A Review of The Dark Knight Rises (No Spoilers)

The latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, is an enjoyable end to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy that isn’t nearly as good, or bold, as the second movie in the series, The Dark Knight, but does compare favorably to Batman Begins. The dark tone set in the previous movies continues in the latest one to good effect, but at times the over-the-top seriousness makes the movie feel ponderous and inflated by a sense of undeserved self-importance. 

All of the actors turn in solid performances, but the surprising show-stealer is Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. I have seen Miss Hathaway in previous movies and never before considered her a major talent. In The Dark Knight Rises Hathaway delivers a pitch-perfect blend of snarky attitude and deadly seriousness with just enough feline qualities to capture the essence of Catwoman without appearing campy. She tiptoes on the fine line between being Batman’s ally/love interest and his adversary without slipping into being a caricature. Hathaway’s portrayal of Catwoman sets a high standard for any future actresses that take on this role.  

The central threat in the movie is mediocre and can be summed up as ‘its time to destroy Gotham, again’.  Apparently the city has suffered enough terrorist attacks that when a stadium blows up the people there know that etiquette requires that instead of running screaming for safety they should wait patiently for the villain (Bane) to come out and make a dramatic speech. This is but one example of utterly unrealistic responses from the nameless throng that could be replaced by animatronic robots or computer generated people.

Speaking of unrealistic moments in the movie, Bane’s master plan could have been thwarted by a single reasonable failsafe on the fusion reactor (a.k.a. the movie’s MacGuffin) or by a police force that doesn’t behave like migrating lemmings. Once Bane has the reactor and disposed of the entire police force (with three noteworthy exceptions), he decides to wait months before detonating his nuclear bomb. The only reason for Bane to wait so long is so all the characters (and especially Batman) have time to prepare for the movie’s climax; an extended action sequence that relies heavily on defying the strictures of time and space along with the laws of physics, engineering, anatomy/medicine, other applied sciences, and common sense. If you turn off your brain you can enjoy the rollercoaster ride while it lasts, but if you think about what is supposedly happening you’ll realize it makes no freakin’ sense. This ruptures the suspension-of-disbelief, draining away tension and leaving behind floundering melodrama.

The Dark Knight Rises appears to be a movie written with the idea that certain scenes must occur and that adjoining scenes aren’t very important. The important moments are done exceptionally well, while the rest of the movie meanders and forces characters to do whatever is required to get them in their right places for the next crucial scene.  The result is that most characters hit certain notes perfectly while sounding flat and unrealistic the rest of the time. In this way the movie is like a partially baked cake; the finished parts are delicious and the underdone parts aren’t appealing.

As a movie by itself, The Dark Knight Rises is good but not great. When taken as a whole this trilogy of Batman movies is exceptional and satisfying. The Dark Knight Rises accomplishes its most important task: it completes the character arc for Bruce Wayne started in Batman Begins in a manner that feels correct. The moment that matters most, the last we see of Bruce Wayne, is specifically contrived to supply a needed denouement for the character that doesn’t revolt the senses. An acceptable ending that isn’t exceptional, an accomplishment many movie series fail at. (See The Matrix or Pirates of the Caribbean trilogies for examples of such failures.) The Dark Knight Rises is well worth watching, as long as your expectations aren’t too high.

My View of this Election Year

What the United States needs is a substantive election with a vigorous debate between the great parties about what we must do, collectively, to solve our most pressing problems. It seems clear that isn’t going to happen. Instead we can look forward to months overflowing with distortions, vicious attacks, character assassinations, mud-slinging innuendos, and manufactured outrages over trivial matters. Hypocrisy will be in full bloom wherever you look, filling the air with the rancid smell of bullshit.

The truth is we must choose between two mediocre candidates for President at a time when America needs a great president. Those who think voting for a third party or independent candidate is the solution are living in a fantasy world. Come January 2013, either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will be sworn into office and will govern for the next four years.  God help us all.  

Obama’s Attacks

The central theme running through Obama’s attack ads against Mitt Romney boils down to a simple sentence: Mitt Romney belongs to a moneyed class that likes to write rules that benefit themselves.

