Faith is a Blue Bird

Remember that line from The Rescuers? “Faith is like a bluebird, you can’t catch it or buy it or wrap it up tight, but it’s there just the same making things turn out right.”

The Rescuers wasn’t my favorite movie mostly because I found Madam Medusa *very* scary, in a way that McLeach just wasn’t. Yet Rufus the Cat and his little bit of encouragement, as well as about a zillion other lines from the movie, are burned indelibly into my memory.

When people in my generation start losing their memories, they will probably still be able to quote movies.

I always preferred The Rescuers Down Under–I think I may have even seen it first–who knows, I was so little. I mean, Wilbur is fantastic, then of course there is the lovable Australian cast of creatures.

….oh yeah, and I painted a blue bird that I can’t look at without thinking of the Rescuers and subsequently Australia (which is so frighteningly on fire)…

The background is inktense, the bird itself is Daniel Smith watercolors, and the black tips on its wings are gouache. The eye, ever bright, is ink.


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How To Train Your Dragon

totes adorbs

I did not expect to love How To Train Your Dragon. I really don’t remember why I watched it at all, who I watched it with, or anything like that. But wow, it was so good. The story, the music…

Oh, the music. I bought the Lord of the Rings Soundtracks because I adored the movies. I bought Prince of Egypt because who doesn’t want to crank up When You Believe or Jethro’s song? The Incredibles, Star Wars…classic soundtracks that I enjoyed listening to…But the soaring tones of HTTYD by John Powell are something else entirely. Rapturous. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so enthralled by music without words.

I was actually poised to dislike HTTYD. I was sort of braced for something like Shrek, which I only sort of enjoyed. I mean, the hero was named Hiccup and had a scraggly voice. I was prepared for a cynical story that was all about tearing down heroic ideals. That is definitely, completely, not what I got. Instead, it was a story about true heroism. An actually useful personal journey in understanding, true value, and sacrifice.

Hiccup’s name didn’t change. His voice didn’t change. But his perception of himself, his father, and of course dragons, did. Astrid’s perception changed. Stoic’s perception changed.

Love really did conquer all.

HTTYD2 was also excellent. Possibly even better than HTTYD. I loved how they built on the story, Hiccup coming to terms with how, though he has Toothless and Astrid, he’s still him, and still the chief’s son. I love the story of him learning that he doesn’t have to be exactly like his father to be a good chief–but being like his father in terms of love, forgiveness, and bravery–that is what makes a good chief. I loved that the story didn’t center on the romance between him an Astrid, you are just shown a real, loving, growing, relationship. The Stoic/Valka relationship so incredibly poignant in the few scenes they had together. I remember sitting in theaters with tears pouring down my face going “YOU DIDNT WARN ME DREAMWORKS! I DID NOT EXPECT TO BAWL AT THIS MOVIE.”

HTTYD3…somehow just wasn’t what I wanted. I think…it felt like they backtracked Hiccup’s emotional and character journey from the previous movie, and…it just…fell flat. I could forgive the antics and goofy humor clearly aimed at the younger audience–though Snotlout’s (right?) obsession with Valka was a little bizarre. Part way through Hiccup’s character arc was sort of designated as “who are you without Toothless, who has become your crutch?”

–except Toothless wasn’t a crutch in the other two movies, he was a catalyst. Did I miss something by not watching the kid’s show Race to the Edge?

We all know and love Toothless, but having the Light Fury resist Hiccup’s friendship so entirely, we don’t really get to befriend her either. Instead, it feels like we married off a dear friend to a harpy who hates us even though she doesn’t know us at all, and we’re left trying to understand why he loves her. I mean…we don’t even know her name. Who is this dragon? She…seems…nice? She’s…pretty?

It’s also really sad that the first movie’s conclusion that man and dragon can live together in peace is reversed in this film–that only SOME people can handle it, and because not everyone can, they don’t get to keep their pets. It might be realistic, but that isn’t what I wanted. I wanted hope for a better future.

A big pro to the story, though, is seeing Hiccup and Astrid continue their real relationship like real people. They grow up, get married, lead the clan, and have children together. Never flagging in their commitment to one another. Talk about relationship goals.

The music was great again, but since I loved the story less I have less of a connection with the music.

Anyway, I still love HTTYD. The characters, the story, and of course the dragons. In particular Toothless and Stormfly. I drew these for practice, working off a variety of images in Pinterest. I think they came out pretty adorable.

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Wonder Woman


So we went to see Wonder Woman on opening night, and were not disappointed. Lots of other people had the same experience, because the movie made over 100k opening weekend and is being hailed as a needed course correction for the DC movie-verse.

I agree.

