We await silent Tristero’s empire.

“There’d been no escape. What did she so desire to escape from? Such a captive maiden, having plenty of time to think, soon realizes that her tower, its height and architecture, are like her ego only incidental: and what really keeps her where she is is magic, anonymous and malignant, visited upon her from outside and for no reason at all. Having no apparatus except gut fear and female cunning to examine this formless magic, to understand how it works, how to measure its field strength, count its lines of force, she may fall back on superstition, or take up a useful hobby like embroidery, or go mad, or marry a disc jockey. If the tower is everywhere and the knight of deliverance no proof against its magic, what else?”

-from The Crying Of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon.

Pictures from here and here.


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.

Gravity girls.

Mad linkage:

NYC car bomb.

Congress takes on statehood for Puerto Rico.

The Onion AV Club interviews Russell Hoban.

Brandon Flowers announces solo album.

The picture above is Melvin Sokolsky and can be found here.

The songs that never die.

MGMT “too crazy” for Jay-Z’s The Blueprint 3.

The abandoned Spreepark in Berlin.

Christopher Nolan’s next Batman film gets a release date.

The picture below is from a series entitled “Get Back In Your Book” by Lissy Laricchia, and it and more can be found here.

Does something about Winston Churchill annoy the American left?

Fear, crop failures, bee catastrophes.

Is Schrödinger’s Cat alive or dead?

Paradoxes will follow a cute redhead anywhere, anywhen.

No turning back, no way out, and nowhere else to go…

And that’s where we were left with last week’s episode of Doctor Who as the Doctor, Amy, River Song, and Father Octavian and his clerics were surrounded by the advancing Weeping Angels. The cliffhanger was deadly and our characters were down so low that they had only one way left to go… Up.

Continue reading

Moonlight becomes you.

The other day Benjamin Light asked me a good question, simply: What’s with you and the moon lately?

from here.

I have no amazing sexy answer to this question. I just don’t. As with a lot of things you’ll see here on Counterforce, it’s just one of those things that interest me. Always has. But here, it started as a lot of the things that I blog about tend to: Synchronicity. I wanted to write about Duncan (Zowie Bowie!) Jone’s upcoming film, Moon, and I thought of that great Ziggy Stardust song, “Moonage Daydream.” The next day, I got into a conversation with someone about Andy Kaufman, which was no big deal. But later that night, I overheard a so so cover of REM’s “Man On The Moon,” and my mind started spinning it’s itty bitty little wheels at the levels of coincidence there.

Then I thought of more moon-related things. My brain, as it sometimes can be, was like a search engine. I typed in what I wanted and it gave me a few nonsensical hits and some related shit. Some of it interesting, some not. The usual, you know. And then I did some actual reading up on various things, which honestly is what I get the most out of blogging. Not the actual writing, not the actual communicating with you (though you are fascinating, of course), but the search for new things, that’s what I’m really after. And the connections, references to, or allusions of the moon and things related I discovered were fascinating and I thought I’d share a few of them with you, but in my own weird warped way as I tend to do.

That aside, I can vividly remember this dream I had as a child of being on the moon. Maybe I knew about the lack of oxygen and less heavy level of gravity, or maybe I didn’t, but either it was a dream, and there I was: A little kid on the moon. And it was like a big gray sandbox. And I was all alone, walking around, trying to keep myself occupied, stuck in starry isolation in a lunar nowhere. It was such a weird dream, but as the moon I was standing on turned, the Earth came into view up above me. It was up in space, and it was big and beautiful and bright. It was fascinating and I couldn’t look away for a long time. I was obsessed with the notion that if I was just a little taller and got up on my tip toes I could reach it, dig my hand into the soil of continents and then wash my fingers off in the blue oceans. Or, being a mean little kid, I figured that if I hurried up, I could pee at the Earth and hit every part of it with one stream as it rotated past me. You think I’m weird now, you can only imagine how weird I was as a kid.

But, so yeah, I’ll probably blog about the moon a little here. Maybe the moon and art, maybe the moon and science. Not too much, just a little, here and there a bit. It’s all kind of going somewhere, but not to some big grand conclusion or anything. Just one specific point and then I’ll stop. Or maybe I won’t. Hopefully it’ll be just a little interesting, and I apologize if it’s not, but to be just a tad on the cheesy side, let’s sail to the moon…

Let’s play Twister, let’s play Risk, and I’ll see you in Heaven if you make the list.

Hey Andy, did you hear about this one?

Tell me, are you locked in the punch?
Hey Andy, are you goofing on Elvis?

Hey baby, are you having fun?

