Tag Archives: Paterson

London Film Festival 2016: Day 5

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by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Regular followers of my work, whether that be written articles found on my site (callumpetch.com), my former Hullfire Radio show Screen 1, or here on Failed Critics, will likely be aware that I really don’t like costume dramas.  It’s not for a lack of trying, mind you; I don’t automatically become actively contemptuous and roll my eyes heavily whenever I spy a costume drama that I’m going to have to watch.  I just really don’t like them.  They’ve basically never grabbed me, whether they be classics of the genre like the BBC’s version of Pride and Prejudice, or modern critical darlings like Thomas Vinterberg’s adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd, or just apparently enjoyable fluff like Carey Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre adaptation.  I try so very hard to be interested, hooked, engaged… yet I inevitably get sent to sleep by them, and that’s not an exaggeration.  I find the dialogue to be alternately impenetrable and nowhere near as witty as it thinks it’s being, I find the conflicts to be far too insufferable upper-class-wankery to be able to get invested, the pacing to be unreasonably slow, and most all of them carry this air of self-importance to their own existence that keeps me at arm’s length at all times.

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I tell you this so that you can adequately understand just how much I love Terrence Davies’ A Quiet Passion (Grade: A-); that even I, a hardcore costume drama sceptic, could fall effortlessly in love with this absolutely phenomenal biopic of Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon).  Of course, that’s probably because it steers clear of the typical costume drama problems, as well as the typical biopic problems; dressing itself up in that 18th Century upper-class English garb despite being set in 19th Century America and telling a story with issues specific to that time but free from the usual bourgeois un-relatable frivolity that turns me off of these sorts of movies.  This is a film that is far less interested in Dickinson as a poet and far more in Dickinson as a person – her complicated relationship with faith and the 19th Century’s hardline Christianity, her fears of death and mundanity, of a life unfulfilled, the difficulty of being an outspoken woman even when surrounded by supposedly supportive family, the condescension she received for trying to be a female artist, and how loneliness and self-loathing can curdle into bitterness and outward hatred.

It moves at a measured pace but avoids tipping over into slowness.  Whole months can suddenly pass without any prior warning, Emily continues to write but often makes no further progress in stature as a poet – late on in the film, she mentions having had 11 poems at most published at that late point in her life – her days empty and unfulfilling as friends come and go, family members marry or depart, and Emily slowly becomes more reclusive and difficult for people other than her sister Lavina (Jennifer Ehle) to be around.  It’s something that becomes really affecting the longer the film runs for, the viewer slowly acclimating to the fact that Emily, in life at least, ultimately became and lived the very life she was so afraid of succumbing to.  It’s hard, but truthful, like the Brontë works that Emily admires yet are written off by male tastemakers out-of-hand as worthless trash that grab the heart but not the memory, and that’s what makes the film hit.  Davies’ script is brilliant, but it’s also often a very light thing, which I don’t mean as an insult.  It’s genuinely witty, highly quotable, and manages to craft a great complex sketch of its subject.

That complexity then ends up being wonderfully realised by a revelatory Cynthia Nixon.  She’s bitingly witty in ways that are hilarious and hurtful.  She’s clearly wracked with great pain and aching desire, the kind where you want to give her a great big hug and tell her it’s all going to be alright, but it’s the kind of pain that’s deep-seated and toxic, where she wants intimacy but can’t stop herself from pushing away anybody who gets too close.  She’s not always likeable, but she’s always sympathetic, and this herculean work by Nixon is what helps elevate A Quiet Passion into being one of the year’s best films.  It’s immensely entertaining viewing, captivating and measured without becoming ponderous and glacial, witty and sophisticated but also heartbreaking and solemn, of a time yet universal in its relatability.  Quietly brilliant and loudly phenomenal at the same time; Emily Dickinson could not have received a more fitting movie.

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Conveniently, or possibly rather shrewdly on the part of festival programmers, the other big film screened today, Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson (Grade: B/B+), is also a measured character study about a creatively unfulfilled poet, this one played by Adam Driver.  Paterson (Driver) lives in Paterson, New Jersey with his loving wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) and their bulldog Marvin, and works as a bus driver.  His real passion appears to be writing poetry, poetry that he’s really good at, but he resists labelling himself as a poet and, in fact, refuses to show anyone his book of poems despite the urgings of Laura.  He goes through life following the exact same daily routine, living modestly and quietly and never really doing much of consequence, as we see through the one week of his life that the film covers.

