Saturday, August 2, 2008

Welcome to a world without rules.

When does a rogue hero become a vigil ante and how does he deal with the mounting public pressure to stop? Those are the questions at the core of The Dark Knight.
Because I'm afraid of being left out of conversations and because it seems to be a legitimate piece of movie history, I went to see The Dark Knight on Friday. And because I like being just this much ahead of the curve, I went to see it in IMAX which, as it turns out, is the best way to see it. If you have one of those giant theaters near your home, you know you're already forking over at least 9 bucks to see it in a regular theater, so go another 6 and make it a thrill ride. There are a few dizzying sequences and some beautiful aerial shots of cities like Hong Kong and the requisite chase and action scenes. The sound is overwhelming at times, which adds to the tension that the movie brings in spades.
It toggles back and forth between the Bruce Wayne billionaire scenes and the dark Batman ones, and the filmmakers seemed to want to bring more light into the project by relocating Wayne's lair with a brightly lit sub-basement in the Wayne Enterprises building by telling us that Wayne Manor was being renovated.
Christian Bale is a good Batman, although I have to grin a little when they repeatedly call him "The Bat man," which may be a comic book reference or from one of the other films, I don't know. I lost touch with the series after Val Kilmer.
There are some nice supporting roles by Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon), Aaron Eckhart (Gotham's White Knight) and Michael Caine (Alfred), but the one everybody talks about is Heath Ledger's Joker, which makes Nicholson's look like your weird uncle who drinks too much at parties. He's a sinister bastard and replaces Daniel Day Lewis' Daniel Plainview, who I referred to as "the most despicable character in the history of American film."
He steals every scene and the movie takes on an odd comic style horror when he's involved. It's as Oscar-worthy as they say it is and a reason in itself to fork over at least the regular movie theater money to see it.
Bale affects a raspy tone when he dons the Kevlar suit which is maybe a little over the top but I guess they're playing it for the comic book aspect. There are gadgets galore including a cool motorcycle that becomes the key chase vehicle late in the film. There's a story. There has to be a plot. It's a thin little thing about money and corrupt police officers. All of it leads to the conflict between The bat man and the Joker, but you knew that, right?
It's full of action and rather violent, but most of the violent acts are off-screen. There are more than a few hand-wringing sequences involving knives and people dangling from wires and enough gunplay and car wrecks to keep you awake for 152 minutes. Mostly it's good fun and one of those movies that you really have to see in a theater. Even if you have one of those giant TVs you won't get the impact of the substance of the film on your sofa like you do out in public.
On a side note, I do wonder why people applaud in movie theaters. About a third of the audience applauded twice - once at the end of an action sequence and again at the end of the film. Nervous energy or just dopey - you make the call.
I've never been to a movie where I had to order tickets in advance, but in order to see this in IMAX, one must make preparations days ahead. The shows sell-out quickly and in order to get a decent seat near the rear and center of the theater you need to arrive at least an hour before the doors open and then sit and wait for 20 minutes for the film to start. The good news is that they had some trouble with the projector and it was delayed another ten minutes. They made good on our inconvenience by giving us all a free pass to another IMAX film, good at any theater, so that was nice.
It excludes "Special events" though, which I guess precludes me from seeing The Dark Knight again for free. It's good enough to pay for though, and worth all the effort it takes to see it on a 50-foot screen.
If you're creeped-out by the idea that Ledger is deceased, it's not something I found myself thinking about during the film. Afterward though, I felt sad that he'll never get to reprise his role, nor will another actor be able to portray the Joker again, and I imagine that the character may be permanently removed from the series if it continues.
That's how good he is.

Friday, August 1, 2008

If it's not one thing, it's another...

GOIANIA, Brazil - Police on Thursday accused a Brazilian man of killing and dismembering his 17-year-old British girlfriend, taking pictures of her body parts with his cell phone and stuffing her torso in a suitcase.
She wasn't really his girlfriend, was she? I don't have a girlfriend, but I can figure that if I did, I wouldn't have an overwhelming desire to dismember her and stuff her in a suitcase. Maybe "girlfriend" is the wrong term here.
I noticed today that Exxon-Mobil reported earnings ...
Exxon's second-quarter net income rose 14 percent to $11.68 billion, or $2.22 a share, in the quarter.
All the while we kept hearing the stories of how the cost of exploration and supply and demand and the value of the dollar were the chief drivers of the price of gasoline. Now we see that maybe ... just maybe ... they lied to us. Perhaps they were screwing us. Not for nothin', I'm just saying, maybe they were screwing us. Maybe. Can you smell that?
Meanwhile, here are some facts to chew on over your morning coffee or afternoon snack or wherever you read this nonsense, much as I hate to cloud the issue with facts ...
Exxon pulled in $11.68 billion in profits in the second quarter on Thursday, the highest quarterly income ever recorded by a U.S. company. That includes Wal-Mart - for all you Wal-Mart haters out there. Protest the next time an Exxon-Mobil gas station is proposed in town as vehemently as you protest a Wal-Mart and you'll be showing me something. Nitwits.
Exxon earned over $128 million a day, or nearly $1,500 a second during the quarter. The company said that was after it paid $4,100 a second in taxes and $14,700 a second in expenses to run the business. Ya gotta run the business, right?
Exxon's quarterly earnings were slightly larger than the annual gross domestic product of Afghanistan, which was $11.63 billion in 2007, according to the World Bank. We're bombing Afghanistan, so maybe Exxon-Mobil headquarters should be on high alert?
With Exxon's quarterly profit, one could potentially buy Gap Inc., Ford or Starbucks, which have market capitalizations of $11.67 billion, $10.76 billion and $10.69 billion, respectively, according to Reuters data. Starbucks? The coffee, per gallon is probably as expensive as gasoline. It's cheaper to drink oil.
Exxon's quarterly earnings translate to roughly $38.33 per American. Buy yourself something nice.
$11.68 billion could buy roughly 2.95 billion gallons of gasoline, 179,692 new Cadillac Escalades, or 15.57 billion individual Snickers candy bars.
Have a Snickers. They're satisfying. If you could run your Escalade on candy you could be onto something.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Oh, now he's off on that whole "meaning of life" thing again... I think he's drunk.

