Monday, August 30, 2010

Viewing Log #54: Assembling Assayas [8/28+29/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight

—Caught having a great time*

No less than two but no greater than a couple of stalwart critic-types that I'm friendly with have implored me to "resurrect the log." Thus, a minor stab to elucidate this tweet and our title above. That is, I'm gonna tinker with my format**. I did the log for almost a year pretty faithfully though some thick and some thin and, yes, in that time my life's gotten fuller. August 2010, especially, was jam packed. There were some visits, some beautiful meals, a beautiful wedding, a lot of wild times, screenplay revisions, copy editing, plenty of poems written by hand in notebooks and on index cards. I don't necessarily want to quit the blog, or the internet, and I know that's probably impossible for me, but I am working hard to stay off the computer these daze. However, I spent most of this weekend watching films alone. That is, these films***:
  • Fin Août, Début Septembre [Olivier Aassayas, 1998] Perfect that Liz paired it with My Sex Life...(here) as they're cousins for sure. I feel closer to the Desplechin, for its risks, but I did love this one, too. A friend likes to joke that this is the most supreme flattery for aimless boys like us, unmoored near 30 and mired only by time. I think he's onto something, but I'm happier with my lot than Amalric is in either of these films. And, besides, however much I adore Mathieu's face (and see myself a little), the real crux of the film is Adrien's love for Véra (François Cluzet ranges deep, if not wide, and you can guess how I feel about Mia Hansen-Løve). Not only that, I found myself drawn to the form, to those fade outs, to telling stories in discrete nuggets of allotted/delimited time. If Desplechin gets novelistic through narration and scope, affecting the voice of a novel more than anything, Assayas (here, at least) shapes his films as would a novelist so we get breaths to pause or to look away (at a window maybe, or at the back of your eyelids), affecting the passage of one page to another, one chapter to another—the physical act of reading a book, holding it in your hands, cradling it in a bed, stuffing it in a bag, letting it develop in shadow (in the background), pushing through to the end in order to cry. And then finding the world, your life, again when you've found the finish. After all, it's also a movie about refusing resignation. —Who doesn't like those?

  • Boarding Gate [Olivier Aassayas, 2007] Joked with Danny that it's a riff on Contempt since "the inciting incident" doesn't really happen for half the movie. In fact, were it not for the electricity between Asia Argento and Michael Madsen, or for the final shot, this would be pretty thin. Doesn't mean it isn't fun, or that I wasn't simply vibing on just how sexy our angry lady is, but I expected a bit more than a few chase scenes in Hong Kong. Telling that, after Madsen, Argento's best sparring mate isn't her other lover but her other lover's wife, played with pluck by Kelly Lin. (Last: doesn't hurt that Kim Gordon, though not an actress, can command an image for just long enough to pressure the frame full.)

  • Irma Vep [Olivier Aassayas, 1996] The thing that surprised me the most was the humor. You expect Maggie Cheung to be excellent, and you expect a film made by a critic to be super smart, but you don't exactly expect this much mucking around. And I certainly didn't expect the finale: an argument for film, for stars, for sound design, for mauling the image, for images' autonomy within limits, for how we can make the world as we see it (even if it's a fantasy), for the gamble of celluloid and for the malleability of Forms. The sheer amount of varied media is another bonus, offering angles on how images work depending on their production. So no wonder it's a film about producing a film, and no wonder its means are meager. The finale shows: you don't need cash to make the best art. You also don't need a story, really, which is the ultimate joke, here, about remaking a serialized film.

  • Carlos [Olivier Aassayas, 2010] I may have more to say in another venue in the near future so I'll limit myself to a pithy, probably useless quip: quite an undertaking to spend so much time and so much money on such a stupid human. I'm guessing that's part of the point. But am I really supposed to enjoy it? With all those groovy tunes (cough), it sure seems like it wants me to. Rock star terrorist with a bevy of babes doesn't sound like the kind of movie I'd expect, nor should you. That it makes/made me this uncertain says something, but that's not really saying anything.

* = Jeremy, Link, Cam; click for a few more you curious clowns

** = That is, I'm going to skip over some Sopranos episodes (mostly hilarious, weird editing), Ghost Town (read I.V.; it's a beauty), keeping current on Louie (comedy as ethics!), Momento (the movie same as Inception with different hijinks), some of Ghost Writer and Hot Tub Time Machine (was drunk, tired, in a hotel with 4 other dudes), Vacancy (what a bunch of dummies running around in the dark!), Toy Story 3 (could have skipped its irresponsible, worst-case-capitalist ideas), Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Michael Cera needs actual foils for his mope-me gushy-mouth and Edgar Wright needs to apply himself to other, better, funnier things), Clash By Night (Lang's predisposed to cruelty and brutality, it would appear), very little of The Cobweb (couldn't do three things at once), The Thing (Carpenter learned all the right things), and Videodrome (only gets worse?).

*** = In this order!

Monday, August 09, 2010

Vinyl is heavy and Vitti is forever #47

by Ryland Walker Knight

look away, baby
—Who said "disconnected?"

Viewing Log #53: Ring around the rosey [7/28/10 - 8/8/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight

You can't resist that imperative, can you?

