Logan (Soaring Character Development – Low Budget)

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The struggle between ‘art’ and ‘commerce’ is a real one. Content is regularly stripped of complexity to make stories more accessible to more people. Films are also regularly stripped of violence and profanity to achieve a PG-13 rating, making stories more accessible to the widest possible audience. Material is dumbed-down, focus-grouped, and manufactured ‘by committee,’ and the result is often a muddled, boring, effects-driven dumpster fire.

Wolverine Origins is a good example. It had stunning visuals and a magnificent opening montage to illustrate Logan’s near-immortal status and battle-hardened personality, but it also bastardized many beloved characters and fell flat to a passionate fan-base. More recently, we have the Suicide Squad and Batman V Superman debacles, films that spent a tremendous amount of money only to insult hardcore fans. Sure, these films performed okay at the box-office and appealed to casual fans, but they were roundly dismissed by critics and didn’t perform as well as the studio had hoped. With huge up-front costs, large action set-pieces, and remarkable visual effects – not to mention monumental marketing campaigns – these films ultimately did not pass muster.

Films made by committee, that attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator, never endure. Marketing may contribute to successful opening weekends, but the numbers predictably dropped-off as the word spread. Home video sales take a huge hit in these situations, and movies like this quickly become bargain-bin offerings at Wal-Mart.

We’ve had a couple of wonderful object-lessons in recent years. Deadpool‘s monumental success is often cited as the only reason Logan was allowed to have an R rating. Both films were made with a modest budget compared to other films of the genre and both films performed exceedingly well at the box office. With smaller crews, practical effects, and lower budgets, the film-makers were given more freedom to execute their vision without interference from the studios.

A novelist doesn’t hire a crew of people to change his story in order to make it more palatable to wider audiences. Why is this model so routinely employed in Hollywood? The most celebrated films of all time are typically the realization of one person’s singular vision. The rise of the writer/director in the 1960s and 1970s is our evidence. Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino are two recognizable names, and they are notorious for their relentless control over their productions. I would shudder to imagine what Pulp Fiction would have been like if Bob and Harvey Weinstein had insisted on focus groups and a rating reduction.

We certainly wouldn’t be revering the film today.

Director James Mangold spun some magic with Logan, borrowing the tone from the ‘Old Man Logan’ comic book series and allowing the titular character to be exactly what he has been on the written page for the past several decades. The budget was modest and the set-pieces weren’t heavily glossed over with digital trickery. The film was concrete and character driven, something that’s difficult to do with a large ensemble cast. The gravitas of a specific character’s arc is difficult to illustrate with an Avengers-style film, with over a dozen major players to consider. Logan focuses mainly on two characters, Logan and Charles Xavier, and the minimalist approach leads to meaningful and emotional character arcs.

Being smaller is a good thing for super-hero and comic-book properties. The source material is serialized story-telling anyway, and we’ve seen several new comic book properties being adapted for the small screen. Daredevil and Luke Cage, Dirk Gently, Preacher, The Walking Dead, and many others have proved to be successful adaptations of comic book stories, capturing the imaginations of not just children, but adults as well. This is where the R rated film comes into play. Comic books aren’t just for kids, as television networks and Hollywood executives have assumed for an entire generation. Comic books are our modern mythology. We’ve all been raised on comic books and there are plenty of 18+ viewers who want to see these stories told in an adult, mature way.

Logan effectively closes the chapter on the Wolverine story, passing the torch to a new Wolverine. It lays the groundwork for a whole new set of stories without overwhelming glitz and glamour, without throw-away exposition and forgettable characters. The film relies on character and story, not effects. It respects its audience, rather than insulting the audience’s intellect. It did something that few of these superhero films has been able to achieve – it has a heart. It has grounded characters whose struggle we can identify with on some level. In over fifteen years of playing Logan and Charles Xavier, Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart ended the saga in a beautiful way, paving the way for new stories.

After the success of Deadpool and Logan, let’s hope that the message has been read loud and clear. Audiences aren’t only ready for more mature stories. They want them.

