Hard Stares

Paddington 2 (Paul King, 2017)

And inevitably — for reasons that need not detain us — I was looking back to all those long drives to holiday destinations and family in the north east, and the five tapes that passed the time: two Winnie the Pooh, two Paddingtons and a Beatrix Potter. The first two (four) were the loved ones, sharing Bernard Cribbins as a reader. And I’m pretty sure that the first theatre I saw, aside from panto, were adaptations. I’m not sure why I missed the first movie — feeling some trepidation — but I could see Ben Wishaw would be perfect for the voice.

As far as I can recall, with the exception of Paddington Abroad, the books were all short stories: Paddington would attempt to do something (sell Mr Curry a vacuum cleaner) and it would go wrong (Mr Curry had no mains electricity), but everything would turn out ok. There would be a visit to Mr Gruber and sticky buns and there’d be a hard stare. I think I have about ten books, Armada Lions, battered and fading orange.

But here we need a feature length narrative: Paddington saving up money to buy a rare pop up book of London for his Aunt Lucy’s hundredth birthday. Only someone else is after the book and will stop at nothing to get it.

In a prologue, we learn that Paddington’s Aunt Lucy was about to go on holiday to London when she found Paddington — revealing in the process that Paddington was adopted before the Browns took him on. I am shocked that Aunt Lucy is not a blood relative — is this canon? Mind you, it took me a long time to realise that Pike’s Uncle Arthur wasn’t a blood relative.

And so we are in Notting Hill, which presumably has come up in the world since the original stories, but here at least is infinitely more multiracial than the last time co-star Hugh Grant appeared in a film set there. There is a neighbourhood of lovable eccentrics, almost all charmed by Britain’s favourite illegal immigrant, and each played by the gentry of television comedy. Occasionally, this can be distracting. Mr Curry, who I’d always assumed to be Scottish, is played by Peter Capaldi, better known for Local Hero and the Oscar-winning Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life. Gruber, meanwhile, is Jim Broadbent, slightly confusingly as Hugh Bonneville (Mr Brown, Paddington’s reluctant adopter) has played a younger version of Broadbent in Iris.

The build is slow, as Paddington begins cleaning windows, in a borrow from the books (surely) and from a Hoffnung monologue where it was a barrel of bricks. But as the birthday approaches, Paddington finds himself behind bars with a choky full of dodgy characters. Paddington weaves his magic, setting the scene for a geographically dodgy train chase.

I assume writer-director King is a Wallace and Gromit fan, as it borrows from Nick Parks’s heterotopia and his style of piling up sight gags. I think this is a film to rewatch on DVD, pause button to hand, to unpick the notices and headlines. It’s a long film, but it doesn’t feel long. Paddington is utterly convincing, although perhaps at times he’s not sufficiently in the landscape, and I could have done without quite so many fantasy sequences. The pop up book perhaps allows homage to the Ivor Wood animated series, that never quite sold me. Meanwhile, even though I’d avoid Hugh Grant movies like the plague, he steals this film gloriously and effortlessly.

And, spoilers, it’s pretty obviously worth watching the closing credits, for one more set piece.

Perhaps it’s an air of exhaustion, but this might be my film of the year, watched through teared up eyes, eucatastrophically or for those endless drives on the A1 or the M1 all those years ago.

Now is the Time For All Good Women to Come to the Aid of…

The Party (Sally Potter, 2017)

I so nearly didn’t go to see this — I’ve twice felt too tired this week to do an 8.30 Blade Runner 2049 rewatch, and I do need to subject myself to Thor: Ragnarok and I’d not quite twigged that this was a Sally Potter film. That being said, it’s a long time since I saw Orlando and The Man Who Cried and I really need to fill in those gaps. But the fact that I ran late despite an event being cancelled meant the 5.00 screening was perfect and I could have been home for The Archers if I’d not called into Aldi.

