Thursday, November 08, 2007

So how about a quick run-down?

by Ryland Walker Knight

take that!
say what?

I think I've been consuming too much without enough reflective writing. I'm just generating opinions for myself, not arguments about the art I've seen, read, sampled, tasted. Such are the vagaries of schooling. Not enough time for all the fun stuff, like blogging. During October I saw quite a few flicks but given the amount of writing I was doing elsewhere (for class, for an upcoming essay elsewhere, for my Thesis) and more than a little confusion (about the 'sphere, about criticism, about, ahem, life) I didn't find time to jot anything down. I would like this to change. At least part of my inspiration comes from a classmate, Michael, and his devotion to posting something every day over at his blog, Cinema. Et Cetera., where he keeps dropping my name. It's flattering, I must admit, but, in turn, I feel compelled to contribute more to our collective internets, our rhizomed conversation (to ape something Daniel and mush it with something from Felipe).

So how about a quick run-down? As if you care...

Watch The House for an early review of There Will Be Blood; it's phenomenal. Don't waste your time or money on any of these current flicks: American Gangster [Ridley's a great hack, with two classics to his name, but this would be nothing were it not for Russell Crowe and Harris Savides; one of Denzel's worst performances ever, oddly]; Gone, Baby, Gone [the Affleck brothers should keep making movies together because they can only get better (as director and star, although Casey's leading that race) and they won't feel they have to cast Morgan Freeman or Ed Harris: I want Freeman to get real ugly, and mean, again instead of oddly benevolent & I want Ed Harris to shut the fuck up and stop yelling all the time]; We Own The Night [this one's got some critical muscle behind it (1, 2), which kind of baffles me, as James Gray is quite the accomplished, classicist director but not much of a writer; that said, Joaquin is good, if fatter than ever, and you get to see Eva Mendes pleasure herself]. I can't quite recommend Michael Clayton but -- you know what? -- it's not terrible, and even poignant, perhaps stirring, twice: (1) Clooney tells his son how proud he is that the son will always be okay, will never succumb to the bullshit of the world; (2) the final, three minute, unbroken shot of Clooney riding in a cab, in close-up, confirms he really is a perfect kind of screen actor, even if he's simultaneously always a little smug.

The Netflix Experiment ended, as you may have guessed, a while ago, but I decided I like that practice, or at least getting the discs in the mail, so I signed up again at the end of the summer. Here's what I've seen since then: Discrete Charm of the Bougeoisie is delirious fun. The Miracle of Morgan Creek really should have been included in that box set; it may be the one in the Sturges oeuvre, even though all of them are fucking amazing. I forgot how damned smart The Ring is, despite its histrionics. Rivette's Secret Defense is a muted marvel that insinuates instead of announces. The first hour of Marnie is unreal good; after the rape scene it gets bogged down in odd, zeitgeist-y psychoanalysis. Dirty Harry is cool. Denis' Chocolat is not as good as her later work but still distinctive, very much of a piece with J'ai pas sommeil (and even L'intrus). Mann's Manhunter is, quite possibly, his secret masterpiece; sure it's dated, but look at Heat, or Miami Vice, in ten, or twenty, years and I think you'll see the same kind of thing -- and it won't make them lesser films. Last of the Mohicans, on the other hand, really isn't as good as I remembered it, even though the action is so well executed. Apichatpong Weerasethakul's first film, Mysterious Object at Noon plays like an exercise, without the umph or pizzaz of Syndromes and a Century (the other two are high up in the Queue). To Catch a Thief: 5 stars. The Wendall Baker Story is kind of like that kid you really want to help along, you want to like it so bad that you know it's not that good at all, despite itself, and the charms it does hold (which are a lot, surprisingly: Luke and Owen Wilson, Seymour Cassel, Harry Dean Stanton, Kris Kristofferson, and, yes, Eddie Griffin). I just finished the second season of The Wire: ouch. Renoir's The River keeps waiting for me to watch it, along with Dead Man's Chest, and I think I've got Band of Outsiders coming today. I want to buy Ratatouille but it might have to wait for a week.

