July 22, 2008

Putting a (Dark) Smile on Our Faces

"Whatever doesn't kill you . . . simply makes you stranger."

Like the great white star of Jaws, a theme announces his arrival . . . a noisy, steadily ascending blare, not unlike an air raid siren or an airplane free-falling to earth. When he's on screen, he dominates The Dark Knight. Batman's greatest villian has truly come to life.

Hannibal Lector. Norman Bates. Colonel Kurtz. Darth Vader. The Joker has joined them in the pantheon of Hollywood's all-time greatest villians.

I'll admit when the name Heath Ledger first crossed the newswires as the latest actor to play the Clown Prince of Crime, I was seriously concerned. Who? That was summer 2006, and he was best known for Brokeback Mountain. Cruel "Jokeback Mountain" jokes ensued. But we Batman Begins fans kept the faith, buoyed by director Chris Nolan and star Christian Bale, who'd brought us back from the bat-nippled abyss of Batman and Robin.

Then the first teaser photos appeared, followed by snippets of dialogue, and finally the Dark Knight trailers in all their glory. The critics were silenced, and July 18, 2008 was circled on the calendar.

The Bat-pod: I gotta get me one of those (Warner Bros. pic)

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen . . . we are tonight's entertainment."
It's been nearly a week since Kat, Jack and I stood in line for our first-ever midnight movie. All I can say is The Dark Knight was worth three years of waiting, three hours in line, and three hours of sleep the next day. In a world where "amazing" and "spectacular" have lost some of their impact, this one deserves the accolades: it's more like a crime thriller and psychological drama than a superhero movie, examining the blurry line between good and evil and the price of heroism. Those of us who grew up with Batman finally have a movie that returns Bruce Wayne to his noir roots, and gets the Joker-Batman relationship right (nothing against Jack Nicholson's portrayal, which we still love, but this is the real deal). And oh yeah, it's a two-hour, 30-minute thrill ride.

The breathless news media want you to believe that Knight's box office records are the result of morbid curiosity for a young actor who left us too soon, but it couldn't be farther from the truth. Of course, Heath Ledger's death tinges the film with sadness (especially during his final scenes with Bale), but we've been waiting for this performance long before the bad news broke. Heath's Joker is a character for the ages . . . it's a tour de force of twisted fun. Plus he does a mean disappearing pen trick.

All that's left is to buy the soundtrack, a thrilling piece of work by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard (starting with the Joker's theme, with its single-note structure twisted and transformed like it was pressed through a Nine Inch Nails filter). Next we need a roadtrip to San Francisco and catch an IMAX show . . . six action scenes were filmed with the giant cameras, including a jaw-dropping chase scene that involves a SWAT truck, a semi, and Batman's Tumbler.

Mainly, I just need to see it again.

Jack who? (WB pic)

July 12, 2008

The Road to Portland

It's been a busy few weeks . . . round three of page proofing for the book is now done; Route 66 Railway has officially been put to bed! Final corrections were sent back Monday morning. This came on the heels of a week reviewing nearly 250+ final images and returning them to the printer with our comments (riveting examples include "slightly less magenta" and "jackrabbit should be grey"). Once I approve the redone proofs, we're on our way to a September release.

This post began Saturday evening. I'd planned to finish it up Sunday, but Tim Lincecum and the Giants finally gave us an exhilarating (and sorely needed) win. On Monday we saw The Police in concert and Tuesday night was consumed by a 15-inning All-Star Game (with the same sadly predictable outcome -- God, I hate the AL!). As I write this Wednesday evening, we're just 24 hours away from a midnight screening of The Dark Knight. Man, I have waited years for this! Heath Ledger's passing has made the event bittersweet, but I hope to set that aside for two-plus hours when the lights dim at 12:01 a.m.

So before any more time passes, here are some photos from our first vacation in some time: a train ride to Portland, Oregon in late June/early July. The Lawrence family traveled north from Salinas on Amtrak's Coast Starlight, and later flew back [insert 'tired arms' joke]. How fun to jump on a train less than 15 minutes from home, with no security lines . . . no pushy people . . . no need to slip off our shoes . . . and no coach seating. The added bonus: train no. 14 carried a 1956 ex-Santa Fe Hi-level lounge, recently refurbished by Amtrak and looking damn sharp with cushy seats, a nice lunch menu and afternoon wine tasting. Without further rambling:

California is burning, but man, that's some cool lighting along Elkhorn Slough.

Soaking up those Santa Fe vibes.

More wine, Midge? (*yes, it's an inside joke)

We were treated to a two-hour delay in the Cascade Mountains when a UP freight encountered problems. Yes, treated. Unlike flying, falling behind schedule on a train means more train time. And that's always cool. After waiting 40 minutes, our crew decided to back us to a clearing where smokers could be unloaded, not to mention two railfans who needed some Cascade air . . . below is Kat with a snowball on June 26.

More to come soon. Tomorrow, to quote the newest Clown Prince of Crime, it's time to "put a smile on that face."