1917 – Film Review

Sam Mendes returns from the world of James Bond (after the absolutely awful Spectre) with a World War One movie, in memory of his grandfather who fought in the conflict.   It’s an Oscar favourite, the kind of film that ticks across several categories, and its being sold as a triumphant achievement in filmmaking that has to be seen on the big screen.  The chances of the film falling under its own weight, and ‘one-shot’ style, were very high going into this one.

It’s 1917, and two young soldiers who have already seen their fair share of action are given the mission to get behind enemy lines to pass a message on to a commanding officer.  That simple, effecting plot, pushes the film forward with great force in the film’s opening.  Before learning how insane the job is, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman, Prince Tommen from Game of Thrones) picks partner Schofield (George MacKay, Captain Fantastic, Pride) to go with him, and they set off in haste after receiving the orders from a chubby Colin Firth.  The commanding officer they need to get to is in charge of a company that is unknowingly walking into a German trap of great armaments, and it is a company Blake’s brother is a member of.  And so, despite Schofield’s hesitations they rush to jump over the trenches into no man’s land.  This set up allows for a thrilling first twenty minutes, where the two men hurry through the trenches, the Steadicam pulling in front of them.  Going over the front line, the stress of moving across no man’s land is inevitable, and Mendes evokes a lot of tension with his fluid camera, like the mission they are on, however, this has a time limit.

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The one-shot, unedited, constant rolling picture is thankfully not a gimmick here, at least for the first half of the film.  It is a very effective technique when characters are walking towards something, and there are variations in height and scenery to keep it interesting.  Probably the most mind-boggling shot of the film is in that first sneak to the German line, where the camera goes down into a crevice, tracking the two men across a body of water.  It is an exciting build-up, that is unfortunately let down once they have made it past the German trenches.  Not to say the film is particularly dull from there on, but certainly the highlight of the film is that gripping, daring hop over the front line.  Then comes the one cut in the film, that’s right, an obvious unhidden cut in a one-shot movie.  This is not a problem; however, it does signify a big slice down the middle of the film.  In this second half, Mendes slips into one of his classic characteristics – over-sentimental, florid imagery that comes across as incredibly pretentious.  Schofield dashes through a film set playground of catholic church iconography, that looks so fabricated that it cannot repeat the tension of the opening act.  Then the energy of the Steadicam is lost in a silly and melodramatic central scene that stops the plot dead in the tracks.

Mendes’ emotional connection with the story is obvious, and what he does manage to capture is the absolute horror of war, at times replicating the same feeling that The Thin Red Line does – the feeling of fear and hopelessness of the soldiers.  This is a respectable viewpoint to take, though it leads to a flawed film, whereby Mendes floats too long in mushy motifs and makes the one-shot idea pointless for a good chunk of the runtime.  Luckily, he has crème de la crème of Hollywood cinema Roger Deakins shooting for him, meaning there are some extraordinary shots towards the end of the film that stop the film from being boring.  The inclusion of the odd huge star popping up throughout the film was welcome as well, which is usually distracting, but here it added some gravitas, and a new lease of life at times when it really needed it.  George Mackay does his best with some awful lines of dialogue, and Mendes should have really kept the focus on the camera rather than the actor.  It is possible to achieve empathy in a war movie, rattling along, not worried about having scenes of quiet to prove it cares about the people too.

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The forceful nature of those quiet scenes really tarnished the anticipation of the initial conceit of the film and leaves it nowhere near greatness.  It is one of those films, where it’s curious to wonder about those who have been completely amazed by it.  The film has a fine pacing and fine message, and is expertly well constructed, but there is nothing extraordinary about it.  Its nomination in Best Editing at the Oscars is a strange one (one in your face cut, and a few covert ones) and its nomination in Best Original Screenplay is even stranger.  The script is a bad one, and a World War One film working on the memories of a family member is not entirely original concept, whether Mendes (and Krysty Wilson-Carins) penned it from scratch or not.  Although it is hard to dog on a film this noble, it is another example of a product sold to mainstream audiences as a filmmaking feat, where really it is just extremely unremarkable.

Top Ten Films of 2019

I’ve been living in France since September, so I’ve seen both UK and France releases this year, which means that this list is properly dodgy, as there are films that would usually be in next year’s list (like Parasite, which doesn’t come out till February in the UK).  To not lose any in-between films, I’ve kept it to 2019 releases in either France or the United Kingdom.

