Review: Good Time


 

“Don’t be confused, it is just going to make it worse for me.”

This might be the line that best sums up Good Time, a high stress ultra-stylized sprint through the nether regions and institutions of New York City at night. The picture is shot in gloriously frenetic close-ups imbued with a unique pulse. A rhythm that builds its own kind of character-based mood. Kaleidoscopic colours, and film grain rendered via capture on analogue stock, hold up magnificently even when projected digitally. But sit close to the screen at your own risk.

With the exception of the opening and closing scenes, and a brief breather when two characters sit down on the couch and watch a few minutes of COPS on television, things are brilliantly dense in the handling of urgent and fucked up situations. There are layers upon layers (physically echoed in the wardrobe of the lead character) of things happening at any given moment in the frame. And these are happening at speed. Characters talk (and shout) over top of one another, and yet the exquisite sound design and superbly executed camera work never leave the audience behind.

The soul of the picture is the knotty relationship between two brothers. Constantine ‘Connie’ Nikas is wholly inhabited by Robert Pattinson; a performance brimming with surprises. Pattinson’s recent run of work has demonstrated many talents that have been set free after the actor was freed from the mopey shackles of the Twilight franchise.

Connie is a gifted and clever criminal, at in an improvisational sense, at the street level. With his bipolar girlfriend (a terrifyingly wonderful Jennifer Jason Leigh) or his special needs brother, he finds himself surrounded by people who simply cannot keep up with his penchant for being in the moment. His brother Nick is somewhere on the spectrum, mostly deaf, and clearly requires an empathy and structured environment that Connie in incapable of ever providing.

Nick, played wonderfully by Ben Safdie, one of the two directors, is introduced in extreme close-up (naturally) in the quiet opening minutes of the film. He is in the office of a social worker who is trying to provide said empathy and structure at the request of his grandmother, who has had it with her grandsons petty criminal activities.

Minutes into the assessment he is forcibly dragged from the corner office by Connie to participate in an ill advised bank robbery to finance a trip and possibly a life out of poverty in Queens. At this point Daniel Lopatin’s (Oneohtrix Point Never) propulsive score kicks in and the chaotic energy of the film really never lets up.

Good Time is the ultimate pop-arthouse show-don’t-tell drama cum thrill ride. Fifty years ago, nobody would be able to follow a movie with so much going on at the same time. Our media processing sensibilities have arrived to this moment when the Safdie Brothers are wrestling editing and film-grammar to the ground – building upon moments from their previous picture, Heaven Knows What). They do so for our viewing pleasure without ever leaving our hearts or minds behind.

Using a combination of actors and real cops, prison guards and even gangsters, Good Time ratchets up the stress over (more or less) an all night odyssey of bad choices. In the tradition of After Hours (or Tchoupitoulas or Night On Earth) the bulk of film takes place over a short span of time, where anything can and will happen. Indeed when you put Jennifer Jason Leigh and Pattinson in a scene sparks o’ crazy fly off the screen. There is a scene in a bail bond office that is destined to be studied for years for its sheer chutzpah and craft.

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Occultober – Day 29 – Rosemary’s Baby

Rosemary’s Baby
A film that has stood the test of time better than most, Roman Polanski’s second film focusing on a woman slowly devolving into hysteria (the first being Repulsion), the success of Rosemary’s Baby in 1968 is paramount in the rise of the modern incarnation occult film in the 1970s. This is patient, if not entirely subtle filmmaking that also mark the vibe of the decade to follow.

In the first few moments of the film, there are enough portent signs and signifiers and waiting for the eventual reveal is a painful kind of bliss with only the soothing balm of Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer’s performances, both goofy and slick (respectfully). I find it difficult to find fault with this rather unique approach, and the whole proceedings have a hell of a capstone.

But really, the first 15 minutes of the film is where it is at. That ‘seeking’ pan across the New York City skyline set to an off-kilter lullaby version of Que Sera Sera. Score rather than song is absent the lyrics and inspires dread rather than hope, but the question is nevertheless, “when I was just a little girl, I asked my mother what I would be…” The answer, is apparently the mother of Satan. If Doris Day can belt that song out in Hitchcock’s , surely it can be subverted here as an anthem for the woman who knew too little, too late.

I took a huge amount of pleasure in noir-staple character actor Elisha Cook Jr. fastidiously showing off the grand old apartment (of spook central) to the young married couple. His question – and the first actual line of dialogue in the film – is whether John Cassavetes’ character is a Doctor or an Actor. The film will feature many doctors (and more than a few midwives) who are indeed more actors than doctors. A stray scrap of paper is shown belonging to the former, quite deceased, owner of the apartment whose last act was to block a closet door on the thin shared wall of her creepy and nosy neighbors with a heavy wardrobe. It reads “I can no longer associate myself.” Perhaps a hint of Mia Farrow’s soon-to-be overwhelming paranoia and powerlessness. A magazine cover will later query, “Is God Dead?” Never has a film so front-loaded its purpose only to then draw out and tease the audience for nearly two hours as surely as Farrow’s body (and hairdo) slowly withers away. But then that kicker of a climax is as surprising as it is inevitable. This is Cinema of Masochism made with exquisite craft – and so many great Polanski films would follow.