  • Step Brothers [Adam McKay, 2008] Both Will Ferrell and John C Reilly are perfect at the adolescent petulance and a lot of the slapstick made me laugh a lot, too. Then there was the stray absurdity like the wood nymph and centaur fantasy, or the lumberjack fantasy, and I love it when this team will indulge those impulses.
  • Date Night [Shawn Levy, 2010] It's fascinating how much I adore Tina Fey. Oh, wait, it's not.

  • The Sopranos "D-Girl" [Allen Coulter, 2000] One of the lesser directorial efforts in the series run (what's with all those black outs?) but any episode basically centering on Chris is one worth watching.
  • Gamer [Nevaldine/Taylor, 2009] Woke up early on a Saturday, much like the previous one (see below), and watched another Ignatiy-sanctioned id-blast of dummy horror show. I liked this one even more. Now, I.V.'s review is kind of like a mission statement for that dude (it would appear), as it starts with "Glory to those with the intelligence to have bad taste." My first thought's a shrug—I guess so—but that's all you need for this movie. I'd probably give it four out of five stars but only because it's an impressive feat of regurgitation and because it's short. Everything's got its source but, much as Gerrard Butler vomits up alcohol to start a car to escape the game, these N/T dudes are seemingly throwing up as many ideas as possible just to whip up your eyes like egg whites. Which is to say that everything's intentional but nothing's weighted beyond the play of light, rendering the entire 95 minutes child's play. What remains refreshing is that the film's not out to prove anything. We know what's right and wrong and apparently it's right to kill your way free of puppet strings, no matter the collateral damage, as long as you've got an absurdly attractive wife and daughter ready for your nuclear restoration. Prurience often masks pretty vanilla aims at bottom. Or so it goes in Ho'wood.

  • Fort Apache [John Ford, 1948] Around the time John Wayne interrupts Shirley Temple and John Agar on the back steps, I heard myself snoring with half a beer nearly emptying itself on my lap and a plate of pizza sitting half eaten nearly toppling itself off the armrest. This was a reflection of my body, not my brain. I did have time, though, to get supremely affected simply by Fonda's face. Haven't identified why, yet, but his face makes me run through a gamut of feelings.

  • Cemetery Junction [Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais, 2010] There's a reason it's going straight to DVD here. Not only is it neck-thick in British culture, it's just about as earnest as can be imagined with these dudes. This isn't to say I didn't laugh at all but it's pretty damned straight forward and features the worst tendencies of all the Merchant-Gervais comedies full bore: lots of mean-spirited jokes for the longest set up of the most sentimental pay offs you'll see. In a way, it's cute how they want to inspire (or some such) but in another way it's just rote.
  • Armored [Nimrod Antal, 2009] About that script: terrible dialog but perfect B-movie structure with one body after another raising the stakes and the fever. About that director: he makes spaces legible, yes, but he's victim to the editing board's splay of coverage like plenty of others. What really amazed me, and maybe this was because I watched it on a computer, was that the sound stayed down; that the film felt quiet despite the violence erupting. Also, as Matt Dillon gets older, he and his brother look more alike (noses notwithstanding). Worth a watch on a Wednesday.

  • Orlando [Sally Potter, 1992] Here's a movie. I didn't know it would be funny, like laugh-out-loud funny, and I didn't know it'd be so fleet. Every scene's got a joke or two and Orlando himself, becoming herself, is a joke already in a film: you cannot cast a man who will become a woman, literally/physically, so you've got to go androgynous enough that the switch, with whatever "true" sex apparent, will make sense. And of course it makes more sense to move away from drag in a story of actualization (though, of course, failures abound). I doubt I'll write any more any time soon (unless commissioned) about the picture, but I started reading the book and I already think it'd be a great object lesson for just about any class I could dream to teach (though a course on adaptation is the first destination I leap to) at a collegiate level. Which is to say, I hope to not simply see it with some other people who are important to me but to talk about it, too. If Haz and I ever live near each other again, we'll most definitely resurrect the podcast.

  • The A-Team [Joe Carnahan, 2010] Because of this one, which I sent to my dad, which he basically agreed with to the point of denigrating Inception in favor of this slideshow's stupidity (or "stupid fun"). That is, I enjoyed myself better than I expected to, and Ignatiy's assessment of Bradley Cooper ("that he can make a face like a dog that's very happy to see you") makes it so I'll only ever be charmed by that idiot grin; he has the face of a movie star, sure, but he deploys the persona of every asshole I've met who reads men's magazines for "how to"s as much as for the glossy porn of purchase-able items. Which is to say that this is the flip side of Inception's appeal to the boys with money, the club-shirt side vs the I-wear-a-vest side, and it's no surprise that (though both are "objectionable") the club's more fun.

  • Cop Out [Kevin Smith, 2010] Way too long, of course, and way not funny enough as the time ticks by, of course, but it's saved from complete boredom towards the end because Tracy Morgan does his Tracy Morgan thing and gets wacky at any moment he's allowed, which, it would appear, was an always-encouraged "always" on this set. Bruce Willis does Bruce Willis, too, but that's stale-ish and I didn't dig all the truly potty-based jokes. Final note: I'd be suspicious of the neighbor, too, if my wife looked like Rashida Jones and I looked like Tracy Morgan and I chose a profession that kept me from home more hours than I spent there. As if you doubted it: no future as an "arm of the law" here.