Firstly, here is 20-11:

20. Under the Silver Lake (David Robert Mitchell)

19. Us (Jordan Peele)

18. The Sisters Brothers (Jacques Audiard)

17. Midsommar (Ari Aster)

16. The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers)

15. The Edge (Barney Douglas)

14. Ad Astra (James Gray)

13. Woman at War (Benedikt Erlingsson)

12. The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg)

11. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)

  1. Minding the Gap (Bing Liu)

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A skateboarding documentary, which like all the best documentaries it’s not really about the main subject matter.  The skateboarding acts as an aesthetic and a backdrop to stories on troubled youth, race, and toxic masculinity in places forgotten by the American establishment.  Where the film becomes something special is a gentle reveal of how much the director plays a part in the lives of the people on screen, and his own battles to get where he is now, thinking about the friends that made him.

  1. Parasite (Bong Joon Ho)

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This film is much higher on most people’s lists, and rightfully so, it is just about perfect.  I found love in other films from the year, however this is a masterful piece of work, even aside from the actual content of the movie.  It is a South Korean auteur picture that has managed to be marketed in the US, seen by huge audiences, which in itself is a hopeful thing.  The film is best seen without knowing a single thing about it, all you need to know is that you will be engrossed from start to finish.

  1. High Life (Claire Denis)

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Every year these lists are very personal, and the films that make it are usually ones that inspire me or shift my emotions in some way.  Claire Denis’ English language debut did both of those things, and it made me write THIS.

It is a space sex dungeon existential crisis orgasm and I fucking love it.

  1. A Hidden Life (Terrence Malick)

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The depth of this film is quite outstanding, telling the story of an Austrian farmer who refuses to fight in World War Two.  It asks questions about faith, resistance and protest without recognition, leading to a moving experience, and a mature ending.  Unsurprisingly it is ridiculously well shot, with wonderful Austrian countryside vistas, in a peaceful and mechanical setting.  Valerie Pachner as the left-behind wife Fani is one of my favourite performances of the year.

  1. Burning (Lee Chang – Dong)

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A transcendent work of fiction that works like a great novel does.  For a while it is a sort of love triangle movie, building to a stunning central scene, where the film changes completely to a noir-esque thriller.  You can take multiple interpretations from it, and I always enjoy it when an artform questions itself through technique, and metaphor, not being too concrete.  Steven Yeun’s performance as a massive smarmy bastard is great fun, amongst a film with endless meaning.

  1. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese)

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It is amazing that Scorsese even got this made, and it shows that he is still one of the greats, managing to pull a story this vast together.  Robert De Niro carries the film right through to the bitter end, the crushing phone call scene at the peak of it.  Joe Pesci’s performance is remarkable considering he’s hardly worked for twenty years, finding a character presentation in this film that is higher than being a simple gangster tough guy.   The film winds down to a profoundly sad ending, where Scorsese offers an idea about dying without epiphany – creating all this and it means nothing!

  1. Varda by Agnes (Agnes Varda)

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As a filmmaker and a human being Agnes Varda has given the world so much, and in this documentary, she reminds you of it all step by step.  She is giving lectures on her work, cutting to parts of her filmography, telling stories about her process.  The level of genius she has produced for the image and moving image is hard to comprehend, when you view the variety and sheer amount of work that she has done.  Every legendary artist should do this before they die.

  1. Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach)

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Again, perhaps another perfect movie.  Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannson disappear into these roles, moulding themselves around an excellent script that balances both sides of the argument in an honest way.  Johannson’s monologue on her initial meeting with divorce lawyer Laura Dern and Adam Driver singing ‘Being Alive’ are two of my favourite scenes of the year.

Full review HERE.

  1. If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)

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I’ve never quite a cinema experience like this, for a multitude of reasons, including my mental state and the person I was with.  Barry Jenkins is a sublime filmmaker, and this is a beautiful, heartbreaking adaptation of a James Baldwin novel that captures the essence of Baldwin’s writing.  The soundtrack from Nicholas Brittle is one of my favourites of all time, and I can’t listen to ‘agape’ without breaking down.  When the credits rolled, I was audibly blubbering.

One of the few things that I have written that isn’t actually bad HERE.

  1. Little Women (Greta Gerwig)

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This is a special film.  An entrancing rhythmic symphony of storytelling.  A tactile, physical, romantic, loving experience.  Meta, and intelligent in its nods to the original author of the book.  Gerwig imagines the story in a baseline gorgeous way, then adds subtilties that raise it to interesting high art.  I was falling off the Timothee Chalamet bandwagon slightly, but after this film, I am firmly back on it, some of the things he does with his face! And Saoirse Ronan as well is unbelievably adorable, and relatable in a role that she brings so much life to.  It is one of those films that I did not want to end, and I will be watching it continuously in the foreseeable future.

