RIORI Presents Installment #195: Bergeron, Letterman & Jenson’s “Shark Tale” (2004)

The Film…

The School…

Will Smith, Jack Black, Robert DeNiro, Renee Zellweger, Angelina Jolie and Martin Scorsese, with Peter Falk, Vincent Pastore, Michael Empirioli, Katie Couric, Doug E Doug and Ziggy Marley.

The Plot…

No one likes a loser, but that’s usually from the loser’s point of view.

Oscar is a little fish in a big ocean. Sure, he has a secure life at the whale wash, but he can’t help but dream about being the cream of the crop on the high cliffs on the Reef. Only to hope for the better.

Lenny is a big fish in a small pool. He’s a disappointment to his Don of a shark, and won’t chomp lesser fish for ethical reasons. Lousy philosophy for an apex predator, and a disappointment to Pop. Only to hope for the worst.

So what are these odd couple of fish coming together gonna do to reach their goals?

Simple: social media and spray paint. Worked for David Flowie.

The Rant…

Got a meaty one for you this week. Ready?

This one was not my idea. I actually wrestled with it. Animated movies are almost unheard of here at RIORI for scrutiny. There was the recent Looney Tunes: Back In Action installment, but that was a mix of live action and cells. There was my take on Pixar’s Brave, which in my opinion was a very creaky, non-Pixar endeavor if there ever was one after the first Cars flick (IE: Cars 2 was deplorable, where the merch hit the stands before the movie proper hit the theatre). I’ve strayed away—mostly—form tackling mediocre animated flicks here because on the whole there is no specific audience. Unlike anime features, where there is a line always in the sand about where the content of a film takes you (EG: Akira and Ghost In The Shell is not Studio Ghibli), American animated films are designed to appeal to both young and old at the same time. Then again, if I have to sit through Frozen ONE MORE TIME I’m gonna have to let it go. Let it all go.


Yer welcome.

Shark Tale was a favorite flick for K. She loved this pastiche. Then again, she’s a gourmet regarding animated films. She’s a Pixar junkie, just like me. She is a dyed-in-wool Disney fan. Stone cold. She appreciates my adoration of Studio Ghibli’s output. We both dig the Looney Tunes (well, I dig. She goes along with them). I always have to be on top anyway we dig animated flicks. However there must be a line in the sand. Just because a movie is pixilated or celled does not a good film make. Passable yes, but not necessarily good. Ever watch the House Of Mouse’s output during the 70s? ‘Course not.

It was federal law to watch animated flicks when I was a pup. I was a Reagan Baby, and across the 80s there was a crazy quilt of animated feature films available to entertain and warp me at an impressionable (read: dumb) age. I wasn’t aware at the time, but there were a handful of what could be considered “subversive” films in that animated universe. Don’t quote me on this, but in hindsight the 80s might’ve been the watershed to introduce “adult” concepts into ostensibly movies designed for the junior set. Granted, there were classic Disney films the pushed the envelope. Sleeping Beauty featured baddie Malificent morph into a demonic dragon. Some asshat shot Bambi’s mom. The donkey-as-sin scene from Pinocchio is still harrowing. Hell, Cruella DiVille got her own movie recently, which admits her staying power as a palpable, lizard-like villain. So yeah, Uncle Walt’s early triumphs did not shy away from the more unpleasant aspects of life, real or imagined.

The following is all hindsight 20/20, 30 years on and not so dumb anymore (hopefully less dumb). Although I didn’t take much notice at the time, I’ve since recalled a handful of animated flicks that, well, left a curious taste in my brain. If you’re a member of Gen X you might dig what I’m sharing. Come, walk with me. It’s down a foggy memory lane. I have cookies.

Recall the Rankin/Bass meditation on death and rebirth that was The Last Unicorn. The creepiness of conspiracy and tyranny with The Secret of NIMH, what with its literal backstabbing. Heck, before the first act of the original (animated) Transformers movie began the nasty Decepticons whacked dozens of Autobot stalwarts from the TV series into so much scrap metal (I was really bummed how Ratchet—the Autobots’ medic—got mowed down by the nasty Megatron in gun form, which was based on a Nazi pistol). The flick had a stellar, old skool celebrity voice cast (EG: Orson Welles, Robert Stack and Lionel Stander, all hamming it up and having a blast). Some coarse language and lots of violence pervaded the film rendering our Autobot heroes from the last three sanitized seasons on TV rendered into smoldering slag. And the perquisite, unrelenting, insufferable, cheezy 80s soundtrack courtesy of Vince DiCola to boot. There was me as an eleven-year old: Cool! Ugh.

