Past Prologue: September, 2009.

The end looms large, but is still a ways away and down the road a bit. But I kind of wanted to look back a little, month by month, at this blog. Maybe not every single month, but most, if I can. I guess I’m getting reacquainted with what I’m saying goodbye to? Or maybe in the back of my mind I’m always remembering that you have to put the chairs up before you turn the lights off and go home…

Right, so:

01.

09/01/09: The House Of Mice/Ideas,” by yours truly: This was back when it was announced that Disney had bought Marvel comics. Such a weird idea at the time, the idea of a mash up between your favorite comic book characters and your favorite Disney characters, or the concern that a certain “family friendly” and “neutered” aesthetic might bleed over into the monthly tales of your friendly neighborhood super powered costume fetishists.

Also, a chance to share links! I like sharing links. I like sharing a little bit of what I’m reading with anyone who might give an inkling of a shit.

from here.

The thing about the links posts is that I don’t claim to always endorse those links, their content, or their authors. I’m not saying, “I read this and I loved it and now you must read it and fall in love with it!” Hardly. Half the time when I would post these “mad linkage” posts, I had not read some of these stories I’ve linked to… yet. They were place holders, something easy for me to get back to and read later. Counterforce is and was my portal to the internet, just as I had hoped it would be for you as well.

02.

09/01/09: Apocalypse Please by Benjamin Light: I like this post. Usually Benjie trucks primarily in words, and yet I think he sets up a nice mood with a preamble of pictures of doom and destruction. As he’ll eventually say in the text bits, there’s a collective mood there, a seductive one of embracing the end (though not necessarily being consumed by it), that I think is somewhat universal.

03.

09/02/09: Humans Being by yours truly and “Lollipop Gomez,” otherwise known as the immensely talented Maria Diaz: This is us getting down and dirty and talking about the sexualized fascination and symbiotic relationship between man and machine, or whoa!-man and machine. In other news, (hu)mankind doesn’t want to just rise up and meet the approaching Singularity, we want to have sex with it. That’s either how we understand things, or how we go about not having to understand things.

from here.

In case you’re wondering, this is pretty much what it was like whenever Maria and I would talk. Pretty much every one of our continuing gmail/gchat conversations would be like this, and some nights we were just “on” more than others. I think about halfway through some of those conversations we realized that we were going to save this conversation and post it online somewhere. So perhaps during the second half we’re performing a little more. Posts with Maria were always some of my favorite because they were less about writing, and more about just being, and us bullshitting and having fun, which lead to some of the writing I most enjoyed reading.

04.

09/03/09: Between The Covers by Occam Razor, Maria Diaz, and Conrad Noir: We never did a lot of big group posts like other blogs and websites, but I think this was an interesting one, especially since it’s such a funny idea, the writers of Counterforce talking about summer reading selections. Perhaps because we’re so outside the norm of what other people on the internet would talk about for their summer reading, perhaps that’s why I like it so much.

by Andy Vible, from here.

Plus, it’s always nice to see anything from Occam Razor and Conrad Noir. Those guys are awesome. Looking back, the original title for this post should’ve been “The Pimp Game, Globalization, and Revolting Youth.” I don’t know. Something like that.

05.

09/04/09: F Is For Friday,” by me: Orson Welles’ F For Fake is a great movie. Half documentary, half essay, and an extra one half magic trick. What else needs to be said?

06.

09/05/09: Super Secret Smile Saturdays by myself: Labor Day weekend, links, and a lot of videos. This is kinda sorta what my average internet browsing probably looks like when I’m pretty substantially bored.

by Lily Camille Clark, from here and here.

07.

09/06/09: 1960s Dance Party by Conrad Noir: This is before I got Conrad hooked on Mad Men. I think this GIF perfectly represented what he saw whenever he saw people gushing about the show online.

08.

09/07/09: Why, yes, you should receive a Victory Medal for beating the clap,” by myself: So weird to read this now. Not just because it’s old, but because it’s from a different time in Mad Men. The new status quo on Mad Men is so ingrained in me now, I guess, that it’s weird to time travel further back into the 60s and see Don and Betty still married, dealing with the trials and tribulations of their lives together, etc.