Wrote something about the film HERE.

Little Women – Subtle Poetry

Something fresh that filmmaker Greta Gerwig brings to the Little Women story, in the new adaptation, is the elements of meta.  Her screenplay weaves in biographical details about Louisa May Alcott, the original author of the classic novel, creating a sense of reverence for the writer that establishes the real-world accomplishments of the source text.  It is a wonderful notion, that doubles the meaning of the work, in both a fictional and historic manner.  Aside from that, Gerwig presents a further meta about writing and directing, whereby the plays of Shakespeare are discussed in the film in terms of work that managed to be both poetic and popular.  Little Women 2019 is the perfect example of a repeatedly told story, that is newly remarkable because of talented authorship, and the reach to artistic achievement in a sellable mainstream affair.

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The undeniable brilliance of the original story is important, and it’s why the book keeps getting adapted, and why it keeps working.  Writer and director Greta Gerwig is faithful to the material, and never really messes with the intricacies of the plots, just plays around with the camera, setting and character.  Saoirse Ronan stars as Jo March in an utterly gorgeous performance, splitting the timeline between childhood and adulthood, hued memories and bleak realities.  Her sisters are all given as much development as she is, in slightly less time: Florence Pugh as Amy, Emma Watson as Meg, and Eliza Scanlen as Beth.  Their mother, played by Laura Dern, is a piece of all of them, in her clothes and the shades of colour in her hair.  In a film full of moving scenes, it would easy to overlook the quieter moments where the sisters are bickering in their family home, talking over the top of each other rhythmically, all written exactly by Gerwig.  This is when you fall completely into the setting and are happy to stay there.  Across the road, in a much larger home, lives Theodore ‘Laurie’ Laurence, again beautifully performed by Timothee Chalamet, who lives with his austere grandfather, played by Chris Cooper.  In contrast to the warmth of the March house, the Laurence manor is far more masculine and impersonal, only brought to life when the girls visit.  One of the stunning extracts of the film is when Laurie is stood on a chair undergoing a teaching lesson from tutor John Brooke (James Norton), when he spots Amy outside the window, saying to John excitedly: “There’s a girl out there.”  Soon all the sisters are in the study, catching the boy’s infatuation, bringing a spark to the spacious mansion.

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It is in this scene when the little details of acting and directing prowess are ever-present.  Jo gallops into the room inspecting the vast collection of books, and Laurie tracks her with his eyes, in love with her of course, Chalamet has it all over his face.  It’s a look we have all given, and Chalamet’s recreation on screen is a constant, building this mesmerising chemistry he has with Ronan.  Their movements seem almost in sync, dancing together, rubbing each other’s hair, embracing tight and long, agonising for Laurie and comforting for Jo.  If you know the story, then you’ll know that at the heart of the romance is this pair, how perfect they seem for one another, yet it cannot work out.  Ronan and Chalamet’s time on screen together encapsulate this, and the inevitable confrontation they have is truly astonishing cinema.  Due to an excellent screenplay that loses all silliness and exaggerated chivalry, the crescendos confession from Laurie and subsequent rejection from Jo is neither melodramatic nor pretentious, instead feels contemporary and honest to life.  Thanks in part to the tactility, and closeness to their friendship, where it is an absolute joy to see Jo punch Laurie on the arm whenever he is being particularly stupid.  Away from the bonds between characters, the film has modern sensibilities because of the style of the players when they are viewed singularly, such as Jo’s hairstyle, or the way Laurie wears his American Civil War era clothes.  Even Saoirse Ronan’s running has a twenty-first-century beat to it, like the way Gerwig runs herself in Frances Ha.  All of that being said, it is in the editing where Gerwig really brings the story to the now, and the choice to have two narratives side by side throughout is an effective one, being bound only by the families it has the impression of separate readings.  It traverses as expected from a New York trained indie filmmaker, whilst keeping tight with the time period, and it is difficult to not be seduced by its charm.