Finally, the proud, meat-of-the-matter example of us Gen X kids growing up too fast, the original (again animated) G.I. Joe movie had a very terse scene. The climax. It occurred when one of the principal protags—I think was Special Forces agent Flint—got shot by a COBRA operative pointblank and bled out so fast he slipped into a coma. And never returned to the film. Go figure it out.

These were animated flicks. Cartoons. And were acceptable as kids’ “entertainment” by the MPAA. Times sure have changed. Maybe a tad too much.

Word is born. Good luck finding any straightforward “serious” content in kiddie flicks nowadays, save Pixar’s output and much of that is drama driving any conflict. Now for real, I’m not trying to romanticize the past. In fact above I tried to and I don’t feel so romantic. Hold me. It was not that long ago that a hard-nosed plot element made kids think as well as entertain. Again, raise a glass to Pixar, possibly the last bastion in animated studios that “get it.” Good, if not great animated movies are both provocative as well as endearing. Once again with Pixar, the opening montage in Up speaks volumes with no voices to be heard. Prods your brain, invites you into Carl’s worldview and why. Can’t lie that it’s my fave Pixar movie, and always enduring once you own up to the message of loss and redemption. It’s not about cranky Carl. It’s not about Russell and his dim-witted Kevin. It’s all about Ellie. Chew on that.

And WALL-E is all about conspicuous consumerism. And Charlie Chaplin. Sorry about the headache.

Enough about Pixar. I mean enough about Pixar. Time to talk about the competitors, specifically DreamWorks. They’re the guys responsible for fodder like Shark Tale.

I will be polite. I am allegedly an adult now. If I was able then to deal with one of my fave actors Jeff Bridges as Prince Lir getting gored by the devil Red Bull and reviving in the drink, I can play nice now (sh*t, tell me your best bar story). I’ve learned/understood a few things as of late regarding modern animated films. I’ll get back to that after this one thought:

I never killed the school back in my junior high days suffering under the influence of watching Voltron. Nowadays I suffer this…

The Story…

Oscar (Smith) has always dreamed he’d hit it big someday. Instead of toiling at Mr Sykes’ (Scorsese) Whale Wash he rather be with his head in the clouds. Jet set. Living a life of luxury at the top tier of the Great Reef. But nooooo, whales are endangered and need regular flossing. Crap in a hat.

Lenny (Black) is a shark of ethics, and has never wanted a piece of the action like his pop, Don Lino (DeNiro). Lino is the head of the local shark Mafia and his cosa nostra shakedown is pretty straightforward: gobble up fish. It’s what sharks do, except pacifist Lenny, disgrace to The Family. All he wants out of his miserable existence is to have dad’s respect. Be someone, but that means putting his conscience aside. What to do?

Well, as comedy of errors go, both Oscar and Lenny meet at the crossroads of fate. Square peg Lenny feels he has no business with the sharks, and Oscar has no business with his head in the clouds of the rich and famous. Due to accidental destiny, between them both Oscar succeeds in reaching the high life thanks to Lenny’s bumbling, and Lenny finds a new family amongst the lesser fish of the reef.

Until Don Lino and his crew come looking for his cowardly son. And the wrasse-hole that “slayed” Lenny’s big bro Frankie (Empirioli).

Now it’s all up in the foam. Well, thank goodness what the right swatch of blue can do.

The Review…

Picking it up now, there were quite a few detractors who regarded Transformers: The Movie as nothing more than a glorified toy commercial. They weren’t entirely wrong. As a kid what I dug about the film (besides the collateral damage and Spike shouting “sh*t” out of panic) was not so much the prospect of new toys on the horizon and new eps on TV. Nope, it was the movie’s introduction of new characters. Consider this, really do. When you consider a film to claiming “a cast of thousands” (hyperbole aside) don’t you groan a bit at the claim? I understand it’s an old gimmick, and now a cheesy cliche, but really. Most films seldom have too many principals. If you think about it Star Wars: A New Hope only had seven leads. The film series invites grand things, but with a small, core cast. Luke, Han, Leia, Threepio, Artoo, Obi-Wan and Vader. Everyone else is just gravy, no matter how core Peter Cushing’s role of Moff Tarkin was central to the plot. Lesser fans of the movie forget about him regardless. Fanboys…never say much either. Hope was no Spartacus, and for good reason.

