Friday, March 31, 2017

Random film review: Paterson

 (Jim Jarmusch | 2016 | USA)

Tom Cruise isn't good looking and he can’t act. He can’t even act being asleep convincingly. I did enjoy Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow however, so much so I’ve watched it twice (once with daughter), perhaps the only Cruise movie I’ve watched more than once. It’s a sci-fi version of Groundhog Day, and pretty good, for a Cruise film.

Paterson is Jim Jarmusch's Groundhog Day. But not a Jarmusch film as we know it (it could also be Jarmusch's The Straight Story, with a bus instead of a lawnmower). Gone is the aching hipness and the irony, replaced with authenticity, sincerity, innocence and sentimentality. Apparently. Though all the way through the film I sensed something foreboding. I thought it was the music until I realised it was something almost Lynchian in the industrial factory settings, the loneliness, the odd encounters with strangers, the long dark shadows. It wasn't until the credits rolled that I noticed Frederick Elmes was the cinematographer, he who lit Eraserhead and Blue Velvet (the two films that redefined cinema for me), as well as several previous Jarmusch films.

The foreboding was also my wanting something to happen. Yes, something bad. Yes, sex or violence. Paterson was going to have an affair with the black chick at the bar! His wife would read the line of his poem in the (spoiler alert!) chewed up cherished notebook "I think about other girls"! But no!

Adam Driver plays Paterson, a bus driver and unpublished bad poet in Paterson, New Jersey. He seems slow-witted and boring. The only interest in his job is listening to the – often highly implausible – passengers conversations (such as teenagers discussing Gaetano Bresci, the Italian anarchist and assassin of King Umberto I. To be fair, he did live in Paterson, as did poet William Carlos Williams, Paterson's favourite poet and inspiration for his own poems). Amazingly Paterson has an attractive and kooky wife, Laura, played by Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani. Laura spends her days dressing herself, their apartment and her cupcakes in Bridget Riley-style black and white patterns.

I can only call Laura sweet but delusional. She thinks Paterson's poems are amazing (when Paterson bizarrely starts chatting to a 10-year-old-girl who also writes poems, the poem she reads to him is far better than any of his). Laura wants to open a cake shop one day, be a country singer the next. She gets Paterson to buy her a black and white patterned guitar so she can practise. It's $200 on eBay (expensive for them, but apparently they think they can pay in instalments on eBay).

Which brings us to technology, which is a bit of a fault in the film. I wasn't sure when the film was set at first. Fairly contemporary I thought but there's no phones, no laptops, no technology – obviously a conscious attempt to get back to real values or something. But when it's revealed (repeatedly) that the only copy of Paterson's poems are in his cherished notebook, it's fairly obvious said notebook will come to a sticky end (plus they own a dog, plus Paterson leaves his notebook on the sofa when they go out one evening = the obvious). Laura (repeatedly) tells Paterson to go the Xerox store to get them photocopied (which he never does). The Xerox store? Photocopied? Where are we, 1987? Scan them? Write them up on Word? Publish a blog? Photograph them on her phone (he doesn't own one)? Never occurs to either of them.

I really didn't think the relationship would last the film: they don't have much in common; the relationship is still based on politeness (he forces himself to eat and pretend to like her Brussels sprouts and cheese pie; I'm not even sure he likes her cupcakes; he humours Laura on her daily whims); he's morose, she's hot; Paterson spends every evening on his own in a bar drinking beer...

I didn't recognise Adam Driver at all. He's in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (my daughter thought he was terrible in it). He was also in While We're Young and Midnight Special, two films I liked a lot. But you know what? Some geeky-looking guy swings a lightsaber around, kills some people in Iraq (probably; he was a U.S. Marine), does a stupid TED Talk (where he actually says "firing weapons is cool" and "self-expression is just as valuable a tool as a rifle on your shoulder"), then does a few sensitive roles and suddenly he's up for awards and he's gorgeous and he's got range.

You know also what it is? You've as much chance of reading all of the poem Paterson by William Carlos William as you have watching the film Paterson and your eyes not glaze over.