I grew up watching the Batman/Superman Adventures, and the animated Justice League of America and Justice League Unlimited. I never really read the comics, but I’ve seen snippets here and there. Somehow, though, when DC makes the leap to the silver screen they forget the core of what makes things work and just take the skin. They take the skin, change out the soul, and then wonder why it doesn’t do as well as they expected.

Wonder Woman is a movie whose soul is hope and faith.  Semi spoiler alert?

Diana is raised in a peaceful place that is constantly preparing for war, and teaching about good and evil. She initially sees the world as we wish it was–a good world that is only corrupt because of one corrupter. The first man she meets, Steve, is a bit blown away by her version of the world, but doesn’t bother trying to argue with her. I mean, he just saw an island of Amazons and experienced the lasso of truth, he knows enough to know that’s not an argument worth getting into until he knows more than he knows now, you know? When Diana is faced with the reality that it’s not that simple, that mankind itself is corrupted, Steve argues with her about saving it. Because it’s not that simple; it’s not a question of what you deserve, but what you believe (how’s that for a core truth about the way the real world works?). She comes to realize that, in the words of Samwise Gamgee, there is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.

Unlike other DC movies, the good worth fighting for is a bit more obvious in this story (we aren’t sure there actually IS any good in most of the other recent movies). Diana is surrouned by a cadre of diverse souls who decide to risk it all in a desperate mission for the sake of brotherhood, a leader worth following, and the world. They have no one forcing them to do this, and nothing to gain for themselves.

The film has many of the same elements as Rogue One, actually. It’s not quite as skillfully executed in terms of tightness of story or world building (or science…poison gas exploding in the sky instead of on the ground doesn’t actually solve much–your only hope is that it is somehow light enough to….go into space? Maybe? Before it falls back to earth in the rain), but the elements of depth are there and carry the movie through it’s weaker elements. (I was personally bothered that the hero’s name is Steve, which wasn’t very typical in WWI, and that the depiction of the “Front” involved villagers fleeing the front in a panic like the Front just got there. And lets not even talk about young Ares’ mustache.) The movie isn’t doing well because of accurate world building, it’s doing well because it’s a story with heart and soul. The hope it leaves you with is real, because the film actually demonstrated what love looks like.

The success of this is due in no small part to the flawless performance of Gal Gadot, but also an excellent supporting cast and plenty of inspiring cinematography.

I’m sure much will be made of the fact that this is a movie with a female superhero carrying it–and how that’s never been done before (or has it? Rogue One, Force Awakens, Hunger Games, all dominated by their heroines). I’m sure people will fight about how it’s feminist (woman in armor is lead fighter!) or not feminist (her armor is far to feminine and skimpy to be feminist) but that’s not what I saw when I watched the movie. I saw a movie about a warrior who was compassionate and determined to protect those who could not protect themselves. She also happened to be a woman, and still feminine with her flowing hair. Honestly, I saw everything I want to be. She respected people (men and women alike) as equals and saw her role, her particular role, as protector. The world as she saw it divided people only by skills. It looked a lot like the world I see in my head. It’s not necessarily the way the world IS, but it’s how it should be.

The Dark Knight Rises

Note: This post originally appeared 8/16/2012 on my other blog. 

This brings us to The Dark Knight Rises. Spoiler Alert. Just in case you still haven’t seen the movie. Though, it’s been out so long that all plot points are fair game.

A perceptive youtuber made this Batman trilogy supertrailer with a voiceover from the Prestige (conveniently, it’s Michael Caine’s voice, who you hear as Alfred): And truly, if Nolan had to do major re-thinking of his trilogy after the death of Heath Ledger, the story did not suffer. Dark Knight mostly stood on its own, even though it built on the foundation of Batman Begins. TDKR, however, really relied heavily on the prequels and in a sense knit them together into a complete whole.

I was completely torn about going to see TDKR, but had to since I’d seen TDK. I kept comforting myself that I would get to see Anne Hathaway as Catwoman (and she did an excellent job).

I’m glad I went–though I was wound very tight until about halfway through the movie when I realized it wasn’t going the direction I thought it would. The last act of the trilogy, the prestige, itself has three acts, the descent, the pit, and the rise.
Act 1:
Ra’s al Ghul: You used all the tools I taught you… for a city that was corrupt, and a victory based on a lie. Now your failure will be seen…

TDKR takes place 8 years after TDK. 8 years of the noble lie cleaning up Gotham’s streets and tortuing Gordon’s soul, and Bruce Wayne holing up like a hermit in Wayne Manor (rebuilt after the ashes of Batman Begins!) while nursing his (physical and emotional) injuries from his fall in TDK.

