DragonHeart (1996) – No Good Trope Goes Untwisted

If there is one thing we can agree on, it’s that most fantasy books and movies tend to lean on a series of expected tropes. The 1996 DragonHeart movie tries so hard to twist many of these tropes that the outcome is, well different.

Hi everyone! As a survival tactic, I’ve turned to some of my old favorite fantasy movies, and this one has stood the test of time better than others. Even better, they’ve made a handful of sequels that are begging to be explored. Fun fact: this is one of the few movies accidentally acquired because I rented the DVD then turned it into the wrong Hollywood Video. Does that date me, yes it does.

Evil Overlord

Perhaps the biggest trope that gets twisted in this movie is that of the evil overlord found in King Einon. He’s greedy and kills indiscriminately and doesn’t hold to the vows he’s taken. Where this gets twisted is that he has half of a good dragon’s heart so lots of story twisting has to happen for this villain to get what he deserves.

The Good Bad Dragon

Dragons in most fantasy are either all bad or all good. They are only around to either roast precious damsels and hoard gold or dispense much needed help to the main character. DragonHeart has a bit of both. All the villagers seem to agree that dragons are always bad and out to heat and eat their livestock. However, the nobility have insider info on the dragons where they are good and can be appealed to for favors. Our noble-ish night Bowen skirts that line by using the good nature of the dragon to blackmail poor villagers.

Willful Ignorance

There has to be some suspension of disbelief in all fantasy storytelling or the audience wouldn’t listen at all. We are willing to accept the existence of dragons in order to enjoy a good tale. Most stories have a few times where the main character refuses to believe an obvious truth because we like the whole twisty-ness of it all. In DragonHeart, Bowen has been searching the entire British Isles to kill off all of the dragons. When he gets to the last one and has to make a deal, he doesn’t realize this is the same dragon that he feels betrayed him. It’s not until it’s relevant to the story that the dragon reveals himself.

The Noble Sacrifice (Um, Spoiler Alert…)

This one happens all the time. Someone super important to the story has to sacrifice their life in order to make victory possible. In DragonHeart this gets super literal. The bad king, Einon, can’t die unless the dragon dies because he has half the dragon’s heart. They literally have to kill the dragon to emerge from the battle victorious. It’s bittersweet and noble (and such a stupid waste of perfectly good dragon!).

The Charming Rogue gone Good

Our dear knight is a good guy at heart who has bad things happen to him so he feels justified doing less than noble things to get by. Think Han Solo. He’s a good guy but also needs money and happens to have a few tricks up his sleeve. Bowen is charming and everything a gal could want in a rogue, but ultimately has to save the day by doing the last thing he’d ever want, kill a friend – in this case the dragon.

My review of DragonHeart

DragonHeart is entertaining even after all these years. The CGI is great considering the year this movie was released and the story is interesting and has some nice twists. There are a few things that will always bother me. Namely, the script is super kludgy and obvious – no subtlety here. Also, I wouldn’t have picked Dennis Quaid for a Medieval period piece, like at all.

It was fun to see actors like Jason Isaacs and David Thewlis when they are practically teenagers, especially since they both were in important rolls in Harry Potter.

For it being family friendly, I’d say it’s fine for the majority of families. There is violence stereotypical to standard Medieval fantasy (not Game of Thrones, mind you. More like Conan the Barbarian), mild depictions of injury and blood, no offensive language, and one cringey moment of bedroom innuendo that doesn’t result in anything.

For sentimentality’s sake I give DragonHeart 4/5 stars


If you like Dragon stories, check out these two anthologies!

Jodi L Milner is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil — Potential Gone Wrong

Hi dearest readers! I’m trying something new for a few weeks, if it works how I hope it might then it might end up a permanent change. I’ve recently started posting to Medium and am feeling my way around how to best share my articles with even more wonderful people like you. If it works well, it will also help me meet my business goals.

Enjoy.

To read the article – click here!

Added later – it appears that Medium and WordPress don’t like each other which makes it impossible to share a post preview here. Sigh.