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There is genuine and sincere poetry in this film.  It has ideas on female recognition, love, contentment, childhood, and writing that are fledged out to a base level.  The film is funny and heart-warming, treats its sadder moments with respect and allows each character to act out in meaningful ways.  And it is all packed into a story that is important to so many and will be seen by huge audiences across cinemas all over the world.  Greta Gerwig has achieved poetry in the mainstream, with subtleties and intelligent casting, matched with a cinematographer (Yorick le Saux) who gives energy to each shot and lighting choice – every time it cut to a new location, I was excited to see what my eyes saw next.  I think we are lucky to have a film like this, one with such magic.  I do not believe the film is radical, nor groundbreaking and I’m not about to try and understand the complexities of a feminist message.  Little Women is ultimately about a level of compromise, and you do not have to squint hard to see Gerwig herself sacrificing a perhaps more impactful protest by succumbing to the pressures of producing a film that can be easily adored.  When you have a film this special, that imagines impossibly strong emotive reactions, at least from myself, you get a free pass into greatness, placed into a column titled: what makes life worth living.

 

 

 

 

The Report & Marriage Story – Film Reviews

The Report

Films on the retrospective history of the Iraq War are coming, and The Report is one that makes sure it picks the right side.  Adam Driver plays real person Daniel Jones, an FBI office dork working for Californian senator Dianna Feinstein (Annette Bening), performing an exhaustive investigation of the CIA’s torture of suspected terrorists in that awful post 9/11 era (still pretty bad now).  The narrative consists of a lot of reading by Jones, cut to the torture happening, then Jones taking the information back to Feinstein where they have a conflict on whether it is pertinent to publish the discoveries.

This is one of Amazon Prime’s attempts at credibility for their original titles, a drama with recognisable actors and a fair enough budget.  Unfortunately, at times the film does have the feel of a TV movie (something that Netflix is moving away from), with a terrible title sequence font and some fluff lines, Driver literally says ‘I’ll start at the beginning,’ early on in the runtime.  The direction is competent enough, and screenwriter by trade Scott Z. Burns does whatever he can to make the paperwork reading and keyboard tapping more intriguing to watch, such as including explicit torture scenes.  These moments are effective in that you are disgusted by what is happening, however they make the film unremarkable and formulaic.  It takes you out of Jones’ headspace, because we can see the torture, but he cannot, leaving the film empty of character.  One of the strengths of the 2015 film Spotlight is that director Tom McCarthy never shows any of the abuse, yet the emotion is still there, because of the scope, and weight of how the journalists cope with hearing the stories.  More ambiguously The Report is most powerful in the proceedings before the torture methods were sanctioned, where phony psychologists are pitching their ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ in a cosy meeting room in Washington.

It advances at a polite pace, and never stagnates, though it is probably twenty minutes too long, and the outcome is clear after it moves past a welcome Tim Blake Nelson cameo as a whistleblower.  At first, the impression is that Driver is playing this in a low-key manner, he’s pragmatic and calm.  Then the film becomes less about him and more about the work, so he eventually shows a great deal of frustration and anger.  This is fine, there does not always have to be a three-dimensional protagonist, it can be about the work, and effectively that’s the film: it’s about the events, not the people surrounding it.  It is placid grey colour tones and a one-sided historical presentation, which is usually a bad thing, but here it stands as worthy because it is the correct side.  Even though the film is forgettable, it is a necessary telling of a story in a mature, intellectual, fact-based way that serves as a catalog to recognise mistakes made by the US government.

Available on Amazon Prime NOW. 

Marriage Story

Noah Baumbach’s second feature with Netflix, and one plagued by Twitter discourse and awards buzz is one of the best films of the year.  It is based on Baumbach’s own divorce with actor Jennifer Jason Leigh, with some of the truth in the story being relevant, and some of it not.  Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson take on the respective roles, as trendy artist couple Charlie and Nicole, separated and going through a divorce.  The film acts as part procedural, showing the effects of the technicalities of the law, whilst also handling the delicate problem of arguments and communication in long term relationships.

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The entire film is not as formal as that description and is ultimately a full-fledged weepy.  There has always been a sweetness to Baumbach’s work, that soft-boy cuteness that you would see in an Éric Rohmer (Ma Nuit Chez Maud, Le Rayon Vert) or a Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine, Ruby Sparks) film.  In the past Baumbach has a sharp New York City wittiness alongside this sweetness, which can leave it slightly too biting, but with Marriage Story he dives headfirst into the heart and soul of the characters.  The film is definitely still witty, and extremely funny, it’s just more endearing and moving than some of his other work because he has embraced the romance.  It’s an upsetting film, with an agonizing climax, full of dramatic moments to go with scenes of levity and honesty.  You are allowed the melodramatic if you are true to reality and have space for the more absurd aspects of life, like one moment where Adam Driver has a gruesome accident with his arm.

