Sunday, September 18, 2011

Viewing Log #84: So rid of all your stories [9/9/11 - 9/18/11]

by Ryland Walker Knight


  • Breaking Bad Season 1, [Vince Gilligan, 2008] So far, I'm a fan of the farcical elements that sharpen the edges of the drama and elevate the show past one of the stupidest (or most roll-your-eyes) pitches you can imagine. Oh, a failed chemist now teaches high school and has cancer and, get this, to pay for his chemo he starts selling the purest crystal meth ever thanks to his skills in and knowledge of chemistry? Yeah, that sounds like a party—when does it air? That train of thought is why I never watched. But my friend told me it was funny, actually, and since the first three seasons are all on Netflix Instant at present I thought I'd give it a shot. Turns out she was right and I was wrong! It's not dumb, it's funny. But it's dark, a black comedy. However, I can imagine things only get heavier as Walter White turns into more of a heavy. For now, I'm enjoying all the play on that line we draw between right and wrong, legal and not, good and evil. Plus, it's about money in the late oughts and that's bonus points right there.

  • Drive [N.W.Refn, 2011] # I gave it a second chance and I'm still unimpressed. It simply doesn't add up. For a while, after I read the Sallis book a couple times, I thought it might be interesting to write an article all about adaptation using this as an intriguing example (as part of the pitch, too, I'll be honest). But the adaptation's strengths are lost in the haze of what Refn's after, which I think can be simplified to one of the weirdest ways to say, "I love you," to his wife (1). Even disregarding that mostly useless extrapolation of projection-as-interpretation, the object itself is rather basic, though pretty, and altogether empty—a film of integers arrayed, not added up, instead of the matrix of significance it seems to pose as in all those extra beats and drawn out googly eyes scenes. That is, there are a lot of "symbols" that don't add up to any kind of meaning. The most interesting motif—the satin scorpio jacket—is ruined, near the close, with that line of dialog that acts like a "looky here!" instead of letting the images and editing reinforce that the jacket is his armor, what keeps him alive, if not a second skin. He's not wearing it at all times, but when he's not wearing it, he's holding it across an arm. Or he's draping it on the kid, which is both an everyday gesture (keep the kid warm) and a gesture of protection (shielding the boy) (2). After all (spoiler), our "real hero" is stabbed in the gut while he's wearing this "trademark" and he doesn't die; that gratuitous act of violence just bloodies him, and the festishistic camera glides up his stoic face to reify this guy as alone, like so many "heroes" before. What Danny calls soulless, I call boring. I might even call it rote. But I must cop to the fact that I spent a lot of time anticipating the movie, and gabbing with my friends about it afterwards, but more in SF than Cannes because I felt I had to explain myself a lot more. Point is, there's obviously things there (Refn knows how to compose shots, if not film action) if it spawned this many words, this many hours of thinking and talking. Thing is, I still want more to warrant it all.

  • The Driver [Walter Hill, 1978] # Hoberman called it schematic in his review of the Refn picture. I think it's great. My favorite scene might be the one where he trashes their orange Benz to prove his skills behind the wheel. And Isabelle Adjani is super hot. Total score. I've got "deeper thoughts" but this is all you get here.

  • Curb Your Enthusiasm "Larry vs Michael J. Fox" [Alec Berg, 2011 "Thank God he didn't hand you his dick, you know what I mean? He coulda been shaking and shook that dick up, hand you the dick and the dick shot sperm in your face." Finally, a few truly great Leon moments and lines. And what an amazing guest spot: so awesome MJF can make fun of himself like that. And what about that "Paris" set? Priceless.
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm "Mister Softee" [Larry Charles, 2011] A weaker link, but, granted, this one had some good Leon moments, too, to spice up the rather "predictable" convergence of threads.

  • Contagion [Steven Soderbergh, 2011] American movie of the year? Maybe. Truly digital, truly D-G capitalism-as-schizophrenia, truly mosaic. A cheap shot of a human villain in Law, but it's the filmmaking (moviemaking? it's digital, after all...) that elevates the often obvious script. That and the actors. But more later. UPDATE: Here's more.