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Game of Thrones – Viserys Targaryen

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Viserys Targaryen, the white-haired menace whose political ambitions outweigh any shred of compassion or decency, is the youngest son of Aerys II Targaryen. For those only familiar with the television series, Aerys – whose name bears a marked resemblance to the Greek God of War, Ares (or Aris), is better known to audiences as ‘The Mad King.’

Thirteen years before the events of the television series, Viserys and his sister, Daenerys, were forced to flee the continent of Westeros in order to escape certain death at the hands of the war-hammer-wielding rebel, Ser Robert Baratheon. Viserys is depicted as an almost inhuman twit, with an appropriate level of arrogance and cruelty to match. He is an ambitious political creature, given to unpredictable, violent mood swings. Although it is merely subtext in the television series, he doesn’t just arrange to marry his sister, Daenerys, off to Khal Drogo – he sells her. The reason for this arrangement is to secure Drogo’s allegiance – and the might of Khal Drogo’s army – with a means toward reclaiming the Iron Throne of Westeros.

Frustrated with the wild and unpredictable ways of Drogo and the Dothraki people, Viserys does ultimately receive the golden crown that he demands, the he believes is his birthright – but it isn’t the crown he had anticipated.

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Game of Thrones – Eddard Stark

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“The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.”

In this modern world of long-form story-telling on television, the quality of ‘virtue’ almost always proves to be a death sentence. Although “Game of Thrones” is based on a series of novels that were initially published in the mid-1990s, this new age of “literate programming” has brought audiences a greater depth of character development and a newfound fearlessness on behalf of networks, writers, and show-runners to visit harm on beloved characters.

If audiences don’t care about the characters on the screen, audiences won’t feel anything if a terrible fate befalls them. That’s why we are seeing fewer and fewer “immortal” characters (central characters that audiences know will never ever die). With “Game of Thrones,” the show-runners established, during the climactic moments of season one, that absolutely nobody is safe. This ramps up interest in the story and multiplies the value of the drama.

Eddard “Ned” Stark is the enduring symbol that expresses how dangerous the continent of Westeros actually is.

In the series, Ned Stark is arguably the most honorable character, ruling over the northern kingdom of Winterfell, patriarch of House Stark. He is the moral compass of the story, inherently compelled to remain away from politics, courtly intrigue, and deception. Literarily, the family name, Stark, serves as a clever indication of his resistance to moral compromise.

After being appointed the “hand of the king,” he is duty-bound to travel to the capital city of King’s Landing. After the accident death of King Robert, we watch as Ned becomes increasingly entangled in the political upheaval of the city. He begins to struggle as his own sense of honor draws him into corrupt dealings at court. Near the end of his story arc, he is forced to choose between his family’s safety and his own sense of honor.

This is one of many paintings I have made in my ongoing series, “The Portraits of Westeros.” I hope you enjoy the work, and implore you to tell me who you would like me to paint next!

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Game of Thrones – Robb Stark

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Despite the decidedly older version we get in HBO’s adaptation of “A Song Of Ice And Fire,” Robb Stark is introduced to us as a fourteen-year-old boy in the novel “A Game of Thrones.” The eldest legitimate son of Eddard and Catelyn Stark, he is the heir to the northern kingdom of Winterfell and instructed in manners of finance, history, warfare, and diplomacy.

His character arc is an epic one. At first, he appears to be a quiet and reasonably disciplined – however inert – background character. Once his father is relocated to King’s Landing in the south (in service of the King of Westeros), Robb remains behind to rule Winterfell in his father’s absence. His ascent to the title of ‘King In The North’ quickly follows, but I’ve decided to forego possible spoilers by discussing any of those details here; despite how old the story-line is at this point in time, I have discovered that there are many people (like myself) who have only recently begun to watch “A Game of Thrones” and read the book series.

This portrait is the most recent in a series of portraits I have been making based on characters from the show. I intend, however long it may take, to complete portraits not just of the fan favorites or the core characters, but the secondary and tertiary characters as well. This should keep me busy for a while.

Please let me know what you think in the comments below, and let me know if you have a favorite character you would like to see me do next! Cheers!

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Game of Thrones – Catelyn Stark

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Born into House Tully of Riverrun, Catelyn Stark was initially introduced to audiences as the wife of Eddard (Ned) Stark, as the Lady of Winterfell. Her marriage to Ned was arranged, but it’s clear from the beginning of the series that this is an arranged marriage that has experienced unique success; the love between Catelyn and Ned is apparent, and they have a brood of handsome children as proof.

