I had this dream the other night: Picture the protagonist of some indie film as he drives in a car on a plain road in the middle of the nowhere. Either a cool new song by a not well known hip band is playing through the car’s speakers, or there’s an older song, at least 10 to 15 years old, equally hip and recognizable and slightly “ironic” and catchy is playing. The sun is low, the sky is dim. It’s either just after sunrise or just before sunset. The character is driving for a few moments before something happens…
by John Ashbery.
An object of curiosity to some, but you are too preoccupied by the secret smudge in the back of your soul to say much and wander around smiling to yourself and others. It gets to be kind of lonely but at the same time off-putting. Counterproductive, as you realize once again that the longest way is the most efficient way, the one that looped among islands, and you always seemed to be traveling in a circle. And now that the end is near…
The segments of the trip swing open like an orange. There is light in there and mystery and food. Come see it. Come not for me but it. But if I am still there, grant that we may see each other.
Don Draper/Jon Hamm as Superman?
Google and the CIA to invest in the “future” of web monitoring.
Girls like boys with skills.
Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s wacky lesbian theory.
-Kurt Vonnegut, Bluebeard.
Lost‘s Damon Lindelof to rewrite Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel.
Mike Tyson likes cocaine and sex.
Disabled Austrian man eaten to death by maggots while his partner slept in bed beside him.
The first half of the Rubicon pilot is certainly interesting. A show for smart people or a show for people who think they’re smart (and love 70s paranoia thrillers)?
The Booker Prize longlist announced.
The longest photographic exposures in history.
Quantum time machine “allows paradox-free time travel.” If you need me, I’ll be in the past. Or the future.
The oil spill: when a science fiction nightmare becomes reality.
The plight of Afghan women: a disturbing picture.
-Kurt Vonnegut, Slapstick: Or, Lonesome No More!
Ship lost for more than 150 years is recovered.
Inception: Dreams vs. Reality.
-Kurt Vonnegut, Hocus Pocus.
Where did the money to rebuild Iraq go?
Tokyo’s oldest man has been dead for 30 years.
Bethany Cosentino from Best Coast talks about her cat.
Your lack of privacy on the internet.
Team America: World Police vs. Inception:
Interesting. Apparently this is a popular thing, especially with Inception, which has been mixed with quite a few other films, including Willy Wonka, The Matrix, Shutter Island, The Dark Knight (of course), Up, WALL-E, and, of course, Lost.
Right off the bat, let’s lift a shadow off this evening: The only people for us are the mad ones and there’s nothing nearly eloquent enough to explain our excitement about the return of Mad Men tonight (and the return of us gabbing about each new episode afterward) with the fourth season premiere, “Public Relations,” but August is going to start us off with…
Is it me or shouldn’t this episode have been titled “Don Fucking Draper,” right?
Marco Sparks: Seriously. That would have been a great title for the season premiere of the show for rich people and rich minds alike.
August: Seriously. This episodes taps into the psyche of Don and who he is now. Maybe who he always was.
Marco: I feel like every single season we’re told that there’s a larger question hanging over that particular year or story arc, and there is no resolution, not clearly. There’s milestones. There’s totems on that timeline. There’s road blocks and rest stops, but that probing question only gets more complicated, more faceted…
But it’s nice that no matter how despicable some of Don’s actions can be, he’s still one of our better role models for men on television. Right? Well… no, probably not. There’s obviously a very masculine energy to him, a complicated creature of intrigue and overflowing with a talent that can’t be denied and a certain enviable confidence. But it’s a weird time for men now, not unlike the 60s in some regards, and it’s hard to find good male role models in this day and age…
…I mean, right?
Though it’s interesting to watch the new era of Don Draper. The single Don, a man living a sadder life perhaps? It’s like watching an actor without a real role. Don’s always a little more in his zone when he’s lying to a woman effectively and it’s got to be hard for him when the possible new girl in his life sees through a little of the old tricks of his. But, Don being Don, and knowing the ways of the world like he does, and being in advertising after all, he relies on kindly women from the oldest profession who can give him what he wants, a literal expression of what has happened to him thus far: A good slapping around.
