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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Thoughts on Paterson

    
Paterson is a 2016 film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, and starring Adam Driver as Paterson, a poet/bus driver who lives in Paterson, New Jersey. The film chronicles one week in the life of Paterson, and combines the routine of Paterson’s working-class life with the thoughtful interactions that he has with everyday people in his town. The film has a mellow pace to it, yet is filled with a lot of richness of characterization of the people of Paterson, NJ, and how Paterson’s poetry is infused by his observance of listening to fragmented conversations on the bus and noticing small details in life.



    Paterson lives with his girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) and their grumpy bulldog Marvin in a small and modest house. Paterson’s life is organized by his daily routine: he eats Cheerios in a glass, he walks to work with his metal lunchbox containing a sandwich made by Laura; he works on his poetry in his bus driver’s seat at the depot; he drives his route and listens to passengers’ conversations; he adjusts the ever-tilting mailbox at home (a running joke that has a wonderfully funny payoff); he listens to Laura’s stories about her day as an ever-creative artist with new passions (learning guitar to become a country star, making cupcakes for the weekend’s farmer’s market, painting the house interior black-and-white patterns); and he takes Marvin on his nightly walk and has a beer at the local bar, soaking in the conversations of the patrons around him.

    What makes the film special is that Paterson, as a quiet and reserved man, is truly fascinated by people, and the film highlights a lot of funny and touching moments of the Paterson locals, whose human interactions are interesting slices of life. There are the two construction workers on the bus trying to impress each other with stories of pretty girls flirting with them; a spunky little girl waiting for her mom and sharing her poem “Water Falls” with Paterson, written in her pink secret diary; a despondent young man at the bar trying to win back his uninterested ex-girlfriend; Paterson’s boss, an Indian man named Donny resigned to listing the many complaints of his family life and financial stresses (“My kid needs braces on her teeth, my car needs a new transmission job, my wife wants me to take her to Florida, but I’m behind on the mortgage payments . . .”), but waving away any sympathies with “It’s my life and my problems,” and the local bartender Doc, who plays chess against himself and celebrates Paterson’s history through putting up photos and news clippings of local Paterson legends, like Lou Costello and William Carlos Williams.

   
Paterson prefers having a set routine because it allows his mind to relax and pay attention to local life, and he enjoys predictability. It is a great contrast to Laura, an Iranian woman who makes her life at home as an artist, and is frequently finding new passions to express her creativity through. She is fascinated by patterns of black-and-white colors, and will design those patterns in her dresses, her cupcakes, her guitar, the walls, and the tile. There is a lovely sign of the two of their passions combining through seeing Paterson’s poetry written on the cupboards with her painted patterns on the walls around them. She is an optimistic and shining young woman, and Paterson writes poetry about her, titling one poem “Love Poem,” about their shared interest in Ohio Blue Point matches because of its blue and white design and the durability of the matchbox, with the lettering arranged like a megaphone, announcing its greatness. He later writes another poem, addressing her as “Pumpkin,” and saying that even though he thinks about other girls, that “if you ever left me, I would tear out my heart.” They are different in their approaches to the world, but complement each other through their simple tastes and their shared artistry.

    There is a motif of twins seen throughout the film. Laura expresses to Paterson that she dreamed that they had twins, and Paterson encounters sets of identical twins at the bar, on the bus, and on his way to work. It is an interesting recurring theme, that likely has deeper resonance than I can imagine for now.

    Laura wants to be a country star (Laura: “Nashville, here I come!” Paterson: “Look out, Nashville.”) to realize her dream of being a creative artist, with her own distinct style (“Like Patsy Cline or Tammy Wynette, but my own thing”), and she encourages Paterson to share his poetry with the world, and to realize that he is a poet first, not only known as a bus driver. Paterson is hesitant, because he sees his work as private, and his own personal artistry. He looks up to William Carlos Williams, who lived in Paterson and wrote about it, but doesn’t see himself as following in the same legacy.

    The film is beautifully shot by Frederick Elmes (Wild at Heart, Night on Earth, Coffee and Cigarettes), with a lot of scenes shot in a clear, open simplicity. One overhead shot of a dinner of cheddar and Brussel Sprouts pie is reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s staging of film scenes like picture books, while another shot of Marvin sitting in the doorway of a laundromat listening to a rapper (in a charming cameo by Method Man) working out a verse while doing his laundry has a funny and sweet quality to it. The editing by Affonso Goncalves (True Detective, Only Lovers Left Alive) is crisp, and there are great moments with Paterson listening to passengers’ conversation where he looks amused and interested in people’s stories, and it almost feels like he wants to join in on the conversation, but cannot because of professional boundaries. The editing in those sequences does make it feel more inviting to the viewer, both with the passengers’ talk and Paterson’s reactions.

