Category Archives: Movies

Ender’s Game, Claymation Video Games, and Chicken Sandwiches: Can I Buy Your Work if I Don’t Buy Your Beliefs?

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Everybody can recall the uproar about the Ender’s Game movie that recently came out. I mean everybody who frequents the same internet news sites as myself. Or has a similar circle of friends. Actually, I guess it would be more accurate to say that almost nobody can recall that particular uproar, especially if you consider how many people around the world don’t even have internet access. Or television. Or have both but couldn’t give a used chapstick about Ender’s Game.

Well, anyway, there was an uproar. People were upset about this movie. Many people called for the film to be boycotted. Others said that they didn’t care if other people watched it, but they felt it would be morally wrong to go themselves. A few critics saw it, but said they had moral reservations about doing so. Having grown up in evangelical circles none of this was too unusual to me. I was used to people calling for certain movies to be boycotted. I was also used to seeing people be careful not to mention that they had seen a particular movie while in the wrong company, lest they get a dissaproving glances or a lecture on morality. The only difference is that those movies were railed against because of hyper-sexuality, foul language, or or irreverence. The only sin of Ender’s Game, on the other hand, was that it is based on a book written by Orson Scott Card. Why is that so bad? Well you see, Mr. Card is a Mormon with some rather loud opinions about homosexuality. He is very opposed to homosexuality in general, you see. He’s stated publicly that he’d like anti-gay laws to stay on the books, and he’s very much opposed to legalizing gay marriage. Because of this individuals across America decided to boycott the film.

It should be noted that the film itself doesn’t contain any anti-gay messages. Neither does the book. But Mr. Card does get royalties off of the work. Because of this, gay-rights activists have been arguing that seeing the movie (or buying the book) is tantamount to supporting anti-gay messages.

Ender’s Game isn’t the first time we’ve seen something like this happen. Back in 2012 the fast food chain Chick-fil-A found themselves under a boycott after their COO made some public comments that were critical of gay marriage. Some people still refuse to eat at Chick-fil-A because of it. After all, if they support a company that is managed by people who are opposed to gay marriage, then they’re supporting hate. It would be wrong to buy that delicious chicken sandwich.

This is all old news, but what brought it to my mind was a recent discovery. I was making my way through the archives of the Phil Vischer podcast (which I would recommend, it’s a good’n) when I saw that they had an interview with Doug TenNapel. My brain started buzzing. TenNapel. Where had I seen that strange name before? I loaded the podcast up and soon realized why the name was so hauntingly familiar. He’s the Earthworm Jim guy!

I had grown up seeing Earthworm Jim here and there in the early 90s. I even had read some of TenNapel’s more recent work. What I didn’t know was that he was a Christian, and pretty committed one too. You can’t really tell it from his work: his comics, tv shows, and video games (the fella gets around) are all very secular, absurd, and fun. There’s nothing overtly religious about any of them. Recently he ran a succesful Kickstarter campaign to make a video game named Armikrog which is notable for being done with claymation. That’s right: a claymation video game. It’s a spiritual successor to Neverwood, a video game TenNapel made years ago that was also done in claymation. It looked really interesting for it’s novelty value alone. What I wasn’t aware of was that at the time the Kickstarter was going on there were cries for gamers to boycott it. Why? Because Doug TenNapel has made it no secret that he is also opposed to gay marriage.

All these events have stewed in my brain. They lead to an interesting question: is it morally wrong to consume content (or sandwiches) if the person who created them has opinions that are repulsive or hateful to you? If you support gay marriage, is it wrong to also support the creation of a cool claymation video game just because the creator opposes gay marriage? What about sandwiches? Or movies? I thought about it for a long time. I really chewed this one over folks. I’ve been thinking about the issue ever since the Chick-fil-A think happened. And after all that stewing, I’ve finally come to a conclusion:

You can’t live that way, and you’d be crazy to try.

Can you imagine what it would look like if everyone who was pro-life refused to read any books written by authors who are pro-choice? What if all the people who believe in god refused to watch any movie created by an atheist? I’m not talking about someone pro-life refusing to read a specifically pro-choice book, whose plot and moral are wrapped up in the abortion debate. That makes some sense. And I’m not talking about a pious Baptist refusing to watch Religulous, a move whose whole point is to make fun of religious people. I’m talking about refusing to engage in any piece of art or entertainment solely because the creator has different views from yourself. And that’s just nuts. It sounds like something that came from the pulpit of one of the most fringe fundamentalist churches in the deepest parts of the south. “Don’t watch any movies made by an atheist! If you do, they’ll get a cut of the money, and they might use it to support ATHEIST causes. Heck, I’d watch out for movies made by Christians too. After all, one of the cameramen or editors might be atheist, and then your money is indirectly supporting their ideas! Only watch movies or read books whose creators have been completely checked out by our board of elders to confirm that they believe all the right things. It’s the MORAL thing to do.”

I can really sympathize with the ethical dilemma some people are having about this subject. And if Ender’s Game was promoting hatred against homosexuals then I’d say “Alright, your boycott makes total sense.” But when someone says you can’t watch a movie about space aliens because the author of the book it’s based off has views you’re opposed to, you’re crossing the line into crazy territory. We wouldn’t want to live in a world where you’re only supposed to enjoy art that was made by people who agree with you. Heck, I wouldn’t want to live in a world where you’re not supposed to engage in art that’s directly opposed to your own ideas. I’m a Christian, but I have enjoyed, been touched by, and learned things from movies and books that were made by atheists. There’s nothing wrong with that, and there’s nothing wrong with going to see movies, or play video games, or even eat chicken sandwiches that were made by people who have opinions that your are radically opposed to.

