Tag Archives: T. J. Miller

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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Transformers: Age of Extinction

Well, readers, here I am. Transformers: Age of Extinction has been out since last year, but I did not see it until recently. I was much preoccupied with other things when the film first came out, so I did not watch it in theaters. Plus, I was rather disappointed with the first three Transformers movies (especially Revenge of the Fallen), so I was not sure I wanted to see Age of Extinction.

But curiosity got the better of me, and one day I tried looking up some of the scenes from the film. I did this several times until I decided I should just rent the DVD and watch the movie. And that is what I did.

All things considered, I enjoyed Transformers: Age of Extinction more than the first three Transformers films. Age of Extinction’s lead human character, Cade Yeager (portrayed by Mark Walhberg), is a human who can roll with the punches in the film and is much less intimidated by his situation. Shia Labeouf’s character was too busy having a panic attack every time the flak started flying; I do not know what the scriptwriters were thinking with the first three Transformers films and, judging by the results, I am not sure I want to know.

Walhberg’s Cade Yeager was the big selling point of Extinction in my opinion, as I mentioned above. He did not whine about being thrust into an alien war, he jumped in and started shooting – several times!

The other great thing about Cade being the movie’s lead human, and the wonderful thing about his more mature approach to the battle, is how he bonds with Optimus Prime. Like Cade, Optimus is front and center in Age of Extinction. The Autobot leader’s previous roles in the prior Transformers films were somewhat distant and trimmed down. Optimus had a big part in each film, but none of those films managed to give us an idea of what really and truly drives him.

Yes, Optimus fights for truth, justice, and freedom in all the films. But he does not do this for himself; he does it for his Autobots. And humans, once the Autobots land on Earth.

This is where Age of Extinction gets really interesting. Optimus’ desire to protect and defend those who are not able to look out for themselves is sorely tested when a special CIA unit begins hunting down and destroying all the Cybertronians on Earth, without the knowledge of the government. Autobots and Decepticons alike are targeted and taken down, their remains hauled away to be studied and duplicated by a private company. Optimus himself narrowly escapes capture in Mexico City. He races across the border, severely injured, and finally goes into stasis inside an old theater in Paris, Texas.

Cade finds him there and, mistaking the Autobot leader for a wrecked semi-truck, buys him from the proprietor of the crumbling theater. He hauls the “truck” to the home he shares with his daughter, Tessa. Trying to earn enough money to pay off the mortgage, the electric bill (Cade is siphoning electricity off of the grid via his neighbor), as well as acquire enough money to put Tessa through college, Cade turns toward Optimus and decides to strip him down for parts. When he begins poking under the hood, however, he realizes he has not bought a truck but a Transformer.

Further prodding leads him to discover a missile in the Autobot’s engine. He pulls it out and learns the missile is live – though it does not blow up in his face. With the missile out of his engine, Optimus awakens and transforms.

Having been betrayed by humans, Optimus is not a happy camper when he comes to. But he is also not in a position to really defend himself either, let alone escape. Still, he is determined to protect his Autobots.

Drawn to the Autobot leader by sheer curiosity, Cade points out that Optimus will not get far in his current condition and offers to repair him. Personally, I think Cade was also moved by Optimus’ constant murmurs about returning to his Autobots. As a father, Cade understands what it is like to worry about someone he is supposed to take care of. The fact that this alien being cares about others of his kind in a similar way leads him to realize that Optimus is not a monster or a lump of mindless metal. He is, in essence, a father who is very much concerned about the Autobots under his command, as they are the closest thing he has to children.

I thought this theme was repeated several times in the film. It first recurred when the CIA arrive at Cade’s property and discover the missile he dug out of Optimus’ engine in the trash. When Cade slips and mentions he knows nothing about “him” in reference to the “truck” he had bought, the CIA pin him and Tessa to the ground. Threatening to kill Tessa unless Cade tells them where Optimus is, Cade says he was in the barn, even though the agents had already cleared the building. Whether Cade was aware that Optimus had ducked into his barn’s cellar or not, he gave the CIA agents no more information but begged them to release his daughter.

