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Good Time – Review

28 Sep

Every now and then, a movie comes along that completely destroys the conventions of its genre. Sometimes that works well, and other times it holds the movie back. It all depends upon the creative force behind the project. Ben and Josh Safdie have recently proven that they are more than capable to create a movie that defies all the rules expected in a feature film. Their newest film, Good Time, is the perfect example. The trailers for this movie had me really intrigued, but I didn’t get the proper feel of the style going into it. I honestly had no idea what to expect, but what I got was something so different and disturbing that I dare say this is a movie that should not be ignored. Good Time is a piece of art that defies all expectations and rules but also feels like one of the realest movies of 2017.

Constantine Nikas (Robert Pattinson) is a petty thief who is looking for a score that could potentially change his life. He’s careless in many ways, bust most of all by utilizing the help of his mentally challenged younger brother, Nick (Ben Safdie), with his crimes. After successfully robbing a small New York bank for $65,000, Constantine and Nick think that they’ve made it out scot free. That is until a police officer gets too close to Nick and scares him, which sends the two brothers off running with the police in hot pursuit. After a chase, Nick is arrested, while Constantine ultimately gets away. After hearing about the abuse Nick is forced to put up with, Constantine begins an odyssey into the underbelly of New York City to raise $10,000 to bail his brother out of jail. As the night progresses and more altercations keeps Constantine from the money he needs, his desperation starts to wear him down and reveal a side of himself he didn’t want to believe existed.

Something that I sort of guessed about Good Time is that it would feel very episodic. I had Collateral in mind before seeing this movie, but the two really don’t share many similarities. Good Time is very un-cinematic in the way it tells its story, and I found it a bit hard to grasp onto at first. The beginning of the movie really pulled me in, but it became hard to find the rhythm the story was moving at. After awhile, I decided to stop looking for it. I would simply let the film wash over me and wherever it went, I went. This is one of those movies that it all makes sense after it’s over and looking back on it, I appreciate it more than I did as I was watching it. Scenes lead into the next almost at random as small occurrences that seem minor are enough to shake up the lives of the few characters that share the screen. There’s little rhyme or reason as to why things happen, just that it’s the sole consequences of the characters and not for the sake of driving the plot forward. Some may say it’s anticlimactic. I say it’s brilliant.

Speaking of un-cinematic, the look of Good Time is really something to behold. It was sort of marketed as this neon lit trip down the rabbit hole like something out of the mind of Nicolas Winding Refn. There are a few scenes that do go a little over the top with the lighting, and sometime it was a bit distracting. For the most part, however, that is not the style of this film. This is a grimy, dirty, and highly unflattering film. The sets are run down and gross and the actors are made to look their worst. These are bad people operating out of bad places and the Safdie brothers really work to make that clear. A lot of scenes are also shot using off balanced angles with the foreground obstructing the view or close ups that come across as jarring. This is a disturbing film and this is really the only way this film could’ve been shot. Any other way would’ve robbed the audience of the proper tone. I do wish that some scenes toned it down with the lighting however. They didn’t always fit.

A while ago, I reviewed The Rover and I commented on Robert Pattinson’s understated but superb performance. Pattinson is one of those actors who can give an unexpectedly brilliant performance when paired with the right script and film maker. His understated performance in The Rover works really well, but his performance in Good Time is something else. This one is much more kinetic, dark, and completely devoid of innocence. His command of the screen is evident in this film and the weight of the character is clearly heavy, but he carries it all very well. Ben Safdie as his mentally challenged younger brother also gives a startlingly real performance that I wasn’t really expecting. There’s a strange cameo in the beginning by the always excellent Jennifer Jason Leigh to top off the cast of excellent performers. This may be one of the best acted movies of the entire year.

Good Time is a truly unique cinematic experience by the Safdie brothers. I’m unfamiliar with their earlier works, but if it’s anything like this I really need to check it out. That being said, I’d love to see more from them in the future because this felt like pure, in your face cinema. This is a darkly disturbing film that will make you long for the shower after the credits start to roll. If you have become overwhelmed with the summer blockbusters that have all come and gone, take a look at Good Time, but make sure you buckle in first.