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Swiftocracy!: Movies out of Books

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For the next two weeks each of my posts will be based off requests. For more information about how that happened, look here.

“Review books that have become movies, books that should be and what that would look like, and find a way to go on a rant! Also, anything else you would like to add on this subject!”

A science fiction and fantasy author by the name of Roger Zelazny supposedly had this to say to an aspiring writer who asked him for advice: “Tell a good story and all is forgiven.” That about sums up my current view of film adaptations of books.

I love books, and I love movies. Movies made from my favorite books should be right up my alley. I’m a very visual reader. I can see everything in my mind’s eye when reading. Because of this I used to believe, when I was young, that making movie adaptations of any particular book would be a fairly simple affair. Naturally there are some books, where almost nothing really happens besides inner conflict, that would make terrible movies. But the books I liked to read were usually less cerebral. I liked science fiction, and fantasy, and whatever I could get my hands on from the Scholastic book fair when it visited my school. I dived into Holes, Harry Potter, I Left My Sneakers in Dimension X, Artemis Fowl, Frindle, and Maniac McGee. I’d read anything I could get my hands on by Bruce Coville, Jerry Spinelli, Neal Shusterman, Louis Sacher, or Andrew Clements. Each of these unfolded in my mind like a film reel, only better because it convey smells, touch, and thought. Making them into movies would be easy. You just take what’s there in the books (though really I mean what I can see with my mind) and you film it. Simplicity itself.

When they made a movie version of Holes I was eager to see it. The Holes adaptation was pretty good. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 77%, which is an admirable score. My brothers liked it. My friends liked it. If I watched it today, I’d like it.

But when it came out I hated it.

Sitting in the theatre my mind was full of objections. Stanly Yelnats is supposed to be fat! Where did this grandpa character come from? That’s not right! That’s not quite how it happened! Zero is black? (As it turns out, that was just a mistake on my part. The book never specifically says that Zero is black, but it doesn’t say white either and all of the little implications seem to indicate that he is definetly ethnic. Still, in my mind’s eye, Zero was a skinny white kid.)  I was outraged. How could they mess up the book so badly? I compared the movie on the screen to the one I had seen in my mind and it just didn’t match up. I was shocked to learn that Louis Sacher himself had worked with the filmmakers and gave the movie his seal of approval. How could he do that? They changed so many things!

Looking back on that I have to laugh at myself. The movie is actually quite accurate to the book by adaptation standards. They only changed a few elements and kept almost everything else the same. My problem was that I couldn’t understand why anything had to change at all.

After years of watching movies, reading books, and trying in my own clumsy way to create some of my own, I’ve learned better. The simple fact is that books and movies are different forms of media, and different mediums have different requirements. Movies are a visual and audible medium, while books are neither. They’re experienced in different ways. I can pick up a book, read it for a few minutes, put it down again, come back to it later, flip a few pages back, reread something, and put it back down again. Movies aren’t meant to be viewed like that. They’re meant to be watched from start to finish in one sitting. They’re different crafts and require different skills. The visual arts require a completely different set of skills than non-visual arts. They have their own needs, strengths, and weaknesses.

On top of that there are practical concerns. It’s unreasonable to find someone who both has good acting ability and looks exactly like the main character and has the name recognition to put people in the seats. A book may take hours or days to read but a movie needs to come in around two hours or nobody will want to watch it. In a book writing a scene that takes place on an alien planet with giant robot dinosaurs and crystalline aliens who occasionally explode takes exactly as much investment (that is, in time) as a scene where a lone woman sits in an empty room and cries. In a movie that first scene costs millions in special effects and will take months of work while that second scene can be done at a hundredth of the cost over the course of an afternoon. A movie needs a different kind of climax than a book. For example, in the last Twilight book the tension comes to a head when a bunch of powerful evil vampires face off against the good vampires and their allies. In the book everything builds up to this, and there is a lot of fear about who might die, whether there will be a fight at all, what will happen to their family, etc. The climax ends with the evil vampires deciding to leave after what amounts to a long and tense conversation. This works in a book; the conversation is tense, everything rides on it, etc. But in a movie it would be a flop. You can’t have people standing there and talking as the big third act climax. So when they made a movie out of it they actually showed a huge fight scene between the vampires with all kinds of craziness. I can’t blame them for this (and the way they pulled it off without totally going off the rails of the story was pretty clever). The book’s climax as it stood was unfilmable if you wanted it to be successful.