The core cast thing works wonders for most live-action films. There may be a lot of secondaries and extras (EG: every Woody Allen, Robert Altman and/or Lawrence Kasdan film) in big flicks with big stories, but that eyewash is only there as filler. When that formula goes awry—read: David Lynch’s Dune or DeMille’s The Ten Commandments as examples—it’s akin to getting dinner at your local Italian red sauce joint where the menu folds out like a road map atlas with over a hundred meal options taunting you. You eventually just settle on the lasagne. Like last time. Every time. Too many options.

Ah, but for animated movies it’s practically de riguer to have a “cast of thousands.” It’s always the more the merrier. Consider this, Disney’s first theatrical, animated release was Snow White & The Seven Dwarves. The title alone speaks of a broad spectrum of players. Okay, maybe not, but back in 1937 a full length feature film that was fully animated was an unusual achievement. And never mind Snow or her charges, or the Wicked Queen or Prince Charming. Instead recall that this was the 30s. There were no such tech as we have today for sound effects. An unholy host of “extras” provided bird whistles, other nature sounds and even singing as backdrop to match the soundtrack. I recently checked the manifest of voice actors, et al that provided sound for Snow White. It took 20 people—voice actors and F/X crew alike—to imbue the film with the warmth we all recollect from seeing Walt’s big deal animated movie. Not a thousand people, but you get it, and it set a standard being followed my modern animated films to this day.


Okay, okay. In short if you’ve ever seen the Toy Story films, the Shrek movies, the Madagascar flicks, Sing, Over The Hedge, and if you wanna count Despicable Me with its myriad Minions a big animated voice cast works. It’s required these days. You gotta have that cast of…tens to make sure they are sewn into the tapestry of the story. And naturally there are no small roles, small parts, just small attention spans. Those help also when trying to digest so much technicolor upchuck.

Swing and a miss.

A big vocal cast to a big feature animated movie. Sometimes it works and sometimes it “works.” Shark Tale was on a fence here. It’s not the notes its how you play blah blah blah. There was no economy of dialogue here to warrant a big cast, except for cheap, there-and-gone gags. That and this high profile cast of yeoman voice actors didn’t help move the story along. Good thing there wasn’t much of a story I guess. Look, for once I’ll upchuck all of the lousy parts from this week’s hanging and get on to the praise. Both are in equal parts BTW. I’d like to be mannered this time out.

Ahem. The story. Shark‘s is a tried-and-true plot device. Read: boring. Our two misfits from opposite sides of the tracks do some wheeler-dealing to get in good graces with the right crowd. In this case, Oscar wants to make a name for himself and Lenny wants to be accepted for who his. It’s a riff on Trading Places, or Strangers On A Train, or A Bug’s Life, before God. It’s been done before and with more panache, but was lost on Shark. It’s merely a canvas for wisecracking and getting all goofy on yo ass. There ain’t much meat on this whale fall, and for all it pluses, there is way to much filler and pandering to kids and adults alike. The story is stale and no amount of pop culture asides can redeem this tale twice told ten times over. A shame.

It’s understood that I am an unabashed Pixar fan. Beyond the cutting edge CGI, Pixar’s flicks have healthy, well-built stories with fleshed out characters and a certain plot pinion—the almighty Maguffin—that informs the entire story. With Up, Coco, Inside Out, WALL-E et al, there was a single trigger to set the story in motion. EG: Millie’s death, Coco’s fading memory of her beloved Hector’s music, Riley’s troublesome move and solitude against conspicuous consumerism respectively. Unlike Shark, these stories don’t use tropes as a crutch, but as a launchpad.

This is my issue with DreamWorks’ animated movies. It kinda goes along with the line about “cast of thousands.” As of late, there is only one DreamWorks animated I’ve loved, and oddly enough the plot is based on a million other stories (EG: our protagonist put in a responsibility to care for a troubled pet), as with a fave of mine How To Train Your Dragon, which had some weight being based on a series of books. It was a boy and his dog, classic. It’s that blues riff again. Unfortunately most of DreamWorks CGI output lacks nuance, since nuance doesn’t sell well with most animated films for a fast buck. Think again about Despicable Me and its sequels following the laws of diminishing returns.

