The Gospel According to the Dark Knight

In the wake what happened in Aurora, Colorado, many ask, “Why?” “How?” in confusion and pain. Like many people last night, I was watching the premier of the Dark Knight Rises. I had also gone to a marathon of the first two Chris Nolan movies right before. I’m sure many have noticed there is something eerie about the thematic elements of the movie and their connection to what happened in real life where, to our current knowledge, a man named James Holmes just wanted to “watch the world burn.” One of the reasons these movies touch so many people is because they strike a chord close to our hearts. A painful one that reveals our real nature. The solution is to admit it and seek redemption. But many will not. Many will insist this man was insane, an anomaly, an “aberration”. But was he?

The Dark Knight points out the evil in all of us. The main conflict Batman deals with in the wake of the Joker and Two Face is, what does it say about mankind when someone like Harvey Dent ends up pointing a gun at a mother and children. What does it say about us when a graduate student studying neuroscience in a Ph.D. program decides to kill as many people in a movie theater as he can in one night? Could this be why people are so quick to condemn this as an anomaly is a world of “good people”? Could it be that if a stand-up citizen in his right mind is capable of this, so am I? Jesus said whoever is even angry at his brother without cause is guilty of murder in his heart. Our actions define us. “…it’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.”

So what is the solution then? How then can we live? Can we be good? If so how? Just be good? The question we should really be asking is, “What do we need?” Whether knowingly or unknowingly, the writers of the Dark Knight movies gave a hint at the answer. Think about this first. The Devil or Satan: it’s not a name, it’s a title. In Hebrew it means ‘Accuser’. He accuses us of our sin. We stand in the courtroom of God and Satan is our prosecutor. He shows incontrovertible evidence of our guilt. We stand helpless before a holy God. What can we do? Who can defend us? Who will stand between us and the wrath of a patient God?

Now think about this: the villain essentially has the same motive in all three movies. He sees man as evil and believe we should be wiped out. But to do that, he sinks down to a hellish level of depravity himself. Ra’s, the Joker, and the villain of Rises prove corruption on every level of society.  Two-Face says, “You thought we could be decent men, in an indecent time! But you were wrong. The world is cruel, and the only morality in a cruel world is chance. Unbiased, unprejudiced… fair.” Justice, but no mercy. The people of Gotham need someone to save them. He accuses, but someone does stand between him and the people. “I’ll be standing where I belong. Between you and the people of Gotham” says Bruce to Ra’s al Ghul.

“Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” “Abraham called on the name of the LORD.” “Salvation belongs to the LORD” cries Jonah from the belly of the fish. And what is the name of the Lord? Jesus, or in Hebrew Y’shua, means God saves. No one else. We cannot save ourselves. Only God himself and step down and stand between us and condemnation. How? Because he took the blame on himself even to the point of death on a cross.

Picture the end of the second movie. Harvey Dent lies dead in his sins. But he is yet redeemed, at least in the eyes of the people. How?

“I killed those people. That’s what I can be.” says Batman.

“… a hero. Not the hero we deserved- the hero we needed. Nothing less than a knight. Shinning…” says Gordon.

Batman assures him, “You’ll condemn me, set the dogs on me… because it’s what needs to happen.”

James looks at his father confused, “He didn’t do anything wrong! Why, dad? Why?!”

“… we’ll hunt him, because he can take it.”

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (Paul).

In Rises (HOLY SPOILERS BATMAN!), Batman goes through his own sort of death and resurrection. He is spiritually dead, in a prisoner (though innocent) that is a clear metaphor for hell, being simply a giant pit. He emerges as the prisoner chant, “Rise. Rise. Rise. Rise.” returning to life. Why? To save the very city that turned its back on him as well as a woman (Catwoman) who betrayed him into the hands of his enemy. She seeks a “clean slate” to wipe her past away. Batman has it. He offers it to her unconditionally.

“Maybe it’s time we stop trying to outsmart the truth and let it have its day.” – Alfred

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Whisper of the Heart


Disney just released its English dub of Studio Ghibli’s Whisper of the Heart, originally released in Japan in 1995. I’ve got to say, the Blu Ray transfer is excellent. If it weren’t for the appearance of old laptops and lack of widely-used internet in the movie, you’d think it had just been made recently. While I can easily criticize Studio Ghibli for constantly reusing the same characters, designs, stories and facial expressions, I simply can’t for this one. I mean, when can you ever?