With all that in mind I began to wonder what the key to a succesful adaptation was. And that’s what brings us back to the quote. “Tell a good story and all is forgiven.” A movie can change almost as many details as it wants…provided that they actually make the movie better. Or at very least that the movie is a good one. Lord of the Rings is an almost perfect example of an excellent adaptation. The book was called “unfilmable” for good reason. It’s dense, it’s long, it requires a ton of backstory and exposition, there are too many characters, too many subplots, and too much going on for it to translate to film. But Peter Jackson did it. He did his best to keep the core of the story while streamlining it for filming. He added things, he changed things, he threw out a lot of stuff altogether. But in the end they are fantastic films and well loved by Tolkien fans. The majority of his changes made the film better. I like Tom Bombadil, but Jackson was right to cut him, the barrow wights, and Old Man willow right out. They would have made an already long movie longer, ruined the pacing, and were generally unimportant to the greater story. Now some changes didn’t work out so well (Frodo telling Sam to go home over lost bread? Are you serious?), but on the whole the trilogy works because they are good films executed well.

If you want to adapt a book you need to have two things as your focus. The first is that you must respect the original work. You must believe that the book contains a story in it that is worth telling. If you do then you must be committed to telling it well. Part of that is knowing that changes will have to be made.

Unless you’re one of the people behind the film adaptation of Eragon, in which case my advice to you is to never make an adaptation again. Also, thanks for ruining everything. I hope you’re happy.

Mark at the Movies: The Soloist

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Recently I had the pleasure of watching the 2009 film The Soloist for the second time. The film is an adaptation of a true story, and from what little research I’ve performed it’s fairly accurate. The main character is Steve Lopez (played by Robert Downy Jr.), a journalist working for the LA Times who needs a story idea. As he’s wandering around town he encounters a homeless man playing a two stringed violin. For the heck of it he strikes up a conversation and learns that this man’s name is Nathanial Ayers (played by Jamie Foxx) and that he appears to be somewhat mentally unstable. Ayers talks rapidly, throwing out observations about the world and observations about music laced with sudden non sequiturs and what seems like nonsense. Amid all this jabber Lopez hears that Ayers claims he attended Julliard, the prestigious art conservatory. Lopez, thinking it might make an interesting story if true, does some research and confirms that Ayers was a student at Julliard before dropping out in his second year. He hunts down Ayers, talks to him a while, and then does so more research. Slowly the full story is uncovered. Ayers was a talented cellist, and was dedicated to music and hard practice as a young man. His skill and hard work got him accepted at Julliard, a huge step up for the son of a poor hairdresser. Unfortunately Ayers began to experience symptoms of schizophrenia while attending. The disease led to him dropping out, and eventually to him ending up homeless on the streets of Los Angeles.

At first Ayers is just an interesting story for Lopez. He’s just another of a long list of possible article ideas. “Homeless man, once brilliant musician, now plays a two string violin on the sidewalk.” It’s the kind of story that people are interested in reading. One reader, an old woman who used to play the cello before arthritis took away her ability, donates her instrument to Ayers so that he has a decent instrument to play. Lopez delivers the instrument and continues to interact with Ayers in the hopes of getting more columns out of him. As Lopez enters his world and interacts with other homeless individuals stuck on the streets he find himself slowly caring more about Ayers as a friend than Ayers as a story lead.

This movie also features the most compelling and horrifying depiction of schizophrenia I’ve ever seen. Ayers suffers from auditory hallucinations (in other words, voices in his head). Most depictions of schizophrenia I’ve seen the medium of film feature harsh, rough, demonic voices laughing and mocking the person in question. Others depict the voices as monsters or talking reflections, etc, which is pretty heavy handed and lacks authenticity. When Ayer’s voices arrive they take the form of a calm woman’s voice with excellent pronunciation. The voice is not emotional. It sounds much like a very professional woman announcing evacuation instructions over a PA system. It’s the content that is frightening, as the voice informs Ayers that everyone can hear his thoughts, that he shouldn’t think, that he must be careful, etc. The woman’s voice is loudest but with her comes many other voices, each equally calm, and each saying something different. The effect is powerful. After watching Ayers lose his composure under the onslaught of voices I felt like I could understand his experience. It was very real. I can easily imagine what it would be like to have voices like that in my head, and to be unable to silence them. I did some research, and found that many psychologists were pleased with the film’s depiction of schizophrenia, saying that it was fairly accurate.

As Lopez and Ayers become closer Lopez tries to help Ayers improve his life. He convinces Ayers to play his instrument in a safe place, at a local homeless shelter. David, the shelter’s director, understands the homeless much better than Lopez. Lopez wants to fix Nathanial: he wants to set him up with an apartment, get him on medication, etc. This is understandable, but Nathanial doesn’t want an apartment, and he is extremely resistant to seeing any kind of psychologist. One thing Ayers would like, however, is a friend. Ayers doesn’t see Lopez as a benefactor who can help him, but as another person who he enjoys talking to. This captures the struggle we face when trying to help the homeless. We want to set them up with things; a house, medical care, a job, etc. These are all good, really good things. But if we think of homeless only as people who are defined by their lack of possessions then we are missing the point. The forces that lead a person to the streets are many, varied, and always complicated. They can’t be solved quickly or easily. If you go out to help the homeless don’t be surprised if some of them take offense to you trying to “fix” them.

Yet the opposite stance is also clearly wrong. We can’t just put ourselves at ease by saying “Well the homeless don’t always want the things they lack. It’s just a different lifestyle choice. Throwing money at the problem doesn’t work.” These people do need help, and your money can have a big impact on their quality of life. The problem is that their problems cannot be solved with a little cash and some discipline. If all a homeless person needed was some money and a place to stay, then there would be a lot less homeless on the streets. Go talk to someone who works with the homeless on a day to day basis and they’ll tell you that it’s not so easy.

