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.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Viewing Log #83: Moving daze [9/1/11 - 9/8/11]

by Ryland Walker Knight

Hide your eyes! No peeking!

My summer travels are long gone, crowding the rearview like a bus. I'm back in San Francisco, working, writing, slowly piecing together some more moving images. Not as much fun as galavanting around Europe. But not awful. Truth is, I have a good life. In fact, I missed it quite a bit while I was gone. I did not miss writing the viewing log, but I know of at least one friend (and a certain mom) who did miss reading them/me. So I think I'll start it up again. That said, I've been reading more than watching movies. But I still watch movies. In fact, there's a number I should watch sooner than later. But there's also a ton I won't fret pushing down the line. Especially during a stretch like this when the US Open's going (starting and stopping and starting as it has) and there's all kinds of drama right there along those baselines (not to mention the weather report). But I'll stop boring you with this intro that's only yet another stalling tactic. The important thing is that I cannot recall all I watched since Cannes so I'm starting over since the beginning of this month. So, working backwards as ever, let's count from ten down to zero.

  • The Mechanic [Simon West, 2011] West is a pretty lousy action director, forever chopping up things in useless/pointless ways that are obnoxious in their advertising gleam more than any spatial misrepresentation. He gets space fine, as some killings make perfect sense in living room geometry, but he's bad with bodies. Too often we see a body as one limb or another and only for a second. It's not surprising that the big stunt (the fall off the building) is the only time you see Jason Statham and Ben Foster's whole bodies moving through a space; it's annoying that the shots are so fisheyed and seesawing between their perspectives, but props for shooting the fall as their POVs; it's a good stunt, sure, but it's so clearly staged that any verve you get from seeing these dudes do their own stunt is lost in a fit of sped-up frame rates shot on super fast film stock. And yet, these guys are, as the saying goes, "compulsively watchable." I like seeing Statham clench his jaw and shoot guns. I'm looking forward to another Expendables installment. And I like Ben Foster's ability to project hurt in his angry way through roles. I'll always watch him play a psycho.
  • How Do You Know [James L. Brooks, 2010] # Flipped over during the rain delay in the Fed-Tsonga match. The scene with the newborn and the proposal is unbeatable. Lenny Venito is the man.

  • Bridesmaids [Paul Feig, 2011] # Went to the Castro, which was packed with single ladies and gay boys in pairs and quartets all over the auditorium, and had a blast. It definitely tapers, but it is so fun with an audience. More on Wiig and McCarthy soon.

  • War of the Worlds [Steve, 2005] # This is how you make action scenes. The first 70 minutes of this movie are maybe flawless. Or, those contain some truly/typical visionary stuff from good old Steve. Why does nobody talk about how great his master shots are? Because even simple one-take shots/scenes are awesome, like after the lightning when Tom goes through the living room, flipping the light switch and trying the cell phone and tapping his stopped-dead watch, all handheld without shakes and without a cut. Every camera movement is justified in a Spielberg set piece. It's crazy how rigorous and off-handed he can be. Too bad so much of this one stinks.

  • Louie "Niece" [Louis CK, 2011] # Hard to follow the Afghanistan episode, so it kind of makes sense to go all serious in this one. Yet another stranger teaching Louie-Louis how he's gotta go with the world, and be in it, instead of only approaching it from outside. But this one was a deep cut since it revolves around a young girl getting abandoned. Still, loving this season. Duh.

  • Monkey Business [Howard Hawks, 1952] # Rivette said it better but this movie's interest in where we place intelligence is basically a punchline to the entire search for the bone that is the movie we saw just before...
  • Bringing Up Baby [Howard Hawks, 1938] # ...which is just about as good as it gets in terms of zany, fast-as-a-nail-gun screwball ping ponging of plot and characters. Plus all that Cavell stuff. I've said it before. Look it up.

  • Curb Your Enthusiasm "Car Periscope" [David Mandel, 2011] Not quite as laugh out loud funny for me as the prior week's "Bi Sexual" but still pretty great. This season definitely seems more bound up in the clever concepts Larry's dreamt up rather than an arc as the last two seasons showed. Basically I want as much Leon as I can get and I'm barely getting any.

  • The Awful Truth [Leo McCarey, 1937] # The best. Without a doubt. Okay maybe a little doubt. In any case, there are few movies as fun and smart at the same time. Never hurts to see it with an appreciative crowd and two great friends, either.