Reuben, Reuben 1983 ****

reubenWhy do some truly great films fall into neglect? Reuben, Reuben is a perfect case in point. Tom Conti won an Oscar nomination for best actor in 1983 for his performance as a drunken poet, with Dylan Thomas a clear inspiration. The screenplay, adapted from a novel by noted humourist Peter De Vries and then a play called Spofford, is by Julius J Epstein, who wrote everything from Casablanca to Cross of Iron, and that was also Oscar nominated as one of the five best adapted scripts of the year. It was the first film of Top Gun star Kelly McGillis. And it’s a funny, sweet and yet harsh and original story about excess and survival that’s not dated in any way. And yet there’s no Criterion Collection revival, nor even a spot on Amazon or iTunes, just a rare DVD or Blu Ray that, at twenty bucks a piece, won’t ensnare many casual viewers. The reputation of Robert Ellis Miller, director of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and this, was practically zero when he died in 2017, and that’s a shame for anyone with career highlights like this. Conti is ideal as Gowan McGland, a Scottish poet in suburban American, seducing women, drinking excessively, generally mooching off everyone and unaware that his behaviour is leading to a sticky end, and not one that he can possibly imagine. The problem is more than sex or alcohol addiction. Like Ray Milland in The Man With X Ray Eyes, McGland’s problem is that he sees too much; his wit pulls people towards him, but then pushes them away. It’s a tragic-comedy of the highest order, and it’s well-past high time something was done about restoring the reputation of Reuben, Reuben, which takes its title from the old song, and from the last line of dialogue in a devastating, surprising final scene.

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Cronofobia 2018 *****

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The title refers to the fear of time passing; it’s not a term used directly by the characters in Francesco Rizzi’s accomplished debut feature, but the notion of elision infuses the story. Rizzi’s film is about two people, a man and a woman, who have a tangential connection to the kind of concerns that most of us have. Frequently wearing a false moustache and seemingly living in a van, Michael (Vinicio Marchioni) is a man whose occupation is deliberately obscured. Is he a hit-man, a thief, a serial –killer? His furtive manner, his strange behaviour keep the audience on edge, particular once he meets Anna (Sabine Timoteo). It’s not quite a meeting cute, as Michael is waiting in his van outside of her house, but his motives remain obscure for most of the film. She, widowed, vulnerable, insomniac, has her own complex issues, but the relationship between the two is constantly fascinating, often hard to pin down as they both slip through different characters and identities against an unfamiliar background of mundane Swiss locations. Cronofobia has a little of Chris Nolan’s The Following, but the gleaming visuals, choice musical cuts and edgy mood have an energy all of their own, and the central performances are striking. Rizzi’s film is something of a find on the festival circuit (screenings in Locarno and Rhode Island follow on from Edinburgh and Tallin), marking him out as a fresh and original talent who creates something personal and poetic from the most anonymous of situations. Highly recommended.

Paterson 2016 ****

paterson4As gentle as the most soothing nature documentary, Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson is a minority interest film that will repel thrill-seekers, but slowly, carefully works up to some genuine magic for discerning audience. Adam Driver plays Paterson, a bus driver living in Paterson NJ; this co-incidence is the first in a series of dualities which infuse his everyday life. Glimpses of twins, the dreams of his partner Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) , even the name of his favourite poet William Carlos Williams, everything seems to come in twos. Jarmusch earnestly catalogues the daily routines as Paterson eats breakfast, drives his bus, walks his dog, visits his pub, and shares his thoughts via poetry to Laura. She’s encouraging him to copy his poems and show them around, but Paterson’s reluctance to share his writing threatens to create a singularity that will unbalance his life. Very little happens of note in Paterson, but after the first hour, there’s much of moment; Jarmusch’s film deals with the role of art and the artist is an acutely sensitive way, and Driver is a perfect centre as the gentle soul who struggles to reconcile his genuine artistry with his fragile relationship to his tiny but beautifully detailed world.

 

Adult World 2013 ***

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The jury has been out on the merits of Emma Roberts as an actress; growing up in public is a tough route to stardom, and it would be hard to raise much enthusiasm for any aspect of her Nancy Drew reboot. Scott Coffey’s Adult World is a deliberately worldly comedy/drama, pitching Amy, as aspiring poetess, into the frustrating and competitive environment of getting her writing published, a career choice that alienates her parents and leads her to work in a mom-and-pop pornographic bookstore. From there, Amy manages to elicit the friendship of gender-bender Rubio (Armando Riesco), co-worker Alex (Evan Peters) and develops hopes of becoming protégé of writer Rat Billings, a writer that she idolises despite his lack of interest in her or her work. After a series of roles as serial killers, it’s nice to see John Cusack give a more relaxed performance as Rat, a literary but cynical figure, a neat update on the tortured teens he made his name playing. And Roberts finally comes into her own here; from the opening scene in which she attempts suicide, Sylvia Plath-style, by sticking her head in an over, she captures youthful enthusiasm giving way to painful self-knowledge in this slight but warmly charming film.

Tom & Viv 1994 ***

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Biopics of writers have an inherent problem; how to dramatise the prose. Brian Gibson’s 1994 film deals with poet TS Elliot and his relationship with Vivienne Haigh-Wood. Adapted from Michael Hastings’ play, Gibson astutely casts two excellent actors, Willem Dafoe and Miranda Richardson as Tom & Viv, and focuses on how her gynecological problems caused havoc with their understanding of each other. The 1915 setting is carefully depicted, less for the period detail as the attitudes conveyed, with Viv’s mood-swings hard to explain in the polite society of the Bloomsbury group, and Tom’s writings not seen as a viable career. Tom and Viv is a delicate, realistic love story.

The Sweet Hereafter 1997 ***

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Armenian director Atom Egoyan’s output is patchy; his best work, like Exotica, is dense and brilliant, but his willingness to look at the darker side of work has kept him well away from the mainstream. His 1997 adaptation of Russell Banks novel  is a sober, sobering drama about a small town where a generation of schoolchildren have died in a bus accident. Into the town comes Mitchell Stevens (Ian Holm), an insurance investigator who has troubles of his own; he saved his own daughter years previously, but has become detached and removed from her. Stevens begins to work his way through the accounts of the grieving parents, and Egoyan skilfully uses flashbacks to skip back and forward to the town pore-accident and the aftermath. The use of Robert Browning’s poem about the Pied Piper is one of the few obvious clues to Egoyan’s intent; The Sweet Hereafter is a haunting lament for lost innocence. Bruce Greenwood and Sarah Polley are amongst the supporting cast.