Keep Training Those Dragons

Yesterday was end of term for Matthew and Daniel, and we had a timely treat in store for the boys. How To Train Your Dragon 2 hit the big screen this week. Matthew has been waiting for this to come out as soon as he’d seen the first instalment.

How to Train Your Dragon introduced us to Hiccup, son of Chief of Berk, Stoic. Hiccup isn’t an ordinary Viking, and can’t bring himself to kill dragons. In fact, he goes the other way and befriends a nightfury dragon, Toothless. Together, they change the course of Berk and make peace between the Vikings and the dragons.

The sequel picks up the story 5 years later and introduces a threat to Berk and the freedoms of the dragons. I’ll not give out any spoilers. But any fear of the sequel to a great introduction being a disappointment was soon dispelled. The story was engaging and nicely continued Hiccup’s coming of age. The animation is good – of not better than ever, and the script gave us laughs and tears, excitement and tension.

Its rare for a sequel to be better than the original, but this time that’s just what has come out. We know the characters so well this time round and we’re right behind them – so much so that Daniel was cheering at the movie’s climactic action scene.

For Matthew – and Daniel to a lesser degree – it was more than worth the wait. We’d just come out of the cinema and they were needing us to see if there’s going to be a third instalment. There is – due to come out in 2016 – so the countdown is on already. One of the countdowns that is – Matthew is already asking for the Blu Ray version of the movie. Hopefully that will hit the shelves by Christmas.

If you’re looking for a wonderful 2 hour treat for you and your little ones, you can’t go wrong with How To Train Your Dragon 2. You’ll laugh, cry and cheer. The perfect way to get the summer holidays underway.

Everything is Awesome About The Lego Movie

Today was the end of weeks of waiting for Matthew – and Daniel – today we were going to see The Lego Movie ( https://theworldofneil.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/lego-pressure/) Jane and I were crossing our fingers that it would live up to Matthew’s expectations. He’s been talking about nothing since he heard it was to be in the cinema this month. He’s watched so many clips it seemed like he’d seen the full movie! He has already told us he wants it on DVD – before he’d seen it! Well, would two Lego-loving boys be impressed or underwhelmed?

I must admit that I wasn’t sure it looked to good. A couple of clips I saw had a couple of so-so gags in it. Maybe it would fail to deliver and we’d be left disappointed. I shouldn’t have worried. Right from the start it was brilliant. Definitely a kids movie on the surface, but with humour pitched on two levels so to keep the adults in the audience engaged. Hard to not like a movie with Morgan Freeman in it. But it was definitely Chris Pratt as lead character Emmett who stole the show. He ultimately lead us on a journey that reminded us toys are meant for free play, not to focus the mind on a specific goal. I know some of the modern day Lego sets are often stunning kits, but they leave little to the imagination.

I’m not going to go into a blow-by-blow account of the movie – just go and see it. I went in reasonably looking forward to it, but came out thrilled by it. It had plenty of slapstick humour in it for the kids but the gags in the dialogue were equally brilliant. A combination of the two was a hilarious end result at times. A kids movie that has adults laughing out loud is a brilliant success by the writers and director. The success of it lay in marrying up well known fictional characters and putting them in unexpected situations. Will Arnett as Batman was brilliantly done. Even he recognises that ultimately its Emmett that’s the real hero.

What made it a success for us was the fact that the boys sat transfixed for the movie’s 1 hour & 40 minutes. Anything that has two ASD boys sitting still – and holds their attention – for that length of time has definitely done something right. Matthew was beaming when we came out of the cinema. The look on his face was a picture. It turned out that Lego had definitely delivered for him. It was quite a relief really. He just couldn’t stop talking about it – or stop singing the catchy little tune that runs through the movie (and through your head once you’ve heard it!) “Everything is Awesome” There was no question whatsoever that for Matthew (and Daniel) that The Lego Movie definitely was AWESOME! For me, it was an unexpected gem, and I can foresee it becoming a firm favourite in our house once it hits DVD format.

Well done Lego. Thanks to you, Everything is Awesome!

