What will August bring us, Precious?
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
I had a good laugh at the rude antics of one Mike Sui, whose multiple-personality-disorder video has gone viral on the Chinese Internet. As the blog China Smack explains:
In the above video, one young American man named Mike Sui impersonates a total of 12 different characters: A Beijinger, an American white person, Li Lei (a fictional character used in Chinese middle school English teaching materials, here represents mainland Chinese), an American black person, an African black person, a New Yorker, a Japanese, a Hong Kong Chinese, a Russian, a French, a gay person, and a Taiwanese Chinese. The dialogue alternates between English and Chinese and includes a lot of stereotypes, dialect, and inside jokes.
I barely understood 20% of it, but I busted a gut. You will, too.
[A tip of my bloody scalp to The Marmot's Hole for the following.]
A Swiss soccer player named Michel Morganella, upset at his Olympic team's 2-1 loss to South Korea, tweeted the following:
Je défonce tous les Coréens, allez tous vous brûler. Ahahahhahah bande de trisos
Literally translated: "I smash all Koreans, all of you go burn. Ahahahhahah bunch of retards."
I learned a new slang expression: "triso" comes from the noun "trisomie," which is Down Syndrome. The verb "défoncer" (which I did know), meanwhile, means to break up, shatter, destroy, or even gut (eviscerate). As the "dé" in "défoncer" implies, the image is one of something bursting (i.e., not imploding) due to a smashing impact. A somewhat looser but more natural translation of Morganella's tweet might be (preserving his illiterate punctuation):
I kick all Koreans' asses, all of you go burn in hell. Ahahahhahah bunch of retards.
It's unfortunate that this idiot's lack of sportsmanship will now reflect on Switzerland as a whole; it shouldn't, despite Switzerland's xenophobic streak. And since we're talking about xenophobic countries, it's equally legitimate to ask what lessons Korea might have learned from this incident. Morganella was immediately pulled off the team and he issued a public apology; would a Korean who made a racist tweet undergo the same treatment, and would his country feel a measure of shame? One commenter at the Marmot's Hole isn't hopeful:
Will this force Koreans to look inward? The guy got kicked off the team, if it were a Korean player that did this it would depend on how important he was to the team on whether he’d get booted.
Part of me wonders whether the commenter has a point.
Monday, July 30, 2012
[A word to the wise: this review contains spoilers.]
"The Dark Knight Rises" (DK3) owes an enormous creative debt to the work of Frank Miller, whose 1986 graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns serves as the inspiration for many of the crucial scenes in Christopher Nolan's swan song to his Dark Knight trilogy. Miller's ghost appears in DK3's story structure; it's also visible in Batman's physical encounter with Bane, and in other small, on-screen flourishes. The movie works equally well on its own terms, often referencing the two previous films in the series. The midair rescue of Bane, this film's main villain, serves as a malign counterpoint to Batman's heroic "Skyhook" extraction of Lau the nefarious-but-cowardly accountant from his Hong Kong aerie, and numerous flashbacks to the first and second movies give us a sense of historical perspective.
The story begins in Gotham, where Commissioner Gordon is giving the keynote speech at an event, held at the now-refurbished Wayne Manor, to celebrate Harvey Dent Day. You'll recall Dent, a.k.a., Two-Face, from the previous movie: a do-gooder district attorney gone bad, driven insane by the Joker. Dent's final deeds were covered up by Batman and Gordon in an effort to give Gotham hope for the future, with Batman taking the fall for Dent's deeds. Over the past eight years, the Dent Act has helped put away a thousand people involved in organized and major crimes; if the truth about Dent were ever to come out, all those arrests would be invalidated and chaos would ensue. Gordon comes close to revealing Dent's ugly secrets, but decides not to.
We then move to the rescue of Bane, a mysterious, muscular cult figure who fights for an unknown cause. Bane is being transferred along with a Russian nuclear scientist, Pavel, who has been instrumental in developing a device that produces energy through nuclear fusion. Bane's extraction team arrives in an aircraft even larger than the prison craft he's in; the team takes out Bane's guards and frees Bane himself. Bane siphons off a bit of Dr. Pavel's blood to leave DNA traces in the prison plane, then the prison plane, de-winged and stripped to its fuselage, is allowed to free-fall to earth with one of Bane's self-sacrificing henchmen inside. Pavel is presumed by authorities to have died in the crash.
Bruce Wayne, meanwhile, has become a crippled recluse, a Batman in retirement: a Wayne with a cane. He stands in the shadows and morosely watches the Dent Day proceedings, then shuffles inside his manor, sad and unshaven, to have his dinner. Wayne quickly discovers that a member of the serving staff is not who she appears to be: she has managed to crack a supposedly uncrackable safe, and has stolen a necklace belonging to Wayne's mother. This cat burglar makes good her escape, and Wayne, his interest piqued, tracks her down and discovers she is Selena Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a thief who has angered all the wrong people. The theft of Mrs. Wayne's necklace is a diversion, however: Kyle's real purpose in Wayne Manor is to obtain Bruce's fingerprints to sell on the black market.
That's only the initial setup. DK3 is a mass of tightly braided subplots, and is sometimes hard to follow. Bruce Wayne's relationship with Selena Kyle, in whom he sees a core of goodness, is one such subplot. Other subplots include an exploration of Bane's origins, Bane's mastery of Gotham City and the revelation of his ultimate purpose there, Bruce Wayne's evolving relationship with billionaire philanthropist Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), his deteriorating relationship with his faithful butler Alfred (Michael Caine), and his escape from an inescapable prison in "a more ancient part of the world."
I went into the movie curious to know whether Bane would indeed break Batman's back and render him a cripple, per the 1990s comic book storyline. Suffice it to say that Bane comes close, and then throws Bruce Wayne into the aforementioned prison, where Wayne convalesces while being tortured by TV views of Gotham in chaos. Wayne's eventual escape from the prison is arguably the centerpiece of the film: it's the "Rises" in the movie's title. During his incarceration, Wayne befriends two prisoners: one a kind, talkative old man (a nearly unrecognizable Tom Conti) who charitably punches Bruce's protruding vertebra back into alignment, the other a morphine-addicted ex-doctor with whom Bruce discusses the virtues of fearing death. The doctor convinces Bruce that fear of death gives one energy and impetus to accomplish impossible tasks, such as escaping from their prison; he recommends that Bruce make the attempt without the aid of a safety rope.