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Occultober – Day 2 – The Believers

The Believers
Oscar winning director John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy) comes to the Satanic Panic party way late in the game, albeit there was a bit of a mini-revival in 1987 (Jacob’s Ladder, Angel Heart, and two others that will come up later on this month.)

The Believers has a shocker of an opening involving a coffee pot and a puddle of milk which makes Martin Sheen a widow and his son, motherless. While trying to rebuild his life as a police psychologist, they are persecuted by conspiracy and cults in New York City as he gets into a deep investigation into Latin America’s brujerías, or witches. Lurid, panicky and sweaty, as is right for this kind of film, Schlesinger pulls no punches, which may not exactly class up the joint, but makes for an pretty effective 80s horror outside of the ubiquitous teen sex and slashers glut.
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TV Teasers: Steven Soderbergh’s The Knick

Likely, landing in the medium that is best suited for his current working style, Steven Soderbergh’s TV series set in New York’s Knickerbocker hospital in the early 20th century. This is back when “Surgery wasn’t always science,” as the Godardian titles jump on the screen in the first promo. Tucked under the seat are several more. The series stars Clive Owen, is premiering on Cinemax and, if all these 15 second teasers are accurate, it looks to be rather bloody.

(Hat tip to Film Junk for this.)

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Blindspotting: West Side Story and 42nd Street

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One of the reasons why you may not often hear as much about plot or character when discussing musicals is that they tend to use age old stories at their core. More often than not it’s all about those tunes and performances, so those familiar tales are used to provide a familiar landscape from which to launch the song and dance routines. As I sat down to catch up with a couple of classic musicals with well-worn structures – a re-telling of Romeo and Juliet set in the big city and a backstage look at the lead up to a performance’s premiere with a big break for a young ingenue – I wondered if either of these tales could be given new life via more than just their music and production numbers…While each brought moments of wonderful creativity and sparkling entertainment (in different amounts), the stories were, for the most part, still born.

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That’s not enough to dismiss either film though. In particular, West Side Story is a monument to production design and choreography. Just about every shot in the film is packed with colour from mixed pastels to bright primaries to everything in between in just the right combinations. As a series of stills it would make for an incredible photography exhibit. Of course, much of the secret to the film is its motion in the form of Jerome Robbins’ choreography (he’s also credited here as a co-director along with the master of many genres Robert Wise). It feels novel and exciting even 50 years down the road. It’s sharp and quick and powerful – in short, it’s incredibly physical. It’s an expression of the character’s youthful energy and their inability to find a place to put it, and so it ends up working perfectly during the confrontation and fight scenes where the dancing is essentially the fighting itself. If not every tune fully landed with me, the vast majority did and mostly kept me with the 2 and a half hour runtime. Mostly.

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Trailer #2: Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis

Another soulful and engaging trailer for The Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis which gets it’s wide release around Christmas time this year. There are few doubts that this film will be excellent, and the smattering of critics quotes in the trailer (I don’t look at the text of the quote, I look at the names of the critic used to assess these things) only confirm things. Great cast, great musical vibe, and great setting – the niggling question here is how easy it will be to acclimatize to the glowing-desaturated-instagram-filter cinematography with Roger Deakins sitting this one out while Bruno Delbonnel (Amélie, Dark Shadows) pinch hits.

Trailer: Blue Jasmine

It looks like all the right ingredients for another great Woody Allen film, with this trailer for Blue Jasmine. The Woodman is back in America for this outing, and has Cate Blanchett (channeling Judy Davis as much as all lead characters in his films channel Allen himself) looking to out-drunken-rage Kate Winslet (from Carnage) playing a woman on the downward slide of wealth and happiness and forced to leave her extravagant Manhattan lifestyle behind and move in with her sister (the always excellent Sally Hawkins) in Brooklyn. Many man orbit the pair of women, played by Bobby Cannavale, Louis CK, Andrew Dice Clay and Alec Baldwin. Somewhere in there is Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg, but clearly the show belongs to Blanchett who is playing a narcissistic monster with major issues.

Check out the trailer below.

Review: HAYWIRE

Welcome to January, folks – the month when studios tend to dump their dogs into the theatres. If you are not looking to play catch up on the pre-Christmas derby of Oscar hopefuls working their way to a wider release or partaking of the blockbusters deemed too ‘holiday’ for the summer season, you may be on the prowl for one of those buried gems of quality nestled amongst the Hollywood trash heap. Steven Soderbergh makes a solid case for the no-nonsense action thriller, and a bid for a few of your shekels, with Haywire. The film does nothing particularly novel. Another expendable super-spy chase slash revenge picture of which there were at least three of last year – Colombiana, Hanna and Ghost Protocol – and features neither an extravagance for expensive set-pieces nor the over-inflated high stakes. But what then separates this from last year, or a multitude of straight-to-video Jason Statham vehicles is this classic Roger Ebert bon mot, “It’s not what you do but how you do it,” which certainly applies here; even something that feels like this particular filmmaker could do in his sleep has such a precise polish and rhythm that not a second of this film feels superfluous. There are enough little touches and intangables to forgive Haywire for having nothing whatsoever to say other than Soderbergh knows his craft. The film is a walkthrough of all the things that director favours and have been showcased in his prolific c.v. The film knows to be lean and mean and is completely unpretentious about its execution.

