in the early ‘90s after she had suffered a serious string of bad luck was one of the factors which led to her going crazy in the Avengers: Disassembled and House of M comics. If the writers are planning to go in this unhealthy direction in the films, I will not be happy. But if this is the result of the fact that she has married, or is living with, Vision – that I will accept.

Yes, I know I skipped T’Challa’s speech. But the part here with Wanda was really important. T’Challa’s words are totally in keeping with his character, and they do him immense credit, so I do no think I have to really dwell on them. Though I will say that I went a little squeaky when T’Challa said, “And get this man a shield.” Eeeek! Way to go, Panther! Make sure it is colored right, please! Yay!!!!! Captain America forever!!!!

Okay, next we see a new and improved (we hope) Hulkbuster in Wakanda, followed by Natasha jabbing someone in the midsection with a staff. Judging by the scenery behind Widow, I would say this is the same fight where Cap shows up to help Wanda battle Proxima Midnight. (Please let Natasha be stabbing Proxima Midnight, please let Natasha be stabbing Proxima Midnight, please, please, please…!)

Then we have Dr. Strange relaxing/freaking out (?) after doing a little magic (I mean, super-duper fast quantum calculations). Then we have a giant black pyramid thing – one of several – landing in what appears to be Wakanda. I am with Mr. Finn; if the Soul Stone is not in Wakanda’s basement treasury, I will be surprised and disappointed. There is no way Thanos and his aliens are after the vibranium – not when they can get better, stronger material in space. They have to be after something else here.

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After this we see Cap (without a shield), Panther, and a lot of Wakandans mixing it up with four-armed, big-toothed aliens. Then we see Spidey get slammed into the dirt by Thanos, followed by a shot of a distressed, unsuited Tony Stark. Next we see someone standing on Vision’s chest while stabbing the Mind Stone in his head, using a staff shaped like the one Loki had in The Avengers. This begs the question of whether or not Loki is the one doing the stabbing; looking at the shape of the stabber’s feet, I am inclined to say it is actually Ebony Maw or Corvus Glave, but I could be wrong.

I was actually much happier to see Bucky than I expected to be. That is a really nice gun, there, Buck. And you have a shiny new arm! (Please tell me it is made of vibranium; please tell me it is made of vibranium…!) Then we see T’Challa turning to look at the screen. If you freeze the shot, you will notice that Natasha is standing next to him. Her hair is in the lower right corner.

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Go get ’em, guys!

This is followed by assorted scenes of combat, as a horde of aliens tries to invade Wakanda. The only Avengers we can confirm are present in this battle so far are Cap, Widow, Bucky, Hulk, Panther, Falcon, and War Machine (I guess they fixed his back). Finally, we get a glimpse of Thor asking who in the Sam Hill the Guardians of the Galaxy are.

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The Guardians of what again?

You can just see the air go out of Quill’s tires when he says that. Four years on the job as Guardians and yet the Prince – now King – of Asgard has not heard of him and his crew? Come on, man!

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The Guardians of the Galaxy

This is going to be a rip-roaring ride. I cannot tell who may or may not die. Personally, I hope Thanos and the Black Order all get obliterated from the universe during this film, or during Avengers 4. And if bad stuff does happen to our heroes – and I do not see how they can escape scars, bruises, etc. here – I hope that six of ‘em each get a hand on an Infinity Stone and use the rocks’ combined power to set things right.

Some will say that is cheating, and maybe it is. But as I have said elsewhere, I do not go to these movies for the villains. I do not go to them to be told, “Lie down and die.” If I wanted that message, I would go to a DC film or to see the latest installment in the X-Men franchise.

I go to the Avengers films because they tell good stories, using heroes I love, and they give me hope. That last is in VERY short supply in most of the fare we receive from Hollywood these days. Only the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit movies gave me the same sort of satisfaction as the Avengers have, with Star Trek a close runner up. I would not even be going to cinemas now if it were not for the Avengers cinematic saga.

