Let’s get this out of the way first: “The Dark Knight” is not a perfect movie.

With apologies to IMDB voters, it is not the best movie ever.

That said, “The Dark Knight” does a lot of things outstandingly well. Although the movie is extraordinarily long — particularly for a superhero flick — at a shade over two and a half hours, it is paced perfectly. With a film of that length, even with outstanding performances and direction, it’s easy to drag at some parts, as we saw with last year’s “There Will Be Blood.” Director Christopher Nolan, who co-wrote the script with his brother Jonathan, guides the film through its twists and turns expertly, never losing sight of where he’s going.

Christian Bale reprises the titular role, and doesn’t seem to have missed a beat since 2005’s “Batman Begins,” although his role in “The Dark Knight” is not so much main character as it is to cast a shadow over all the other goings-on in the film. This time, Batman (who would have been better off without Bale’s voice being technologically enhanced, which only distracts and adds nothing) isn’t involved in everything that happens, but everything that happens is about Batman — and his secret identity, Bruce Wayne, who gets to take his own unexpected turn at heroism.

The concept of heroism itself takes center stage in “The Dark Knight,” and on a much greater and deeper level than in the “Spider-Man” films, which dealt with it only on a surface level — Spider-Man was either going to be a hero, or not. Batman and Gotham City’s idealistic new district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart, even more sincere and convincing than he was in “Thank You For Smoking”) are two different brands of hero — one a white knight and the other dark, although which is which may be the most important question of the film.

Dent, together with assistant D.A. and love interest Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, who is more bearable than Katie Holmes, but not by much), is taking aim at the crime syndicates that are, despite Batman’s best efforts, running rampant throughout the city. Dent is Gotham’s white knight to Batman’s dark knight, but both characters — along with Gotham’s very citizens — have a lot of moral ambiguity to work through. The movie expends a lot of time and effort on drawing the line between good guys and bad guys, and Dent is the one caught in the middle of much of it, almost to a greater degree than Batman himself.

The person most concerned with it, and the one you’ve been waiting for me to mention, would be a man known only as the Joker, played to sick, maniacal perfection by one Heath Ledger, who I heard died earlier this year or something. I don’t know, no one ever talks about it, so I’m fuzzy on the details. But he’s dead, right? I definitely heard that somewhere.

In any case, the Joker is after creating nothing less than utter chaos in Gotham, taking the moral ambiguity of the common (and uncommon) man, and using it against them. Ledger is unrecognizable beneath the makeup and the mannerisms, losing himself in the character perhaps more thoroughly than anyone I have seen since Daniel Day Lewis in the aforementioned “There Will Be Blood.” Skeptical though I was about all the Oscar talk surrounding Ledger, it now seems borderline impossible that he could be denied a nomination for the perfect insanity he brings to the role.

Ledger’s Joker is a frightening character, a sick man and compulsive liar almost more in the mold of Hannibal Lecter than any previous Joker. He is a man beyond all rhyme and reason, and his goal is to show everyone else that they are beyond reason as well. As Wayne’s butler and co-conspirator Alfred (Michael Caine, comfortable as can be in the role of wise man) says, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

The only problem with Joker is that, for a guy so utterly insane, he sure can plan his criminal activities to the finest detail, causing Gotham’s finest, only somewhat ineptly led by ultimate do-gooder and now-Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), to bumble along in their quest to restore order.

Therein lies the basic flaw of this movie: As much as it tries not to be a superhero movie, to transcend the genre and offer something totally different, and as much as it succeeds in doing that, it is still a superhero movie and it is still contrived. Things are just too easy for the Joker; his plans work out too perfectly, even though he claims not to have any plan. When he threatens to blow a place up, it gets evacuated and then completely abandoned? Really? No police left to see to that last nurse or patient who might just get left behind? Similarly, Batman seems to always have just the right tools for the job, even if he doesn’t know what the job is going to be, thanks to the excessive genius put on display by Wayne Enterprises CEO Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and his R&D department. All superheroes could use a good R&D department, of course, but Batman’s seems downright clairvoyant.

For a movie that is constructed to be so gritty and realistic, the lack of realism — not to mention the excessive optimism — in some places is more than a little jarring. It’s that element that makes “The Dark Knight” settle for merely being the best superhero movie ever.

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I nominate the 2008 New York Mets, newly minted holders of first place in the National League East. Let’s put it up for a vote. All in favor, say “Aye!”

… And the Mets win by a tally of 1-0.

So.

For really the first time since the beginning of last year, there’s something to be excited about with these New York Metropolitans. A lot of people have expressed doubts that the firing of Willie Randolph and promotion of Jerry Manuel are responsible for this change, and a lot of them are my kind of people — you know, the kind that like statistics that go beyond the typical batting average/home runs/runs batted in type of thing. They say that this sudden outburst of winning by the Mets is coincidental, fueled by key players heating up, and has nothing to do with the changing of the guard.

