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Dec 13/17

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The date that appears above is the date of the most recent reviews. As new reviews are added, the date will change accordingly. The new reviews will appear towards the top of the page and the older ones will move further down. When the page is closed, the items will be archived according to the final date on the page.

Reviewed here: Paterson, Logan Lucky and King Charles III (DVDs)

Paterson (DVD) written by Jim Jarmusch, with poems by William Carlos Williams and Ron Padgett; directed by Jim Jarmusch; starring Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani and "Nellie" (a dog).

Here we have a week in the life of Paterson (Adam Driver), a mild-mannered, unpretentious bus driver. The town where he lives and works is Paterson, New Jersey. (Maybe some irony or significance is intended; if so, I don’t get it.) Paterson and his sweet, doting wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), live in a crowded bungalow with their English bulldog, Marvin ("Nellie"). Everything about their lives would seem to be content and unremarkable except for two things. 1) Laura can’t stop decorating the house with wacky designs in black and white; and 2) Paterson likes to write poetry – in fact we often see him thinking about new lines while he’s steering his bus around town.

The writings mostly turn out to be love poems addressed to Laura. (Is there some significance in that name, given the person Petrarch’s great love poems were about?) Paterson’s poems – wherein feelings of love tend to arise from the contemplation of nitty-gritty aspects of life such as a box of matches – tend to follow in the genre of those by William Carlos Williams, who also happened to be a resident of Paterson, N.J. (I gather that the poems presented as Paterson’s in the movie were actually written by Ron Padgett.) Paterson jots them down in a little book that he carries with him. Laura keeps insisting that they’re great poems, that he should make photo copies of them; for some reason, he seems reluctant to do that. Too humble, maybe.

This is the kind of movie that screams loudly for you to admire its quiet, undemonstrative non-Hollywood ambiance. Paterson and Laura’s daily lives are so predictable that it’s a test of your endurance to hang out with them. Each day begins in exactly the same way, with Paterson reaching over to take his watch from the bedside table and check the time, then we see him munching his Cheerios, then he’s walking out the front door and down the sidewalk, carrying his lunch pail through the streets lined with red-brick, century-old buildings to the bus depot. Every day he asks a fellow worker, "Are you okay?" and the guy responds, "Not really." After work, we see Paterson walking back along those streets and, on arrival at his house, he takes the mail out of the mailbox that sits atop a post in front of the house, then he straightens the leaning post. After dinner he walks the dog and heads to the bar.

By the third or fourth day of this, you’re desperate for something to happen. Granted, the photography is lovely; we get contemplative shots of things like kids’ running shoes as they’re sitting on Paterson’s bus. Clearly, we’re meant to soak up the feel of the town from the conversations that Paterson overhears on the bus and in the bar. (The interaction between one man and woman there amounts to a tiresome soap opera.) For some reason or other, different sets of identical twins keep appearing in the background but I don’t know why. A weirdly sci-fi sort of music from the composer known as Sqrl permeates the proceedings.

It strikes me as a bad sign when a movie has to keep cutting to reaction shots from a dog as a way of trying to spice things up. Maybe it’s justified in this case, though, in that said dog does have a key role to play in the bit of plot that does develop. One of three little dramas that do happen towards the end of the week, the dog-related one, may seem a bit hokey to some viewers but it’s a serious matter for Paterson and it does force a change in his way of looking at his life and himself.

The only thing that matters in a movie like this, then, is whether or not you find the person at the centre of it interesting. As Paterson, Adam Driver just barely passes the test. In his impassive, stone-faced way, he does ultimately amount to an intriguing presence. You can’t help but admire the way he responds to the change that’s forced on him, even if it does adhere pretty much to the tradition of the gratifying movie ending. But is that gratification worth sitting through all the boredom?

 

Logan Lucky (DVD) written by Rebecca Blunt (thought to be a pseudonym); directed by Steven Soderbergh; starring Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Farrah MacKenzie, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, David Denman, Seth MacFarlane, Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson, Dwight Yoakam, Hilary Swank, Macon Blair.

I seem to remember hearing that this odd-ball adventure was something in the way of a new kind of caper movie that might appeal to me.

Well, it might – if I could understand more of it. Given the mumbling of the actors and their accents (it’s taking place in West Virginia and North Carolina), I could only catch about half of what was said. Maybe more of the dialogue would be intelligible if you were watching in a theatre with surround-sound, rather than on your home’s electronic entertainment system.

But I did comprehend enough to follow the basic plot line. Jimmy Logan, a divorced dad to a little girl, hasn’t accomplished much in life. He was meant to become an NFL star but nothing came of that. (A knee injury, I think). But he’s discovered an opportunity for the perfect robbery. While working with a team doing repairs on a sinkhole at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, he learned that the cash that’s taken in is delivered by pneumatic tubes (the kind they had in old time department stores) to a vault underground. The tunnel that was dug for the sinkhole repairs provides excellent access to the vault. All Jimmy has to do is round up a bunch of weirdos who happen to be experts in the required skills – explosions, computer sabotage and such – to pull off the heist during a NASCAR race.

It’s entertaining to watch how this comes about. The tactics deployed are genuinely clever – spiriting a guy out of prison, for instance, and getting him back in without anybody’s noticing. A lot of the amusement, mind you, has to do with watching Joe Bang, the jailbird in question. He’s played by none other than Daniel Craig, better known for his swanky James Bond persona. Here he’s slumming it as an old lag (as the Brits would say) with a brusque manner and a spiky white brush cut. The characterization is great but it’s hilarious to hear such a distinguished British actor trying to come up with a hillbilly accent.