If you believed they put a man on the moon, man on the moon,
If you believe there’s nothing up my sleeve, then nothing is cool…

Here’s a little agit for the never-believer, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Here’s a little ghost for the offering, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Here’s a truck stop instead of Saint Peter’s, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Mister Andy Kaufman’s gone wrestling…

Nothing rhymes with Albania.

I was chillin’ in a coffee shop a while back, listening to music and reading up on some of the magazines that I’d put off during the past few months, including the latest issue of mental_floss.

If you’ve never heard of it, I really wouldn’t worry about it. It’s basically just a cutesy bi-monthly magazine for trivia lore enthusiasts, something for people who think they’re smart but probably don’t patronize those weekly bar trivia encounters (those are basically all questions about who’s fucking who on Grey’s Anatomy anyways, right?). It’s no Harper’s, that’s for damn sure.

The contents for the Nov/Dec issue include a cover story on “The New Einsteins,” nine visionaries in a variety of fields who are doing things to eventually grow organs, peer into black holes, help paraplegics to walk, etc. Plus, there’s a feature on the “cool” history of ice (“what began as a joke at a family picnic turned into a multi-billion dollar industry”), a brief history of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar (which is exactly how I like my Sylvia Plath: brief)(Also, Ted Hughes = total douchebag? Discuss), and a fascinating 50 cent tour on the country of Albania, which is what I want to talk about today.

Albania is a tiny, sad little country and I thought I might share a little of what I’ve read in that issue and some of my research with you, but I’m going to do it quick and easy, in the style of one of my favorite blogs: Joeblog!

A quick aside: While looking at a clip from Wag The Dog on youtube, I noticed that one of the comments is simply “FUCK OFF albania.” Ha ha, ahhh, xenophobia, so prevalent on youtube, isn’t it? Anyways…

  • Albania is located on the eastern side of the Adriatic sea, right across and almost practically under the boot of Italy, both geographically and metaphorically.
  • The country’s best known leader, Enver Hoxha, is a dictator who ruled over Albania from 1944 to 1985. He closed off the country to the outside world after World War II and watched as the country slowly imploded into itself.
  • The economy was still in ruins til the 1990s. You know what got it kick started again? Revolution!
  • Famous Albanians? John and Jim Belushi and Regis Philbin all have Albanian roots. And then there’s Nobel laureate Ferid Murad whose discoveries are responsible for a little drug called Viagra that you may or may not have heard of.
  • The country’s GDP is described by mental_floss as dismally low, but says that economists have noticed something fascinating: Pretty much all Albanians who leave their country get much richer (by who knows what means). If you could ethnic Albanians living at home and abroad, the GDP increases by 60 percent.
  • I can back that up somewhat. I used to be involved with a girl with Albanian roots. Her family was loaded. Good times.
  • For most of the 20th century, the capitol city of Tirana looked like any other dreary Stalinist city, but in 2000, mayor Edi Rama decided to change that…

  • Rama, a former painter, realized that the city couldn’t afford a makeover, so he decided on a much more immediate solution: Literally painting the town in bright and flamboyant shades of blue, yellow, green, orange, and violet. Volunteers were recruited to turn the concrete jungle into one giant canvas. They only problem? They didn’t order enough paint.
  • Good move? Who knows, but one that lasts til this day. And coupled with Rama’s economic reform and crackdown on crime, he recieved not only reelection but quite a few UN grants. And in 2004 he was named “World Mayor” by London’s City Mayors organization. And he was included in Time Magazine’s European Heroes of 2005 list.
  • Back to Enver Hoxha: Wanting his people to be subject to him above all else, but trying to be a benevolent ruler, he would frequently pass out bacon to his people. During Ramadan. Despite the fact that 70% percent of Albania is Muslim. But still, he forced the people to eat it, because he expected them to worship him.
  • So much so that the country’s physics textbooks were altered to say that Hoxha discovered gravity. Suck it, Isaac Newton.
  • “The Chinese leaders are acting like leaders of a ‘great state.’ They think, ‘The Albanians fell out with the Soviet Union because they had us, and if they fall with us, too, they will go back to the Soviets,’ therefore they say, ‘Either with us or the Soviets, it’s all the same, The Albanians are done for.’ But to hell with them! We shall fight all this trash, because we are Albanian Marxists-Leninists and on our correct course we shall always triumph!” –Enver Hoxha.
  • Today Hoxha’s statues are all gone from Albania, torn down by the people, and the largest monument built to honor him has apparently been converted to a disco.
  • Albania loves America! Despite their communist background, they are one of the most pro-America countries in the world.
  • Their sweet but kind of pathetic infatuation with us started in 1919 when Woodrow Wilson stopped the European powers from carving up the country during the Paris Conference. And of course, our protecting ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in the 1990s didn’t hurt either. And then there’s this lovable rascal here…

  • There was a massive crowd that came to visit George W. Bush when he visited the country in 2007, but after the fact video footage of the people flooding the streets captured something interesting: Someone apparently snatched the President’s watch. The country was filled with a combination of pride and dismay.
  • While crime is scourge in the cities of Albania, it’s also considered a national craft. Maybe even a pastime (baseball’s just not for everyone). Popular lore says that a thief once picked the pockets of the king of Albania in a London elevator. Moments later, the King then picked the thief’s pocket before the elevator doors open. FTW!