Bruce's talks with the ex-doctor aren't the only instances of dialogue in the film. DK3 is extremely talky: there is much telling, not showing. I told my buddy Dr. Steve that the movie often felt like an extended episode of "24," a show rife with expository dialogue. This impression was confirmed by the presence of several "24" cast members in the movie, including William Devane (Seasons 4, 5, and 6) as the US president, and David Dayan Fisher ("24," Season 5) as one of Bane's henchmen.
While a solid contribution to Christopher Nolan's trilogy, DK3 is also the weakest entry. Its labyrinthine plot is one problem, and the fact that Bane isn't Batman's diametrical opposite in quite the way that the Joker was is another. Bane is closer to being Batman's evil cousin: they trained under the same dark master, after all-- Ra's al Ghul of the League of Shadows (Liam Neeson). (Though excommunicated from the League, Bane sees himself as the keeper of its flame.) A third problem is the weird use of a common action movie trope: a bomb's timer. When we first learn about the timer, we realize that it's been set for five months. How convenient: this is the amount of time that the imprisoned Bruce Wayne will need to recover from his injuries, escape confinement, and return to Gotham. We also learn that the bomb can be triggered before the timer ticks to zero, which confuses the audience's sense of suspense.
While the complex plot, the lack of a diametrically opposed enemy, and the absence of old-school suspense are weaknesses of the film, DK3 also provides amusing parallels for fans of Frank Miller's 1986 graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns. Miller's novel takes place in America's near future, with an embittered, 55-year-old Bruce Wayne (still massively muscled) racing cars as if he has a death wish. The first of four chapters has Bruce inspired to put on the Batsuit once again. He shaves his mustache, girds himself, and faces off against a surgically "cured" Harvey Dent, whose facial symmetry has been restored. Batman defeats Dent, who is still Two-Face at heart.
In the second chapter of the novel, Batman is pitted against the Mutants, a murderous gang that terrorizes Gotham and is led by the Mutant leader, a muscular brute with long, filed teeth. Batman is initially defeated by the Mutant leader and is barely saved by the arrival of tiny little Carrie Kelly, a high school gymnast who fancies herself the new Robin. Batman reevaluates his tactics against the Mutants, and challenges the leader to a rematch, mentally noting that his mistake, in the first fight, was to fight like a young man-- savagely, with no holds barred. Batman doesn't make that mistake the second time around, and he systematically cripples the Mutant leader, popping all of his major joints and leaving him lying, disgraced and impotent, in the mud.
The third chapter of The Dark Knight Returns has Batman facing the Joker, who claims to have been cured during his time at Arkham Asylum. The Joker is invited to appear on the David Endochrine Show (a thinly veiled reference to David Letterman), where he promptly kills his own therapist and gasses the entire audience-- hundreds of people-- to death. Batman catches up to the Joker in an amusement park, where the Joker has just poisoned dozens of children and shot several other park-goers. The chase leads, ironically, into the Tunnel of Love, where the Joker repeatedly gut-stabs Batman until Batman breaks the Joker's neck, although he doesn't twist the Joker's neck far enough to kill him. The Joker's final act is to mock Batman's lack of nerve, even in extremis, and then the Joker twists his own neck the rest of the way, killing himself and leaving Batman to look like a murderer. The police, led by a young, angry female commissioner, chase the wounded Batman, who manages to get away.
The final chapter of Miller's saga has Batman facing the ultimate enemy: Superman. Batman and Superman have never seen eye-to-eye regarding the nature of justice. Superman is content to be an arm of the US government, often performing dirty clandestine missions for it and acting as the enforcer of the government's restrictions on superhero activity (it's implied that Superman ripped off the maverick Green Arrow's bowstring arm). Batman, meanwhile, sees justice as functioning outside the strictures and structures of law. "The world only makes sense when you force it to," he says. Bruce Wayne prepares well for his confrontation with Superman-- who has been ordered by the President to put Batman down-- building a special combat suit that gives him a significant fraction of Superman's power. With the suit plus a few other tricks (including synthesized kryptonite), Batman does the impossible: he physically defeats Superman. But at the last moment, when his hand is on Superman's throat, Bruce Wayne suffers a heart attack and dies. At the burial, however, Superman, with his acute hearing, picks up the sound of Bruce Wayne's heart coming back to life: the heart attack had been chemically faked. Wayne and Superman have an understanding, then: Wayne will continue his clandestine activities, and Superman will no longer interfere with him. The Dark Knight Returns ends in the Batcave, with Bruce Wayne planning to build an army of do-gooder vigilantes, satisfied that he has chosen a good life-- good enough.
The above summary of Frank Miller's magnum opus should make clear to a viewer of DK3 that there are several parallels. DK3 begins with Batman in retirement. Bruce Wayne quickly loses his mustache, and ultimately faces off against a brutal villain who has much in common with Miller's Mutant leader. As in The Dark Knight Returns, there's a moment in the movie in which a knowing older cop tells a fresh-faced younger cop to get ready "for a show" as Batman is about to do his thing. In the first confrontation between Bane and Batman, Bane notes that Batman has fought like a young man, "holding nothing back." The second confrontation tilts Batman's way, as he is able to punch loose some of the tubes of Bane's analgesic gas mask, without which Bane suffers crippling agony. The movie, like the graphic novel, features a Gotham in near-total chaos. And as in Miller's work, Nolan's Batman is presumed dead near the end of the film. While the film contains many dissimilarites with Miller's book, it's obvious to me that Nolan owes Miller a significant creative debt.
