Paterson (Jarmusch. 2016)

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A humble, gentle, quietly brilliant film, Jim Jarmusch’s crowd-pleaser at Cannes is an ambling, whimsical ode to blue collar America, poetry and the unassuming beauty of everyday life. A warming story of a salt of the earth bus driver who is also a poet, it’s a film that requires you to slow down and reflect.

At the centre of the story is bus driver and hobbyist poet, Paterson (Adam Driver). As low-key an artist as they get, Paterson operates the 23 bus in his home town of Paterson, New Jersey. Every day he gets up in the early hours, kisses his partner, munches down a bowl of cheerios, walks to work, does his route, comes back, walks his dog and goes to a local bar before turning in. All the while he views the world like a poem yet to be written.

It’s a film where (heaven forbid) not much really happens. Paterson’s life is not inherently intriguing, nor is his life that of a struggling artist, but the exquisiteness is found in the dissection of his 9-5. As he drives his bus, he eavesdrops on wonderful soundbites of human interaction. Teenagers discuss anarchy and two dishevelled men contemplate why they haven’t had sex with gorgeous women. Paterson observes respectfully and silently. There’s also a charming relationship Paterson shares with his girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), an eclectic, creative type with boundless amounts of energy. She bakes cupcakes, paints black and white patterns on everything and comes up with a new life-long ambition each day.

At first glance the tweeness of it all is a bit much. Paterson is good natured, his partner is good natured, even his dog is sort of good natured. However, the film side steps any over-indulgent sentimentality. A lesser film might capitalize on the adorable romance between Paterson and Laura, but Jarmusch has bigger fish to fry. Indeed, everything in this creation is about the nature of creativity in day to day lives that aren’t extraordinary. Laura and Paterson’s juxtaposing creative personalities play in to this theme then. Far from being boring and bijou, their paring is symbolic of something altogether more interesting.

A slow, sometimes even catatonic tale, Paterson is about that most intriguing subject – the artistic soul. But far from far from being absorbed by the gravity the concept might suggest, it unfolds unpretentiously and with tremendous poise.

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Café Society (Allen. 2016)

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Few people have amassed a creative portfolio the size of Woody Allen’s.  Now 80 years old, he has kept up a relentless pace, hammering out screenplays like a man who has a gun against his head. Laced with dry humour and romanticism, his films are easily recognisable as ambling tales of masculinity, love and the magic of city life. However, a director that churns out films one after another is bound to make a few stinkers. His new ode to the razzamatazz of 1930’s Hollywood and New York is relaxed, romantic and witty, but it’s not terribly memorable.

On a basic level, it’s a sort of screwball comedy harking back to films like Philadelphia with Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. A light and fluffy ride, Café Society’s narrative centres on a young Jewish man (Jesse Eisenberg) who moves to Hollywood to find a job with his big-shot uncle (Steve Carell). Falling for a young secretary played by Kristen Stewart, Eisenberg’s cynical Allen-esque character finds himself thrust into a romance full of twists and turns.

But while there are twists and turns aplenty, the film is about as deep and meaningful as the movement and people the title references. A term for the group of wealthy, glamorous socialites that descended upon the metropolitan nightclubs and music halls of the 20th century, it is referencing vanity and indulgence. And that’s Allen’s problem here. He’s made a film about shallowness and superficiality that is, in itself, shallow and superficial. Full of pretty people talking romantically to each other in a detestably fake way, the result is a bland mesh of events with no particular sense of consequence at all. You have no real understanding about the motives of Eisenberg’s character, you have no idea of his faults and not much of what he does seems to make sense. The relationships don’t seem true and the characters are boring and unimaginative.

But the truly criminal aspect of this film is the way in which it treats its female characters. This is a film about men’s relationships with women, not relationships between men and women. What Allen seems to have done is take a boring, grey-like paintbrush to every one of his female romantic interests. For all the depth that Kristen Stewart can deliver, she’s simply made into a cardboard cut-out that Eisenberg bounces off soppy, selfish declarations of love. For a character that men keep falling in love with, she’s not very interesting. She’s kicked around emotionally as well, but isn’t given the faintest glimmer of a backbone.

Bland, easy to consume and all too lacking in intrigue, Café society is an unengaging exercise in mushy Hollywood nostalgia.

The Party’s Over (Hamilton. 1965)

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Most notably remembered for helming four classic James Bond films and jumping ship before Moonraker happened, Guy Hamilton was responsible for some iconic British cinema. The Party’s Over, a heady, moody story of nihilistic London Bohemians, shows a darker side to his filmic output. A story of boozing artists and poets living on close to nothing in the Capital, it’s a morality tale about excessiveness and waste. While it was cut and censored for various reasons in 1965, the original 1963 version is an intriguing slice of British cinema.

Studying a group of young sixties revellers who smoke and drink themselves ragged, the main narrative follows the fate of a young American girl called Melina (Louise Sorel). Running from rich fiancé Carson (Clifford David), but even more trapped by the crowd of Chelsea ‘beatniks’ she falls in with, Melina finds herself in a downward spiral. When she goes missing, Carson has to do all he can to find her, navigating numerous lies from her so-called friends.

A surprisingly pessimistic and grim drama, The Party’s Over is steeped in sadness, looking at wasted youth and reassessing what the swinging sixties meant. While some might like to white wash the historic period as a time of freedom and bliss, writer Marc Behm and direct Hamilton seek to find emptiness and depression in int. The revellers drink until they pass out, have ephemeral relationships and argue with each other constantly. However, it’s not just a disparaging comment on decedent London.  Carson’s life is no better. The wealthy, straight-laced, but lonely young man has had his life set out before him by bosses and parents. His life is steady and controlled, yet leaves him bereft of any passion. Less of a condemnation of European hedonism or capitalist America, the story is more about the universal problem of finding personal value in one’s life.

The fact it is grim and pessimistic does not imply it is a slow and miserable film. In fact, it fizzes with energy and anger. Fast, unpredictable jazz music punches through the silence and the characters are aggressive, vicious people. The self-centered nihilist Moise (played by the outstanding Oliver Reed), captures the emotion of the piece. Wild eyed and vehement, he simmers with rage.

Risqué, pessimistic and downright angry, The Party’s Over is an intelligent, compact story that deserves a watch.

Network (Sidney Lumet. 1976)

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One of life’s hardest things to do is relay pure truth to another person – because what one person thinks is truth, another may not. Network is both a biting satirical comment on modern media and a study of what truth means is in the modern age. It’s a thrillingly dark story about the excesses of media and news journalism as well as how they communicate with the masses.

The main plot of news anchor Howard Beale’s (played by Peter Finch) journey to insanity at the hands of his own network is a comic but sad one, showing the chaotic, mad nature of media at its most ruthless. It also creates great parallels. On the one hand there is a man wanting to tell the truth about  the society we live in and on the other hand is a twisted, business minded body trying to profit from his opinions.

There are some great monologues amongst the chaos. Peter Finch’s famous “I’m mad as hell” speech is invigorating and powerful, running in parallel with Diane Christensen (Faye Dunaway) spouting orders to profit from his outbursts.

It’s a surreal, excessive and intelligent film. It’s a film all satirical movies should aspire to be like.