Well, I’m inclined to disagree.

The first-place New York Mets play harder and play smarter than that team I seem to remember watching earlier this season. Since Manuel took over, they have committed far fewer mental errors (on defense and running the bases) than they did in the earlier part of the season, and they have been much more aggressive both on the basepaths and — it seems to me — on the pitcher’s mound.

Part of the latter credit goes to new pitching coach Dan Warthen, who seems to have really gotten Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez to go right after hitters rather than nibbling and trying to make perfect pitches. When Perez really challenges hitters, he’s almost untouchable, and when Pelfrey mixes some high heat and curveballs in with his heavily sinking fastball, hitters are just plain caught off guard. It was easy early on in his pitching career to just wait on the sinker and spray it around the field, but by adding a little more to his repertoire Pelfrey has turned it around and is now able to make the hitters go after his pitch, which is very important for a pitcher to be able to do. Moreover, because he generates a lot of weak contact with that good sinker, as long as he has good control Pelfrey can keep his pitch count down and go deep into games, which is a big plus for a team that has seen its bullpen get overworked by having to support 5-inning starters like Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine and Steve Trachsel in recent years.

Speaking of Pedro Martinez, the state of his health and Ryan Church’s are obviously this team’s biggest issues down the stretch. If the Mets can get Church back and healthy for the remainder of the year, I think that pretty much negates the need for them to go out and further deplete their already thin prospect pool in pursuit of a guy like Jason Bay or Xavier Nady, both of whom are, arguably, right about at the same level as Church. As for a fifth starter if Martinez continues to suffer from his groin problem, I don’t know if that’s really that much of an issue. Even without Pedro, the Mets have four excellent starting pitchers, all of whom have the potential (some realized, some not) to be frontline starters, #1 or #2 guys on a typical staff.

If the Mets have to fill in with a guy like Brandon Knight (as they will tomorrow, when I next take in a game) and he’s able to give them just league-average numbers, that’s really not the worst thing ever. Consider that the Phillies have been trotting Adam Eaton, Joe Blanton, Kyle Kendrick and Brett Myers out there all year. In my view, even without Pedro, the only team with a better starting rotation than the Mets is the Los Angeles Angels. Maybe the Brewers come close with the addition of C.C. Sabathia, but that’s only if Dave Bush doesn’t totally blow up like he’s been known to and if young Manny Parra can keep his walks down and if Jeff Suppan can continue his trend of second-half success.

So I think the Mets are in a really good place right now, especially if you consider that Carlos Beltran hasn’t even heated up with the bat yet and David Wright is still underperforming a little. All in all, it should be an interesting next 60 games. After the heartbreak we’ve suffered for the past two years, let’s hope this time they know how to finish.

The rapper Nas has lately joined the protest against Fox News for what he and other African Americans view as negative portrayal of their people. I think it’s great that Nas and a precious few other people (like Keith Olbermann, for example) are willing to take Fox News on for its regular use of inaccuracies, lies and out-and-out slander.

Last I checked, we’re out of the ’40s, when the media and the propaganda machine were one and the same. Our news channels should be running news, not propaganda to suit the agenda of whatever political party has enough clout and money.

Our country has forgotten entirely about the Fairness Doctrine. Yes, the regulation that required nothing more of broadcasters than that they offer balanced and honest viewpoints on controversial issues was assaulted and killed by conservatives in the ’80s. Ah, the conservative definitions of freedom are so wonderfully loose sometimes, aren’t they? Americans should be free to push whatever lies they want on television, should be free from taxation, should be free to engage in whatever manner of unregulated business they wish, even if that business is monopolizing (energy, for example) and gouging consumers who want nothing more than electricity for their homes and gas for their cars — but they damn well can’t be free to have abortions, to marry people of the same gender, to have guaranteed health care, to be sufficiently informed of their country’s reasoning for war before it goes to war. Ah, freedom, how open to redefinition you are.

But we were talking about Fox News.

How does Fox News get away with seeing Barack Obama do a fist pound with his wife — a greeting or sign of congratulations that any young person in this country can tell you has absolutely no negative implications — a “terrorist fist jab” is pure insanity. My question is, why doesn’t Barack Obama sue them? If it’s not slander to call someone a terrorist, please tell me what is. On top of that, they insinuate not-so-subtly that Obama is a Muslim, while simultaneously lambasting him over comments by his reverend. How do they get away with this? How do the American people let them get away with this? How does Fox News not get WAY more flak for calling Michelle Obama “Barack Obama’s Baby Mama?” There’s a small protest, sure, but where’s the nationwide outrage, like there was against Don Imus for his “nappy-headed hoes” joke? At least Imus was trying to make a joke, if a bad one, and wasn’t supposed to be presenting news. Fox “News” is supposed to be a news channel, and it needs to be held to the same standards as anyone else.

