Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Peter Schaffer's ode of pantheism, Equus, describes how a boy committed his soul to the Horse God at a young age.
In just such a way, I committed my soul to the Bat God at a young age.
I was born in the midst of the first Batman craze. My older brother, given the privilege of choosing my middle name, selected a Batman-oriented one. My earliest memory is watching the TV show. Much of my pre-school childhood was spent dressed in a home-made Batman costume (thanks Mom) and some of my happiest times as a child were spent playing Batman and Robin with my brother and an old-school cardboard box-and-tin-can Batmobile. I continued to read Batman comics up until just a few years ago and I still collect Batman paraphernalia.
So, when I tell you that The Dark Knight is the single most superb achievement in the history of Batman film adaptation, you must not view this simply as some ordinary opinion but rather as the voice of absolute authority beyond any contradiction or qualification.
It is beautiful. It is everything that the character and the legend has ever meant to me. It is even better than Batman Begins, and that is a very high bar.
The film successfully conveys the character's loneliness and the sheer quixotic hopelessness of the struggle he has taken on. He already has his revenge yet some sense of duty he can't even express drives him to continue to risk his life and sacrifice any chance of happiness to fight a battle he knows he will never win.
The film has two achievements for which I'm particularly grateful:
The Joker - as a fan, I've always hated the Joker. I view other villains as merely amusing plot devices, but I hate the Joker. Those of us who are really invested in the legend have always seen the popular interpretation of the character - as a cartoonish bank robber - as a sickening whitewash of an utterly evil sociopathic killer. Frankly, I don't even own much Joker paraphernalia because the very sight of the character gives me the creeps. This movie, finally - finally, finally - showed that side of this classic villain.
Some Batman fans will quibble that Nolan's Joker merely wears makeup instead of having permanently stained skin. However, I think that the whole stained skin business would have detracted from Nolan's carefully-crafted verisimilitude while the sloppy makeup and greasy hair amplified the character's psychotic loathsomeness.
Two-Face - finally, a Two-Face origin that makes sense! The comic book origin (a mobster on trial throws acid in Dent's face, which somehow causes him to snap) never rang true to me. Here at last we have the events constructed so that you can actually believe that Dent would lose his mind - not over his disfigurement, but because of the other losses he suffers. So much the better that Dent's descent is planned by the Joker, which helps "elevate" this movie's version of Joker to the same sort of evil genius as Jigsaw in the Saw movies.
I could carry on at length about everything I loved about the movie. There were flaws, for sure. As in Batman Begins, the vehicular chase scenes were excessive and unbelievable. I suppose they had to throw the ADD action movie crowd a bone somewhere. If you filter those scenes out, the plot and dialogue of the movie are quite subtle. It's a serious movie that will never be taken seriously. For my part, I plan to see it at least four or five more times.
If you only see one Batman movie in your whole life, this is the one to see.
posted by Mentok @ 10:22 AM, ,
Monday, July 28, 2008
After half a continent of driving and a brief, unscheduled lay-over on Vancouver Island, we finally made it to our destination on Saltspring Island, 29 km X 14 km, population 10,000.
The word "enchanted" often comes up when talking about Saltspring. It is a place that seems oddly disconnected from the real world. The island is a magnet for hippies, artists, organic farmers, dreamers and mid-life crisis types trying to reinvent themselves. On top of that, there's a smattering of yacht-club types, retirees and some people who are just plain filthy rich.
The crazy blend of character types gives the place one of the most unique and colourful local cultures anywhere in North America, in my experience. Some of my observations :
- On the whole island, there was not one, single, solitary chain or franchise restaurant. Not one. No McD's, no Dairy Queen, no Subway, no Keg, no White Spot. In fact, I counted no more than 10 chains or franchises of any sort, and that included some very prosaic examples like a bank and a hardware store. It was as though the island had declared independence from North America's economic empires.
- Despite the big communal culture of the place, public services - especially public recreation services - were astonishingly poor. The things they called public beaches weren't true public institutions but just little strips of unclaimed land maintained (half-assedly) by volunteers, not by any local government.
- Besides hippies, deer are the dominant life form on the island. They have no predators there, so they have no fear and wander about at will... the deer, that is, although I suppose those observations apply equally to the hippies.
- A big chunk of the local economy runs on honest john boxes. No, really.
- If I never see the word "organic" again, it will be too soon.
Coming from the wide open prairies, I felt oddly comforted by the womb-like limitations of the place. In half an hour you could get from one end of the island to the other; that was your whole world and all variables could be known.
But since this place is still home to a bunch of hairless apes, there were also downsides. I got a big dose of all of the island's negatives just before I got on the ferry to leave. For my ferry-crossing snack, I revisited a vegan restaurant that makes the most incredible sandwiches I've ever tasted. I got chatting with the proprietress, a cheerful Quebecois woman, and suggested that her recipes were so great that she should think about franchising. Her mood immediately went sour.
"Yeah, well, that was the original idea."
