Monday, November 26, 2007

Nashville d. Robert Altman, 1975

How could I have gone so many years without this? Eventually I'll write something of substance about it - my refrain lately - but for now I'll just bask in that final scene, equal parts hope and sadness, captured in that last perfect, looking up, yes, but only to gray skies. Crushing.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Sunnyside & A Day's Pleasure & Pay Day d. Charlie Chaplin, 1919/1919/1922

Real quick: I encourage everyone in the bay area to check out the Charlie Chaplin Mini-Retrospective at the Pacific Film Archive. It runs through Dec. 17 and, obviously, is a great time at the movies.

Three Shorts:

Sunnyside seems to be - and as intimated in the bio-doc, Charlie, might purposefully be - a work of a man tired of and by film. All signs point to rote monotony: the farmhand (played by Chaplin) works long hours, and does whatever he can to either shirk the work or make it interesting. Chaplin employs a good deal of his object transmutation, finding new uses for old objects. The intertitles can't even finish themselves, reading, e.g., "The farm hand, etc. etc. etc." At this point, to get biographical myself, the shorts Chaplin was doing for Mutual were becoming old hat, tired to the point where the audience wouldn't be at all baffled by the etc. repetitions. To get meta, Sunnyside operates as both the title of the town and of the film; the former, in its banality, operates as a mirror for the latter, and the farm hand as a figure for Chaplin himself, attempting to creatively navigate the daily grind of the film industry. N.B. There is a great paper to be written on the false escapism inherent to Chaplin's dream sequences.

A Day's Pleasure is a sort of familial precursor to Modern Times. An ostensibly day of fun turns into an unnecessarily complicated sojourn, made frustrating by the modern conveniences of cars, boats, and traffic. Plenty of American iconography is present, so maybe this is a - definitely light-hearted - poke at the USA?

Pay Day is the slightest of the bunch, but also features one of the best setpieces of the three: an elevator on a jobsite that plays a version of musical chairs with everybody's lunch. This short proves that even when Chaplin is dealing only with gags - that is, no real thematic - his films are still fantastically compelling.

Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin d. Richard Schickel, 2003

A traditional biographical documentary can only be so good, and this one only reinforces that idea. Perfectly informative, but - outside of the clips from Chaplin's films, press conferences, and whatnot - I would have been just as happy, or complacent, as the case may be, viewing this in book form.

Happy Together d. Wong Kar-Wai, 1997

Where Wong begins to meld the super-slow to the hyper-fast (or was that in Ashes of Time?), a move that reaches zenith with (the heartbreaking) In the Mood for Love. (Indeed, if you haven't seen ItMfL, stop reading this and go watch it. Now. Right now. Really. Yes, really.)

And that's the thing: the collision and inextricability of opposites. Agony and ecstasy commingle throughout, especially in the lovemaking scenes; the grandeur of the Iguazu waterfalls is apposed with a jaunty type of score; Brazil and Argentina, Fai (Tony Leung; quite possibly my favorite actor) surmises, are polar opposites. It's all put together to say a simple thing: opposites attract, but their attraction is destructive, a collision.

Which (to use a phrase I come back to again and again) isn't to say that the film is simple. This an extremely deft and complex account of a relationship - equally complex - crumbling, as if two magnets managed to, through their mad attraction, dive through each other, continuing with their velocity intact but already past the object of attraction, directionless in their singular, immutable direction. That's an unnecessarily epic simile, maybe, but it also seems to capture the grandiloquence of style that pervades Happy Together. Wong's style is so powerful, so apparent, that it seems too easy to dismiss his films as an exercise in form over substance; that is, the style inflects the substance of the film just as much as the "substance" itself. It's as if - to return to a favorite horse of mine - the style of the film dictates the (constantly elided) time and space of the characters.

The two lovers, btw, are gay; that Wong takes their sexuality for granted, while still dealing with the complexities of them being a homosexual couple in a heterosexual world, is an absolutely lovely thing.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

No Country for Old Men d. Ethan Coen/Joel Coen, 2007

Perfect, except for one bathetic old lady (and she might even work thematically; I need a second viewing real bad, preferably one where I'm not a frigtard who decides it's a great idea to drink two cups of tea in order to keep awake for a late night screening: unlike some folks, I make sure my bladder knows who's boss when it comes to theater-going.) I can't quality exactly why I feel this way, but I do know that the movie hits three of my (admittedly related) favorite themes: 1) Aging 2) The Dehumanization of Man/Nature vs. Civilization 3) The insuperable gap, partially brought on by the advent of new technologies, that divides generations. A deeper critical analysis - certainly illuminating those themes - will follow upon second viewing, assuming school isn't kicking a downed man at that point in time. Until then:

Sailing to Byzantium
-W.B. Yeats

THAT is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

"Of what is past, or passing, or to come." That collapse...chills.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Run, Lola, Run d. Tom Tykwer, 1998

This was among the first batch of films I watched when I first started watching - as opposed to just watching - movies. I remember being quite into the pacing and visual invention. I've apparently changed. I still think the pacing is quite good, especially considering how difficult it is to hold the viewer's attention when telling the same story multiple times, but the cinematography and editing - and this may be on account of how things have changed since '98 - make R,L,R feel like one long car commercial. Also, although the film is gussied up with a good deal of philosophizing - care of the quotes and V.O. in the prologue -, there really isn't much to it other than the adrenaline rush. Entertaining, enlivened affair that I wouldn't be opposed to watching again, but only that.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe d. Les Blank, 1980

One of my favorite short films ever. Actually, that "short" really isn't necessary; this is one of the best things I've seen, period.

Weeds: s.3 ep.15: "Go" wri. Jenji Kohan, 2007

So it turns out that all the religious talk throughout this season leads to an apocalypse. That theology might've been a bit heavy handed in this episode - what with "Majestic Inferno" emblazoned across the screen and Guillermo essentially outed as Satan - but this was a fine, if very different, season finale for Weeds.

Even though a raging suburb fire backdropped the entire episode, season three's finale was a bit more tame than the previous two. Turns out that I was right about this whole cyclical thing, but it also turns out that the show is smarter than I am. Per Nancy and Guillermo's hilltop talk - like Jesus tempting Satan on top of the temple, no? - the Sisyphean cycle of build-crumble-rebuild is part of the show's thematic.

So where do they go now? I'm not worried, per se, but it seems like Nancy, et al have been painted into a corner. There's nothing to do now but to flee and keep fleeing, right? Capt. Till's gotta put two and two together and figure out that Nancy was playing one of his agents, and I can't imagine there will be any stopping on the DEA's part - if for no other reason than personal revenge - until Nancy is behind bars. So the show changes gears, I think.

That cycle theme worked real well, in hindsight, when it was centered in the suburbs. For all the subversion that a pot-dealing mom brings to Majestic/Agrestic, it still seems impossible to break through and out of the routine that typifies suburbia. That is, the suburbs are a powerful force capable of absorbing any sort of movement that attempts to reconfigure or move away from itself; the subversion is built into it. (For a really interesting - but pretty theoretical - take on this, read Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle. As a quick aside, the first edition of Debord's book was bound in sandpaper, thus destroying any book it was placed next to. Hehe.)

