Sunday, November 28, 2010

Viewing Log #61: Nothing's arrears [11/22/10 - 11/28/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight

Joan's dissolve

  • The second season of Mad Men [2008]. Compromise is the name of the game in this season. Life's full of it, or so it would appear in Matthew Weiner's world of tropes, and the joy to be had here isn't flight; it's here, if anywhere. The schematism of the writing in this show is really something. It often works, really. But it's also so tidy in the structure that characters, however well drawn, are reduced to ideas. I think it has to do with the period setting as much as the actual writing. Something about signifiers that I'm too lazy to read closer here beyond a favorite damning word of many so-called intellectuals like myself: over-determination. The allure of the show may be its sheen and its ludicrously gorgeous cast (television's a medium of faces at its best and at its worst), but I keep watching because of those moments when things fudge and because there's way less exposition in this season than last. For instance, the low-light of the season, which I lead with above: Joan's rape. It's a terrifying scene in part because it's about competing perceptions, and because of its final dissolve, which is easily the most striking image so far in the show. Joan's looking at her future in that shot: an idle man waiting for his mess to be cleaned. And I don't think my sympathies for Joan and her continued belittlement over the course of these thirteen episodes stems from Christina Hendricks' beauty but her talent at quivering, and my amazement at what these writers want to put her character through in order to counterpoint Peggy's ascension. It's no secret that Peggy's the biggest success (so far) because she's self reliant. What's doubly amazing is that she is, in fact, our model for America in the show, which may be its home run trot in the end. She loves popsicles, she asks for what she wants, she believes in a loving God, she's great at her job, she continues to out-do herself, and she's open to life for all her tight-lipped interactions with the world. Don's fascinating and Hamm's beautiful, too, but his "arc" is the hanger the suit drapes from, as that line in San Pedro attests; no, this show belongs to its ladies, including both Mrs. Drapers. Can't wait to see how Betty—that dingbat—fords the future.

  • Inglourious Basterds [QT, 2009] # I do love this movie, lumpy though it may be, and the BluRay looks pretty incredible. The colors aren't quite celluloid rich but they still impress the eye at interesting wavelengths. Plus, the editing in this movie tickles synapses so well. (And not just bc RIP S.M.) Awful close to a masterpiece.

  • Shadow of a Doubt [Alfred Hitchcock, 1943] # Well, the first half hour. Then we went to dinner, to give thanks. (Chloe wasn't impressed, by the way, though she did find Cotten's drawl creepy.)

  • The second half of the first season of Mad Men [2007]. Seems like an unavoidable set-up season, with plenty to play out, but there were some moments I really dug: Betty shouldering the BB gun without a shred of affect save the smoke from her cigarette, that way John Slattery can be a total asshole but still charming, Joan's/C.Hendrick's eye brimming, Peggy's rise, Harry Crane, and the first glimpses of Duck Phillips' brand of creep. Not to mention Don's ability to, well, be a man despite also being another brand of louse prone to self-delusion and good old fashioned alcoholism.

Window seat
—Come on back from way out west

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Viewing Log #60: Vitalism dialectics [11/15/10 - 11/21/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight

Top right
—On your way up to poetry

  • The first half of the first season of Mad Men [2007]. When we all lived in Berkeley, we watched the pilot and I was beside myself with (obtuse and undue) disbelief at how on-the-nose all the anachronisms were, how the jokes felt forced. And I kept bad mouthing it, wrote it off. And I still hate its weird cultural cache. But because of a certain someone I decided to go for a second try. And it's not bad. But I still don't get why people, including so-and-so, think it's so great. Jon Hamm's something, sure, but it's not all that cinematic (slick art direction isn't image-making, really) nor is it written all that well. Yet I am entertained. I cannot front on that front. It's easy to gobble up on rainy days. I'll have more to say, maybe, when I finish the season. I'll have even more to say, I imagine, once I get a few talking points (or just plain pointers) from that goof who goosed me onto this path. For now? It makes perfect sense why Christina Hendricks got famous. (Hamm, too, duh.)

