Monday, July 30, 2012

I didn't care for "The Dark Knight Rises"

Opinions seem to be split on "The Dark Knight Rises," the final installment of Christopher Nolan's Batman-opus.

Spoilers! I'd like to note that the ending of this movie was spoiled for me on opening day when I was reading my office's Facebook page and one of our students posted the ending because s/he is a massive asshat and can suck my freshly sharpened Batarang, thank you very much.

I've read a couple of reviews calling it a masterful, fitting end to a grand, sweeping trilogy, and other reviews calling it a sloppy, incoherent mess.

And I really, REALLY want to be in the fitting end camp. Batman! Catwoman! 'Splosions! IM-splosions! I loved it's predecessor, "The Dark Knight." It's one of my favorite movies of all time, and it's definitely the best superhero movie ever made. It blew everything else out of the water, the original "Batman," "X2," "Spider-Man," "The Incredibles," nothing else comes close to touching the depth and thematic resonance of "The Dark Knight."  

Maybe that was the problem. Maybe my expectations were just too high for the sequel, which isn't a bad movie, really. I liked the villain, I liked Catwoman, I liked John Blake, and the action scenes were cool. I was never bored, exactly, but neither was I sucked into the world, the characters, and their struggles. I had too many questions that were never answered, and I kept getting lured into a philosophical theme only to have that theme discarded for the next plot twist.
The twist is she's my best friend and lets me ride that Batcycle.

Here were my main problems: there was hardly any actual Batman or Batmanning (yes, it's a verb) in this Batman movie, Bruce Wayne was the least interesting person on-screen, I could drive a Bat-wing through the plot-holes, and there was no central theme to hold the whole thing together.

The last one is my biggest gripe. "The Dark Knight" introduced it's thesis early on. What separates heroes from villains? Every action sequence, every line of dialogue, and every character development served to expound on that thesis. Every part of that story worked to expand and explore the basic themes of heroism, evil, and the difference between the two.

The difference is just knives and pocket lint.
What is the theme in "The Dark Knight Rises"? Is it that the past always comes back to haunt you? Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne seem pretty haunted by the lies they told about Harvey Dent at the end of "The Dark Knight." Selina Kyle is wholly motivated by her quest to escape her past crimes and her past selves (she's complicated; I liked her a lot). Bane, too, uses his tragic childhood to fuel his quest for--well, that's one of the plot holes I mentioned earlier. Bane is a lot of fun to watch, but damned if I could figure out what he or Talia really wanted in the end.

Then the movie just sort of forgets that it wants to explore how the past binds and shapes us, and decides it's going to talk about hope instead. Bane doesn't want to kill Batman or destroy the city right now. He wants to give it a few months, long enough for people to get some hope that they'll be saved, and THEN he'll crush them. I think. Seriously, the villainous plots in this movie remind me of a Venture Bros. episode. "I dare you to make less sense!"
More plausible than this movie

So then maybe the movie is supposed to be about fear? About how fear of death is what makes you achieve great things? And you can't fall into despair and hope for death, because then you won't be able to jump really far, even thought there's CLEARLY a rope attached to the lip of that big well and you could just shimmy up the damn rope now that you've cured your eight-year-long limp and your broken back with some prison calisthenics. That plot point did not make a damn bit of sense. And this is coming from someone who read the comic this movie is based on, which had Bruce Wayne's doctor girlfriend curing his broken back with her psychic powers and was STILL more believable that whatever crazy shit went down in the third act of "The Dark Knight Rises."
Somehow still more plausible than this movie

All of these themes are rich fodder for a Batman story. The impact of the past on the present, the power of hope, the function of fear, all good stuff and all covered in the two earlier Nolan Bat-movies, which is why I understand how a lot of people can feel this movie is a fitting end to the trilogy. But "The Dark Knight Rises" never stuck with any of these themes long enough for me to get emotionally or intellectually invested.

I wouldn't have cared so much about themes if the story had been able to pick up the slack. "The Dark Knight Rises" had a very complicated story, and it's lack of thematic coherence made it impossible for that story to mean anything to me. The main reasons I saw "The Avengers" six times this summer (get that judgey look off your face) are because it was fun, funny, and had a simple story that was executed very well.
You make me feel less alone inside.

"The Dark Knight Rises" wasn't fun, it was depressing; it wasn't funny and could barely stir itself to be witty (again, Catwoman is the exception here. I liked her a lot, did I mention that? She brought style, wit, and pizazz to every scene she was in. They should have just made an Anne Hathaway Catwoman movie. I'd watch it twice); and the story left me empty inside. I felt a deeper emotional response to Bruce Banner having his first Hulk-out than I did to Bruce Wayne climbing out of the prison. Considering that the latter is supposed to be the hero's triumphant ascent from the abyss and the former is almost a throwaway scene in the middle of the second act, that's not a good sign. Bruce 1>Bruce 2. A new universal constant? I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens with the Batman reboot.

PS, they're already rebooting the Batman movie because they want to make a Justice League movie ala "The Avengers" and they need a version of Batman that can exist in a world with the Justice League. Nolan's Batman isn't suited for that. I fear that the studios will take the wrong lessons from the success of Nolan's franchise and give us a bunch of superhero movies that are dark, gritty, and completely lacking in maturity, emotional depth, or compelling storytelling. It's exactly what happened to comic books in the wake of "Watchmen" and "The Dark Knight Returns."
This is what happened.

Cross your fingers, folks. The next few summers are going to be bumpy.