Channing Tatum, in the role of Jimmy, gives us a moody, out-of-shape guy who’s far removed from the actor’s more glamorous image. The sub-plot about his little daughter’s participation in a beauty pageant has no purpose other than to show us the man’s sentimental, soulful side. As for the various women, kids and men thronging the domestic side of the movie, I never could figure out their characters or plot functions : an ex-wife? a current wife? a sister? stepkids? new husbands? And what’s with all the taunts about whether somebody is driving a V8 or a V6 car?

The concept of a bunch of bungling desperadoes is not new – it surely goes back at least as far as movies like the 1955 version of The Lady Killers but it strikes me that this is a worthy entry in the genre. And maybe there is something genuinely new in the style of the movie, in the way that it’s skimpy on narrative clarity. More like life, you might say. You do come away with a feeling of having dwelt for a little while in a world that’s real, even if it’s pretty darn odd, compared to the one you know. Some of that convincing comes from the excellent casting, even in some of the smaller roles. A prison warden, played by Dwight Yoakam, is exactly the kind of buck-passing, ass-covering small time official who could very well be the guy living with the nice wife and teenage kids in the house across the street from you.

 

King Charles III (DVD) written by Mike Bartlett (based on his stage play); directed by Rupert Goold; starring Tim Pigott-Smith, Oliver Chris, Richard Goulding, Charlotte Riley, Margot Leicester, Tamara Lawrance, Adam James, Priyanga Burford, Tim McMullan, Katie Brayben

I can’t quite decide whether or not it’s okay to concoct fictions about living members of Britain’s royal family. After all, they’re real human beings. Why should we attribute to them attitudes and behaviours that may be quite unjustified – especially when their position makes it impossible for them to defend themselves? On the other hand, it’s because of their position that speculation on their lives becomes so fascinating. Maybe the fact that they occupy such an exalted state in our society – and that their privacy is so tightly guarded – gives us the right to speculate all we like about them.

In any case, this made-for-tv movie (based on the author’s play), doesn’t focus primarily on their private lives. It’s more about politics and constitutional issues. The premise is that Queen Elizabeth II has died and Prince Charles has ascended to the throne. One important circumstance is that all the action of the movie – lasting a week or so – takes place before an actual coronation can take place. This adds a sense of urgency. The problem is that the government has passed a bill that Charles doesn’t want to sign. It’s a bill that would restrict, somewhat, the freedom of the press. The government feels that Charles should be sympathetic to such a bill, given the way that the paparazzi hounded him and Diana, but he’s refusing to give royal assent because he feels freedom of the press is absolutely necessary to democracy.

Quite a debacle ensues, with the government and the nation in turmoil over the question of what the monarch can or cannot do. It’s a great premise for a drama. Given the character of the man at the centre of it, though, I do not think it likely that Charles would ever misunderstand his role in such a way. The playwright tries to render the situation plausible by making it an issue of Charles’ sense of his own identity: if he signs a bill that he is personally opposed to, then he feels he’s a non-entity, his personhood doesn’t count for anything. That doesn’t ring true for me in the case of the man as we know him, but it does, admittedly, present an interesting crisis such as could happen in the case of another sovereign.

By way of a sub-plot that also touches on the question of press freedom, there’s Prince Harry’s affair with a black woman who has a bit of history that the media might like to exploit. That sounds ultra contemporary, but the playwright seems to be trying to distance the drama somewhat from current affairs by presenting most of the dialogue in blank verse. This reminds us that we are dealing with stately matters, not with mere finagling among ordinary human beings. The Shakespearean aura cloaks the whole affair in a solemnity that very nearly chokes the life out of things.

Perhaps that sense of high drama would be more palatable if the poetry had more of a sense of the sublime and the exquisite. What we get instead is, for the most part, ersatz Shakespeare. For instance, Kate, at one point refers to Prince William as "my nervous future king." Harry says of his girlfriend: "I do not want her noble princess made." Someone tells Charles: "You think too much on books and history." About Harry’s proposed match, Charles says: "The similarity it seems does make a match." William is warned of the possible consequences of one contemplated action: "For none that follow will be king again." We certainly can’t complain that Diana’s appearing as a ghost clashes with Shakespearean tradition, but the shtick would be more tolerable if she said something to William a little less banal than: "Such pain, my son, such heart, but now be glad/You will be the greatest king we ever had."

Lofty as the concept of the piece may be, we’re still dealing with real people, well known to the public, and we can’t help comparing the fictional versions to the real ones. The only characters who seem much like the originals are Oliver Chris as William and Margot Leicester as Camilla. Charlotte Riley looks a lot like Kate but she’s obliged to take on something of a Lady Macbeth role which, I don’t think, is fair to the former Ms. Middleton. Richard Goulding, apart from the ginger hair, seems nothing like Harry. Rather, this young man is overweight, sullen and utterly lacking in charisma. There’s no chemistry whatsoever in his relationship with his girlfriend, as played by Tamara Lawrance.

Tim Pigott-Smith gives us a Charles who is thoughtful, conscientious and polite, if a tad irritable – not unlike the man we know. At the very opening of the piece, however, the writer has Charles step away from the Queen’s funeral and address the camera, revealing his long-frustrated craving to become king. Shakespearean though that note may be, I think the writer’s going too far in suggesting that the real man might be so cravenly greedy for the crown. What's worse -- this fictional Charles has not the slightest hint of the humour which is, I think, a well known characteristic of the Prince of Wales. For that matter, this entire family is distinctly lacking in that trait. What a cheerless bunch they seem to be. But I suppose you’ve got to admit that the trouble staring them in the face isn’t exactly a laughing matter. Not with that mournful "Dies Irae" – it sounds like the John Tavener music from Diana’s funeral – droning on and on.

You can respond to: patrick@dilettantesdiary.com