Paterson doesn’t say much, and we don’t get to see inside of him that much, but one gets the sense that, despite his claims that he’s content with his lot in life, he’s deeply unhappy with much of it.  Or, at the very least, that he’s unfulfilled with the direction his life is going in.  Laura appears to feel similarly, but where Paterson’s unspoken unfulfilment leads to him sheltering his creative output to the rest of the world, Laura instead throws her energy behind 20 different things at once – interior decorating, cupcake making, learning the guitar so she can become a world-famous country singer – hoping that at least one of them sticks and brings the validation she so desperately craves.  It’s a study of two people who don’t know what they want but do know that, aside from each other (as the film never once hints that they are anything other than deeply in love with one another), what they do want is not this.

As somebody who himself has been struggling lately with uncertainty and anxiety over not knowing exactly what it is he actually wants in life, Paterson frequently managed to strike a genuine chord with me, but maybe not enough for me to become as enthusiastic about it as I was with A Quiet Passion.  It’s a very dry and introspective film, sometimes too much for its own good due to just how hard it is to get much of a read on Paterson himself.  That said, it also possesses a sardonic wit and sense of humour about itself that manifests itself in often unexpected but incredibly funny ways, as the film finds the funny in the mundane weirdness that can occur in your day-to-day life.  Driver is really good, but I was more impressed by Farahani and her effortlessly charming and lived-in performance, and the pair have a wonderful sweet chemistry together that re-routes the film every time it threatens to meander off the tracks.  It’s very Jarmusch, to reduce things to their bluntest terms, so your enjoyment will vary depending on your prior tolerance for Jarmusch films.  As for me, I was engaged more often than not, and there are some moments of genuine profundity in here.

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My journeys into the realm of getting press or rush tickets for public screenings have been wildly hit-and-miss so far, with the surprising find of the vital Chasing Asylum and the expectation-exceeding Christine being followed up by the sadly disappointing Jewel’s Catch One and, now, the nasty and awful Chameleon (Grade: D-).  The debut feature from writer-director Jorge Riquelme Serrano and playing in competition, Chameleon follows a bickering lesbian Chilean couple, Paula (Paula Zúñiga) and Pauli (Paulina Urrutia), the day after they host a going-away party for Paula, who is moving to London for a job.  They wake up, shower, clean up the house, have a bicker about leaving the taps running, and then the doorbell rings.  It’s a handsome young man (Gastón Salgado) who was a friend of a friend’s at their party last night, and he’s brought glasses and wine to make up for said friend supposedly acting like a jackass.  Paula invites him in but is suspicious.  His story sounds shady, he seems really interested in ploughing the ladies with wine, and he doesn’t seem to get the hint during much of Pauli and Paula’s bickering that he needs to leave.

Then things get nasty.  There’s the germ of an interesting movie in here – particularly since the director clarified in the post-film Q&A that it was made in response to the disproportionately high rate of violence against women in Chile – but the way that Chameleon goes about it is in the nastiest, ugliest manner possible.  If the film removed the open nastiness for something more subtle and unsettling, or chose to dive deep into examining why the man does what he does, then maybe the film could have had something.  Instead, the more unsettling moments of gaslighting and emotional manipulation are undercut by extended sequences of sudden extreme violence, forced-drugging, and some good-old-fashioned rape for good measure.  The film also fails to find anything to say about the subject beyond “random violence by monstrous men is a thing that happens,” and that’s nowhere near as unique an insight as Serrano seems to believe it is.

But it doesn’t stop there, either.  For one, this is somehow the third film I’ve seen in as many days whose attempts to challenge our preconceptions about rape and the issue of consent turn out to be, “But what if the woman WANTED to be raped?” and maybe we should just stop men from writing stories about rape for the time being.  (Side note: that sentence is actually unnecessarily reductive and harsh to Elle, which I think handled this complex and provocative idea somewhat well, but dear lord do I need that film to come out so I can actually talk about it with other people.)  Whilst for two, the film opens and briefly flashes back to the young man performing the same sort of routine on the gay man he attended the unseen party with, and although the film and the director refute him being so, this ends up leading to the film tracking in some of the harmful stereotypes of depraved bisexuals that I, someone who identifies as bisexual himself, am just so sick and tired of seeing in the media, especially since much of his treatment of his victims carries sexual undertones on his part.

