“For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky.”

Like my previous post, this will be just a few things, some half way there thoughts…

One: The sky is still falling, and this blog is still coming to an end. We’re getting there, but slowly.

After this: 89 posts to go.

Have you listened to our podcast? You’ll notice that a majority of the posts now are just tools for you to download each new episode (but we’ll be on itunes soon). Not every post from now til the end – from this time to the end of time – will be solely about episodes of the podcast, but a good chunk of the rest of this blog will be eaten up by the creature that is consuming it and evolving out of it.

Evolution imagery is gruesome and interesting.

Two: It’s probably been a hundred years since I saw the Star Trek episode from this post borrow its title.

I vaguely remember it had a premise that sounded less interestingly like a very interesting (at least in its promise and potential) show that Harlan Ellison created way back, called The Starlost.

I won’t rehash the show’s plot, especially since you can just read about it on the Wikipedia link, but from what I gathered the show was terrible. But in reading what’s there, to me, I see the potential for something amazing, something that could be brilliant with a little bit of re-conceptualizing and competent execution.

Brilliant and intriguing puzzle/mystery box shoes still seem to be highly lusted after by network TV execs in these post-Lost wilderness years, but it seems like no one has the time to invest in competent conceptualization and execution. So it goes. Instead of our altars, we’re building our own coffins.

Three: Speaking of The Starlost, also read up on the idea of generation ships, and holodecks, and the Danger Room from X-men comics, the Dreamatorium from Community, and Arthur C. Clarke’s Rama series.

And see also: the “Mystery In Space” and “Rendezvous” issues of Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s Planetary comic series, which was one of the best pieces of storytelling that I’ve had the pleasure to read in the last ten or so years. On its surface, it’s about mystery archaeologists, but in reality its a love letter to certain kinds of storytelling from the previous fifty years of our culture.

Four: We eat our young. Only those lucky or tough enough to crawl away are potentially worthy of living to tell the tale.

Five: This is the new decade. There’s bigger and better thinkers who are more capable of this, better suited to the task, but I wonder what this new decade will look like. What innovations and disasters and pop confectioneries will define this new unit of measuring time.

And from that, I say… Does this decade, still in its relative infancy, still feel remarkably similar to the latter days of the previous decade? Isn’t that how it goes? Did the initial years of the 80s feel similar to waning years of the70s? Did the first few years of the 90s look anything like the middle years of the 90s?

Six: I’ve never seen Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s World On A Wire, but I’ve always wanted to. I guess that, amongst other things, what’s been holding me up is that it’s a piece of old 3 1/2 German sci fi. That and it wasn’t readily available until the it was released not too long ago as part of the Criterion Collection.

The Criterion Collection. Of course.

The movie is based on an old novel, Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galouye, and I have seen the American movie adaptation of that book…

Seven: When something is said, or when art is created, mixed with business and pleasure, how often does it come from a real, authentic place, answering questions or curiosities that are out there amongst the community? Or, especially when you lean more towards business rather than pleasure, or the pleasure of business, does it come from the perception of an interest within the larger community, the popular imagination, or a desire to create and inspire that perception and then make money off of it?

Eight: In the 90s, especially towards the beginning of the 90s, but a little at the end of it, it seemed like we didn’t know what we had on our hands. Not yet anyway.

It’s like Murphy Brown’s baby, that was born amidst a certain level of generated/unnecessary controversy. It was raised by the guy who was painting the house for years and years and wouldn’t be named until it could be deciphered, or understood. I know that kid eventually got a name, but wasn’t he, like, twenty at that point?

In Sci Fi trends in the 90s it seemed like they were mixing the 70s paranoia rehash that was being re-conceptualized in The X-Files with this desire to pursue the new, the fringes of oncoming technology and the things that we assumed would be important.

Spoiler alert: I’m going to start talking about virtual reality in a moment.

On top of that, you had boy bands and you “alternative rock” and I remember going to high school and hearing bullshit arguments about who was or what constituted being a “poser.” I heard some kids of being accused of being “wiggers.” On one hand we were growing up to want to start living lives out of the movies that had raised us when our parents were busy, and on the other hand we were accused of appropriating lives and roles that it was felt we had no right to. In music and society and goofy cultural matters there was this question of authenticity.