  • 30 Rock "College" [wr: Josh Siegal & Dylan Morgan, 2010] I thought she was saying, "Lizzard." Was she saying, "Lizzard"?

  • Sauve qui peut (la vie) [JLG, 1979] Love the aesthetic, as ever, and wish I could make a feature with this much freeze-frame "animation," but I just don't think it's all that interesting; nor do I think it's any great leap beyond, say, Vivre Sa Vie in terms of ideas. The real treat, as I can tell, is Nathalie Baye's fits and fights and her tank top at the breakfast table. Also, her first appearance on the bike is one of the more beautiful things I've ever seen in moving images precisely because he (JLG) arrests it so.

  • Unstoppable [Tony Scott, 2010] Yet "purer" than Pelham, as Danny said, because of its focus; yet obviously more mobile as well. But at bottom this thing wins due to its actors and their charisma as much as the all-over always-moving cover-everything Scott style I adore. It's a good time, Chris Pine's got a good career ahead, and Denzel's getting fat. See it in a theatre while you can. But don't think too hard on it ya loons.

—We go where?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Convergence for your call and review (11/19/10)

by Ryland Walker Knight

Issue 4 Call for Submissions

anew ratify confirm


Yours truly will serve as "guest editor" this go-round
Some inspiration comes from Agee, too


issue 3 still "live"

Monday, November 15, 2010

Viewing Log #59: Mine, all mine [11/8/10 - 11/14/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight


  • The Taking of Pelham 123 [Tony Scott, 2009] As prep for Unstoppable because I didn't make it to the theatre this weekend and I did want to watch this one first since they're both about trains. As Danny and Andrew and I laughed on 6th Avenue that one time, its final shot is so fucking cheesy cheese balls that it almost works. And the movie's goofy enough along its nowhere way to love like a pet, like a fishtank maybe.
  • —A bullet for the entire week. The first four episodes of the fourth season of The Sopranos [Fall 2002]. The early star of this season is Janice and her insanity, which is good for a "holy shit" as often as a laugh, as when she's encouraged to talk to Ralph about breaking up with the compassion she's famous for—only to, instead, throw him down the stairs. That this event also involves the other stalwart of this season, Joe Pantoliano's Ralph, speaks to the writers' obvious excitement at throwing these two hairballs of crazy at each other, if only for a few hours of screen time. And it's a great analog to Ralph's relationship with Tony, as evidenced in Ralph's kink to be pegged and degraded in bed. Because this show, fearless as it is, goes there.

  • Whip It [Drew Barrymore, 2009] Kinda clumsy and clichéd, but winning with its jokes and its tight script and its performances, this thing's a real rawr'r for all the girls out there. And for saps like me, I suppose, who aren't afraid of the word "feminist" as much as they might've been, say, a couple years ago. Also, because, duh, this kind of strength is sexy as much as simply charming.
  • Van Gogh [Maurice Pialat, 1991] Almost feels like a Renoir with all the hanging out at parties and the theatrical staging of certain events, but it's certainly a Pialat in its offhanded, everyday dealings with sex and desire. That is, nothing's sensational or trumpeted. Or, if things are, it's the violence people do unto one another, not the acts of love, which are always understated and (here at least) often edited around. Nudity isn't racy, it's a fact, for Pialat. Just as are flings and the fluid (some might say fickle) changes a person can seem to undergo in the course of an afternoon, or 67 days, though it's obvious to the aware viewer than the person hasn't changed; it's how s/he's choosing to interact with others, with the surrounding world. Which is to say that once again here's a film about perception as registered in actions, without psychology, or without access to the minds inside the many clam-like characters.

