Gimme Danger (2016)

Gimme Danger (2016) movie poster

director Jim Jarmusch
viewed: 04/17/2017

When one of your favorite directors makes a documentary about one of your favorite bands, that is pretty much a cinematic slam dunk, right?

Unfortunately, Jim Jarmusch’s Stooges documentary Gimme Danger isn’t the great construct that it might have been. On the plus side, you’ve got Iggy Pop reminiscing widely on the birth, life, and death of the Stooges, as well as some input from other members, managers, and family. Certainly worthwhile for a fan.

But the style of the documentary isn’t great, hardly signature Jarmusch, not that he’s known for documentaries. It’s nice that it covers the period of reunion for the band, especially since the deaths of the Asheton brothers since. In fact, it might have been interesting to spend more time on the brothers’ lives between the break-up and reunion. It certainly seems like stories are there.

I have this thing I think about writing about something you love versus something that you have more critical distance from: it’s harder. Not that this is a love poem, but it feels like the story might have been more interestingly crafted with some critical distance.

As a document, it’s cool enough. It surely demonstrates that when you are too far ahead of your time for commercial success in your day, hopefully you’ll live long enough to have your cool recognized by the masses.

Paterson (2016)

Paterson (2016) movie poster

director Jim Jarmusch
viewed: 02/25/2017 at Opera Plaza Cinema, SF, CA

Paterson was an interesting contrast to Addicted to Fresno (2015), the movie the kids and I had watched just the night before. Both movies foreground an American city, placing it in the title of the film and in a sense, making it the subject of their film as well. In Fresno, Fresno was given mere lip service as a location, a stand-in for anywhere that sucks.

Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson is much different. Paterson, NJ is on fine display in Jarmusch’s film, from the beautiful old factory buildings to the lovely waterfall that is the favorite spot of protagonist, Paterson (Adam Driver). The more mundane downtown shows itself, bustling, in various states of repair and disrepair. We see it go by as Paterson the man drives his city bus around. And the nice neighborhood in which he lives with his girlfriend, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) and his English bulldog, Marvin.

Paterson is both man and city, a point made into a joke at one point, but key to discerning the film and what it’s after. Because Paterson as well is as much about the people that Jarmusch populates the film and city, a genial working class world significantly diverse, kind, and open-hearted, if occasionally, intentionally off-beat.

Paterson the man is also a poet, with a creative, encouraging woman at home. He scribbles his words into a notebook, repeating them onscreen as he writes and re-writes them. The film, like the poet, observes small things in everyday life, appreciate little moments and interactions. And really, I think that is a large part of the point of the film, which itself is a quiet, gentle observation of people and place.

My kids were a bit nonplussed by the film. I, myself, liked it. Not as much as Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), but pretty well.

I was brought to mind of another film with a New Jersey location that also played out a paean to the city of its heart. That film is Be Kind Rewind (2008) and that city was Passaic, NJ, and though it made a lot of the town, it didn’t enter it into its title, nor is it for which the film is most known.

Dead Man (1995)

Dead Man (1995) movie poster

director  Jim Jarmusch
viewed: 11/25/2016

Dead Man is 21 years old.  It’s been one of my favorite films for that number of years, and it has aged well.  Or not aged at all.  Though actually it had been at least 15 years since I last saw it.

Dead Man isn’t so much an acid trip as it is a grueling death trip.  Jim Jarmusch’s version of the Old West is as bleak a vision as ever portrayed in the Western genre.  It’s no place for a gentle soul.  Death and violence can erupt suddenly or numbingly slowly as the lead from a bullet leeches into your heart.

The spirituality of the native peoples can appeal to your fading senses, or not make any sense at all. Not that anything really has any sense or meaning in this brutal, brief life.  All moments of comedy are black as soot and even your one friend in the world is eliminated by the world’s most heartless and ruthless in a moment of cruel reciprocation. The harsh strains of Neil Young’s guitar wail and punctuate these passing scenes.

I’d long considered showing Dead Man to my kids (it’s essentially sat in a mental queue of films I want to watch with them).  I was very pleased to find that both of them really liked it, more so than I would have anticipated (I’m not always good at predicting these things.)  Still, very satisfying to my paternal cinéaste curation/education side.

Mystery Train (1989)

Mystery Train (1989) movie poster

director Jim Jarmusch
viewed: 11/28/2015

It was 1992, I think, the last time I saw Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train.  Such a cool movie.  Such a cool director/guy.

My favorite part of the film originally was still my favorite, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Cinqué Lee (who I always remembered as “Spike Lee’s little brother”) as the stylish hotel manager and bellhop, respectively.  I thought they were so good that they could have had their own TV show.  Hawkins is just amazing, his comic timing, slow and utterly in step with the film.  And Lee.  He’s terrific.