    Jim Jarmusch’s talent in filmmaking is in letting a scene breathe, and not putting in a lot of jump-edits or forced drama for climatic effect. His films are often quiet and funny, showing interesting aspects in everyday life, as seen in the taxicab encounters in Night on Earth, Bill Murray’s reunions with his ex-girlfriends to find the mother of his son in Broken Flowers, Forest Whitaker’s adherence to the ancient samurai code as an assassin in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, and the short film vignettes of diner scenes in Coffee and Cigarettes. He brought out touching and heartfelt performances from Driver and Farahani, who have great chemistry together as a charming and modest couple living a happy life together in Paterson. As Paterson writes, “Beauty is found in the smallest details.” It is truly a wonderful film, and one I highly recommend seeing.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Thoughts on Only the Young

I went to the Moving Image museum last Sunday to see a 2012 documentary called Only the Young, directed by Elizabeth Mims and Jason Tibbet, about skater teen kids coming of age in a rural California town. It was just 70 minutes long, but felt fuller, about kids who are dealing with on and off romantic feelings, struggling with their family's financial situations, figuring out what to do after high school, and hanging out in abandoned areas around town and skating and playing around.

It was a lovely little movie about endearing and slightly immature kids, and what was interesting to me was that the kids were all devout Christians, despite appearing as punk rock skater kids. They never cursed, smoked, or drank (granted, they just might be smart enough not to do it on camera), and were straight-edge punk skaters while talking about loving Jesus Christ and putting The Lord first. They weren't evangelical or preachy about it, they just were connected to their religious faith while doing skateboarding tricks and wearing Minor Threat and Black Flag t-shirts. It was an unusual but interesting complexity in the kids.

I was also struck by the teen girl Skye, who had a tomboyish charm to her, and was struggling between having romantic feelings for her friend/ex-boyfriend Garrison, having a dad in prison, being raised by her ailing grandparents, and learning the truth about her thought-dead mother. She was a girl who showed an incredible amount of strength and maturity in facing tough issues in life at 17, and I hoped that she would go far in her life.

Also, this documentary was produced by Oscilloscope Laboratories, which Adam Yauch co-founded, and this came out the year he died, so he likely optioned this in part of being supportive of seeing young creative punk kids like he once was.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Thoughts on Christmas, Again

I enjoyed seeing a 2014 indie movie at the Moving Image museum today, called Christmas, Again, written/directed by Charles Poekel. It was a little movie about a quiet guy who works a seasonal job selling Christmas trees on the streets of NYC and living in his trailer. The guy's regular job is doing construction in upstate NY, and he is just this chill, solitary guy who ekes out a living working the night shift, sells his trees, oversees his day shift workers, and then moves on when Christmas Day hits.

There isn't a big plot to it, it is more of a slice of life film about an ordinary guy, and there isn't some big revelation or character change. The audience only gets hints of his backstory (a possible ex-girlfriend who worked with him last year), he deals with random customers who range from nice to picky to curious to skeptical, saying stuff like "Do you have the Obama tree from Ohio?" or "Do women like Douglas fir or Balsam fir better?" It is an interesting perspective to see life from a street tree seller, especially when hanging out all night in the cold waiting for sales to happen.

He helps out a drunk girl who passed out on a park bench by letting her sleep in his trailer, she comes by the next day with a blueberry pie to thank him, and in a romantic comedy, this would turn into a love story, but it isn't. He doesn't try to save her from her problems, and she tries to talk to him but he is nice but emotionally distant. They are just two people who barely know one another's names, only see each other a few times as friendly strangers, spend some time delivering trees on Christmas Eve, and they never see each other again. It isn't a romance, nor does it feel like two lonely people seeking solace in each other, more so just two strangers who crossed paths briefly.

Kentucker Adley, who played the lead Noel (and his name is briefly commented on as a Christmas reference) was really great at playing a quiet guy whose emotions of melancholy and kindness and loneliness played over his face without backstory or much explanation. I thought he resembled Charlie Day a little, and kept imagining Day being able to pull off a sweet blue collar character like this, without the psychotic tendencies of Charlie Kelly's outbursts.

It was a lovely little movie, and I am glad I saw it.