All in all, I found DK3 watchable. The acting was fine; Anne Hathaway's curvaceous ass stole every scene in which it appeared; Michael Caine was appropriately sentimental as an aging Alfred who feels he has failed in his duty to protect the Wayne family; the normally shrimpy Tom Hardy was pumped-up and sinister as Bane, his voice altered into a resonant, Patrick-Stewart-does-Darth-Vader timbre; Christian Bale exuded the right amount of gravitas. But the movie wasn't perfect, either: it was too long, too complicated, and despite a surprising plot twist near the end, not compelling enough. This was a cerebral, talky film; even the ghost (Liam Neeson channeling Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn) had plenty to say.
Would I recommend this film? Yes, but perhaps only for one viewing. Watching DK3 required a bit of effort on my part, especially as I tried to keep track of who was doing what, and where. Still, it's an entertaining ride with solid performances and sly references both to previous films and to other works, especially the work of Frank Miller. I'm not sure I'd label DK3 a fitting end to the Batman trilogy, but at the very least it's a good end. Good enough.
Sunday, July 29, 2012
Saturday, July 28, 2012
The new Batman movie beckons. My brother calls it "The Dark Pinga Rises." My buddy Dr. Steve is coming over today, and we'll be seeing the film together. I've been trying to avoid scuttlebutt about the movie, but most of the country saw it on the first weekend of its release-- among those folks my students at YB-- so I've heard a spoiler or two, alas. I'm just curious as to whether Bane breaks Batman's back, as happens in the comics, and whether this damage is permanent. My understanding is that it's not permanent in the comics, which makes me hopeful that it's not permanent in the movie, either.
Perhaps Batman's encounters with Bane will be like Batman's two encounters with the Mutant leader in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns: at first, the Mutant leader kicks Batman's ass, but in the rematch, Batman fights less extravagantly and more wisely, using subtlety to defeat his opponent and eventually breaking all his major joints, leaving him a cripple lying in the mud. That would be a satisfying outcome.
Expect a review in the next few days.
Thursday, July 26, 2012
Charles very kindly emailed me some pics from his recent visit to my place in Appalachia.
Two village idiots by the side of the road:
Size difference: who ordered the large?
The following pose was Charles's suggestion: the 80s pop band look-- windblown band members stare pretentiously off into the distance:
Bastille Day morning-- the moment I burned my hand on the oven door! As you see, the waffles went flying when I jerked my hand away from the hot surface:
Burns and other inconveniences aside, Hyunjin signals that she's about to enjoy her breffus (that's homemade berry syrup for her waffles):
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
I missed "Jackass 3D," but I recently saw "Jackass 3.5" on YouTube. The most exquisite moment in that film was when Bam Margera was talking trash about how no one on the Jackass squad could properly double-kick him in the head. Dave Englund (frequently involved in rectal misadventures) took Bam up on the challenge and destroyed Bam's skull:
Beautiful. Both of Dave's feet connected and Bam went down. I had a good laugh. The Jackass films are all about Schadenfreude.
Monday, July 23, 2012
In one of the most backhanded compliments I've ever read, Corey Atad of the movie blog justAtad contends, regarding Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" (starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman), that the "film’s true strength lies in its nonsensical plotting." I'm going to argue that nothing about the Joker's machinations and actions is nonsensical. First, though, we need to review Atad's claims.
It's central to Atad's argument that the Joker, who stands at the heart of the film, accomplishes his nefarious ends in ways that make no logical sense-- that somehow stretch the bounds of credibility and plausibility beyond a thinking audience member's ability to suspend disbelief. Atad offers several examples of this purported nonsense:
1. The Joker's plot to rob the mob bank at the beginning of the movie makes no sense in its particulars and in its execution.
2. The Joker's subjection of two ferries-ful of people to his own version of the Prisoner's Dilemma contains several implausibilities.
3. The Joker's setup for his attempted assassination of Mayor Garcia, his subsequent capture, his orchestration of the capture of Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes, and his escape from Gotham's Major Crimes Unit (MCU) are events that are logically unconnectable.
Essentially, Atad's argument comes down to this:
...at the end of this series of events, the Joker is right where he planned on being. How in the hell could he have foreseen Batman using that tech, or Dent taking the fall, or Gordon pretending to be dead[?] For [the Joker's] plans to work, he’d need to have built those wild card events into his plan right from the beginning, maybe even before the events of the film itself.
To respond to Atad's argument, I'll first address the specific examples he cites, and then will move into a more general discussion of the nature of the Joker, a nature that roots the Joker's plans and actions in the firm ground of plausibility. After all, I need only argue that the Joker's well-choreographed execution of his plans is plausible to make my point, since Atad's claim-- which is rather strongly worded-- is that the Joker's deeds are nonsensical. (I take "nonsensical" to refer primarily to the actions we see in the film, not the subtextual motivations of the Joker. Atad covers the Joker's motivations only cursorily.)
The Mob Bank Scene
At the beginning of "The Dark Knight," the story opens with a bank robbery. The bank is run by the Gotham mob, and is infiltrated by a party of men wearing clown masks, one of whom is the Joker himself. The other thieves are unaware that their ringleader is in their midst; they've been given their instructions before the heist begins. Two clowns tackle the phone lines on the bank's roof; three more clowns tackle the front counter area and the safe; one clown drives a school bus.
As each team member accomplishes a given task, he is killed by the other team member per the ringleader's instructions. The eliminations proceed like this:
1. Rooftop team, Clowns A and B: A kills B once B kills the phone line.
2. Front counter team, Clowns C, D, and E (the Joker): C kills D (the safe-cracker).
3. The school bus driver, Clown F, inadvertently kills C when he rams the bus into the bank. Clown E (the Joker) guns down Clown F.
Steps 1 and 2 strike me as straightforward. The Joker's instructions, given only to part of the team, would have been to kill the other team member as soon as he had accomplished his task. Fewer people to share the loot, right? That's motivation enough. Any possible implausibility has to be confined to Step 3. Atad complains:
The Joker’s plan to rob that bank makes no sense. Somehow, even with the mob controlling Gotham, he’s put together a crew of guys, none of whom have ever seen him before, organized them to rob the bank and kill each other off one by one at very specific intervals. Of course, this might all be somewhat possible, but then the next thing happens. A school bus crashes through the building, killing the last henchman at just the right time, and then the Joker gets in the bus and drives off just as a string of other buses are passing by as a way of hiding in plain sight. It makes zero sense.