Final Grade: A

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Free Fire – Review

6 May

Have you ever been so excited for a movie, but knew you had to wait so long to see it that you were convinced it would never be released anywhere around you? Well, that’s how I felt about Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire. I saw the trailer for this movie months ago, and was so excited to see the cast and the insanity that the trailer had to offer. It also is worth mentioning that this movie has Martin Scorsese as an executive producer. All of the pieces were in place and I’ve finally gotten to see the movie I’ve been so excited for… The disappointment has really set in hard.

Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) are two IRA members who have travelled to America to buy rifles from a known arms dealer and all around douche bag, Vernon (Sharlto Copley). Along for the ride is Vernon’s associate Ord (Armie Hammer), the intermediary Justine (Brie Larson), and some other hired hands to help with the transaction. This is a pretty volatile bunch to begin with, but once it’s revealed that Vernon has brought the wrong rifles and that there are hidden tensions shared between a few of the hired hands, things start to go south until shots are fired. Now the two groups are split at opposite sides of the abandoned factory they are meeting in with a suitcase full of money and crates of rifles and ammo standing between them. Whoever is left standing wins.

This as an idea sounds perfect. Put a bunch of volatile criminals in a room together with guns and money and see what happens. It’s not something we haven’t heard of before, but it looked like a movie that was going to take the idea and inject it with some high energy and lots of laughs. I’m not really sure what happened. As the movie started, I was into the dialogue and the characters. They were setting up the scene very well and when a new character was introduced, I liked seeing their personality matched with everyone else’s. I had this picture in my mind that this was just going to be a raucous clash that didn’t have time to slow down, but Free Fire is surprisingly boring. There’s a lot of sitting around and yelling insults and when a shot is fired, someone is either just clipped or missed all together. And this goes on and on it seems, until things finally pick up the way I wanted it to in the last act of the movie. If the whole film had the energy of the last act, this review would be going a whole other way.

I do have to give it to all the actors in this movie. All of them give their best to their performances, which is really the strongest point of the movie. The characters are what’s going to be remembered most. Cillian Murphy,Michael Smiley, and Brie Larson work off each other very well and they spend most of the movie together. If their chemistry didn’t work than that would have been a real problem. I also have to give it to Armie Hammer for being surprisingly hilarious as Ord, who just seemed to have an answer for everything. How could I talk about the good performances in Free Fire without talking about Sharlto Copley? This guy is one of my all time favorite actors, and for good reason. He has all of the best lines in this movie, and quite frankly, it’s clear that Wheatley wrote Vernon as his favorite character. It shows in every line Copley delivers. He’s the best part of the movie, hands down, and I know I may be a little biased in saying that, but I don’t really care.

When I think of all my favorite parts in this movie, they all come from the last half hour or so. I was looking at the time all throughout the movie wondering how they were going to fit in what I wanted to see with the time running out so quickly. This is not a long movie, so when I got to the 45 minute mark, I kinda lost hope that this movie was going to be as exciting as I originally thought it was going to be. Then the third act happens and it was a lot of fun, but I couldn’t help but wonder where all that energy and excitement and humor was for the beginning and the middle. Ben Wheatley did not handle the material well in his writing and seriously undersold what this movie could have been. The whole thing is a huge missed opportunity, which is sad because I see so much potential.

Free Fire had everything it needed to be a cult classic. It had a really cool idea, memorable characters, a great cast of actors, and a writer/director that has proven his skill in the past. I’m still not sure what happened. The finished product is a lackluster action/comedy that provides a good deal of laughs but is bogged down by an overly short run time and a surprising lack of energy. This film could have been an incident of hilarious contained chaos, but it never reaches this potential which left me wanting so much more. This is one of the bigger cinematic disappointments I’ve seen in quite some time.

