Kick ass and dogma

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When Kick-Ass was first shown at the theatre, I wanted to see it already but I missed it! Now, with Kick-Ass on my Pop Culture and English movie list, I got a convenient "excuse" to watch it!

Just by looking at the name "Kick-Ass", you know the genre is probably an action one or an action comedy.

Based on a comic book of the same name, this is not your ordinary superhero movie

--- it's about HOW WE, REGULAR FOLKS SEE AND WANT TO BE A SUPERHERO --- a superhero without any super power --- a REAL-LIFE superhero.

The setting doesn't surprise me very much --- crime city New York and the gangsters are always Italian, stereotype but we know the sign (Ferdinard de Saussure, 1857-1913) and the code (Roman Jakobson's Model of Communication). The movie uses a flash back --- 6 months ago, and then tell the audience what happens before that, which is a good way to get the audience's attention to follow the rest of the plot.

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Just like most stories, it starts with a problem --- Dave, a high school kid and a loner, gets no attention from anybody at school, especially girls. He's not good at art, music and sports; he doesn't have an eating disorder or any piercing --- both can get some kind of attention in today's teenagers' world. He feels like his existence is for the sake of being existed. He wonders if he can turn himself into a REAL-LIFE superhero --- fight crimes and help people. He gives himself a name --- Kick-Ass.

The story becomes even more interesting when Kick-Ass is saved by Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), and his daughter, Hit Girl. Big Daddy used to be a cop but he gets locked up in jail because of the drug dealer boss, D'Amico. So, there is another story line here --- Big Daddy is going to revenge and it creates uncertainty --- we all wonder what will happen next. Later in the movie, D'Amico's son, Chris, turns into Red Mist, another superhero with a superhero car (like the Batman one) to help his father to solve his "business" problems…

There are several aspects I want to mention about this movie :

Technology and media:

- Dave talks to his friends through Skype.

- Kick-Ass buys his superhero outfit online so he doesn't need to go to shops that sell "Halloween costumes" and feeling embarrassed.

- The witnesses of the street gang violence record the fighting scene with their cell phone and post it on YouTube instead of calling the police. Within seconds, Kick-Ass is the latest internet phenomenon, as well as the media --- TV news and talk shows.

- Kick-Ass has his own website and MySpace account.

- Red Mist's car has an iPhone and it can help him to locate the victim and the crime scene which this generation can totally rely too. Again, there is a code there!

- After Big Daddy and Kick-Ass get caught by D'Amico's guys, the gang uses media --- TV to bring a message to the public --- being a hero is bad for your health.

- When the TV station has to stop broadcasting because of the censorship problem --- it's too violent, everybody just go on online and follow the latest story --- REAL TIME DELIVERY. This is also our reality now --- people don't really watch TV or rely on the news from TV or radio, they turn to the internet because it's faster and it offers more sources and references, and most importantly, they can share with others.

Commodity and kitsch :

Kick-Ass is now a commodity and kitsch (Julia Kristeva, 1941). Comic book publisher wants to write a comic based on him, the coffee counter at the comic book store sells Kick-Ass Cappuccino. That's the magic power of an icon. However, as soon as Red Mist comes to the scene, the comic book store changes its display and their marketing strategies --- replacing Kick-Ass' stuff to ALL Red Mist's. It is the reality of a business world as well.

Low culture :

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When we look at Dave's (Kick-Ass) humble little house, his clothes, his scruffy hair, his dad's uniform and their plain breakfast, we know he's from a lower income or working class family, and that presents more of a low-culture (Storey, J., 1998).

High culture :

Compared to Dave, Chris (Red Mist) lives in a luxury penthouse house in downtown, he wears nice suits and always well-groomed, he has a chauffeur and a bodyguard. In his dad's office, they have a very famous gun painting by Andy Warhol, and it reflects a high culture even though his dad is a drug dealer (Storey, J., 1998).

Pop culture :

- In this movie, there are a lot referencing. For example, Bruce Wayne / Batman, Spider man / Peter Parker, when we see Big Daddy's outfit, we think of Batman's suit immediately, when we see Red Mist's red car, we associate it with Batman's cool black car. Kick-Ass doesn't want to die because he wants to find out what will happen on Lost, a TV drama series. We need those pop icons and symbols to compare and contrast the REAL-LIFE superheroes with other superheroes we are so familiar with.

Visual images and camera work

In the movie, the director is so clever. Instead of telling the story of HOW and WHY Big Daddy becomes who he is now, he uses comic stripes. It's nice and crisp! After all, this movie is based on a comic book, so it makes total sense. Also, when Big Daddy is fighting with the drug dealer's gang, the way they shoot it makes me think of Batman TV shows in the early 70's --- they cut the fighting scene into little segments and add a quick pause to it.