The script is incredible, highlighted in a scene where Johannson meets divorce lawyer Laura Dern for the first time, and monologues about the problems of her relationship, seemingly in a stream of consciousness, though all preciously written by Baumbach.  It is important to note that after this scene, about a third of the way through, the film switches almost completely to the perspective of Driver, and this a strength of the movie rather than a weakness.  Baumbach is not pretending to totally understand Johansson’s character, perhaps being true to his own experience, instead he is focusing on Driver’s inability to leave his ego behind and accept his wife’s vacancies about him.  It creates an accurate depiction of a long-term relationship, the barrier that will never be broken down, that you need to let go of trying to have all the answers.

Both main performances are great, and you really forget that Johansson is an avenger and Driver is Darth Vader’s biggest fanboy or whatever.  They are acting!  Johansson in particular really pulls you onto her side, and though Driver gets to shine towards the end, she is perhaps more well-rounded in the film.  Then you have Laura Dern and Ray Liotta as the sleazy lawyers, used as pawns by Baumbach mostly, but are highly entertaining, not to mention Alan Alda stepping in for some much-needed transparency to the American divorce system.  The result is a film of expert moving parts: a tight – meaningful screenplay, poignant direction, and grounded character acting, whilst having some space to explore into less serious details.

Available on Netflix NOW, and some cinemas across the UK (probably other countries too). 

 

2016, 2013, 2017, 2012

The coldness of an ascending order rank, or is it descending?  A pastime of listing, where personal satisfaction outweighs any relevance.  IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU MR REVIEWER.  There are too many ideas, and not enough talent.  Bong Joon Ho made an entire movie and you wrote an eight-hundred-word article explaining it.  I’m deleting all of this.  If a writer deletes his work in the woods, was the work ever there?  Hot take: there are good films and bad films.  Orange, blue, pink, violet.  And there are other films, the ones that mean something to you, the ones that transport you to a void of personal gratification.  Now to fight through the snow of endless agonising hypocritical minutia.

PATERSON (2016)

Two separate dreams about actor Adam Driver:

  1. Somewhere along the French Riviera, except the topography is disjointed. An extended family are holidaying in the summer, and they are joined by a new member – American actor Adam Driver.  He’s somehow managed to end up dating an aunt or a cousin of our narrator, who is of course a massive fan.  The narrator is the guide for the trip, and he wants Driver to like him, so much so that he is scared to do or say anything wrong.  It’s an anxious chess game of trying to be cool.
  2. Memory loss.

A film about creativity in everyday life, contentment to return home to the one person you love the most.  Simply living and breathing, instead of chasing something that does not exist. 

UPSTREAM COLOR (2013)

The water before you is somehow special, it is better than anything you have ever tasted, each drink is better than the last, take a drink now.  With extreme precision, a minuscule bug is crawling through a vein like it is going backwards up a waterslide.  It’s quenching its first.  Push away, come close, small kiss, intense embrace, the beginnings of explanations destroyed under the pressures of a countertop.  Their hair is almost the same length, connected in a masterplan of irrelevant stakes that is too much to handle.  All roads lead to the bath.

A film about control over your path, about the chemistry behind love and attraction.  The end result a twisted fate of wrapping yourself up as warm as you can, to prepare for the disappointing answer.

A GHOST STORY (2017)

Being immortal is a great privilege, said the joker to the thief.  Twenty-one is a quarter done already, but those first ten didn’t count, right?  That is such a selfish notion when you are surrounded by spectres every way that you turn.  Imagine the amount of death floating around you in a city apartment building.  It’s either comforting or disturbing, and what of memory acting as reality?  If you close your eyes and see a loved one’s hand can you reach out and grab it?  Too many questions, and that is why it has made it here.

A film about losing the only true connection you have in the world.  The only thing you have left are the images of all sides of them, sweet and ugly, hovering over you. 

RUBY SPARKS (2012)

Joy!  Sunshine gleaming down onto this fucking graveyard.  Zoe Kazan’s doting and critical words that do not embark into cringe.  Writing!  The death of the author, postmodernism, all that jazz.  Selfishness and the old ego are hard to ignore with this one.  The enjoyment comes from reflection, and the fading romanticism of growing to a point of no return.  Pragmaticism must be respected, as tall as the mountain might seem.  This whole thing clearly cannot get past the summit.