Thoughts on Loving

I enjoyed seeing Loving yesterday. It was a quiet drama, written and directed by Jeff Nichols, about a real-life 1960s interracial couple who were jailed and kept out of their home state of Virginia because they snuck off to get married in D.C. (Interracial marriages were not allowed in Virginia). They still kept sneaking back in, sometimes living pretty openly with their families, and eventually took their case to the Supreme Court and won, making interracial marriages legal nationwide. I thought it was interesting how they were civil rights activists, but did not see themselves as that, as they just wanted a peaceful life together, and let their lawyer handle the case in court.

Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga were both wonderful as the Lovings, a chill rural couple who lived in an integrated town and were sweet with one another. They fit together with his reserved and sort of gruff persona and her kind and introverted personality. I liked their families, and how the two families were so close and like a big blended family.

There were some jokes about Richard Loving "forgetting" that he was white, as he had so many black friends, as well as a serious mention of Mildred's sister blaming him for marrying her out of state and getting her kicked out of state and away from family, a not-subtle hint of the white man ruining their lives.

One criticism that I had was that I occasionally had trouble understanding what Edgerton was saying as Richard Loving, as he spoke with a low mumbling voice a la Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain.

Ruth Negga has these huge eyes that, while her character's story is already sympathetic, makes her even more of a sweet and endearing character, like so much of her story was told through her kind eyes.

But I thought it was interesting that the Lovings did not attend their Supreme Court case, and the film largely showed them at home, and didn't show the court trials aside from a brief snippet, to keep the film in their POV at home, and not turning it into a courtroom drama with lawyer speeches. That was an interesting change of pace in a film that is centered on a groundbreaking legal case.

This was a really good indie drama, and I am glad I saw it.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Martin Scorcese Exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image

There is a great exhibition on Martin Scorcese's life and films that just opened at the Museum of the Moving Image. This is a picture of Scorcese's parents' dining room table and of them being interviewed in a documentary about Italian-American life that he directed in 1974.




I really enjoyed the exhibit. There were a lot of people there, and the first half hour was a breakfast reception of coffee and bagels for members before they opened up the exhibition. I really felt happy looking at an exhibit of film and NYC and Italian-American culture, not even just about Scorcese himself. I wish I could work at the museum, I felt just happy as a cinephile and seeing the props and notes and set photos and stuff.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Thoughts on Die Hard

I saw Die Hard at the Moving Image museum last weekend. It was a lot of fun to watch a masterpiece onscreen, to laugh and clap along with the audience (clapping at Alan Rickman and Reginald VelJohnson's entrances, the yippie ki-yay line), seeing the film as a crackly old print instead of a clean remastered version, noticing smaller details, like foreshadowing moments, the camera doing a slow pan over Holly's family photos to reveal John as her husband, Karl's growing bloodthirs...ty quest for revenge on John killing his brother, Ellis being high on coke during his scenes, the ways in which Gruber stayed cool as the police were outside, and how Rickman couldn't keep his real accent from coming in, he just barely sounded German.

I did wish that they did a little more with Al Leong, as he doesn't do much besides swipe a candy bar and shoot people, and he gets killed very easily. I also thought that Theo was the only surviving thief, as he doesn't kill anyone, he is the computer hacker, and he is alive when Argyle punches him out.

I kept getting psyched during the movie, and had to keep myself from reciting lines out loud (under my breath, I was reciting along with Al Powell's Twinkie scene, until I saw that the guy next to me was looking at me). I love how a lot of the minor characters get a memorable moment, and the movie is insanely quotable. It is just a fantastic movie overall.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Thoughts on Arrival

I really liked Arrival a lot, directed by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario, Incendies) and based on the short story "Story of Your Life" by Tony Chiang. It was a thoughtful movie about communication, humanity, and language. It had a slow build to it that made it intriguing to watch, and Amy Adams radiated compassion, intelligence, and curiosity in her performance as a linguistics professor trying to communicate with the language of aliens who have arrived on Earth. I really liked a bit when she tells the government people why she can't just straightaway ask the aliens what their purpose is on Earth, because she has to teach them what a question is, what the parts of speech mean, and what purpose means. It is a movie about aliens arriving on Earth, but not like an invasion movie a la Independence Day, more like Contact or Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The last third was a bit of a trip, as I could think of a couple of different interpretations of the ending, and I don't know which one is accurate. Throughout the film, Adams' character is mourning the death of her teen daughter, and flashbacks come back to her, causing her grief and PTSD. There was more significance beyond it, regarding her communication with the aliens, but I didn't fully understand it. It is a film I would definitely watch again.