Later, after Lopez helps calm Ayers down during a stressful moment, Ayers tells Lopez that he loves him. Lopez later confesses to David that “I don’t want him to love me.” He doesn’t want to let Nathanial down. He doesn’t want to be important to Nathanial. He tells David get Ayers on medication. David says Ayers isn’t ready or willing to sit down with a psychiatrist. Lopez wants to force Ayers to. Lopez even considers lying to the authorities in order to Ayers committed to a mental institution so he’ll receive the help he needs. David responds by pointing out that unless Ayers is willing to treat his condition than all Lopez will do is alienate him and ruin their friendship. He tell Lopez that “Nathanial has one thing going for him right now: a friend” Lopez replies “I don’t want to be his only thing.” Later Lopez’s ex wife points out that as long as he’s holding himself back he’s just exploiting Nathanial. He has to decide: is Ayers a friend or a story idea?

At the same time Ayers does have a very serious problem. His schizophrenia can be crippling, and leads to sudden moments of extreme distress and frightening actions. The film does not sugar coat his condition. It’s extremely easy to sympathize with Lopez’s desire to get Ayers help at all costs, and I believe this was intentional. The film is trying to highlight how complex the situation many homeless people, and those who seek to help them, are in.

There is a minor subplot involving the mayor pledging to revitalize skid row and help the homeless, which results in a police crackdown on lawbreakers around the city. This heavy handed response ends up imprisoning and alienating the people that the mayor supposedly wants to help. This is probably one of the low parts of the movie, and I’d say it should have been cut out altogether, except it does lead to an excellent scene of Lopez trying to track Ayers down, worrying that he was beaten and sent to a hospital.

This in turn leads to an extremely powerful scene where Lopez is reunited with a healthy and fairly happy Ayers. Things seem great. Ayers has started sleeping in an apartment Lopez has provided, and seems pretty stable. Then Lopez gives Ayers some papers he needs to sign so that Ayers’ sister can become his legal executor. However things become frightening quickly when Ayers reads the papers, which state that he has schizophrenia. Lopez tries to explain it away as legalize, but Nathanial isn’t listening. He becomes convinced that Lopez is trying to put him away. He lashes out at Lopez, hitting him and yelling angrily. He throws Lopez against a wall and then covers Lopez’s mouth with his hand. He holds Lopez down and strikes at him, all while ranting about how he can take care of himself and nobody is going to take him away. As he holds Lopez down on the floor with his foot Ayers threatens to cut him open like a fish if he ever sees him again. Lopez flees the apartment and Nathanial, clearly upset, sits down and talks rapidly to himself. He seems afraid now instead of angry. He begins to cry.

When I saw this movie for the first time I was taken aback at this scene. I thought hard about what I would do in that situation. Would I ever try to reach out to Nathanial again? I decided that I wouldn’t. It was too risky. At the very least I’d hide some kind of knife proof vest under my shirt if I tried to see him again.

Lopez has more faith than that, and puts me to shame. He’s not afraid to see Ayers again. Ayers’ sister flies into LA and Lopez drives her down to the mission to see him. He waits patiently outside for them to finish talking to each other. After a long while Ayers comes out. He is clearly in distress and apologizes for what he did and said. Lopez says it’s no big deal, friends fight. Nathanial responds saying that he couldn’t imagine he’d want to be his friend after this. Lopez holds out his hand, and says he’s honored to be Ayers friend.

At the end of the movie Nathanial is off the streets, but he’s still mentally unbalanced.  Lopez doesn’t know if his friendship has helped Nathanial. But Lopez does say that  Nathanial has helped him.

The aspect I enjoy most about this movie is it’s subtlety. There are many points in which it would be easy to hit the viewer over the head with some heavy handed moral. It would be so easy to paint someone as a villain in this piece. Instead this film chooses to be less narratively satisfying, simultaneously becoming that much more real. The fact that there is no villain to the story drives home the point that the film is trying to make. Namely that the problem of homelessness is not an easy one. There is no pat answer to it. There is no scheming fat cat with a cigar who we can blame for all this. There is no dragon to slay here. Instead there are only people who have been caught up in the whirlpool of life and spit out into the streets. People with mental problems. People who have made terrible choices. People who have been dealt a bad card. And throwing money at the problem won’t help them out of their bad situation. At the same time they do need help. There are no satisfying answers to Ayers’ problems. At the end of the movie he still has some serious issues, issues that may never be fixed. But he also has a friend.

My final verdict: this movie isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely worth a watch.

Some Videos I Could Use Some Help With

Hello everyone. As you might already know (from a few previous posts of mine) I am a college senior. Right now I’m working on my capstone project, which is a large project that is neccesary for graduation. Right now I need a little help with mine.

As part of my project, I would ask you to please watch the four videos that I have posted below. If you enjoy any of the videos then share it. That’s all I ask, and I can’t say anything more at this point. The videos vary in genre and quality, but they’re all short and shouldn’t take too long to watch.

I’d be extremely grateful if you would watch and share. Thank you, and I’ll let you know what this is about as soon as I can.

The Pink Room

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Today I was sent by my school’s newspaper to see a documentary that was being screened in our chapel. It’s Social Justice Week at my school and the documentary, titled The Pink Room, was being shown to raise awareness of the horrors of sex trafficking in Cambodia, and what some are doing to help. The only reason I went was because we needed an article to highlight Social Justice Week. After seeing it I’m terribly glad that I did.