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A Murmuration of Stalins

The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci, 2017)

I’ve been watching Armando Iannucci’s comedy for decades now. He was there behind On the Hour and The Friday Night Armistice, not to mention The Thick of It and In the Loop. Much of his work this century has been exploring the back stabbing shenanigans at the heart of politics, even as reality outstripped him.
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Cupid Stunt

eCupid (J.C. Calciano, 2011)

In one of those it’s my blessing and my curse moments, I keep realising 90% of the way through a film that I should have been taking notes because it is relevant to my Research Project.

Most of the time the film is pants.

Valerian, say.

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Casey the Nietzschean Ghost

A Ghost Story (David Lowery, 2017)

Your response to this film will depend on whether you can buy its central conceit: when a husband dies in a car accident he haunts his wife in a white sheet. In the next house along there is another ghost, in a rather more fetching design. The cumulative effect is it is not certain how seriously you are meant to take the film — is it a comedy, a tragedy, a bitter sweet comedy, a comedy with tragic overtones? Much of the film is in silence, the husband staring, first at his wife, and then at the various later, or perhaps earlier, inhabitants of the house. The cynic is me suspects that they could only afford Casey Affleck for a couple of days, and a stand in plays the ghost, but apparently it is him.

One of the incomers, present at a party, has a speech longer than all the other dialogue put together. Oddly, when a Spanish-speaking family move in, they are not subtitled — perhaps the ghost does not understand them — but the dead neighbour is.

Lowery works within an almost square ratio, something like 4:3, the same as used in silent films, and this adds a sense of voyeurism to the proceedings. The Curzon’s policy of not closing curtains — maybe there are no curtains — to cover the blank screen draws attention to the empty space outside the restrained diegesis. The ghost is often at the edge of the frame, just in view, with the camera held on the tableaux for longer than we are used to and certainly more than is comfortable. I was reminded of the great southern American photographer, William Eggleston, with his focus on the determinedly mundane. It is ordinary, but there is a beauty in it.

Whilst in Manchester By the Sea delayed the final revelation of what the trauma and guilt at the heart of the film was, this is more circumspect. There is tension between the married couple, over whether they should move or not, the chain of tragic events is less laid out for us. Whilst that film denied us catharsis, this one is even more frustrating of audience desires. The pace is glacial at first, but slowly builds, never less than watchable even as it toys with us. The mourning wife, Rooney Mara, binge eats a chocolate pudding, in spoonful after spoonful after spoonful and I hope this was achieved in a single take for the sake of her waist line.

It is not clear whether it is told in linear time — in a sense it isn’t, as we have flashbacks — but the years that the house lies empty should be stretching out from more or less the present, even as a modern metropolis encroaches on the house. They have laptops. Mobile phones. And we also loop back to pioneers. The film’s epigraph is taken from a Virginia Woolf story, “A Haunted House”:

”Whatever hour you woke there was a door shutting. From room to room they went, hand in hand, lifting here, opening there, making sure — a ghostly couple.”

and Woolf repeatedly plays with duration in her work.

On a couple of occasions the husband loses patience with his squatters and haunts them — exploding light bulbs, throwing books around. We see some of the titles: A Farewell to Arms, some Nietzsche. They mean something. Probably. You may lose patience. You may surrender to the film. You should probably cry.

so much depends upon a red collar

Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, 2016)

Eddie Redmayne was lauded for his problematic performance in The Danish Girl, but it’s not until the closing credits of Paterson that it is revealed that here Marvin the dog  is actually played by Nellie (and has since died).

What are we to make of this? Is it a sign that her human, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), is so obsessed by her relentless redecoration of their house in black and white that she hasn’t noticed Marvin’s sex? Or in her world is Marvin a gender neutral name? She is explosively creative — painting the walls, the soft furnishings, the shower curtain, trying to learn the guitar in three days, wanting to make a fortune with cupcakes — and even subjecting Marvin to the indignity of bad paintings. It’s only a wonder she hasn’t painted on Marvin.

Whilst Laura stays at home, hubby Paterson (Adam Driver) drives a bus.