I told some friends yesterday that I was bagging a bike ride to "contemplate the purpose of life..." among other things, one of which was examining the Zen of my sofa cushions. Now, stuck with the idea of being true to my word I am left with that task. I'm not sure I can pull it off in this forum.
I've been trying to edit myself to limit these things to the old "25 words or less" deal, but sadly my editing skills aren't equal to that task either. I'd be a horrible Keynote Speaker. "When do we get to the buffet?," they would ask. I'll be done in twenty minutes. I've been told that the most valuable word in public speaking is "finally," so let's try to wrap this up so we can eat.
I've been wondering (lately) what this whole thing is about. It's a tough question and I don't think I can answer it, which leads me to believe that it's not about anything.
After all, if we can assign importance to such nonsense as the latest Batman movie or an aged quarterback retiring, what possible consequence can our lives hold? Either they're meaningless by comparison or the masses are missing the big picture by spending time thinking about such trivial nonsense. I'm guessing the latter.
That assumes that the guy on the TV or the pro football team has more importance in life than the guy who makes sandwiches or works an assembly line. That's where I fall off the logic wagon.
We humans assign undue importance to people that have no direct interaction with our lives and spend way too much time thinking about their comings and goings than is necessary or warranted, given their level of income or their general impact on society.
Football players and movie stars generate more excitement than sandwich artists, but in the end, wouldn't you think that the guy who makes your lunch is a bigger part of your life than the guy who plays tackle football for your local team? I sure would because I can eat the sandwich.
Our value system is (and has been) way out of whack to the extent that we pay the quarterback more in ten minutes than the sandwich guy makes in a year - or the high school science teacher for that matter - so it's no wonder that people like me are left to contemplate the meaning of their lives.
That's why there are TV shows like "Entertainment Tonight" and no shows called "Store Clerks Tonight." So-called 'reality' shows think they can make stars out of ordinary people, but their limelight is short-lived and it's quickly turned over to the co-star of the new Batman movie who killed himself overdosing on drugs. We're a quirky bunch.
Finally, I'd tell you to pay a little more attention to the menial tasks because those are the ones that keep the wheels moving. The rest of them are disposable. The fault lies with the idea that the disposable tasks are the highest paid.
We are a quirky bunch.
Let's eat.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Favre Nation

If you're a sports fan - and I can't imagine you're not - you've had it up to here (pointing at my throat) with the 24-hour Brett Favre Watch sponsored chiefly by TV buzz killers ESPN. They can single handedly take a story and drive it into the ground with such intensity that eventually you want your TV to explode so you don't have to look at it anymore.
The nonsense surrounding Brett Favre's retirement/unretirement/reinstatement is reaching nonsense proportions. How so? The constant crawl at the bottom of the ESPN screen proclaims:
as though he was a league or a separate entity, and maybe he is. "What league is Favre?" I wondered to myself, and what level of importance can one achieve that his name is on the same level as actual sports organizations?
I hear that the NFL is going to announce that they will be adding an extra down for the Packers. Farveth down. After fourth down, as a tribute to their hero.
Milwaukee school children will be replacing the number "five" with "favre". The president will proclaim Saturday Favurday and a special coin will be minted to replace the nickel. A five-cent piece called the Favrickle (can you pronounce that?). It will be minted for a year, then retired, and consumers will be made to send it back to the government for reinstatement of their regular nickels or a backup nickel to be named later.
I hear there is space on Mount Rushmore and Favre's head might still be small enough to fit.
One wonders how the NFL will survive without Brett Favre. Perhaps they should re-name the championship game the Favrer Bowl and re-name the league the FFL.
Whatever happens, it can't approach the level of absurdity that it has already achieved.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Don't just do something, stand there.