Also, I always enjoyed doing the Mad Men posts with August Bravo. It certainly kept me more on focus, I think, and made me ramble less, maybe. He would’ve been involved with this one, but he didn’t heed certain advice, moved to Manhattan, and got raped by some sailors, or something.

09.

09/08/09: The Kids Of America by myself: The Republicans were being dicks to Obama, trying to deny him even the most rudimentary respect deserved by his being our elected President of these United States. Funny how few things change. Stay classy, Republicans. Keep celebrating the fundamental lack of education within your party.

10.

09/09/09: 09/09/09 by myself: It doesn’t take much to amuse me, I tell ya.

11.

09/10/09: In my younger and more vulnerable years…” by myself: The Great Gatsby really is a great book, and truly one of the Great American Novels. I used to despise it because it was too simple, too easy, such a perfect textbook for a high school class, but now I suspect that’s part of its charm. I used to think the movie starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow was incredibly boring, but now I’m dreading the new one with DiCaprio and Sally Sparrow and the Peter Parker I’m hoping we can all forget about. At least it’ll be in 3D, as if that mattered.

12.

09/11/09: The Food chain by Benjamin Light: LOL.

13.

09/11/09: NEVAR FORGET by yours truly: Well…

14.

09/13/09: Bloodletting by myself: Just a nice reminder, I think, of how good the first two seasons of True Blood were. That’s not to say that the subsequent seasons have been terrible, because they haven’t, but the first two seasons were just excellent, I thought. Just a perfect balance between the human and the supernatural, between comedy and horror, between mystery and romance, between the darkness and the light.

15.

09/14/09: RIP Patrick Swayze by myself: Seriously. RIP Patrick Swayze. I’m going to go watch Road House again.

16.

09/14/09: Are you aware of the number of handjobs I’m gonna have to give by August Bravo and myself: Once someone says “hand jobs,” then BOOM, there’s August Bravo, suddenly out of nowhere.

Looking back, this was a very interesting episode of Mad Men, the biggest aspect being the birth of baby Gene Draper, but there was so much more going on there. Both in the episode and in our writing about it, talking about Kanye, for example, and for me finally realizing how truly amazing Alison Brie was.

17.

09/15/09: The Development Of Strange Things by myself: I like Harper’s magazine. I like it a lot. But I especially like the “Findings” section at the end, as you may have noticed here on Counterforce time and again.

* * *

Months are longer than we think, especially since we posted something every single day of September, 2009 except for one, so let’s take a break here and resume this after a…

TO BE CONTINUED!

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The year in film.

This is a fun little montage:

from here and here.

Reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Mad linkage:

Don Draper/Jon Hamm as Superman?

Google and the CIA to invest in the “future” of web monitoring.

The above image, if you can believe it, is for a condom ad. I love it.

Girls like boys with skills.

Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s wacky lesbian theory.

“My soul knows my meat is doing bad things, and is embarrassed. But my meat keeps on doing bad, dumb things.”

-Kurt Vonnegut, Bluebeard.

Lost‘s Damon Lindelof to rewrite Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel.

Old Spice’s sales double with YouTube campaign.

Mike Tyson likes cocaine and sex.

Disabled Austrian man eaten to death by maggots while his partner slept in bed beside him.

The first half of the Rubicon pilot is certainly interesting. A show for smart people or a show for people who think they’re smart (and love 70s paranoia thrillers)?

from here.

The Booker Prize longlist announced.

The longest photographic exposures in history.

Quantum time machine “allows paradox-free time travel.” If you need me, I’ll be in the past. Or the future.

The oil spill: when a science fiction nightmare becomes reality.

The plight of Afghan women: a disturbing picture.

“History is merely a list of surprises… It can only prepare us to be surprised yet again. Please write that down.

-Kurt Vonnegut, Slapstick: Or, Lonesome No More!


The above is a trailer for Gary Shteyngart’s new novel, Super Sad True Love Story. Here’s an excerpt.

The porniest American Apparel ad ever.

Ship lost for more than 150 years is recovered.

Stieg Larsson is the first to sell one million Amazon Kindle books.

Inception: Dreams vs. Reality.

“Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn’t mean we deserve to conquer the Universe.”

-Kurt Vonnegut, Hocus Pocus.

Also: Every cigarette smoked in Mad Men.

Where did the money to rebuild Iraq go?

Tokyo’s oldest man has been dead for 30 years.

Bethany Cosentino from Best Coast talks about her cat.

Your lack of privacy on the internet.

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.

Defense mechanisms of the criminally insane.

I want to muse a bit about Shutter Island here.

Bear with me though. Let’s break it down to… oh, shall we say, “No Spoilers” and “Spoilers,” something like that?

No Spoilers.

The movie starts like Hamlet’s father’s ghost, wandering out of the fog and into our lives. Or, rather, it starts with a boat, coming towards us out of the fog, and heading towards the island of the movie’s title. On that boat is Dicaprio, hunched over, vomiting his brains out.

The plot is simple: It’s 1954, and Dicaprio is a US Marshal, working for the first time with a new partner, played by Mark Ruffalo. They’re on their way to Shutter Island, home of a hospital for the nation’s most criminally insane. One of the inmate/prisoners has escaped, seemingly vanished into thin air (no, not vanished, more like “evaporated,” just like water would), and the marshals are there to find her. And, of course things are not what they seem…

The first scene there on the boat, as Dicaprio walks onto the deck and meets his new partner tells us so much about the movie we’re about to get. It literally plunges us into the motifs we’ll see over and over again and informs us that we’re in the playground of both paranoid noir and the best kind of playing homage, the one that sparks originality.

Dicaprio is a man haunted by a past that we see in flashbacks, both to his life with his wife, played simply and straightforwardly by Michelle Williams, and before that, to his time in World War II, and his part in liberating Dachau and witnessing both man’s cruelty to man after the fact and during the cold, violent act itself.

That opening scene, which I need to return to again for just one more paragraph, still amazes me. It’s so simplistic, feeling at first almost like an SNL quality of production for a Casablanca scene, or something in which somebody like Humphrey Bogart could actually appear in. Everything, this scene tells us, is going to be about water, something you can drown or be drowned in, immersed in, or it’s going to be about fire, ash, the dark nuclear future on the horizon, and the smoke which, like the fog, is going to surround you, and you’re not only going to get lost in, you’re going to lose yourself.

That’s heavy, I know.

The downside of this movie is that it’s way too long. The way a nightmare feels too long, but the pacing is expert. And it’s simple, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Scorsese is trying new things, the paranoid thriller, working effectively in a field where, like we’ve said, someone like Polanski really excels in. And Scorsese, ever the master, ever the craftsman and lover of film, knows what he’s doing. You’re going to sit there and you’re going to be drugged and unnerved because that’s what he wants from you.

But with the mechanics of your typical hysterical thriller hokum, the creepy staircases, the rain and lightning, the darkened hallways, Scorsese takes you places. He takes you to the Holocaust, gliding effortlessly into memories that intersect with the present, and into the place where your memories walk away like nightmares and lie to you. Somewhat like the “twists” and “turns” of the movie, which at times come out of nowhere,  and other times lead you down phony paths that may actually be the real one.

Unshockingly, when Dicaprio’s character gets to the island and gets the lay of the land in the first ten to fifteen minutes, and then gets a headache, one that requires the head doctor, played both creepily and both perfect genuine smarm by Ben Kingsley, to give him an asprin, you automatically assume that Dicaprio’s character is being drugged. Your cinephile instincts just tell you that immediately…

And they’re right, but not totally in the way you’re assuming. From that moment on, the movie is a drug.

You’re absolutely living in the character’s frustrations and fears and paranoia.

To me, The Others was a perfect creepy movie for a crowd. I first watched it with a group of people, none of us having ever seen it before and we were freaked out, but we were enthralled. That same sense of rapture is present here, but this is not a crowd movie, not to me. You need to see it in the theater because there it’s big and loud and gorgeous, but it feels so solitary. Once this film starts and that boat punches through the white vaporous fog, you’re alone. And even if you weren’t, you can’t be sure that person sitting next to you is real anyway.