The story has the typical Ghibli feel to it. A young girl experiencing a world that’s new to her and falls in love with that tall kid with ambiguously blue hair. Many who have only seen Ghibli’s more popular titles like Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle, may think that the Studio’s charm lies in its portrayal of the fantastic. But seeing as this movie takes place completely in the real world and still carries all the charm of it’s best titles (this is probably my favorite now) it seems to be just the opposite: Studio Ghibli has a remarkable ability to take the mundane and make it fantastical.

It finds charm and excitement in simple moments. Its beauty is truly in its simplicity. For such a simple and intimate movie, I was surprised at the epic feel of it. Perhaps because it deals with things that touch on the meaning of life: our purpose in this world, though in the most un-preachy way. The main character Shizuku struggles with feelings of inadequacy. She doesn’t know what to do with her life, where to go next or how to move forward. It’s something all of us, not the least of which, myself, struggle with.

I really loved this movie. Some may find it drags a bit, but I was hooked from the beginning. The opening sequence is quite beautiful. Actually, it’s beautiful from beginning to end. Just as good as Spirited Away or The Secret World of Arriety, if not better. Again, I must say, the utter sincerity of these movies is incredibly refreshing. I felt, in a way purified after watching this. It may sound strange, but this just reminds me of how powerful the medium of movies and animation is. So much of our subconscious, our feelings, our habits, our words, choice of friends and overall culture is highly influence by what we see when we turn on the screen, for good or ill. Again, more than ever, I feel the call towards a career in animation.

Avengers Review

So I saw the Avengers this weekend and wanted to share my thoughts. Yes, it’s worth watching. Is it the best superhero movie ever? Some say, “Yes.” I say, no. Is it the best Marvel movie? Again, I say no. Here’s why.

First of all, I have to say that I believe based on comments made by the films editors, there is enough footage out there that there may be a cut of the film that will please me. I am just not that pleased with the final cut, but I rather expected it.

Summer blockbusters always follow this formula: safe. That’s right. Studios rarely like to take risks when it come to what they expect to be a blockbuster. Marvel has been especially guilty of this as of late. They’ve spent about a decade experimenting and figuring out what works. And since Iron Man they’ve stayed with what works. Very small risks. And who can blame them? Look at the reaction to the first Hulk movie (which I actually liked… I know, hate me if you want), X-men 3, and Spider-man 3. Those movies were all big risks and big failures. And Disney has been even worse with this. Their live-action department is horrendously bland. So combining Disney and Marvel does not make this movie-goer too happy. This may change in the future now that Rich Ross is gone. I hope it does.

And how does the content of the movie fair? Just as you’d expect from the previous paragraph. Plenty of good action, funny lines, character interactions, etc. Problem is, we’ve seen it all before. It’s nothing new, it’s just the fun of seeing the different characters interact. And it was fun, but to be honest, I expected more. Much was cut for the sake of actions scenes. I truly hoped for something more engaging. The kind of conflict that Captain America and Thor had was much more engaging. Avengers was mostly just physical conflict. Yeah, there was the whole thing about them getting along and all, which was good. There were some very good scenes. But just when it felt something cool happened it was interrupted by cheesy one-liners.

SPOILER WARNING
Another thing that really annoyed me was Loki. I expected great things from having him as a villain. There’s so much they could have drawn from in Thor. But it was only touched on. He was dismissed from being a major threat right from the start. Some advice to Marvel and Disney: don’t put the main antagonist in a cage for the first half of the movie.

Okay, so the movie wasn’t that bad. I enjoyed it. But I fear unless Marvel and Disney change their strategy, this may be the best we get. And trust me, it could be much better.

Artist Statement

The way to convey reality through gesture, contour and model rendering is to “follow the story of the light” (something one of my life drawing teachers would always say). This is the essence of drawing reality: understanding the nature of light and dark, movement, and proportion. While this might sound like strict defense for realism, I am in fact using it to defend more. Cameras are machines that capture the light for you. But I believe that stylization, in its many forms, takes this many steps further. Capturing only the light that is visible to the eye only tells one story. But stylization is essential to telling a different story: a more engaging one. Stylization eliminates non-essential visuals to promote and enhance aspects of a story or character that cannot be conveyed simply through photographic imagery.
 

I can take a picture of someone smiling, but it certainly doesn’t capture all the moods and feelings of the moment. But I can draw a caricature of him that exaggerates his smile. A few simple lines and bam! I have successfully captured the moment more accurately than a camera.

