Guns and girls.

This is going to be a very nerdy post: Three reviews of things, the first of…

The Miserable, and the wretched.

Saw Les Misérables yesterday.

Honestly, a musical is not my cup of tea, but the movie was just fine. I have familiarity and appreciation for the story, and the musical, from my youth, so I was curious to see how it would be adapted, and like everyone else, I had heard good things about the performances of Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman. I suspect they’ll both get Oscar nominations, but Anne Hathway is the one with the real shot here. She does a lot of heavy lifting with the relatively limited role of Fantine and even in her short time here no one hits the strides and the heights and depths that she can plumbs so easily. Jackman is good, but not as good as her. Plus, he’s got the unfortunate timing of potentially being nominated for Best Actor in the same award season as Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln.

I dreamed a dream.

Tom Hooper, however, is as boring in his direction as he was in The King’s Speech, and possibly less so. Somehow that film was both nominated and managed to win the big awards, but I don’t think that will be the case here. Especially not in a year that produced a Lincoln, a Zero Dark Thirty, and a Life Of Pi.

Anyway, minor flaws of the film that aren’t so minor: Way too fucking long and not interesting enough to sustain that length. The stuff towards the end with the June Rebellion was dreadfully boring, and anytime Jackman, Hathaway, or even Russell Crowe as Javert weren’t on screen, you found yourself checking your watch. I did enjoy Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter (she’s just doomed to always play the gothic clown now, isn’t she?) as the Thénardiers, and they did provide some much needed comic relief to the film, but their rendition of the film’s second most memorable song was pretty boring.

Anyway, my second review is of…

Mad hilarity, merciless action, dark cynicism, and incorruptible bravery.

Gun Machine, the new novel by Warren Ellis.

This is a fun, slightly nuts book, which is the usual from Ellis. His first novel, Crooked Little Vein, was a silly but interesting little pulp travelogue through America, and Gun Machine comes from a similar place, but it’s more of a harder crime novel. This is Warren Ellis sodomizing writers like James Patterson and Ed McBain with his ideas, sort of.

The premise is simple: A cop stumbles upon an apartment filled with guns, hundreds of them and nothing else, and each crime can be traced to a different unsolved crime. Somebody has been keeping these guns all this time as trophies.

I believe I read somewhere the book has already been optioned to be developed into a TV show, which is… exciting, I guess. Granted, they’ll take the premise, and they’ll tone it down. They’ll have to. This book is a little nuts, and filled with a lot of little minutiae that’s probably closer to the harsh reality of crime in a big insane urban cityscape, but not the kind of thing that the flyover states are ready to tune into from their local affiliate. The first scene of the book, for example, involves the main character’s partner getting half of his face blown off by a shotgun blast delivered by a ranting naked man.

Gun

That said, there are lots of little ideas and the basic premise that could easily translate into a very interesting serial procedural. That, and I would like to see the type of characters that Ellis writes on either the small screen or the big screen, as they’re usually broken, mouthy creatures who are incorruptibly brave (a nice way of putting it from the Wired review quoted as a blurb on the cover) and very good at what they do.

Half of this book is written in the parlance of the internet, almost as if Ellis got tired of scanning the internet landscape and fueled some of that excitement and anger into a writing frenzy. At the same time, as a fan of his comic books and ideas shared in various places online, I am excited to see him evolving in a new medium, but I can’t say that it feels like he’s challenging himself here. But I have to say that I would secretly like to see Ellis tackle one of his nonfiction books that have more than one foot inside music theory and hauntological futures (which he is working on, thankfully), or maybe some kind of insane sci fi novel – I would love to see Warren Ellis become the new Harlan Ellison – or really get into TV, writing for Doctor Who or resurrecting Quatermass, something like that.

The second review being of…

Victorian values.

“The Snowmen,” the recent Doctor Who Christmas special.

I miss talking about Doctor Who, here or anywhere else. I really need to develop a venue for that, but as far as this episode goes, in short: This was a merely so so episode with great characters in it. Matt Smith is always good and shining with the Doctor, and only improves as he continues to play the character, and Vastra, Jenny, and Strax are welcome ongoing returns to the series, and I can’t say enough nice things about Jenna-Louise Coleman’s Clara, who is mysterious and a serious breath of fresh air. If I’m being honest, I may be doing this post solely to post pictures of her.

That said, this episode was not great. The webisode prequels were more interesting than a good deal of the regular plot of the episode, and I thought it was brave that the threat that the characters were facing down was given an extreme back seat to the character moments.

More guns.

