You Can Check Out Any Time You Like . . .

. . . and I did manage to leave California! (Insert guitar riff here.)

Some things I rode on my recent vacation, more or less in order:
  • A JetBlue plane to Oakland
  • A hotel shuttle van
  • The BART train
  • The Caltrain to San Jose
  • A rental car
  • A Southwest flight to Orange County
  • Many private cars of James's family and friends
  • A boogie board in the ocean off San Clemente -- the first time I've swum in the Pacific
  • The L.A. Metrolink commuter train
  • The L.A. Metro subway -- so much cleaner and better at station (and Internet) communication than our New York subway system
  • Many L.A. Metro buses -- ditto
  • The Getty Center tramway
  • The L.A. Metro light rail
  • A taxi
  • A Warner Bros. tram for the studio tour
  • A JetBlue plane to New York
  • And the Airtrain and the A and F subway trains to JFK and back -- not clean or communicative, but mine and therefore home.
On Wednesday we saw "The Dark Knight," which is marvelous and horrifying. "Iron Man" earlier this summer represented all the light and bright and sparkling parts of comic books: wisecracking heroes, and cool gadgets and superpowers, and cute redheaded assistants in heels, and big fights with clearly identified bad guys -- very BAM! POW! ZOWIE! (And hugely enjoyable: I saw it twice in the theatre.) "The Dark Knight" is the flip side of that, dark and serious and thoughtful: a hero who wants to give up his cape, who questions the wisdom and right use of his gadgets and superpowers, with a ladylove who's involved with someone else, and thematic and character doubling everywhere you look. It's the graphic novel as opposed to the comic book, or a superhero film as made by Ingmar Bergman, with late Hitchcock nodding in for the action sequences. Heath Ledger clearly looked deep into the abyss for his role as the Joker, and the skill of his performance underlines the tremendous loss -- that, possibly, he couldn't look away. Perfectly controlled, brilliant, terrifying. I wouldn't take anyone under the age of a very mature 12, as the Joker's nihilism and violence are deeply disturbing. But for adults, it is eminently worth seeing, for the intelligence and ambition of the plotting and themes, the quality of the performances, and the final sense of hope at the end -- not the individual exuberance of "Iron Man," but a communal hope tempered by the knowledge of the world's darkness, and strengthened in the knowledge of how that darkness can be overcome. Excellent film.

N.B.: I saw it in IMAX, and if it's at all possible for you to see it in IMAX, I strongly recommend you expend the extra effort and money for the aerial shots of Gotham City and Hong Kong alone. Other reviews: Scott Foundas in L.A. Weekly; Todd Alcott; Reverse Shot, which disliked it.

And the Warner Bros. studio tour was great fun -- I saw the exterior of the orphanage from "Annie" (my favorite movie when I was six); looked in the windows of Luke's diner from "Gilmore Girls" and walked around the Star's Hollow town square; at a distance, caught a little bit of a taping of "Pushing Daisies" (the great spoiler I can reveal exclusively here: Anna Friel will wear a yellow dress and step out of a door in a future episode); sat on the couch from "Friends"; and, most excitingly for me, found an entire floor of Harry Potter memorabilia in the studio museum. A model Acromantula! The flying Ford Anglia! Hermione's Yule Ball gown! The Sorting Hat (or whoever was running it) mistakenly named me a Hufflepuff (I'm straight-up Ravenclaw, baby), but it correctly identified James as a long-lost Weasley cousin and assigned him to Gryffindor.

Finally, on the reading/work front, I finished Away, which I very much admired, and A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer, a most unusual romance novel, and I'm about two-thirds of the way through Brideshead Revisited, which I don't especially like but seem compelled to go forward with (much the same way the protagonist relates to the Brideshead family, actually). And I wrote the illustration notes and a solid first draft of my Terminus speech, and bought two excellent pairs of Clarks sandals on sale. So, altogether, a successful vacation.