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Monday, 27 March 2017

Paterson, All This Panic, and Little Boxes: Your Week In Film (March 27-April 2)

The big sleep: Paterson celebrates the ordinary and everyday

What's worth watching on DVD, Blu-ray, VOD and TV in the next seven days...

Nothing much happens in Paterson (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WW½ and that is entirely the point. Jim Jarsmuch's film is about living an ordinary life and being perfectly content within it. Paterson (Adam Driver) lives in his namesake, Paterson, a small city in New Jersey - and couldn't be more of the place if he tried. He's a bus driver by day, during which time he writes poetry about life's mundanities (in a further 'coincidence', his favourite poet is William Carlos Williams, who just happened to pen an epic poem called Paterson). He also walks his dog, Marvin, hangs out with Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), his kooky wife, and sinks a beer or two at his local watering hole. Laura urges him to make copies of his poems or try to get them published but Paterson resists. Every day is pretty much the same, but our titular character finds joy in this routine existence.

Despite the film's celebration of the ordinary, there's the occasional bit of oddness to be discovered in its nooks and crannies. I wondered at first if Laura was a figment of his imagination as we never actually see her interact with anyone else in the entire film (no friends, no family), other than Paterson himself. She doesn't work, instead remaining at home during the day and throwing herself into all sorts of creative projects, including setting up a cupcake business and learning the guitar so she can become a country and western singer. Her constant effervescence is a pain in the arse, to be honest with you. Theirs is a weird relationship. In the week we spend with Paterson and Laura, they don't seem to have a sex life and are apart a lot, yet there's nothing to suggest their marital bond is weak. Perhaps they are simply so at ease with each other, grand romantic gestures and frequent lovemaking are no longer required to keep their relationship stable.

Unfortunately, once you see how the film is set up - every new day repeats like the verses of a poem or a song, with only a few events different - you soon tire of it. Even an incongruous incident with a gun in Paterson's local pub fails to inject any real drama, and its best moments come not when Driver's character is interacting with Laura or his friends in the bar, but with his fellow wordsmiths - a young female poet and a rapper, both of whom he meets on the street. Rejoicing in the mundane might start off as the film's strength but, as in real life, you soon realise there's only so much of the same-old, same-old you can handle.

Endless poetry: Adam Driver is the titular Paterson

I've quite lost count of the number of films striving to capture the sheer joy and horror of being a teenage girl that have popped up in the last few years - everything from Girlhood to Pariah, from The Diary Of A Teenage Girl to The Edge Of Seventeen. Jenny Gage's powerful and fascinating documentary All This Panic (cinemas and VOD) WWW is certainly a fine addition to the list. 

Exploring the lives of seven Brooklyn teens over a three-year period, Gage is granted extraordinary access. We see these soon-to-be adults at their best and more frequently their worst, as familial strife, relationship trouble and good old fashioned teenage angst threaten to overwhelm them. Her subjects are all sympathetic, even when their behaviour isn't, a situation personified by wild-child Ginger, a rather entitled wannabe actress who swerves college to follow her chosen career path, but who seems reticent to lower herself to actually auditioning for anything or even taking a few classes. Ginger's a force of nature - as petulant as a toddler but, in her own way, wise well beyond her years. I suspect she'll be just fine.

Her best friend is Lena, although the pair snipe at each other continually. Lena could not be more different - at the start of the film she wears a prominent brace on her teeth and is clearly uncomfortable in her own skin. Her family is disintegrating around her because of her father's mental health issues. Off to university, this should be the most exciting time of her life, but she's preoccupied with where she's going to live and having enough money to keep her head above water. The list goes on - Olivia, Dusty, Sage, Delia and Ivy. I really hope Gage gives us a follow-up film in a few years' time.

Teenage rampage: Jenny Gage's All This Panic

Rob Meyer's Little Boxes (VOD) WW½, is an intriguing culture-clash dramedy that explores race and class in the American suburbs. It sees a bourgeois family - black dad, white mum, mixed-race son - quitting multiracial Brooklyn for a sleepy, predominantly white town on the other side of the US - and should be applauded for having the balls to tackle the big issues, even if its conclusions are not especially profound.

Suffice to say, the move to the West Coast doesn't go smoothly as their belongings fail to turn up on time, their lovely new house has a serious mold problem, and they realise adapting to their new lives isn't going to be quite as easy as they'd hoped. But here's the interesting thing: instead of presenting a parade of stereotypical racists to be confronted and knocked down, the film pins some of the blame for their predicament on our protagonists themselves - not their attitudes to race as such but the airs and graces they've brought with them from New York.

One of the reasons their belongings are taking so long to arrive is because husband/father Mack (Nelsan Ellis - unrecognisable from his role as Lafayette in True Blood) has been calling the haulage company non-stop and has landed the poor blue-collar schmuck driving the removal truck across country in trouble with his boss. Furthermore, the author and jazz lover kind of struts about his newly-adopted home like he owns it, headphones permanently clamped over his ears, seemingly horrified every time someone new speaks to him. In fact, the only person he is interested in engaging with is the local bookshop owner but then only to see if it stocks his one and only novel. It isn't that Mack doesn't encounter racism - he certainly does and it's revolting - but he pretty much looks down on his square new neighbours from the start.

Mack's wife Gina (the excellent Melanie Lynskey), a newly-installed professor at the local college, isn't a lot more sympathetic, revealing, in an unguarded drunken moment, how much she misses her life back home, before adding, "My New York friends are so talented", the caustic implication being that her new gal pals simply aren't in the same league.

In fact, the only member of the family who seems to be having fun (at least initially) is naive 12-year-old Clark (Armani Jackson), who quickly falls under the spell of two young white girls - Julie (Miranda McKeon) and her gloriously dreadful friend Ambrosia (Oona Laurence). They compete for his affections by performing libidinous dance routines to loud rap music in front of him. But, unbeknownst to Clarke, it's his 'blackness' they are more interested in than anything else, like he's some kind of exotic creature visiting from a far-off land.

We've seen the whole 'nastiness bubbling under the surface of polite society' trope before and I'm not sure Little Boxes has anything new to offer on that score. Harbouring assumptions about people and their lives based on race, class, coolness or intelligence is pretty unpleasant and we should all just give each other a chance seems to be its message. In which case: well, duh. 

One false move: Tempers are frayed in Little Boxes

With Ben Wheatley's latest movie, Free Fire, landing in cinemas from Friday, Film4 is showing a season of the acclaimed British director's previous work this week (although, puzzlingly, not Down Terrace, his excellent feature debut from 2009). It all kicks off with High-Rise (Wednesday, 9pm) WW, Wheatley's so-so adaptation of JG Ballard's classic dystopian novel starring Tom Hiddleston, before things improve with Sightseers (Thursday, 11pm) WWWW, Kill List (Friday, 11.05pm) WWW, and A Field In England (early hours of Sunday, 12.20am) WWW. You can also check out a Free Fire Interview Special at various times over the coming week (starting this evening at 8.50pm), featuring Wheatley, as well as the new crime movie's stars, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copley and Michael Smiley.

What I shall be watching this week: I'm off to the cinema to see Life, aka I Can't Believe It's Not Alien.

Ratings guide
WWWW - Wonderful
WWW - Worthwhile
WW - Watchable
W - Woeful

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