The only thing that saves Chameleon from being an utterly disgusting disgrace is the fact that it at least has the common sense to realise that what is happening is disturbing and unconscionable, and doesn’t intentionally become exploitative garbage.  But the longer it runs on for, the clearer it becomes that there is no point being made here, and that there being no point being made is not intentional.  If it were more like the underseen Compliance or Michael Haneke’s original Funny Games, Chameleon may have been salvageable.  Instead, I do not blame the drove of people who walked out just prior to the hour mark.  The only reason I stayed myself was due to my principle of never walking out of a movie, and even I have to question whether that was worth it.

Day 6: Amy Adams makes first contact as Denis Villeneuve follows up the instant classic Sicario with Arrival.

Callum Petch knows you’ve always had a feather head.  You can usually find him at callumpetch.com!  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Vancouver International Film Festival 2016

Our Vancouver-based writer, Nicholas Lay (of In Layman’s Terms), recently found himself in the midst of the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival. Here, he rounds up seven of the more intriguing pictures featured this year…

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Drama / Gangster

Director: Chung Mong-hong

Country of Origin: Taiwan

As an avid lover of classic Hong Kong cinema, the news that comedy legend Michael Hui (of the Hui brothers) was starring in Taiwanese director Chung Mong-hong’s new gangster flick, AND that said gangster flick was playing at VIFF, meant it was almost inevitable that Godspeed would be the first ticket I purchased at the festival this year.

A purveyor of satirical, character-driven comedy since the 1980s, Hui’s wise-but-cynical cab driver spins Mong-hong’s winding yarns into dry, droll gold as he and his companion, the wonderfully blank Na Dow, cruise down to southern Taiwan in order for the latter to perform the sort of drug deal we all know is going to go badly wrong.

Godspeed won’t be for everyone, but if you’re in the foreign language market for a violent, darkly humorous, subtle technical achievement (Nagao Nakashima’s ranging cinematography is gorgeous at times), then definitely make a note of this one for later.

Watch the trailer here.


Hello Destroyer

Drama

Director: Kevan Funk

Country of Origin: Canada

Without doubt the most depressing film I’ve seen this year (seriously), Kevan Funk’s debut feature, Hello Destroyer, is a bleak, painfully frank examination of the cycle of violence forever present at the heart of Canada’s national pastime.

Flirting with the blurred boundaries of an enforcer – regardless of the level the game is played at – the focus is Tyson Burr, an up-and-coming rookie riding the only talent he has ever been pushed to develop in the hope that, one day, his career may reach the pinnacle that is the NHL. Instead, one overly zealous decision, one single product of the nurturing he has received at the hands of the system; sees him gradually nudged back toward the cold, hard reality of the small town BC life he so desperately wants to escape.

The excruciating, systematically ruthless descent of Tyson as both a hockey player and a human being is ramped up by Funk’s intense style and a haunted, empathy-inspiring turn by Jared Abrahamson.

Trailer yet to be released.

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In a Valley of Violence

Western

Director: Ti West

Country of Origin: USA

Those who’ve seen writer/director Ti West’s acclaimed micro-budget horror flick, The House of the Devil, will be familiar with his ability to transform a basic premise, a limited cast, a lead character who spends a large portion of time on their own, and plenty of glorious homage-paying into a workable, enjoyable picture. Finally moving away from horror, West turns his eye to the old school Western.

In a Valley of Violence follows a similar pattern to The House of the Devil, and certainly lives up to its name; as West holds nothing back in this backwater tale of fully justified (trust me, you’ll agree) revenge. Ethan Hawke stars as the wandering gunslinger, while John Travolta makes a random, but welcome appearance as the local Marshal.

There’s nothing all too groundbreaking about the film as a whole, but it looks great and West’s writing – particularly the comedy – is strong, as is the timing provided it by his cast. The modern subtext, deliberate or not, of Hawke’s character’s past and the small town setting – like recent neo-Western, Hell or High Water – is equally as interesting, but, if I’m being honest, the highlight is one hundred percent the quite marvellous canine performance of Hawke’s trusty mutt, Abbie.

