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Personal Shopper

Not so easy living meaningfully in this material world. Harder still if you're alternately seeking out and haunted by restless spirits of whatever realms that might exist beyond our apparent everyday reality. Such is the quandary of Maureen (Kristen Stewart), going about Paris by motor scooter, given access to nether worlds of high fashion and spirits in limbo - each shimmering, alluring its way, each gaping with emptiness, even menace.
This is the second consecutive film from Olivier Assays - himself something of a restless, shifting spirit - in which which a drifting, nebulous presence draws its main character. In Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) it was the "Maloja Snake," a cloud formation meandering its sublime way through an Alps mountain pass by morning that draws a visiting actress (Juliette Binoche) to its presence. Both "Sils Maria" and Personal Shopper feature Ms. Stewart as a personal assistant to exalted women. Just as the former was written with La …
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Paterson

Paterson is everywhere in Jim Jarmusch's twelfth feature film.  There is the title, of course.  It is also the name of the film's bus-driver-by-day-poet-by-night-main character.  The New Jersey City is  the title and subject of the five-volume epic poem by William Carlos Williams, the poet and book(s) mentioned on several occasions in the film.  As Paterson, the man (Adam Driver) walks to and from his bus garage in a warren of old industrial buildings, we see the city name spelled out across some venerable old brick on a clearly visible ghost sign.  The driver's bus flows through the streets of the city as if conveyed through its very blood.  Teem as it might with the real New Jersey City, Jim Jarmusch has, as usual, created a place that is of the world and mainly not.  With this particular piece of work, at this particular time in America, that's not necessarily a bad thing.  
Mr. Jarmusch's films often exist in a kind of reverie, but the dream, the vision, is a…

Manchester by the Sea

"Aw, fuck this." A succinct expression from the aggrieved Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) that serves to as both a venting of  momentary exasperation and a more lingering, existential state of the man address.  The frustration at hand is bad enough, attending to the dire errands that follow the death of his beloved brother in a Manchester-by-the-Sea hospital, which occurred while he was on the road from Quincy.  But we already have a sense by this time that Lee Chandler's despondency and occasional flares of rage have a greater source than his brother's demise.  There's a kind of iceberg of grief dominating this man's consciousness, the dimension and impossible edges of which writer and director Kenneth Lonergan will make us powerfully aware as Manchester by the Sea proceeds.    
Manchester by the Sea is getting its share of attention as the generally-dubious reflection continues on the best films of 2016, not to mention a nod or two from that slow-moving old cy…

Certain Women

Kelly Reichardt does not go easy on her characters.  Or her actors, for that matter.   Audiences, accustomed to much more in terms of plot, resolution and the blatantly obvious, might well count themselves among the ill-used after sitting through one of Ms. Reichardt's half dozen feature films.  All the same, the uncompromising Reichardt continues to solidify her place among the best American writers and directors.  The three main characters in her latest film, the certain women in question, must take their small satisfactions where they can find them.  For those of us watching the proceedings, there is 107 minutes of beauty and subtlety, the like of which one could hardly find elsewhere.  I could have watched this film had it extended hours beyond its appointed running time.    
As she is wont to do,  Kelly Reichardt expanded upon short stories in creating her latest film, Certain Woman.  The stories in this case drawn from collections by Montana native Maile Meloy.  The three …

La La Land

There's a moment in Damien Chazelle's La La Land in which Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling) strolls out along the Hermosa Pier by dusk and sings what may be the film's signature number, "City of Stars."  The fact that the jazz purist Wilder shows up in Hermosa Beach, just as he and his struggling actress paramour Mia Dolan (Emma Stone) magically pop up all over the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles, is a bit of geographic chicanery one will readily enough grant the filmmaker.  This clearly is the stuff of fantasy.  The film is called La La Land after all (significantly, it's also more of a  tourist or media moniker than one a native Angelino or anyone who really understands and loves the city would tend to employ), and Mr. Chazelle would seem to feel that he's produced an homage, if not a scion to the Hollywood musicals of yesteryear.

What's interesting about the brief pier interval and the tune, carried on Mr. Gosling's limited and yet distincti…