Ok, which - to bring the innards of that parenthetical out here into what we're really talking about - is interesting: the necessary means to escape Majestic/Agrestic is violence. (Which is also what's implied in the physical performance, but not the content, of Debord's book. Natch.) Both in the show and outside of it, the destruction of the Agrestic/Majestic suburb is an extremely violent act, one that destroys a televisual town, but one that also destroys an entire three-season long mise-en-scene. I really do think Weeds is moving in a very different direction; that coda made it starkly clear that the space of the suburb - at least this suburb - is vacant of the things that enlivened it. Maybe its another meta-bit, maybe I was right to grow tired of the cyclical plot toward the end of this season: could be that the writers are just as stuck as Nancy, and find that the city of Agrestic has been completely harvested of all its potential. Regardless of where Weeds plants its roots [that was awful, sorry -ed], it's pretty clear that the audience is good hands, which is just about the highest compliment one can give to a show.


-More cycle stuff: so maybe that's why Nancy always had a frappuccinoesquee beverage that she was slurping on? Maybe I should go back and see just how often the show "repeats" itself; could be that this a more thematically dense show than I've suspected.

-Absolutely loved Doug's banjo-playing. Wherever Nancy's going, I hope Doug comes along.

-Dean? Where has he been? While I really would miss Doug in the show, the last few weeks have proven that I wouldn't really notice if Dean were gone. Whether they meant to or not, the writers effectively wrote Dean out of the show when they put him in the middle of that bizarre biker accident.

-Nancy's neglect of Shane was made a little more explicit with the bit about the turtles. Nice touch.

-That toss-off line from Silas was all I needed to feel good about saying goodbye to Mary-Kate.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Kid & The Pilgrim d. Charles Chaplin, 1921/1923

There is a common theme in many of Chaplin's film - at least the three I've seen in the past couple days - where the social and physical aspects of a setting determine the actions of the characters within it. Consider a scene from The Kid, where the titular Kid (Jackie Coogan), dressed in an apron, is making pancakes. Chaplin's Tramp sits in bed, reading the paper and smoking. The Kid tells the Tramp that breakfast is ready; the tramp bickers back some non-intertitled retort. The two have entered a domestic relationship, the Tramp and Kid playing, respectively, the stereotypical husband and wife. That is, their situation - which is typical of a marriage dynamic - has caused them to enter into its typical roles. The great gags ensue when two separate worlds collide, and the Tramp is caught between the two.

And then The Pilgrim: Chaplin plays an escaped convict masquerading as a priest. Of course, he's mistaken for another priest, and finds himself at a sermon. He looks toward stage-right of the quasi-cruciform church and sees what looks eerily like like a juror's box; a glowing "12" burnt into the film hangs ominously over the heads of the jury/congregation. The Convict moves between characters - convict, preacher, actor. It's as if The Convict is responding to 1) the internal world he feels, projected as exteral 2) the actual, physical space 3) the film itself. To be a character in these films is to be determined by what exists externally.

Ratatouille d. Brad Bird, 2007

I'm late to the party on this one - I did see it opening weekend, I just didn't write about it - so I'll just say that I think pretty much the same things that all the other people that really like this movie think. That is: it's gorgeous; it's a near-perfect account of the nature of artistic greatness, specifically filmmaking.

I only add: I found the script and the voice-actors a bit slipshod in the first section. Specifically, the theme structure was great, but the dialogue left me a bit let down. Any hesitation to fully embrace this movie first viewing was on account of this. I just don't feel like the dialogue, and especially its execution, sets up the rest of the film very well. (I'm speaking, specifically, about everything that happens before Remy and his rat pack split up.) Also, if you want to take the filmic route in analyzing Ratatouille, the exchange between Remy and his father ("If it's garbage, why are we stealing it?!?!?) has got to be a dig at lesser filmmakers, right? Especially those celebrated as great who really are settling for recapitulation. Then: what of the cooks and whatnot in the kitchen? They also recapitulate, sticking to tried recipes instead of creating. Their walk-out on Linguini (whose first name is Alfredo, I just learned this viewing) and Remy is a statement that greatness is often misunderstood, even by those who are (nearly) great themselves. When it boils down, Brad Bird is making some awfully big headed claims - Ratatouille seeming awfully biographical, at least in mission statement, at times - but who can argue with him when his films are this good?

For a great piece of writing on Ratatouille (and some on Paprika, which is only a little bit better than alright (er, the film, not the writing)) check Ryland.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Modern Times d. Charles Chaplin, 1936

when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail

That saying kept bouncing through my head during the entire screening - the first section of the film is that idea taken to the nth degree. That is, what happens when the world you live in equips you to do one thing?

Tellingly credited as "A Factory Work" - note that lovely indefinite article - Chaplin is a sort of cipher for what it means to be dehumanized by work; his rote assembly-line jop seeps into his core being, performing a good chunk of Marx's social theory. He leaves the assembly line, pulling every lever that he sees, twisting every dial, tightening every bolt, and oiling every cog that makes noise - machinic and human alike. The assembly line, so it goes, gives him one way of going, even displacing his sexuality, as he - thrice - attempts to tighten various Ts and As.

But later sections of the film present two different reverses. One - that which Mr. A Factory Worker employs most - is to get away. When him and his equally indefinite gamin (Paulette Goddard, spunky and beautiful) muse on their dream home together, the audience is given a bucolic idyll: a cow replaces the car in the driveway; grapes, instead of powerlines, crowd the window. This is the escapist dream. Indeed, Chaplin's factory worker finds refuge in prison, a place that, yes, is part of the mechanical system, but also exists outside of it.

The second reverse is the more interesting: subversion. Although the film ends on an escapist note - with the former factory worker and the gamin walking into the sunset - subversion of the machinic system, within the system itself, is at the heart of Chaplin's Little Tramp character. Made in 1936, well after the advent of sound, Modern Times is a mostly silent film. Even when we hear a character speak, it is through some type of medium: loudspeaker, record, screen, or radio. No personal communication is heard; this absence - juxtaposed against speech's disembodied presence elsewhere - is alarming. The implicature is that personal communication is difficult to come by in this world. Toward the end of the film, Chaplin's Tramp is forced to perform in a singing act. He forgets the words and instead offers an ad-libbed mixture of French and Italian; his actions sell the story. A couple of things are interesting here: 1) The audience of the Tramp's song responds extremely positively; the factory worker has used the constraints of the society in order to achieve real communication 2) The language of the modern world is action, not words; the content of words are no longer important, only the context that they are couched in. Whether you subscribe to one conclusion or the other, or an admix of both, the point is that the factory worker - now the Little Tramp - has figured a way in which to navigate the non-communicative, mechanical world that allows him to subvert its rules and be wholly and uniquely himself.

Another quick thing: the title can be read two ways: 1) As a synonym for "the modern era" and 2) As a temporal figure. Via the latter reading, the film can be interpreted as a collision of different temporalities; the Tramp, then, becomes a mutable figure whose job it is to figure out how each time is best navigated. I'll check this out next viewing.