Toy Story 4, a lesson about letting go

If Toy Story 1 taught us one thing as kids, it’s that our toys had this rich inner life that revolved around being the best toys they could be for their kids. This created a weird hoarding issue for many families. Getting rid of a toy meant the toy itself would feel bad about it for the rest of their little lives, or until they get incinerated in Toy Story 3. (Too soon?)

Either by a writers innate sense of creating balance in a long arc story line, or perhaps a rapidly declining likelihood of Tom Hanks willingness to voice Woody for the eternities, Toy Story 4 had one lesson – the importance of letting go.

A character-by-character study

Let’s start with Forky. He’s a fork that Bonnie has glued eyes and feet to. He doesn’t want to be a toy, he knows he’s meant to be disposable and that his destiny is a trash can. He spends the first half of the movie trying to throw himself away. He desperately wants to be let go because he doesn’t understand his importance to Bonnie.

In contrast, we have Woody who believes the worst thing that could ever happen to him is for his kid to no longer want or need him. He knows exactly who he is and what his role is supposed to be. He’s now struggling to adapt to change as Bonnie grows up.

Little Bo Peep is in the same boat as Woody. However, instead of fighting the change and the loss of her role as one kid’s toy, she has embraced her new lifestyle of being a toy who no longer has a kid. She has become a Mad Max style renegade vigilante of the playgrounds and goes from from place to place finding a new kids to play with. Compared to Forky and Woody, she has found fulfillment and happiness in her new role.

And finally we need to talk about Gabby Gabby, Toy Story 4’s unique villain. She was a defective toy right out of the box. The core belief that has driven her for an untold number of years is if she can get fixed, she can finally be loved. When she discovers that Woody has the part she needs, she will do anything and to get it.

The important lesson in Toy Story 4

Every toy in this movie had something they wanted. Woody wanted to take care of Forky because that was the best way he could take care of his kid. Little Bo peep wanted adventure and freedom. And Forky wanted to fulfill his destiny of becoming trash.

In each of these cases the toys needed to learn a valuable lesson before they could let go and move forward. What he learned that it was OK to let his responsibility to go to the other toys and let someone else take charge. Bo peep learned to make the best of challenging circumstances and do what she really loved. And Forky, dear Forky, learned that his destiny was much greater than being thrown away because a kid loved him.

Each one of us has a little bit of these characters hiding inside us. Sometimes we take responsibility for things that we should really let go to other people. Sometimes we need to learn how how to make the best of challenging circumstances. And sometimes the hardest part is figuring out who we really are and what our true destiny is.

What are your thoughts about Toy Story Four? Are you a Woody, Forky, or Bo Peep?


Exciting news!

I finally setup a mailing list to better help me connect to all of you out there in this wonderful community of readers. Sign up today and receive a free ebook of my short story “Breath” – a story about interconnection and the importance of seeking out one’s destiny. Click here to sign up today!

Thank you dear reader for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links. Or, even better, sign up to be part of my mailing list.

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Aladdin 2019, Hello Bollywood

Am I the last one to jump on this bandwagon? Yep. Am I going to use my usual excuse of literally not seeing the movie until last week again? Absolutely. After the whole fiasco with the live action Lion King, 2019, I had my doubts about watching another live action Disney. Hearing rumors of Will Smith being digitally painted blue didn’t help either.

But … I was pleasantly surprised. They took the original story from the 1992 Disney Aladdin, and breathed some new life into it, all without falling into the pitfall we call the uncanny valley. If they had decided to make Abu the monkey talk, then we would have had real problems.

What they did right

Any story that transports the viewer into a new time and place will have an inherent sense of wonder about it, and Aladdin is full of wonder. They created a gorgeous palace and city that felt full of history and culture. The costuming stayed true to the feel of the original animation, but was brought to life in a way that was both beautiful, colorful, and detailed.