Watch the trailer here.


Moonlight

Drama

Director: Barry Jenkins

Country of Origin: USA

Riding into town on the crest of the TIFF hype wave, Moonlight became one of the higher profile features at VIFF, due to the elevated levels of chat it enjoyed in advance. A moving journey along the path of one young man’s lifelong struggle as a black homosexual, trying to find his place in a forgotten, poverty-ridden corner of modern America; Moonlight is a highly relevant commentary on the stereotypes and social injustice that still plague a great number of people far more often than the odd flash on the news many of us are privy too.

Writer/director Barry Jenkins visual eye contrasts the striking and peaceful with the deliberately claustrophobic. One could argue he goes a tad overboard with the odd “artsy” sequence here and there, but it’s a minor complaint.

Featuring solid performances from the well arranged ensemble cast, Moonlight is more a conveyance of intriguing, vital subject matter than a “great” film. In these uncertain times, however, it certainly deserves a watch.

Watch the trailer here.

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Paterson

Drama / Comedy

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Country of Origin: USA

Without question the highlight of my VIFF experience this year, Jim Jarmusch’s week-in-the-life of Adam Driver’s bus driving, poetry-composing lead character, Paterson, who lives in the town of Paterson, NJ, is a both a study, and itself a triumph of nuanced creativity, set against the mundane nature of everyday life.

Jarmusch has always been an unconventional filmmaker (in case you’re unaware, one of his films stars Forest Whitaker as a modern day, urban samurai and mafia guardian angel – and it is awesome), and Paterson is no exception to his repertoire. Pulling us in close to his characters’ eccentric normalness with a tight script and beautiful direction, Jarmusch masterfully sets up sequences of tension and relief that are clearly trivial in the grand scheme of things, but genuinely have you on the edge of your seat in the world of Paterson and Co. Moment after moment of sly comedic genius compliments such an approach, with everything from ordinary background objects, to the slightest facial reaction of our lead character playing a part alongside the amusing, dialogue-driven interactions that sustain his various relationships.

Driver, whose career goes from strength to strength, spearheads a top notch cast opposite Goldshifteh Farahani, with further stellar canine involvement (a running theme at VIFF) and a brief, but memorable cameo from Method Man, as Jarmusch revisits the Wu-Tang connection he established years back on Ghost Dog (which, if you’re yet to Google it, is the Forest Whitaker flick mentioned above).

Watch the trailer here.


Under the Shadow

Horror

Director: Babak Anvari

Country of Origin: UK / Jordan / Qatar

We often speak of the literal horrors of war, but rarely does the field of cinematic horror find itself in the midst of the battlefield. Iranian writer/director Babak Anvari sets out to change that with his subtext-layered, Under the Shadow; set beneath the harrowing barrage of Iraqi bombs raining down upon Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war.

The standard premise of a mother and daughter haunted in their own home is given a new lease of life by the backdrop of war, as Anvari dances on our nerves with a tightly wound depiction of his characters’ increasingly desperate predicament. The horror is both further emphasised and enhanced due to the depressingly intriguing military, political, and social quandaries faced by our two lead characters throughout.

Aided by standout performances from Narges Rashidi and Avin Manshadi, Anvari has fired the gun on adding an extra layer or two to the usual jump-punctuated screamfest formula.

Watch the trailer here.

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Weirdos

Drama / Comedy

Director: Bruce McDonald

Country of Origin: Canada

Balancing out Hello Destroyer’s dark take on small town life north of the border; Weirdos is veteran director Bruce McDonald’s black and white throwback to the folksy, teen-dream Canadian road trips of the mid-70s.

A true coming-of-age tale, Daniel Maclvor’s witty script follows Kit (Dylan Authors) and his girlfriend, Alice (a breakout performance by Julia Sarah Stone), as they seek out his metaphorically long-lost mother (Molly Parker, House of Cards) across the province of Nova Scotia. Rebellious teenagers having their insular, cherry-picked ambitions dashed on a regular basis is hardly anything new, but McDonald’s comforting sense of awkward calm ultimately succeeds in providing the heartwarming sense of hope necessary to bring the picture full circle.

One of the highlights of VIFF 2016, Weirdos is a softly spoken ride that does its best to convince you that, in the end, everything will be all right.

Trailer yet to be released.