Sleep by Day and Live by Night. That's one of the mottos of one of the gang leaders in Ben Affleck's latest film. Unlike The Town, though, which he also directed, co-wrote, and starred in, Live by Night implodes, largely because Affleck gives a limp performance as an antagonistic protagonist.

Joe Coughlin fought in the Great War, and what that taught him was that being cannon fodder is not rewarding. So he went home to Boston, where his da is a big-time Irish copper, but Joseph went over to the other side. There were plenty of "other sides" available, each with an ethnic epitaph filled with ugliness. Joe is sleeping with the girlfriend of a mafia boss, so he's pretty much asking for what happens. 

Joe declares that his work is distributing "demon rum," but Prohibition is the law of the land in the Twenties and Tommy guns are flaring like fireworks on a 24/7 July 4th. Joe ends up in Florida, where he takes over the rackets, falls in love with a Cuban, and takes his lumps.

Problem is that Affleck never gives Joe Coughlin the oomph he needs -- not in action or in voice-over. The supporting cast  has more moxie than the star in nearly every scene. The litany of secondaries runs for pages because Live by Night is filled with new faces every 10 minutes, and it includes Brendan Gleeson as Dad, Zoe Soldana, Elle Fanning as an evangelist, Chris Cooper, and Sienna Miller as a moll, and Chris Messina. Affleck based his script on a novel by Dennis Lehane, but characters are flat and stereotyped and undeveloped. Also, mostly dead or whispering. 

Robert Richardson's cinematography produces smothering close-ups, flaring gunshots, and stunning aerial shots. Lovers of vintage cars will have a heyday. Those autos deliver more than Live by Night, which would make viewers sleep by night, too, except for the noise of gunshots and body-slams.

 

Writer/director Jim Jarmusch makes fascinating films that exist outside the norm. He's independent in his thinking and his cinematic productions as illustrated since 1980 in Down by LawDead Man, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, and Broken Flowers, among a dozen other striking works. But his offerings aren't always easy to accommodate, as he proves in Paterson

Throughout its two hours, the camera follows the title character who drives bus #23 in, yes, Paterson, New Jersey. Married, his loving wife Laura designs and decorates their home with circular black and white patterns, except, of course, her unique dinners, such as cheese and Brussel sprouts pie. She dreams of learning the guitar to sing country music. Laura and Paterson fit together nicely, as shots of them show, and they support each other. Laura praises the poems Paterson writes in his notebook before he begins his Monday through Friday bus route and during lunch breaks at the beautiful Great Falls on the Passaic River. 

Jarmusch knows and calmly asserts that unassuming working men are intelligent and educated. Paterson knows about Petrarch, Allen Ginsberg growing up in Paterson, and William Carlos Williams' modern epic poem Paterson. This emerges during quiet observance of Paterson's routine from Monday to the next Monday which constitutes the film, the days appearing on screen along with the text of poems written by Ron Padgett. Paterson wakes shortly after 6:00 a.m., has cereal, and walks to the Market Street Garage where Donnie sends him off each morning. Paterson eavesdrops on riders' conversations, has lunch, finishes his route, eats dinner at home, takes his bulldog Marvin for a walk during which Paterson stops at a bar for a beer, and goes to bed. As with most people, the repetition of his pattern constitutes his life and this film, with only a few minor events intruding.

As Paterson and perfect for the role, Adam Driver gives an impressively controlled, quiet performance. As Laura, Golshifteh Farahani adds energy but, as usual, the wife remains secondary and undeveloped. Far from the mainstream, very slow, Paterson the movie requires a meditative state for the viewer to appreciate the gem Jarmusch offers. At a Landmark Theatre.

 

 

The word "monster" alone might keep you from this film, that and the trailer of a walking, talking tree, bearing down on a small boy. Also, the plot involves a dying mother. Don't let any of these things keep you away. A Monster Calls transcends its title and delivers its promises.

Conor O'Malley is bullied and pitied at school. He's small. His luminous mother is dying. His grandmother is unwarm, acknowledging that the only thing she has in common with that small boy is his mum, her daughter. One of the things that mother and son have in common is art: they both draw. 

Wise beyond his 12 years, Conor creates drawings to deal with his anger at his mother's approaching death. His drawings of scary creatures and adversarials line his walls. And, then, after a close-up on Conor's pencil, its sounds captured audibly, the vinous tree appears to Conor at 12:07 a.m. The Monster promises to visit on three successive nights with three stories, after which the boy must tell the fourth story. He must tell the truth. 