Gotham is a fictional stand-in for a teeming metropolis like New York or Chicago ("The Dark Knight" was, in fact, filmed on location in Chicago), and in a city of several million, the Joker should have no trouble finding recruits without ties to the mob. The fact that the men don't know each other is immaterial; the Joker possesses enough charisma ("...the kind of mind the Joker attracts," rasps Batman later in the film) to put together as many teams-- of whatever size-- as he desires.
Atad's main complaint seems to be about the bus. It arrives with perfect deus ex machina timing, and neatly solves the problem of Clown C, who was about to shoot the Joker. This smells funny to Atad, but surely he must realize there's nothing logically impossible about this turn of events. (Plenty of people misuse the word "logic" when critiquing movie plots.) Could the Joker not have maneuvered Clown C to stand right where the bus would smash into the bank? Of course he could have! Did the Joker plan for such an event all along? Probably not, but there's no reason to call Clown C's demise logically impossible. As for the moment when the Joker drives the bus back out into traffic, slotting neatly into a line of school buses: this simply required a bit of foresight on the Joker's part. Someone as clever as the Joker would have had access to school bus schedules, and would have incorporated those schedules into his planning for the bank heist. Far from making "zero sense," there is nothing implausible or impossible about the Joker's planning and execution.
The Two-Ferries Scene
...the ferry sequence, in which the Joker rigs two ferries to explode, one with regular passengers, one with prisoners, and then gives each one a button to detonate the other and save themselves. How did the Joker manage to set this up? How did he find the time? How could he know that people would be ferried out of the city? Who helped him? Where does he find these people to help him? Where does he have the resources and entry to stage this? Who knows. It doesn’t make sense.
At this point in the film, the Joker has broadcast a city-wide threat that has everyone thinking about leaving Gotham. He utters one caveat, though-- a dire warning for the "bridge-and-tunnel crowd" that, by the end of the movie, seems mostly to be an empty threat designed to maneuver people onto the water. Escape via ferry seems like the only viable choice, especially if the citizens need to avoid bridges and tunnels. The Joker has calculated well: the ferries are-- predictably-- filled, and at least two of them start chugging across the river, one filled with prisoners as part of a scheduled transfer. I see nothing implausible or nonsensical here. How did the Joker manage to set this up? Teamwork! I feel that this question has been asked and answered in the previous section: the Joker is charismatic enough to roust as much help as he requires from a dysfunctional, crime-ridden city of millions. How did the Joker find the time to fill the ferries full of explosives? The answer to this question is the same as the answer to the question of how the Joker was able to coordinate a bank robbery at the beginning of the movie. This requires a fuller discussion of the nature of the Joker himself. I plan to get into this later.
As for who helped the Joker, and where the Joker finds such people to help him: I think that these issues, too, have been asked and answered. Atad's question about resources, though, is worth addressing: obviously, the Joker can't realize any mayhem without purchasing power, which brings us back to the bank robbery and to the Joker's attempts at negotiating a fee with the mobsters. Note, too, that the Joker's main tools are, as he says, bullets and gasoline, both of which have the virtue of being cheap.
Have we covered everything? We've explained the Joker's solution for his manpower needs, his charismatic facility in motivating and coordinating his henchmen, and his ability to purchase the necessary materials to wreak havoc on Gotham. Questions of time and logistical detail are expository issues for the film's director either to deal with or to ignore. I'm glad Nolan ignores them: the film would have been four hours long otherwise!
Mayor Garcia's Attempted Assassination, the Joker's Capture, etc.
I need to quote Atad at length for this part.
The lack of logic in anything involving the Joker extends into every aspect of the film’s plot. Let me lead you through a crucial section of the plot, and let’s see if it makes any sense at all. So, the Joker kills a few people. At the scene of one crime, Batman finds a bullet hole in a brick. He somehow gets the idea, with some sort of magical technology, to do a series of experiments and recover a fingerprint off the bullet. This alone makes no sense, but let’s pretend that it does for the moment. So, Batman gets the fingerprint off the bullet, [which] leads him to a name and to an apartment where a cop is tied up and a rig is set up by a window overlooking a memorial service for the recently killed police commissioner. At a precise moment, when Batman happens to be looking through the window, the blinds go up, making the positioned snipers think something is happening and they start firing [into] the window. On the street, things erupt in chaos. We see that the Joker is down there, dressed as a police officer. An attempt is made on the mayor’s life, but Gordon takes the hit.
So, now everyone thinks Gordon is dead. Bruce Wayne is going to a press conference to reveal himself as Batman, but at the last second Harvey Dent pretends that he’s Batman. He gets arrested, and then when he’s being transferred in a heavily guarded convoy, the Joker shows up. There’s a chase, Batman shows up, apparently not to the Joker’s great surprise. Things happen, and just as Joker is about to get the upper hand and take Batman’s mask off, Gordon shows up, alive, and saves the day. The Joker is hauled off to prison, where he gets put in a cell with a guy, inside whom he’d planted a cellphone bomb. During that, he also reveals to Batman that he’s managed to kidnap both Dent and Rachel Dawes, and they are in two different buildings, each set to explode. I’ll stop here, just because I could go on right to the end of the film, but let’s take a look at the logical problems here.
Okay, let’s pretend for a moment that Batman using the fingerprint tech makes sense, and that Gordon would actually be able to pull off that fake death bit. Even more illogical than those things is that at the end of this series of events, the Joker is right where he planned on being. How in the hell could he have foreseen Batman using that tech, or Dent taking the fall, or Gordon pretending to be dead. For his plans to work, he’d need to have built those wild card events into his plan right from the beginning, maybe even before the events of the film itself. There’s just no way he could have known far enough ahead that he’d be in that prison where he’d have the guy with the cellphone bomb It makes no sense at all.
What Atad refers to as the Batman's "magical technology" is none other than a souped-up version of the sort of equipment used by law enforcement agencies for forensic ballistics. There's nothing magical (if by "magical" Atad means "implausible/nonsensical/illogical") about the Batman's methods (see this Guardian article, published in 2008-- the same year "The Dark Knight" came out-- for more information on fingerprint retrieval from fired bullets). Once again, we can dismiss Atad's claims that something about the film "makes no sense."