How to apply this movie in my classroom teaching

Despite all the "F" words and "S" words in the movie, I would show it to my late teenaged students, say F. 4 to F. 7 students because they are more mature. The story is very meaningful, and with all these high tech elements, I am sure they will enjoy it. I would use what Kick-Ass says in the movie, "Even without power, there are still responsibility" to set up a debate for students. Also, I will set up a writing task of "What is a normal childhood to you?" based on what they watch about 11-year-old Hit Girl's upbringing. On top of that, I will ask students to recall all the lines or scenes that the fathers show their love to their kids. This is particularly important because I think lots of teenagers lack communications with their fathers, especially between fathers and sons.

If I didn't Google it, I have no idea about the meaning of dogma --- it is an article (Roman Catholic) of faith revealed by God. Excuse my ignorance since I have no religious faith and don't know much about religions.

Dogma was shot in 1999 and it is about the Catholic church and Catholic belief. I have to say I'm not sure which genre I should put it under. It is humorous but it's more of a dark humor, with violence and blood, and a lot of special visual effects. The movie is about two fallen angels, Loki (Matt Demon) and Bartleby (Ben Affleck), who are out cast by God. They are finally able to find a loophole in Catholic Dogma and they want to go back Home --- Heaven.

Bethany, a flesh and blood, who happens to be the great-great-great-great-great-great niece of Jesus Christ (wait a minute, I know that from the Da Vinci Code movie!), and she is 'THE ONE' who can stop those two fallen angels from entering the archway of a little church in New Jersey (hey, it sounds like Neo in Matrix, right?). If they get through that archway, their sins will be gone, and that means they prove God wrong. If they prove God wrong, than all existence will be vanished. To help Bethany to achieve her mission, God sends her Metatron (the voice of God), two prophets (two dudes), the 13th apostle, Rufus (Chris Rock) and a muse --- Serendipity (Salma Hayek).

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I find it rather disturbing at the beginning of the movie when some teenagers in hockey outfits and gears attack an elderly man, it's so violent. After a few scenes, I realize that they are the hell boys --- they are the ones who take your life when they think your time is up! It is not what I thought or expected. It is a writerly text (Roland Barthes, 1915-1980).

In this movie, the texts are polyphonic and heteroglossic (Mikhail Bakhtin, 1895-1975). This movie has changed a lot of perceptions about God, heaven and hell. For example, God is a woman, God is black, the 13th apostle is Black, Jesus has brothers, sisters, a mother and a father, Loki's subversive behavior when he decided not to listen to God and his "order of killing" any more..

Now, let's look at the following areas I have noticed in the movie.

The power of pop culture :

- Even Jesus Christ needs a new image to attract a younger crowd --- Buddy Christ

- Instead of calling Jesus Christ as Jesus, the 13th apostle calls him J.C.

The power of new literacy :

-When Metatron realizes Bethany doesn't know who he is, he starts blaming on movies --- people will not know any history, any religion or anything if it is not made in a movie. Hey, that's the power of movie --- we learn better through visuals rather than books in many cases because it is not one dimension. We will remember better and longer when we know the actors and directors. Just like what Metatron says in the movie, "Nobody knows what a Metatron is but if you mention Charlton Heston's movie, the Tenth Plague, then everybody seems to a theology scholar."

Again, that's the power of movie and media, it makes learning more efficient and effective. That's why we English teachers have to integrate new literacy into our regular teaching material or we will loose our students.

- "Prophets" and "profits" --- heterographs --- a more effective way to learn pronunciation, rhymes and meanings through media and new literacy.

Racism :

-The 13th apostle claims he's the only black man in the bible and Jesus is black, not white. He also makes a very good point. "When people want eternal or go to Heaven, they worship Jesus. But when you tell them Jesus is black, they'll all freaked. And for those we called them "hypocrisy". I totally agreed with the hypocrisy part!

- "The black men can only fix your stereo, but can't be your savior."

Gender bias :

- Why can't a woman be Jesus Christ?

- Why Jesus can't have a relationship or get married?

- Why a woman always needs to be responsible for original sin.

Kitsch :

When Loki attacked a kindergarten's management office, he finds out that school is having other brands and projects as well. For example, Mooby World, Mooby Theme Park, Mooby dolls, Mooby Magazines, TV programs and videocassettes, etc. This is how a brand can develop and diversity its product lines and profits once the name is known. (Julia Kristeva, 1941)

Conclusion :

What I like about this movie is that it's not trying to peach but to see faith and belief as an idea. The movie is very objective and it delivers a lot of positive messages. We can see God, Jesus and religion in a whole new way and in different angels. For example, "Don't treat God like a burden but a blessing.", "Religion is not about right or wrong.", "It doesn't matter what faith you have, just have faith." But at the same time, some perceptions are remained the same. For example, no body, not even the demon wants to go to hell, demons are bad and they stink --- the Golgothan covers in poopoo and he comes out from the toilet bowl.

So, do you believe in God? What is God? Who is God? Did we create God?

Who are we? Why are we here? Well, think about it or watch Dogma! It's a long movie (130 minutes) but it's really worth it!