  • The Runaways [Floria Sigismondi, 2011] It starts well, with all that messy sex stuff and Michael Shannon doing something flamboyant instead of all nervous everywhere, but it sure hits a wall when they get famous and it tries to slow down to get serious as if those two things were dependent on one another. Was really ready for this to join Whip It as this fall's grrl movie I have a place for in my heart but this one just isn't that one.

the man
—The real star of the picture

(1) Refn basically said as much to Durga during their interview.

(2) Cambomb gave me this reading.


  1. Breaking Bad is the best show on television now. Keep the faith. By season 3, it's doing stuff that's more cinematic than most of the big American releases in the past... ten years. The writing becomes incredibly taut and masterful with its rhythm of information disclosure/teasing. And yeah, it even gets funnier.

    I just started The Wire, finally, and damn, what a first season. Brutal. Perfectly American, perfectly Greek in trope and non-triumph. Three hours into the second season, though, and it feels off. Hope this season picks up. Does it? Only from the fucking young white kid/dock hipster does some acting feel like acting, the first time I've thought that the entire series.

    Drive, like Bronson (which is a better film), feels like artful _______ by design. There were images from Drive that stuck with me (the jacket breathing/tensing up, the shadowplay with gloves, the sweeping headlights on the beach, Ron laughing in his suit at the party), stuff that I really appreciate seeing in the context, but it was artful only by strain, with a really straining artist in it, behind it. Which is a really ugly way of saying: it sometimes felt gorgeous, but never natural. But I also think Gosling is the best leading man around right now, so I'll root for him in whatever. And yeah, Brooks killed me. His placating little tones after the arm business... woah.

    Seeing Contagion tonight.

  2. I'm not a big Wire fan, to be frank. I like a lot of Season 3 and all of Season 4, but Season 2 is the worst with 5 a close second. Season 1 has the 'fuck' scene and a great, classic structure. But everything about that show is overwrought and overpraised. EXCEPT for the fact that it employed a shit ton of amazing black actors for almost a decade. That is amazing.

    Drive... yes, the jacket breathing is perfect, as is Brooks' post-slice assuaging, but it's all so empty. Contagion is so much more worth talking about. Hope you think so too!

  3. Very good to hear a dissenting opinion on The Wire. And, yeah, you nailed it; the cast is incredible.

    I'll report back shortly!

  4. Yep. Definitely more interesting, although still a bit tidy for my tastes. I love that I literally feel Soderbergh's efficiency in my bones as I watch his movies. 10hr or less shooting days are like porn. I really dug the amount of movement among the stories, even down to the consistent prelapped audio, and the good score throughout. Would've loved a two and a half hour cut full of more bureaucratic pitfalls and paradoxes that end up killing people, but I'm also sometimes a masochist. Overall: pretty damn good. Glad I saw it. Looking forward to your opening up of it.

  5. You ain't seen nuthin' yet on the Breaking Bad front. The back half of season 2 and all of 3 are classics of the form. The current season's not bad, either. It's predominately pulp with all kinds of ghoulish, OTT-stuff going on, but it's pulp that so thoroughly maps out W. White's moral decay it gives off this Crime and Punishment vibe to me, especially in Season 2.

    Re: The Wire, Season 2 and 5 are the "worst" because it's there that you can see the gears turning beneath the dramaturgy most clearly. 2 just feels like an above-average cop show most of the way through, but rallies near the end, and I'd vouch for its last episodes being as devastating as 1's. But then I'm with the majority on the whole enterprise. The only show I'd take over it is Deadwood.

  6. JF: I'm same with you re: Deadwood. Best, best, best. I've talked to a lot of people who aren't thrilled with this season of BB, but I think the more frequently meditative, maddening pace is pretty cool, and rarely seen on TV. But yeah: if Vince Gilligan's main goal was to thoroughly chart the birth of a bad guy, I'd say he's close to home.

  7. Also: good to know on The Wire. I'll keep at it.

  8. Also: both: SEE WARRIOR. I know, I know. As did Bret Easton Ellis, I wept like a bitch.