Any story set in a foreign land that’s loosely based on a real one needs to be sensitive to offensive stereotypes and unfair comparisons. The very first Aladdin had a handful of these missteps that were corrected in a way that didn’t feel gimmicky. For instance, they swapped out the whole Aladdin runs through a harem bit. The harem is now clearly a school for girls.

Lastly, they framed the story in a new way that added a nice little twist at the end that I thought was charming. One of the biggest questions that the first movie struggled to resolved was ‘What happens to a genie when he is no longer a genie?” In the 1992 movie, Genie stayed magical and didn’t turn into a human. This didn’t seem right. So, the 2019 turned Genie human instead. Works for me.

What they got wrong

I know that CGI is a super fun toy and it lets movie makers create whatever they can dream up (and afford). But – for a critical audience, the best CGI is when you can’t tell there’s been any at all. Poor Abu got CGI slaughtered a few times. Nothing serious, just you could tell where real monkey ended and robomonkey began.

The use of fast and slow motion. This was a directorial choice. Guy Ritchie thought the chase through the market scene that happens when Aladdin runs parkour through Agrabah singing “One Jump” would be cooler if they altered the filming speeds. Dramatic moments were subtly slowed down and action sequences sped up. For me, it made it more silly than necessary.

Ugh, let’s talk about the awkwardness, shall we? Aladdin’s character is known as being a smooth talking, smooth moving street kid. The second he has to pretend he is a prince, all that smoothness flip flops into some amazingly awkwardness that had me hiding under a blanket. It was like 1997 all over again. I get why the awkwardness was important, Aladdin’s big message is that you have to be true to yourself. Whenever he wasn’t true to himself, he turned into a big lump of social disaster. A little awkward is great, funny even, but when it gets to cringe level, tone it down.

And Cue Bollywood!

As promised, let’s talk about how a film that’s meant to have very Arabic origins ended up just like a Bollywood style film. For reference, here’s some of the keystone needs of a Bollywood film:

“Standard features of Bollywood films continued to be formulaic story lines, expertly choreographed fight scenes, spectacular song-and-dance routines, emotion-charged melodrama, and larger-than-life heroes.”

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Bollywood-film-industry-India

Of the five criteria, Aladdin 2019 solidly hits at least three. The first and most obvious are the spectacular song-and-dance routines. The two that stand out are the parade welcoming Prince Ali Ababwa into Agrabah and then the wedding dance at the end of the movie. Both rely on large casts, bright costumes, tightly choreographed dances, and a catchy song.

The next of the three is the emotionally charged melodrama. Yep, we got that. Aladdin is playing a high stakes game with a princess, a sultan, and a nasty advisor. Melodrama is baked right in. Did I mention the tiger?

The last of the three is the formulaic story line. There are three wishes, we know what needs to happen, who needs to do what, and why it’s important. There’s an obvious enemy in Jafar. There’s an emotional problem where Aladdin needs to be true to himself. And there’s the secondary story line where the supporting cast may or may not fall in love. (No spoilers!)

All in all

I said it before, I’ll say it again. I thought it was a great movie. Fun to watch with the kids. Visually impressive. Good music. Entertaining story. It’s a great family movie night pick, or even a sing-a-long. My kids liked it, which is saying a lot.

I give the 2019 Aladdin 4 out of 5 stars, solidly good.


Thank you dear reader for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links. Or, even better, sign up to be part of my mailing list.

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Movie Review: Frozen II

Would you look at that! I actually made it to a movie while it was still in the theaters. As a Christmas treat, my family went to see Frozen 2. I think I was probably more excited about it than my kids. I LOVED everything about Frozen and had high hopes for the sequel.

The story

At the end of Frozen, Anna and Elsa have finally rebuilt their relationship as loving sisters and have overcome Elsa’s fear of her unique magic. In the process, they also showed Hans that true love is far more powerful than greed. It was a wonderfully well-balanced story that rocked between humor and powerful moments of self-realization.

Frozen 2 picks up a few years later. We kick off the story with a prologue showing Anna and Elsa as adorable little girls. The King tells them a bedtime story about how the elemental spirits were angered and formed a magical barrier locking everyone out of the Enchanted Forest. Yes, it’s literally called that. Using a prologue like this is important, because it makes it feel like this new story line always existed, even before the success of Frozen 1.