Final Grade: C-

Moonlight – Review

4 Jan

One of the most talked about movies of this year is Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight. It has taken me way too long to see this movie, but I’ve finally made my way to the theater to go see it, and I was completely blown away. I had such high hopes for this movie because the praise from both audiences and critics has been unanimous. Having the high hopes that I did can sometimes be dangerous because it’s rare that a movie so perfectly matches your expectations. I’m happy to say that Moonlight, with its solid performances, story, and cinematography, stands with some of the best movies of this year.

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The story of Moonlight is broken up into three separate acts. In the first act, we meet a young Chiron (Alex Hibbert), a shy boy who is constantly being chased and bullied by his classmates. He can’t even find help at home since his mom’s (Naomie Harris) problems with drug addiction and prostitution often forces him out of the house and back on the street. His only solace is in a local drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monáe), who let him stay over and give some of his first life lessons. In the second act, Chiron (Ashton Sanders) is in high school and is still being harassed. He knows something is different about him and finds a new kind of comfort in a classmate named Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). This comfort is soon destroyed and Chiron, himself, becomes pushed too far. In the final act, Chiron (Trevante Rhodes), now going by Black, is an adult drug dealer living in Georgia. He gets a call from Kevin (André Holland) one night in Florida and the two meet up in the restaurant that Kevin works in. This meet up once again rekindles something in Chiron which forces him to come closer to his insecurities and his true self than he may ever have before.

Right from the very first shot of Moonlight I was hooked. The film opens with a fantastic long take that circles a group of characters having a mundane conversation that’s made interesting by this stylistic choice. The whole movie is a visual and auditory masterpiece that uses these techniques to help tell the story instead of completely washing the story out with style. Barry Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton find very unique places to put the camera or move the camera to get an image that is evocative and sometimes unexpected. This is easily one of the best looking movies of the entire year. The sound also helps better the story and sometimes isolate you into the mind of Chiron. There are moments when people are yelling and screaming but there’s this strange silence that fills the screen that is far more dramatic than anything that’s being said. There’s a few instances where the sound becomes more of a staccato which creates the tension necessary for a scene. This combination of sight and sound really gives this movie a special artistic touch, and I couldn’t imagine the story being told by someone else.

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Like I said, the style of this movie doesn’t overshadow the story, and that’s mainly because the story is so well told and so beautifully realized. Without giving anything away, the story of this movie takes a very real and relevant situation someone can be going through and puts this situation in a really harsh and unforgiving environment where only a few people around you really understand and care about you and what you’re going through. This can often times be a tough movie to sit through because it can be very unforgiving with what happens to some of the characters. By the end, however, I felt like the characters have all changed, matured, and learned. The only way this movie could be told is in the three part structure that it’s set up as. If the film only focused on one of these time periods, then Chiron’s character wouldn’t learn and change like he does in the finished product. This is a very real and down to earth film that doesn’t pull any punches but still leaves the audience feeling satisfied.

Like so many great movies, none of this would have the impact that it does if the performances weren’t as strong as everything else. This is also one of the best acted films of the year, right along with Manchester by the Sea. Mahershala Ali gives his best performance in Moonlight, and I really want to see more of this actor in feature films and not just television. The real stand outs for me, however, are all three actors that play Chiron. Trevante Rhodes and Ashton Sanders who play the adult and teenage Chiron, respectively, share very similar quirks and characterizations that really makes the audience feel like they’re watching the same person at different ages. Of course the different angsts and motivations of their ages come out as well. I especially want to talk about Alex Hibbert who plays the young Chiron. It’s rare that an actor of his age can make me believe so easily that I’m seeing a real person and not just a character onscreen, and he pulls it off with ease. It’s a great performance. The rest of the supporting cast featuring Naomie Harris, Janelle Monét, and André Holland are all perfectly casted and performed as well.

There’s been a lot of great and memorable movies to come out in 2016, and Moonlight is up there with the best of them. This is a very dramatic movie that never falls into the pit of melodrama while also exploring themes that may seem familiar, but never actually makes itself a cliché. It’s written and performed in such a way that feels very down to earth and organic. It’s also filmed in such a way that is very artistic and stylistic without ever going overboard. I highly recommend this movie for so many different reasons.