Friday Night Lights: s.2 ep.7: "Pantherama!" wri. Bridget Carpenter, 2007

What do you do when the highlight of an episode is a storyline - in this case, Smash's - whose best trait is that it merely keeps with the tone and theme of the show?

There wasn't too much to hate about this episode - although Julie's hall-evading speech to Noah Barnett (John From Cincinnati's Austin Nichols, who is always good times on my computer, er, TV screen) approached this threshold - but there wasn't anything to love, either. No, "Pantherama!" was clearly about treading the middle ground. Even though the Landry/Tyra isn't anything for the writers to brag about, the worst thing that could happen to Friday Night Lights is for it to become just another teen drama. All of the potential pieces are there, just as they've always been, for FNL to tread this path, but this is the first episode - at least in toto - where it seems that they've come together. Matt and Julie's relationship, at least on J's end, has devolved into histrionics, two separate (three if you count Riggins' thing) child/adult love stories have come into play, the outsider trying to break in has put on his hurt puppy mantle, and - hell - we even got two (2!) love triangles in the works. Thank you, Dawson's Creek.

Yet, these plot developments wouldn't have seemed so off in season one. Why is that? I don't fully understand myself, but it seems that the various elements of the show have become more diffuse than they were last season. The show works best - as it did in every episode of season one - when its hinge is the Dillon Panthers. What makes the show special is that it is a character-driven show centered around a plot-based figure; when it's working best, the show is about the characters that orbit and are affected by Panthers football. Smash's storyline fit this bill, but it still lacked the power that his recruiting drama achieved last season; it seemed like a supporting pillar to a main story. The only problem is that all the other main stories have devolved in general drama that has no way of distinguishing itself from any other general drama. I don't mean to say that the show should make every episode about what happens on the field, but clearly what happens with the team - on the field and off - has a a powerful effect on the community of Dillon and Dillon High, and those effects aren't really being shown this season and - specifically - were mostly absent this episode.

The lower bits:

-How the hell did Santiago make it in juvi? Give this kid some guts, right? Or at least an emotion other than "broken and sad." I admit that his plot is directly connected to the team, but are we really supposed to believe that a kid who has never played football and already done at least one spell in juvenile hall is somehow supposed to get a spot on a state champion team?

-I actually like the Saracen/Carlotta development. I feel like it was presented early enough that it was given time to fully develop; the writers sprung it at the right time. Matt's home is one of those arms of the community that - as a carry-over from season one - feels like it is directly affected by the Panthers. His grandma puts so much stock in his QB1 position, and the writers have done a good job of connective even Carlotta to his position as a Panther. This is a good example, I think, of how seemingly ridiculous plot developments can be made to be organic.

-Kind of a waste of Riggins this go 'round. Shame.

-Pantherama!? This could've been great, but was really only a chance - like the two girls presented it to the players - to stare at Lyla and Tyra. Also: what was with Landry keeping his beater on during the players' half-monty dance?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Time d. Kim Ki-duk, 2006

So this is what it's like to grow old together, apparently. Kim Ki-duk creates a portrait of the human need for the uncanny in love: the simultaneous search for the familiar and the new. This theme becomes a bit unwieldy around the mid-point, but Kim wraps it up nice at the end, turning the film in on itself in a pretty clever manner. Going through it a second time, it's clear that the film is very well-structured, with every part finding an emotional rhyme in another part of the film. Very well crafted and...ugh, I'm tired of this boring writing. Goodnight. I'll have something good, maybe, about Modern Times tomorrow.

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles d. Chantal Akerman, 1976

A brutal film. Jeanne Dielman is a woman whose life is regimented to the point of absurdity; she is reduced entirely to her actions. The film is cut up into three days. During the first day, the camera almost always cuts on movement, from one set-up to another, a bastion of economy. Because of this, there is no room in Jeanne's movements for anything other than specific actions. Everything she does can be tersely described: boiling potatoes, reading a letter, turning on the radio. There is no liminal space, no transitions. Her being is defined by sum aggregate of what she definably does. Therefore, when her regiment begins to break down, so does Jeanne. I won't say any more: the film deserves the type of detailed analysis that I'm not capable of right now. Suffice it to say that this is a very affecting film about the consequences of extreme emotional conservativism and the perils of a solitary, segmented life.

The Office: s.4 ep.8: "The Deposition" wri. Lester Lewis. 2007

As Alan Sepinwall wrote, this could very well be the last episode of the season. If that's the case, what an exit.

In a conversation we had a while back, my friend Dan made a claim: Dwight, Jim, and Michael, at root, want three separate things.

-Dwight wants power. He wants to be able to tell people what to do, to dictate their lives in order to optimize (what he sees as) efficiency and effectiveness. This is evident in his haggling over his title (Assistant Regional Manager/Assistant to the Regional Manager) and the dictatorial posture he affects when given even a small taste of authority.

-Jim wants to entertain, to make other people happy. His motives aren't entirely altruistic - in part, he's trying to save his brain from the lifeless job he has by working some creative angle - but Jim's actions work to make the place he is in a place that's fun for everybody (or at least the majority). See, e.g., Dunder-Mifflin Olympics, the betting episode, pranks with Pam, even his "that's what she said" moment at the end of the last episode.

-Michael is the most complicated, surprisingly. What he wants manifests itself as a push for authority, but it's rooted in his need to be liked. Michael wants his employees to be his friends, he wants to get glorious rounds of applause in return for any speech - no matter how pedestrian - he gives. What Michael wants is rarely achieved; his need to be liked is usually fulfilled, if at all, in mandates and facades, like the notes from Pam in this episode or his ridiculous attempt to out-outdoor Toby in the last. So when David Wallace, CFO of Dunder-Mifflin, calls Michael a nice guy, Michael is genuinely satisfied.

Michael didn't choose the company over Jan, and he didn't simply ignore the fact that he was passed over for her job; rather, he went with the most important person in the room that expressed affection for him. The moment was somber, but when Michael talked to David after the deposition, he only mentioned how he thought David was nice too. That is, on an emotional level, Michael didn't even register the fact that the company slapped him in the face. His stunned look after hearing David's words wasn't on account of being hurt, but being so genuinely awed to hear that David Wallace thinks he is a nice guy. "Wouldn't you say," the lawyer says to Michael, "that the the company has a history of mistreating its employees." His reply: "Absolutely not."

What's so impressive is that the show could have easily played this for laughs. It still would have been good writing, but its work would have been only to develop Michael the Buffoon. Instead - and The Office is the only comedy I know of operating in this space - "The Deposition" walked that perfect line between pathos and humor, earning the jokes that much more because the audience has been shown that they come from an authentic, uncomfortable place.

In other news:

-Outside of the Michael Scott plot, this was Mindy Kaling's episode. "I'll give you a hint: it's not my boyfriend, I think it's the guy over here." Her delivery, gestures and all, was note-perfect.

-Running with that: the writers had to love the trash/smash talk sesh: your mama's so fat she could eat the internet; you're ugly and I know it for a fact cause I got the evidence [1/2 beat] right there; were Jim's parents first-cousins that were also bad at ping pong?

I could go on, really: there wasn't a single sour note in this episode. Could go toe-to-toe with almost any episode from seasons 2 and 3 and come out with either a W or a draw.