Bruce and Gordon are struggling with the effects of their big fat noble lie. Bruce still thinks it was a good idea–but he is definitely not facing his pain about Rachel’s death, Dent’s fall, and Batman’s scapegoat status. He’s driving Alfred crazy. I don’t think Alfred can quite decide what a healthy Bruce would look like, but he knows that what he’s looking at is not it. By the way, even Alfred told a lie at the end of TDK, and he regrets that he hid Rachel’s choice from Bruce (she chose Dent). Alfred’s chief fear is that Bruce is not interested in living.

The only glimmer of life in Bruce’s eyes comes from Selina Kyle–the Catwoman. He catches her breaking into a safe in his house and is clearly intrigued by her. He sees something to her that most don’t. She’s a catthief with emotional issues that make her a little more complicated than others. He puzzles her a bit, too. That stupidly rich (but, admittedly handsome once he cleaned up) hermit who didn’t turn her in to the police but was fully capable of tracking her down himself.

Alfred: [about Selina Kyle] You two should exchange notes over coffee.

Bruce Wayne: So now you’re trying to set me up with a jewel thief?
Alfred: At this point, I’d set you up with a chimpanzee if it’d brought you back to the world!

The spark brought by both Selina and the mysterious person she is working for fans into flame when Bane shows up. Bruce is glad of the chance to be Batman again. He rather blithely steps back into the cowl (against Alfred’s wishes, see “not interested in living” above) with little preparation and walks right into the first villain who is physically stronger than Batman. Batman is promptly defeated and sent to hell. Bane’s definition of hell is a place that holds out a little thread of false hope–leaving you to hope and have your hopes dashed again and again because there really is no way out.
Act 2:
Bruce Wayne: Why didn’t you just… kill me?

Bane: You don’t fear death… You welcome it. Your punishment must be more severe.
Living in hell isn’t on Bruce’s list of things to do. He wants to die, but has a deep inner obligation to die fighting. Bruce talks in circles with a doctor who has lived in the pit for years. The doctor helps fix Bruce’s back, but also gets him to admit that he doesn’t fear death, and that’s part of his problem. There is a difference between risking your life for someone and wanting to live, and risking your life for someone and wanting to die. You’re much more likely to fail when you don’t desire life enough to try harder than you think you can (see chapter 10 of The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis). When Bruce realizes that he has to let go of his martyr complex, his deathwish, and the idea that he’s irrepairbly broken (body and soul), then he has what it takes to rise from the pit. He had to let go of failure, of Dent, of Rachel, of his parents’ murder, and do what Alfred had been trying to get him to do: embrace life.
Act 3:
Bane: So, you came back to die with your city.
Batman: No. I came back to stop you.

Bruce Wayne, back from the dead, once again fit and filled with new zeal, makes his way back to Gotham–back to the world. In many ways, the pit was the only thing that brought Batman back and made Batman the legend he was meant to be. While he was gone Bane ruthlessly undid the noble lie as part of his undoing of Gotham–he tore down the white knight who was their shining example and used that as justification for the Reign of Terror. It was hard not to watch Bane’s rule without thinking of the French Revolution. Anyone who could be deemed a “have” was evil and overrun by anyone who could be deemed a “have not.” To have was to be evil, unless of course you were a have not three seconds ago. Hate to get into politics, but it also bears resemblance to a certain movement whose main complaint is that some people have more than they do (but they are unwilling to share their ipads with the homeless guys who don’t have ipads).   Bane: We take Gotham from the corrupt! The rich! The oppressors of generations who have kept you down with myths of opportunity, and we give it back to you… the people. Gotham is yours. None shall interfere. Do as you please. Start by storming Blackgate, and freeing the oppressed! Step forward those who would serve. For and army will be raised. The powerful will be ripped from their decadent nests, and cast out into the cold world that we know and endure. Courts will be convened. Spoils will be enjoyed. Blood will be shed. The police will survive, as they learn to serve true justice. This great city… it will endure. Gotham will survive!

This is the lie Bane feeds the people to encourage them to destroy themselves and descend into chaos. Gotham does descend. There is a moral group that struggles to get by keeping its head down–the police force has been trapped in the train system underground and has done nothing but count the days till they can get out to reckon with the escapees from Arkam. Oh yeah, and there is a deteriorating nuclear-type-bomb rolling through the streets, which will eventually go off after a period of Bane’s torturous false hope.

To all this madness returns the Batman–more a man than he has ever been before. He finds his allies, makes allies out of others–namely Selina Kyle–and sets about systematically warring against Bane. Catwoman joins forces with Batman because Bane’s Gotham was never something she wanted.  She’s also kinda stuck on the guy who has displayed unprecedented forgiveness and faith in her (perhaps the film could have been the Redemption of Selina Kyle). Plus, she’s definitely a girl more his speed than any others he’s had in his life.