A film about seeking perfection in life and art, where leaping just far enough will grant you enough enchantment to keep you hopeful that it’s not all numbers, and biology. 

 

‘Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on,’ – Masatoshi Nagase, as the Japanese poet, in Paterson.

Paul (short story)

The café is in Berlin, but it could be in Belfast, Brighton or possibly Brussels too.  Not France, certainly not the south of it.  The wallpaper is red, bedding canvas paintings with price tags attached to them.  It is not busy, however conversations can be overheard with little effort, and a table behind us are speaking a mix of German and English.  This happens a lot here.  The coffee is black and average, poured into dainty white mugs that are very similar to the ones in the apartment that I am staying in, which makes me wonder if the place is a Polish joint, as the apartment owner is a Pole.  It would only be ignorant guesses, trying to work out whether the décor had a Polish look.  I’m sat at the window that looks out onto a narrow street, something incredibly uncommon in this city, where three-lane roads are a mountain to climb every time you need to be on the other side, a tally in the con’s column.  Across the street is a beige building, around three floors of rectangle, and a protruding tower that rises two floors higher.  It is peri-metered by a gate that would take a ladder to traverse, before worrying about the spikes at the top.  Through the bars I can see an etched in stone marking that reads: Jüdisch Gymnasium.  The rest underneath is not visible.  I glance over to my companion, who looks even more tired than they did yesterday, and older than I’ve ever seen them.  They are fifteen years older than I am and starting to show it.  I glance back outside to see that two policemen have appeared.  It is peculiar seeing regular police with guns, and they are hopping around whilst chatting, trying to stay warm.  There is a clear impression that they have been walking this beat a while and walking it together a while too.  A woman with a limp walks by, then another woman with a similar injury, causing me to infer that there must be some kind of physical surgery facility down the road.  I make a comment about this to my companion, who is writing ineligible notes down, and ignoring me.  The policemen are chatting vigorously, as a man approaches them.  He’s short, has dark hair and a moustache.  On his approach the policemen have stopped talking, and the man instigates a handshake, to which is completed with familiar smiles.  My eyes track the moustache man as he advances along the gate, out of my vision, then returns on the inside, entering the building.

“That was nice,” I say, sipping my coffee.

My companion looks up from his notebook.  “What was?” He asks.

“It doesn’t matter.”

I continue to gaze outside.  After some deliberation, one of the policemen leaves the other, and the remaining one crosses the road to come right up to the glass, putting a single air-pod in his left ear as he is moving.  For a second, I think that he is looking at me, then he begins talking to himself, obviously in some kind of telephone conversation, still pacing to keep warm, his gun shaking gently on his hip.

“I’m sorry,” my companion says.  “I actually feel inspired to write something down for once.  I think the art might have helped.  You were right to take me there, all the years I’ve been living here, not once have I seen something made after 1990, until today.  Maybe I’m exaggerating.”

His American accent is more subtle than it used to be, having spent the majority of his life in Europe by now.  He’s forty-six and called Paul, the greys in his beard are more prevalent than the ones in his head, and he’s put on a bit of weight.  The good looks are not fading just yet, and during the last week he has attracted some female attention, thanks to some fame and some precise complexion in his face.

“You look tired,” I say.  “You could put the notebook down for a while, enjoy the coffee.”

“The coffee is shit,” he says.  “They get it wrong here and besides, I thought you wanted me to write more, isn’t that why you’ve been sent to Berlin?”

“I’ve not been sent here.  I’m here as a friend, I’m here to help.”

“So the tasteless coffee isn’t going on the expenses?  I’m sorry, I shouldn’t get so worked up.  It’s this damned book, short stories, who would have thought?  I don’t think I’ve read a short story in my life.  They’ve always seemed pointless to me, and we both know no-one buys them.  I like you; I do, you are about the only person I trust in publishing, and you’re definitely the youngest person I speak to these days, but I know why you’re here.  You want another novel, your bosses want to bleed me dry one more time before the contract ends, before I’m out in the wilderness, eating rice for breakfast, probably scratching poetry into the walls.  I can’t write anything long anymore, there is no commitment in my life for it.  News moves too fast and I can’t take another line being added to the subway map.  It’s the same everywhere.  I would have been happier being a carpenter like my father, he was making shelves for money till the day he died, the miserable bastard.”

It was hard not to laugh and I would kill for half of the talent he has or used to have.  “The projections for the short story collection are solid,” I say, calculations running through my mind.  “And they are going to be posted online, so they’ll get read and you’ll get paid.  What more do you want?”