A Canterbury Tale Movie Time

Christmas holidays for me on TV usually involves watching old movies. Anything from Johnny Wiesmuller’s Tarzan to Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes via Will Hay and Abbott & Costello and lots in between. Today though it was the turn of one of my top five movies of all time, the enduring adaptation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Its the 1944 release of A Canterbury Tale, and I’ve loved it since the first time I saw it.

The movie is set in wartime rural Kent (and Canterbury, obviously!) and centres around 4 characters, who ultimately all make their own pilgrimage to Canterbury for their own reasons – Alison Smith (Sheila Sim), British Army sergeant Peter Gibbs (Dennis Price), US Army seageant Bob Johnson (John Sweet) and Thomas Colpepper (Eric Portman). Smith, Gibbs & Johnson arrive in the town of Chillingborne where Smith is attacked by the “glueman” who pours glue in her hair before running off. The movies then deals with Smith, Sweet & Gibbs’ investigation of the attacks (11 other women had been attacked.) The movie also deals with Johnson’s acceptance of the Anglo-American differences, and his learning of the English way of life. Ultimately their investigation identifies the culprit as local magistrate & gentleman farmer Thomas Colpepper. Colpepper was acting in good faith, attempting to protect local women from soldiers stationed nearby, and also to remove distractions from the soldiers so they could attend his lectures on local history. The four meet on the train into Canterbury – their pilgrimage for blessing or penance. In a beautifully photographed scene, Sim, Price & Sweet are sitting next to each other on the train – on the bench – as the train passes through a tunnel, giving the impression of them sitting in judgement of Portman’s Colpepper. Colpepper accepts his fate, reiterating that he acted in good faith. Gibbs intends informing the Canterbury police.

The end of the movie is lovely. Smith receives her blessing in the form of being told her fiancé is still alive, having been feared killed in action. His father tells Smith, and tells her he no longer objects to their marriage. Johnson meets an army friend who hands him a wad of letters from Johnson’s girlfriend. Johnson had received no correspondence from her, believing her no longer interested. He receives his blessing with the letters. Gibbs – a cinema organist – is blessed when he is allowed to play Bach on Canterbury Cathedral’s organ. His conversion to an understanding of the rural Kentish land and its people leads to his decision not to report Colpepper to the police, meaning that Colpepper receives a blessing rather than the expected penance.

Its a wonderful movie, and remains one of my very favourites. What is special for me is its neo-romantic view of the English countryside. It paints a beautiful version of rural England that harks back to a time gone by. It reminds me – and all of us – what is really important and is worth protecting. The “local” characters are endearing and it just leaves me with a feeling of how wonderful it would be to exist in such a bucolic time and place. The central characters – Smith and Johnson in particular – come close to my heart, and you can feel their pain as they seek a blessing on their personal pilgrimages. Indeed, the same can be said for Gibbs who clearly feels unfulfilled as a cinema organist. Its a lovely gentle journey as each of the characters ends up playing out their moral choices, which gives each of them peace.

Next year (2014) is the 70th anniversary of this beautiful, if commercially unsuccessful movie. Its premiere in 1944 coincides with my birthday of 11th May (not 1944 I hasten to add!) I’m already planning to sit down and enjoy it once more to mark the 70th anniversary of its initial screening. Its a big part of British cinema to me. My own pilgrimage in honour of the movie may well be just as far as the sofa to watch it, but I know I’ll be blessed by 2 hours of beautifully crafted British film making.

A Frozen Christmas Treat

*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***

Today to get in the Christmas spirit – and mark the start of my Christmas holidays – we took the boys to the cinema to see Disney’s latest animated offering, Frozen. I’d seen one or two websites describing it as the best Disney animated feature in 30 years, so as we’ve had the amazing Toy Story series in amongst those 3 decades, I was curious to see what the fuss was about. Tonight I found out.