  • Lovely tourist spot you’ve never heard of: Saranda. Or, Sarandë. A gorgeous beach destination, described by The Guardian as “set to become the new ‘undiscovered gem’ of the overcrowded Med,” with claims to have some immaculately clean water. Why? Because industrial pollution was on the downward spiral after the collapse of communism in the country so the beach has remained wonderfully smog-free. Also, very few tourists know of it. (There is one tiny catch though: It’s in Albania.)
  • Albania is only the second poorest nation in Europe! Choke on that poverty, Moldova.
  • Related to that, you wouldn’t be able to guess how poor the Albanian people are because of the bountiful number of incredibly nice cars on their roads. But there’s a simple explanation: the cars are stolen! Like I said up above, theft is the national pastime of the Albanian people.

  • It has been claimed by The Simpsons that Albania’s main export is “furious political thought” and Cheers asserted that it was “chrome,” but in reality, the chief export of the country is textiles. Which is, let’s face, much less interesting.
  • There’s an Albanian Idol! The annual Festivali I Këngës, the Festival Of Songs, is an annual American Idol-type comptetition that is supposed to reflect on the mood of the nation. During Hoxha’s time, the songs were sad and depressing (Resulting in or perhaps caused by the fact that some of the performers would be killed after the competition because Hoxha disapproved of their performances). But of late, the songs have been more more poppier.
  • Albania has blood feuds! Blood feuds! Only there, it’s called Gjakmarrja. It’s a regular thing there since the 15th century, having caused it not to be safe for some men, who would be targets of such feuds at times, to leave the house. So the women have to take over in the social structure, living as Avowed Virgins. They keep their hair short, dress like and take on the personas of men. They swear off sex and tend to the livestock, pray in the mens’ section of the mosques, and drink and carouse about loudly (like a man would, I guess?), and carry guns. Why? Because the men are useless and typically hiding (a sed meta comment that, right?). It sucks for the women, but it’s also a much used loophole for women forced into arranged marriages. Or if their husband abuses them (which is still acceptable according to the kanun, the medieval legal code many Albanians still follow). Here’s the actual story itself, which is absolutely fascinating.

  • In 1928, Ahmet Muhtar Bey Zogolli declared himself King of Albania and then shortened his name to Zog, which means “bird” in Albanian. Some of my favorite parts in this portion on Albania was the stuff on Zog of Albania.
  • Before he crowned himself king, Zog was Albania’s President from 1925 to 1928. But the people just called him King during that period because they didn’t know what a President was.

  • I’m going to relay this paragraph from the bit on Zog verbatim because I love it: “Zog spent most of his reign drinking, playing poker, and antagonizing his subjects. In fact, it’s estimated that he provoked 600 blood oaths and 55 assassination attempts during 11 years in power.” Beautiful.
  • Zog was good friends with Mussolini, relying on him heavily during his reign, but Mussolini eventually turned on him. But that was because Albania relied so heavily on Italy during that time (to the point that the national banks of Albania were in Rome and Italian was the language taught to children in Albania’s schools).  Mussolini eventually declared Albania a protectorate of Italy and sent his army to invade in 1939.
  • Fearing for his life, Zog and his family were exiled from the country. So, sensible guy that he was, Zog flet to London with suitcases filled with gold. From the article: “He and his entourage took over a floor at the Ritz, where Zog chain-smoked 200 perfumed cigarettes a day. In the evenings, he was known to telephone random rooms, just to see if any other guests wanted to talk or play cards.”

  • I mention Wag The Dog earlier, directed by Barry Levinson and written by David Mamet, because it involved concocting a fake war with Albania to cover up political scandal. Now I know how truly preposterous the notion of Albania at war with anyone is.

Anyways, thanks for joining me a little journey through Albania, which has to be one of the most fascinating and sad countries I’ve ever read about. Let’s go lay on the beaches there, and get our pockets picked and maybe, if we’re lucky, get ourselves in a little of that blood feud action, what do you say?