Monday, April 12, 2010

Viewing Log #40: On earth as it is [4/5/10 - 4/11/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight

Around polo time 3
—How it falls, plays, waves

  • Alamar [Pedro González-Rubio, 2009] This one's playing SFIFF53, and I watched it on a screener with headphones. That seemed okay to me. It's a quiet, small thing. But it's also impressive photography of a world I'll likely never know but through this magic medium. It further impresses me that González-Rubio is his own cinematographer and that he barely gets in the way of these three generations and their time with water, and an egret. More in my festival preview, I promise, which should probably hit the webs this week.
  • Read My Lips [Jacques Audiard, 2001] Supremely entertaining and ingratiating quasi-thriller. I think it's more interesting than Beat That My Heart Skipped, too, though its aural effects are only employed when it suits the filmmaker, not the story; or, though it's clearly Devos' movie (and what a joy that is!), the forced perspective registered by the soundtrack is inconsistent. Which is to say that Audiard has a lot of ideas, no doubt, but he's not exactly rigorous and he's not exactly free-wheeling. Will be interesting to see how this flux plays in Un Prophète, which I expect to like, as I've liked the other two I've seen. In all honesty, it'd be great to make something this accomplished, sturdy and engrossing. There's even a few jokes.

  • Dodsworth [William Wyler, 1936] Nice to see something with a happy ending after the bittersweet, brush-the-edge finale of the McCarey. Walter Huston is a little loud, but still nuanced, and Mary Astor's calm makes me somersault with hope that, yes, life is long and I'll be presented plenty of opportunities to find a real help meet some day down the line. Also, Wyler's got some chops, duh, and a penchant for playing with focus in key moments. Brian already tweeted about the pivotal phone, but I'd also like to point to the mirrors, specifically the one in Vienna that keeps fantasies "outside" or "off" the real world.
  • Make Way For Tomorrow [Leo McCarey, 1937] Lived up to the hype, and the precedent set by the other McCarey films I love. But I don't have anything to add to what Danny wrote here, or what Tag Gallagher wrote for the new Criterion disc, which I'd urge anybody to enjoy with or without a lover. Also, I'd urge you watch The Awful Truth directly afterwards. And then I'd urge you to keep your job.

  • Greenberg [Noah Baumbach, 2010] As Dan Sallitt said to me last week, I don't get why Baumbach has to make everybody so nasty. But I laughed a lot, and loudly, in that almost-empty theatre. Hiring Harris Savides was a wise choice, as was casting Greta Gerwig, whose seemingly natural élan turns preternatural next to Ben Stiller. I don't know how she sold that attraction so well, but it's got a lot more to do with lust and loneliness than with true chemistry. And the movie seems to get that, too. But I don't think Ben Stiller can play that as well as Gerwig can, and everything she does masks that in the ways we all mask those impulses. A curious picture that's almost something; if it weren't hilarious, it'd be nothing.
  • Micmacs [Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2009] As far as festival openers go, this is fine. Will probably make everybody exiting the Castro on the 22nd smile a lot, and desire company. That is, its capricious (arch?) proclivity for goofy gears at work is amiable enough and the filmmaking is Jeunet's least expository, to say swiftest, if forever ostentatious/ornate. Great final shot, though.

  • The Sopranos "Made In America" [S6E21, David Chase, 2007] # Nearly every single line makes me laugh, but it's dry and dire, too; nothing's as outlandish as it could be. Some of that's the performances, too, but a lot is the writing and the directing. It's the best kind of surrealism that matches "the world" to dreams' fluid, deft, associational tilt on actions—or that possibility in formal arrangements—be they sounds, like the ring of a door opening, or accidents, like a car in neutral rolling over a dead head, or anything else, like the aphasia one faces in a sea of others or like the absurdity of a cat staring at a dead man's cheesy portrait.

  • Plastic Bag [Ramin Bahrani, 2009] Finally got around to watching this because a good friend said he liked it. Doesn't "side firmly with things" in the end, as Ignatiy wrote here, and it's only the quality of Herzog's voice (and what kind of intentionality that brings) that gives the little ditty anything. It's pretty, I guess, but it's still about human desires, not a bag's. (Similar problems as with that Pixar paean to bathos and trash.)

—I should look for leaves?


  1. Everything you say about Read My Lips applies to A Prophet, too: it's supremely entertaining and, in its way, ingratiating; it's clearly Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup's movie; it has a lot of ideas, but isn't exactly either rigorous or free-wheeling. It's bigger than the previous two Audiard films, but otherwise it seems to be up to pretty much the same sorts of things. I can't decide what I want to do with it, so I'm looking forward to your thoughts.

    Also: I'm with you on Plastic Bag. What's all the fuss about, I wonder? Your Wall-E connection is intriguing, and might warrant further exploration.

  2. Andy, thanks for stopping by. Yea, I suspect I'll enjoy _A Prophet_, but I don't expect to be blown away. Will, at the least, put up some quick takes in a log in the near future.

    That was the first Bahrani film I've seen. I am not clamoring for more. I think people make a fuss because it's Herzog's voice, mostly, and its ideas about the value of death and to that end the value of cycles that "immortal" plastics seem "relevant" or something. Lord knows it's accomplished, but it's also super simple.

  3. Agree with you on Plastic Bag. Just saw A Prophet, my first Audiard, and really dug it. Gorgeous and smart and tense. More perfect, maybe, than The Departed, although not nearly as wild.

  4. Ry,

    It should probably be said that part of what makes Plastic Bag so interesting to me is that it's completely unlike Bahrani's other work (and I should add that I'm definitely not part of The Herzog Cult). So, if you don't dig it, I think you'll still dig his people-centric other stuff.

  5. Ken, it's funny: a friend recently said, "_A Prophet_ is _Departed_ but serious," which is both a selling point and not in that I only really liked the farcical aspects of the Scorsese flick. But I'll still watch _A Prophet_, and I'll probably enjoy it. More on that later.

    Ignatiy, Yea, I gathered from others that it's different from his features but I still don't know if I'll dig the features despite the fact that making a film about people with people will undoubtedly be more "honest" than a film about people with a bag. In any event, it's fine, and the final line does sink in, but it's also only that, and a mixed metaphor. And I'm all for flipping a fallacy into something productive, but this flip just turns me off. (Echoes of _Wall-e_ and its bone-headed "message.") It's awfully rare (I'm thinking Renoir, mostly) that a flick makes me truly hopeful for humans and their capacities.