The Roe's Room (Pókoj saren) d. Lech Majewski, 1997

The director, in a Q&A following the screening, made mention of various influences and references on and in the film - Giorgio de Chirico, surrealism, miniature deer, and on. A man three seats to my left began half-whispering to his viewing partner about all these various references, his whispers amounting to not much more than, "Oh damn, I recognize that. Let me tell you about how smart I am." Full disclosure: let me admit that I didn't know who Chirico was until tonight's screening. Let me further say that I had a helluva time looking up his name on the internets. Carrico? Korico? Corico? Those Italians, amirite?

The Roe's Room is very much a work of symbolism. As if it mattered, the director himself said as much in the Q&A. He described a tree that spans three floors of a tenement building - central to a scene that I don't really care to detail - as a symbol for the body's desires, the body itself, and the morality of the body, a quick redux of the id, ego, and superego. Broken into four chapters corresponding to the four seasons, the film is roughly about a tri-part family - mother, father, son - whose apartment grows more natural, covered in grass and the aforementioned miniature deer, as the seasons progress. By the end of Winter, ivy is pushing its way through the walls.

Symbolism can be an effective trope when employed right, when the tenor, to speak metaphorically, is as apparent as the vehicle. In The Roe's Room, the entirety of the thing is vehicle. The film is so autobiographic that the meaning objects that the symbols point to are really only apparent to one man: the filmmaker. Again, this can also work (for proof, see Guy Maddin's Cowards Bend the Knee), but a focus on something other than symbolism - tone, visuals, plot - is necessary. What The Roe's Room amounts to is my viewing compatriot, playing connect the dots with the film and what he's learned before. It alienates most viewers - those that don't get the extremely univocal meaning of the film - and panders to the other set, making them feel good for knowing what they know while simultaneously offering nothing new.

My Kid Could Paint That d. Amir Bar-Lev, 2007

This will be the beginning of a run of posts that should have been longer, but are awfully short because: 1) I'm dedicated to this "write about everything I see" thing, no matter the quality of it 2) School got me down last week when I was going to write about these films; I had to write papers instead of write about movies. From now on, I'm going to try and get my thoughts up within a day of watching whatever it is I watch. Much longer than that, and I get overwhelmed by the fallibility of my memory and impossible process of piecing all my nascent thoughts together.

For the sake of time, I'll give no plot rehash.

While the themes covered - the nature of art (especially abstract), greed, the question of authenticity - are interesting, just as interesting is how they are handled. I kept expecting the greedy parents plot, and its more or less delivered, but not in the clichéd way I was expecting. That is, in almost every child prodigy story - factual or fictional - the parents-skimming-money topic comes up. I don't mean to say that it isn't an important angle to cover, but it's a tired one. Instead of trading in monetary currency, here the parents go after prestige, especially the father, whose false modesty - "I'm no expert in art" - betrays his fierce desire to find a prestigious place in the art world.

N.b. Bar-Lev displays an alarming amount of formal acuity, especially considering his DV is so damn ugly. For instance: the division between the two parents is a key component in the film, but Bar-Lev formally illustrates this by avoiding any intentional two-shots of the parents until the very end of the film, what is certainly the most divisive scene they are involved in. Here, even when he sits them on a couch together, it is only to ironically illustrate how far distanced they are from each other.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Vanishing Point d. Richard C. Sarafian, 1971

The flashbacks - especially the romantic angle - weigh down the film with unnecessary explication. I would have much rather Kowalski stay a sort of enigmatic figure who mysteriously becomes a magnet that unites all aspects of the counter-culture. Road movies are inherently counter-cultural and always freighted with meaning; any attempt to overload them with meaning turns to excess and waste. The driving and chasing and everything pertaining to the road, however - including the blind DJ who speaks to Kowalski - is fantastic. The end makes perfect sense: with all of that meaning and importance to be the final anti-heroic figure of the sixties, how could Kowalski do anything but explode in a ball of flame? He was being set up as a martyr from word go; there's no other way one actual man - as the flashbacks prove - could stand up to that type of scrutiny.

Quick question: what's with the black car that repeatedly shows up in the same place as Kowalski's challenger? Gosh, I hope it's not some type of symbolizer for the DJ or a metaphor for race relations.

Friday Night Lights: s.2 ep. 6: "How Did I Get Here" wri. Carter Harris, 2007

This episode bought into a number of clichés; some of them worked, some didn't. Three to focus on: 1) The visiting sister 2) The murder cover-up 3) The unwilling mentor. The third is all good; the second is all bad; the first is an admix of both.

The first - the visiting sister plot - begins as the worst offender. She bears all the hallmarks of The Visiting Sister: she's not beholden to anyone in anyway, she's well-traveled, she divides the family from itself, i.e. she's the antithesis of the sister she's visiting. The plot doesn't tread any new territory, but the final moment between the sisters - as is almost any moment of the show featuring Connie Britton - is so purely authentic - the apotheosis of the generic in the most complimentary of ways - that it overwhelms whatever clichés might be, or might have been, invoked. That is, this one scene reminds the viewer why clichés are clichés: when done right, they are terribly effective.

Which leads to the Landry plot. Jesse Plemons as Landry, for his part, sells the plot. So does Landry's father. No, the actors aren't at fault here, the writing is. Maybe this murder plot has allowed the audience into the Landry Clarke household, and I'm happy to know that family better, but the ends simply don't justify the means. We already have an unnecessarily duplicitous kid, who is simultaneously carrying around an extremely ponderous burden and playing the football hero. Separately, the plots aren't impossible; I wasn't against the murder storyline from the start. But the collision of the two sides of Landry doesn't make any sense. How can he crack wise while living with the secret of having killed a man and covered up that killing? Now we get another improbable, and clichéd, development: the good cop betrays his force in order to protect his son. Again, this could work, but piled on top of everything else, it betrays the trust of the audience. A denouement that works is still a possibility, but that possibility shrinks with each improbable and difficult development that's laid before it.

As for Riggins and Santiago: this is what FNL is about, as far as I'm concerned: football-related stories that transcend the playing field. Riggins is and has always been one of the most developed and complex characters on the show. His actions earlier in the season were slightly worrisome: Why have such an interesting character fall back on his typical actions: drinking, sleeping, and sexing? But it makes sense. Riggins is a regressive personality by nature. It's how he goes. What makes him great is the juxtaposition of his good heart and selfish action. And what makes this tutelage plot so good is how it combines both. If Riggins were acting out of pure self-interest or pure altruism, his teaching Santiago how to play ball would be boring; that is, the character would become a teleologically focused plot. Instead, with Riggins' two sides lobbying for position, this plot opens up all kinds of possibilities: Riggins can interact with Lyla, with Coach, with Street, etc., all while retaining his edge - after all, training his own replacement must get to him - focusing him enough to avoid the binge drinking and get on with his life.

