May 14th, 2010

How To Train Your Dragon

"How to Train Your Dragon" is a simply charming and exciting film,
despite its quirks. The fact that all the adult Vikings talk with Scots
accents (Georgie suggests the island they are living on "Berk", is in
fact one of the Shetlands or other ones north of Scotland and that the
Vikings may have assimilated the local tongue when taking over--), and
the young people have none (or "American" accents) has been mentioned by
a number of critics, but it doesn't really bother you after a while. (It
may be intended to be indicative of the generational divide between the
set-in-their-ways elders and the more adaptable youngsters.)
Other anomalies are harder to explain: The narrator "Hiccup" (Jay
Baruchel) tells us that Vikings have ugly names to keep the trolls away.
However, the female lead, voiced by America Ferrara, is named "Astrid,"
which means "Divine Beauty" in Old Norse. Eh? It doesn't really matter,
but sloppiness like that annoys me--.
The basic plot is a familiar one: misfit boy finds and befriends the
wounded monster; is discovered and becomes a pariah; comes back and
saves the day. But it is VERY well done. The story is told with a lot
of wit, humor, and irony, and general attention to detail: Hiccup's
dragon-riding harness has practical details such as a safety line
(giving rise to a dramatic moment when it fails--), which don't seem to
be thought of in other flying critter movies. The appearance and
personality of "Toothless" , Hiccup's dragon, is supposedly modeled on a
cat, which seems partly true, but there is definitely horse in there as
well. I liked the fact that Toothless, though expressive, doesn't talk,
and really seems to be more of an intelligent beast than some kind of
magical companion.
There are some surprises in the plot, notably the secret of the dragon
lair, which add to the interest. And, even in 2-D, I thought the flying
scenes were beautiful and thrilling, and better for my money than the
equivalent bits in "Avatar". I liked also that Hiccup's ultimate
victory is not without a cost (and not of the usual "best friend killed"
The animation matches the script for wit and humor, with spots of
occasional beauty or awe as needed, and was very well done. The
supporting characters have depth and growth. Hiccup's father, "Stoick
the Vast," (Gerard Butler) is as pig-headed as the plot requires, but
also a real hero in attempting to save his crews when his plans go
All in all, a very fine movie and I think a likely Oscar winner for
animated feature despite some heavy competition coming down the pike
from the "Shrek" and "Toy Story" franchises. Recommended for all
audiences except the very young, who may find it too intense.

Milwaukee Art Museum: "The Woman With the Veil"

On May 1st, we went to the Milwaukee Art Museum to see the exhibition of
"The Woman With the Veil" (La Donna Velata), a Renaissance portrait by
Raphael (Raphael Sanzio). This is possibly the second most famous
portrait of the period after DaVinci's "Mona Lisa", and for my tastes, a
more beautiful one. Painted by Raphael supposedly as a response to
DaVinci, it shows a very different aesthetic. The color pallet, although
limited, is warm and glowing both in the model's skin tones and her
satin gown, quite distinct from the somber "Mona Lisa". The poses are
both similar, but Raphael's model touches the breast of her outfit with
one hand, rather than having both modestly in her lap, which seems
somehow more spontaneous and intimate. Time has preserved the color of
her lips and cheeks, and the shadows at her eyes. It may be an artifact
of the paints used at the time, but "Mona Lisa" seems colorless by
Unlike its exhibition of DaVinci's "Lady with an Ermine," the Milwaukee
Art Museum has not arranged an entire show around this piece, instead
setting it off in a room to itself, with a nice presentation on the
history of the artist and what is known or surmised about the work and
its model. The painting is on loan from the Pitti Palace in Florence
and rarely travels, so we felt we were privileged to see it in real
life. "The Woman with the Veil" will be on exhibit at the Milwaukee Art
Museum until June 6.