As we move from Atad's digression about Batman back to his meditations on the Joker, we confront the issue of the "wild-card events" that the Joker could not possibly have anticipated. Could the Joker have known that Bruce Wayne would be standing at the window whose blinds snapped up at the appointed moment? No, but then again, the Joker's plan wasn't contingent on Wayne's presence: the snapping-up of the blinds would have done its job of distracting the snipers regardless of whether Wayne was in that apartment at that time. Could the Joker have known that Gordon was still alive? I don't think so, but he could easily have anticipated being caught and being placed in MCU holding. Having prepared for this contingency, the Joker would have readied his Plan B: the Exploding Fat Guy.
Atad gets it wrong when he writes, "The Joker is hauled off to prison, where he gets put in a cell with a guy, inside whom he’d planted a cellphone bomb." The Joker is actually sequestered in an interrogation room. At first he's worked over by Batman ("Never start with the head!"), then he's left with an angry cop, six of whose friends the Joker has killed. The Joker overpowers this cop and brings him out of the interrogation room at knifepoint, demanding his one phone call. This is the call to Exploding Fat Guy, who obligingly explodes, tearing apart the MCU and allowing the Joker to escape. How was Exploding Fat Guy maneuvered into getting caught and being placed into the MCU? Again, it comes down to the Joker's charisma in dealing with criminals. Fat Guy was given a sacred mission after he had undergone a bit of surgery to implant the phone bomb. But I have to say that spelling all of these details out for the viewer... well, it ruins the joke. As I mentioned before, I'm glad that Nolan didn't waste time on exposition.
The Nature of the Joker
Atad isn't entirely wrong in his assessment of who and what the Joker is. Atad sees the Joker as a force for chaos whose motivations remain largely opaque to the viewer. This is at least partially true: at the end of the film, the Joker speaks of himself and Batman in terms of the unstoppable force and the immovable object, destined to be in eternal conflict with each other. The Joker also offers us a glimpse into what makes him tick, such as when he describes himself to Harvey Dent as a dog chasing cars, but because he is inherently a liar (hints of the demonic here), we can't trust that the Joker is revealing his essential self. He calls himself an agent of chaos, for example, but his methods are ruthlessly methodical and, in the final analysis, obsessively repetitive: his constant modus operandi is to maneuver the people around him into harming each other. The Joker's character demonstrates, if nothing else, that insanity and rationality are not mutually exclusive. For all the Joker's railing against people with "a plan," the Joker is the consummate planner.
The Joker is also paradoxical in the sense that he has a disturbingly accurate understanding of human psychology, which allows him both to map out his projects and to recruit his henchmen, but he seems to be missing one important insight about the power of human charity and compassion. This is the significance of the ferry scene: ultimately, the Joker's self-blinding narcissism is unmasked by Batman, who accuses his enemy of assuming that all the citizens of Gotham are just as base and vile as he, the Joker, is.
Trying to get at the Joker's innermost motivations may be an impossible task. Perhaps Alfred, Bruce Wayne's faithful, skilled homme à tout faire, comes closest to an accurate assessment of the Joker when he tells Bruce Wayne that "some men just want to watch the world burn." There may be no deeper explanation for psychopathy than psychopathy itself. If there is any sense in which the Joker represents something implausible or illogical, it's that he seems gleefully unburdened by any need to be truthful or sensible. As in Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, Christopher Nolan's Joker has a multiple-choice past (cf. the two origin stories about the Joker's facial scars), and while he seems to be out to prove a point, it's unclear just what point the Joker is trying to prove.
Although I think Corey Atad's article is thoughtfully written, I find myself in fundamental disagreement with his assessment of the story's plot. Far from being a string of nonsensical contrivances, the story of "The Dark Knight" makes perfect sense to the extent that every action the Joker takes can be rationally explained, at least at the logistical level, if not always at the motivational level. Far from being illogical or nonsensical-- an extreme claim if ever I've heard one-- the story's twists and turns follow a plausible, sensible path from beginning to end. My own reading of "The Dark Knight" is that it is a study in two forms of insanity that, together, straddle a blurry ethical divide. Bruce Wayne isn't the most likable character, either; Rachel Dawes senses this about him, and stays away. "The Dark Knight," a bit like Harvey "Two-Face" Dent, presents us with two sides of the same ethical/psychological coin.
Saturday, July 21, 2012
Malcolm posts about the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, in which twelve people were killed by a disgruntled, gun-toting doctoral student during a screening of "The Dark Knight Rises." In his post, Malcolm links to the blog of one Jessica Redfield, a sports writer who was killed in the Aurora massacre, but who had survived a recent shooting in a Toronto, Ontario food court. Redfield's account of the Canadian tragedy focused heavily on how a premonitory feeling saved her life. My reply to this was:
With tragedy comes theology, and Ms. Redfield’s post seems to focus on the “feeling” she had that purportedly saved her life in Toronto. Where was that salutary feeling during the “Dark Knight” screening? I’m sorry that Ms. Redfield is dead, but I don’t trust people’s testimony when they claim to have had a spooky “feeling” — especially if they’re implying that God or some entity was warning them away from danger. Teasing out the theological implications of why some people might be gifted with such a feeling while others are left clueless is a tangled, bootless task. It’s enough to say that life sometimes sucks and random shit happens.
I heard plenty of attempts at making my mother's brain cancer intelligible. In the end, none of that theodicy-making impressed me. Mom's cancer was senseless, horrible, and plain wrong. It wasn't a lesson; it wasn't a test; it wasn't a blessing in disguise; it wasn't evidence of Providence. Sometimes life kicks you in the teeth for no goddamn reason at all, and the best you can do is just deal with it.
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Along with the promised essay on several books I've read this summer, I need to write a defense of Chris Nolan's second Batman film, "The Dark Knight." Why? Because this blogger accuses Nolan of having concocted an illogical plot for that film. Phooey, say I-- "Knight" is perfectly logical.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Charles and I stumbled upon an interesting fact: if you translate the phrase "Food Lion" into Korean, you get a brand name with multiple meanings.