August: No need for the hooker to take off her brassiere, she already knows what Don wants.
Marco: I’m sure the events of his life sure haven’t helped. The confusion at work as they build a new company. The constant struggle to move out of the darkened corners of invisible anonymity in the creative department to becoming the poster boy, the handsome cipher, the face of the company.
It’s 1964 at this point, it’s Thanksgiving, and Don isn’t finding himself a whole lot to be thankful for. This new found freedom isn’t necessarily good for him, it sure as hell isn’t glamorous in any way, and divorced guys are seemingly considered basically damaged goods. And I think a lot of people came up with a lot of reasons for why Don like or wants or needs a bit of the rough stuff in his sex life, specifically being slapped, but the very first thing I got out of it was a reminder of Betty slapping him back in the season finale last year.
August: Life is just slapping him around at this point. I think it’s about what he said earlier. Every day he works is an investment for the company. He has no time to pick up women and seduce them into copious amounts of sex, to play that particular game that he plays so well. He has work to do.
Marco: Cause in every single way, Don is the star of this show.
I love the use of “John And Marsha” by Stan Freeberg, one of the kings of early satire, and the song is both a lovely inside joke when it comes to the world of advertising and a nice joke on soap operas. And it only becomes so much more meta when you consider that that’s really what Mad Men is.
August: In the metamorphosis from Sterling Cooper to Sterling Cooper Draper Price I’m glad they’ve updated from their shanty of an office in a hotel room to an actual floor, which unfortunately enough for Harry Crane doesn’t have more than one story, with their name on the door. Sorry Pete, guess they did end up having a lobby. But still no table…
Marco: I think we’re all holding our breath in anticipation of more Joan. And the possibility of Joan and Don… you know. That’s the difference, in just some regards, between a show like Mad Men and True Blood… True Blood is all soft core fan service (at some point everyone on that show will have fucked everyone else on that show for our amusement) and Mad Men is cerebral teasing all the way. It’s about dangling and snatching away at the last moment.
I especially think that’s true in light of this episode of Mad Men, which is all about not being able to close certain deals and not wanting to close others. You gotta love Don’s orchestrated “fuck off” to the prudes manufacturing sex in swim wear and thinking they’re better than they are.
August: I enjoyed the ruse Peggy and Pete conjured in order to garner press for the ham company. Didn’t go as planned, but that’s life I guess.
August: It’s hard out there for the boys and girls in America. Especially in the 60’s. 1964, if I’m not mistaken?
Marco: It certainly is.
Marco: Like your beloved Ken Cosgrove.
August: Ken had cool hair. Terrific few parts of the episode? Don and Roger bickering back and forth about the one-legged reporter and his inability to write a real story. Maybe they should talk to a whole reporter next time? Ha-ha. Roger sure as shit was the comedy relief in this episode as a lot of things/people were so morose.
Now back to Don, who has always been the main character of the show, I guess the protagonist, if you will, who really made this episode what it was. I think he feels this is temporary, this won’t last with Betty…
Marco: Henry Francis just feels like he’s about to get hit by a car or walk off the top of a skyscraper any moment now, doesn’t he? His patheticness almost makes Betty look even more cruel and horrid. It leaves where she ends up because of her frustrations from the past few years even more unchecked. Just as the kids are scared of their mother, I can’t imagine Francis not growing bored of her and then where will Matthew Weiner deliver her( and us)?
August: Will Don get back with her? Will he want to? The man with no key to his own house. I love his ability to take the jabs by his attorney and Roger in this episode. Usually so defensive, I think he’s just too shot down. Or just doesn’t give a shit anymore.
Marco: I’d be hurt if Benjie Light doesn’t have a few words to share with us about Betty, but I like where they’re taking the kids here, story-wise and post-divorce, the way they’re building on what we’ve seen so far concerning Sally and Bobby Draper. Sally, of course, is going to rebel and be repulsed by the way her little life is going so far and Bobby is going to grow up to be fucking creepy. If they ever do an episode flashing forward to where all the characters ended up, I want to see Bobby Draper, with his new striving to be liked by everyone now, as a politician.