Steven Moffat’s writing is always great, but if I had one major criticism of his tenure on Doctor Who as the showrunner it would be that everything feels too rushed. I assume that the fickle nature of television and the constant need to up the ante is what causes that, but as much as I enjoyed season 5 as the shakedown cruise for a new Doctor, companion, and way of looking at the show, season 6 seemed very rushed, big on set up and small on payoff, possibly because the payoff had to be pushed forward, forward, forward. Part of me wonders if a lot of that was necessitated by the upcoming 50th anniversary special.

That special lead to a lot of new additions in the Christmas special, including the introduction of Smith’s face in the main credit sequence (which I’m positive they’ve been threatening since he took over the role) and a redesigned TARDIS console room that brought back a lot of the blandness of the poorly executed production design from the show’s earlier regenerations in video with rubber monsters back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

Cosby sweaters and scripts

And I’m as curious as the next person about some of the big things to come, like the presumed payoff of the First Question, but eventually it could get tiring to constantly finding situations for characters to say, “Doctor… Who?”

Anyway. That said, I’m looking forward to the second half of the current season and the (re)introduction of Clara, Mark 3. I suspect that she’ll be everything that we had assumed and hoped that Amy Pond will be, and I’m really looking forward it. The show regenerates each time a new Doctor steps out of the ashes of the previous one, but as they keep rightfully so telling us, the show is about the companions and the view they provide, and it really feels like the show could come to life again with the addition of Clara. I’m excited.

Remember.

“Blood’s been spilled to afford us this moment.”

Five things about Lincoln:

1. It’s a very inspiring, and in many ways, uplifting movie. Quality filmmaking, which is never a surprise from Spielberg. Not only is he the most successful commercial filmmaker (at least alive) but does any one else actually consistently make films at this par? Certainly not to the volume of Spielberg.

2. It’s interesting to watch this film and now with utter certainly that Daniel Day Lewis will be winning a Best Actor Oscar for it. It’s strange how happy I am that Liam Neeson left this project after having been excited for so long that he had been attached to it.

3. It’s funny how charming his Lincoln is. The strange, unkempt hair, the weird way he walks, the fact that he’s always sitting, wrapped in a blanket. He’s both disarming and endearing in a way that makes you root for him. A simple demeanor, hiding so much complexity, moving from scene to scene pouring out love and looking almost as if the ceaseless weight of the world will crush him.

4. The way the movie ends, moving around the President’s fate, is really quite interesting, I think. The film is incredibly, wonderfully, and painfully accurate to our American history, you almost wish that at the last second Abraham Lincoln could have tilted his head to the side just in time to miss the fatal bullet and someone how been saved. They can do that kind of thing in movies, right?

5. Maybe he could live on and go and fight vampires or some kind of shit like that?

Your mind is the scene of the crime.

Your eyes may be open but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re awake.

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.

This is my simple, rudimentary thoughts on Christopher Nolan’s Inception in three and a half points.

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.

And once you start to look for those tricks, you feel like a trick that’s been turned. You open your eyes, you see the money on the dresser.

At least Inception is up front and honest about all of this, with it’s simple and confounding tagline: “Your mind is the scene of the crime.”

from here.

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.

Bend sinister.

Mad linkage:

They made a movie starring Ben Stiller and Robert Deniro’s boner. Also, it’s a threequel.

The human genome was decoded. Then what happened?

The Office‘s Ellie Kemper and her sister to publish novel.

Release dates for new albums by Interpol and Blonde Redhead, with a new Radiohead album to come this year?

“I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author, I speak like a child.”

-Vladimir Nabokov, from Strong Opinions.

How Rolling Stone was able to bring down a general.

Trailers for The Social Network (remember the poster?), the new Todd Solondz, and Red, based on the Warren Ellis/Cully Hammer miniseries/graphic novel (and retaining the general plot, but seemingly having dropped everything else).

Daniel Day-Lewis as Professor Moriarty?

The Onion AV Club interviews Dogtooth director Giorgos Lanthimos and Janeane Garofalo.

Pictures from this post on redesigning Nabokov covers, and how certain limitations could be an artist’s saving grace. In this case, the recurring theme tied back to the author’s love of lepidoptery.

The covers are: Despair by Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin. The Enchanter by Megan Wilson and Duncan Hannah. Speak, Memory by Michael Bierut. King, Queen, Knave by Peter Mendelsund. And The Defense by Paul Sahre.

09/09/09!

Today is September 9, 2009. 09/09/09, everybody!

It’s a precursor to the end of the world! Crazy numerology voodoo! Math and numbers gone crazy! Ahhhh.

But it’s mostly pretty cool. Be prepared!