So whether anyone likes it or not, I am not raffling off any of the heroes for death in this movie or its sequel. If the writers kill them, I am stuck; if the actors who play them have quit and necessitated the killing, I am stuck. I will not complain if they are sent off with honors. However, whether they live or die, I will not desire their deaths or the deaths of any other heroes in the films.

I do not worship death, as some of the people who follow these movies seem to do. I worship God, Whose hand I have seen in most of these stories. If the film writers turn away from Him, then they can kiss my cash goodbye. It has been a great ride, and I hope they end it well. If they do not, it will be a tragedy; but I have trusted God to steer them right so far. I trust Him to do it again. After Avengers 4, I will be able to either peacefully enjoy what comes next, or disengage from the franchise with a fond farewell. What shall be is not yet determined. It is out of my hands; I can only wait and see.

Ha, haha. For once, waiting does not seem quite as hard for me now as it has been in the past.

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Avengers – Assemble!

Strong Men, Strong Women – A Retroactive Review of How to Train Your Dragon

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Yes, readers, I am coming back to the subject of strong women. One cannot fail to notice how modern movies show us women who out-men the men these days. They practically hit viewers in the face with this bull-headed idea, and it has to stop.

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At first glance, Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon appears to fit this mold of “women are better than men.” Astrid, the heroine of the film and its sequel, begins the movie as the ultimate example of a girl who out-boy’s the boys. She is strong, fast, smart, and the top of her class, which is mostly made up of boys.

Now her competition is hardly the greatest; it is, in fact, a perfect example of the way Femi-Nazis want men to be perceived, by themselves and by women. Of the four boys in her class, Astrid is physically as strong as the boys. Fishlegs is a large boy and therefore relatively strong, but he is also fearful. This makes him absolutely no competition for Astrid in the arena, as he spends most of his time there running away from the dragon of the day.

Snotlout is strong, but he is so self-centered it is amazing he can even walk in a straight line. Tuffnut not only has less muscle tone than these two characters, he has lost whatever brains he had by constantly fighting with his twin sister, Ruffnut. In one of the films intriguing reversals, however, she is also no real opposition for Astrid. Ruffnut is almost as moronic as her twin brother – and in How to Train You Dragon 2, he actually shows more intelligence than she does on a couple of occasions.

As for the hero of the piece, Hiccup can barely lift an axe. He is scrawny, weak, and definitely no physical competition for Astrid, whom he adores from afar because she will not give him the time of day. So of all the young Viking warriors to whom the audience is introduced, Astrid is presented as the best, the brightest, and the strongest of the lot.Typical SFC, right?

Nope.

Things begin to change for Astrid when Hiccup secretly starts working with the Night Fury he shot down.In caring for Toothless, Hiccup learns about dragon habits, finding their weaknesses as he studies him. After a while, he outstrips Astrid in the training center by defeating the dragons sent against the trainees via his newfound knowledge. Everyone mistakes this for a sudden turn in Hicccup’s physical prowess rather than realizing he is winning these engagements through anatomical knowledge.

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Only Astrid sees how he is actually beating the dragons – and thereby her – in the training center. And she does not like it. She finally follows and confronts Hiccup in the dell where he has kept Toothless hidden, demanding answers about his sudden rise to prominence over her. This leads to her discovery of Hiccup’s secret friendship with the Night Fury.

Furious at Hiccup, but happy to be back at the top of her class, Astrid races off to tell the villagers what he has done.

Hiccup manages to derail that attempt by chasing her down on Toothless and begging her to let him explain what he has learned. Reluctantly, Astrid agrees to at least let him get her out of the tree he and the dragon set her in.

But Toothless goes further than Hiccup wanted him to go by getting Astrid to apologize for abusing his rider. When she finally does this, the dragon relents and provides her with her first real ride through the sky.