DreamWorks as well as other animated studios of a similar ilk (EG: Illumination with those damned minions again) cage way too many pop culture riffs to serve as humor. Think Family Guy. At least with Disney/Pixar there’s some breathing room, some satori with tasteful exposition. With most DreamWorks animated flicks it’s all about flash, dash, splash and being utterly disposable. Sometimes such disposable fluff’s a welcome thing, but when there is precious little meat on the plot to begin with, and all that flash gets hella boring f*cking quick. I mean name one memorable scene in DreamWorks’ production catalog beyond Fiona singing the bird to death. Right. Gimmicks as entertainment. All of Shark‘s pop culture refs would go over the kiddies’ heads, and just came across as trying too hard.

Rough, I know. However the big deal redeeming factor of Shark is its animation. The whole movie is f*cking beautiful. The whole show is very pretty, very colorful, very vibrant. Luscious is the watchword with Shark, and majority of the budget been spent on pixels upon pixels. Sure wasn’t invested in sharp scenarists (ow!). It’s a gorgeous movie. I can’t stress that enough.

Beyond just being lovely to look at, the animation was also quite clever. Unlike Finding Nemo, our fishy friends in Shark are over top anthropomorphic and all the better for it. I loved how the character’s faces resembled their flesh-and-blood human counterparts. Oscar looked like Smith. Lenny looked like Black. Don looked like DeNiro (note the birthmark on the cheek). Check out Mr Sykes’ bushy brows. And Lola was Jolie. Amazing, and very amusing. I ain’t made outta stone, people.

Natch, voice acting always brings out the best in actors with unique voices and their cadence. For example with Shark, Smith got to ham it up to 11, channeling his inner Fresh Prince. His spin seemed almost cathartic. Let’s expel some serious goofiness akin to primal scream therapy. Well, that and taking time to skewer his public image. As did the supporting cast, especially Black whose squeaky Lenny was barely recognizable as Black himself (and for a first, no histrionics. Didn’t think it was in him).

Here’s another nifty example about healthy self-parody Shark permitted our vocal cast. For years Jolie has more or less having her acting chops be waylaid by her looks. Here we have a great parody of that dilemma. In the endgame her best roles downplay her pretty face. Ever see Malificent? What’s I’m saying—despite the weak story and splash and dash—is that the voice actors get to tear it up, make fun of their public image, or embrace it with more cheeze than the Kraft conglomerate. Yeah, the pop riffs were lame, but the execution was a delight. Kind of a weird paradox.

So what’s my final word? Well, Shark was madcap, exquisitely beautiful to watch, funny in fits and starts, freaking loud in execution (like sporting an orange shirt at the beach) and definitely all about style over substance. K loves this movie, probably for the same reasons I’ve been all meh about it. Still, what I loved about Shark was not what she liked. Call this a lesson in cinematic life: it takes all kinds. A kinds of takes. Get it?

Go fish.

The Verdict…

A mild relent it. This ain’t Pixar territory here, and that’s okay. On another hand Shark Tale should be mandatory viewing for every budding CGI animation student.

The Stray Observations…

  • “Is that supposed to be the Titanic?”
  • “That’s not how you sing that song, mon.”
  • “Nobody loves a nobody.”
  • Danger: Heavy Load.
  • Echo!
  • “Go be useless somewhere else.” I must use that line at work.
  • License plate. Ever see Jaws? Heh.
  • Crazy Joe. Sorry, not sorry.
  • What was that thing a while back when Scorsese derided the MCU as “not cinema?” Huh.
  • The Whale Wash is like a dentist appointment from Hell.

The Next Time…

Why didn’t the folks at Disney call the sequel Tron 2.0 instead of Tron: Legacy? Some people don’t have a Clu.


RIORI Presents Installment #194: Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson” (2016)

The Film…

The Players…

Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani, with Barry Shabaka Henley, William Jackson Harper, Chasten Harmon, Cliff “Method Man” Smith,  Rizman Manji, Trevor & Troy Parham and Masatoshi Nagase.