“I don’t know anymore,” he says.  “The joke would be to ask my ex-wife I guess, wherever she is.  You know when we first met you sounded a lot like a writer, now you sound more like one of them.”

“I’m not a writer.”

“Neither am I, anymore.  I’m an old computer cycling through programmed instincts, hitting simple notes on a piano that will get a definite reaction.  I haven’t written anything good for years.  Perhaps I ought to move again, rinse another European city for every last drop of inspiration it can give me, suck the oil out of the ground, and ignore the cries of the dying children.”

He lit up a cigarette and wafted smoke way from his eyeline, knocking spectral thoughts into the ether.

“You’re lucid now that you have stopped drinking,” I say.  “If you can’t write, talk, and dictate.”

He coughed.  “I have no daughters or sons to dictate to,” he says.  “That’s disgusting anyway, like I have a disability or something.  Next one, surely the bosses gave you more tactics than that, rather than the pressure of you looking over my typewriter.”

“There’s no tactics Paul, and no pressure.  To be completely honest with you, I think the company cares less about your output than you think.  Sure, you used to be a cash cow, and lately less so, but that works in your favour because they have less to lose now.  Times are changing and if you asked for another contract extension, they’d give you one.  It would be less money of course, and they might ask you to move back to London, or even New York.”

Out of the corner of my eye I can see the policeman jolt away and run down the street.

“That’s not happening,” Paul says, getting my attention back.  “There is no way I am going back to either of those godforsaken places, not in this life.  I don’t want another contract with the leeches you work for, no offence.  I want to be able to write again, to feel something in my fingers other than pragmaticism.  I should start drinking again.  I’ll take brief painful anxiety over eternal depression.  Or I’ll get back on the meds, and call it quits completely, check myself into the home for washed-up writers, call all of the people I’ve wronged and apologise.”

He had finished his cigarette too fast and I could tell he was dizzy.  I order two more coffees, and he gets up to go to the bathroom.  The street outside had lost all of its foot traffic, and I notice we were now in the café alone, with the employees making muted noises in the back after delivering the fresh cups of coffee.  On the table is Paul’s notebook, only a short movement away from my hand, and to resist the temptation I’m drinking the coffee quickly, tasting the same bland liquid as the first one.  Paul has returned and is sitting back down like he is in pain.

“I feel better now,” he says.  “Always do after a piss, or a meal.  Or a cup of coffee that tastes better than this.  Let’s talk about something else and get out of here soon.”

I wonder what there is to talk about with a man like Paul, in a state like this, not anything distressful that’s for sure.  Sometimes when I visit him, he asks about my two children, or my wife, which usually led to a conversation about how I manage to keep everything so stable.  Lying to myself, I would tell him, and having no talent.

“My son is five now,” I say.  “And has started to read a little.”

“Poor kid,” he says.  “Get him out of that and get him in a team of some kind, talking to other kids.”

“Thanks for the advice.  My daughter is the sporty one, like her mother.”

He has drifted away again and has pushed the new coffee away from him.  In silence, he is starting to put on his coat and scarf, and I’m looking up at him like he’s one of the great Berlin memorial statues.

“Are we leaving?” I ask.

“I have a headache,” he says, whipping a scarf tail around his neck.  “We have to get the train before it gets too crowded.  I’m sick of touching other people involuntarily.”

I’m standing up, and looking outside once more, seeing an eerily sparse scene, where the city seems to have died in between sips of my drink.  Paul gives me a flat smile now that we’re both ready to leave.  We get to the front door, saying danke and auf wiedersehen to women that we cannot see nor hear, then suddenly we’re hearing a bang in the distance, that is followed by an echoing crackle.

“What was that?” Paul says, hand on the door handle.

It could have been an earthquake, a train derailment, a gunshot, an explosion, a plane crash, or a dog barking at a stranger.