This is why I want to work in animation. I have experience in painting and drawing, and if a picture tells a thousand words, a moving picture must tell a thousand per frame. Like stylization is to realism, animation is to live action film. I have experience in drawing for most of my life, and began oil painting in college. To me, the mediums were never powerful enough, as my inspiration always came from the motion and progression of story that is found in animation. Animation can convey moods, feelings, emotions, thoughts, etc. that are difficult, if not sometimes impossible to fully convey in live action. Stylization and stylized animation also convey a unique visual aesthetic that would otherwise never been seen in this present reality.


“Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” — C.S. Lewis
The characters of Phineas and Ferb vs. their sister Candace are great examples of this. Who doesn’t wanna be like Phineas and Ferb? How awesome would it be to wake up every day and say, “I know what we’re gonna do today!” and then proceed to have the best day ever? 

The Truth is my ultimate standard for what I do. My work hinges on iconic imagery; the kind which the viewer always knows when he sees it. These archetypes are recognizable to those who are unfamiliar with it. While this sounds like an oxymoron, it is true that many have had the experience of seeing an image that makes them feel like they’ve known in their whole lives. This can be experienced in a painting, a movie, a book, television show, song, or anything that is art. Like Plato’s allegory of the caves, it is the reality behind the shadows. My ultimate goal is to bring out the Truth that is the story of the Light of Men.

C.S. Lewis, Tolkien Movie

The Lion Awakes is a movie in pre-production about the lives of C.S. Lewis, the author of the Chronicles of Narnia and his good friend J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Theirs is an amazing story and I’m super excited about the possibility of seeing them portrayed on the big screen! I’m even more excited that the screenplay was co-written by my former professor and mentor Dr. Lou Markos. I first heard about him when I heard someone talking about taking a Chronicles of Narnia class. I immediately jumped and thought, “I MUST TAKE  THAT CLASS!” I have been a huge fan of Lewis ever since I was a little kid. Narnia changed my life and shaped the way I think today. And in high school I was introduced to The Lord of the Rings, which was another life-changing experience. Watching Peter Jackson’s movies are what made me decide I wanted to make movies one day. I was like, “I had no idea movies could be this amazing and even life-changing!” Dr. Markos also taught a class on LotR, which I took along with one of his film classes. He’s teaches  many other classes at Houston Baptist University, from the Greek classics to Dante, and is an expert on C.S. Lewis. I can think of no one better to have written this movie!

 

The Hunger Games Review

Saw it this weekend. Now, I have not read the books, but found this movie very much worth watching. I won’t say I “liked” the movie. This movie is basically Lord of the Flies meets Gladiator meets 1984. The message of the story is the same as Lord of the Flies and 1984. I don’t particularly enjoy those books, but they’re important for everyone to read. Unfortunately, though most of us have had to read them at some point, they (along with this movie) are falling on a lot of deaf ears. Or numbed ones.

I normally would review a movie based on the quality of acting, writing, directing, score, etc. I will say that the writing, directing, cinematography, and pacing were superb. Some complained about the shaky cam because you couldn’t tell what was going on. I won’t complain. I didn’t wanna know what was going on. I found this very difficult to watch because of the utter depravity portrayed on so many levels. I appreciate that the way in which killing and violence is depicted is never gratuitous or glamorized, but at the same time it still has a hard impact on the viewer. Anyone who thinks it is for entertainment purposed has grossly missed the point of the movie. I saw one reviewer say he was excited about the movie because he is all for child violence. That’s like saying you’re all for child pornography. You’re only proving the point the movie is trying to make. Some view it as fiction and may think I’m taking this too seriously. I’d agree if this sort of thing hadn’t already happened.

This sort of thing happened in Rome before. And Western government and culture is a direct continuation of Roman government and culture. People still are not connecting the dots. This is what happens when people allow the government to have all the power. To put it in perspective, the United States government is growing at an incredible rate since the latter half of the 20th century and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. This has correlated with the increase in political corruption in both parties and the state of the economy, national debt, etc.

And we are even more hard-pressed to admit that the actions of these children are not so far-fetched; that in fact we would do the same in their shoes. Disturbing indeed.

When the Israelites wanted a king, their Judge Samuel warns them that the king will basically take everything from them and make them into his slaves.

So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey their voice and make them a king.””

Well, God gave them what they wanted. Be careful what you ask for. You just might get it. In the end, the kings of Israel worsened the state of the nation. They were so corrupt God decided it would be better for their preservation to allow them to be taken into captivity. Turns out there was more hope for the pagan kings of Babylon and Persia to believe God.

Right now, America is crying out for a king. I just hope we come to our senses before its too late.