Sunday, December 27, 2009

Viewing Log #26: No, not caprice: it takes idle time. [12/21/09 - 12/27/09]

by Ryland Walker Knight

Cargo No.4, 1
—Pride: pp.14-15

  • A Serious Man [Coens, 2009] I just tweeted: "A SERIOUS MAN is so scary it hurts. Just about the most nihilistic film I've ever seen. Like NO COUNTRY times BURN AFTER READING to the nth." And I think it's kind of good? Don't quite know yet, but I do know that to toss it off as simply just nasty is to not reckon the nasty. In fact, I'd say that's exactly what they're predicting you'll do; what they might say is a "problem" at large. I don't think they're advocating a blind eye. The scary thing is that they might be advocating a bullet brunch. Or, that some lives aren't just quiet desperation: some lives are, in fact, pointless. Whether you eat the bullet is up to you, of course, but it's a debate you have to have every day. Luckily, or so it would appear, each of these guys has "somebody to love" and that makes them choose this world every morning. I walked out desperate for life. I should probably write some more about this one. Or, at the least, have a few good talks over a few good beers with a few good men I trust and love.

  • Inglourious Basterds [Quentin Tarantino, 2009] # Wound up watching the digital copy in full. Looked good, but it was too easy to minimize while snacking.
  • Black Book [Paul Verhoeven, 2006] # On a rainy and ugly day, I thought I'd see some real struggle and some real womanhood. [click here.]

  • Inglourious Basterds [Quentin Tarantino, 2009] # Started it on my computer, then later in the day looked at the Blu Ray. Looked great, of course, but, as I tweeted, this movie demands celluloid's texture. Motes don't quite mote, and smoke won't quite curl, the same in digital's clarity.
  • 2001 [Stanley Kubrick, 1968] # Works really well on Blu Ray; so alien, such a painting. I skipped around a lot and saw some beautiful things. "Jupiter And Beyond" is something wholly new, something Avatar can't touch (in any medium).
  • North by Northwest [Alfred Hitchcock, 1959] # I dozed, but the Blu Ray's colors were out of control beautiful: all those greens popped so loud against all that grey.
  • Le chant de styrène [Alain Resnais, 1958] # Off the Marienbad Blu Ray, watched without the soundtrack, which made it that much less representational and more just a bunch of color and movement plays.

  • Black Book [Paul Verhoeven, 2006] Carice van Houten isn't only a pretty face, a total babe, but she's also a damn good (and game) actress. It's kind of crazy how good this movie is—and that I never heeded suggestions that I go see it in theatres—crazy in that way where you shock yourself at how much you love something. (The movie's pretty shocking, too, of course.) The holiday week forced me to break up the movie, which is a bummer, but it's so strong scene-to-scene—with almost every single interaction a bit of two-face; almost everything's about performance and/or artifice in some fashion or another—that it doesn't hurt the film too much to see it in pieces. It also helps that Verhoeven is such a pulpy goof who makes straight up entertaining movies. (Since I'm in a hierarchical mindset these daze as the decade winds down, I also want to say that 2006 was an especially strong year for this decade; and this movie's right up there on my list.)

  • Taken [Pierre Morel, 2008] Plenty stupid. But the right kind of calories for dinner. Kinda makes me excited for this piece of junk. Funny that Zach threw up some notes the same day.
  • The Girlfriend Experience [Steven Soderbergh, 2009] Tight little package. Sometimes funny, sometimes not, mostly a mirror for its often affectless actress and that wild time of October '08. Good lunchtime flick. My man GK kills his scene. Maybe better than I'm allowing it, honestly, in that it's got a mission and it nails it. (Cough.) I mean, it hammers her home (or not) in more ways than one, though it's also a tad one-note and defeatist.

—Get lit up already


  1. Do we get one more Vitti picture before New Year?

  2. My blogging buddy Bill Ryan left a comment on my facebook wall about me calling _A serious man_ nihilistic. My reply, a jagged rant if every there was one, was deemed too long for the wall. SO I ported them over here.

    (1) Bill:

    Nihilistic is not the word I'd use, really. It's about the search for meaning, and the impossibility of having your questions answered on earth, but the film isn't saying there are no answers, or that there is no meaning

    (2) Me:

    You think a movie that sees the future as a tornado (or a cancer consult) believes this world is a good one, rich with life? No doubt the movie is about the search for meaning. But, as with the teeth, the Bros don't think there is one, or any, punchline beyond "Who cares?"

    They go to great lengths to mock their whole "tradition" as kaput by making the next generation's perception perpetually blocked. The film starts with our Job's senses being tested (mindlessly, routinely, we might add) while his progeny can't even be bothered to listen to "the word"--only to end with humility interrupted, again, by the sound of the future: all that matters, truly, it would seem, is to find somebody to love. In a way, how can you argue with that? That way, at least, you'll have somebody to put yourself into when the future approaches because you can't stop what's coming--it's an oeuvre leitmotif at this point--and of course you'll stand alone at the close.

    Further, it's a film about the human race (not just the Jews) and its continued degradation at the hands of a milquetoast modern world bent on squelching little voices. The only winners in a "late Coens" movie are the ones (JK Simmons, usually) who say, "Fuck it! You can't roll me over; I'm still here and that's good for me!" Now, of course I don't believe this reduction about life, but, at some points it seems awfully valid.

    No, my image of the world isn't quite as bleak as the Coens'. Nor is it quite as cynical as Verhoeven's. But I'm learning it's not quite the almost-roses of Renoir. Renoir's kind of an ideal. Life's never that beautiful, though it's often just life. No, as with many, I find those New Wavers to be my sages: my world is made in a Rivettian image. I see the plots of others, I even try my hand to wring them a little myself, but it comes down to knowing your size and enjoying that. Which, oddly, isn't too far off from the Coens. It's the mode that changes everything.

  3. "You think a movie that sees the future as a tornado (or a cancer consult) believes this world is a good one, rich with life?"

    I didn't say that. I said the film isn't nihilistic. Nihilism is basically complete blackness, no meaning, no existence, but can you say the film is that when you finally hear the old rabbi's advice?

    Is the film dark? Absolutely it is. But there is a lot in there -- "accept the mystery", the story about the dentist -- that is more than simply a joke on mankind.

    Here's my review, if you're interested.

  4. Here's the thing about Nihilism: it's not a one-way thing. It's a state we should overcome, not an end in itself. The Coens seem pretty damned Nietzschean readers in this regard. They want to will the apocalypse, it seems, as a way to get past it. Nihilism is a test of strength, and resolve. So, yes, Larry's near-calm is almost a moment of strength. The troubling thing is how these guys see so much resignation in our species.

    Believe me when I say: I think it may, in fact, be the movie of the year.

  5. Really love A Serious Man, as well. And nihilism as a major recurrent theme in the Cohen's films is pretty spot on; it's great propellent, at least in their bend.