What would have been more effective is if they managed to make some cryptic mention of the mist-shrouded Enchanted Forest in the first movie, but I digress.

Fast forward to several years after the events of Frozen 1 and we see Anna, Elsa, Cristoff, and Olaf generally enjoying life as grownups. Elsa starts hearing a magical call that no one else can hear. After repeated attempts to ignore it, she bursts out into the song intended to be this film’s version of “Let it Go.” It even happens at the same point in the film. For my writer friends, this is the inciting incident. The whole movie is very literally textbook Hero’s Journey, if you keep track of things like that.

I don’t do spoilers, so let the vagueness begin.

Elsa is determined to find out where the call is coming from so she sets out on a quest. Anna insists on coming. Ever since the whole frozen heart incident, she’s pretty dead set on staying by Elsa’s side – forever. (see what I did there?) They set off with Cristoff and Olaf and by the virtue of Elsa’s powers are able to get through the mist.

One revelation follows another until we reach an epic showdown where both Anna and Elsa are in very real mortal danger. To survive, they must resolve a conflict that started years before either of them were born, the heart of the problem behind the formation of the mist.

My Review

There was so much potential for this movie to be amazing . When it came to beautiful animation, stunning settings, and engaging characters, this film truly did have all the elements of what could have been an amazing experience. However, there was so much crammed in there, that the movie ended up falling flat for me. It was simply trying too hard.

For me, the complexity killed it. Not only do we have a much larger cast, but also two distinct cultures in addition to the people of Arendelle. We meet the people to the north which are the equivalent to an indigenous tribe and the elemental powers belonging to a mysterious magical island isolated in the North Sea. Even as a seasoned storyist, I struggled to remember who was doing what and why.

There’s also a whole lot of more mature angst. Olaf has this running gag about what it must be like to be old and mature because he’s figuratively still only a few years old. He sings a song about it, surprise. Cristoff is trying to propose to Anna and failing over and over, and he sings a song about it as well. Yep, that’s the one you’ve probably heard about, the 80s rock ballad. Anna and Elsa struggle with the death of their parents and trying to protect each other and Arendelle, and both sing a lot about it. And then there’s the angst of all the secondary characters as well. Like I said. Complex.

Does all this angst get resolved? Come on, this is Disney. Of course it does. Are the solutions ingenious and surprising, but still make sense? I’ll give that a solid 60%. They hint at the solution hoards of times so when it happens it’s like, duh.

In Frozen 1, the themes were “love conquers fear” with a splash of “follow your heart.” In Frozen 2, they beat you over the head with the theme as “take the next right step.” It’s not as compelling to say the least.

My Recommendations

I would recommend this movie to those who fell in love with the characters of the original movie and are happy to just see them again. They’ve grown up, developed their personalities and interests, and have become more complex and interesting people. Those who love folklore and magical origins and lots of familial angst, this movie will definitely scratch that itch is well.

Honestly, it’s not a bad movie. It just doesn’t have the same kind of punch as the first. But I would warn those who were hoping for a similar mind-blowing powerful experience as the first movie, that you might be disappointed. They tried to shoehorn in so much that it felt forced and even, dare I say, gimmicky.

I rate Frozen II 3 out of 5 stars


Psst! It’s cover reveal week for the rerelease of Stonebearer’s Betrayal – here’s a sneak peek! Launch day is January 2nd, and preorders will open soon!

Quite possibly the best Christmas present ever. Too bad it hits the digital shelves Jan 2…

Thank you dear reader for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links. Or, even better, sign up to be part of my mailing list.

You can also find updates and post notifications on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram – chose the one you like the most!

Movie of the Month: Inside Out

Check it out! I actually made it to a show before it left the theaters!  Yippee! And the kids sat through the whole thing, which means I got to watch the whole thing from beginning to end without having to leave for a potty run or break up a fight. This, my friends, is a small miracle in itself.