And since they cast Matt Long as Peggy’s little partner, I’m wondering just out of curiosity since I never actually watched Jack And Bobby (and I don’t believe that anyone else did either)(though I think John Slattery was on there too), but didn’t Bobby end up being the one who grew up to become President?
Marco: Fucking jai alai.
August: …in his news story. Maybe that interview with the Wall Street Journal will make it all better?
Marco: I hope that Betty becomes the new Don in that house.
Especially since Henry’s idea of recapturing the magic between involves them fucking in the car, seemingly echoing back to when they had to sneak around? Only one episode in and I already feel like these characters feel like they can’t handle the a-changin’ times around them and they’re flirting with the soft seduction of the past and all of it’s elements, the moments when they felt happier or more dangerous.
August: I couldn’t tell you where this episode may take us, as far as the new season is concerned. I’m just hoping I get to see more of Pryce.
August: Who is Don Draper?
All that glitters isn’t necessarily gold, not all travelers are lost, and that stuff underneath your feet isn’t necessarily Earth. When the sky’s the limit (and possibly not even then), when you can do and create anything, you’re still grounded by your own rules. Your own sense of understanding of ideas and concepts. Theft and violation are painfully easy, but inspiration is hard. Just because you feel it doesn’t mean it’s there. Things can only appear strange to you sometimes when you’re told that perhaps that’s what you should be looking for. Sometimes it’s hard to fall, or to feel like you’re falling, when there is no gravity.
1. Every time I go to see a good movie in a movie theater, one that both excites and intrigues and involves me in some regard, be it superficial or something deeper, more substantial, it’s like a dream, isn’t it? We love the idea of dreams because they’re the perfect metaphor for… anything. Anything you desire.
And more so, we love our stories, and we love comparing movies to dreams.
Film logic just has to captivate you for the time that you’re watching it, to keep you floating in a suspension of (dis)belief, and then the movie ends, the credits roll, and you crawl out of the cave of the cinema. If you’re going to see the matinee, then the sun outside is harsh, and cruel. Your senses are heightened to extraordinary degrees. Every step feels more epic, the angle of objects seems more profound. You just experienced something amazing and you’re taking a little bit of it with you, and by contrast, you feel like you’re leaving a little of yourself behind, but you move on from it because you feel touched, activated, feeling pretty amazing yourself. You move with your own soundtrack blaring, your mind working overtime and recovering from the shock of excitement.
Waking up from an intense, weighty dream can inspire you and invigorate you, especially if for even just half a second, you think you’re waking and walking into another dream, even more stupendous, and of your own design.
2. Comparing things to video games infuriates me. But mostly it’s the people doing the comparing that bother me because, honestly, the idea of comparing things, especially movies, and certain modes of reality, to the idea of a “video game” interests me. I’m by no means a gamer, but the idea, and it’s possibilities, excites me.
Video games are like dreams in a certain regard, aren’t they? At times you’re completely powerful, in control of everything in your surroundings and yourself, and then, with little to no warning, you’re absolutely powerless and everything is completely out of control. The shit hits the fan, then the fan explodes, and somebody gets their head cut off.
Inception feels like a video game. It’s a cerebral maze of ideas, working on a multiple of levels, dabbling exquisitely in both terms of narrative, time structures, visual metaphors, and big ideas and memes (and sorry, everybody, I know the word is beyond detested, but the concept of it, the virus of the idea that spreads and can’t be killed is both thrilling and terrifying).
The other day Benjie Light and I were talking about things that we want to do in our lives, stupid things that we want to imitate from the movies/books/pop culture stories that we’ve ingested and loved over the years, and my big three things were 1) solve a mystery, preferably a locked room murder mystery, 2) plan and execute a (hopefully successful) heist, and 3) diffuse a bomb with mere seconds left on the clock. Commander Light also understandably suggested “car chase” as a scenario that would be nice to throw in the mix, and he’s right, but I’d toss that into the heist paradigm.