And the acting is serviceable throughout. Sadly, more than what the actors give in performance, they give in appearance. The period-ness of this picture is perfect through and through. Dicaprio, whom my fingers keep wanting to mistype as “Dicrapio” gives everything he has: the angry guy, the tough guy, the sad, hurt child. Nothing with charisma or nuance, though. In the beginning of this movie, he almost feels like he’s regressed (ha ha, spoilers) back to where he was in the beginning of Revolutionary Road, still feeling like, as Natasha Vargas-Cooper put it so brilliantly: it feels like you’re watching “a high school actor, a very fine one, play Hamlet.”

I’m still curious what Scorsese gets out of their partnership, but somewhat akin to The Departed, the thing that Dicaprio best conveys to this story: The need, the crazy reaches for survival. In his hands, you think you’re wanting to grab yourself some understanding, seeking out truth and trying to get to the bottom of a mystery, but really, you’re just trying to survive to the conclusion.

SPOILERS.

Seriously, if you didn’t see that “twist” coming in some form or another, then… well, I don’t want to be mean here, but I’m assuming you were born yesterday and this was the first film you’ve ever seen, right?

I mean, of course Dicaprio was going to be an inmate himself and the film was going to be his emotional quest to discover something for himself, an emotional plateau and on it, possibly a chance at redemption or acceptance?

And Mark Ruffalo, doesn’t he always play not just a cop, but kind of a son of a bitch? I was talking to someone about that after the movie and she was confused. “Does he always play a cop?” she asked. I just smiled and said, “You should go watch In The Cut. Really. You should.” But in all seriousness, a minor note I’d make about Ruffalo’s performance: Something about his facial expressions throughout the first half… They just felt so perfect with the period to me.

Will the lighthouse become that new piece of terrifying imagery?

I’m curious what people will think of this movie after the fog of it’s release settles. This isn’t necessarily an award winning movie, but it’s solid, completely. It’s made by a master and the cast is more than capable and game.

And the ending? It’s sinister. It’s devastating. It takes a moment to realize what’s going on there, and it’s dark and it’s human and it’s all Dicaprio. It’s a man making a decision, whether to live a certain way or die another way, and I think it’s a division that resonates when you walk out of the theater. Some people will hate this movie and I want to say something about them not being lovers of American cinema, or just the art of making movies at all, and some people will walk out of this film, still thinking about it, carrying a bit of it with them for a while, jumping at and questioning the shadows that appear as you just try to grab hold of something real out there in the fog.

Lives of quiet desperation.

Last night’s film viewing:

Revolutionary Road, directed by Sam Mendes, starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, and based on the classic novel by Richard Yates.

It’s the story of a couple, Frank and April Wheeler, living in suburban Connecticut in the passionless conformity of the 50s, trying to live lives of purpose and excitement, and trying to realize their dreams. But, as the description on the back of the DVD box puts, they’re willing to break away from the ordinary – but can they do it without breaking apart?

There’s not a lot you can say about Kate Winslet in this film. She’s great. Even if the film wasn’t solid, if the story and the director weren’t good, even if she wasn’t getting good return from her co-stars, she could still carry this film on her back. Isn’t that the same with every film she does?

But it’s different here, in a way, because while a great deal of the story belongs to DiCaprio’s character, Frank, primarily because of Yates’ way of telling a story, you get the sense that this wold can only exist because of the quality of acting from an actor like Kate Winslet. Yates is so much more comfortable with the male perspective (from what I understand, in the book, even some of the flashbacks of Winslet’s character are told from the perspective of Frank’s remembering her telling him about them), but still it’s April’s world. And it’s fading away as she fades away.

I knew Don Draper, and you, sir, are no Don Draper.

DiCaprio is solid too, don’t get me wrong, but that’s all he is. To me, that’s usually all he is. His strength is just that he’s never bad. He’s always angry, but not in any exceptional way. He’s a little boy (from Growing Pains, ironically enough) all grown up and trying to seem that way. He gives a nice base for Winslet to act against and react to.