These three plots illustrate really well where Friday Night Lights is at right now, and could be in the future. The writers have the talent, and the show has laid the groundwork, to avoid and subvert whatever tight spots it's been painted into. But that doesn't erase the fact that those tight spots are still there, and as was proven with Landry and his dad, they aren't easily avoided. Still, FNL's strengths, no matter how frustrating other aspects of the show are and become, will always be there. So, no matter how difficult, frustrating, and implausible the show becomes, it will always be worth watching, if not for its current plots, then at least for its potential to flip whatever's wrong into something good.

Weeds: s.3 ep. 14: "Protection" wri. Roberto Benabib, 2007

Time for everyone to come up with a new narrative

That epigraph is a pretty good summation of how I feel after this episode. The writers took what was the only significant development that I liked about last week's episode - Shane's meta-gaze into the camera - and coated it in pathos. Now Shane's up to his overly precocious antics, channeling Pops and offering proxy advice to everyone around him. I was prepared for the father-as-ghost rather than father-as-invisible-friend angle - I mean, part of what makes an invisible friend so compelling to the befriended is that the friend invisible to everybody else is visible to you, right? - but I didn't expect - or want, for the matter - there to be any intimation that Shane was anything but crazy. Follow: rather than running with the totally plausible and possibly interesting plot - Nancy's hash-slinging is ruining her family - this new development places the plot-focus on Shane, whose wiser-than-his-years platitudes make for far more interesting fare when plated on the periphery.

As for the Guillermo development: 50%?!?!?! Thinking back on Conrad's numbers during the U-Turn ordeal - and correct me if I'm wrong - MILF Weed has a growing period of three months prior to harvest, making four cash crops per year. Conrad mentioned $300K at one point, but also said that the initial harvest - the one that Celia sunk into the Botwin pool - could have grabbed $500K. Assuming the latter number, that's $2Mil a year, which sounds about right, right? Cut in half, that's a mil for Guillermo and Nancy each. Being that G was so clear about his take being half of everything, I imagine expenses and whatnot comes out of Nancy's pocket. I.e. she's gotta' pay Doug, Celia, Heylia, Conrad, Silas, Mary-Kate, etc. etc. Celia alone is making, what, $15K a month? That's $180K a year. After everyone gets their taste, Nancy must be sitting on, gee, somewhere around thirty grand. Just looking at the scratch math, this is a very shitty deal that Nancy has going. Logistics aside, the show has set up Nancy as being a better businesswoman than one who would take the first deal offered, let alone one that asks for 50%.

I do, however, like the idea of Guillermo having a bigger part in the show; the brick-dance scene from earlier in the season had good dynamics. However, how long can we expect him to stick around? With that fire raging, it seems clear at this point that the Botwins are headed to Pittsburgh, or some other such place. Which kinda' brings us back to where Nancy was at the beginning of season one, which is oddly reminiscent of where she was at the beginning of this season.

Which is all to say: I don't really know where this show is going, and I don't have too much faith in its destination. Which isn't to say I've disliked it so far - it's a good, plot-driven half hour of teevee. But the plots so far have run in circles, especially after season one. I imagine the peaks and valleys are part and parcel of the drug world and all, but they're not always the same peak and the same valley, right? Essentially, we've seen Nancy actuate her Godfatheresque (cf. the finale of season one) rise and fall two, going on three, times now. There must be more to the drug dealer's life that building an empire and watching it fall.

Still, I'm mostly prognosticating here, so there's a good possibility that all that I'm foretelling could never happen. Here's hoping it doesn't, or that if it does, the writers find another angle to make me happy. In all honesty, I haven't been let down by Weeds yet, so my worries are probably unfounded.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Office: s.4 ep.7: "Survivor Man" wri. Steve Carell, 2007

That's what she said.

The "Survivor Man" stuff was fun, but pretty much just a lark. We love watching Michael play idiot, but the meat of this episode was in the Michael/Jim alignment. Do we really buy that a) Jim could become Michael and b) Michael was once Jim? Mostly, yes. This episode is one that would make little sense to viewers who haven't been through seasons 2 & 3, but clearly The Office has earned the occasional moments of normalcy that Michael partakes in. Here we get a sort of back story for both those moments and Michael as a whole.

Here we get the apotheosis of the normal-Michael moments, like when he was the only one to show up at Pam's art show, or when he offered that (relatively) adroit V.O. on the make-shift Dunder-Mifflin ad, or his general ability as a salesman. Him saying, "I just say that stuff to break the ice, relieve the tension" (I paraphrase; sorry) is a jarring moment, but the show earns it. Michael's personality isn't a shtick, a grand put-on for the benefit of those around him, but it kinda' is. That is, he sees it as a benefit for those around him, which is totally insane, even if it isn't beneficial. So his shtick is a put-on, but he simply doesn't realize the inanity of it. Which makes perfect sense in the context of this episode.

Maybe this was Michael 10 years ago? Jim's plan to consolidate the birthdays is well-intentioned, if a little selfish; that is, it's meant to benefit the office. But, in spite of his good intentions, it's not entirely beneficial. Here Jim operates as a tamer, less "mature" version of Michael-as-Regional-Manager. Michael even says that he tried the birthday consolidation thing.

The Office as entity: so far this show has dealt - various digressions granted - with the people of the office as the beings that make it what it is. But here we tread some Office Space-type territory. Is the job, the environment, so overbearing that it turns normal people into Michael Scott, into Jan Levinson-Gould? This episode provides ample evidence for that argument. Jim and Michael in a medium two-shot is a perfect ending to the episode. Both are musing - to interject some critical interpretation on the scene - one on his future, the other on his past. The alignment of the figures - to both the audience and the characters themselves - is alarming in its simultaneous improbability and possibility.

As for the Survivor Man plot itself, it was great writing: Michael nailed the diction of the real Survivor Man, making the parody authentic. This was one episode, though, that could've benefited from a 40-minute (or even an hour) time slot. It would've been nice for the writers to connect Michael's sadness w/r/t not being invited on Ryan's circle jerk male bonding trip to his love for his job and its mutating effect on his (and Jim's) personality. How would it feel to have your life changed - for the worse, maybe - by a job, only to have that job leave you alone and isolated?

(And, um, I guess I'm aware that there's been plenty of evidence implying - if not outright declaring - that Michael's always been a freak, at least in his childhood. It ain't my fault if the writers are inconsistent, now is it?)

Labels: , ,

Pushing Daisies: s.1 ep.5: "Girth" wri. Katherine Lingenfelter, 2007

I'm too far removed now - papers and midterms caught up with me - so here's some drive-by comments.

-I'll be happy when this show runs out of the suspense plots. I.e. I'd like it to be laid out on the table - at least to the principals - that Chuck is a living dead girl. Prolonging the reveal to Chuck's aunts - and it is a prolonging, cause they will eventually find out her situation - is not really suspenseful, just irritating. They're big girls; they'll be able to handle it. Question: Is Olive cold-hearted enough to make Chuck and Ned touch if she knew the truth? Strange character; I'd like to hear her sing more.

-As a whole though, this was a strong episode. The layering of the ghost thematic was real nice, grazing against some of the profundities possible for this set-up. (For another example, see the first epi, where Ned and Chuck "touch," separated only by a wall.) The pay-off was obvious as soon as we met the bitter mom, but the show did so much with the intricacies of the plot - clearly, there's talented writers aboard this ship - that the pay-off wasn't so important. That's how it goes when the cylinders are firing: the writing's so good that it's about the journey, not the destination.