Lightning Strikes on Kane Street

Last week we had a storm, and folks, it was a doozy. A bolt of lightning struck the historic Christ Church on Kane Street and Clinton Avenue here in my neighborhood, and the falling debris killed some guy walking past. Harsh. The scaffolding that was up is all twisted, there's a huge gaping hole in the roof, and one of the stained glass windows is thrashed, as you can (kinda) see. The trees get in the way of really good disaster pictures, and I missed my chance to take close-ups before the city put wooden walls around the whole site and blocked it off to all cars and pedestrians. The whole street is going to be blocked off by construction for the next month or so while they repair the building.

It's weird to say this now, but I'm more scared of thunder than lightning. My first big summer storm in New York, when I was still living at 187, the thunder scared me so much I moved my mattress to the floor and slept there for the rest of my stay in that house. It never occurred to me to be scared of lightning. It's just light, right? I can feel Sir Isaac Newton shaking his fat little head at me. "Are not gross Bodies and Light convertible into one another, and may not Bodies receive much of their Activity from the Particles of Light which enter into their Composition?… The changing of Bodies into Light, and Light into Bodies, is very conformable to the Course of Nature, which seems delighted with Transmutations…" Somehow that quote relates to the development of the atomic bomb and means I should be way more scared of lightning than I actually am (probably; I don't pretend to understand Sir Isaac Newton, I just read that quote in a comic book once). Look what it did to this steeple!

Like I said. Harsh.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


I got a pair of Birkenstocks. I'm at that point in my life.

Strangely enough, I got the idea from "The Devil Wears Prada," which I rented on Netflix a few weeks ago. If encouraging its viewers to go shopping was the movie's intention, it succeeded nicely, because "The Devil Wears Prada" inspired in me a deep want for clothes. Anna Hathaway just looked so pretty in her perfectly-fitted little jackets and skirts that cost thousands of dollars in real life but she got for free because she worked at a fashion magazine. But every time she was out of the office, walking around the streets of New York or Paris in those ridiculous shoes, my feet ached in sympathy. The soles were all too thin for the cobbles in her Lower East Side neighborhood, and the heels were not at all conducive to the amount of running around her boss made her do. There's studies that show the long-term damage feet and legs sustain from regular high heel-usage. I already wake up in the middle of the night from cramps in my feet and calves if I've done a lot of walking; there's no way my body could take a pair of stiletto Jimmy Choos.

But the want--the deep, gnawing WANT for new, pretty clothes! I must have STUFF! I stared at a lot of people's feet on the subway for the next couple of days, which is totally okay and not at all weird because in New York everyone looks at everyone else's shoes, and I determined that T-strap sandals are in this summer. And one of the fashion websites I joined, Rue La La, was having a sale on Birkenstocks, so there you go. T-strap Gizeh Birkenstock sandals for Big Island Rachel. They're so comfy. I regret nothing.

I know that a girl's Birkenstock phase is usually in college, when she's attending Take Back the Night rallies and only wearing clothes from No Sweat. But I grew up country. My only shoes in high school were rubber slippah and white tennis shoes all chewed up from hiking. When I went to college, I went from farmland to urban Honolulu, and my roommate was a SoCal fashionista who took me shopping every weekend. I wore heels and full makeup to class and was usually the best-dressed person at the poetry slam. Little silk scares, y'all.

Living in New York, I've almost started to regress. I never wear makeup, because the pollution makes my eyes tear up and it would dissolve into a soggy raccoon mess by lunchtime. I always wear my hair in a tight braid or a bun because I'm afraid of what's on the back of my subway seat. And I don't wear high heels. The last time I put on a pair of heels was for the Tom Sawyer ballet in Kansas City, and while I looked great and it was a lot of fun, it's just not going to happen for me in New York. I walk a mile on concrete sidewalks to get to work every morning, spend my day in an office with concrete floors, and walk another mile over concrete to get back home at night. I need a flat shoe with a thick, chunky sole that can absorb the shock of all that hard concrete. So, Birkenstocks. I just wore them for a week straight and my feet feel fantastic. Can Anne Hathaway say that?

Well, probably, because she's a movie star and can afford to have some peasant rub her feet with crushed pearls and shea butter every night. But I'm a union member and I don't believe in exploiting the working man. Birkenstocks, y'all. Birkenstocks.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Just stepped out for some smokes

And came back six months in honor of Bastille Day! Which also happens to be the day that the BF and I met back in 2007 in the Penn Station food court. We celebrate our anniversary on this day because it's easy to remember and all the French restaurants have dinner discounts. Big Island Rachel keeps it classy.

This year we went to a restaurant in my neighborhood that I've walked past every day for two years but have never actually entered. It's expensive and looks fancy, but it's always packed with people, many of them in jeans and slippers, so I always assumed that it must serve delicious and well-prepared but still user-friendly cuisine.

Instead, it turned out to be the art house movie equivalent of food: confusing and hard to swallow.  There was a goat cheese and yellow watermelon salad; hazelnuts in the fish; mint and purple wild rice in the grits; something called "Korean barbecue style brisket." I looked at the tower of food piled up on my plate like a church steeple and softly wailed, "What is this? I don't understand!"

And for all its weirdness, the food just felt, well, a bit old-fashioned. Strange combinations of disparate ingredients arranged in tower formation on huge plates--how fifteen years ago. This is Brooklyn, or nuBrooklyn as the BF likes to call it. We've got a sort of gourmet mac'n'cheese and locally sourced meat loaf thing going on right now. Dining in nuBrooklyn is all about the most basic post-war Americana cooking, just made with local, organic and artisanal everything instead of processed cheese-product and factory farmed beef.

On a related note, visit our newest sign of the end times, a store that in Prospect Heights that sells only artisanal mayonnaise. Finally.

Want to learn more about artisanal Brooklyn? Read this New York Magazine article on the Brooklyn food revolution, and pay special attention to the section at the end that talks about the Dominos Sugar Factory that's been in Brooklyn since the 1950s.