  • Vivre sa via [JLG, 1962] # Another ringing BluRay recommendation. Amazing what JLG's able to convey with simple title cards, how two words will color a face five minutes later; a face, as is often the case, turned from the action that the camera's turned from, doubling the negation and the horror. The film also wins, of course, because of Anna Karina—but you knew that already. The point is to watch this and pay attention to the shape of it, not of her, as JLG's films are often blocky, as reflected in the 4:3 frame, but this one takes it further to break up the blocks themselves; it's a film of segregation, really, in the most basic way—separations determine everything. It's bleak. But it looks so good! (Sometimes I think it's the best one of this, the much vaunted, early period, because it's such a "pure" document. All the "tricks" serve some concrete answer to the question. After all, A.Baz's Q is the only one we all answer differently, and never the same way twice.)
  • The Red Shoes [Powell & Pressburger, 1948] # Consider this my endorsement for the BluRay Criterion put out of the new Film Foundation restoration. Everything's sharp, sure, but there's grain in there. And the colors feel real as much as caked-on and painted-loud surreal. Not to mention the fact that the movie is superb, of course, and speaks to a number of things on my ideas-worth-thinking-about check list. This time all I could focus on, whether due to a flu or to this presentation, was the well-renowned mise-en-scene of the film. A favorite moment is somebody saying something about Lermontov leaving on the 8:15 train to Paris, to which Vicky responds by looking up at the top left corner of the frame, which aptly dissolves to a clock on the platform, hands at 8:05, with her eyes directly on it. It's a simply thing, really, and obvious, but it's also an effective visual touch that's become rather rare in the making of movies these days. It's also the kind of thing people like to laugh at, or point at, in current cinemas like, say, a Wes Anderson picture, as some kind of arch touch when it's simply good visual storytelling. Sure, there's variances in tone between my two examples but I get the same thrill from, say, Kumar saying, "There he goes," followed by a shot of Owen Wilson hailing a cab, as I do this clock moment. Though, of course, in a world of "cut-away" humor (even good versions of it like on this week's 30 Rock) this pointing within a story can seem short-hand for clever instead of actually being clever. At any rate, this picture is not just clever, it's gorgeous. And worth sharing.

  • 30 Rock "Brooklyn Without Limits" [S5E7, 2010] We all know, as somebody on This Recording said, that it's Tina Fey's rack, not her butt, that turns LL's nerd chic into some kind of sexy (and makes TF's classier IRL attire that much more attractive) with, among other things, all those deep-V's. We also know that this season is turning out great, with "veiled" jabs all over the place: at the show itself, its character construction say, and at this modern world, as some say, with a bunch of dumb gross out jokes I can't get enough of since they're neither dumb nor all that gross.

  • Open Five [Kentucker Audley, 2010] More here.

  • That Paul Millsap explosion in that Jazz-Heat game sure was something. It's almost like Carlos Boozer's an afterthought these daze. Also, the Heat-as-villains can't quite work when they play like chumps coasting on cred they haven't earned yet together.

Sick day recipe

Thursday, November 11, 2010

We've got heads on sticks

by Ryland Walker Knight

Sutro remains

Monday, November 08, 2010

Napkins not necessary, but food is

by Ryland Walker Knight

—Get ready for a ramble
—A while back, Kentucker Audley sent me some DVDs of his films Holy Land and Open Five, both bearing "2010" like a badge I actually respect. For whatever reason, and I've got plenty, I waited until tonight, just a couple nights before the end of Open Five's online run at, to actually watch said film. And I watched it online. Part of the reason is because Danny reminded me: it's only an hour long. Another part is because Craig Keller's long-former completes a cool circuit with the picture for the curious reader. So I took that tour—watched the movie and read the essay—and now I'm telling you to follow suit while you can.

The picture's modest, no doubt, a fine little fit of juxtaposition, as well as further evidence of microcinema's availability (and its plain ability) at this late hour. It doesn't look like anything but what it is, which is almost a diary or the appearance of one (which I surely hope and trust is the case), which isn't what you'll encounter many places besides this little niche of what now constitutes "indie film" in an era when "Independent Film Channel" means a largely successful distribution company with rather decent taste (or simply better taste than Ho'wood). And that's the encouraging thing: that if I find the right help, and especially the right actress, I could shoot my own little feature dream. Granted, I haven't tried to make anything more than actual dairy entries before; but I don't think that matters in some respects. The point is the doing.

