Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Paterson

"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and “Office Christmas Party” are also new to Blu-Ray this week. 

“Paterson” is a movie about poetry. The movie, written by legendary indie darling/auteur Jim Jarmusch, is in itself lyrical and poetic. It showcases a week in the life of a Paterson, NJ, bus driver whose name happens to be Paterson (Adam Driver). One day leads into the next for Paterson, and all of the trials, tribulations, and mundanity of his daily existence are revealed.

However, there is beauty in the mundanity. This is Jarmusch’s point. Even a humble bus driver living in a modest house with his very supportive artist wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), and their English bulldog Marvin, has a life whose story is worth telling.

Paterson is not without aspirations of his own. He dreams of being a poet. Each day before he begins his bus route, and while on his lunch break in a local park, he writes in his poetry book. The poetry he writes is scrawled on screen as he reads—and re-reads—it out loud, getting it just right. Laura thinks that he is good enough to have his poems published, like Paterson native and famed poet William Carlos Williams. Paterson just likes to keep writing in his book, and hasn’t even made a copy.

Laura spends her days painting the house in black and white. It’s interesting that with all of the colors available to Laura, she chooses to use only black and white. We see paintings of Marvin that she did in color, so we know she can use colors. She chooses not to. As the black and white painting goes from walls to floors to shower curtains, then to a dress, then even on to Laura herself, there is a hint of mental collapse—of a creative mind screaming out to be heard, but getting no recognition. She also tries food as a creative outlet, but isn’t much of a cook.

While “Paterson” the movie may focus on Paterson the man, the city and its people play a big part. As he drives his bus around the busy downtown streets, Paterson overhears snippets of conversations from his passengers. They discuss their lives, their relationships, or Italian revolutionaries in the case of one pair, then leave the bus. We don’t know how the conversation started, how it ended, who these people are, or if we’ll ever see them again. Neither does Paterson. They’re just those folks who appear in life for brief flickers of moments then disappear out into the world.

Some folks’ lives get a bit more concrete, such as the proprietor and patrons of a local bar that Paterson goes to on his nightly walk with Marvin. The proprietor is a kind older man named Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley). He’s proud of the history of his home city, and has various photos and newspaper clippings hanging up behind the bar. Chief among them is legendary comedian Lou Costello, who also has a park in Paterson named after him.

Foremost among the patrons are Marie (Chasten Harmon) and Everett (William Jackson Harper). They’re a couple, or at least they were. Their relationship is on the rocks. That’s all Paterson knows, so that’s all we know. Much like when Doc’s wife (Johnnie Mae) bursts into the bar and berates him for taking some money from a cookie jar, we only get the big picture that there is a problem. The finer how and why details are left out. It’s none of Paterson’s business, so it’s none of our business.

The polar opposite of this is Donny (Rizwan Manji), Paterson’s supervisor at the bus station. He’s not shy about sharing all of his most personal and intimate problems with Paterson, since Paterson is polite enough to ask how he’s doing. By the end of the week, Donny mercifully tells Paterson that he doesn’t even want to know. I’m sure he’s right.
Certain themes are repeated throughout the days that make up “Paterson.” Three of the most obvious are poetry, twins, and waterfalls. The poetry theme is the most strongly pronounced. As Paterson and Laura wake up on the first day, she mentions to him that she dreamed that they had twins. As the week progresses, Paterson sees twins everywhere. Paterson has lunch looking at a waterfall every day, and there is a painting of a waterfall in the kitchen at his house. The themes gel together in a scene with a little girl, who is a budding poet, who also happens to be a twin, who reads Paterson a poem called “Water Falls.” The meaning behind all of this is for each viewer to determine—should they decide to even dive that deep into the movie—but regardless, it is interesting to ponder.

This is a movie that rewards paying attention to subtlety, subtext, and the littlest details. It’s a celebration of life not for the big, memorable, grand moments, but rather, for the smaller moments that make up every day existence. “Paterson” has enough going on underneath the surface that it is certainly worth repeat viewings to pick up on everything you missed the first time around. Buy it on Amazon: Paterson [Blu-ray].

Also New This Week

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

The term “fan service” gets bandied about as a negative, but I don’t think that’s fair. I agree with the notion that for some franchises—“Star Wars” being one of them—the fans who have kept it alive and a part of pop culture for the past four decades deserve to have their efforts rewarded with the inclusion of characters, story themes, and bits of dialogue that they will appreciate. This should not be done in a lazy or egregious way, but rather in either an unintrusive way, or in a way that services the story. So how to treat “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” which is essentially two hours of fan service?