But look at them.

“Fox News believes in all protesters exercising their right to free speech, including Nas, who has an album to promote,” a Fox News spokesperson said, according to a Billboard.com article.

Fox News has no remorse. If you tell them that they’re doing something wrong, they respond by not admitting they’re doing something wrong and hinting that you have a hidden agenda. Does anyone really think that Nas needs to promote his new album? It debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts and sold over 180,000 copies in its first week. I think it’s doing pretty well on his own. Maybe Nas is just a little bit upset that Fox News is notoriously racist in its coverage of Obama, not to mention other people — Democrats and people who are anti-war, primarily.

What can we do? What can we do against such a deeply entrenched machine that has the eyes and ears of a huge portion of the American public and feeds them misinformation that they eat right up? We can’t start our own channel, is for sure, because we’d only be preaching to the choir, while Fox News continues to use “liberal” as a bad word.

Here are some excerpts from the definition of “liberal,” according to Merriam-Webster: “marked by generosity”; “not literal or strict”; “broad-minded; especially: not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or traditional forms.”

I think Fox News could use a lot more liberalism. But don’t tell them that, ’cause they won’t listen.

Who will?

My mother gets e-mail from the National Republican Congressional Committee because she’s convinced that she’s a Republican even though as far as I can tell she’s never voted for one and agrees with very nearly nothing that the Republicans say or do.

In any case, she forwarded me an e-mail sent out today by the NRCC on the topic of Democrats’ supposed lack of action on oil prices — to wit, that Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats in Congress are going on vacation soon and not planning to vote on offshore drilling on America’s relatively meager petroleum reserves. Offshore drilling is one of those issues that Republicans like John McCain are very fond of because they can come up with an ineffective, slapdash so-called solution that benefits big business, but does absolutely nothing to help the American consumer, and then sell it to the American consumer by appealing to the fear and ignorance of people who don’t know any better.

But some of us do know better, because it doesn’t take anything but common sense to realize that the United States needs to get off oil altogether, not just foreign oil. That’s how the Republicans like to sell it: “Let’s end our addiction to foreign oil!” Well, sure, that’s a half-step in the right direction, but you’re sticking that word “foreign” in there because of all the money you’ve taken from American oil companies. All the Republican desire to “end addiction to foreign oil” really amounts to is a desire to create a monopoly for American oil drillers.

This is a Band-Aid solution. At best, like the proposed and equally ridiculous gas tax holiday, it will have a minor, short-term effect on gas prices, while increasing demand and ultimately causing gas prices to rise — and the oil addiction to continue.

There are plenty of alternative energy sources available, and that’s what the United States needs to invest its money in. Congress shouldn’t allow this offshore drilling to push through, because all it’s going to give us is more decades of fossil fuel reliance and an even dirtier atmosphere. As we just now seem to be turning the corner toward proper care for our environment — and, indeed, for our wallets — the Republicans want to drag us right back into the dark ages of oil because that’s where their money comes from and that’s what their friends are invested in.

I call your attention to the PickensPlan, if you haven’t seen it already. The PickensPlan site has this to say about ending our reliance on oil, foreign or otherwise:

Building wind facilities in the corridor that stretches from the Texas panhandle to North Dakota could produce 20% of the electricity for the United States at a cost of $1 trillion. It would take another $200 billion to build the capacity to transmit that energy to cities and towns.

That’s a lot of money, but it’s a one-time cost. And compared to the $700 billion we spend on foreign oil every year, it’s a bargain.

We have the technology to create massive windfarms in the Midwest, and we have the technology to additionally put solar panels there, producing I-don’t-know-how-much more energy. Electric cars are on the rise again after having been killed by big oil and car manufacturers in the past. We can produce wind and solar energy practically for free after building the infrastructure; even nuclear power, as much as everyone (somewhat illogically) fears another Chernobyl and as much as disposal of waste is a problem, is much cleaner and more sustainable than fossil fuels, and is providing the electricity I’m using right now just fine, thank you very much. With all that clean fuel, we can drive around in electric cars that go plenty fast (just look at the Tesla Roadster) for pennies on the dollar compared to what we’re paying today. And we can do it for forever, or until an even better power source comes along.

This is America. We don’t stagnate, we innovate. It would be nice if the people running the country were made properly aware of that.