What’s damning about this line of attack is that there is some truth to it.  I’m not claiming Romney is corrupt, but it is fair to say his sympathies are with those intent on enlarging already substantial personal wealth.  The type who chaff under regulations, are irritated by even modest tax burdens, and are intensely focused on the profit margins of their investments. 

It is from this sliver of the wealthy that a small number, in both quantity and as a percentage, of bad players engaged in reckless activity that directly caused the financial crash of 2008. There have been few arrests of these individuals because very few people did anything illegal.  They were operating in largely unregulated segments of the market. Regulations are derived from laws people must abide by or face criminal charges.  No regulations means you can do almost anything you want, even bring the world economy to it’s knees, without breaking any laws.  The people who crashed the economy weren’t evil villains twirling mustaches and chortling as  they escapes with bags of money.  They were, by and large, ultra-rich investors making ever riskier gambles in a game rigged to minimize the maximum amount they could lose. Risks was socialized, profits were privatized. The ultra-rich helped create that system not out of malicious intent, but because of the understandable desire to make more money without risking much of what they already have.

Obama’s entire campaign, so far, is geared toward driving home the fact that Romney was one of the greatest beneficiaries of this system.  That Romney’s native sympathies lies with the ultra-rich investors, not the broad swath of society badly hurt when the housing bubble burst and the economy crashed.  It is an effective attack because Romney’s own policy ideas, what few he has put forward, support that notion. 

Romney’s Attacks

Romney’s message is more scattershot than Obama’s, but seems focused on repeating that Obama is incompetent with regards to the economy. There is ample evidence to support this charge. Romney wants to claim he is a ‘Mr.Fix-it’, a hard-headed realist that can diagnose and correct what ails our sputtering economy.  This claim is slightly supported by his record in both the public and private sector, but is dramatically undermined by the paucity and inadequacy of his policy proposals. It is tempting to look at his record and speculate on how he might govern.  The problem with that is, at one time or another, Romney has supported every side on every major issue. Romney greatest consistency is that he always adopts the position polling best with the voters he is currently trying to woo. 

With Regards to Character

There are a lot of wingnuts making outrageous claims about both Obama and Romney.  The truth is these men are more alike than different. Obama is a left-leaning centrist, Romney is a right-leaning centrist.  They both have pasts that offer up embarrassments they would like to downplay, but neither man exudes the reek of scandal the way Bill Clinton and George W. Bush regularly did. Both men are bright, hardworking, pragmatists more interested in solutions than politics.

What the Future Holds

Neither Obama nor Romney have put forward an agenda for the next few years.  All either man has offered is sound bites and fury signifying nothing.

Romney is an etch-a-sketch; you can draw on him whatever you like and it’ll be erased the next time he is shook-up. If elected, he will likely spend most of his administration reacting to events rather than pursuing specific legislation and policies.  If Republicans hold both the House and Senate they will dictate that Romney spend his first few years undoing the legislation and policies enacted under Obama.  Romney has shown little skill at or knowledge about foreign affairs; he will probably fumble for at least two years in that area, but on the bright side it seems doubtful he could be as awful as George W. Bush was.  His ability as commander-in-chief is as untested as Obama’s was in 2008.

With Obama at least we have nearly four years of his governance by which to judge what he *might* do.  He clearly wants to do “big” things; health care reform, Wall Street reform, find long term solutions to our debt and deficits, etc…  He administration is mostly competent, Eric Holder being one notable exception. When compared to the Bush administration, which bred incompetence (see ‘Heck of a job, Brownie’ for one of many examples) and infighting, Obama’s administration almost looks stellar.  If only their actual accomplishments matched their appearance.

Obama has been surprisingly strong on foreign affairs, especially given how little experience he had when first sworn in; I suspect Joe Biden’s and Hillary Clinton’s advice has strongly steered his policy. 