Perhaps you’re not real. Perhaps you only existence in the simulacra of someone else. And perhaps because you think, therefore you are…

Unless you’re just programmed to have thoughts, or to think you’re having thoughts. Who is telling this story? And to whom?

Anyway.

The American movie that came out of Simulacron-3 in the 90s was The Thirteenth Floor, starring Craig Bierko, Gretchen Mol, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Dennis Haysbert. It’s a murder mystery set within a company that’s created a new simulated reality, and there’s a twist. The twist is not hard to guess.

from here.

The tagline for the movie was “Question Reality.” I find that interesting since the tagline for American Beauty, which came out int he same year, was “Look Closer.”

Is it possible that we’re missing something?

The Thirteenth Floor was/is not a bad movie, just a movie that wasn’t thought out far enough to its natural conclusion. It reminds me in some regards of a movie that would come today in that it seems like it’s two drafts of a script away from being much, much better. It’s a very American movie that’s concerned with the nature of our reality, with existential paranoia, mashed up with echoes of a film noir feeling.

But then again, a lot of its problems can be summed up with two words: Craig Bierko. Another bizarre, failed experiment in creating a leading man out of literally nothing.

Nine: Granted, The Thirteenth Floor was not a movie from the early 90s, and in fact came out in 1999, around the same time as The Matrix, a movie with an arguably incredibly similar premise, especially concerning how many elements it ripped off from Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles.

Also, there was David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ and Alex Proyas’ Dark City (which I never saw cause it looks stupid), and The Truman Show, which had similar heavy overtones. But earlier in the decade you had the short lived Fox TV show VR.5 which, if I were to watch it now, I’m sure I’d more than cringe at, but at the time, I thought was incredibly intriguing. That show starred Lori Singer, Anthony Stewart Head, Will Patton, and David McCallum.

Ten: At the start of this I talked haphazardly about the idea of a newborn decade dreaming of the past, but really it’s a matter of the new decade dreaming of the future, of what is to come? I should be talking about Christopher Nolan’s  Inception here probably. Something something something THIS DREAM IS COLLAPSING.

Eleven: From Borges to Pynchon to Phillip K. Dick, so much of our fiction comes back to questioning the layers of reality and how we perceive it. What is real? What is really happening? And what is the reality of what is happening, real or otherwise?

Reality may be real, or it might not be, at least not real in the sense that we think of, but we share it, and we create it together, don’t we?

from here.

Twelve: Personally I would state that the experience of an event is the reality of it, at least in the moment. Reflection is easy, but it only casts a shadow over reaction in retrospect.

Thirteen: For now, this blog is moving forward, but it’s marching onward to its eventual demise, of sorts. Even on the internet, matter can only change forms, not be fully destroyed (I hope). Soon, what is currently thought of as Your Friendly Neighborhood Counterforce will become a time capsule, once it’s fallen completely out of this virtual sky that we’re all looking at together.

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.

How am I not myself?

I’ve been tired lately and just not feeling like myself. Not that I have any idea who this “myself” person really is. But lately, I feel like I’ve been even farther from answering that question. Perhaps it’s the fatigue.

Fatigue always leaves you feeling one of two things: Perpetual annoyance or perpetual confusion, right? Sometimes a mixture of the two, sure.

There’s yet another new Atlas Sound song out there, and I kind of like it. But not as much as the first one that leaked from the forthcoming new album, “Walkabout.” And a new video for a song from Giant Drag’s new EP, Swan Song.

Man, I just want to go lay in bed and watch I Heart Huckabees again.

I may just go do that.

from here.

Speaking of bed, I woke up to the news of Ted Kennedy’s death this morning.

I’m just chuckling to myself about the joke from The Game: “Does Ethel Kennedy have a black dress?” Or the one from Seinfeld about how Chappaquiddick could be blamed on bad directions.

Oh well, a shame. There were certain issues where you could tell, I think, that Kennedy did really care about doing what was right. Sure, he wanted to be President, but that’s the sin of every potentially great politician, right? Anyway, I’ll let others talk about him. And I guess I’ll stick to telling you how cool Sean Connery is, if you don’t already know that somehow.