The Plot…

Paterson NJ bus driver Paterson drives by day and lives by night. More like late afternoon when his route is over. It’s then he’s Paterson the poet, poring over his notebook to get just the right words. Like a lot of poets they find their inspirations in the mundane, and often keep their best stuff from the light of day. His wife Laura thinks his stuff is great and should be published, but Paterson is wary.

He feels, well, what if is his work isn’t great? Unlike Paterson’s favorite son and idol William Carlos Williams, our driver friend figures he’s better off being obscure.

Just another fellow traveller, so to speak.

The Rant…

Bad news, folks. Being a Hollywood star isn’t glamorous anymore. Hasn’t been that way for years considering how the Studio System collapsed and died in the early 50s. Back then the Warners, MGM, RKO and a slough of the rest kept a tight grip on their core stars and the projects they were attached to. Simply put, a classic like Casablanca could not be made without Bogie having a contract with the Warners and director in a pinch Michael Curtiz being beholding to the Warners. It doesn’t work that way anymore and for decades. Today it’s just a dog and pony show. Kinda like free agents in baseball. It’s not the laborious quality of the picture that earns millions, it’s the smiling faces and name directors who earn billions. Considering the average cost of a movie ticket is about $12 and streaming services are averaged are $180, the producers in La La Land probably don’t give two sh*ts about creative control and return customers all they want is the dailies to gauge how to leverage a tenth mortgage on they’re third villa in Switzerland. Does this tentpole star this and whomever? Green light! Skiing is fun.

Well…Sometimes it’s just for the better to not follow the double diamond and just keep to the bunny slopes. I never knew if Irwin Allen ever hit fresh powder, and that’s how I wish it.

We’re talking about filmmaker Jim Jarmusch here, the anti-director. He directs his movies by not directing them. That’s what it feels like. That’s a complement. He finds inspiration in the mundanities of life. A lot his movies do. Almost all of them have a low key tenor about them, which is also nice considering most film auteurs utilize wrenching emotion from their delicate toys to make a statement. More like a STATEMENT, whatever that is. And I hate auteur theory. Hey kids, you don’t need to scream to get yourself heard. Anything more is a desperate cry for attention from people you don’t wanna meet. Ever seen an ep of The Bachelorette? Right, me neither.

From what I’ve watched of Jim’s filmography there is always this omnipresent feeling of calm belying the film’s passive/aggresive tension. C’mon, a week in the life of a bus driver sounds very far from engaging. However, once you shroud this picayune plot in dry humor, thoughtful narrative structure and an almost left-of-center sensibility then you got a story. This is how Jarmusch makes his films, with a sense of unease that provides the tension. That and the proto-Monty Python awareness that like Harvey Pekar’s comic American Splendor claimed that ordinary life is complicated stuff. Jarmusch is a whiz with nuance. That and making—demanding—you pay f*cking attention. Blink and you’ll miss a vital plot point, like Bruce Willis looking for a match in The Fifth Element (watch it to get it).

Hey, figure this: Jarmusch’s films ain’t for everyone. They require a degree of patience—a Masters’ degree—as well a keeping a sharp eye. And being patient. It’ll come to you. Just quite literally sit back and relax. Keep your peepers peeled and enjoy the ride. That’s really all their is to it with Jarmusch’s films. That and the tickling, gnawing sensation at the back of your mind continuously prodding you, “What’s going on here?” Usually, it’s a character study shot in a dead pan style. And I ain’t talking about Leslie Nielsen’s comedy roles (see below).

Just…just hold on. Be patient, remember? Thanks.

I may have touched upon this before here at RIORI, but I’ve been adherent to this aesthetic for over twenty-five years so it’s still relevant. Esp’ watching certain kinds of movies directed by Jim Jarmusch. Or Wim Wenders, Richard Linklater or even Woody Allen to name a few. All of those guys have something similar in their execution which is at both times ineffable and relatable. You don’t quite get it, but you get it on some other level, like in the vein of another aesthetic that I’ve been adhering to for the past quarter century. I may have touched upon it before here at RIORI. Again, thanks for your patience. Now check it.

In my salad days I signed up for a college class called “Shakespeare In Film.” Self-explanatory. The prof not only played English speaking films based on the Bard, but also adaptations from other cultures. A BBC take on The Taming Of The Shrew (starring ex-Python John Cleese as would-be playboy Petruchio) was an uproar. There was quite a bit of scenery chewing by Sir Laurence Olivier across several movies. There was this very baroque take on Hamlet by some German troupe which had this whole vibe that wafted, “Sorry about the war and all.” And interpretations in Japanese cinema. Films from esteemed directors like Juzo Itami, Ishiro Honda and of course Akira Kurosawa.