-This show makes me want to make pie.

-This show makes me want to eat pie.

Punch-Drunk Love d. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002

Continuing in the vein of knockout films from 2002 that I find difficult to discuss in critical terms. I've seen this film in the context of a college course twice now, so it's tough to remove myself from any and all academic readings I've encountered. (Let me go on record as saying that the various student presentations offered during the last class varied from pretty good to outstanding. UC Berkeley represent.)

Real quick: The scene where Barry's sister shows up with Lina and she - the sister - asks all kinds of questions: Why are you wearing that suit? What's that small piano? Why do you have all that pudding? For me, that's the center of the film. Barry's response: I don't know. There's a visceral, non-logical attraction to the periphery; the things that make sense, that seem to operate outside of the logical narrative (which is, essentially, weird boy meets weird girl and they fall in love) are at the (emotional) heart of the film. Barry's sis (wtf is her name?) is the viewer demanding explanation: What is this? The film is Barry, collecting these odd, unfamiliar objects, refusing explanation - as if it could even understand what they are - and reveling in them. If there's a more beautiful picture in cinema than Barry plunking notes on his harmonium, I'd like to see it. This is the exploration - without need for explanation - of the strange.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Musics & Links

My sidebar thing says that the last thing I listened to was some Radiohead. Most likely, this is false. My main computer is AWOL, so I've been using my wife's laptop for the last couple weeks. I'm too (you choose!) a) swamped by school or b) lazy to bring my computer into the apple computer fixing people. I'll do it soon, I think.

Also, the links section got an overhaul. Unfortunately, Dan Meyer at Cineme is no longer paying his net rent. (Ha! Which one of you suckers clicked that useless hyper-text?) I understand all his reasons, but believe me when I say - and I can say this with impunity now, being that there's no web-extant evidence to the contrary - that Dan Meyer was the GREATEST CRITIC THE INTERNETS HAS EVER SEEN!!!11!. Your loss.

In lieu of Dan, I bring you Ryland Walker Knight (whose name is much cooler, via Vinyl Is Heavy) and The House Next Door. The latter most have read - good for the most, seriously - but maybe not the former. I know I've been on a Ryland/House Next Door jag lately, but part of that is the fact that I've been turned on to so many good films by them lately, and the other part is that I need some type of standard to emulate while I'm trying to do this blog every movie/tv show thing during November. Anyway, these are good people emulate. Anyway, you can now find these folks in my sidebar. If you want your link in my sidebar, send me an email and I'll contemplate it. If you don't get an email back, it probably means I didn't like your site, cause I'm pretty diligent about checking my email, and my spam blockers are relatively forgiving for their species.

Nikita d. Luc Besson, 1990

"You're always combining two things at once."

Nikita - or La Femme Nikita, depending upon where you live and how you read the film - is a romantic/relational drama masquerading as a spy thriller.

Follow: Say you write a letter to a friend, a friend who just so happens to owe you money. You open with the niceties - how's life? how's school? things are going well here. At the end, maybe even the post-script, you drop the by-the-way, as in, "BTW, if at all possible - and I feel like a jerk for even mentioning this - could you, if it's at all convenient, send me that twenty bucks I let you borrow sometime soon? Kthanksbye." We all know what that letter's about - it's about the twenty bucks. As A, so B: Nikita ends with concerns about the romantic relationship(s) - there's pretty much two - not the female Bond-döppelganging storyline that the DVD menu would lead you to believe the film is about. And while Nikita's newfound profession - a sort of government sanctioned assassin - is integral to the film, it's the collision of these two things, her relationship and her profession, that is most interesting about the film.

Nikita - although at some point she becomes Maria? - goes through training, where she learns how to use a computer, paint, and pump round after round of hot lead in both paper and person. That apposition is integral. It isn't simply that Nikita's training makes her a lethal killing machine, but that it also primes her for domesticity, for entrance into modern life. This is made abundantly clear in scene where Nikita, in order to satisfy the duties of her job, masquerades as a hotel maid. Her contact fills a cup with a tea, a cup that looks to be some sort of surveillance and/or explosive device. It isn't that the cup is simply one or the other, but that's it both: it operates as both a domestic and professional signifier, both tea cup and spy gadget. The professional collides with the domestic, making it impossible to figure where one and the other begin or end.

This collision isn't more apparent, or more affecting, than when Nikita, while stuck in a bathroom and on vacation, is called to snipe a target for her profession. Her fiancé stands at the door, attempting to discuss their relationship, while Nikita takes three shots at some old tart. The conversation and the sniping are related only by proximity. There is simply an incongruence between Nikita's professional and personal lives.

Which gets to the heart of the matter; this is, simply put, a film about how difficult it is to balance ones professional and domestic lives. The latter bleeds into the former and vice versa. This conflation begins to affect the viewer. When Nikita jumps out at her fiancé, scaring him as he's coming home, it isn't clear whether this is an attack or a surprise, whether it's the "spy side" of Nikita or the "domestic." In this respect, the film operates as a powerful commentary on the corrosive power of professional life. Or, as two characters (who I can't seem to specifically recall at this point) say to each other, "You're always combining two things at once." "The vagaries of love."

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Miami Vice d. Michael Mann, 2006

A more detailed analysis to come after second viewing, but suffice it to say that this is a perfect marriage of the formal avant-garde and the - almost, but not entirely - classical narrative. Mann tricked Hollywood into letting him make an art-house flick. Best picture (not really right to say "film") of 2006. Would be the best picture of '05 and '07, too. (Not '04, though - Dogville is still an overwhelming masterpiece.)

Real quick: the key to this film is the surface. Convoluted, complicated, but indicative of nothing that lies beneath, Miami Vice is all about this hypereal surface.

For now, I'll send you here, to Keith Uhlich's fantastic review. It's also worth going here Matt Zoller Seitz and Uhlich's year end discussion. You should read the whole thing, but you can also do a page search for "Miami Vice" to get to the relevant bits.

Weeds s.3 ep. 13: "Risk" wri. Roberto Benabib, Matthew Salsberg, & Rolin Jones, 2007

These hands went to college, majored in English Lit.

We finally get our resurrection payoff for all the Biblical imagery in this season, but it's an odd one. For everything great about Weeds, it is a visually conservative show. The camera operates as an invisible chronicler, capturing and arraying the goings-on of the characters in the most simple and straightforward manner possible. So when Shane starts talking to the camera, mano y mano, the effect is jarring, even moreso when he identifies the other in his conversation as his dad.

Look: there are dozens of ways that Shane's quasi-convo could have been shot, but this way - a Kubrickian stare, dead-on the camera - indicates the audience in a big way. Two readings: we've become Shane's dad or the camera has become Shane's dad. (Of course, the obvious reading is that Shane is resurrecting a parental figure because he has none; his dad is dead and his mom is caught up in the drug world, emotionally and physically unavailable. This reading makes perfect sense in the constative, but it doesn't really account for the what the camera is doing in these scenes. Let it stand as sufficient in terms of content, but the form requires a little more teasing.) Both readings are problematic, mainly because Weeds hasn't offered any foundation for this type of bravura meta-analysis. It's a show that, perfectly constructed plot and characters aside, is what it is.