The documentary was powerful to say the least. Right from the beginning it took us into the dark heart of the Cambodian sex trade. We’re told the story of woman named Mien who grew up with an alcoholic father. He would take most of the money he earned all week and waste it on liquor and gambling. Mien and her siblings didn’t have enough to eat, and when they complained their father would beat them. She wanted to help her family so when she was only a young girl she sold herself to a brothel. They locked her in a room for several days until they could line up a client: people pay top dollar for a virgin. She remained at the brothel for years, facing beatings and abuse if she failed to please her clients.

There are many with a story like her’s in Cambodia, and The Pink Room does not shy away from telling us the worst of those stories. We hear that men from all over the world come to Cambodia to enjoy themselves. Pedophiles regularly come to rape little girls outside the view of the law. The pimps there cater to every interest.

Among these villains we can also see those who are willing to fight for the innocent. The documentary interviews leaders from International Justice Missions, Chab Dai (literally “joining hands” in Cambodian), and Agape International Missions, all of whom are active in trying to stop the Cambodian sex trade and help former victims to heal. They work with the government to raid underground brothels, rescue women from sex slavery, and give them psychological, material, educational, and spiritual support. Mien was just such a woman. She was rescued from a brothel after she had given up all hope. She received love and acceptance from those who saved her, and was given help on creating a new start in life.

The Pink Room‘s greatest asset is that it shows us both sides of the issue plainly. It does not attempt to soften the painful reality of the situation; but it also shows us the reality of the good that is being done as well. Don Brewster, founder of Agape International Missions, said that “People watching (this documentary) should not walk away sullen and defeated but empowered that anyone–and I mean anyone–can help rebuild lives. Now that you are aware, you have the life changing opportunity to act.”

If you ever get an opportunity to see The Pink Room then you should take it. If you can’t, then you should at least go to http://agapewebsite.org/aims-story/ to learn more about how you can help stop sex trafficking in Cambodia.

Hope for the Miserable Ones

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I recently had the pleasure of watching the newest movie adaptation of Les Miserables.  It was an excellent film: in fact I’d have to rank it as one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. However I feel that my love for it has more to do with the story that it is based on then the movie itself. I loved the movie because it told the story extremely well; why I love the story is something I’ve been reflecting about lately, as well as exactly why I thought the movie did a superb job of telling it.

I have said before that the question “If God is good, why is there so much suffering in the world?” is one of most reasonable questions a man can ask. However, too often in this case we treat suffering as an intellectual concept rather than a very real and terrible reality for people around the world. Les Miserables shows us human suffering in vivid and concrete terms that are hard to brush off or easily forget. The story captures the misery and injustice we find in the world around us and refuses to sugarcoat it.

And yet the story does not stop there. The film is not content to paint misery in hundred foot letters for the mere point of saying (as so many “dark and gritty” movies these days do) “Life sucks and then you die.” Les Miserables forces us to gaze upon the ugliness of suffering, but then it calls us to witness something far more beautiful: the love of God reaching down to touch those who suffer. The story gives us man’s capacity for deceit, cruelty, and indifference yet at the same time shows us our ability to forgive, show compassion, and love one another. I found myself tearing up at three points in the movie: once because I was moved by sadness, but twice because I was moved by love. This movie—this story, rather—hits a soft spot for me. I love to see evil struck down, innocents saved, and love overcoming hate.

Some would argue that (as far as the story goes) it is unnecessary to bring God into the equation. They would say that Jean Valjean is a good man and that his good actions do not need to be explained by some higher power. There is merit to this; all the same the movie would have been incomplete without God.  If all there was to the story were the events that we can see with our eyes, if this world is all there is, then Les Miserables is nothing more than a farcical tragedy. Everywhere we see good and innocent people brought to ruin, despair, and death by the cruelty and conniving of evil men and the indifference of the respectable. When things start to go right sudden events bring catastrophe. Many die seemingly for nothing, having accomplished little by their sacrifice and changed less. Meanwhile evil men and women live to prey on the weak another day which gives us a profound sense of injustice. Les Miserables would be a sad tale indeed if this world was all there was. But Valjean has a better hope. At the end of his life he tells God he is ready to come home; to be released from the shackles and miseries of this world. His cry is not one of a fatalist but rather of one who is ready to leave this shadowy world in order to enter into the true one. He has carried his share of suffering and now it is time to be relieved of his burdens. It is time to come home.

And man does this movie deliver! Fantine, who despaired for living and died a penniless prostitute, appears to Valjean. No longer is she the sad, dirty, and pitiful thing we saw before. Now she is beautiful, clean, and full of joy. Her story did not end in that dark hospital nine years ago. Valjean’s will not end either. He dies and his daughter weeps for him, but Valjean does not weep for himself. Fontaine leads him on and there we see the other side of death. The loving priest who changed his life is here to welcome him; and outside the convent walls Valjean finds the brave men and women (and children!) who died bloodily in the streets during the revolution. These souls who we last saw suffering and dying for their ideals are now proud and grinning. Though in the world’s eyes their deaths accomplished nothing in God’s eyes they have accomplished everything. They fought valiantly and died for the good of others. Though others weep for them they do not weep for themselves. They are triumphant!