My point: I would love to play the video game based on Inception. The one that has a story that works brilliantly and ambitiously and only gets strange when a stranger suggests to you that something seems strange. And then you explore the depths of that strangeness. You have fist fights in rolling hallways, watch cities rise up to meet you, get attacked by angry mobs and the spectre of your Oscar-winning French hottie wife, fire guns, blow shit up, both run and chase after faceless nefarious goons, and deliver mind blowing bits of exposition while looking incredibly GQ.
Also, I’ll say this: Inception had a certain frame of mind to it that I feel like The Matrix could’ve really benefited from having had ten years ago.
It’s a video game that would excite you on a variety of levels, both on the superficial and the deeper, the more intellectual. A cerebral workout. An existential knife fight. The only thing that would make it better than the movie, though, would be that it was presumably interactive.
2 1/2. The thing I’ve noticed about Nolan’s films is that they’re all plot. They’re far from indulgent and long and dense and they move fast, leaving very little time for fireworks that are purely character building. In that sense, he’s the exact opposite of P.T. Anderson, who’s films are all character, and sometimes those characters move in a certain direction that takes them from a starting point to a stopping point. But in the exercises of narrative, Nolan manages to paint shades of characters, both skeletal sketches, like Cillian Murphy’s character in Inception, and those with the driving illusion of more depth, like Dicaprio’s in this film.
And grounded. So grounded. Nolan’s films are fantastical creatures of oneiric energy that are dreamed up by inhabitants of the real world. As scholarly influenced as they are, even their madness, and his, is grounded, and logical. His Gotham City and battle gear clad vigilantes are both out of this world and something that could play on the 5 o’cock news in this world.
Nolan doesn’t speak in a language of dragons and flying carpets and talking animals and liquid robots that morph in physics-defying feats of light and spectacle. His characters live in dreamlands based on urban mazes and high speed travel and real world concern and drabness. And they dream/create with the tools that their worlds give them.
Half of movies is glamor and glitz and show and all preconceived notions. And Nolan is good about using that, especially in his casting. Michael Caine can walk into just about any scene in a movie now and seem like the wise, but slightly jaded mentor who knows that you’re about to go down a pretty dark, fairly shitty path, but still supports your decision and has a few nuggets of sage wisdom for you. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a certain level of cool attached to himself, either earned or not earned. Ellen Page perfectly fits into the category of smart newbie who’s still learning the ropes and is beginning a journey, despite her probably immense and amazing knowledge of all things Cisco. Ken Watanabe always carries a certain sinister edge with him, though perhaps that’s just an occidental thing. And Leonardo Dicaprio has perfectly aligned himself with a certain archetype, that of the little boy grown up into a man, hardened with anger and guilt, and we’ve accepted him as the protagonist cipher who will either work through his issues or ultimately be destroyed by them.
My only complaint about the actual production/composition of this film is the level of soundtrack on display at all times. I really liked Hans Zimmer’s score to the film, so much so that I went and bought the soundtrack immediately after the movie concluded, which was a surreal experience all of it’s own since I saw the film at the theater in the mall which was a weird labyrinth to wander through as I was re-composing myself into reality after exiting the movie. Maybe it was just a bad mix at that theater, but the score seemed to be too loud at certain points, competing with the actors and their dialogue, sometimes defeating them a little, which is a shame because as I said, with Nolan’s movies, nothing is wasted, not a single shot, not a single glance or expression, and especially not a single word or sentence.
I think it’s safe to say that this is the kind of movie that Counterforce has been waiting for all of it’s short life (2+ years now).
SPOILERS, from here.
Apropos of nothing, here’s an idea that you should carry with you into viewing this movie: “just as movies are metaphorical dreams, maybe dreams are metaphorical movies.” Well said. Inception can be just another popcorn action heist movie for you if you want (especially in 2010, the year we make contact with heist movies like The Losers, The A-Team, and Takers), or it can be something more. Or both.