"Food Lion" becomes eumshik saja in Korean. Eumshik means "food" while saja means "lion." But saja also happens to mean "let's buy," which means that eumshik saja can be translated as "Let's buy food!" --truly a clever brand name.
Sunday, July 15, 2012
My good buddy Charles and his lovely wife Hyunjin arrived at YB Near, where I work, on Thursday, a bit before 7PM. Charles had the chance to meet and shake hands with two of my coworkers and my supervisor; Hyunjin popped in moments later and gave me a hug. We talked a bit, then headed out for stromboli at the pizzeria next door to my center. That night, we watched "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," a movie that bored the travel-worn Hyunjin (she and Charles had driven straight westward from Delaware) to the point of sleepiness. Charles also admitted defeat, saying he'd had a hard time keeping track of the characters. I joked, later on, that it was a bit like keeping track of the names in a Russian play.
Before everyone sacked out, we made plans to drive the length of Skyline Drive the following day: a 105-mile car trek at a stately 35 miles per hour. What follows are some pics from that trip.
The first image, below, shows a closeup of Charles's hand as he coaxes a dying butterfly onto it. I guess that this was a male, having shot its wad during mating season and now having outlived its usefulness. The butterfly was originally on the asphalt of an overlook at which we'd stopped; Charles placed the insect on the low stone wall at the overlook's edge.
Below, Charles gives the butterfly some sex advice:
Much farther along the Drive, we stopped at an overlook with a rocky outcropping. Charles and Hyunjin moved atop the rocks as agilely as mountain goats, while I did my lumbering best to keep up.
At another overlook (or was it the same one?), I saw a dead tree that made an impression:
Around Mile 50, we stopped at Dark Hollow Falls, a 1.5-mile round-trip hike that goes way downhill, then way uphill. At the bottom of the hike are the modest-sized falls. Below, Charles and Hyunjin see the sights and take pictures of nature at its most natural.
We were all distracted by bracket fungi:
At last, the falls themselves (next two photos):
Completely unafraid of slippery rocks, Hyunjin poses:
I needed at least one pretentious photo of me aping zazen, so...
The climb back to the trailhead was nothing for Charles and his wife, but I had to stop and rest at several points. By the time I neared the top, all I could think about was the roll of paper towels in my car, with which to wipe off my sweat. And man, did I sweat. I sweated enough water to slake the thirst of an entire African village. I sweated enough to compete with Dark Hollow Falls itself.
We saw several deer along the way, but the highlight of our trip was near the end, when I almost ran over a bear cub that crossed the road in front of my car. "It's a bear!" I shouted unnecessarily as the cub ran left to right, across our field of view. We were all too surprised to get any pictures of the animal, but I think we all felt that that bear sighting had made the trip worth it. Despite our wonderment, I got the hell out of there, reasoning that, if we had seen a cub, then Mama Bear couldn't be far behind. For a full-grown bear, my Honda Fit would have been like a toy made of aluminum foil, with three healthy dollops of meat inside it. No sense in provoking Mom.
When we got back to my place, I saw that the fence around our communal garbage dumpster had been completely replaced, and that a new warning sign had been tacked onto it. The sign's English was awful, so I had to take a picture of it:
How awful. Unnecessary use of quotation marks, the word "unexceptable" instead of "unacceptable"... oy gevalt.
We had thought about hitting a particular hamburger joint on the way back from Skyline Drive, but we got home too late. So I fed Charles and Hyunjin my budae-jjigae instead. I think they enjoyed it:
We were all too tired to screen "Inglourious Basterds," and since Charles and Hyunjin had to shove off by about 8AM the following morning, we called it a night around 11:30PM. I got up at 6AM to prep breakfast for the dynamic duo. What follows are pictures of the egg/sausage/cheese concoction I'd made.
The photos below aren't actually from yesterday; they're from the previous month. I haven't named this dish, which is quiche-like in nature, but I suppose that, were I to give it a name, I'd call it a Breakfast Frittata or Kevin's Crustless Quiche (which has the advantage of being alliterative in a vaguely racist, "k-k-k" sort of way).
6 large eggs
2 cups shredded cheddar
1 pound breakfast sausage
red chili pepper flakes
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cut sausage into eight discs and place in microwavable Pyrex container, heatproof cover on. Zap for 7.5 minutes on high to cook sausage thoroughly. Drain fat from sausage and pull pieces apart with two forks, creating small chunks and crumbles.
3. Scramble eggs with a dollop of heavy cream.
4. Mix eggs and shredded cheddar with the sausage. Add some red pepper for a kick and a few tablespoons of maple syrup for sweetness. Remix.
5. Bake uncovered in 9" x 9" square Pyrex baking dish (the same one used for microwaving) for 25-30 minutes.
The results are below, in the next three pictures:
I served the above with fresh fruit, waffles (slightly burned!-- Charles has a hilarious photo of me burning my hand on the oven door, with the waffles bouncing crazily off the tray), and homemade fruit syrup.
Saying goodbye to Charles and Hyunjin was bittersweet for me. They're on their way back to Korea early next week. Charles says he'll need some time to recover from this vacation, during which he did a lot, traveled a lot, and met a lot of people. But he also says he has no regrets, even though he didn't have much chance to just chill. All the same, I hope he and the Missus came close to chilling while at my place. I'd like to think that the Kevinschloß is a place where weary travelers can find rest, scratch their butts relaxedly, and belch freely. As Charles did. Repeatedly. The man is gastrically talented.
Saturday, July 14, 2012
Friday, July 13, 2012
I'm currently hosting Charles La Shure (of Liminality) and his lovely wife Hyunjin on this leg of their month-long jaunt through the States. They'll be here in Appalachia until Saturday morning; I'm planning to take them along the entire length of Skyline Drive Friday afternoon. Ought to be fun.
Thursday, July 12, 2012
I cover my mouth with my hand when I sneeze-- I don't thrust my face into the crook of an elbow. Old habits die hard, I guess, and I suppose I also fear the potential for me to pull away from an especially violent sneeze with a thick rope of snot connecting my face to my sleeve. That would be an unforgivable sartorial faux pas. A hand over the face-holes is much more tasteful and discreet.
