(USA 2016)

Not a lot happens in Jim Jarmusch’s new film Paterson—it is, to borrow from Seinfeld, a show about nothing. Starting on a random Monday, the story follows Paterson (Adam Driver)—a Paterson, New Jersey, city bus driver and closet (or in this case, basement) poet—through his daily routine for a whole week. He finds inspiration in the simplest things: passengers, barflies, Ohio Blue Tip matches. He works it all into his “secret notebook” of poetry, scribbled in sidebars onscreen. Some of it is interesting, some not so much.

Jarmusch throws a lot out there: never mind the recurring parallels between Paterson and those he encounters—there’s imagery of twins, waterfalls, circles, and fireballs. Attempting to infer a weighty point in all of it, though, is probably an exercise in futility; this is fluid stream of consciousness. The story is more a string of vignettes: Paterson’s wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), orders a guitar online and later serves Brussels sprout and cheddar pie for dinner; the bus Paterson drives breaks down; a situation arises in the bar where Paterson has a beer every night when he walks his wife’s dog, Marvin (Nellie, who, sadly, passed away before Paterson came out:

The characters Paterson encounters are plentiful and colorful: defeatist coworker Donny (Rizwan Manji); a rapper (Method Man) in a laundromat; a young poet (Sterling Jerins) waiting for her mother in the bus yard; Marie (Chasten Harmon) and her sensitive beau, Everett (William Jackson Harper), whom she’s trying to dump; a nameless gangbanger (Luis Da Silva, Jr.) who warns Paterson about dog-jacking (not that it stops him from tying Marvin to a spigot outside the bar every night); anarchists, old ladies, and braggarts on the bus.

Perhaps the most accomplished thing about Paterson is its rhythm: the plot moves slowly but in a purposely metered fashion. Cinematographer Frederick Elmes creates a dreamy and downright poetic look. The relationship between Paterson and the world has its own set of rules. This film reminds me of Dead Man, which I haven’t seen in two decades: quietly contemplating routine and rut, Paterson ultimately celebrates the poetry in the mundane. The unnamed traveler and angel (Masatoshi Nagase) at the end literally gives us the “a-ha” moment. With nearly no outside sound, not even music, I thought of one thing: if James Joyce’s Ulysses were made into a movie, it would feel a lot like this. Unlike Leopold Bloom, though, Paterson’s wife isn’t cheating on him, and no one except Marvin seems to mind his presence.

Side note: for some reason, the screening I caught included Spanish subtitles, unintentionally adding another layer of what-the-fuck. Paterson is not a movie for everyone, but I definitely see a following here. I liked it.

Also starring Barry Shabaka Henley, Trevor Parham, Troy T. Parham, Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, Johnnie Mae.

Produced by K5 International, Le Pacte, Animal Kingdom, and Inkjet Productions

Distributed by Bleeker Street Media and Amazon Studios

118 minutes
Rated R

(Landmark Century) B-

Annie Hall

(USA 1977)

“A relationship, I think, is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”

“You know, this guy goes to his psychiatrist and says, ‘Doc, my brother’s crazy. He thinks he’s a chicken.’ And the doctor says, ‘Well why don’t you turn him in?’ The guy says, ‘I would, but I need the eggs.’ Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships: you know, they’re totally irrational and crazy and absurd, but I guess we keep going through it because most of us need the eggs.”

—Alvy Singer

Classic Woody Allen is an acquired taste, kind of like gefilte fish: too weird and off putting to appreciate right off the bat, you find that you actually look forward to his annual appearance once you get what he’s about. There’s no way around it: Woody Allen is for the urban set.

Annie Hall is hands down my favorite Woody Allen film, at least out of the ones I’ve seen—and I haven’t seen them all. It’s everything that makes a Woody Allen film great: lots of nervous banter, self-deprication, uncomfortable situations (usually but not always related to sex), an obsession with manners and etiquette, and hilariously pointed observations on the absurdities of modern life. It sounds like Seinfeld, but Allen was first.

The plot is simple enough: Alvy Singer (Allen) examines his relationship with Annie Hall (Diane Keaton), an aspiring Manhattan singer and photographer. They play a cat-and-mouse game because neither wants to make the first move. Alvy and Annie are awkward and bizarre, but I still found myself rooting for both of them. The relationship doesn’t work out, but it’s really something while it lasts. Along the way are small, sublime parts for Carol Kane, Shelley Duvall, Jeff Goldblum, and Christopher Walken.