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This ride uses some of the best CGI in the film, and it is clear that Astrid is as enchanted with the beauty of the scene as the audience is. Hiccup and Toothless fly her through the clouds while the sun sets, then bring her up to see the Aurora Borealis bloom in the starry sky. Overwhelmed by the beauty, Astrid lets down the guard she has placed around her heart and wraps her arms around Hiccup’s waist – a gesture he is quick to note, though he says nothing about it.

When discussing the character, however, the critics – along with many fans and probably the actors themselves – focus not on Astrid’s reaction to this scene but on her physical skills, strength, and stamina. What most of the critics will never admit is that until Toothless gives her the first dragon ride of her life, Astrid has been living a false persona in order to get ahead.

Think about it, readers. Astrid is surrounded by fierce, resilient Vikings who have been waging a war with a local nest of dragons for three centuries. In order to fit into this world, Astrid suppresses her natural sweetness and love for beauty, focusing instead on becoming a strong, ferocious warrior in order to be the future dragon-slaying heroine of Berk.

Hiccup, who is the butt of the village jokes because he physically cannot handle a weapon, has no such recourse in his day-to-day life. He has to rely on his wits, on what he builds, to make any mark on the village – and most of those marks are more damaging than helpful. The village mantra is not eloquently spoken, but it essentially reads thus: to be accepted by the society of Berk, one has to toe the popular line. This means that the men and women of the island have to be fierce warriors with no time for, or inclination toward, study and learning.

Astrid follows this prescription from the start, more so than any of the other village children. She practices harder than they do to learn combat techniques and criticizes herself harshly when she makes the slightest mistake.

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On the other hand, though he tries time and again to fit in with the stereotype perpetuated and expected by his elders – especially his father – Hiccup cannot suppress his natural curiosity and sense of wonder. His skinny frame, lack of muscle tone, and reliance on machines to do what the other Vikings can do by hand is not accepted by the adults. His curiosity, his willingness to study and learn so he can invent a gadget to help him better his life, also marks him as different – a difference the villagers of Berk cannot accept until the end of the film.

In this way the Island of Berk in the movie serves as a microcosm of modern society. Though it is oft proclaimed that children should “be themselves” and pursue what makes them happy, there are no end of adults in official positions who will cheerfully slap down any signs of individuality and personal gifts the children under their supposed care demonstrate. Whether they realize it or not, they do this in order to maintain an expected status quo and the mantra that “girls rule while boys drool.”

Boys are routinely told through modern media that they are stupid, boorish, and disgusting. And if they are smarter than average, they mask their intelligence to avoid persecution. In How to Train Your Dragon, Snotlout exemplifies disgusting and boorish behavior with his constant passes at Astrid (who duly ignores his attempts to snare her for a date).

Tuffnut practically embodies the modern idea of the stupidity of boys. He regularly boasts about his strength, courage, and intelligence, only to be proved lacking in all of the above before the final battle. He hates learning about anything that does not involve pranking or fighting, disdains reading and other academic pursuits the way germophobes fear bacteria.

Fishlegs, meanwhile, is the trite smart boy. Bursting with facts he has memorized from the Book of Dragons, he is painted as the stereotypical geek overflowing with knowledge but who is, at the same time, short on courage. With competition like this, Astrid has no problem being the most likely to succeed at the Dragon Slaying Academy of Berk.

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Hiccup is the only boy to defy the Berkian – and therefore the modern – trope. By studying Toothless in order to help him fly again, Hiccup puts his knowledge to good use in the arena. He “defeats” dragon after dragon without killing them, and he does it so well that he unintentionally outshines all the other students for the first time in his life.

When Astrid discovers the source of his new skills and fame, Hiccup knows he has to convince her to change her mind, or Toothless will be killed. After their initial hard ride, Astrid admits Hiccup is correct about how amazing Toothless is. The three are then inadvertently drawn along with the swarm of dragons taking food to the Red Death, learning the secret of the dragon attacks as well as the location of the dragon’s nest. Upon their return, Hiccup is forced to stand up to Astrid when she asks if he is seriously prepared to forego ending the dragon war in order to protect Toothless.

