F.I.L.M. of the Week (December 29, 2016)

29 12 2016

night-on-earthMy apologies to whichever friend or professor enlightened me with the following observation; I have to give credit because it is not my own. There’s a reason why so many heated, important conversations take place in cars. The automotive space is an inescapable one for its passengers, but the tableau where all seats face forward also allows confrontations to occur with an excuse to avoid eye contact.

Before HBO’s notorious “Taxicab Confessions” explored the taxi as a conversational space, there was Jim Jarmusch’s “Night on Earth.” This astutely observed and wryly humane dark comedy is an international omnibus exploring the unexpected connections that can be made across the divide between passenger and operator. The circumstances and the outcomes change with each successive city and set of characters, but the joy of observation remains unchanged throughout my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

The segments of “Night on Earth” could easily have just amounted to a filmed version of a screenwriting challenge. (I recall one film school application I looked at requiring multiple scenes taking place in an elevator.) A shared setting may unite the vignettes, though little else does. Jarmusch begins in Los Angeles where Gena Rowlands’ wealthy passenger Victoria Snelling can never quite understand the aspirations of her driver, Winona Ryder’s Corky, to become a mechanic. He ends in Helsinki, where three ruffians allow themselves to be moved deeply by the plight of their driver. And just before that, a segment in Rome pits Roberto Benigni’s sexually frustrated cabbie against a horrified Catholic priest in a comedy reminiscent of early Woody Allen.

There’s no grand statement or thesis here. If there was, it would certainly be secondary to just taking in “Night on Earth” beat by beat with these characters. Both the journeys and the destinations are fascinating and surprising in equal measure.

REVIEW: Paterson

28 12 2016

patersonHouston Cinema Arts Festival

I suspect like many in the blogosphere, I write not for a living but because it gives me some purpose to my passion. There’s a tendency among those us who keep up such a habit to compartmentalize life into the daily, the mundane, that which pays the bills … and the time for doing what brings true, deep, intrinsic satisfaction. These dual spheres are seemingly always battling for influence, the ideal scenario being one where the time allotted to one’s avocation can supersede that given to their vocation.

With his latest narrative film “Paterson,” however, writer/director Jim Jarmusch envisions a different way. His subject, Adam Driver’s Paterson, is a bus driver by trade in the carcass of the old industrial town of Paterson, New Jersey. Not for a second do we pity what appears on the surface to be a humdrum existence. It’s the presence of a steady routine – his morning mosey to work, his regular route, his late night dog walks, his quiet evening grabbing drinks at the bar – that allows him the headspace to write great poetry. In the absence of disruption or chaos in his life, Paterson can easily nestle his calling within his career.

This does not mean that Paterson skips merrily to get behind the wheel each day. His face lights up at any occasion to discuss poetry or writing, and such animation is hardly ever visible when he dons a stoic expression to face down another day of his regular routine. Paterson does not so much resign himself to this fate as he makes peace with it, and 2016’s struggling artists in films from “La La Land” to “Don’t Think Twice” as well as “Maggie’s Plan” would be wise to take a page from his playbook. In his own way, he has found contentment and seems quite happy with it.

Foil that with Paterson’s girlfriend, Golshifteh Farahani’s warmly supportive Laura, who appears allergic to anything resembling order or stability in her schedule. “Paterson” follows a little over a week with these characters, and no day is ever the same for her. She’s always following a new whim or passion, never fully gratified by her last pursuit. She can create cute tchotchkes, perhaps, but she moves too fast to notice the vibrant life surrounding her. Thanks to Jarmusch’s understated but steady vantage point into their world, we get to notice the unexpected virtue of stability and the joy that comes from having the perception to notice the variations and deviations that break up the monotony. A-3halfstars

F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 22, 2014)

22 08 2014

As I said in my review of “Only Lovers Left Alive,” I have not seen enough of Jim Jarmusch’s work to make a definitive statement as to whether or not he is a great director. But I have seen Jarmusch’s 2005 Cannes prize winner “Broken Flowers,” which is enough to inform me that he has at least one great film to his name.

This dryly humorous pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” is second wave Bill Murray at his best (yes, even better than “Lost in Translation“).  He seems to have reached a status where he seems to reject the need for validation through actively courting our laughs, instead just allowing the comedy arise naturally from the events.  Murrray can then just sit back, maintain a stolidly unruffled facade, and just let the bizarre run-ins of “Broken Flowers” guide his reactions.

In the film, Jarmusch casts him as an aging Don Juan – appropriately named Don Johnston – served with a letter that suggests he fathered a child 19 years prior.  Don would be content to never investigate any further, but his inquisitive neighbor Winston (Jeffrey Wright) insists that he go visit the potential mothers.  So, in a sort of inverted “Mamma Mia,” Don takes off on a series of painfully awkward encounters with former lovers.

The parade of women, including Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, and Tilda Swinton, always entertains.  But Jarmusch isn’t just wheeling out stereotypes or stock characters.  “Broken Flowers” takes each of these women and sets them on an unpredictable but well-imagined path after their split with Don.  It can’t help but raise the question of what exactly his effect on these women was.

To say too much more of what each woman brings to the film is to spoil the fun.  But just dive head first into “Broken Flowers” for off-beat fun throughout and a startling conclusion that packs an unexpected punch.

REVIEW: Only Lovers Left Alive

18 08 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive posterCannes Film Festival – Official Selection, 2013

I’ve listened to countless interviews with James Gray about his film “The Immigrant,” so many that I can’t pair a quote with a particular interview and thus cite it correctly.  But in one talk about filmmaking in general, Gray talked about how great directors are effective at conveying mood.

I haven’t seen enough of Jim Jarmusch’s filmography to make a definitive statement about whether or not he is a great director.  But I have seen his latest film, “Only Lovers Left Alive,” and I can say that simply because it has control of mood does not make it a great film.  Jarmusch favors ambiance over story development to a fault in his film that probably had its proper title, “Modern Vampires of the City,” stolen by Vampire Weekend’s latest album.

The film comes from an original screenplay by the director, and it certainly earns points for being clever.  “Only Lovers Left Alive” runs in a different direction with the current vampire fad,  portraying the bloodsuckers as hipsters hiding out in the latest haunt.  When we catch up with Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton’s immortal lovers, wittily named Adam and Eve, he has shacked up in Detroit while she’s hanging in Tangiers.

It’s undeniably entertaining to get immersed in the distinctive universe Jarmusch has them inhabiting.  Watching them figure out how to get the blood they need to survive is cheeky fun, as is the creative ways they choose to consume it.  Not to mention, their demeanors and attitudes are so unexpected that it can’t help but be attention-grabbing.  (Hearing them name-drop some of their famous friends makes for a good chuckle, too.)

Read the rest of this entry »