As commander-in-chief Obama has had impressive successes: Osama Bin Laden’s death and the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi to name his two most major achievements.  He pulled us out of Iraq without that turning into a debacle. Afghanistan is no worse today than when he took office, and might be slightly better if you squint the right way. The world is less hostile towards America than it was under George W. Bush, and Iran is more isolated. Pakistan is a mess; but let’s admit it, no one has the slightest idea what to do about Pakistan.  Anyone claiming differently is lying.

On domestic issues Obama seems to flounder more than plan, react more than act.  In this way Obama reminds me of George H.W. Bush, only without the gravitas or impressive credentials.

Obama has grown as a leader, especially  in the last year, and runs an efficient if not terribly effective White House. In blunt terms, he hasn’t fucked up so much as to be unacceptable, nor fought for what matters enough to make him desirable.

The Best Possible Outcome?

I find myself hoping Obama wins the presidency, the Democrats to reclaim control of the house, and the Republicans to gain control of the Senate.  At the very least, this would upset just about everyone equally. 

But from a practical there’s-shit-we-need-to deal-with perspective, this outcome would give us a Speaker of the House with proven ability to get significant legislation passed, Nancy Pelosi, and a Senate Majority Leader capable of twisting arms and getting votes, Mitch McConnell. (Let’s all admit it, Harry Reid and John Andrew Boehner are incompetent and should not be in their current positions.) 

Why Obama over Romney? Because 1) experience in the White House matters, 2) I don’t really trust Romney, 3) Obama is far from the worst president we’ve ever had, and 4) ideologically I’m a lot closer to Obama than I am to Romney.  (Hello, my name is Richard Davidson, and I am a pragmatic liberal.) 

With powerhouse legislators like Pelosi and McConnell in charge of Congress, both highly motivated to do something about the economy and the long term debt and deficits, there is a real chance of getting substantial bipartisan legislation passed on the most pressing issues: Medicare reform and tax reform.  Obama would be in an ideal position to negotiate the compromises needed to get such legislation passed, and has shown marked interest in addressing these problems.  Solving the problems posed by Medicare expenditures and our outdated tax structure would largely eliminate the current deficits and  go a long way toward lowering long term debt.  Tax reform in particular could add a significant boost to the economy, reduce complexity (which fosters corruption), and also increase revenues.

Plus, with these three in control of government the Affordable Care Act will be treated as a fait accompli.  Efforts to repeal the AFC will be forced to give way to debates on how to address its problems with a focus on reducing the rate of health care inflation.  Roll that in with Medicare and tax reform and America’s future starts looking pretty bright.

That’s my thoughts on this election year and the pathetic candidates we have to choose from.  These opinions are mine alone and represent no one but myself.  I’m certain there are plenty of people, on both the left and right, who will disagree with some or all of what I’ve said. Feel free to share your thoughts. Between our differences lies a common love of country, and bridging our divides will make the United Stares stronger.

I’d Like Your Opinion

I have a very simple question: If you read the following on the back cover of a book (book blurb), would you open the book and look inside, or put it back on the shelf?  Any additional information or suggestions you care to give would be much appreciated.

Possible Book Blurb

Damon Roth, a half-mad wizard with delusions of godhood, kidnaps Princess Tara Rihtwis to prevent her destruction, advance his plot to destroy the empire called The Guild, and save all life on earth.

Artemis Arrowsmith, a mysterious former soldier with a tragic past, becomes Tara’s friend and mentor, teaching her skills needed to survive the eastern wilderness.

The traitor Maelgar Tregadie discovers Ilium, a forgotten fortress hidden within the eastern wilderness. He seeks to be hailed as Y’fel, prophet of Demiurge, by wolfen Gogs and magic-wielding Magogs so he can launch a holy war to destroy the Guild.

Tara’s faith in her goddess is tested, as is her belief that The Guild is a force for good, but she refuses to accept Damon’s prediction that it will be her, not Maelgar, who starts the war that shatters The Guild.

Thus begins Gods Among Men, an epic literary fantasy series.

I’d Like Your Opinion

I have a very simple question: If you read the following on the back cover of a book (book blurb), would you open the book and look inside, or put it back on the shelf?  Any additional information or suggestions you care to give would be much appreciated.