Supposedly today is a good day to get married.

And the Beatles Rock Band game comes out today also, I guess?

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Revolution #9. Is Paul Dead? Turn Me On, Dead Man! “#9 Dream” and Number9Dream.

Famous events on this day in history: A bunch of war shit, particularly in World War II, but HUD was also established, California was admitted into the union, and Elvis Presley appears on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time way back in 1956. Oh, and the Sega Dreamcast came out ten years ago.

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“As a great philosopher once said…” Elvis, you’re an asshole. Just ask the Beatles.

Famous births acknowledged today: Emperor Aurelian, William Bligh, Cliff Robertson, Sylvia Miles, Chaim Topol, Inez Foxx, Jeffrey Combs, Michelle Williams, Eric Serra, Hugh Grant, Adam Sandler, Rachel Hunter, Goran Visnjic, and Michael Bublé. So, really, Sept. 9 is the OFFICIAL B-CELEBRITY BIRTHDAY.

Famous deaths on this day in history: A lot of history’s only so so interesting people, some of the standouts including English serial killers and Chairman Mao.

Also today: This movie, 9, comes out today. Ehhh.

And not to be confused with Nine, the musical with the mega all start cast of Oscar Winners based on Fellini’s 8 1/2.

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And on the same summer that District 9 came out!

Creepy coincidence city!

Much like a lot of the coincidence that are bound to pop up with the number 9 or a date like today’s. Personally, I just think it’s cool to see 09/09/09 wherever the date is written.

The Auteur Theory: Univeral languages.

“Film is one of the three universal languages, the other two: mathematics and music.”

-Frank Capra.

In the past, August Bravo and I have talked about a few of our favorite films and how we’d like to see them become Criterion DVDs. Why the Criterion Collection, you ask? Because we’re low brow film snobs and the Criterion Collection just looks sexy on a DVD shelf. I don’t want to speak for August here, but I’m a film nerd and kind of a completionist in that regard. Electronic copies of things are great, but just like my very sexy bookshelf, I like having an awesome selection of DVDs of album chilling there for me to admire and really take the time to decide: What do I want to watch today?

Which also ties wonderfully into me celebrating my own awesomeness, which is something I’m finding it harder and harder to say no to these days, ha ha!

That said, at some point August and I will probably do another one or two posts on those movies we like in a classic sort of way and at some point, we may actually jump into the auteur theory for which we took as the name of our series. But until then… chomp down on some of our past posts on the matter…

“The fact that it doesn’t have a completely satisfying ending, or maybe it does, is something I thoroughly admire about this film. I enjoy thinking about a film days after I’ve watched it, or at least, I like movies that stick with you for days after you’ve watched them. Not many have that kind of staying power anymore, but this film stays with you for years.”

-August on Shadow Of A Doubt, directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

“I hate to use the word satire more than once (and I do use it again in this post) but this movie is a perfect example of satire done right, perfecting showing you a world very much like ours, and very much like ours will become. In fact, the only detriment to this entering the Criterion collection to me is that it still feels a little too fresh. Maybe in another ten years it’d be more than perfect.”

-myself on Sidney Lumet’s still frighteningly brilliant Network.

“After many flings with a great many women he’s still left confused. The ending is one of the best I’ve ever seen. With almost no structure, the film is probably meant to confuse the shit out of everyone, an initial reaction that Fellini probably not only expected but counted on. As probably one of the most imaginative directors there was, I’m sure he had many reasons to make this the way he did. And I wouldn’t change a thing.”

-August on Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2., which is getting the musical remake treatment as Nine, directed sadly by Rob Marshall and starring interestingly Daniel Day Lewis. That aside, clearly August’s metier is endings.

“Polanski is a master filmmaker, and he’s particularly good with one single element of life: That sense that something is off and just not quite right. Sometimes it’s paranoia, and suspicion of one’s surroundings, but that’s if you’re lucky to nail the feelings his films inhabit so perfectly down into words, if you’re able to describe that real life sense of nameless dread that feels like a hand reaching for your neck while you’re wide awake in the dark.”

-myself on Roman Polanski’s Chinatown.

“Among other untimely events, the film takes you back exactly to the beginning. It seems this is something I find fascinating in movies, or I guess you could say that I just hate resolution in film? Not everything needs to be a happy or unhappy ending. But an ending, just a regular, ordinary ending is what I feel should propel this movie to that ultimate and pivotal infamy of the Criterion collection.”

-August on Steven Spielberg’s Munich.

So there’s something for you to catch up on while you eagerly await our return to blowing up the internet with film nerdery.