Previously on Barnflakes:
Here's to you, Robinson

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Alternative CVs

I may have worked in places as diverse as Jakarta, Khao Ping Kan, New Orleans and Sydney... and been an actor, stunt double and backing singer (yes, really), but does it count for anything? Nope. A CV is a cold, boring look at a person's life, and I've often said a person's job is the least interesting thing about them (well, hopefully it is, otherwise you're in trouble). Adult Fulfillment Assistant was probably my favourite job title (but certainly not my favourite job)... I'll leave you guessing. Here are three 'alternative' CVs – mock Victorian poster; a pastiche of XTC's Go 2 album and a mock classifieds ad – I did some years ago, but of course never sent out. I quite like them. Maybe I should have.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Tautological job titles

I used to work at a company where a work colleague* had their job title 'Writer' become 'Content Writer'. Is there any need for this extra word? Do you get the extra word in lieu of a pay rise? Can a writer write anything else but content? Similarly, there are jobs advertised for 'Visual Designer'. Again, the definition of designer is visual (unless you're a Systems Designer or something; either way Visual Designer is too vague – Fashion Designer? Graphic Designer?). Another company calls its consultants 'master experts'. But my favourite tautological job title, very rarely seen unfortunately, is Deadly Assassin.

*Deliberate tautological usage; a colleague is someone you work with.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The death of cigarette advertising

Is the earthy tone Pantone 448 C really the death of cigarettes? Doesn't seem so bad to me – but that's the colour picked by Australians as the ugliest colour in the world. And that's the colour they, and now the UK, has chosen to replace all branding on cigarette packs, along with 60% of the pack surface consisting of health warnings and photos, and the logos reduced to a small standard generic sans serif typeface. Whether it has or will reduce cigarette smokers is another matter, but one immediate outcome is the confusion cashiers have of trying to find your brand of choice – the packs do all look exactly the same.

The 1970s and 80s was the most imaginative decade for cigarette advertising – and the start of the end. Advertisers weren't allowed to show cigarettes as evoking youth or coolness or even display a person smoking a cigarette on their adverts so companies such as Silk Cut and Benson & Hedges devised creative and surreal methods to evoke their brands.

Cigarette advertising was banned on TV in the UK in 1991 (also lamented; for example, the famous Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet campaign is often voted as one of the top TV adverts of all time). In the early noughties cigarette advertising was banned from sport (snooker and Formula One used to display prominent advertising at its events); then advertising was banned altogether. In 2007 smoking was banned from enclosed public spaces such as pubs and restaurants.

So now with the advertising and branding gone, as well as the ever-decreasing places to smoke, there is more incentive than ever for smokers to continue smoking quit, I mean, obviously. The new No Logo non-branding branding is presumably intended to stop people (in particular, youth) smoking, as is the banning of packs of ten and small packs of tobacco (though smokers trying to stop always found the small packs useful; if you're trying to stop the last thing you want to invest in is a pack of twenty).

Long before I started smoking, I always admired the advertising and branding of cigarettes (maybe because I was an art/graphic design student going through a surreal phase). I remember one seminar on subliminal advertising at art college where the tutor tried to convince us of the skull in the pattern of the camel on Camel cigarettes and the words 'horrible jew' sort of spelt out in the Marlboro logo if you turned it upside down and backwards ('orlb jew').

Anyway, I guess it's a good move to make cigarettes less attractive. But why stop at cigarettes? Hopefully enlightened future generations will see alcohol advertising banned. Then car advertising. And certain food advertising banned (meat, chocolate). I'd like to see (or not see, as the case may be) crap films, music and TV advertisements banned too.

Previously on Barnflakes
Australia first country to ban cigarette branding
Cigarettes vs. smartphones
Surreal Silk Cut cigarette ads
Silk Cut anagrams
Life branded 'a health and safety risk'

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Adele plus Ed minus Amy

Adele Laurie Blue Adkins and Amy Winehouse were both born in the 1980s in North London. Amy was a fine jazz singer who wrote her own original songs with personality and passion. She gave us two albums then tragically died aged 27. Adele grew up being influenced by Amy Winehouse, as well as The Spice Girls, and writes and sings banal crap which sells by the truckload.

In my local Co-op and Sainsbury's the only two CDs I can buy are Adelle's 25 and Ed Sheeran's new album, ÷ (Divide). Never has there been a more apt title, with the album breaking chart records around the world whilst receiving terrible critical reviews – two out of five in the Guardian, and a 2.8 (out of 10) from Pitchfork. Neither album is actually music. Positioned next to the till, they are the equivalent of sweets and chocolate, to be grabbed in a moment of weakness and hopefully eventual regret.