In this moment, Astrid and Hiccup finally break down the barriers that Berkian society has forced on the two of them. Hiccup proves he is man enough to protect his friend at personal cost to himself. Meanwhile, Astrid takes on the proper role of the supportive friend who also happens to be developing romantic feelings for the boy she once scorned.

The scene shows the two discovering who they truly are, though perhaps only one recognizes the change in self-perception. Hiccup, distracted with his fear for Toothless’ safety and stopping a war which has lasted for three centuries, does not see in himself what Astrid now sees. Though he is skinny and not physically strong, Hiccup is strong in his will to protect his friend and to end the war. He does not know how he can do it, but he does intend to do it. While he knows it will cost him the acceptance he thought he longed for his whole life, his determination and courage do not waver in the face of that apparent loss.

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Recognizing this about him, Astrid’s hardened heart at last thaws out. Presented with a young man who says what he means and has the strength of will to see it out, she realizes that she has no need to show the perfect warrior front to him. Hiccup is already a warrior, having broken custom to discover something wonderful in the dragons all the other Vikings fear as menaces. So Astrid stops behaving like a violent-tempered Viking shieldmaiden and acts like what she really is: a girl longing for a true friend who will accept her for herself, not for her skills or her looks.

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This relationship between the two characters is expanded upon in the second film. In this story, it is Astrid who makes the mistake that leads to a deadly confrontation with the movie’s antagonist, Drago Bludvist. Her pride in Hiccup’s skills as a dragon master blinds her to the very real danger facing her and her friends. At the same time, Hiccup himself undergoes a metamorphosis as he learns that he cannot run from his responsibilities because, sooner or later, they will catch up with him and demand his attention. He becomes a “manly man” in How to Train Your Dragon 2, as Astrid embraces her femininity without losing her warrior skills.

The architects of modern society are trying desperately to prevent the children and youth of today from discovering this self-knowledge, readers. They are working hard to confuse them; they are telling boys that they must either act effeminately or behave like barbarians in order to be accepted by society. Girls are routinely told that they can do anything, that they are as good as the boys, even when it becomes manifestly obvious that they are not and cannot be a boy.

This is hurting today’s youth. The boys are growing up, avoiding college and prospective jobs and are avoiding fatherhood at an even more alarming rate. Meanwhile, the girls must juggle their natural instincts toward beauty, marriage, and motherhood with the idea that they must be something else. As a result, more young women are thrust into college, there to take courses of dubious merit, and then trying to enter a labor force with no room for expansion. At the same time more and more young men are retreating from that front because they are being precluded from doing so.

The modern world needs more Hiccups and Astrids, readers. It needs men and women who will challenge and destroy the sacred, golden cows of modern society. The world needs women who realize they will be happier when they embrace their womanhood; it needs men who will defy the stereotype that has been forced upon them. It needs men of courage, men of honor and dignity, men who recognize and love women for who they are, not for what they can or cannot do.

A woman loses nothing by being a mother, just as a man loses nothing by being a father. If anything, the roles grant them more power, prestige, and wonder than any other job in life….if only they are willing to see that truth.

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Sing: Of Hope and Optimism

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Borg.com is a really good blog to follow, readers. They keep track of all the latest news on comics, films, and television shows on this site. It was through them that I found The Librarians and Star Wars Rebels. They post trailers for upcoming movies and can be relied upon for detailed information on most of the big franchises we see everywhere today. It was through them that I learned about Sing, the animated film from the same company which gave us Despicable Me one through three.

Illumination Entertainment hit the big time with Despicable Me for most people. They followed it up with The Secret Life of Pets and Sing, as well as some other films I probably do not know about.