INSIDE-OUT-18What can I say about this movie that hasn’t already been said? Being a Disney, it’s gotten more than it’s fair share of media attention. People are calling it revolutionary and unique. And they’re right. We haven’t seen anything like this before.

The story of Inside Out is layered.  The inside layer is a story all about Joy, one of the emotions that live inside of Riley’s head. Joy is determined to help Riley always be happy no matter what happens. Joy lives along side her fellow emotions anger, sadness, fear, and disgust. Each of these emotions can use the master control panel that control how Riley reacts in any given circumstance.

io_Joy_standardThe outside layer is Riley’s story, a happy eleven-year-old, who loves her family and being silly and playing ice hockey. However, everything changes when Riley’s family moves from the Minnesota to San Francisco.  Riley finds herself in a new school and new surroundings, everything is different and for any child, different is stressful and scary.

Still, Joy is determined to make things work and help Riley put on a happy face, even when she has some very real problems that need to be addressed. Joy forces Sadness to stay out of the way and refuses to let her take the controls. Joy’s efforts only make things worse and she and Sadness accidentally both get sucked out of headquarters and down into long-term memory storage.

This means that Riley can’t feel either joy or sadness and is stuck with fear, disgust, and anger.

Joy and Sadness must find a way back to headquarters before Riley makes a decision that might destroy her life.

fnd_mc_insideout

My Review:

I thought Inside Out was adorable and perfect for my young kids. It opens up avenues of discussion about what different emotions are and why each are important at the right time. The movie is clever, funny, and poignant and will send you home thinking about it for a long time.

One of my favorite parts (don’t worry, no spoilers here) is when we are allowed to see the headquarters inside different people’s and animal’s heads. Everyone and everything has the same set of emotions but each act very different depending on who or what they are. It comes at the very end of the movie and is hilarious.

If you like cute, imaginative, feel good movies with a message then you will love Inside Out. It’s not just for kids, it’s good for anyone who likes to think and feel.

However, there is a silliness warning. There are a few parts that do get a bit silly. If you get uncomfortable with things that are silly or childish then you might want to proceed with caution.

Movie of the Month: The Hobbit, Battle of the Five Armies

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve put off seeing the last installment of the Hobbit trilogy. It’s not that I didn’t want to see it, but I was disappointed with the first two and so when the third finally rolled around  the excitement simply wasn’t there to rush out and see it.

the-hobbit-the-battle-of-the-five-armies_images

Most Lord of the Rings fans agree that turning the Hobbit into a trilogy was a huge mistake on the part of the lovely people at New Line Studios. The book of the Hobbit is tiny and the choice to turn it into an 8+ hour-long saga was purely a marketing decision. They thought it would bring in the same huge crowds and mania that LOTR did.

It might have worked, had the world of Middle Earth been new.

Because we are all very familiar with the sights and spectacle of Middle Earth it doesn’t hold our attention as long. That, and there simply no epic setting reveals like there were in LOTR. In LOTR there was the introduction of Hobbiton, Lothlorien, Rivendale, Gondor, and the halls of Moria, to name a few. These settings were dramatic and beautiful and captured the imagination. In Hobbit there really isn’t anything that can rival them. The halls of Thranduil don’t quite measure up to the other Elven realms and the the Dwarvish interiors of the lonely mountain are not as impressive as what we saw before in Moria.

Which brings us to the story. Because the Hobbit was a short book, and one of the rare instances where it would actually be faster to read the book than to see the movies, lots of extra material had to be added to flesh out the story. Much of this material is pulled from Tolkien’s supplemental material and stays true to the history and cultures of Middle Earth, and to that effect makes the Hobbit an enjoyable movie to anyone who is a fan of Tolkien’s works.