In the Guardian's review of Adele's 25, released in December last year, though gaining one more star than ÷, the reviewer is lamentful at the lack of interest in critical opinion – as is the reviewer of ÷ (both perhaps worried about the point of their jobs); like with Fifty Shades of Grey (book and film), huge commercial success for both Adele and Ed is a foregone conclusion despite completely mediocre material.

The unimaginative mathematical album titles of Ed (+, x, ÷) and Adele (19, 21, 25) is no accident. 19 + 21 x 25 = a lot of $$$. Indeed, it's a formula. This is music by numbers; slick, sentimental songs written for Radio 1 and 2 (Sheenan himself admits as much in the Guardian review); likewise with Adele's 25. Both albums are anti-music. The death of music.

19, 21, 25... you have the feeling that, say, 30, 45 and 67 are going to sound exactly the same. And Ed's going to produce his mathematical symbols to ∞ (that's infinity).

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Recent random film reviews

ELLE (Paul Verhoeven, 2016, France)
I saw this months ago and it's only just out at the cinemas! Ha. Seriously though – how is Isabelle Huppert still hot after all these years (just as Catherine Denevue and Meryl Streep still are)? She was just as hot when she was making films a year after my birth – and now it's, er, 45 years later and she's still got it. Proper serious though – it's a fucked up film. No surprise, then, that Paul Verhoeven directed it; the man who bought us fucked up tripe like Basic Instinct and Showgirls, but it should also be remembered that he directed the fine Black Book, his early Dutch films are pretty good and Robocop and Starship Troopers are great. Huppert was in the equally deranged The Piano Teacher, but I'll always remember her best in Maurice Pialat's Loulou.
– 4/5 

PHOENIX (Christian Petzold, 2014, Germany)
Once you forgive the film's central conceit that a husband doesn't recognise his wife, even if her face has been reconstructed, a fine film shot in muted colours, suspenseful and with a great climax. Unusual to see a film set in post-war Germany (though here's some more). The opening scenes reminded me of Franju's brilliant Eyes Without a Face, with the bandaged woman wandering alone in an empty flat; and the entire film has a similar concept to both Seconds and Vertigo.
Sill got a few weeks to watch it on the BBC iPlayer.
– 4/5

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013, France)
I did think this film was Russian, probably because on the train from St Petersberg to Helsinki two Russian lesbians were sitting near us, and they reminded me of the girls from Blue is the Warmest Colour (not having seen the film at the time, only the poster). They were the only ones questioned in our train carriage and have their belongings searched (on another train journey on the Eurostar to Paris we were also sitting opposite two lesbians who were snogging all the way to Paris – we didn't know where to look!). Anyway, of course the film is French. White wine and oysters? Check. Smoking indoors? Check. Terrible music? Check. Teenagers discussing Schiele, Klimt, Satre, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos and M. de Marivaux? Check. A teenage girl having sex with a guy one day and a chick the next? Check. There's some serious lesbian action in the film but it's no hot (or warm) blue movie. The camera adores Adèle Exarchopoulos, following her constantly and barely leaving her face – and her hair, body, sweat, tears, laughter – for three hours.
– 5/5

EXHIBITION (Joanna Hogg, 2013, UK)
Take Blue is the Warmest Colour and take away the joie de vivre, the warmth, the passion, the conversation – but keep the art and the sex, and you've got Exhibition. The film chronicles the every day ennui of two artists in a relationship working from home every day – from cleaning the oven to practising performance art to sex in the afternoon. Imagine Mike Leigh doing conceptual art.
Even though most of the film takes place in a large modernist house in Kensington (recently on the market for £8m, the Daily Mail informs us), I can't remember seeing a film that so captures London; not just the smarmy estate agents (one played by Tom Hiddleston), The Big Issue seller and the arguments over parking spaces, but the sounds – of ambulances, road works and arguments in the street; the film captures it brilliantly.