I was hooked. No, not with Shakespeare. I dug his sh*t years prior to the class. Japanese films. No shocker, they sure had a different aesthetic to making movies than us in the West. I found it engaging and refreshing. It was nice to not have exposition rammed down our rifles. Take Kurosawa, for instance. He had this economy to all his movies, from dialogue to action. Say what needs to propel the story only. Engage in action that propels the story. And go bonkers when needed so long as it propels the story. And end the story when it ends. No gag reels. In a sense of artless inspiration, Kurosawa got into filmmaking because it was easier than being a painter.

Noting Kurosawa’s filmmaking ethos, a great deal of his muse stemmed from traditional Japanese art forms and styles. Most Japanese directors do; there’s very little cross-pollination with influences with a culture that were staunch isolationists for centuries. Unlike Western design that one nation culls of from an other (EG: traditional opera is only in German or Italian). What Kurosawa did, like Jarmusch has, was making tropes his own. Something new, something old, something else, pass the salt.

Here, before I get lost in the brambles…

That artistic sensibility I’ve been trolling you with is called mono no aware. It’s Japanese, translates to “moment of transience.” Perhaps you’ve heard of the Cherry Blossom Festival in Tokyo, where in spring the cherry trees bloat with pink petals that fall like snow for a few weeks. Right. Nothing beautiful lasts so appreciate it while you can. Be it cherry blossoms, a month at the beach, or a gourmet meal. Nothing good lasts. Kurosawa was a master of projecting mono no aware. So is Jarmusch, albeit left of center. As for Kurosawa here’s a proper example, all to the right. The final scene of Seven Samurai screams this.

Here. The man’s revisionist take on Shakespeare’s King Lear, Ran follows the basic plot lines, but with a lot of expanse (EG: lots of drawn out scenes). Shakespeare’s dramas are quick and clipped and bouncy (read: all of them). Kurosawa’s adaptations take as much time as they need, be it longer or shorter. Mostly longer. There was this scene in Ran showing a scene of samurai on horseback crossing a river. Pretty standard for a film about a battle. The crossing scene took over ten minutes to film and the creek was barely a yard wide. My prof pointed out to the class to watch this scene. And again. And watch it again. And watch it again. I did, and I got it.

Mindfulness. Listen to the bubbling of the river. Take note of how muscular the horses are, and how they trode to avoid the rocks. The stern, blank expressions of the samurai. Watch this. And watch this again. Again.

It was a moment of satori, which informed the dire matter of why the samurai had to venture into enemy territory. This scene was a grave matter, alluding to future conflicts on a not so distant horizon. Be mindful, watch this.

In Japanese, Ran roughly translates to “chaos.” It’s the opposite of Jarmusch’s muse. Be patient, watch and wait some more. It may be rewarded.

One more thing before I lacerate Paterson this old story. It’s kind of a joke, and you may have already heard it before. If you haven’t, please follow along:

A simple man climbs the mountain to speak with the wise man. Once there he asks, “Wise Man, what is the meaning of life?”

The wise man replies, “Life is a flower.”

The simple man was confused, “What do you mean ‘Life is a flower?'”

The wise man blinks, “You mean it’s not?”

Bestow to Jarmusch’s work and muse, it is.

The Story…

Paterson (Driver) is an average bus driver in Paterson, NJ. Very auspicious, since he’s a part time poet not unlike his hero poet William Carlos Williams, Paterson, New Jersey’s favorite son. Most likely the best thing that came out of the grimy town.

Paterson lives a simple life. Wakes up early without aid of an alarm clock. Enjoys his cereal while pondering his next poem. Taking his moody dog Marvin for a walk after work on the way to tie one on at the local bar. And he’s always especially encouraging—albeit reluctantly—his wife Laura’s (Farahani) creative outlets. Be it an amateur interior designer, guitar student or would be cupcake baker no matter what flighty flight of fancy his bae chases, Paterson’s there for her, with the right complement.