The movie centred on two sisters, the eldest – Elsa – of whom had special powers – she could create snow & ice. After an accident where she injures her young sister, Anna, the King and Queen take Anna to trolls who save Anna. To protect Anna, the King and Queen tell Elsa that she needs to hide away from everyone, Anna included. So begins Anna’s separation from her sister, much to her distress. In time, the King and Queen are lost at sea, and Elsa becomes Queen. The castle gates are opened, and the public are admitted for her coronation, something she fears. Anna has a chance meeting with Prince Hans, youngest of 13 brothers. They immediately hit it off, and agree to marry. Elsa wants nothing of anyone coming to live at the castle for fear of her powers being exposed. Anna’s “engagement” angers Elsa, and her powers manifest themselves in catastrophic circumstances in front of the populace, shrouding the kingdom in eternal winter. Elsa flees, setting her up as Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen, preferring to live her life in isolation to protect Anna. Anna sets off in search of Elsa, hoping she will reverse the eternal winter. She meets Kristoff, his reindeer Sven and a living snowman, Olaf – created by Elsa and Anna when they were children. Ultimately, there is a confrontation involving Elsa, Anna & Hans resulting in Anna being fatally injured. Her heart is frozen, and only an act of true love can save Anna from death.

Kristoff hurries Anna back to the castle, thinking that its Hans’ kiss that will save her. Hans though was only interested in a marriage of convenience as with 12 elder brothers, he’d have no chance of assuming the throne. His plan was looking like a success with Anna near death, and Elsa seen as a traitor and a death sentence hanging over her. Kristoff leaves the Kingdom believing Anna to have been saved. But Sven convinces him that his place is back in the Kingdom helping Anna. He rushes back to save her, and at this point we’re believing that the twist is that its the common man who gives Anna true love’s kiss. Anna escapes Hans and is searching for Kristoff in the midst of a snow storm created by a frantic Elsa. Anna, near death but about to be saved by Kristoff is forced to help Elsa, who is about to be killed by Hans. Anna finally gives in to the ice in her body, and freezes but in the act of saving Elsa. But its her sacrifice, signifying her love for her sister that saves Anna. This revelation convinces Elsa that love can save her and can control her power. The kingdom returns to summer, and the sisters are reunited in love.

But did it meet expectations? Well for starters the animation was lush and gorgeous. Absolutely smooth and seemless. We almost don’t need live action because the animation is so good. That was a big plus for me. The setting too was fantastic. A snow/ice setting is cinema’s finest setting, and the incredible effects brought across the true power of Elsa. The central characters were engaging and the fantasy of it all helped make them all the more believable. What really worked though was the songs. They were all sweeping grand epics in traditional style. They were very theatrical in nature, and were reminiscent of Hollywood’s golden era of musicals, but with a contemporary twist. The duet between Anna and Elsa in the Snow Queen’s ice palace was a wonderful piece of cinema. There really was something for everyone. A classic fairy tale, fantasy adventure, magic and sweeping songs. In short, Disney absolutely nailed it, and upon reflection, I think I would indeed consider it Disney’s finest animated offering in years, firmly putting in in place at the top of the movie world’s animators once again.

Another Great Ride from Peter Jackson

I finally went to see the Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug last night. Its been years since I read the Hobbit, so it was a fine way to be loosely reacquainted with Tolkein’s masterpiece. I thought Jackson did another great job. It was a difficult job I suspect to manage to get three films out of the Hobbit, but he’s done it without leaving me feeling like the movies have been drawn out. The non-stop action definitely helps, as does the excellent performances of Martin Freeman, Ian McKellern and Richard Armitage. I must admit to loving James Nesbitt’s portrayal of Bofur. He always seems on the edge of laughter, and scenes with him are terrific.

The introduction of Orlando Bloom, reprising his role as Legolas, was a big point of the movie. When Bilbo and the Dwarves encountered the elves in Mirkwood, it was the start of some fantastic action. The following fight scenes with the elves were memorable, particularly during the scene were the quest was fleeing from the Elves captivity. The fight seen down the river was beautifully choreographed. Evangeline Lilly was brilliant as Tauriel. and showed her human side when concerned with Kili’s fate. It was her concern for him that led to her – and Legolas – defying Thranduil to leave the borders of the Elven woodland realm. They came up with another superb fight scene in Esgaroth towards the end of the movie.