Benjamin Light put forth a desire that I’ll repeat here: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page should do more movies together. They’re the brightest of the hip young things in the world of thespians with cred these days, yes?
That said, amazingly, James Franco was close to getting Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s role originally. And Nolan’s original desire was to cast Evan Rachel Wood in the role of the architect, and then it floated towards Emily Blunt, Rachel McAdams, and even Emma Roberts before Ellen Page was cast. That’s just fascinating. And so bizarre.
3. I haven’t repeated the plot of Inception here and I’m not going to. Go look it up. Then watch the movie. Then watch it again. Here’s a spoiler though: Inception ends just like Shutter Island, after a fashion.
There’s a college course or at least a long conversation for armchair cineaists and philosophers in movies like Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Mulholland Drive, and Synecdoche, New York, and Inception belongs in the mix with them. Movies are all dream logic, especially more so in the last few years. At a certain point, a 1/3 or 2/3 of the way through movies with a certain “out there” kind of story, we start to look for the seams and loose threads of the eventual reveal that “it was all a dream.” Especially in Synechdoche, New York. By the end of that film, you’re pretty sure that at some point you’ve crossed over into a dream world, but the question is simply: Where? At least Mulholland Drive is a little more straight forward about that, at least, for the filmgoer with is both actively looking for and completely open to massive weird download of logic and strange visuals and strong, penetrating emotions the film requires you to take in.
Shutter Island almost belongs in that same thread of films, and somewhat suffered because of it. Read any two reviews of that film and at least one will say some variation of “I could guess the ending of this movie long before the finish line and you know why? Because I’ve seen movies before.” So little shocks us these days, and we’re somewhat let down by twist endings now just because they’re expected. We set an extra place at the dinner table for them. Identity was a fine, harmless movie, but after about 25 minutes into it, you were pretty sure that a crime was being committed against you and the culprit was going to be a writer with a flashy, showing idea about tricking your expectations.
To mix metaphors even more: I think one of the many problems with the modern take on “twist endings” and “it was all a dream” logic in the cinema is that your goals as a viewer and participant get too confused. Are you looking for the map or are you looking for where the map leads you. X is supposed to mark the spot, but it’s tough to translate that when you’re X in that equation.
And, slowly but surely, twist endings are becoming the new “Hollywood ending.” Once upon a time and through the woods and only in a dream can you live happily ever after.
The thing that saves Inception and Shutter Island‘s endings is that they fall down to the user. You’re required to make a certain level of decisions, to feel something, and decide what you believed just happened. You have to be both actively involved, and also open and ready to receive, you have to “get it,” and in return, the film lets you pick a path to go down. It was all dream. Or it wasn’t. The main character remembers everything. Or doesn’t. Something happened here. Or maybe it was there. Maybe it was earlier. Or later. This is a review. It isn’t.
Actually, it isn’t. Just my immediate reactions, of a sort, having just walked out of the movie something like two hours ago (it’s roughly 5 PM as I write this). Such a strange experience watching the end credits rolling for that movie. Like I was walking out of a half remembered dream of sorts, standing on a widening chasm between a narrative flashing on the walls of my unconscious/subconscious mind and the harsh light of day in the real world. Which works dually for this movie as well: An artsy movie full of deep ideas, or at least ideas that can feel deep, but done in a slick, expensively executed mainstream way. As if Michael Mann had remade 8 1/2.
The theater I was in was virtually empty, the two other people there with me more invisible than usual, and it was so strange to feel that as I walked out of the shared dream that is the cinema that way. Dreamspace faded away, light entered the room, the real world was knocking on the door, and I felt more alone than usual. It was a scary but important feeling, my brain decided as it’s gears grinded and took delight in processing what it just took in, but even still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the movie was over and now it was time to go back to sleep.
A little late, with nothing much to say, but today I just figured I’d share one of my favorite Mr. Show bits with you…
…the pre-taped call in show. It’s all about that ending. “Everything I’m saying happened last week!”