Proud, strong, kind, and generous, Catelyn also flexes her political and diplomatic skills after the death of her husband and the ascension of her eldest son, Robb, as the King In The North. Like other prominent female figures in Westeros (especially as a foil for Cersei Lannister), Catelyn is predominantly guided by the desire to protect her children.

Little good that does Catelyn. Little good that does for Cersei, for that matter.

Despite her abrupt and tragic end, fans of the novels were hopeful that Catelyn would be resurrected (as she was in the books). None of us would be so lucky, it seems, but actress Michelle Fairley won critical acclaim for her final performance in “The Rains of Castamere” in season three.

We love and miss you Catelyn.

Let me know what you think about House Stark in the comments. And don’t forget to Like LenseBender on Facebook and Follow Me On Twitter.

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Mr Robot – Season Two Preview

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“Mr. Robot” officially begins its second season run on July 13th. The first season was a runaway success, winning several awards including the Golden Globe for best drama. Tapping into a wide variety of prescient subjects ranging from cyber security, “hacktivism,” and social anxiety, “Mr. Robot” has anticipated real-world scenarios of cyber-warfare, data breaches, and hacker activism. Show creator Sam Esmail has gone to great lengths, in fact, to illustrate hacker culture in a more realistic way, eschewing previous pop-culture iterations of the subculture as bands of pithy computer magicians who drink Jolt Cola and play amusing practical jokes on their enemies – usually school administrators or romantic rivals – from the comfort of their messy bedrooms (typically replete with music posters, comics books, and ironically anachronistic bed-sheets).

“Mr. Robot” taps into criticisms of consumer culture (and corresponding anxieties) in a style reminiscent of David Fincher’s “Fight Club.” The main character, Elliot – brilliantly portrayed by Rami Malek – is torn between the world he inhabits and his own idealism. He simultaneously hates the world, but feels oddly compelled to save it. He hates consumerism, but operates successfully within corporate culture. With his unique skill-set, he isn’t so much an anti-hero as he is a vigilante. Similar to the goals of Project Mayhem in “Fight Club,” Elliot is recruited by an insurrectionary anarchist known only as “Mr. Robot” – portrayed by Christian Slater – to try and wipe the debt record to zero and destabilize the entire global economy.

By the end of season one, the hacker collective has been successful in doing just that. But the social, political, and economic infrastructures of the entire western world cannot be obliterated in one calculated attack. The collective, known as “f-society,” still has plenty of work to do.

I’ll be bringing artwork and analysis after each episode, beginning after Wednesday’s season two premier. Hop aboard, will you? Let me know what you’re thinking about, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and also follow me on Twitter.

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Game of Thrones – Ygritte

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Arguably my personal favorite (it must be the Scottish brogue), Ygritte is a galvanizing character that, to some degree, helped awaken the passions and leadership skills of Jon Snow. While their love affair was short-lived, her character is the essential plot device that motivates Jon Snow to develop sympathy for the Wildlings, a group that has heretofore been reviled by the Night’s Watch and the rest of Westeros south of The Wall. When Jon unifies with Ygritte – even if he didn’t intend to ultimately join the ranks of the Wildlings – he managed to ultimately forge an alliance with the warrior tribes from north of the wall.

My guess is that their assistance will prove helpful beyond just “The Battle of the Bastards.” They will unify with the standing armies of Westeros and take up arms against the Night King in the concluding chapter of the series.

Ygritte is, in many ways, a force of nature, a fierce warrior woman referred to by her cohort as a “spearwife.” Additionally, she is known for her shock of red hair, a powerful sign of luck among the Wildlings. Because of this, she’s also known to have been “kissed by fire.”

Her character arc runs full-circle, and it seems somewhat clear in later episodes that Jon Snow holds onto her memory and his unique love for her; his experience with her has steeled his resolve to persevere in the conflicts to come.

Let me know who your favorite character is in the comment section, and don’t forget to tell me why. Who would you like me to paint a portrait next? There are certainly many more to come.

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