Lee Pace as Thranduil was superb for me. Where Hugo Weaving portrayed the arrogance and aloofness of the elves in Lord of the Rings, Pace took it to a whole new level. A confirmed xenophobe, thinking of no one but himself – and his realm – Pace was brilliantly cold as the Elvenking. I think the fight with the spiders, and the Dwarves run-in with Thranduil was the bit I was looking forward to most. Not that the rest of the movie was a let down in any way.

But the thing I’ve enjoyed most about Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the Hobbit – and Lord of the Rings – has been his visualisation of the books. Gandalf’s visit to Dol Goldur to ultimately discover that Sauron had taken form again was superb. Dol Goldur looked as it should. Heavy with an air of evil and forboding. It looked exactly as I thought it should – a lot like Jackson’s visualisation of Barad Dur in Lord of the Rings.

But, the scenes with Bilbo, Smaug & the Dwarves in Erebor was amazing. The visualisation of Smaug was fantastic. The vastness of Erebor was superbly done, and the closing scenes with the quest fleeing from Smaug were enthralling, in particular when the dwarves re-lit the forges in their attempt to kill Smaug. It was a fabulous end to a great movie, and I can’t wait for There and Back Again next year. Will I read the Hobbit again before then? Hmm, I think I’ll wait an enjoy the movie first. After another thrilling instalment from Peter Jackson, next December can’t come soon enough.

More Movie Obsessions and Autism.

I’ve posted before on Matthew’s obsessions, and his obsessional behaviour where movies are concerned in particular. Well, today we’re seeing another one of those in action. Today we got our delivery from Asda, and Jane had included a Chinese banquet in the order, and the boys love it when we have that – everything is put out on the table, and they can take their pick while we watch a movie. That’s quickly become a bit of a tradition in our house. Usually we eat at the dining table without the distraction of the TV, but when we have takeaway, its in the living room with a movie.

Now, we’ve got a sackload of DVD/blu-rays on our shelves, from Star Wars to Indiana Jones to Curious George and lots in between. But for Matthew, we can only watch one. One of Matthew’s big ASD traits is his association of objects with a particular place or situation. For example, when he sees school friends en route to/from school, or at school, he’ll say hello etc. When he sees them in shops? He’ll almost ignore them. To be fair, Daniel is similar in that regards as he’ll shy away from interacting with school friends away from school, although he has made big strides in that area this years as he’s been round to some friends’ houses nearby to play – and for tea on occasion!

Back to my point though! When we first had takeaway and a movie, Matthew picked the excellent Despicable Me to watch. To Matthew, that instantly became associated with takeaway. Just try and put on something different, and you’ve got no chance. For Matthew, DM is associated with takeaway, and that’s that. He’s happy to watch it over and over again, and thankfully unlike some of the things he watches, its an enjoyable movie with endearing and likeable characters. Its got more than its fair share of slapstick in it, so there are plenty of laughs while we eat. The only trouble with it is that it does take Matthew’s attention away from the food. Even though he loves Chinese, he does need to be helped to concentrate on his plate to ensure he’s getting enough to eat. At least we’ve got the threat of taking the meal to the dining table and switching the TV off. That’s enough of a threat to usually get him eating!

But its a reminder of Matthew and what he is. Sometimes we see the obvious signs of autistic behaviour in our children, but often its the little things that act as a the bigger reminder. Something as simple as the choice of movie for takeaway. Its just the association Matthew has made between movies and takeaway, and nothing we could do will change that. If it makes Matthew happy, then Despicable Me it will continue to be.

A Very Merry Mix Up

**This contains spoilers**

Last night, Jane & I landed on the Christmas 24 movie channel just in time to see a recently released TV movie, A Very Merry Mix Up.

The story started with struggling antique store owner Alice (Alicia Witt) and property developer boyfriend Will (Scott Gibson) in Alice’s store, with Alice talking about a clock she has in stock. Will shows no appreciation for any of the items, but makes attempts to get Alice to sell up. Will proposes to Alice that evening, and despite some misgivings, Alice says yes. Will suggests they spend Christmas with his parents and announce their engagement. Alice flys off first, as Will has business to tie up.