A Monster Calls is based on the children's novel and script by Patrick Ness. Under the amazing direction of J.A. Bayona, the Spanish director of The Impossible, Jim Kay illustrated the monster with the sense of the man Conor will become. Liam Neeson voices the Monster as part papa and part terror. Bayona married animation to live action, juxtaposing fantasy and reality, and creating red skies right out of Brigadoon and Kagemusha

Felicity Jones carries the press of the sick mother beautifully, sadly. Sigourney Weaver bears the weight of Grandma. But the movie -- only his second --belongs to delicate Lewis MacDougall. A Monster Calls is nothing -- and everything -- you would imagine.

 

Katherine Goble (later married and known as Katherine Johnson), Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson: these three, historically significant African-American women receive the recognition they richly deserve in director Theodore Melfi's Hidden Figures. This trio and a group of computer savvy black women supervised by Vaughan made critical contributions to the NASA early '60s space program. 

It's no exaggeration to assert that without them John Glenn may not have enjoyed the spectacular space orbit and successful reentry, for which Katherine Goble solved a thorny mathematical calculation.   

Physicists, space scientists, aerospace engineers, crackpot mathematicians--these women brought their superior intelligence and problem-solving expertise to America's NASA when it needed it most, as the U.S.S.R. launched Sputnik first in the US/Soviet space race. 

Hidden Figures places Goble's work within the context of civil rights protests and racism that extended to colored ladies' bathrooms and even to a separate coffee pot in her office. All three women dealt directly and calmly with reprehensible attitudes and behavior. The acting by Taraji P. Henson as Goble Johnson, Octavia Spencer as Vaughan, and Janelle Monáe as Jackson is superb. They segue from seething to serious, humorous to romantic with flawless precision. In addition, their interaction with each other as well as with superiors and co-workers hits exactly the right emotional register, feeling as natural as overheard conversations. 

As Goble's love interest and future husband, Mahershala Ali confirms his status as a first-rate leading man: relaxed and charismatic, as he is in "Moonlight." Kevin Costner as the fictional NASA mission manager, Jim Parsons as head engineer Paul Stafford, and Kirstin Dunst as Vaughan's supervisor Vivian Michael: all add important details, fleshing out the pervasive 1960s racism that Goble, Vaughan and Jackson defied in their brilliance. In addition to triumphant moments, Hidden Figures injects refreshing humor. With writer Allison Schroeder, co-writer Theodore Melfi mines the amusing without undermining the important. Hidden Figures" is crowd-pleasing entertainment of vital history. At area cinemas.

 

 

It may not sound like the most inviting documentary of the year, but Seven Songs for a Long Life is a heart-warming, life-affirming film. Set in Strathcarron Hospice, one of the largest such centers in Scotland, director Amy Hardie explores the present and past of six patients who vary in ages and prognosis but share a love of life.

They include an ex-motorcycle racer with m.s., one woman who faces a recurrence of cancer, another with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, one diagnosed with cancer of the bone marrow, and so on. What unites them is a pressing, serious consideration of the end of life. Each deals with her or his situation differently; for example, one man doesn't want to know details of his illness, others want full and complete information. Several focus intently on their families and making their loved ones' adjustments easier, including their children's acceptance. 

These everyday men and women are remarkable exactly because they mirror our friends, relatives, and colleagues. This familiarity makes their humor, pain, and resilience resonate that much more fully--we know and are these individuals: Tosh, Julie, Dorene, Iain, Alicia, and Nicola. They are served by incredibly sensitive, gentle nurses and caring staff who share with their own emotional gifts. Most memorable among them is nurse Mandy. After having worked at the hospice center for a considerable time, Mandy wisely observes that what she's learned is how to listen because they can't fix things. 

As the title Seven Songs for a Long Life suggests, patients and staff also share the joy of song which liberates their spirits and moves their bodies as they sing, for example, "Strangers in the Night," "Dream a Little Dream of Me," and "The Good Life," among others. The restraint of the film, shot over three years, fits the subject, though there are, appropriately, sad moments and slow sections. Intercut shots of nature ground the film in the beauty of the area. 

It is ironic that those dying have so much to teach us about living but indeed they do, enhancing whatever appreciation we already have. Seven Songs for a Long Life screens at Webster University's Winifred Moore auditorium Friday, January 6 through Sunday, January 8 at 7:30 each evening. 

 

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