Les Miserables is ultimately a story of good’s triumph over evil, and it is a story framed in a way that we do not usually expect from a book or movie. The story stays true to what we see in life; the good die, often horribly and unjustly, while the evil live on and profit from their cruelty. This is not what we expect from a story of good triumphing over evil; in the same way that the disciples never expected Jesus to die on a cross. And yet that act of suffering and death became the ultimate victory over suffering and death everywhere. Whether a story has a happy ending depends on when you choose to stop reading. Often we close the book too early. We think that death is the final chapter. If it is then life is a tragedy. As a Christian I know that death is not the end. We cannot see how our own (or anyone else’s) story ends from this side of eternity; we are still in the middle of the book.

Why I Don’t Hate George Lucas

If you haven’t heard yet, George Lucas just sold his production company, Lucasfilm, to Disney. This comes as a bit of a shock to most people, myself included. Firstly, Lucas has no apparent reason to sell his company. He’s filthy rich as it is, and the company is in no financial crisis. So nobody, nobody, saw this coming. Yet here it is. And now everyone want’s to know why.

Fortunately for us Lucas wasn’t willing to keep us in the dark too long, and posted a video to starwars.com explaining reason for the sale.

The short version is that Lucas is doing this to “protect” Star Wars and to preserve it for the next generation. “I’m doing this so that the films will have a longer life. And so more fans and people can enjoy them in the future.”

I can understand that.

George Lucas is getting up there in age, and it was inevitable that he would retire some day. Even worse, he could die. What would have happened to Star Wars if Lucas had died a year ago? Where would the franchise go? Who else might take it over? Lucasfilm is a powerhouse of an independent studio, but it’s no Disney or Dreamworks. I can completely understand why Lucas would want to make the transition now, while he’s still on Earth to oversee it. I can also understand why he chose Disney. Disney certainly has the power to keep Star Wars safe, and has the funding and talent needed to make good Star Wars movies in the future. Disney has been doing amazingly well with it’s acquisitions so far; Marvel keeps knocking em’ out of the park with movies like Avengers and Pixar is Pixar. Lucasfilm isn’t going to be liquidated or absorbed by Disney; they’re just going to own it. Well, they’ll own the majority of it. Half of the $4 billion Disney paid for it is in the form of 40 million shares of Disney. Of course that’s only about a 2.2% ownership stake altogether, but that’s not bad. So, good decision.

A lot of people out there are happy about this. They’ve been saying for years that George Lucas needs to hand Star Wars over to somebody else. The general consensus in nerd culture has been anti-Lucas for years. After all, he gave us Jar-Jar Binks, the worst atrocity since…well…any other annoying movie character, really. And he ruined Star Wars with his prequels…the ones that we all lined up to see, multiple times. And what about that stupid Vader “Noooooooooooooo!” at the end of Revenge of the Sith? That was all kinds of silly. Totally destroyed Star Wars forever.

I’m not so sure.

Granted I hated a lot of things about the prequels, and the acting was sub par. At the same time, they’re not awful movies. Their biggest sin is that they couldn’t live up to our expectations. But what could have? I don’t really want to debate this. There are good points on either side. I just don’t like hating people because it’s fashionable, and for years now it’s been extremely fashionable in nerd circles to hate George Lucas. And that’s just not fair. If you hate something because you don’t like it then fine, but I think too many of us hate the prequels because we don’t want to be unpopular. Geeks and Nerds can be just as cruel, cliquish, and prejudiced as any other group and I think Star Wars needs more honest debate and less people yelling “OMG JAR JAR BINKS WAS TEH WORST THING EVAR, LUCUS RUINED STAR WARS”.

Growing up, I can’t remember a time when I had not seen Star Wars. I have no idea when I first saw it, but it must have been in my formative years. Growing up my older brother and I lived and breathed Star Wars. The movies, the comics, the expanded universe. We had shelves full of Star Wars books, and my brother still owns a foot tall IG-88 action figure. I loved it!

And George Lucas was my hero.

I found a book on him in my elementary school library. It was made in the 80s or something, but I ate it up. I wanted to be just like him when I grew up. I wanted to tell a story that would get the whole world excited, just like he did. Then the prequels came out and I was too young to know that they were bad. I was so excited when I got Episode I on DVD for Christmas! I spent hours watching the behind the scenes features and interviews. I felt that this was what I wanted to do someday.

But then I got older. Episode II came out, and disappointed me. Boba Fett is a clone? But…that doesn’t match the expanded universe! And why does that Geonosian have the Death Star plans?! The Death Star was developed at the secret Maw research facility by Bevel Lemelisk, not some space bug! What was Lucas doing? I was upset. And in my upsetness I was vulnerable to being swept along with the tide of George Lucas hatred that had been sweeping the nerd community. I turned my back on Lucas. He wasn’t a hero any longer; just a meddling fool who obviously didn’t know what he was doing.

But I don’t believe that anymore.