Imagine that. Imagine the version where they’d cast Minnie Driver.

Paterson, living in Paterson, has read Paterson and aspires to be a poet. He writes poetry when he should have been starting on route 23, he writes poetry in his lunch hour and he writes poetry in his den. He writes it in big friendly letters in his Moleskine (gotta love stationery porn) and on the screen, just in case we don’t get it. It is clean and there are no crossings out.

First thot, best thot.

Obviously it is Paterson-esque because this is Paterson in Paterson. No wonder Marvin’s confused. Is it meant to be any good? Paterson’s let Laura read it, but he’s never performed it and he’s never submitted it anywhere and because he doesn’t do any fucking drafts, the Moleskine is his only copy. So is it any good?

And every night, Marvin is taken for a walk to a bar. Not into the bar — he is made to sit outside, even though it is made clear that dog jackers are about. His life is at risk.

Paterson just sits there nursing a drink, chatting to the locals, in a kind of post-racial utopia where one of the African American patrons can pull a gun and not be gunned down by the law. Everyone can quote Abbott and Costello routines.

Maybe Marvin is better off outside.

But clearly Marvin is building stress and resentment, and, having committed minor acts of vandalism takes a bloody revenge on his humans. Serves them right. He’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore.

I have to say I never quite trusted Paterson. I suspect he’s on the edge of becoming all emo, obsesses over his dead grandfather and is likely to upset his parents.

Meanwhile, Marvin the paranoid canine has good reason to be paranoid, and Nellie is a great loss.

Mirthless in Brooklyn

Vampire in Brooklyn (Wes Craven, 1995)

It’s a bad sign when, even a week or so after watching, you are unclear whether you are watching a horror film or a comedy.

There was a time when Eddie Murphy was box office gold — actually he’s waxed and waned several times — and this film comes at a point where he’s tied into doing films for Paramount (for example Beverley Hills Cop (Martin Brest, 1984) and sequels, Coming To America (John Landis, 1988), Harlem Nights (Eddie Murphy, 1988), Boomerang (Reginald Hudlin, 1992)), but wants a break from doing comedy. Craven, meanwhile, had long harboured desires to move on from horror.

It is a match made in…

Well, somewhere damp.

The opening seems promising enough with a ship adrift and heading into a Brooklyn harbour in the fog — a nod back to Dracula somewhere along the line. But Murphy in weird wig and thick accent as vampire Maximillian from somewhere in the Caribbean is insufficiently horrific or comedic, displaying the same kind of tension that Jim Carrey sometimes does when playing straight. Maximillian is in search of a woman to continue the species, in the form of NYPD cop Rita Veder (Angela Bassett). Maximillian, meanwhile, has to pass as a preacher and an Italian criminal, allowing him space for the comic business that has largely been displaced onto his hapless, petty criminal assistant and valet, Julius Jones (Kadeem Hardison). These are some of the longest scenes in the movie.

Let’s note the theme of the untrustworthy family — Veder’s mother, some kind of paranormal anthropologist, is dead, and it almost seems as if Maximillian is her father, or a father figure, which leads us to incest. There are a couple of dream sequences, as she wakes from a nightmare, and Maximillian turns a squalid apartment into a mansion.

Meanwhile, we have a strong female lead — albeit with the slightly lovelorn Detective Justice (Allen Payne) to help her out — and indeed an African American lead (compare Poindexter “Fool” Williams (Brandon Adams) in The People Under the Stairs (1991)). In fact, Italians aside, there are very few white actors in the film — Joanne Cassidy has a cameo as Captain Dewey, as does Jerry Hall as a woman mugged in the park in a moment that ought to have political bite, but… We should note Zakes Mokae from The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) as Dr Zeko, but have a creepy sense of the Haitian equivalent of Orientalism about both roles. Craven is trying.

But the film is trying — Murphy will go onto better things, and Craven was to put his tongue better in his cheek in the Scream franchise.