1. A stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, for better or for worse, is determined; turning point.
2. A condition of instability or danger, as in social, economic, political or international affairs, leading to a decisive change.
3. A dramatic emotional or circumstantial upheaval in a person’s life.

Gasoline is four dollars a gallon. It’s a real crisis, folks. It must be, because the media tells us it is. End of the world, fire and brimstone stuff. It’s the sort of thing that they make movies and write books about. It’s so bad that we’ve decided to change our way of life and make difficult choices. Or not. Mostly, I’m seeing the “or not” option. We’re loath to change because we feel it’s tantamount to someone telling us what to do and we don’t like that. We like to complain and we’re good at it. “Do something!” we scream to whoever will listen. Generally there isn’t anyone listening, which makes us scream louder.

I haven’t affected any drastic changes. Partly because I don’t feel the need and partly because I don’t know how much difference it makes. One percent here, one percent there - it’s pennies on the dollar. I don't use the air conditioner on my morning drive. Instead, I run the defroster on the cold setting. It keeps me comfortable, since the sun isn't shining at 7am. Beyond that, I'm a conservative driver most of the time, so I'm still doing the same things I was doing when gasoline was a dollar a gallon. I get passed when the light turns green, drivers zoom past me only to move in front of me to use the next highway exit and I still see a large number of people in "drive thru" lanes with their engines idling even though they could speed their trip by parking and going inside.

Our local supermarket proclaims a “fire lane” in front of the store. There’s no parking, but people circumvent the law by staying in their idling vehicles while their lazy counterparts run in for a “few things.” Never mind that there are parking spaces. Those are at least a hundred feet from the store and God forbid our precious fat asses move from an actual parking space to the store. We like convenience and we’ll spend and do what is necessary in order to achieve it.

Unfortunately, that's true of the speedy-lane changing-hard accelerating-hard braking drivers who are the majority. Old habits die hard and I think most people feel they're entitled to be wasteful, as though it were some sort of American birthright. They'd rather complain than change, because in order to change you have to want to change.

They also want to complain. Complaining is more fun, and we’re all about fun.

Just thinking ...

If I could choose one person to sit down with and have a drink and discuss the evolution of music and its effect on society, I would choose David Bowie. I have so much more respect for him now than I did when he was popular. Maybe it's because I lived through his popularity and never really understood it until I was able to look back on it, but now I view him as an elder statesman of popular music and someone who has come to represent an era of music. He successfully changed with the times and marketed himself as a musical icon. Otherwise, it would be Peter Gabriel, but he's in a different genre than Bowie. Bowie, I'd talk to for hours about the 70s and how it changed the face of music. Gabriel, I think I would be more focused on "what were you thinking?" and how Genesis changed the art music scene. It's history versus personal perspective.
Who would you choose?

Monday, July 28, 2008

The bad news and the worse news.

Every year, rain or shine, I get my annual (that's what makes it every year) Social Security Benefits Statement from the friendly folks at our Federal government. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be a warning or a message of support, but I always take it as a warning. I'm funny that way.
For those of you who don't already know, I'm 50 years old, in spite of where I shop. My choice of retail clothing establishments does not figure in on the estimated value of my retirement benefits. Shame.
I found at least one portion of the statement interesting. If I work until age 62 (egad), my monthly payment would be $1,332 a month, or roughly enough to qualify for free government cheese and an occasional free clinic visit. That's if I work another 12 years. If however, I should have a house fall on me or get hit by a stray asteroid particle and become "permanently disabled," I could collect $1,843 a month. So go figure.
As an able-bodied [almost] senior citizen, I'm entitled to $1,332. As a disabled hunk of protoplasm, taking up space better suited for others and entirely on the government dole, I would collect an extra $500.
Somebody get me a hammer and a wheelchair.

My fingers still work.

What did I do this weekend? Bike. 38 miles on Saturday and 48 on Sunday. I guess it's supposed to make me feel better, but I can't help but wonder if the soreness in my inner thigh is somehow lengthening my life, and what sort of life is it if it is accompanied by inner thigh soreness.

MONROE TOWNSHIP - Township officials are hoping the installation of cameras at busy intersections in town will help reduce traffic violations and increase safety. The plan is part of a statewide pilot program, which was authorized early this year after the legislature made it legal for towns to snap photos of disobedient drivers and then send them tickets in the mail.
I'm hoping this includes people on cell phones. Although, I suppose this is the old "camel with his nose under the tent" analogy. Once he gets his nose under the tent, it isn't long before the whole camel is in the tent with you. How long before they are using GPS systems to ticket speeders? You're sitting at home opening your mail and you receive a notice saying a week ago, you were doing "60 in a 45." How are you going to fight that? Maybe that is the system's prime selling point?
Most people I know who don't have the EZ-Pass say that it's why they don't. It's hard to argue.
Pick a point - say, an entrance to a turnpike or other toll road. Time stamp it and pick another point where the driver exits and pays their toll. Do some rudimentary math and figure that it's impossible to travel 80 miles in less than an hour without breaking the speed limit.
Stamp a violation notice and put it in the mail. You don't even have to pay a cop.