But hands have their disadvantages, as I belatedly realized today. At one point during an afternoon tutoring session I sneezed, reflexively covering my mouth with my hand... and inadvertently guiding a prize-winning chunk of snot onto my right shoulder, where it sat leering spitefully at my students like a pirate's parrot. I didn't notice this sorry fact until God-know-how-many minutes later, at which point I whirled in my swivel chair and deftly batted the offending booger off my person. Jesus, I hope nobody noticed that echoed lamely through by brain, but I knew that at least one student had had ample opportunity to sight the nose boulder. What a shame.
So today, for an unknown period of time, I wore the rank insignia of a flag officer of the Narine Corps. It could have been worse, I suppose: the snot could have been wet.
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
I've had to read some interesting YA fiction since I began teaching the YB Summer Book Club. First, there's The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963; next, there's Fever, 1793; and most recently, there's Island's End. I'd like to talk about these three books soon. Stay tuned.
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Monday, July 09, 2012
Sunday, July 08, 2012
I used to own a cat that loved my balls. I’d be sitting in front of the computer, nude, and the cat would saunter in, sight my scrotum dangling over the edge of the chair, then start playfully batting at it. The swinging motion excited the cat, and what started off as a genteel game of tetherballs would quickly degenerate into a bloody, caterwauling session of shredderballs, the cat yowling like a knife-wielding Bruce Lee going postal on a speedbag.
I found this scrote-raking experience quite character-building. It taught me stoicism. And chicks dug the thick, twisted scar tissue.
Saturday, July 07, 2012
The inspection of my apartment went well. I passed "with flying colors," according to the evaluators-- which I take to mean that I'm not keeping my place in a slovenly, third-world manner. The inspectors weren't anything like what I had imagined: instead of a gang of rough-looking dudes, the VHDA team consisted of two pleasant, bright-eyed older ladies who stepped gingerly into my place and asked to test my fire alarm and inspect my ventilation system. They chirped about my budae-jjigae, which was burbling on the range. "Smells good!" they said, and I told them the story behind the stew's invention. On their way out, the ladies told me that it had been a pleasure talking with me; the whole thing was over in three minutes.
I may as well digress and tell you the story of my budae's tragedy and triumph. The soup tasted pretty good yesterday, but it felt as if something were missing. I realized what that was when I opened my fridge this morning and saw the bottle of crushed garlic sitting in the fridge door's shelf. "Garlic! Dammit!" I barked to no one in particular. So I cracked open the bottle, slopped a few heaping tablespoonfuls of garlic into the stew, and boiled it for a few minutes.
Bad move, that.
I'd put in way too much garlic, thus rendering the stew inedible. Moments passed while I stood in my kitchen, depressed, pondering what to do. Eventually, I decided to try a rescue worthy of any salvage operation on Food Network's Chopped: I would rinse out the stew ingredients with water and redo the broth. Thus began Operation Budae-Jjigae Salvation.
I took down my huge roasting pan-- the one that can hold a twenty-five-pound turkey. I dumped the budae into the pan, then poured an entire pitcher of water into the stew, thinning it out considerably. I then retrieved my best friend, Mr. Slotted Spoon, and started scooping out soup solids, shaking the solids so as to dislodge any granules of garlic. The process took about twenty minutes, but I managed to get rid of most of the garlic this way. I told myself that any garlic cling-ons would simply add a more subtle, garlicky taste to the remade stew.
With the soup solids back in the large-capacity frying pan, I dumped out the roasting pan, washed it, and started up the burner under the frying pan. I then mixed up some beef broth with the dashida bouillon from my pantry, glopped in some gochujang, and threw in a mighty fistful of red chili powder.
It all came together quite nicely, especially once I added more sliced hot dogs and the last three-quarters of a pound of ground beef. In fact, the budae tasted better than it had the first time around. All in all, a good save. The inspection ladies came in while the rescued batch of budae was burbling: no oppressive garlic odor for them to deal with, thank goodness.
Later in the day, I made chamchi-jjigae-- tuna stew. That turned out rather nicely, and I've got enough leftover fresh ingredients to make a third soup: kongnamul-guk, or soybean sprout soup. With three huge tubs of soup at my disposal, I'll have enough food for three weeks-- all for $90. 42 servings for $90 comes out to a little more than $2 per serving. Not bad, all in all.
A memo I received earlier this week had this to say:
Please be advised that your apartment home has been randomly selected by VHDA for inspection. The Sxxxxxxxxx Cxxxxxx team will enter your home on Thursday July 5th to complete a pre-inspection. On Friday, July 6, 2012 Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA) along with the Sxxxxxxxxx Cxxxxxx team will inspect your apartment home that was randomly selected. You do not have to be present for the inspection. Please make sure your apartment is presentable and NO doors are blocked in your apartment home including the laundry rooms.
ALL pets must be confined both days. The inspections will be done on both days between the hours of 10:00am to 3:00pm.
Thank you for your cooperation!
If you have any questions, please contact the Leasing Office at (XXX) XXX-XXXX.
I got "pre-inspected" yesterday, while I was away at work; since I'm off today, I'm now waiting for the arrival of the VHDA team (plus my apartment's own team) to barge in and sniff around.
A few things strike me about the above memo. First is the hatred of commas. Second is the phrase "apartment home," which sounds like an expression churned out by somebody's marketing department. Let's cut the bullshit and drop the "home," shall we?
Thursday, July 05, 2012
I fêted my Fourth by making a mess of budae-jjigae-- Komerican "boot camp" stew. Here are the phases.
First, there's the meat-- spam, hot dogs, and ground beef:
Second, there's the rest of the veggies and flavorings-- gochujang (red chili pepper paste), kimchi, squash, paengi-beoseot (enoki mushrooms), twisted chili pepper, pyogo (shiitake mushrooms), kong-namul (soy sprouts), gochu (chili peppers, lean and mean), white onion, tofu, green onion, and ssukggat (mugwort):
Next, the carbs. Sliced rice cake (ddeok) and ramyeon are late to the party:
The cooking begins:
Toward the end of the glorious process, the ramyeon gets tossed in:
My gullet was full this evening. Then I went out for a drive and watched the sporadic fireworks in the Shenandoah Valley from an overlook on Skyline Drive. Fireworks competed with heat lightning for dominance of the sky. It was an incredible display.