There’s a nice bit towards the beginning of the film where April is acting in a community theater production, and it’s obviously a failure. April, who dreamt of being an actress, whether she’s personally bad in the production or the production itself is just bad, feels like a failure. Frank comes to console her in her dressing room backstage after the play is over and sees her costume hung over a dressing screen. He comes up to her and starts to tell her she was great, to say the nice things she needs to hear. Then the bathroom door behind him opens and she comes out from there, having never been behind the screen and what he actually says to her as opposed to what he had originally intended to say to her is dramatically different, if you’ll pardon the pun. This scene is a perfect metaphor for the rest of the story.

It fascinates me that you have a British actor, a British lead actress, a British screenwriter (actually, an American who’s worked extensively in England), and a great British cinematographer bringing this story to us. It’s interesting to see the outsider perspective as it peels back a bit of American life and shows it to us. But this seems to basically be Mendes’ forte in film, doesn’t it? Primarily with suburban family life, especially American Beauty, this, and the upcoming Away We Go, but with other aspects of our culture, primarily our main exports, war, with Jarhead, and crime, with Road To Perdition.

Watching Revolutionary Road, a lot of other things flashed into my mind, things like Mad Men and especially the film version of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (I loved the play, but the film unnerved me greatly for personal reasons). I remember reading an interview with Matthew Weiner where he mentioned that had Sam Mendes’ film version of Revolutionary Road come out a few years earlier, he’d never done Mad Men, even though he’d apparently been sitting on the pilot script since The Sopranos. Anyway, a lot of things flash through my mind when watching this film, just small things.

Also, for example, there’s a sex scene in a car that reminded me for a lot of reasons of a similar scene from Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm, based on a book by Rick Moody. And I have to wonder how many American novelists, Rick Moody included, are so massively indebted to Richard Yates.

Of course, other than the period and the bleakness of life that was the 50s and 60s, there’s not much comparison between this film and Mad Men. In Mad Men, Don Draper does horrible, despicable things, but he’s amazing at them. He’s well written and played with an intoxicating charm by Jon Hamm, leading you to almost root for him to keep fucking with anyone he feels he needs to. DiCaprio’s character wishes he was Don Draper, and Winslet’s character will never be satisfied being a Betty Draper. She’s going to break out of her prison one way or another and live, dammit, and she’s going to drag her husband kicking and screaming out of his too, if she has to. Of course, escaping one prison might just lead you into another.

And special mention should be made to what Michael Shannon does with two scenes as the disturbed son of Kathy Bates’ realtor character. To say that his character manages to unsettle is an understatement, but what’s so nice is that he does it in such a human way, a real way, even while making me think of him as the Christopher Nolan Joker of suburbia here.

Someone online yesterday asked me if I would recommend this fim and it’s a tough question. The easy answer is yes. Yes, I would. It’s not what I would call a strong slam dunk, it’s not what I’d usually suggest for Saturday night viewing. Watching this, I really lament the fact that I’ve never read the book. I’ve had many opportunities too and never seized them. I actually have two copies of it (one bought, one given to me), and watching this movie, which of course stands strong for me now, I do feel feel like I’m missing out on something by not having already experienced the novel.

But the thing about this movie is… it’s theatre. You feel not so much like you’re sitting in the audience watching two solid actors (and Kate Winslet is always more than just solid) brutally try to survive in this story, but that you’re sitting on the stage with them at certain moments. You’re not going to get the spit on you from their screams, but you will feel that pit of despair in you during certain moments when it seems like it’s leaking out of them.

It’s almost a little ironic, a little too on the nose, I should say here, that a film called Revolutionary Road, is like watching two people in a car crash, from start to finish.

“If my work has a theme, I suspect it is a simple one: that most human beings are inescapably alone, and therein lies their tragedy.”

-Richard Yates

I was happy to be reminded recently that Elaine’s dad in Seinfeld, played by Lawrence Tierney, was based on Richard Yates, since Larry David had dated Yates’ daughter back in the day. And the next Tao Lin novel is titled Richard Yates, both of which Molly Lambert talked about more in a great This Recording post a while back.

I want to leave this review with something I especially love, which is a line Kate Winslet’s says about 2/3 of the way through, one of the truest, simplest pieces of dialogue I’ve heard in a film in a long time: “You’re just a boy who made me laugh at a party once.”