It's hard to believe the mild and meek 'D' is played by post-punk icon Viv Albertine (from the band The Slits); her partner, 'H', is Liam Gillick, a conceptual artist. In other words, both unprofessional actors, which works in this case. The acting often feels improvised as the filming style is calm with long static takes. The house is the third character in the film, often seeming to have more character than the humans inhabiting the huge rooms.
– 4/5

THE PHONE BOX (Antonio Mercero, 1972, Spain)
Take a large dose of late Bunuel (in particular The Exterminating Angel, where the guests inexplicably find themselves unable to leave the dining room), combined with the economy of style of Polanski's early black and white shorts, add atmospherics from 1970s European horror movies, and you have Phone Box, a 1972, half hour Spanish made for TV movie. The premise is simple: a man walks into a newly installed phone box to make a phone call – then can't get out. Passersby gather around him, he is ridiculed and laughed at. Various people try to prise open the door but to no avail. The man, played by veteran Spanish actor José Luis López Vázquez (who spoofed himself in the role in a Spanish phone advert made in the 1990s), runs the gauntlet of emotions from anger to boredom to terror. Eventually the phone company come to take the phone box away with the man still inside it, and... well, watch it here.

(Not to be confused with Phone Booth, a 2002 American thriller with Colin Farrell in the phone box, unable to leave for different reasons. The idea was originally pitched to Alfred Hitchcock by B-movie auteur Larry Cohen in the 1960s; they couldn't agree on a reason why the protagonist would stay in the phone box for the length of the film – Cohen revisited the idea in the 1990s and hit upon the idea of a sniper.)
– 5/5

KINDERGARTEN COP (Ivan Reitman, 1990, USA)
I saw this recently on a windy evening in Newquay. You know what? I don't think I'd ever seen it before, or not the entire film anyway. I didn't see it all this time, either. And okay, I know it's an 1990s Schwarzenegger film, but nevertheless, compared to a lot of European efforts, most American films to me just seem to lack any depth or originality. Still, half way enjoyable.
– 2/5

Previously on Barnflakes:
Random Film Reviews

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Notes on Cornish fiction

Cornwall is a popular place to set novels, with its wild country, lovely beaches, hidden coves and tales of smuggling; according to one blog 'it's a literary feast for the senses'. But from Daphne du Maurier to Michael Murpurgo, the majority of Cornish literature seems to be about ghosts, myths and legends; and if it's not set in the past, it involves an idyllic family/romantic holiday. Nothing focuses on the reality that is Cornwall; as beautiful as it is, it has huge unemployment and drug problems, none of which is addressed in literature, whether it be for children or adults (Liz Fenwick's novels all seem to have Cornwall in the title; The Cornish House poses the question 'Can a house heal a broken heart?).

Thanks to my daughter, I've read a few children's books set in Cornwall. The Ingo series, by Helen Dunmore, features the underwater world of Mers (mermaids and mermen). Dunmore also writes adult fiction, one of which is set in Cornwall: Zennor in Darkness features DH Lawrence and his German wife, who lived in Zennor for two years during the first world war, until he was accused of spying and given three days to leave the county. Lawrence didn't exactly ingratiate himself with the Cornish, describing them "like insects gone cold, living only for money, for dirt. They are foul in this. They ought all to die".

Zennor is a tiny hamlet on the rugged Atlantic coast; aside from the incredible views of the ocean, it's famous for its Mermaid of Zennor, a wooden carving on the side of a chair in the local church, said to date back to the fifteenth century. The mermaid has inspired countless poems and folklore tales, including the Ingo series. The hugely popular Michael Murpugo has also used Zennor as a setting for his short story The White Horse of Zennor, where myths brush against reality. For such a tiny place, it's received a lot of literary attention.

Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) is arguably Cornwall's most famous author; she lived most of her life in the county and based much of her fiction there. Most of it ticks Cornwall's literary tradition – Historical? Yup. Smuggling? Yup. Romance and historical? Tick – but her last novel, the satirical Rule Britannia, is strangely prescient, post-Brexit, concerning as it does the UK leaving Europe and joining the United States to become USUK.

David John Moore Cornwell, known more commonly by his nom de plume John Le Carré, has lived in St Buryan, Cornwall for 40-odd years. Though born in Dorset, with his original surname it was presumably inevitable for him to live in the county. Shame his surname wasn't Maldives.

However, due to the recent BBC production, Poldark is currently Cornwall's most famous literary export, surpassing du Maurier and Murpurgo. The twelve historical (naturally) novels by Winston Graham, who lived in Cornwall for 40 years, were published from 1945-1953 and then 1973-2002 (he then died). Anyway, no one's read them, they're probably not any good, and all you want to see anyway is Aidan Turner get his kit off. 

Will there ever be a Cornish Irvine Welsh? Doubtful.