For the time it was made, the film was all that much more cool.  The 1990’s had yet to come and the explosion of the Indie film had yet to make its impact.  As much as it has gone on to popular cult film status, like much of Jarmusch’s work, it’s important to realize that this is an artifact of the 1980’s, a film all the more remarkable as being of its time (and arguably way ahead of it “cool-wise”).

Jarmusch and cinematographer Robby Müller capture the rundown Memphis is its tarnished beauty.  It’s funny, but my kids thought it looked like a terrible place.  I yearn to travel back in time to Memphis of 1988.  I often yearn for the places and times that movies have captured.  I often note that watching older films is a way of traveling back to them.

Jarmusch is one of my favorites.  And Mystery Train is a good example of why.

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) movie poster

director Jim Jarmusch
viewed: 09/07/2014

Jim Jarmusch’s vampire movie, Only Lovers Left Alive, takes a spin on vampire mythos through a typically Jarmuschian lens.  The age old vampires here are Tilda Swinton with long, tangled locks, sexy beast Tom Hiddlston looking pure rock star, elder statesman John Hurt is Christopher Marlowe (yes, that Christopher Marlowe), and Mia Wasikowska as eternally precocious vixen.  They live by night, of course, have lived for centuries.  Hiddleston in a derelict district of Detroit, Hurt and Swinton in Tangier.

The are aged, ageless hipsters, not the shallow ones that everyone disdains, but the old school hipsters who don’t go out anymore because it’s too much effort and too much the same.  They stay cloistered with their aging analog technologies.  They can stroke an object and tell its place and date of creation.  To them, non-vampires are “zombies,” you know, wannabes, poseurs, humanity.

Hiddleston’s Adam and Swinton’s Eve are old souls, still much in love, though growing so tired of living.  It’s tedious, you know.  Swinton flies to Detroit to meet her man.  But the trouble arises when Ava shows up.  She’s still a party animal, likes the nightlife, loves to boogie, drinks way too much blood.

Acquiring the liquid of life is typically done through underground connections at hospitals, to ensure purity.  People aren’t usually preyed upon.  And blood is somewhat like heroin, though the effect is brief and also nourishing.  Most blood is tainted these days, you know.

I actually enjoyed the movie more than many of Jarmusch’s more recent films.  It’s been described as “languid” and “droll”, which are both apt adjectives.  These vampires are hipsters, but original hipsters, the artists, the rock stars, the people who knew all the “great ones” in their day.  And wouldn’t it be great if we all looked so well as we aged and rued the changes in the world.

Permanent Vacation (1980)

Permanent Vacation (1980) movie poster
director Jim Jarmusch
viewed: 05/23/2012

I’ve been a fan of Jim Jarmusch since the 1980’s but I’d never seen his first feature film, Permanent Vacation before.  But after watching the documentary Blank City (2010), a film about the New York film scene in the 1970’s and 1980’s, my interest was piqued.  It had been released as part of the Criterion Collection’s version of Stranger Than Paradise (1984), his breakthrough film.

Permanent Vacation feels like what it is, a student film, made with actors that a student would know, made within aspects and limitations of budget.  And while Jarmusch’s films are all low-key and low-budget, a lot of his strengths were in a more primordial stage at the point of this film.  Still, it’s not uninteresting to watch it among his other works, and it has certain characteristics that offer genuine interest.

Shot in New York City, the film captures aspects of the time and place of its making.  I’ve noted that this time and place reveals a very different New York to that of contemporary city, a glance into a milieu that spawned so much music, culture, and vibrancy, it’s really interesting to see how gritty and grim it could be.  A much more dangerous place, a much less corporatized place.

Jarmusch uses some particularly derelict neighborhoods to depict the world of his film.  It’s a little vague, but apparently is meant to be a post-atomic war or at least post-another major war.  The main character, Allie Parker (played by Chris Parker), is a hipster dude, hep on Charlie Parker, literature, cinema,  but who is seeking to escape this desolated city.  He wanders the mostly run-down blocks, only occasionally seeing the city’s more stable and healthy elements, often in background.

One shot in particular finds Parker awaking on top of a building, south of the Chrysler building and the Empire State Building.  I recognize that vantage to an extent from my own travels there in a time beyond his.  Jarmusch’s meditation on the city and the restless angst of youth wind up bearing witness to a world now also deeply changed.

Frankly, it’s not the greatest film in the world.  John Lurie does show up as a saxophone-playing street musician, who seems to bleat out a free jazz version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.  What Jarmusch pulled together by his next film and haphazardly with occasional utter brilliance over his career was something more sublime and profound than he stumbled on in his student work.  For a Jarmusch fan, it’s certainly worth the effort.  Beyond that, not so much.

The Limits of Control

The Limits of Control (2009) movie poster

(2009) dir. Jim Jarmusch
viewed: 01/07/09

How much sense does a film have to make?  Certainly, there is some fine line between pretension and art, perhaps lying entirely in the eye of the beholder.  And how does one know when a film is being remote and profound or sort of intentionally ambiguous and only pretending to make a statement?