At least I got all that off my chest. Now onto some Daniel Day-Lewis monstering, and lunch, and then class. This weekend: Coen Brothers, Jeff Wall, burritos. And, maybe, some more writing?

catch it while you can

[Lead pics from (no d'uh) Peter Berg's secretly amazing (read: goofy, fun) The Rundown. Closing pic: "A Sudden Gust of Wind."]


  1. ugh, yeah: I've mentioned your name so many times on my blog lately that I feel the Ryland Walker Knight fanclub. I feel particularly nerdy considering I share three classes with you. This kind of apparent stalking is illegal in some states.

    I'm done now, though - no more genuflection for me. Just dedicated and diligent reading.

    So some thoughts: To Catch a Thief: 5 stars? Seriously? I can't find a more rote, boring film in the Hitchcock oeuvre.

    Syndromes and a Century: I actually worked this screening you were at, and I'm disappointed in myself that I didn't catch you eating chocolate chips. I appreciate your thoughts on Syndromes, but I just find it maddeningly lacking in content. Some great poetic sections, though. Have you seen Tropical Malady That shit's the shit.

    Good or bad "ouch" re: The Wire? If good, just wait'll you get to season 4.

    Have you seen The River before? I saw it in a really murky print at the PFA. Underwhelming, especially considering Renoir made Grand Illusion, one of my all-time faves. The setting is outstanding, and you can see why Wes Anderson made The Darjeeling Limited.

    I need to buy Ratatouille - I loved it - but what did you think of that screed by Anton Ego at the end? The gist of his write-up, essentially, is that great works should be left on their own, they afford no place for the critic. But I mean, damn, doesn't the person discussing the art constitute the art just as much as the art itself? Aren't the great meanings of art only actuated when they're identified by somebody? If he's decrying criticism as pure judgment ("two thumbs up!"), then I'm concur, but his refutation seems a little more corrosive. I know I'm late to the game, but those are my thoughts.

  2. 5 stars, homie. It's always a treat to see Cary Grant charm the pants, or skirt, off Grace Kelley. And I'm a sucker for that French teenager. Plus, as ever, his knowledge of the film language is astounding. No real reading right now, though. Other fish frying.

    A good ouch. Watch this space for more. There are plans-a-brewin for some dialogue about its merits, and its flaws, and its sucker-gut-punches.

    I think the Ego review (lightbulb) is after something a little different. I think he's actually saying criticism can, and should, be a place for praise. But not simply "Thumbs up!" It's better characterized right here, in a review of Stanley Cavell's latest book. What's great about this piece is you get a sense of the object of criticism, who the critic is, what significance the object holds for the critic, and why that matters to the object itself, not the critic. Also, it's a fine piece of praise for a book that deserves plenty, any. What I mean to say is, it's as much about how we interrogate ourselves as how we interrogate the object, be it a dish or a film. It's a really complicated, smart, loveable, joyful film. Easily my favorite of the year. Although this new PTA is quite good, despite being overwhelming.

  3. Yeah, I kinda stumbled upon that in my response. The type of criticism I like - and I imagine you like and any good critic worth his salt likes - is much different than the make or a break a piece of art type judgment that Ego is writing against. I'm gonna run out and buy this dvd today. Can't wait. I'll check out that Cavell-related piece later today. Thanks for the link.

    To Catch a Thief: I don't mean to say it sucks, cause it definitely doesn't,, whatever, I'm bored of this - what kind of idiot tries to write against Hitchcock?

  4. Have you read any Manny Farber? I think _Negative Space_ is, like, required reading for any aspiring critic, of any medium. I dream of designing a course (an R1A/B?) around film criticism and using that book, plus some Agee, Cavell, Adrian Martin, some other online critics/writers I read regularly (see the blogroll, I guess), plus some I don't find all that great -- maybe I'd lump Kael here (for all her hate, she's funny and kinda smart, if a tad misguided) -- to characterize what it is to practice criticism. And not theory. Or just spouting reactions, or opinions. But instead forming an argument about an object that attends to the object in as thorough and engaging a manner as possible, given the limits of time and space. Part of the reason some of the essays in _Negative Space_ are so good, so dense, is because he took a year to write them -- for Artforum! Anyways, back to, uh, just that practice.

  5. Wow. Haven't read anything, but I'll get on that.

    So you want to teach, then?