The mix up referred to in the title of the movie occurs at Alice’s destination airport where her luggage goes missing. As fate would have it, an other passenger – Matt (Mark Wiebe) is having the same problem when a hand crafted gift he made also went missing. Matt accidentally spills coffee on Alice, shorting out her phone in the process meaning she has lost the address of Will’s parents. Matt apologies and offers Alice a lift. Oddly, Matt’s surname is the same as Will’s, and he expresses surprise when he says he has a brother Will – referred to as Billy – but he didn’t realise he even had a girlfriend. Matt and Alice head off to Matt (and Will’s) parents. En route, they have a car accident, and end up in hospital, where Alice meets Matt’s parents. They too are surprised to meet their future daughter-in-law, but immediately offer to take her to their house for the holidays.

Matt and Alice had been told by the doctor to not sleep for 24 hours to ensure they weren’t concussed, but that isn’t a problem as Matt’s mother and father – who Alice bonds with immediately make sure they remain awake. After Matt’s mother & father retire for the evening, Matt and Alice try to remain awake, and start to make cookies, and find themselves getting closer and closer. Alice grows even closer to the family who have made her so welcome. Matt explains the love story with his grandfather and deceased grandmother. Alice is captivated by the story, and it brings her even closer to Matt. It turns out that he is a craftsman, who makes furniture and clocks, a passion close to Alice’s heart. Alice then meets Matt’s grandfather, who takes to Alice immediately. The bonding between Alice and Matt & his family appears complete. Then Will (Billy) turns up.

Well, of course, it isn’t Will at all, and that it was a massive coincidence that landed Alice with Matt and his family. She is regretful and having to leave as she realised how special Matt and his family are. She is collected by Will who finally arrives (having done a cloak & dagger deal to sell Alice’s shop to facilitate a huge development on the block her store was located.) She finds that Will’s family is very different to Matt’s. They are all self-absorbed with no inclination to express any joy or Christmas spirit. Alice begins to wonder about whether or not its what she wants. She meets with Matt one more time for a walk, as Will shows no inclination to partake is such a frivolous activity. Regretfully, they part, and Alice returns to Will.

Matt meanwhile mournfully confesses to his mother that he though he and Alice had bonded. His mother agrees, as she had take to Alice immediately, like the rest of them. Matt gives up on the who things, thinking he’d lost his chance with Alice. Meanwhile, Will tells Alice and his parents that he had a surprise for Alice – that she was a millionaire after he’d agreed a deal for selling her shop. Alice is taken aback by this, as the shop had been her father’s and grandfather’s and that her sense of obligation to her family was strong. She needs time to think, and while she is considering it, Matt’s grandfather visits to deliver a gift from Matt to Alice. He reminds her of his wife’s message – true love can be found in eternity. On returning to the house, Will tells Alice he has another gift, even though his family don’t do Christmas gifts. It’s a lease to another shop so Alice can move her store. She tells him it won’t be her father’s store anymore. She tells Will she feels sick, and runs to the bathroom. She suddenly thinks to open Matt’s gift. Inside is a small hand-made clock. A loud ticking echoes that of the clock, and Alice’s life is spinning. It suddenly stops at 11.58pm – exactly the time she met Matt. Will comes in, and tells her again she should sell her shop, and that it was because of the development. Alice finally realises that this was not for her, and that the special bond she’d made with Matt and his family were what she needed. She gives her apologies to Will, and leaves, looking for Matt.

She and Matt have an emotional reunion, and Alice tells him that she had lost sight of who she was when she was with Will. Alice tells Matt that she loves him, and the scene with them together morphs into the picture on the clock in Alice’s store at the start of the movie. The movie finishes with Alice and Matt in her store where Matt finds an antique wedding ring. The movie ends at that point with the implication Matt and Alice would marry, after fate had taken its course.

Much to our amazement, we had enjoyed the movie. It was harmless, but lovely. It was obvious from the opening scenes that Will wasn’t for Alice, and that she would realise what her heart really desired. It was a heart-warming tale that was perfect for this time of the year. Alicia Witt & Mark Wiebe was excellent, and we got the happy ending we were looking for. If you see this on your TV listings, take the time for it. Its 90 minutes of Christmas cheese, but it will leave a warm feeling. It would get a 7/10 from this viewer.