In the end, it’s a pretty awesome climax. A fitting end for Batman’s journey that started when his parents were murdered in a dark alley. He has finally found himself, and only now could he truly sacrifice himself for Gotham.

Batman: A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a little boy’s shoulders to let him know that the world hadn’t ended.

Jim Gordon: Bruce Wayne?
Others have commented that TDKR was not as realistic as TDK, and I would agree. The plot has a few more fantastical elements that require suspension of disbelief–or require you to remember that this is actually a comic book movie.
It’s also interesting to note that the passage read at a certain key funeral at the end of the film is from Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities, (a story set during the Reign of Terror, incidentally). The passage is from Sydney Carton’s final words before he goes to the guillotine in place of Darney (the man loved by the woman Sydney Carton loves).
I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss. I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy. I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.

I’m growing to love this movie, actually. It’s a nuanced and rich story, with many themes, many good points, and many quotes. It’s not heavy handed, it’s a story that speaks for itself. I’m hesitant to really give away the ending, even though most folks have seen it by now. Suffice to say that I was happy. Gotham has the hero it needs, and Bruce Wayne has finally found peace.

The Dark Knight


Note: This post originally appeared August 1, 2012 on my other blog. 

Four years ago, when they were promoting The Dark Knight, I decided that I probably didn’t want to see it because I didn’t want to see the Joker.

The Joker is one of the best Batman villains, and my favorite Joker of all time is the one from the Batman/Superman Adventures voiced by Mark Hamil (you might remember him better as Luke Skywalker). Having seen Tim Burton’s Joker, I knew that the mad clown wasn’t nearly as fun when translated to the live action world–he was probably one of the scariest villians possible, and the Joker of Nolan’s gritty Gotham was undoubtedly the most terrifying villain ever. The Joker of the animated series was after two things; money, and besting “Bats”–the Joker of TDK was after one thing; pushing Batman over the edge. After the untimely death of Heath Ledger I was even less interested in plumbing the depths of evil with the Dark Knight.

in line for the Dark Knight Rises

Every now and then Zorro would tell me that TDK was one of the best done films he had ever seen, but it was a hard film to watch. I would agree with him (having known all the major plot points and twists since it was released) and that was that. As everything built up to the release of The Dark Knight Rises my curiousity got the better of me and on TDKR’s opening day I finally watched The Dark Knight. I’m glad I did. I’m also glad that it was 4 years before my morbid curiousity got the better of me! At least I could watch TDKR shortly after seeing TDK.

Why? Because I didn’t like the end of TDK.

It’s a rough film that explores themes of good, evil, and how far good should go to stop evil. Batman is faced with a villain with no backstory, no identity, and no motivation except to destroy Batman from the inside. Why? Sounded like fun. That’s all. Just wants to see the world burn. The Joker is not mad–not at all–he’s just evil. The Joker believes that deep down, each person is just like him. The frightening thing is that he’s right. The Christianese for it is “sin nature”–the translation is “nobody’s perfect.” Harvey Dent, the White Knight, Gotham’s hope–Bruce Wayne’s hope–proved Joker’s point with resounding consequences. Dent–representing “the best of us”–gave in to the temptation of the power of evil, the power of no checks and no rules. He hung onto his two headed coin as a sort of blankie, a way to say it was’t not his fault–life is all pure chance so why shouldn’t he do what he likes? He set out to punish the world for what he lost–but only if the coin dictated their death. He sought to relieve his own pain by inflicting it on others. He gave himself to the evil inside him and became Two-Face.

Joker won the battle for Harvey Dent, however, the people of Gotham and Batman prove that even if evil is tempting, we do have a choice. We can choose not to be like the Joker or like Two-Face. Joker tries to goad Batman into breaking his rules and killing him, he tries to goad the refugees and inmates on two ferries into blowing each other up to save themselves. But they don’t. They almost do. They want to. But when it comes down to doing the deed they don’t.

After the people of Gotham prove themselves, and Batman finally succeeds in capturing the Joker, there is still the problem of Two-Face Dent on his revenge-driven killing spree. Batman and Commissioner Gordon have been struggling to keep Harvey Dent’s nose clean since Joker upped the anti in Gotham (a fact that probably should have tipped them off that maybe he’s not the White Knight they thought). They desperately want him to be what they believe they can’t–a shining example of good for the people of Gotham to aspire to. Consequently, they do everything possible to save Harvey Dent’s image from the mire he plunged it into. Batman heroically takes the blame for Harvey’s sins. A lot of people really loved the symbolism of Batman’s sacrifice–but I didn’t. Yes, taking Harvey’s place was noble, but it required a pretty dang huge lie. Noble lies have a way of going wrong. The effects of this noble lie nearly cost Bruce Wayne his life.