Scottish Manes.

On our Star Wars podcast a few weeks ago, I was threatening that I was going to write a monograph about Ewan McGregor’s hair in films, and I’m sure Benjamin Light thought I was just joking. He probably – rightfully? – hoped that I was.

Scottish manes.I wasn’t. Thought Catalog was nice enough to publish a piece by me the other day: A Selection Of Films Rated On The Quality Of Ewan McGregor’s Hair In Them.”

Here’s the sad thing: I could have gone on and on, and in quite a big of greater detail than I did. Their might be a strange little e-book on this topic in the future so, you know, beware.

* * *

At some point, I feel like I could write another piece (though a much shorter one) on the hair of prominent comic book writers, especially those in the Marvel bullpen. In short: They’re all bald! Sometimes they have the wall of hair on the side, a power move that I’m sure is called “The Captain Picard” in barber college. Sometimes they just go for the shave and shine, electing to try to convince us that they chose to shave their head, not that they were losing a war with genetics. (“Make it SO!”)

I can see you!

Oh well. These are the people who decide who of our favorite four color heroes will die (like Peter Parker recently) or get raped and stuffed in a refrigerator.

FYI: TV Tropes informs me that it is actually referred to as “Bald Of Awesome.”

* * *

Benjamin Light informed me tonight that Ewan McGregor was rated as #5 on GQ‘s list of Most Stylish Men. I could tell you who was rated higher than him, but it’s bullshit. At least it wasn’t Michael Fassbender or Channing Tatum.

Men in suits.

Fucking Channing Tatum.

* * *

The blog is just days away from ending!

And, as always, I’m going to ask and suggest that you check out our podcasts…

Podcasts!

Time Travel Murder Mystery is on a very short hiatus currently, but I imagine that you can expect new episodes again in early January. Meanwhile, Greedo Shot First, our Star Wars podcast for people who hate Star Wars fans, is still going strong. I believe that the subject of our next episode will be a rewatching of The Empire Strikes Back. The haircuts in that movie were really just so so.

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.

You can’t frame a phone call.

We don’t know about you, but every time we hear “and then” there’s another chance for the ladies at home to misunderstand. We get that a lot. But in the meantime, let’s talk about last night’s Mad Men, the appropriately titled “The Color Blue,” and then go drink and listen to jazz in our office, have a chat with the Greek night janitor and the maybe masturbate into our special box of secrets…

August Bravo: 40 years wouldn’t be a significant year if it weren’t the average lifespan for a man in this business.

Marco Sparks: I really liked that scene of just Bert Cooper and Roger Sterling together, talking about the good old days together. And the present, what there is of it. It’s fascinating to hear Roger constantly go on about guys he knows in “this business,” or things that have happened in “this business,” as if he really is an old pro. And he may be, but not to the extent of Cooper, and yet Roger really wants to be in that previous generation, to live in the ebb and flow of their rules, their ways.

August: Now we know what makes Don Draper smile. Its 5,000 dollars! And we know what doesn’t make him smile: Meeting his mistress’ brother. Tsk tsk. He doesn’t want to ruin this.

Marco: I’m fascinated by those few occasions that Don picks up a sense of right and front, something that seems to him fleetingly at times, but in this particular case, he wants to do right by his new inamorata, since she seems to be refreshingly bold and pure in his eyes, but at the same time, no one wants to hear the brother of the new chick you’re sleeping with bitching about their problems in the middle of the night on a long road trip, am I right?

August: Yeah.

Marco: Though I love his comment on Don: “He knows how to leave a room.”

Marco: What do you think of Miss Farrell now? She was a character of much speculation as this season started to pick up steam, but now we’re here. And we’re steamy, right?

August: What do I think of her? I’m in love. That’s what I think.

Marco: Word.

August: She wants Don. Everything about him. She barely knows him, but she’s crazy about what she knows. And I think she will go crazy if she doesn’t get him. Or get him more than she has him already. Her eyes make her look like she’s on the brink of insanity without her.

Marco: And Don Draper is attracted to two things in life:

1. Waking up in the morning next to a mistake.

2. Crazy women.

August: Apparently Pete isn’t the only guy mad at Peggy for having those constant ideas.

Marco: Peggy Olson, the ultimate feminist.

August: Women in the 60s had it hard, man. But maybe they put themselves in that position. They don’t care about your marriages, your jobs. They just want you. They set themselves up for disasters.

Marco: They court disaster in the best ways, then eat it up and spit it out. Like spontaneous ideas in a pitch session. I loved Don and Peggy and Kinsey’s moment of not so much bonding, but of understanding over the lost idea. Oh, the bits of angelic genius lost to us when we’re shitfaced and not terribly close to a pen and paper. Also, I think we found something that Kinsey is really good at: Being in awe of Peggy.