For previous budae-related posts, see here.
Wednesday, July 04, 2012
I'm very likely going to hit Skyline Drive again, as I did last year, for a quiet celebration of July 4th. The Drive goes along the top ridge of the Shenandoah Valley; I can stop at the occasional overlook and peer down into the dark depression below, where neighborhood fireworks will be popping off randomly. Looking down on fireworks was a neat experience last year.
But what to eat? I'm tempted either to grab some budae-jjigae ingredients today, or to go full-on Amurrican and buy some slabs, heaps, and cylinders of beef and cow.
Monday, July 02, 2012
I saw the following and began to lose all hope: a blog post by one Steve Bartin of the blog Newsalert. Bartin writes and quotes:
Left-wing professor Eric Alterman explains why conservatives can't make it in journalism or academia:
To the extent that conservatives face any difficulty achieving a hearing for their views in journalism (or in academia, for that matter), the phenomenon is less the result of purposeful exclusion than a function of a commitment to maintaining professional standards. To be a good journalist or scholar, one must be willing to follow one’s research wherever it may lead.
The is the very same Eric Alterman that refers to conservatives as "fucking Nascar retards". Attention slow witted Republicans on Capital Hill: why subsidize Eric Alterman through Pell grants and student loans? How about a head tax on tenured professors? Isn't that a better way of financing some of higher education? Just a reminder, when you tax socialists : you'll get less of them.
Unfortunately, Bartin trips over his own dick. If his point is to refute the notion that conservatives are unprofessional idiots, he does no justice to his own cause by introducing at least six errors into his post.
1. "The is the very same Eric Alterman that..." should be "This is the very same Eric Alterman that..."
2. The phrasal adjective "slow-witted" should be hyphenated since it comes before the noun it modifies.
3. "Capital Hill" should be "Capitol Hill." Duh.
4. The period should be inside the quotation mark surrounding the phrase "fucking Nascar retards." This isn't England, friend. Tuck your periods in.
5. There should be no space between "socialists" and the colon.
6. The phrase "you'll get less of them" should be "you'll get fewer of them." Countable nouns take "fewer"; uncountables take "less."
It pains me when a person can't go two fucking lines without making some sort of gaffe-- especially when he's trying to rebut the notion that he's an idiot. Mistakes make you sound dumb-- period. If you disagree because you feel that editors and proofers are there to bail you out of the messes you make, read this.
a spunky woman with a ripe, firm fanny
US English speaker hears: a spirited woman with a ripe, firm ass
UK English speaker hears: a sperm-filled woman with a ripe, firm vagina
US English: the bum
UK English: the front of the bum
The power and service outage came at just the wrong time: I had been given a proofreading assignment by my Seoul-based publishing company-- due Sunday night, i.e., tonight-- and suddenly found myself unable to complete it. Now that I'm back online, my work is cut out for me, so I'd best get butt-crackin'.
One thing I learned, while I was without Internet service, was that it's hard as hell to blog from my Droid X phone.
For the uninitiated: smart phones have pop-up keypads that appear on the screen when you tap your fingertip inside a "field," i.e., a blank space in which you're going to insert alphanumeric text. If the field is a large one-- say, for email-- then you can tap the field again to bring up a tiny, arrow-shaped cursor guide that you can drag with your fingertip in order to drag the cursor to the proper spot for text insertion/deletion. Normally, the cursor and the cursor guide are glued together: wherever the guide goes, the cursor will follow.
Such is not the case when you're blogging on a Droid X.
I was just about ready to smash my phone to bits because of the misbehaving cursor. I had Blogger's mobile version up on my Droid, and was blogging away when I noticed one or two typos. I tapped the spot in the text where the typos were... and the entire screen zinged to the left like a dodgeball player, leaving only a blank white space and the cursor guide. Where did the text and cursor go?
With a bit of fingertip finesse, I was able to coax the cursor and cursor guide onto the screen at the same time, but was unable, for whatever reason, to get the cursor to ride atop the guide, the way it normally does on Twitter or Google or text messaging or regular email. There must be some sort of fundamental incompatibility between Droid's OS and Blogger's mobile software. The whole affair felt like trying to grab a piece of living sushi with a pair of chopsticks: the sushi dodges left, dodges right, and never fucking sits still.
I'm one of those people who fume when they can't move straight from Point A to Point B in an expeditious manner. Whether we're talking about hi-tech smart phones or about a lo-tech two-by-four that doesn't want to be nailed smoothly into place, if reality fails to conform to my expectations, I get frustrated.
But I've learned a valuable lesson from all this: from now on, I'll be blogging via my Gmail app. The cursor and guide behave normally on that screen.
Sunday, July 01, 2012
I'm writing this post by using my speaker function on my phone. yes once again I'm blogging by phone. I just wanted you to know that comcast slurps the scrotums of an entire leper colony. it doesn't help matters that the android interface does not work well with blogger's edit window. comcast basically gave me the run around all day yesterday. I tried to call them yesterday afternoon but I got a busy signal. then when I tried to call them around 3 am I would receive the computer voice that said that the wait would be over 10 minutes for a customer representative. that's bullshit.
if I were to personify comcast I would say that it's like trying to talk with a giant talking penis that only wanted to fuck you in the ass.
We had a bad summer storm lumber drunkenly through our neighborhood last night. It boorishly knocked out the power and cut off Internet service. The latter still hasn't been restored, so I'm blogging this from my phone, which is a pisser because my text edit window doesn't behave the way it's supposed to: my cursor moves strangely, and the window itself displays only part of the text column, forcing me to drag the column right and left in order to see what I'm typing.
I'll have to make a burnt offering to the cybergods to get regular service restored soon. Blogging from a smart phone isn't nearly as fun or easy as blogging from my old Blackberry was.