Sure George Lucas isn’t perfect. But he is still worthy of our respect and admiration. He developed techniques that changed movies as we know it. His company Industrial Light and Magic changed the landscape of special effects as we knew it. He started out as a nobody and ended up building a massively succesful studio. He did it all outside of Hollywood too, building it in San Fransisco at a time when doing so seemed insane. Finally, he made Star Wars, and it’s touched generations. Star Wars had a big impact on my life, and on the lives of millions. Maybe they’re not the best movies ever made. The prequels certainly aren’t masterpieces; but neither where the first three, when you look at them without nostalgia tinted glasses. Better movies have been made but there is no doubt that Star Wars struck a chord that nobody had been able to play before. What more could a man want? If I ever become half as successful George Lucas then I will be a proud man indeed. Lucas deserves our respect, not our hatred. He certainly deserves better than what his own fans have been giving him over the last ten years or so.

I hope George Lucas understands that he is still loved by millions, and that the millions who rant and rave against him are only angry because once they had loved him too. I hope Disney takes good care of Star Wars. I hope Lucas is happy with his decision. When the new Star Wars movie comes out in 2015 (did I mention that? They’re making another Star Wars) I’m not going to complain. I’m not going to demand that they do Star Wars exactly the way I would like it. I’ve tried that before, and it really doesn’t work. Instead I’ll buy my ticket, and look forward to an enjoyable time. I hope you will too. It may be more popular to be bitter, but it’s never satisfies.

NOTE: Happy Halloween! Nothing scary here, just George Lucas.

Mark at the Movies: The Dark Knight Rises

I had the pleasure of watching The Dark Knight Rises on Monday, and I thought I might try my hand at reviewing it here on the blog. As you know I started this blog in order to become a better writer, and I think writing a movie review would be a good experience. A friend of mine once had the idea that we should start reviewing movies together, and though that never went anywhere we did have a couple of cool ideas on how we would do it. One that I’ll be utilizing here is a dual rating system: I’ll be rating the movies between one and ten based on Artistry and Entertainment. Artistry judges how well the movie is put together, whether it tries anything new and interesting, what emotions it inspires, and just how it holds up to examination as a unique work of art. Entertainment judges how much fun the movie is to watch, how exciting it is, how funny it is, and whether you feel satisfied with the experience as a whole. Those two measures will be in agreement less often than you might think. I think Schindler’s List is an incredible achievement of artistry, a masterpiece of cinema that touches on deep and important subjects; but if I just want a flick to watch on a Saturday night I’m probably going to pick something more like Pirates of the Caribbean. With that in mind at the end of the review I’ll score the movie in each category. Also, because I’m a nice guy, I’m going to avoid spoilers as much as I can.

The Dark Knight Rises is the final Batman movie that Christopher Nolan will be involved with. If there is another Batman movie in the future (and there probably will be; he is Batman, after all) it will almost certainly be a reboot of the series with a new Batman, a new Gotham, and a new take on the Batman mythos. Because of this Nolan has had a lot of freedom to end this movie however he wants to. He doesn’t have to leave room for a sequel, and this is his only opportunity to tie up any loose ends in the trilogy. It also gives him the unique opportunity to finish a superhero’s character arc. In comics (and in most superhero movie franchises) the writers cannot actually end the principal character’s story. If Peter Parker decides to quit being Spiderman then you can rest assured that he’ll change his mind within the week and go back to web slinging. If Superman dies (and he did, back in the nineties) then you know that they’ll find a way to bring him back to life. The reason for this is that comics (and movie franchises) rely on a continuous story and the longer that story runs the more valuable the characters become. Marvel is never going to say “Alright, that’s it, no more Spiderman, his story is finished” because that would be financially unsound; Spiderman is worth a lot of money and it doesn’t make sense for a comic book company to stop making comics about its most popular characters. This means that Nolan has a very unique opportunity here; he gets to tell us how the story of Batman ends. This movie promises us closure. I don’t think it is revealing too much to let you know that we get it. One way or another, Bruce Wayne’s story will end by the time the credits roll.

The fact that Rises is the last in the Nolan trilogy has caused many speculators on the internet to theorize that Batman is going to die. These rumors are helped by the fact that the movie’s principal villain is Bane. If you’ve never heard of Bane before that’s alright; he’s a pretty unimportant Batman villain, all things considered. Bane is really only famous for doing one thing in the comics; breaking Batman’s back. Batman almost dies because of it. So why would Nolan choose a b-list batman villain for his final film instead of someone more iconic like the Penguin, the Riddler, Poison Ivy, etc.? For a lot of people the answer is obvious: Bane is there because he’s going to break Batman’s back, and considering that it’s the last movie in the series it seems all the more likely that he’s going to kill him this time around. I’m not going to reveal whether any of those rumors are correct, or what actually happens in the film. I just think it’s important information to have before watching it. I believe I’m justified in saying so because the entire movie appears to be built around this question: “Is Batman going to die?” I wouldn’t find it hard to believe that Nolan intended for those rumors to spread because the effect on the movie as a whole is an excellent one. The fact that there is a very real possibility of Batman dying this time makes everything seem more exiting and suspenseful. We all knew that they wouldn’t dare kill Batman in Batman Begins or The Dark Knight; The fact that there are no guarantees this time around adds weight to the entire film.