However, for those who need a movie that doesn’t drag along through lengthy exposition and introductions, the Hobbit was a bit of a chore to watch. Much of the scenes that were supposed to create sympathy for lead characters ended up being forced and well, boring.

hobbit-poster

As for the final chapter of the Hobbit, it has its fair share of thrills and spills and emotionally charged material. We finally see the defeat of the dragon, but with it comes the near downfall of Thorin, the Dwarvish king. With Smaug out of the way, Thorin can take the lonely mountain throne at last, and with it, its massive trove of dragon gold. Dragon gold brings with it intense greed and paranoia which infects Thorin, turning him against his kin.

The mountain hold and it’s treasure attract the armies all fighting for what they believe they are entitled to. Men, elves, orcs, dwarves, and eagles all join in the fight. Thorin, with the help of Bilbo and his kin, is reminded what is really important and leads the charge against the orcs. The fight doesn’t go well, there are heavy losses on all sides. Thranduil hates that elvish blood is being spilled for what he deems a fruitless endeavor. Bard, the reluctant leader of men, does his best to protect his people. In the end it’s the dwarves who pay the heaviest price.

In a scene much like when Boromir dies in LOTR, Thorin pays for the victory against the Orc general, Azog, by sacrificing himself. The movie ends on a bittersweet note where the good guys win but we ask ourselves, was it worth it?

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After everything, I give the last installment of the Hobbit a 6 out of 10. I liked it, it was enjoyable, but in the end it didn’t quite meet my expectations. It moved slowly, many of the emotional scenes felt forced, and in the end we didn’t get our happy ending.

Did you see The Hobbit? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.

Movie of the Month: Interstellar

interstellar-3840x2160This month’s featured movie is the sci-fi adventure Interstellar, a hard-hitting space drama that’s torn between the efforts to save humanity and one man’s fight to stay connected to his family.

If you like movies similar to Inception, where there is plenty of brain bending to make the story work, then Interstellar is right up your alley. It’s not as far out as Cloud Atlas, so don’t worry – but there are a few 2001: Space Odyssey type elements floating around that make it a little strange.

interstellar_3

Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a pilot turned corn farmer in Earth’s last desperate attempt to continue to feed itself. Humanity is indeed on the brink as blight kills off crops, much like the great potato famine. It is clear that the situation is not going to improve and so an undercover NASA program is tasked to find a way of preserving the human race.

Their solution is to find a new world to colonize. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. The nearest habitable worlds are light years away and any efforts to find them are futile simply because of the amount of time it would take. Interstellar had a whole team of astrophysicists figure out how it could be done and then used their calculations to generate the imagery in the film, cool eh?

In Interstellar, there is a singularity located conveniently within our solar system that leads to a different system with several potential habitable worlds. However, due to a bunch of theory of relativity issues, any landfall the explorers make results in epic time loss for those on earth and also anyone who remains on the ship. This results in a very fast paced film as Cooper fights for every second lost in order to reunite with his daughter.

It’s the last third of the film that gets a little screwy. The explorers find themselves in a hopeless situation. There is no way to return important data back to earth for NASA’s colony ship to be able to break free from the surface (another plot strand…) and there is no way for the explorers to survive on the current alien world. They have to decide if they are going to sacrifice themselves to save humanity or save themselves but doom civilization.

interstellar-anne-hathawayThe only way to get the needed data back is to send a probe into the black hole. Cooper and Amelia (played by Anne Hathaway) must separate to give the greatest chance at success.  Amelia’s ship has colonizing equipment to set up another home world and can ensure the survival of the species should the worst outcome happen, so her success is critical. Cooper takes the other part of the ship and heads into the blackhole.

He ends in a time bent fifth dimentional tesseract that enables him to pass on the needed information to NASA. I said it got trippy –  this is the epicenter of trippy here and why I reference Space Odyssey.  Turns out that all the strange phenomenon that they had seen in the beginning of the film was actually Cooper in the fifth dimension trying to communicate with his daughter in the past.

Do I recommend Interstellar? Yes, with caution. This is a film meant for people who love to think in an abstract and twisted way. Those who just like a good story that doesn’t demand much of the watcher will find themselves lost and confused quickly. If you like time travel paradoxes, you’ll like it. If you don’t, then I wouldn’t recommend it.