But there's still the nagging question of what to do with those shots. It is interesting that the camera and the audience have spent more time watching Shane grow up than Nancy, and also that Shane tends to be the technology whiz, so he's the ideal character for this type of reading. More than anything, though, I think these shots are indicative of something mostly different: formal invention, used correctly, is extremely powerful. Shane's dialogue with the camera stands in stark contrast to the rest of this - relatively meh - episode. Both that and the fact that the series rarely touches anything visually inventive allows this shot to pop, its formal characteristic acting as perfect counterpoint to the emotional content of the scene. This type of creative intelligence and play is the reason that Weeds has not delivered a single bad episode or plotline yet. Some have been just ok - I'm not to keen on Mary-Kate Olsen, and I have no idea what happened to the Hispanic guy that that Nancy got it on with at the end of season one - but even the ok plots and characters have been thought and well and justified in terms of the logic of the show. For a show that could quickly devolve into satire and bathos, that's an impressive feat.

Other things:

-Weeds handles race incredibly well. Heylia says, "What they say is, 'Good morning,' but what they really sayin' is, 'I'm not racist.'" Fantastic description of the way racism mixes with fear to produce a sort non-response to race. It's an indictment of suburbia without resorting to parody.

-Heylia and Celia together (oh shit, it rhymes!) is a stroke of genius. Great dynamic in that one scene, can't wait to see where it goes. Is it possible that Celia's lesbian undercurrent will finally fully manifest itself? A possibility, I think, especially since so much of H & C's conversation revolved around how awful men are.

-What do we make of the U-Turn tattoo? Nancy's been strange the last few episodes, clinging to pretty much any man she encounters, but I'm not sure we have enough of a reason for this. The fact that she's a widow and could in need of some emotional and physical support is certainly believable, but the abrupt outward expression of that need lately isn't. A little more justification would be nice.

-Here's my one other nagging concern: aren't we, basically, back at season one? Nancy is more big-time, but not too much has changed. Her own grow house, her marriage, her run-in with the DEA - shouldn't these things have a greater effect on the plot? Shouldn't we be in Pittsburgh now? I imagine the finale will address these questions, but its important that the life-changing in moments in a show are, indeed, life-changing.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Eraserhead d. David Lynch, 1977

All the symbolic readings I've encountered - goat-baby as ersatz penis, the human world as thrall to the mechanical, etc. - bore me, and I'm at a loss to come up with my own logical interpretation. Still, I find myself positively haunted by this film. This goes back - sorta - to what I wrote about Syndromes and a Century, only the privileging of the affective over the logical is far more persuasive here. I found the first hour of the movie revolting, disgusting; the images were sickening; I literally had to stop eating my lunch. (Lesson learned: pay attention to the movie and put away the sandwich.) But when the boy picks up Henry's head and runs to the pencil/eraser manufacturer, I was stunned. Even moreso when the wood dust returns, swarming around Henry's now recapitated head, swathed in backlight. In these scenes,the grotesque elements of the film coalesce into something...not beautiful, but something terribly a- and effective. I need another viewing, preferably on the big screen, but I'm mostly sold for now. Nowhere near the heights of Mulholland Dr. and INLAND EMPIRE, but it's something.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Apocalypse Now d. Francis Ford Coppola, 1979

This is the third or fourth time I've seen this film - one of those times being the bloated Redux version - but it may as well have been the first. I've admired Apocalypse Now each previous viewing, but never liked - although I'm not sure that's the right word - it as a film. My earlier film-viewing self was a fiend for sense; that guy craved coherence, loved a tight allegory, got all promiscuous with logical conclusions. That guy also thought Mulholland Dr. was a piece of shit. Fair 'nuf to say that that guy had shit for brains.

I won't make that move here, however, that move that goes on to say how the ambiguities at the heart of AN are emblematic of the Vietnam War. Sure, maybe they align nice, but if this film were intrinsically bound to Vietnam, it would not be the film it is; that is, it wouldn't be so excellent. (Aside: there's a ridiculous/hilarious allegorical reading available in the film, though: Lance B. Johnson is LBJ (get it?), Kurtz is the military presence in Vietnam, and Willard is the liberal body politic trying to make sense of the shit, trying to pick up the pieces and get Joe Army out of there. Yeesh.)

In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad writes, "The meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine." This is complicated; I don't understand it completely. I could get vague here and talk about the film as indicative of the human condition, the film as constituent and constitutive of its local locale, lorem ipsum, et cetera, etc., &c. I'm going to sidestep that part, thus leaving this three-paragraph write-up w/o any real meat to its bones, and just say that the quote from Heart of Darkness is a pretty great thing and does an excellent job of circumscribing the greatness of Apocalypse Now.

More thoughts on Friday Night Lights

Watching "Let's Get It On" a second time, the aspects of the show that are working vis-a-vis the parts that are not are so startlingly clear: Coach/Mrs. Coach, Saracen's side of the Saracen/Julie/The Swede thing (btw: a nod to Hemingway/Siodmak/Siegel? I see nothing Swedish about this guy), (recently) the Riggins/Street/Lila menage: these aspects of the show are firing. Not firing: Landry/Tyra/Rapist/Landry's pop/etc., Landry as football star, Julie's side of the Saracen/Julie/The Swede thing, Smash vs. Saracen. There are others, on both sides, that I'm forgetting, I'm sure. The divide goes like this: the elements in the former category are character-driven, the elements in the latter are driven by plot. The first season of Friday Night Lights worked so well because it took what by all means should have been a plot-driven show and made character its engine. The intent to make the most egregious of plots - the Landry & Tyra as murderers line - one driven by character is clear; Jason Katims has said, in so many words, that the point of this storyline is to get into Landry's life and household. The result, instead, is a facile exploration of Landry's family qua stock, clichéd characters whose engine is more along the lines of a lover's-on-the-lam plot. The parts of FNL not working are stuck in a teleological spiral, focused on getting from A to B rather than the journey therein.

There were some promising transformations in this episode, though: both the Saracen/Julie/Swede and Lila/Riggins/Street storylines moved from telos-based to character-based, the former renewing itself in the form of Saracen's will to power (although Julie is still fixed in a "rebellious, confused teen" plot, whose only resolution is reconciliation or complete removal) and the latter making a nice move from each character on their own telelogical arc - Will Lila keep Bible-Thumping!? Will Riggins drink himself to death!?? Will Jason Street walk again?!?!?!?! - to a place where these character traits are not ends in and of themselves, but means to something else, symptoms and indicators of a greater depth of character at bottom.