“The Wackness” is a film that is largely about the sale and use of marijuana, but it is definitely not a stoner movie. Here is a movie that requires no intoxication for enjoyment. It is rare in any form of art for everything to just come together so beautifully, all at once. For all that this film is about everything our society deems wrong — illegal drug abuse, drug dealing, prescription drug abuse, underage drinking, infidelity, premarital sex — at the end, it just makes you feel all right inside.

The movie covers the post-high school summer of Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck, who I hadn’t seen in a movie since “Snow Day” in 2000, but who, IMDB tells me, has been decently busy since then), a loner with a booming business in selling his fellow New Yorkers marijuana out of a rather ragged-looking water ice cart — with a padlock on it, of course. He sells weed to his psychiatrist, a certain Dr. Jeffrey Squires (Ben Kingsley), a man significantly more depressed and unsatisfied with his path in life than the patients he’s supposed to treat, in exchange for sessions, and also to Squires’ stepdaughter, Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby of “Juno” semi-fame, in a performance nearly as slang-filled as that one).

There comes a point when Stephanie says to Luke, “I see the dopeness in everything, and you just see the wackness.” Like much of the rest of the movie, this line is worthy of careful consideration, not just a brief laugh and the thought, “Ah, so that’s why the movie’s got that name.” As you sit and watch Luke’s life, you realize that he’s simply someone whose life to this point has been solely comprised of wackness. His parents have financial difficulties; they argue a lot and “act like children,” Luke tells Squires. He has no friends, except for his psychiatrist and his stepdaughter. When he finally encounters some dopeness, that turns into wackness, too.

If Luke’s life is bad, Squires’ is worse, as the old man sees his life slip away in a monotonous life and a loveless marriage (with wife Kristin, played by Famke Janssen, who didn’t really do anything in the entire film). And so the young pothead and the old pothead (with some pill abuse on the side) are both basically alone in the world, never forming any emotional connections except with each other, until Luke briefly “goes steady” with Stephanie.

The coming-of-age story — which this is, in a roundabout way — has been done before, and the stoner slacker pot-dealing character, too, but Peck and Kingsley sold it through and through by virtue of two performances that rank among the most sincere and convincing of any I’ve seen this year. Even at rock bottom, this oddest of odd couples is able to elicit smiles from each other — and the audience. As they slowly grow together, they share their music with each other — Luke listens to what we now consider old-school rap (which makes up most of the outstanding soundtrack), Squires to the rock-and-roll of his generation. They hit bongs, they drink beers, maybe they pop some pills, but although drugs were the beginning of their friendship, they certainly are not the foundation. They’re two wandering souls searching for their mates, and finding them in the most unexpected place.

Young writer-director Jonathan Levine keeps the movie tautly to its storyline, never stumbling and never forgetting his purpose. As a critic, you appreciate it; as a viewer, you’re mesmerized. For this movie, unlike many others, has a purpose beyond entertainment; it promotes a message better presented than any I can remember seeing. That message is simply this: Everything is going to be okay.

Everything is going to be okay.

No matter how much your heart may hurt, just step outside and take a walk on a warm summer day with some good music in your ears, and all you feel and all you see is the dopeness.

So I’m watching the 2008 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, as some baseball fans do, and I can’t help but notice that not only did they have someone sing God Bless America during the 7th inning stretch, they additionally felt the need to televise it. Thanks, Fox. I’m glad I can always rely on you to remind me that you think this is a Christian nation.

I really don’t know what god has to do with America or baseball. What exactly has everyone in America convinced that we’re the chosen ones, that our nation is destined for domination? Has no one in this country read a history book? Countless nations have been convinced of their manifest destiny to rule everything and be the most badass country in the history of countries, and yet — shocker! — none of them have turned out to be that, because power and world domination are cyclical. Though nuclear weapons do help. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? It’s not god who gave America nukes — and if it was, that’s no god I’d want to worship. People make their own beds. It’s people who hit baseballs, not gods. People also somehow manage to catch touchdown passes in football without Jesus helping them out in the slightest bit. Why would you thank god for catching that pass? The guy who failed at defending you isn’t going around cursing god for abandoning him.

Why would any god care to favor one sports team or player over another? Why would god care to favor America over any other nation? Singing “God Bless America,” particularly in a sport like baseball that has so many international players, is tantamount to saying, “Screw everyone else, only America is important.” But this country is so saturated with Christianity that no one speaks up for the one group that catches more flak than absolutely any other in this country, the one group whose rights NO non-members care about. No, it’s not gay people. Not black people. Keep guessing. Nope, not women. Not immigrants. What was that? What did you say? Did you say atheists? Why, that’s absolutely correct!

This country is absolutely in love with itself, and it is tearing itself apart before our eyes.

And that is what I’m thinking as I watch the 2008 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.