August: Kinsey, my man. Almost got caught doing the dirty in his own office. On himself. If that’s not classy, I don’t know what is.

Marco: I don’t mind sharing with the world that the shit that goes down after hours in the offices here at Counterforce would shock the pants off of you. But it does involve a lot of jazz, some self harm, forgetting to write down golden ideas, and Greek janitors.

August: Achilles! Born leader. Also born to give inspiration.

Marco: I think the sad thing is a lot of guys want to be Don Draper, but instead they’re probably, at best, Roger. At worst, Pete. It’s bad for the intellectuals to, cause you don’t realize that you’re actually a Kinsey.

August: London calling! Ha ha, did I catch that right? Sterling-Cooper is for sale?

Marco: They’re lean and profitable now, ready to go to the highest bidder.

August: Even though his wife is ready to get the fuck out of New York…

Marco: Reasonable.

August: …but I’m really going to miss Lane Pryce if he goes.

Marco: If he goes being the key part. I could see him staying behind, maybe sans wife. Also, I have a feeling that Bert Cooper isn’t long for this world. Maybe Don and Roger and Lane will be running the company next year. Hopefully with Joan back and a much happier, more out of the closet Sal along for the ride.

Which will be totally worth since I’d love to see that flashback episode to when Don and Roger met and Roger found Don working at a fur company and going to night school.

August: Betty and Don both think the phone call is for them.

Marco: “Jeez Louise!”

August: What kind of sham marriage is this?

Marco: Probably the same as most marriages during that time period. The difference is that Betty’s really getting hers too, which I love. It’s sad that Don not only doesn’t respect Betty’s intelligence to hide his running around better. And it’s a toss up between whether he doesn’t respect herself enough to not realize that he’s pushing her away (though not necessarily into the arms of another ma) or that he trusts her more than that.

August: We know Don loves her, but he clearly doesn’t respect her. And there she is, just longing for that phone call from the man in the Governor’s office.

Marco: And Don is fearing that the phone call is from Miss Farrell, who, to be fair, does seem a bit… obsessive, even if she does know that things between Don and her probably won’t end well. I’m not convinced that it wasn’t her calling the house.

August: Both of these women just want these men more than they’re wanted, I think.

Marco: I think that Henry Francis from the Governor’s office had a bit of a point last week, Betty did need to come to him. She is married and he shouldn’t be going after her. That doesn’t stop the guy from being a dick though.

August: Betty says he family doesn’t need to go to church every week. I love that. No repenting in the Draper household.

Marco: Repenting? Fuck the past. Put it out of your mind. It will shock you how much these things you don’t like never happened.

August: OMG. FML. Betty found Don’s secret stash.

Marco: His secret identity. Literally.

August: What’s he going to do?

Marco: Can’t wait to find out. But more importantly, what is she going to do? I think we’ve seen some mountains and valleys in the debate over Princess Betty this year, but really it’s all setting up that the ball is in her court now.

from here.

August: Yeah, really. For a second it looked like she was going to hesitate with that drawer…

Marco: …and she never would have found the key if it weren’t for baby Eugene’s crying leading it to being within her grasp on laundry day.

August: But then Betty just dove right in!

Marco: Good for her. The unexamined marriage is no marriage to be fantasizing about other people in.

August: There’s been so much character development this season with Betty. Finding out she is and what she dreams of. Cause she’s just been so pent up all this time. And now she’s going to lash out.

Marco: She is. She totally is, but I think it’s going to be more controlled this time. Don lying to her isn’t something new and she knows that. Granted, she doesn’t know what she knows yet. There’s some divorce papers and the deed to a house belonging to an Anna Draper. And pictures with her husband in the war and just a name: Dick Whitman.

August: The drama! What is Don going to do next! And what is he doing now? This entire season he’s been so full of surprises, I feel. Sure, he is every season. I mean, he’s always been the man of mystery.

Marco: Maybe especially to himself?

August: But this year he’s even more spontaneous, more reactionary. Everything he does now merits a WTF?

Marco: And that’s the best kind of leading man for a television show of such literary depth. But back to the new tension between Don and Betty over knowing Don’s “secret,” I was literally just gripping my chair watching Don make the phone call (that call, the mysterious call to the Draper residence, and the fact that Don’s phone service calls Miss Farrell’s home – who knew the phone could be such a perilous weapon in 1963?) to Betty, telling her what time to be ready for the Sterling Cooper birthday bash. Betty’s not feeling good and Don’s telling her he wants to show her off and… ah, the drama.

August: Seriously. And you can’t frame a phone call.