Maybe I should go hire some existential detectives to find me and myself and my… whatever. You know?

Thank God I have the internet to get me through the sleepy days. Peace be with you. And have a safe drive home.

In which we say “Fiat Lux!” upon the God particle of the cinema…

I saw Ron Howard’s Angels & Demons yesterday.

It’s like when your friend, who’s been dating some douchebag for years and years, and you’ve had to watch her slowly self destruct from it, watch her announce time and again that she’s found the strength to get out, but then slowly turn around and delude herself with reasons why she should stay with the prick. And then they finally do break up. And things are great. And then one day she’s all like, “Oh yeah, by the way, I fucked Matt again yesterday.” And you’re all like, “What? Ugh. Jesus.”

Well, perhaps it’s not that harsh, but it kind of is.

A simple plot summary if you somehow don’t know before a very simplistic review: Based on the novel by Dan Brown (of The Da Vinci Code fame, though this book came first but is now the film sequel) and starring Tom Hanks as Harvard professor Robert Langdon, well known symbologist, is called in when the Vatican needs a little help. You see, the pope just died and they’re in the process of electing a new old white man to rule the world’s enslaved spirituality, but it’s quite possible that the church’s enemies, the Illiuminati (gasp!), have returned with a vengeance. Ewan McGregor slums it up as the carmerlengo, essentially the pope’s secretary who is temporarily in charge until a new old white man is installed in the robes of the Holy See. Ayelet Zurer, the gorgeous Israeli actress who played Eric Bana’s wife in Munich, is around for some excitement as a scientist from CERN because – Holy Shit! – those naughty Illuminatus have stolen some antimatter to set up as  a time bomb that’s going to blow the Vatican to hell at midnight!

Wow, that sounds exciting, right? No, not so much. Like I said, I give you here a simple review in simple statements…

Much like The Da Vinci Code, while watching this movie, I wanted to watch a documentary about some of the realistic parts of this film rather than the film itself. Well, that’s only half true here because, as interesting as Galileo and Bernini and their contributions to Rome are, I don’t usually care so much for the anti-Catholic brand of Illuminatus lore. I guess I prefer the more Bavarian Illuminati? With Adam Weishaupt (or is it George Washington?) and those types.

Tom Hanks. You know what, Tom? I still dig you. At your worst, you’re absolutely harmless, posing a threat to no one. But your best, you’re usually working with Steven Spielberg.

The lovely Ayelet Zurer as Vittoria Vetra, the scientist from CERN, is pretty much just there to be the female lead, to give Tom Hanks someone to lecture to, and possibly diffuse the antimatter bomb if she can. I’m sad that they gave her pretty much nothing to do within those confines and they keep her character pretty passionless.

This whole film feels like one of those 90s CD-ROM games where you do something retarded, stop to solve a puzzle, and one of the characters gives you a two minute history less that is somehow important to whatever buttons you have to mash on the keyboard. I want to throw my keyboard at the screen here.

I blame anything that’s wrong with this movie solely on the direction. Ron Howard, you are the biggest director with no real sense of style or filmmaking craft out there. I’m amazed how you constantly are able to make these action-less action movies. You’re like a TV director given big screen projects to fuck around with. You are the poorest of poor man’s Spielberg (and Spielberg really knew how to balance action and adventure with a reverence for religion and history and also, you know, REAL FILMMAKING SKILLS!). That said, make a Arrested Development movie finally, but just produce it, okay?

Ewan McGregor with his good friend, Jude Law.

I think the truest statement you can say here is that the biggest sin of this movie is ours. Why have we neglected Ewan McGregor so badly that he’d have to resort to this film? I mean, he was in Trainspotting and A Life Less Ordinary and The Pillow Book and like a thousand other brilliant films that he was wonderful in. He’s Obi-Wan Kenobi for fuck’s sake! Also, did you see Young Adam? That shit was hot and wild.

Also, if you have any idea how movies work or have even looked at the casting of this movie then – SUPER SPOILER AHEAD OH NOES! – you can tell that Ewan McGregor is the bad guy here. Sure, you’ve got Armin Mueller-Stahl and Stellan Skarsgard as super eurotrash red herrings, which makes sense to have a former Stasi and a guy with a face like a Nazi, but still, it was always going to be Ewan McGregor. Plus, you should’ve guessed after an hour passed in the movie and he hadn’t shown you his cock yet.