Hidden in the cellar, Optimus hears Tessa’s screams and Cade’s pleas. Knowing that Cade is still protecting him, even with the threat to his daughter’s life, Optimus busts out of the cellar and buys the Yeagers time to escape.

Optimus is, of course, naturally inclined to defend those who cannot defend themselves. But the interesting thing about this is he has been betrayed by humans, and although he allows Cade to begin repairing him, he is still wary of the human. So was it his natural protective instinct which made him come to the Yeagers’ defense, or was it hearing a human father trying desperately to protect his daughter?

Personally, I think it was the latter. Optimus would do whatever was necessary to protect his Autobots, and anyone with a cork eye could see Cade was willing to do anything he needed to do to keep his daughter safe.

Viewers do not have to wait much longer for more hints of Cade and Optimus’ growing friendship. After escaping the CIA, Optimus takes Cade, Tessa, and the girl’s now not-so-secret boyfriend, Shane, to the Nevada desert. There they meet up with the remaining Autobots – Crosshairs, Hound, Drift, and Bumblebee. When the humans make camp with the Autobots that night, Drift insults and starts a fight with Bee, prompting Crosshairs to say that he has been waiting for the other ‘Bots to kill each other off so he could go off on his own. Noting the dismal state of discipline among the Autobots, Cade turns to Optimus and says bluntly, “Well, it looks like you’ve been missed.”

While it is possible that Cade was being sarcastic, pointing out that Crosshairs and Drift were unconcerned about Optimus’ return, I have a different theory. To me, it sounded as if Cade was talking to Optimus as a fellow father, implying something like this in his statement, “See what the kids get up to while we dads are away? You leave ‘em alone for five minutes and they start a brawl which wrecks half the living room.”

Later, while working on infiltrating KSI, the company dismantling dead Autobots and Decepticons, Cade chides Tessa and Shane for getting cozy on a nearby couch. Tessa marches out in a fury and Cade mutters something like, “She never listens.”

Optimus’ reply is: “Yeah. I had the same problem with Bumblebee.”

In contrast to the friendship between Bee and Sam in the preceding Transformers movies, Cade and Optimus’ friendship is given much more attention and development in this film. Bee and Sam were too busy being teenagers in their separate worlds after the first Transformers film to really be friends. Sam had to leave Bumblebee behind when he went to college in Revenge of the Fallen, and in Dark of the Moon, he is barely allowed to contact any of the Autobots, let alone Bee.

It is possible that any sequel Transformers films will similarly separate Cade and Optimus, but for now I will not get into that. Suffice it to say that, in Age of Extinction, Optimus and Cade gain a great respect for each other because of the fact that they are both in positions of authority and care for those under their charge. Cade respects Optimus for this; he also understands his feelings of betrayal and bitter resentment towards humans.

For his part, Optimus learns from Cade that humans are prone to making mistakes. But mistakes, Cade points out, are how humans learn. If Optimus pays attention only to those humans who persist in error, then he will condemn not only them but all mankind – especially the innocent humans who learn from their mistakes – to an evil fate.

It is Cade’s hopefulness, his willingness to pick himself up and dust himself off after making a mistake, which leads Optimus to realize that, while humans and Cybertronians are very different from each other, they do have one thing in common. They are equally capable of good and evil. There are humans who are as evil as Decepticons. The wheat and the thorns grow up together; until harvest time, there is no way to separate them without hurting the wheat.

Optimus learns the lesson well, telling the Autobots before he leaves Earth to protect the Yeagers and to “protect all they can be.”

On the whole, Age of Extinction is a definite improvement over the previous Transformers films. It is a bit too long, but it is much better than the first three movies and gives me hope that any sequel Transformer installments will only get better.

So, readers, “Let’s roll out!”

Later,

The Mithril Guardian

http://borg.com/2014/01/02/all-the-movies-youll-want-to-see-in-2014/

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http://borg.com/2014/12/29/borg-coms-best-movies-of-2014/

http://borg.com/2014/11/03/transformers-age-of-extinction-comes-to-blu-ray-in-stunning-3d-imax/