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Trailer #2: Shame

Want the heart and soul of Steve McQueen’s second feature, Shame (Kurt’s Review) in 2 minutes? Marvelous editing, it’s like a micro-film in itself. Clearly the ad company have identified the signature scene in the film, one Carey Mulligan crooning New York, New York in a private performance for her brother in the film, played by Micheal Fassbender. Polarizing or not, this one is worth checking out when it drops in an Arthouse near you.

Check out the 2nd US Trailer for Shame, tucked under the seat.
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Review: Prince of Broadway

Prince of Broadway Poster

Directors: Sean Baker (Take Out)
Screenplay: Sean Baker, Darren Dean
Producer: Darren Dean
Starring: Prince Adu, Karren Karagulian, Aiden Noesi, Keyali Mayaga, Kat Sanchez
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 100 min.

Sean Baker first landed on my radar two years ago when I had the opportunity to speak to the director regarding his break out film Take Out (review). I was thrilled to find out that Baker was ready to release a second film, another New York story this time about a young hustler. Enter Prince of Broadway.

Prince of Broadway Movie StillLucky is just that: a street hustler. An illegal immigrant from Ghana, he cruises up and down Broadway, sweet talking the ladies and his boys into following him into the back of a nearby store (owned and managed by Lucky’s boss Levon) where they can purchase high quality knock-offs for a fraction of the price of the real thing. It’s a meagre living but Lucky makes enough to dress well, eat and put a roof over his head. He has a girl friend who encourages him to better himself by going to school and overall, he seems to be living a happy life. All of that changes the day Linda, a girl he had a fling with, shows up and thrusts an infant into his arms, explaining that he’s Lucky’s and that he should be a father and take care of the child for two weeks. Lucky doesn’t think the baby (nameless for most of the film) is his (“He’s white! I’m black!”) but unable to call the police and unwilling to abandon the child, he reluctantly tries to make it work.

This is, at its core, the story of Lucky but Prince of Broadway cuts in other lives. We see Linda as she deals with the abandonment of her child to a man who may not even be the father and we also get a glimpse at Levon, an Armenian immigrant whose marriage is falling apart. At the hands of a less talented filmmaker, one might wonder why we’d care about these people when we’re here to see Lucky’s story but Baker interweaves these stories seamlessly into his tale and in fact, they do matter quite a bit as they all play large roles in Lucky’s life and shaping his future.

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What is “Cropsey?”

Urban legends are nothing new. Almost every town has one to call their own. But sometimes a legend has roots in reality. Maybe that’s the case with Cropsey?

Growing up on Staten Island, children had often heard the legend of ‘Cropsey.’ For the kids in their neighborhood, Cropsey was the escaped mental patient who lived in the old abandoned Willowbrook Mental Institution, who would come out late at night and snatch children off the streets. Sometimes Cropsey had a hook for a hand, other times he wielded a bloody axe. Cropsey was always out there waiting to get them.

Later as teenagers, filmmakers Joshua and Barbara assumed Cropsey was just an urban legend: a cautionary tale used to keep them out of those abandoned buildings. That all changed in the summer of 1987 when a 13-year-old girl with Down syndrome, named Jennifer Schweiger, disappeared from their community. That was the summer all the kids from Staten Island discovered that their urban legend was real.

Now as adults Joshua and Barbara have returned to Staten Island to create Cropsey, a feature documentary that delves into the mystery behind Jennifer and four additional missing children. The film also investigates Andre Rand, the real-life boogeyman linked to their disappearances. Embarking on a mysterious journey into the underbelly of their forgotten borough, these filmmakers uncover a reality that is more terrifying than any urban legend.

Without digging too deeply into the subject, there doesn’t seem to be much information on the net regarding the subject of Cropsey, but there is plenty of stuff on convicted killer, Andre Rand. The trailer tries to play on the audience’s consciousness of fear and ends up looking like a bad episode of “Ghost Hunters.” The details of the case and what really happened on those streets in the late 80’s is more interesting to me than investigating something that is obviously no more than an urban legend. So if it sticks with that and doesn’t try to give us too much “Blair Witchiness”, I think this could be a potentially interesting a worthwhile look at a (serial?) killer and the grip of panic he held on the area.

We’ve stuck the trailer beneath the seats here; plus, the Official site has all sorts of crazy and highly detailed information on the subject if you’re interested further.
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