I have seen The Secret Life of Pets. It is long on laughs and short on story. However, Sing had a totally different effect on me. There are plenty of laughs in this film, but there is also a story to chew on here. Secret Life of Pets really was not anything to write home about, unfortunately; it was cute, but not great.

Sing was good. It is not up there with Despicable Me and its sequels, but it is above Secret Life of Pets and leagues above Disney’s Zootopia, a film that was long on amazing animation and had just a drop of story in it. That film was a flash in the pan, sadly.

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Anyway, Sing takes place in a world full of anthropomorphic, talking animals, much like Zootopia. Specifically, it takes place somewhere in California, in a city that is like a mash-up of L.A. and San Fran, according to the movie’s creators. The lead character is a koala named Buster Moon, who owns a dilapidated stage theater. Buster fell in love with the stage and the showmanship required to run it when he was six. His father worked for thirty years to earn the money for Buster to buy the theater after this.

But things have not been going so well for Buster. None of the shows he has tried to produce have been a hit with the general populace, tickets have not been selling, and the bank is calling to tell him to settle his accounts or they will take the theater.

Desperate to save his theater, Buster hits upon the idea of holding a singing competition. He barely has enough money and “goods” for a prize for the winner, but he goes ahead with this plan anyway. The one kink in the arrangement is that his secretary has an accident and the flyers advertising his competition subsequently say the grand prize is $100,000 dollars, not $1,000.

Well, this brings everybody and his brother to audition for the competition. Buster picks out a motley crew from this crowd: Johnny, the son of a thief; Rosita, a stay-at-home mom of twenty-five piglets; Gunter, a European pig who is an enthusiastic singer and dancer; Mike, a street musician with slick paws; Ash, a porcupine rock star wannabe, and Meena, an elephant with a great voice who is too shy to sing in public.

Well, by and by, Buster finds out about his secretary’s mistake. But he still moves ahead with the competition, asking a famous former star of his theater’s golden days to sponsor the concert’s prize. But things go down the drain when Mike’s attempt to cheat mobster bears backfires in his face. The theater is destroyed and Buster briefly goes into an emotional tailspin as a result.

Now I will not spoil the ending for you, readers. But one of the things that I keep running across is a description of Buster by those who have seen Sing. They keep calling him “optimistic.”

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Normally, I do not take issue with this word. Optimistic, to me, generally just means looking for the silver lining in a situation you really wish you were not in. Nothing wrong with that; with very few exceptions, we can all find a little grace in undesirable circumstances. It could be in a ray of sunshine that slips across our faces at the right moment, a call from an old friend we have not heard from in a while, or good entertainment that lifts our spirits. There is nothing wrong with that at all.

No, my problem is when people use false optimism in place of the genuine theological – and therefore real – virtue of hope. This is actually Buster’s problem throughout most of the film. He is an optimistic little fella, sure. But he relies on an optimism founded on his self-belief as though it is hope. These two things are miles apart.

Optimism will give you a reason to smile when life hits you hard, and if it is founded in hope, then you are in good straits. But optimism founded on a belief in yourself and your own powers will not – cannot – keep you going. Buster is ready to quit after his theater is destroyed. His optimism, his belief in his ability to save his property, fails after the theater’s collapse. The negative press he receives after this only deepens his depression. He has no more hope after he loses what he was trying to save.

In contrast, none of Buster’s singing competitors are truly hopeful or even optimistic. They all have very good reasons not to be. Johnny’s father is a criminal who lands up in jail when his son does not show up with the getaway car in time. His dad practically disowns him after this. Rosita is a mom of twenty-five who thinks she has lost her ability to perform, if not her ability to sing, while Ash’s boyfriend dumps her and invites another girl into their shared apartment. That is one surefire way to kill optimism, I can tell you!

Mike is a con artist who wants a big score which will get him off the streets. He is in the competition, as he is in life, to win what he thinks is ultimate happiness – the perfect materialistic life. He repeatedly mocks the others, especially Rosita and Meena, who has no optimism because she believes her stage fright will make her look foolish in front of everyone. After the theater is destroyed and their dreams appear to disintegrate with it, none of the competition’s cast is optimistic.