Remember how the first movie was just a constant chase sequence of an airport thriller storyline? Same here, only slightly more ridiculous, and in reverse. This time Tom Hanks is doing all the chasing and running. His hair is much less silly and all of his exposition is done walking or running. It’s like The West Wing but talking about religious meanderings rather than politics. And on something a little less exciting than speed or cocaine.

That said, if this franchise were to become a TV with Tom Hanks, or obviously some decent small screen version of him, going around solving crisis after crisis and going off on art history lectures, I’d actually be down for it.

Antimatter bomb? Seriously? Antimatter is so cool, in real life, and constantly thrown around in the same sentences with the God Particle, which is really the Higgs boson, and I wish you could make bombs out of it. Bombs the size of blowing up small cities too. But really, you just can’t. It would take longer than human history to accumulate that much material.

Berninin’s Habbakuk and the Angel, the first “altar of science.”

I love that terms like “altars of science” keep getting thrown around here. If you think about it, Altars Of Science would make a great name for either a metal band or a children’s TV show.

Also, I love that CERN actually has an FAQ up just to deal with misconceptions that could be out there just because of this film/book.

And Dan Brown has a bit up at his site dealing with the bizarre secrets from the book. By now you kids should know that Bizarre Secrets is actually my middle name. No joke. Just reading my birth certifcate is a wild dip into the surreal.

Thanks to one scene that felt like it was a good 15 minutes long, I know where the jurisdiction of the Swiss Guard (or schweizergarde, if you will) ends and the Vatican police force picks up. Thanks, Angels & Demons!

Back to Ewan McGregor for a moment: Yeah, sure, he’s the bad guy here. He’s dome some heinous shit, but he’s so charming at it. And he seemingly kept a mastery of The Force from the Star Wars prequels because at one point he saves the day by flying his helicopter up however many miles high to set off the antimatter bomb away from people and then parachutes away to safety like it ain’t no big thing. So I’m going to throw out this kind of kind of radical notion: He did all this to be the fucking Pope? Give it to him, guys. I mean, seriously. I think he’s earned it. So he killed the old Pope. Whatever. The guy was old and weak and probably stupid. Obi Wan is young and vital and and has science fiction powers. Don’t you want him leading to continuing brainwashing of the hearts and minds of a billion suckers out there?

And yes, he is remarkably Kenneth Branagh-esque in this story.

Is this film sacrilegious? No. Not at all. I mean, I don’t even care, and I can tell you that it’s just not.

Actually, you know what the movie reminds me of quite a bit? The Name Of The Rose, the film with Sean Connery and Christian Slater, based on the novel by Umberto Eco. Yeah. It reminds me a little of that. But less dirty and sexy.

Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Theresa is actually one of my favorite pieces of art out there, and the story that goes with it. I’ll let you discover that for yourself if you so choose. Also, I have always loved the word “transverberation.”

Ambiagrams! They’re like palindromes but more symbol-ish. The one done for the movie (above) was done by John Langdon, whom the fictional Robert Langdon is based on.

Having read the synopsis of the novel version of this story, I have to say that the changes made to the story for the film adaptation actually work better. A lot better.

One of those changes is to the assassin character, called the Hassassin in the book, which seemed to play like a rape-happy Middle Eastern stereotype. Though it’s interesting that origins come from the the word Hashshashin, which ties into one of my favorite historical figures of all time, Hassan-i Sabbah, whom I’m sure you’ll hear me talk about here at some point…

Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”

Wait just one second here… In the book, Langdon is usually bedding his female leads? He’s like an intellectual Bond type? Interesting. I mean, kind of implausible, but still, it’s interesting.

Eh… anyway. Angels & Demons is not horrible, perhaps it’s better than The Da Vinci Code, I don’t know.  Technically they fall under the category of escapism for smart people, or enlightened people, if you will, and that can’t be that bad. And what’s worse, I think they’ve guaranteed that I’ll read Brown’s third Robert Langdon book when it comes out this year. But my sins? They shall never be purged.