AFTER HOURS & being stressed out

Martin Scorsese’s new movie is coming out on Netflix, could you believe it?  The master of all masters relying on vomit-inducing exploitative true crime friends wanking twitter meme creating cinema killing Netflix to get backing to make what he wants to.  Uncanny and welcome to those dealing with French cinemas unpredictable schedules, and so myself, AND I’M SURE many others delve headfirst into one of life’s contradictions, watching an auteurs vision on your laptop, begrudgingly, as you stew in popular streaming hatred.  Can’t wait.  It has prompted a little look back on said director’s filmography, combing through the hits to find the ones that have been missed by my selective, compulsive brain.  After Hours, 1985, a cult hit known for being the Tim Burton debut that never was, taken on by a man who had won the Palme D’or with Taxi Driver and solidified bankable critically loved status with Raging Bull (he didn’t quite receive GOD-LIKE status until after 1990’s Goodfellas I should think).  At the time, the hacks probably saw it as a strange choice, however that could be the awful spin that Marty has of being a gangster man, I mean the guys made a musical.  In the 80s it could have been an obvious turn for a man with his hands in production companies’ deep pockets, back in the day when skillful filmmakers got access to trouser storage (WHERE ARE YOU DAVID FINCHER?).  Anyway, instead of contemplating on the OBVIOUSLY trampled on ground that is Scorsese’s career, why don’t I egotistically relate an odd movie from the 80’s to stressing out about logistical paperwork and phone sims, as a kind of self-therapy, repulsively introspective way of showing that I can only write about myself.

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The film is about a guy who meets a girl in a coffee shop, by her interrupting his reading to tell him how much she loves the book.  It’s an incel’s fantasy.  She covertly gives him her number, he calls her when he’s home, she invites him round, he accepts, and then a nightmare of a late-night ensues for the guy, Paul (Griffin Dunne), as he effectively bombs around Soho, NYC, trying to get his end away.  Actually, it’s more like he’s doing the exact opposite, but when the opportunity arises to get his end away, he certainly attempts to seize the opportunity.  After a while, he familiarly gets the feeling of just wanting to get home, because he gets stuck in a logistical misunderstanding dungeon whereby everyone in the neighbourhood hates him and the subway fare has suddenly increased.  Dunne is an everyman for sure, part of that beautiful era where leading men were 5 foot 7 twitchy dorks, crossing over from the seventies into a decade of muscle tight Stallone’s.  He can’t believe his luck that an attractive girl wants to hang out with him, until he discovers the catch, and tries to swiftly get away from her.  Kafkaesque would be an understatement and the horror of the uncomfortable situations are where the films protein is, yet it’s the latter stages when it becomes overwhelming where I found myself relating the most.  In the final third, Paul screams to the skies ‘I JUST WANT TO LIVE!’ and sat in my apartment I had a flashback break of trying to find a working printer in an underfunded French university, or filling out a grant form, or arguing with an American landlord over the phone, or panicking that I’m getting charged by the second for my English phone sim whilst living in a different country.

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It’s not an anxiety issue or a mental problem, it’s the stuff that gets in the way of life and it is annoying.  Paul is dealing with suicides, burglars and pseudo Femme Fatales, I’m dealing with slow replies to urgent e-mails.  I think the term is subtext, and I AM absolutely convinced that After Hours is about being stressed about life, and menial irritating tasks that add nothing of value to comfort or satisfaction.  Paul has a boring job, he’s a word processor (RIP), and the one chance he has to do something exciting is crushed by dull problems, such as losing his keys or GETTING HIS HAIR SHAVED INTO A MOHAWK IN A TERRIFYING PUNK CLUB.  The razor blade to the skull is when it bubbles to a far greater worry, a far greater fear that definitely wasn’t in the zeitgeist back then like it is now.  Scorsese makes timeless, eternal works of art of course.  I’m talking about climate change, the planet is screwed with no-one making meaningful policy changes to stop it, thinking about a future of swimming to a job you don’t like rather than walking to it.  It’s compound stress on top of all the other pointless shit, and it’s about the only thing worth getting worried about.  The longevity of the human race and the legacy of what you leave behind trumps the fear of death, and what you’re going to do with a media degree when you hate journalism and working for other people.  It’s kind of a twisted relief, and with some complexity, the paperwork takes your mind off the graduating, then the graduating takes your mind off the paperwork, and then the polar bears going extinct takes your mind off the inevitable half of century in the workforce and then dementia at the end of it.  At least we have films by great directors about grimy city settings, and sub-cultures you’re not a part of, swilling at the bottom of a glass, created by artists that can develop these worlds in their minds and restrict access to those clad in a suit and tie.  After Hours is a film of its time, because I think New York City isn’t a constant crime-ridden Halloween anymore?  I don’t know.  The film can be attributed to representing those lovely first world problems, lovely privileged and BORED day to day issues that make living unbearable and the relentless end to it much more inviting.  Also, the lighting is gorgeous and it’s shot better than any film that has come out post 2000.