What FNL needs is to recognize this opposition - and it is, most certainly, an opposition - and avoid the lower, plot-based structure and find root - again - in that which is character-based.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Friday Night Lights s.2 ep.5: "Let's Get It On" Wri. Patrick Massett/John Zinman, 2007

This is TV that feels good, but the reasons are sometimes cheap. Landry's pep-talk read like a script stop-gap, a more verbose version of INSERT RALLY SPEECH HERE, but I'll be damned if his gridiron heroism didn't bring a smile to my face. Alan Sepinwall details pretty thoroughly how Landry the football hero is mostly incongruent with the Landry of season one (not to mention Landry the murderer, but I'm going to stay away from that one for right now - just getting back my sea legs, no need to chase a white whale), but, again, Landry makes a great football hero. Jesse Plemons is a fine actor, and that's part of the problem. He can sell these bathetic character changes so well that the result feels real good, but the writing - at least w/r/t his character - can't really justify the end with its means. I.e. the script doesn't earn its gut punches.

Still, this is good television on the whole; there are failings here only because chances are being taken. And they're paying off in other places: while Coach Taylor's move to TMU seemed like a rethought script detour at first, the effects of his departure are starting to come to light in his marriage. This is good: what was already the best marriage on television is becoming deeper and wider, more realistic. Lila Garrity's ridiculous revivalism is presenting itself to be just another symptom of the lost and forlorn angst of late teenhood, akin to Riggins' drinking and Street's hopeless search to walk again. This is also good. Hopefully these good things continue to bloom; here's hoping we get a good resolution to this Landry/Tyra/Murder plot.

The Office, s.4ep.6: "Branch Wars" wri. Mindy Kaling, 2007

Svelte. Adheres to the classic model of The Office: Dwight and Michael act the fools; Jim plays the semi-straight guy to said fools and mugs at the camera; the A-story has relevance both locally and series-wide, maintaining immediate interest and expanding the possibilities of plot in the show; the B and C stories are funny and slight, but reveal more of the personalities of the characters involved than the audience had encountered before.

The last two bits, in particular, have been missing throughout the season. Excepting the episode from two weeks ago - "Money" - this season's plots have been reminiscent of season one, the main difference being that, instead of looking to be interminably separate, Pam & Jim here seemed to be interminably coupled. The reappearance of Karen introduced, no matter how quickly and sympathetically (and awesomely! I might add) defused by Pam, some tension into the relationship dynamic. Whether she appears again, Karen now exists within the world of the show; her presence and her and Jim's relationship must be accounted for now. I expect some tension between Jim and Pam. Also, it's nice to see a part of the corporation not attached to Ryan. His douchebaggery is, intentionally so, I imagine, a cliché. Intentioned or not, it grows tiresome and hasn't been anything but mono-dimensional.

As for the B story, the Finer Things Club is a great set-piece, especially juxtaposed against the likes of Kevin and Phyllis ("The other microwave smells like popcorn.") Pam is a fantastic character, and has really become the more interesting part of the Pam/Jim dynamic. Seeing her interact with not-Jim is always welcome. Plus, it makes the times they do interact that much sweeter. The tag, too, with Jim attempting to riff on Angela's Ashes w/ an Irish accent, is a nice reminder that Jim's humor isn't always appreciated by the other office members. All-together, great episode that proves that adherence to local convention isn't a bad thing at all.

(Wow - that was essentially Sepinwall-lite. I imagine this mandated writing will help me break free from my inspiration. At least I fucking hope it does - I may as well have ended that glossing piece of crap with a bulleted list of other things I liked. Which isn't to say Sepinwall glosses, just that my recapitulation of him is pretty facile and vapid. Sorry Al.)

25th Hour d. Spike Lee, 2002

If the "fuck-you" monologue and the coda don't give you chills, then you're a heartless sonuvabitch who doesn't have a clue how to watch a movie. This is - really - a perfect film. Really.

I [heart] Huckabees d. David O. Russell, 2004

I agree with most everything I said in my ealier review, but I don't find the humor overly bathetic this go 'round. That mud/sex scene in the middle is still unnecessarily pedantic and obnoxious, but the film works even better than I remember on the whole. I still think this film is about trying to make sense of the self, the internal, in a world where the external is pure nonsense, and I think that's an even better lick now than it was in '04. I only got two qualms: the dialog is unnecessarily cheeky at points ("Is it a crime to look at Lange?"; "Yes. No. Space, not time.") and the philosophy is possibly too self-serious.

(Possibly cause I'm not quite sure if that stuff I learned and thought about in Sophomore year is actually trite or if it's really as profound as I once thought it was. I mean, it's fully possible that the Cave and monism/dualism is really, actually hot shit.)

O Lucky Man! d. Lindsay Anderson, 1973

November is National Novel Writing Month, whence thousands of people attempt to write a novel - with no concern for quality - during the month. It's a sort of Oulipean exercise in constraints, an exercise whose singular purpose is to get one to write, just. I tried this three and, again, two years ago; I failed both times - the first found me at four pages, the second around fifteen.

I'm trying something different this November. Inspired by the profound effect that dedicated, routine writing has had on my friend Dan, and also by the really fascinating, fantastic writing of Ryland Walker Knight (who is in three of my classes this - my final - semester, and is just as intelligent, if a little less intimidating, in person as he is in print) and all the folks at The House Next Door, I'll be attempting to write about every thing I see and hear this month.

Alright, okay: not everything. My goal is to write - with length being no concern - about every film and television episode I watch. A word, a sentence, a paragraph, a thesis: length is, really, no concern. I'm frustrated with academia, with worn out posture I assume in my graded papers. I haven't used this space in a long time, and when I have the writing has been stilted and overly academic, caught in the trappings of my other life. I want - I need - to break out of that. Added to the above, these write-ups will be impromptu mostly - off the cuff, ad hoc, there will be typos and digressions and lapses in reason and argument. I've proved in academia that I can argue effectively; I need to prove to myself here that I can write something interesting. So: words about everything, no limits to length, and whatever comes to mind. Here goes:

I unabashedly love O Lucky Man!. It's the type of film that makes me fall for movies all over again, unafraid of the bits that are routinely dashed off as sophomoric devices: intertitles, audacious editing, meta-narratives, allegory, metaphor, musical interludes, and on & on. Folks say it's loosely based upon Candide, but it becomes pretty clear after 30 minutes or so that, no matter how loose the basing, Candide is the spiritual kin to this film, the out and out inspiration.

Their divergence is important, though. The eponymous hero of Candide begins as an idealist, but becomes embittered by the end of the novella; so it goes for Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell, reassuming, in name at least, his character from If....). But Candide itself operates as an ironic, political screed throughout, offering no glimmer of idealism whatsoever. O Lucky Man!, while not exactly a dose of unlaced happy pills, gives a little more credence to idealism, claiming it as an alternative to other -isms: nihilism, socialism, etc. The result isn't entirely pretty - Mick finally succumbs to that other dreaded -ism, capitalism - but it is a valid way of going.

The "devices," then, become essential: the form of the film is idealistic, exuberant about the possibilities of film. In the end, when the film wraps in on itself, introducing the making of the film itself as what the film has been about, idealism is left as a viable possibility for film, a mode of going that isn't undone; you can - the form of O Lucky Man! argues - be excited about and employ the apparently trite tropes of film. Maybe, then, film is an idealistic medium, a space wherein a Utopian world can be actuated, if not in content than at least in form.

(Got a little didactic at the end there, but I'm cool with that. This is actually a pretty good reading if you've seen O Lucky Man!. Apologies to those who haven't.)