Monthly Archives: December 2016

  • Arrival Denis Villeneuve (USA 2016)

    Arrival Denis Villeneuve (USA 2016) Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

    viewed Empire Cinema Newcastle: ticket £3.95

    slush and mush

    Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival comes across as a sort of displaced Ten Commandments. It’s a new age recasting of the yearnings of ordinary folk in troubled times for a second coming: some revelatory moment that we are not alone. That there are forces greater than us abroad in the cosmos. And as middle aged men with beards like Charlton Heston are so yesterday, enter Amy Adams the new age torch bearer, the female bright eyed and bushy tailed mediator with the force.

    Given its new age ethos, from the opening shot, Villeneauve takes his lead from that master of intellectual cinematic vacuity Terrence Malick. The opening shot is of a textured surface of indeterminate colour which we struggle to understand. Our understanding is resolved as the shot tilts down to reveal that it is the ceiling of a spacious living area which is characterised by a drop dead picture window giving onto a panoramic view of a primordial lake. We know we are in a very classy abode, above the cut of the ordinary.

    But why this teasing opening tryst with the movie? Why does the film begin with a shot designed to trick its audience? Villeneuve seems to be saying from the start that this is a clever film, nothing is as it appears and he is going to do some clever stuff. So watch out! As the shot develops a voice over fades in with words that might have been written by Terrance Malick. It is the voice our protagonist, Louise Banks who immediately in that sort of knowing inflection of voice, solemnly informs us: “I used to think we were bound by time… memory doesn’t work as I used to think it did…”

    New age mumbo jumbo loves to imagine time is serious stuff but illusionary, a malleable entity. Enlightened new age beings recognise ‘linear’ time as an illusion, rigidly maintained (amongst others) by white Anglo-Saxons males. Enlightened new agers (often young women) realise time is non-linear. And of course it is easy on a non linear digital editing suite to (select clip; mark out; press key; shift clip; mark new in) to make mincemeat of time. Always remembering of course that mincemeat has many facets making it inherently prone to toxins. It is more difficult however to make mincemeat out of time as a logic. Arrival doesn’t even try to construct a temporal logic it prefers emotional logic as an easier more manipulative option. Villeneuve and his script writer go for the ‘big mac’ approach: digital mincemeat (lots of flashbacks/flashforewards whatever) served up in the mush of an emotional mayonnaise and tomato sauce in the person of Louise’s daughter, Hannah, who is the main chosen time referent. The script writer here gets so excited with himself for calling her Hannah, that he exploits this as if he were the first person to notice Hannah is a palindrome, and attaches to this awesome revelation, appropriate temporal significance (time like this palindrome Hannah goes back and forewords – get it!) .

    So we have Malick style pompous verbosity matched up with emotionally charged new age take on time. Other than that there is not much else. This is a cold movie. Deterritorialised and sanitised. Its high gloss production values give its emotional and physical moments the authenticity of a perfume advert. The acting dutifully conforming to script is wooden with the dialogue delivered formulaically. Most of the film, realised of course with all the pizzazz of the digital compositors, is second hand stuff. From Louise’s hand gestures with the aliens and the shape and look of the aliens, though to the lighting and the use of TV news monitors to feed back images of a world in panic, we have seen it all before, often done better and more originally. Lacking humour, new age doesn’t do humour very often (I don’t count Woody Allan), Villeneuve steers a po faced course back and forth through its scenario, reaching a high point of banality with a weirdly embarrassing dialogue between a Chinese War Lord ( ? General of some sort, not the premier whom in China you might expect to talk charge. I mean China is a communist country; or, has time slipped again?) and Louise, who demurs to whatever it is he says. And in the background throughout the film the army and security people sort of shuffle about the sets like robots – as they do in this kind of farrago.

    Villeneuve and script writer seem to have taken time to look at Tarkovsky’s Solaris as there are references in Arrival that echo elements of this film. The lake, the wateriness of the alien’s element and of course the theme of time. But time in Solaris, as well as having a personal also had a political signification. Tarkovsky’s concept of time was an opposition the Soviet progressive dialectic ideology. Except for the grab of a few ideas, Villeneuve seems not to have taken much from Solaris, content to make a lazy film packed out with effects to please an undemanding audience. adrin neatrour

  • Paterson Jim Jarmusch (USA 2016)

    Paterson Jim Jarmusch (USA 2016) Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani viewed: Tyneside Cinema 7th Dec
    2016: ticket £9.25

    Kup Cake Land

    Paterson is a New Jersey town, a half hour drive from New York City that was at the heart of the industrialisation of the USA. Important developments in mechanical looms, industrial lathes and guns were made here. The industrial legacy has been omitted from the film which focuses on how the baking of celebrity kup-cakes is replacing poetry by way of celebrating the existence of Paterson.