Possible Book Blurb

Damon Roth, a half-mad wizard with delusions of godhood, kidnaps Princess Tara Rihtwis to prevent her destruction, advance his plot to destroy the empire called The Guild, and save all life on earth.

Artemis Arrowsmith, a mysterious former soldier with a tragic past, becomes Tara’s friend and mentor, teaching her skills needed to survive the eastern wilderness.

The traitor Maelgar Tregadie discovers Ilium, a forgotten fortress hidden within the eastern wilderness. He seeks to be hailed as Y’fel, prophet of Demiurge, by wolfen Gogs and magic-wielding Magogs so he can launch a holy war to destroy the Guild.

Tara’s faith in her goddess is tested, as is her belief that The Guild is a force for good, but she refuses to accept Damon’s prediction that it will be her, not Maelgar, who starts the war that shatters The Guild.

Thus begins Gods Among Men, an epic literary fantasy series.

Getting What You Ask For

The biggest problem with feedback is following it, especially when it might entail a mountain of work.

Yesterday I received the Magic City Writers’ Group edits for the final chapter in my first novel. There are always problems, and I expected incorporating the group’s suggestions would take a week or two. 

But the extended discussion, which I recorded so I can study it more closely, revealed systemic problems that require substantial time and effort to address.  If I am lucky and clever the needed changes might delay my plans by only a few weeks, but it could easily turn into a months long slog if I’m not careful.

It is moments like this that builds frustration with the writing process; when you think you are near the end of one leg of the journey only to see the road stretch on farther than you imagined.  You can see your destination, but realize getting there will be longer and harder than you fancied a day ago.

What Kind of Editing is Needed

Repeating my habit of leaping then looking, I recently began interviewing professional editors with the idea of hiring one to perform a developmental edit of my first book; an expensive and thorough examination of the novel that wrings out unaddressed problems and strengthens the final product.  (Another symptom of my “leap then look” tendency is that I didn’t bother to create a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of the manuscript before contacting a slew of editors.  Yet an0ther task to heap on a full plate.)

But getting a developmental edit assumes I have already self-edited the novel to the best of my ability.  I thought I was close to that point, only to now realize I am not.

I need to continue interviewing professional editors, but have decided to wait on the developmental edit.  Instead I will request manuscript assessments from a few editors; professional reviews of the work as a whole; less expensive and less thorough than a developmental edit, but excellent for identifying a manuscripts weakest and strongest areas. 

Such professional reviews of the completed work might be useful now, or perhaps it would be better to wait until I address some of the problems raised by the writers’ group.  I am on the fence as to whether I should plow ahead with manuscript assessments or perform yet another self-editing pass first. 

In either event, once I have worked my way through those professional critiques I will  determine which editor to use for a developmental edit and later a copy edit. 

The Long Haul

My general plan is to self-publish sometime next year.  A reasonable goal, but one requiring considerable work to accomplish.  The list of things I must do is long and intimidating: incorporate edits from my writers group, create a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of the manuscript, get a few manuscript assessments and address their comments, decide on which editor to use going forward, get a developmental edit and address the problems it reveals, get a copy edit and clean up the grammar and style problems it uncovers, learn about the publishing industry in a deep way, legally create my publishing house and deal with the headaches managing it brings, create a website for my publishing house, hire designers for the interior and exterior of my novel, replace my author web-site with a more professional (i.e. less ugly) one, have the book typeset and galley proofs created, hire a proofreader and fix any last minute problems they spot, make arrangements with print on demand vendors,  try to get my novel reviewed prior to publication, make my book available on Amazon and other retail sites, and so on. 

And that doesn’t even mention marketing, working on the second book, my day job, or a lot of other unavoidable, and time consuming, issues.

Transitioning from amateur writer to professional author requires turning a hobby into a small business.  Producing a quality manuscript takes money, time, and hard work with no guarantee of any reward other than seeing a professional finished book with your name on it.  It is worth the cost and effort only if you love the story you are trying to tell, and I do.  That love keeps me going through the long nights as I stumble through the convoluted process and scale obstacles in my path.