She proceeded to tell me how Saltspring has the highest per capita population of millionaires, including a very elite group of 100 who each have net worths exceeding $300 million.
"They all belong to a club and they all, you know, play together," she said suggestively.
She didn't get into a lot of details, but I got the picture that she had come out to the island seven years ago with some recipes and some funky cafe design ideas with the hopes of wowing some deep-pocketed patron who would help her finance a franchise empire. Sadly, her plan had failed and she was quite bitter about it.
"Saltspring is a strange place. BC is a strange place. Except for Vancouver, BC has the rudest people in Canada... very British and Irish, you know."
On the ferry ride back, I felt very sad for her. Yet, I was also glad I'd heard that story. First, it assured me that, yes, hippy types can be greedy and ambitious too. Second and more important, it helped shatter some of my idyllic notions of the island which has helped me miss it less.
But then, as time went on, I started to get pissed off about her attitude. Yes, failed business venture, very sad. But exactly where does a Quebecoise get off calling other people "rude"? My experience with people all through BC was completely opposite to what she suggested. On the other hand, I've been to Quebec many times - both in urban and rural areas - and I can assure you that "friendly" is the last word anyone would ever use to describe the Quebecois. Hell, "cheerful" usually seems way too much to expect from them. So perhaps Organic Girl (as my kids have since dubbed her) should have looked in the mirror for the source of her negative experience.
Anyway, that was our trip. This is getting long winded, so I'll leave out the whole happy episode where we almost literally bumped into a long-lost friend at the farmers' market. I'll also leave out the drive back, which was grueling and featured some of the worst mountain driving I've yet encountered. We made it back just in time to get to the wedding of one of my best friends. It was a lot packed into two weeks. Consequently, it seemed like much longer. We all felt like we'd been away a month. We certainly got our money's worth out of that trip.
posted by Mentok @ 12:27 PM, ,
Monday, July 14, 2008
All I wanted was to swim in the ocean. You see, I live way, way inland, about as far from any ocean as you can get. So my simple holiday dream was to taste salt water and see an expanse of blue stretching to infinity.
I didn't get that so much. But what I did get was a multi-faceted, thoroughly enriching vacation experience that I think easily counts as our family's best vacation ever.
Things seemed to come in twos: Two holiday hotspots; two major Canadian cities; two sets of mountain ranges; two major bodies of water; two vineyards; two cheese farms; and two old friends with whom we connected in two very different ways.
Yada, Yada, Yada
Let me gloss over the boring stuff. We crossed the Rockies and stopped at our favourite vacation spot, Kelowna, BC, on the shores of Lake Okanagan (if you're keeping count, that's one mountain range, one vacation hotspot and one body of water.) We took in Canada Day festivities which were positively Mardi Gras-like. Loadsa fun.
From there, we crossed the Columbia Mountain range. As a flatlander, I'd never previously realized that different mountain ranges have different characters. I've driven across the Rockies many times and I sort of assumed all mountains are craggy, cold and scary. Not so. The vegetation, the driving conditions, the whole vibe of the Columbia mountains was totally different from the Rockies.
My Dinner With Fil
Now for the part you all want to hear about: my evening with Fil. I have been friends with Mr. Pogoagogo for 18 months now and, in terms of the electronic parts of our lives, we've been through a fair bit together. We had made plans to meet as my family and I passed through Vancouver.
I have to admit I was a little apprehensive. There are all sorts of ways that e-relationships can go south. Lots of people use their e-dentities to reinvent themselves or to play other agendas, so you never really know. There's an old axiom in the theory of knowledge: Q - how do you know for sure that a bridge is safe to cross? A - After you've crossed it; before then you're just guessing. I thought about that as I drove over the Port Mann bridge into Vancouver.
As it turned out, all such fears were unfounded. I'm pleased to report that meester Fil is every inch the gentleman he seems online and I am prouder than ever to call him my friend.
We spent a perfectly delightful evening eating pizza on the beach, watching our kids play and chatting (in only the best terms) about blog friends. We carried on back at Fil's house, talking over wine and port until late into the night ... far too late, I fear, given that the next day was a work day for Fil.
One of the nicest surprises of the visit was meeting the fascinating Mrs. Pogoagogo. She could easily be a colourful blogger in her own right if she ever took a notion to do so. Hell, all Fil has to do is set up a hidden microphone in the house; she's so witty I'd pay money to subscribe to that podcast.
It was also interesting to compare and contrast the family histories of the Pogoagogos and the Mentoks. Library Mama and I both come from pioneer stock. Our families have each been around this corner of the world for about five generations. There's a small lake named after my family, stemming from the days of the province's earliest settlement. The Pogoagogos, on the other hand, seem like regular folk, but when you get them talking it turns out that their families have been fabulous citizens of the world with no firm nationality to speak of. I dunno, I find that just kinda neat to think about.
Well, that's enough for today. Next up: the wild and wacky land of Saltspring Island.
posted by Mentok @ 11:51 PM, ,