    ‘Paterson’, fronted by its eponymous lead character Paterson (Adam Driver), is Jamusch’s paean to William Carlos Williams, poet and doctor who lived and practiced in Paterson. Williams’ work, one book of which is called Paterson is often about Paterson. Williams maps out the contours of the ordinary and everyday in a manner that in part takes a lead from Japanese poetry, in particular the form of the haiku, short poetic pieces energised by surprise in antithesis.

    Viewing Jarmusch’s ‘Paterson’ raises the question as to whether the verbal imagery and signage of poetry can be meaningfully transposed to the graphic image of film. Jarmusch seems to attempt this both in structure of the movie and in the composition of some of his shots. In relation to the latter, Jarmusch uses some shots to try and render something of the sort of casual intense observation characterising Williams’ work. As when the camera at the end of a shot or a sequence comes to rest at or points at a pile of black trash bags or looks down from the point of view of Paterson, into the glass of a half drunk beer. The issue with these shots is that they come across as arbitrary rather than meaningful, denoting a script that struggles to rise above formulaic cinematic translation.

    Jarmusch structures ‘Paterson’ in a manner that is sympathetic to the way in which Williams sees the world, building in repetitions of the everyday as a poetic motif. After the opening sequences Jarmusch establishes ‘Paterson’ as a diurnal structure, subtitles burning in the day of the week. The film takes us from one Monday morning through to the following Monday morning with the action taking place within the unfolding of everyday: the getting up, the eating breakfast, the walk to work, the work place, the bus driving.

    I think that what a poet like William Carlos Williams sees is in a critical respect, under the surface of the image. His thought, a teasing attuned intelligence, uncovers aspects in life. What Jarmusch as the film maker sees, is on the surface. Williams mannered deliberated expression works as it fuses insight and image. Jarmusch’s mannered deliberate film making stays on the surface of life; unable to penetrate substance, ‘Paterson’ becomes an exercise in the stylised rendering of the material. A nod and genuflection in Williams’ direction.

    I think this is exemplified by the first poem used in the film. The words are spoken and superimposed over the picture of it being written by Paterson as he waits to take his bus out of the depot. The first line is: “We have plenty of matches in our house…” The poem describes a brand of matches and connects them to the love of his life. The problem is that no one in the movie, certainly not Laura or Paterson, uses matches. For Willaim Carlos Williams they would have been part of the fabric of life. And, for this reason matches might have given him pause. In ‘Paterson’ no one smokes, no one lights candles, the hobs don’t need candles. No one uses matches. Matches are not part of life. They are consigned to a past. The suspicion is that they are subject of Paterson’s poetry because they have a ‘cute’ value as a stylistic appropriation.

    The misfit between style and content becomes the more manifest as Jarmusch develops the character and role of Laura, who increasingly takes centre stage in the action. Laura, a character perhaps inspired by 1950’s TV sitcom, ‘I Love Lucy’, or a sort of updated Annie Hall type, increasingly dominates the movie, transforming ‘Paterson’ into an aesthetic stylised expression of suburban life. Introduced first on the conjugal bed in an overhead shot, as a sensually posed (Japanese style) composition of black flowing hair, patterned fabric and skin. From here, Laura slowly expands into ‘Paterson’. With her obsession for black and white motifs, her energy finally colonises the movie. By the time we arrive at the Kup Cake bake her stylised aesthetic has crowded out all the other strands of the movie. ‘Paterson’ recedes further into the grey as the world of the everyday is overwhelmed by Laura’s cult of can-do celebrity. The social forces retreat against the onslaught of unbridled individuality. William Carlos Williams is Kup-Caked. And in the kup-cakes, ‘Paterson’ becomes a celebration of pure contemporary Americana, a celebration of the vacuousness of individuation.

    So Jarmusch’s ‘Paterson’ turns out as allegory of these times of Trump. Old style poetry and seeing the true fade out and the venal mendacity of reality TV increases its vice grip on the psyche of America. She who shouts loudest wins. adrin neatrour