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Even Gunter does not have optimism. You might think that is silly for me to say, once you see him; the guy almost never has a frown on his face. He is harder to put down than Buster.

And that, readers, is the point of the matter. Gunter does not have a misplaced optimism founded on himself and his abilities. What he has is hope. Hope is a fragile little virtue we treat like a penny. It is an easy word to bandy about but it has a meaning far deeper and richer than its four letters, just as a penny is worth more than its size would suggest. Hope is anticipation of something; the longing for some good and the trust that you will receive what you desire as long as you stay the course.

Buster goes through the movie thinking that he alone can save his theater. And when his last ditch scheme unravels, destroying his prized theater in the process, his optimism is shattered. He put his faith not in Someone else, not in his friends, not in the performers he gave hope to, but in himself. And let’s face it, readers; we disappoint ourselves more often than not. We are not all-perfect or all-powerful. Too many of us think we are, alas, but the fact is that none of us are God.

Now, this trust in his own powers does not make Buster a bad guy. The proof of this is that, although he sets up the competition and competitors in order to serve his own purposes, Buster gives most of his singers what they have lacked up to this point. He has given them hope by recognizing their talents and giving them a chance to show them off.

This is proved when his cast of performers – minus Mike – comes knocking on Buster’s door to try and encourage him to put the show on somewhere else. To Buster, the competition was meant to save his theater. It was not about his reputation or the money; he just wanted to keep that old theater alive in a world that had lost its taste for the art of the stage.

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To Johnny, however, the competition meant a chance to do what he has always enjoyed. It was a chance to be who he wanted to be, not who his father and the other members of his gang assumed he wanted to be. For Rosita, the competition was a chance to prove that she had not lost her touch; that she could still dance and sing, and thereby impress the people who took her for granted.

For Ash, the competition meant achieving her dream of becoming a rock star. Gunter’s dream of performing live and hamming up his enjoyment of singing and dancing could finally come true on this stage. And all Meena wanted was to get over her shyness so she could finally sing without fear.

Buster did not see any of that because he was too focused on what he wanted. That was not an evil thing, just a selfish mistake he made out of pure stubbornness. It is only when he happens to overhear Meena singing where no one can see her that Buster gains perspective. Hearing Meena sing, he realizes that she really does have talent. He remembers all the other singers and realizes that they do, in fact, have talent as well. He comes to understand that they deserve a chance to perform, and that he has a duty as a showman to see to it that they get that chance.

Meena’s singing is what gives Buster hope. His optimism is replaced with genuine hope as he remembers that he did not want the theater simply for the theater. He wanted it because of his desire to be a showman; to be the talent scout who would bring scenes of “wonder and magic” to an audience, just as he had been given a sense of “wonder and magic” by the performances at the theater when he was a child.

And let me tell you, Buster delivers on this by the end of the film. Not only does he deliver, but he even gets what he wanted in the end; to be the manager of the theater his father helped him buy. By helping his friends achieve their dreams, Buster regains his theater along with his love of showmanship.

Sing is a good story for this reason. It is a story about real hope, not false optimism. It also reminds us that “wonder and magic” are important to daily life; Sing urges the audience to keep practicing the arts we love that brighten the world and give people hope. For without a sense of the “wonder and magic” of the world, we quickly come to see everything through either Buster’s or Mike’s filtered lens. We either fall for false hope masked as “optimism,” which claims we can get whatever we want through our own power, or we chase after a phantom “perfect happiness” in this world. The latter will never be found in this universe of space and time, and the former only leads to misery.   I will take hope and wonder over these two things any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Well, readers, this is my opinion of Illumination Entertainment’s Sing. But you do not need to take my word on how good this film is. Borrow or buy it and watch it yourself. And do not forget to Sing whenever you feel like it!