Final Grade: A+

The Rover – Review

28 Dec

Back in 2014, a movie called The Rover was released and I was determined to see it. The trailers for this movie were all incredible and promised a really tense and artistic ride through a post-apocalyptic world. As with a lot of movies I am determined to see, I never actually went to the theaters to see it and disappointed myself greatly. It wasn’t until just recently that I finally saw it, and after two years of build up I can tell you that I had really high expectations for this movie. What I got was pretty much everything I thought it would be and everything the trailers promised, but there were a few surprises along the way. The Rover is a very subtle and nonconventional film about a future that hopefully will never exist, but doesn’t seem all that far away.

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It’s been a decade since the collapse of Western civilization and people are doing whatever it takes to stay alive. One of these people is a mysterious loner named Eric, whose only possession he has left is his car. One day three thieves, led by Henry (Scoot McNairy), crash their truck and steal Eric’s car when he is in a bar. Eric watches them drive away and his initial search turns out to be completely hopeless. He soon runs into Rey (Robert Pattinson), Henry’s brother who was left for dead by the other thieves. Rey lets on that he knows where Henry and his cohorts are heading, which forces Eric to keep Rey around in order to find them and his car. As the search continues, Eric and Rey encounter many different people that inhabit the wasteland with their own secrets and dangers.

There are two things that become very clear to me after watching the first five minutes of The Rover. From the very first shot, I had a grasp on what the rhythm and the pacing of this movie was going to be, and it filled me with that all too familiar film geek glee. Writer/director David Michôd is someone who understands pacing, suspense, and maybe more importantly stillness. The film opens right away with Guy Pierce’s character sitting in his car for close to half a minute without moving. After that, there’s very little dialogue for the first 20 minutes of the movie. At least, there’s way less than what is expected in a movie. The rest of the movie moves at that pace and it’s exactly how a movie with a story and setting like this should go. Another thing that becomes clear is how pristine and beautiful the cinematography is. Michôd and director of photography Natasha Brair work so well together to create a look that is equal amounts gorgeous and dreadful. There are so many unique scenes in this film, especially one involving a car crash in the beginning of the film, that becomes seared into your brain.

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So while The Rover is noticeably a beautifully shot movie there’s still something about it that remains very un-cinematic, and I mean that in a very positive way. I wouldn’t call this an action movie and there isn’t all that much violence in it, but when there is it’s startling and sometimes unexpected. People die in ways that aren’t cinematic or grand in any way. This film shows exactly what life would look like in a post apocalyptic Australian wasteland. There’s tragedy and humor, but by the end of the movie you see that all of that can be inconsequential depending on who the subject is. The cynicism of this movie is so strong I could almost feel it radiating from the screen. What else could be expected from this kind of future, though? The Rover isn’t a movie to make you feel good or have an uplifting time at the movies. It exists to show the lengths a person will go to protect themselves and their humanity in a time where these ideas are becoming extinct.

The characters of Eric and Rey are the only two characters that get any sort of attention or development, which means the whole movie and dramatic tension is riding on their shoulders and how well they play these parts. Guy Pierce has proven himself to be a very unique actor that is easily recognizable. It was no surprise that he took the weight of this post-apocalyptic world and turned it into a character that’s been so beaten down he will do anything to protect himself from any more suffering. This means he’ll kill or hurt anyone who is in his way, and Pierce helps make this character into an anti-hero of the everyman trying to live in the world of this movie. The real surprise was Robert Pattinson, who I’ve always tried to defend as an actor but never got any real proof of what I was defending. Cosmopolis was a giant disappointment, but The Rover shows that he can really do great work.

The Rover is a one of a kind movie that has stuck with me since the days that I watched it. The pacing and cinematography worked wonders at putting me in the world the movie took place in and the performances kept me focused on what would happen next. This is a great example of a post apocalyptic nightmare that also succeeds at being a unique and artistic vision. It is unconventional compared to a lot of other films in this genre, but that’s what makes The Rover such a memorable movie.

Final Grade: B+