It’s a win-win. Laura is his best fan and critic of Paterson’s poetry. In truth, she’s his only fan. Paterson doesn’t share his passion with the world. Publishing never entered his mind. Just writing poetry and his daily routes—which are one and the same—is all he needs to get by. That and just trying to be Paterson.

No. Not being Paterson the aspirant poet. Being Paterson, Williams’ opus.

Which route to take?

The Review…

It was kind of tricky to wrap up Paterson. I should’ve offered up enough of the story to inform/interest you, but not to blow the wad. It’s hard to do that with films like this. Jarmusch’s style is like reading Thoreau’s Walden. The penultimate “you had to be there to get it” story (the eventual being the Bible. Refute me). You have to watch the films, enjoy them and are incapable to explain to others what you liked about what you saw. Framing and nuance and dialogue are all an actor in themselves. It’s really hard to tell the curious why you loved a certain Jarmusch film. Sure, one has to watch it to get it. Watching Paterson is akin to trying to read James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake: this is inscrutable “the hell’s going on?” There is a story here. The movie attendant is a lot more attainable. Chill.

Running the risk of sounding too academic—again, sorry—Paterson is kind of like that Joycean aesthetic. Really more like an ep of Seinfeld: amusing, but with a cogent understanding of how to twist words to one’s own advantage. That’s akin to Paterson, as well as Paterson. If I’m using too many big words, you louts. Observational comedy is designed to amuse. But what about the day to day sh*t that is decidedly unfunny? Please, help is on the way.

Unlike “deadpan humor,” where jokes are internally impassive and tossed off, “dead pan camera” movies are framed in emotionless imagery. In simpler terms, you figure out what’s going on here and come to your own conclusion. Jarmusch’s films seldom, if ever, using panning and tracking shots. Y’know, to show momentum. No. I repeat, his stuff requires passive attention. If something seems out of place it’s deliberate (sorry to spoil the moment). Everything is fixed camera work. Dead pan. This technique makes good sense with a story like Paterson’s. It’s a slice of life piece about an amateur poet. Chances are thoughtful scenes of satori deny any Arriflex.

Paterson’s bus route is his muse, and Driver’s (kind of a pun there) performance is nothing short of elegant. Always serene, always trying to be positive and his ears always a-twitchin’ the the urban patois that he smiles with on his ride. The guy makes multiple stops, both literally and metaphorically. My experience with Driver as actor is lamentably lax. Yeah, yeah Star Wars blah. Truth be told, I’ve never seen an Adam Driver film ever, save this one. I liked what I saw. In true Jarmusch style, it’s always refreshing to have a lead who is laidback. Driver’s face is perpetual wonder. To me, Paterson was like a well-adjusted Travis Bickle: a genuine guy with a goal, not a mission. Refeshing. Most of Jim’s protags are victims of circumstance (most created en toto by their bad choices). The only bad choice I saw with Driver as thoughtful Paterson was lack of self-confidence when it came time to put pen to paper. That and his haunted need for a fix. I’m not talking about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll to get his imagination churning. He has to be in every moment, every moment in order to write. The man has a codependency issue with his entire environment. If it doesn’t stimulate him, he can’t—won’t—write. That’s normal for every writer, poet or otherwise. It’s intrinsic to the film after all. However most writers need to kickstart their muse if she ain’t talking with them someday. Inspiration favors the single man, and won’t come easy if you just wait around for it. Kind of what Paterson does for a good chunk of the movie. Waiting for the words to come based solely on outside influence.

This is a good thing, and thanks to Jarmusch’s tasteful deadpan camera work we can see our titular friend occasionally straining to write something. If there’s any message to be found in Paterson is at the end of the day, all you have to rely on is yourself. Don’t wait for your ship to come in. Row out to meet it. This Hallmark card drivel leads me to a story I read about prolific author Stephen King. Now, regardless of what he writes—mostly horror, yeah, but also sci-fi, fantasy, mysteries and journalistic endeavors—the guy does spin solid yarns. Some better than others true, but reliable nonetheless because of a schedules he’s kept for years. Whenever he needs a break, mull over his current project or to battle writer’s block he goes for a long walk in the afternoon to clear his head and resume writing refreshed. He isolates himself to think clearly, get inspired by his own imagination. Paterson’s struggle, on the other hand, is not really a struggle. Driver’s both sweet and frustrated face hints at that. Despite our hero has a well-off enough existence, he doesn’t have a life. I believe what he scratched down in his notebook after his route was a life he wish he could have had, Williams fandom or no. Just a thought.