My answer is to treat it like any other movie, and judge it on its own merits. This works to “Rogue One’s” benefit in regard to the story. After all, the question of how the Rebellion got the plans that allowed them to destroy the Death Star in “A New Hope” is a big “who cares?” in the grand scheme of things. After all, there is a more epic saga to be told, centered around folks whose last names are Skywalker.

But “Rogue One” does well in telling a spy story that takes place a long time ago in that famous galaxy far, far away. There are shady characters, deceptions, double crosses, lies, manipulations, sabotage—all of the stuff that makes for a great classic spy movie. If this were a World War II movie, it would take place in Vichy France, the Rebellion would be the French resistance, and the Empire would, of course, be the German occupying army. Story-wise, “Rogue One” works at that level. The problem is that this, and one other thing, are all it really has going for it. But I’ll get to the other good thing later. For now, some issues.

The biggest problem with “Rogue One” is the heroine, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones). She seems to have two personality modes: sullen and angry, or sullen and worried. I get that this movie is a darker, more serious one than previous installments, but even judged on its own it is hard to get invested in a movie in which the main character is such a bland sourpuss. The remaining members of the band of misfits, like Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), the epitome of what the Empire would refer to as “rebel scum,” Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), a blind Force-sensitive martial artist, and his companion Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), are mildly more interesting, albeit in a cookie-cutter kind of way. We’ve seen these archtypes before. It’s a bit sad when the most fun, interesting, and engaging character, with the most humanity, is a droid named K-2SO (voice of Alan Tudyk). His scenes breathe life into an otherwise bleak and soulless movie.

Another issue is that the aforementioned seriousness of the movie is profoundly undercut by the mindless stupidity of the action scenes. Yes, I know that Storm Troopers are historically not the brightest bulbs with the best aim, but in past movies they were at least a somewhat viable threat. Taken on its own in “Rogue One,” the problem of inept Storm Troopers is compounded. The movie does a decent job of making them be somewhat menacing in the beginning. Then during a street battle early in the movie, Storm Troopers become a pathetic joke and nothing more than fodder to get shot, blown up, and tossed around like rag dolls. The movie wants to be dark and somber, but undermines itself with every idiotic action scene in which Storm Troopers get so easily taken out, sometimes in hand to hand combat. Do they forget how their blasters work when someone charges at them with a stick? It’s frustratingly groan-inducing, and does nothing except bring the movie crashing down like a badly damaged Star Destroyer.

The final note, and the other good thing I will give “Rogue One,” is that it ends well. By that I mean it ends beautifully, spectacularly, phenomenally, and extremely well. This is fan service at its best—giving the fans exactly what they want to see and hear, while at the same time servicing the story and bringing the movie to a satisfactory conclusion. While the last five minutes of the movie don’t make up for drab characters and piss-poor action, there is an okay enough movie built around the bad elements that make “Rogue One” worth seeing, especially for fans of “A New Hope.” Stream it.

Office Christmas Party

What’s a branch manager/founder’s son like Clay Vanstone (T.J. Miller) to do when his sister/company CEO Carol (Jennifer Aniston) threatens to close their branch right before the Christmas holiday? Throw a huge party and try to land the big account that will save the company, of course. Yes, “Office Christmas Party” is one of those movies in which a nasty corporate type threatens a sweet business owner who cares about his employees, but this one has a bit of a twist with the brother/sister angle. It’s also pretty twisted—and funny—in its own right.

The company throwing the party deals in technological innovations, for computers and smart phones and the like. Development head Josh Parker (Jason Bateman) and talented underling Tracey Hughes (Olivia Munn) have a great new idea that can save the company. That is, as long as they can convince potential client Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance) to buy into it.

But that’s all back drop for an excuse to have a wild and crazy party at the office, complete with booze (a crafty re-purposing of water coolers is used), drugs, butt photocopying, and a guy using a 3D printer to make a replica of his junk. There’s also a DJ (Sam Richardson) who keeps the party moving along, and at some point jousting takes place. Yeah, this one gets more than a little out of hand.

The highlight of the movie is not an employee, but rather, an unhinged call girl madam played by Jillian Bell. She goes from sweet, hugging, and friendly, to a gun-wielding psychopath in the blink of an eye. Of all the laugh out loud surprises to be seen in “Office Christmas Party,” she’s the best one. Rent it.

More New Releases: “The Institute,” about a grief-stricken girl (Allie Gallerani) in nineteenth century Baltimore who seeks to escape the Rosewood Institute after she is subjected to horrible brainwashing and mind control experimentation, also starring James Franco (who co-directed), Pamela Anderson and Topher Grace; and “Don’t Kill It,” starring Dolph Lundgren as a demon hunter taking on the supernatural force inadvertently released in a small Mississippi town.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

Cron Job Starts