When Jim Jarmusch’s latest film, The Limits of Control, came out last year, it was not met with positive reviews.  So, I am guessing that the slow pace and the bare bones of a narrative, played out against repeating statements about the meaning of life, queries of taste, allusions to art, and a cast of multinational actors didn’t manage to mesh for many people into anything either sensible or tolerable.  And going in, I considered this film to be a potential disappointment.

I’ve always liked Jarmusch, since his early times, Stranger Than Paradise (1984), Down by Law (1986), and Mystery Train (1989) and his film Dead Man (1995) is a personal favorite.  But what about this film?

Shot by cinematographer Christopher Doyle (probably the best in the business since his work with Wong Kar-Wai and beyond), the film follows African actor Isaach De Bankolé, a nattily-clad, Tai Chi-practicing courrier, as he lands in Madrid and is given a series of cryptic tasks, all signified by the hand-off of matchboxes, containing coded messages that he reads and then swallows with his two caffe espressos.  He is met by a broad spectrum of actors including John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Gael García Bernal, and Youki Kudoh who after asking him whether he speaks Spanish or not (he does not), pontificate on a variety of arts, ideas, and philosophies.  His journeys take him from Madrid to Sevilla to Almeria, a progression away from modernity and the urban to an older, smaller village, rural world.  And in the end, there’s Bill Murray and a further cryptic ending.

But you know?  I liked it.  Through the beginning, I was intrigued by the European-ness of the film, something perhaps like a film from The Continent from the 1980’s, something sort of post-New Wave or something.  And Doyle’s cinematography, using the unusual architechtural locations to frame shots within highly Modernist design, through the straighter, more traditional lines, and on, set the tone and the pace of this slow, quiet film.

And seeing Paz de la Huerta, nude, ambiguous, and nude…did I say nude?

Well, it’s not like it all made sense to me per se, but I liked it.  The passing landscapes out the windows of the train, from windmill farms to orchards to hills and sun, it’s almost as though the whole is something more than the parts.  And while there is certainly pretentions and intentional mystery that I don’t know if it all worked, I found myself in the odd minority of really liking the film.   And it’s not that I think that I’m right and all the others are wrong, but rather quite simply…I liked it.

I often note that time is the true judge, not just of film and art, but history, everything.  And I won’t project whether this film or even Jarmusch himself will stand the tests of time in that sense.  But I liked it.  And that is that.

Broken Flowers

Broken Flowers (2005) movie poster

(2005) dir. Jim Jarmusch
viewed: 08/10/05 at Embarcadero, SF, CA

Jim Jarmusch is one of my favorite directors, despite the erratic natures and qualities of many of his films. When he gets it right, as he did so amazingly in Dead Man (1995) and Down by Law (1986), his films are the best of a generation.

This film is interesting in his oeuvre, as it is in essence a bit of a road movie, which is a vague genre that he has ventured into in the past, most notably in 1984’s Stranger Than Paradise. In that film, he explored the country in a strange perspective, from an immigrant perspective, very visceral. In Broken Flowers, the exploration of the country is less about specific locations (no places are explicitly named), but rather a look at life choices and social strata, though I haven’t concluded the absolute point.

The story follows Bill Murray, who is typically excellent, as a solitary lothario, who is wearying of his place in life, but is sparked to attention by a note left for him from an old lover, suggesting that he has an 18 year old son who is seeking him. The letter is unsigned and spurs him to make a list (with the explicit direction from his neighbor) and seek out the women of his life from 20 years ago.

There are five women that he seeks out in locations and professions that connote with varying lifestyles, all different from one another. One woman is a single mother with a teenage daughter, who comes from a lower middle-class neighborhood, alone since the death of her husband. The second is an upper middle class woman who is married and apparantly childless, living in a modern pre-fab neighborhood, making money from selling real estate. The third is a new age animal communicator, who is somewhere between crazy and rational. The fourth is an angry working-class woman, about whom we learn little, other than her association with motorcycles and rough guys. The fifth one is in a cemetary.

The progression moves in his relationship with the women from pleasant to brutal. He ends up sleeping with the single mom, who is glad to see him, to getting beaten up by the friends of the biker chick, who seems to loathe him.

What this all means, I am not totally sure, though for Murray’s character, it is clear that he catches glimpses of alternative lives to his own, alternate paths he might have chosen. But in the end, as he stares intently at every young man on the street that is the age of his son, he realizes how lost he is and how alone. The crisis is of no longer knowing who he is in the world and what matters to him.

The film is slow, but is interesting. It’s a sad, lost feeling that emanates from it. When it ends without closure, the audience is meant to feel as unsatisfied as the protagonist. And I am sure it will disappoint those who seek such closure in films. In the end, it’s not great Jarmusch, but it is good Jarmusch. I’d recommend it, but not to everyone.