Whether Bane was chosen just to cause this kind of audience reaction is something only Nolan knows. What I do know that many people, myself included, were disappointed to hear that Bain would be the main baddie. When the first trailers came out and I saw Bane stomping around in a parka with a very proper (almost British) accent I wasn’t sure what to think. The entire effect was a little silly. So if you were also worried about Bane as a villain let me reassure you: he works. He works very well. I have no idea how he stacks up with the comic book version of Bane, but this Bane is a villain that is enjoyable to watch and interesting to follow. He’s mysterious, charismatic, and frightening in power. He’s not the kind of villain who walks around pacing while yelling at minions, or the kind who’s (delightfully) over the top like the Joker. Instead he is the picture of a reserved, patient, and inspiring leader. You can tell a lot about a villain by the company he keeps; Ra’s al ghul‘s League of Shadows was made of disciplined and ruthless ninjas, reflecting his own disciplined, honorable, and unyielding personality. The Joker’s thugs consisted of nutjobs, psychopaths, and anarchists because his own fractured and eclectic personality attracted them like moths. Bane’s goons are simple men in rough and practical clothing with submachine guns and beard stubble, yet they act with a strange sense of pride, respect, and complete self-sacrifice to the cause. This reflects Bane himself, whose calm, patience, and total devotion to his mission belie his muscle-bound and thuggish appearance.

This review is too long already, so I’ll get down to the nitty gritty: The Dark Knight Rises is a great movie. It delivers on the promise of closure for Bruce Wayne, it has an excellent villain, and the plot (though arguably containing a little too many twists and turns) works well. When I left the theatre I was thoroughly satisfied. Nolan has created an excellent finale to his trilogy, and I have no real complaints. It’s not a perfect movie, but no movie is.

On the Artistic level I’d have to give the movie 7 out of 10. It finished Bruce Wayne’s character arc well, it’s well written, and the visuals are stunning. It’s not an artistic masterpiece, but for a blockbuster it’s far above par.

On the Entertainment level I’d have to give it 9 out of 10. The fights are exciting, the special effect excellent, there are never any boring moments, and the conclusion is satisfying. My only complaint is that the move does go a little long, so it won’t be a movie that will be easy to just casually watch when you have a couple hours free.

So that’s my take on The Dark Knight Rises. If you liked the first two movies at all, then this is one you cannot miss.

Dreams and Videotape

Sorry for the second late post this week. I’ll try to put up Friday’s post as early as possible.

Since I started this week by confessing my Christianity, and I ended last week by letting you all know I have a webcomic, I figured I should come clean with another thing I’ve been working on.

Ever since I was a kid I’ve liked to make movies. I still remember my brothers and I digging out the family camcorder and running around the backyard on a summer afternoon making a movie about aliens. As time past my older brother lost interest, so I got my two best friends from church involved. We’d make all kinds of silly little films that I wish I still had copies of. As we got older we tried to become more serious about filmmaking with scripts, planning meetings, and actual editing software. In the end we spent more time talking about videos than making them, but we had fun.

Around the same time my brother bought the extended editions of Lord of the Rings. We spent hours watching the special features, learning about Weta Workshop, costumes, makeup, casting, editing, “bigatures”, directing, finding locations, catering, everything having to do with making LotR. When I watched those featurettes I felt something grow inside me. I knew that I wanted, more than anything, to be able to make movies. I just didn’t know how to get there.

My friends and I tried to step up our game. Our youth pastor at church found out about our hobby and he asked us to make a video for youth group every other week. This was our most productive period: with actual deadlines to follow (and people to disappoint) we started to actually finish the projects we’d talk about. Everyone thought our videos were funny, which was all the encouragement we needed. You can find a couple of those videos here, along with some general silliness. (Sadly, the best videos we made can’t be uploaded to YouTube because they contain songs owned by the Warner Media Group. Which sucks.) Eventually we decided to make a feature length fantasy film to help make our mark in the filmmaking world.

The production was a disaster. I wrote the script, and I put in way too many speaking roles. We couldn’t find enough actors to fill said roles, and we started getting desperate. At the same time we kept coming up with more and more elaborate ideas that would be harder and harder to pull off on our (nonexistent) budget. Logistics became a nightmare: of what few actors we could find hardly any of them could film on the same day. In the end we only filmed two days, getting hardly 10% of the needed footage done. And what footage we had was subpar, with hammy acting, bad lighting, and crude special effects. We probably could have started over from scratch…but we were all tired of it by that point. We made plans for a different movie for the next summer, but it never got past a basic outline. Our moviemaking troupe was dead.

When I went off to college I put thoughts of moviemaking out of my head. I wanted to be realistic: there are thousands of talented men and women out there who dream of making movies. Why should I succeed when so many have failed? Besides I wanted to help people, to spread the word about the poor, unborn, etc. In a way pursuing moviemaking seemed too selfish. That’s what I told myself at least, but I also have to admit that I was afraid to try.

However some things have changed. I’ve been encouraged that I should at least try to pursue my dream. A few months ago I picked up the camera for the first time in ages, and I was reminded how much I enjoy making videos. I want to be a writer, but I also need a day job. I want that day job to involve video production, and if God is willing I’d like to make movies someday.

What is all this leading up to? I decided that if I want to make videos I should start now. As soon as I’m able I’m going to try to start a small video production business. It will be strictly local, with a focus on filming videos for use online. Right now our main selling point will be affordability: I’m willing to work for peanuts. From time to time I’ll talk about my progress here on the blog. I just wanted you all to have a heads up about that.

Unless I remember any other revelations to share there might be something interesting to read on Friday. Hopefully.