Speaking of Stephen King, here’s how I assessed Paterson’s arrested inspiration in the mundanity of his bus routes. Back in the 80s there was this anthology series The Ray Bradbury Theatre, hosted by the sci-fi great. It may have been staged, but Bradbury introduced each episode where all of his story ideas came from: his office. From the camera eye Ray’s “studio” was crowded with curios, fetishes, models and an occasional stuffed animal (and we ain’t talkin’ plushies here). This guy wrote Fahrenheit 451, A Sound Of Thunder, The Illustrated Man, and The Martian Chronicles inspired by junk? Yep. So goes Paterson, sans stuffies. His passengers are his stuffies, and het gets kinda empty when there’s no business from the gallery. Poets are genuinely like that: if the muse sends them astray, so goes the art. And Paterson always need his fix. It makes his boring life worth it all. Pretty amazing performance by an actor all flat affect. Even when eating quiche. Moving on.

Once you go along with Paterson’s worldview, the rest of the flick falls into place. Passivity, remember? Finish the popcorn already. This is a Twizzlers kind of movie. Chew chew chew. There’s a slow unravelling here. My implication of codependency carefully creeps into our bittersweet narrative. Anyway, there’s the other side of Paterson’s romantic ideas. His life with Laura, his somewhat overly artistic wife. Brash, outgoing and whimsical—everything Pat is not—she seems grounded yet flighty yet with an agenda. She has no routine, and her days are always different. Unlike Paterson. Driver was very good at being guarded, but not in cross-armed kind of way. Not defensive. You gotta admit, having a free spirit like Laura married to everyman Paterson makes a lot of sense. She’s his life coach. Try this, do that. A new dinner. Publish something. She’s gotta lotta designer cupcakes to bake (remember that weird trend in the mid-teens? I served them at my wedding). The more Driver plays a sort of passive/agressive aw shucks routine, the more Laura tries to shuck her clam. Farahani was not Paterson’s cheerleader, and never drifted in magic pixie territory. She was there to stir the soup (EG: the guitar lesson scene), perhaps be the balm to Paterson’s fragged mind and also a stroll with Stephen King. Maybe. Jarmusch’s films allow a lot of room for interpretation. Also overthinking. Both are good things.

Here I reach a quandary. I must admit—begrudgingly—although Paterson fell under the criteria of The Standard (remember that little thing) we should not fool ourselves. A film like this was never intended to be a tentpole. Anyone who’s worth their salt knows all about Jarmusch’s indie cred, and he doesn’t seem concerned with the box office. Me taking on a film like Paterson is a bit of a lame duck. I did it before a lifetime ago with Broken Flowers. That movie like this one was designed to be under the radar, which I believe is how Jarmusch likes it. It’s akin to Prince when he made records for his own pleasure, and if they sold or didn’t it was no big deal to him. He just followed his muse and didn’t wait up for it. Like Jarmusch. Like Paterson.

Simply said, Paterson was a fine example of Jim’s cool process over three deceptively simple acts.

Go tell your friends.

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Duh, rent it. It’s like a vacation for your mind. Tune in, drop out and pay just enough attention. Learn patience.

The (Many) Musings…

  • “Just remember—cupcakes.”
  • Laura’s a pretty clever designer, albeit black and white (rimshot).
  • Note: Marvin’s collar.
  • “I am an actor.”
  • (K) Three sets of turns. For every child you see there’s a twin. I had no clue as to what she meant, but it sounded right.
  • Note: the picture of Williams.
  • “Look out Nashville.”
  • Marvin’s a tough critic.
  • Note: and his photo. Keeps wandering around the house.
  • “I know a lot sh*t about that.”
  • loves me some Sam & Dave.
  • (K) NoteTwenty-three is a lucky number. Route 23 is where Paterson finds inspiration.
  • “I’m gettin’ my ass kicked today.”
  • My aunt used to live in Paterson. It was decidedly not as pristine then as it appears here.
  • (K) Note: the chalkboard. WE ARE ALWAYS CHEAP.
  • “Sometimes an empty page presents more possibilities.”

The Next Time…

Boy, have I a whale of tale for you!

Well, actually it’s more like a Shark Tale. But still!