Which is what makes the story of Open Five so basic-near-boring. Sure, things happen. But what are these people doing? Everything seems on the cusp. Hell, the film starts in the nowhere of a floating fortress disguised as a fire escape in Manhattan, the lights below a constellation of what we won't get to touch in this world, and ends in a storage corridor, a pit stop on some winding road. Yet, along this trail to nowhere, we do touch bodies. Audley's camera's, which I suppose might be Joe Swanberg's camera, is keen on faces and on bodies; and the film's (Audley's) got an ear for language games and a smart timing sense for edits. All stuff I like. But this economy of gamesmanship between its characters adds to little but games; games played by vain dolts pre-occupied with pleasure instead of living; or, life as a dull game of ownership. Where Jake tries to claim Lucy by claiming to not want to (and worse: not needing to, yea right), Kentucker claims to want to claim Rose without sounding like he's truly staking a claim. Not to say I'm any better at this living stuff, nor especially the romantic side of things, but what's propelling me (these daze at least) isn't simply the flattery of the fleeting. (And it's hard to gauge what's a mirror and what's smoke and what's the veil pulling back in this flick, which should be exciting, but I often found rather suspect.)

—Hate to turn this into me, honestly, because maybe I'm a bore, but I don't want to watch my peers flirt all that much, if at all. Granted, I know how much this—these games!—motivate/s daily life (I spend plenty of time thinking about love and sex and their difference and their interaction*) but what really intrigued me in the picture wasn't how these dopes were navigating each other, though a lot of that felt plenty "real" (like telling a picky girl, "this is what food tastes like"), and I almost enjoyed seeing that nut Jake squirm towards some hushed "earnestness" (which with that voice sounds false before any horse shit sentence/sentiment about romantic freedom is uttered in full) in order to lay some babe who's far better at life than him (though her aptitude's not simply because she's gorgeous). No, what's really interesting is the hop-scotch cross-cutting, to say the construction, which is a fun folding (un- and -in) play on roles played, in large part because Kentucker plays somebody named Kentucker, who makes films, and Jake plays somebody named Jake, who sings songs, and because the two girls who enter their lives are, in fact, actresses "by trade" played by actresses. (And I should note that its one of these girls, the cherubic Rose, who's the only one interested in what people do or advocates for what she does.) However, the fun isn't simply the relationships I just laid out; that's all obvious enough. The fun is that these masks worn and frayed make the story, such as it is, a layer cake of confusion. Craig's refrain: it's complicated. This youth, this time: it's complicated. Words, conversation: it's complicated. The things that go unsaid, it turns out, are the least complicated.

Which is why it feels silly to have spent an hour typing all of this. I could've watched Holy Land by now. Or I could have been writing about Gina's movie, A Little Death, which is specifically about life as routine, as directed actions, as finding a role in the world.

So go watch K.A.'s flick and then lobby G.T. to see hers sooner than later. Though, as I know some friends would agree, Gina's picture truly deserves the size of a silver screen to give its single-take scenes (and, yes, its Dielman lean) the necessary weight. Which is to say, K.A. made a film for the online audience and that's part of its success (Rose is a film blogger, remember). Part of the reason you (probably) haven't seen Gina's film is because its audience is blind to it right now, and often blind to a couple hours of computer time. In any case, here's ALD's site, which even sports my name somewhere, and watch the trailer below.

* I also spend a lot of time at work, at writing, at reading, at running, at eating, at movies, at the park, at tables of different sizes, at the cover of my bed and at the center of my bed. In short, my life's full of stuff that doesn't involve sex and/or love and/or just hanging out. Though, like anybody, some nights I'd love to hang with certain people more than I'd like to be alone watching movies I didn't make.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Viewing Log #58: Midterm slide into weekend vegetabling [11/1/10 - 11/7/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight

The boom of death
To be a screen or to be three

  • The second season finale of Eastbound & Down [Jody Hill, 2010]. Well, I'll tell you what. I liked the abrupt ending, to be certain, despite my fear of it simply setting up a third season, but aside from that I think the storytelling in this season was a lot sloppier and mean-spirited than the first go-round. Also, more sentimental, which means not as funny, but that's how these things go. Not everybody can be Ricky Gervais or Larry David, to pick two other comedies I've enjoyed on HBO. This one's worth seeing, at any rate, if only for the not-cool confidence of the great creation that is Kenny Fucking Powers.
  • Hamlet [Michael Almereyda, 2000] # Truly inventive adaptation with all the play of media and the visual puns and all that image-making throughout. Ethan Hawke is a limp prince in a lot of respects but mostly it's his clipped in voice and his too-2000 shaggy mane. Julia Stiles can't win with that wardrobe, or with that twinned lack of cadence and presence. No surprise that Bill Murray's the best thing going, giving each line a thoughtful reading (however much he's hamming, he's playing a ham) and each line makes me laugh; he truly gets it, he's not reciting. But, as I opened this note, the performances are largely secondary to the formal fun of video and film and montage and reflections. Almereyda's almost saying cinema exists to perpetuate itself (as the only medium for myth any more) but it seems more likely that he's less obsessed with cinema the way Godard is than he is simply obsessed with images and how images talk (which is still Godardian, and of an Eisensteinian inheritance).

  • Candyman [Bernard Rose, 1992] # It'd been ages so I'd forgotten plenty. It's plenty gross and still scary and probably fertile ground for a paper just like the one the film's out to lampoon in the first place. Also worth watching for the simple fact that it's got an intrepid female protagonist that I think lives up to these criteria.
  • Reno 911!: Miami [Ben Garant, 2007] Mercifully brief and often a knee-slapper. Think this comedy's style's better suited to the TV, but I enjoyed the afternoon laundry time so I could care less if it could be "better."
  • Obvious Child [Gillian Robspierre, 2009] Which you can watch here. As Martha wrote some time ago, the simple fact that this kind of story exists is an achievement, though slightly dubious, and what's really great about it is that it treats the issue not as an issue but a pragmatic choice and it's not about emotions, though there's that hook of the initial scene's "cold truth" and there's the honest head hanging on the morning of the abortion, because it's simply about a single event that happened to this one funny lady. Given Jenny Slate's actually doing some real acting here under her goof steeze (and that's encouraging, proof that she's got a future), my only quibble is the "Uno" thing at the end; but that's as fine a way to end this little thing as it would be to ask the dude if wants to play checkers; i.e., I'm glad there wasn't another make out scene. Cuz those are the worst!

  • Tim and Eric Awesome Tour Great Job! 2010 Pusswhip went on too long for my old bones to enjoy standing still with a grin and a toe tapping, but otherwise it was just what I wanted. And more! John C. Reilly showed up as Steve Brule to much deserved adulation and went on to kill, from a few tips on health to a health exam of a pretty young lady (he touched her boobs, yes, among a slow slew of nosey, pointed questions) to an awkward slow dance with said lady. And Neil Hamburger was great, with some real good jokes that made people uncomfy. But the real stars were the real stars. Even if the facial jokes are often lost without a close-up or a sound effect. In any case, awesome show great job! I could never do any of that!

  • Quick Change [Howard Franklin and Bill Murray, 1990] # Always loved this one, this picture of New York as one roadblock after another, as a place built to thwart dreams as often as to afford their possibility. The filmmaking is "functional" but not "bad" and, you know, that's largely "okay" because the picture (Bill Murray) is hilarious. Honestly? I'll take this over After Hours any day.

  • The 'Burbs [Joe Dante, 1989] # Good fun for a late night, though that one neighbor's motormouth just doesn't shut up. Like, ever. Funny to see Dick Miller in this (however small the garbage man role) after last week seeing his first real role in that Corman. I'd forgotten Carrie Fischer's Hanks' wife, too, and that was cool.

Some men dream #1

by Ryland Walker Knight

Her hanging heel

Rex's razor

Unfaithfully Yours, Preston Sturges, 1948
shot by Victor Milner