Annie Hall stands out even as a Woody Allen film, and for an obvious reason. Underneath its entertaining and brilliant storytelling, underneath its many bells and whistles—subtitled subtext, a cartoon segment, and cameos by Marshall McLuhan, Paul Simon, and the Evil Queen from Snow White? Fuck yeah!—is a poignant reality: people change. For all its warmth and wit, Annie Hall spends more time showing its protagonists fall out of love than in it. Rich and layered, it’s funny yet wrenchingly accurate. While we laugh out loud, it plays on our worst fears—none of us wants to end up where Alvy and Annie do.

In 1992, the United States Library of Congress deemed Annie Hall “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (

96 minutes
Rated PG

(Music Box) A

Date Night

(USA 2010)

I love me some Tina Fey, I usually like Steve Carell, and I certainly won’t complain if Mark Wahlberg is shirtless in every scene. Add James Franco, Mila Kunis, Mark Ruffalo, Kristen Wiig, and even Common, and you’d expect to have a winner on your hands. Right? Wrong.

Date Night is a cute adventure film, but it’s certainly not an adventurous undertaking. It’s formulaic, predictable Hollywood milquetoast aimed at married suburban couples—director Shawn Levy’s specialty. Fey and Carell play the Fosters, a normal, middle-aged, overworked New Jersey couple whose longtime marriage has lost its mojo. They do date night periodically to keep things alive—it doesn’t seem to be working. One night, they decide to be adventurous and head to Manhattan. When they learn that the wait for a table at an exclusively hip restaurant will be a few hours because they don’t have a reservation, they pretend to be another couple, the Tripplehorns, to snag theirs. The Fosters end up with way more excitement than either of them bargained for after a pair of mobsters (Common and Jimmi Simpson) confronts them about a jump drive their boss (Ray Liotta) wants.

Fey and Carell have a sort of chemistry, but it’s benign. They do this thing where they imagine the conversations that patrons at other tables are having—it’s cute and very Seinfeldian. The Maitre D’ (Nick Kroll) is funny because he is such an asshole—in a David Spade way. Other than that, the laughs here are far and few between. The problem isn’t the actors—it’s Josh Klausner’s lame script, which plays out like a bland and weird ripoff of After Hours, Adventures in Babysitting, and True Romance. Date Night has a few good lines and a few good scenes, but not enough to make it funny for very long.

88 minutes
Rated PG-13

(TBS) D+

The Infiltrator

(USA 2016)

Bryan Cranston has come a long way from his stint as Tim Whatley, Jerry Seinfeld’s dentist. He’s an excellent choice to play Robert “Bob” Mazur, a U.S. Customs agent who in 1985 went undercover as fictitious New Jersey money launderer Bob Musella to work his way into the trafficking network of Colombian drug czar Pablo Escobar. With the assistance of fellow agents Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo) and Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), Mazur—to use his words—“followed the money” instead of the drugs. It led to one of the biggest drug busts in American history.

Based on Mazur’s memoir The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel, director Brad Furman—whose mother, Ellen Brown Furman, wrote the script—lets Cranston go absolutely apeshit with his character. It’s impossible not to draw parallels between Mazur and Breaking Bad’s Walter White; it’s glaringly obvious that both characters are essentially family guys who choose a dangerous double life that consumes them to the point of losing who they are—not to mention their lives. This plays out exquisitely in a scene where a cartel member (Simón Andreu) who knows Musella spots Mazur and his wife, Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey), having a quiet anniversary dinner at a restaurant.

The Infiltrator is a good movie. Despite occasionally feeling like an episode of Miami Vice, it nonetheless has an intensity that slowly comes to a boil, and when it finally does: BOOM! The moral dilemma of betraying the people not only who come to trust Musella but also welcome him into their lives adds a dramatic slant that movies like this tend to lack. I was riveted. Considering its subject matter, though, The Infiltrator doesn’t exactly move fast. It’s more of a low key character study fueled by what’s going on in Mazur’s head. Benjamin Bratt, Yul Vazquez, and even Olympia Dukakis turn in great performances. There are some dark, funny moments along with some really unsettling scenes—like a weird voodoo ritual, an out-of-nowhere drive-by, and murder on the dance floor. It remains to be seen how memorable The Infiltrator proves to be, though.

127 minutes
Rated R

(AMC River East) B