Brody-Good-Time

* * * * 

Good Time, the new NYC docu-guerrilla-verite slice of gritty NYC urbanism from brothers Josh and Ben Safdie, is a good time. It’s intriguing, bold, exciting, fresh and urgent.

Robert Pattinson – quite possibly doing the best work of his career – plays a Queens criminal with drive and instinct but perhaps not a massive eye for the big picture (nor a huge intellect). When a heist involving him and his intellectually challenged brother doesn’t go quite according to plan, it sets him off on an overnight urban adventure. Pattinson contacted the Safdie brothers after seeing their fantastic 2015 gritty heroin drama Heaven Knows What – seek it out, it’s just terrific – and they wrote the script for him.

NPmgYZu_The Safdies are fascinating filmmakers, using long lenses and employing a “Street Casting” crew member to shoot many of their New York scenes amongst actual, and sometimes unknowing, New Yorkers from hidden, far away positions, and real people doing their real jobs – or otherwise, such as the real prisoners in the film. It’s cool that Pattinson not only decided to work with them but to work in this style, which must take some guts, especially when you’re a British world-famous heart-throb hiding behind a goatee, bleached hair and a Queens accent. Like his Twilight castmate Kristen Stewart and Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe, Pattinson, obviously the possessor of a gargantuan bank account, now works for the challenge, not the money. This role would have been a big one, and he pulls it off extremely well.

The first twenty minutes or so of this film are staggering, to the point that I became thrillingly expectant of having the best cinema experience of 2017. Unfortunately, the urgent intense excitement of that slick first act doesn’t sustain, and as the story enters nighttime the film slows a little and grows murkier, introducing a major new character (played by Buddy Duress, one of the actual street denizens from Heaven Knows What, and basically only an actor when called upon by the Safdies) who, despite the authenticity of the performer, feels a little inauthentic to the story.

In the main, however, this is urgent, mesmerizing, extremely exciting “pure cinema”, and totally worth your twenty bucks and one hundred and one minutes. The original score, by Oneohtrix Point Never, is creepy, evocative and the best of the year thus far. Recommended.

Slick and Empty.

17308753_226957274377050_3898021556144994787_n
* * 1/2
(out of five)

Greg McLean’s The Belko Experiment, from an original script by James Gunn, is a slick, expertly crafted horror/comedy hybrid that, unfortunately, is not as strong conceptually, thematically or stylistically as almost any episode of Black Mirror. It’s polished but in no way profound.

The milieu, and the set-up, are interesting, insofar as we don’t often see movies set in corporate high-rises in Bogota, Columbia. This particular building is on the outskirts of the city, and is home to the Columbia HQ of a nebulous corporation, Belko, whose employees are mostly American, with some Brits and a few locals scattered throughout. One morning, the local employees are told to go home, and the rest are subjected to – well, The Belko Experiment, which is all kinds of nasty.

This kind of story – at home in the worlds of The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Outer Limits and, of course, Black Mirror – has its devotees, and I am one. But I’d certainly seen all this before, or at least variations. Nothing here is a surprise. But it is crisply entertaining; McLean, who knows how to shoot a movie, gets good mileage from red blood on sharp white business shirts and gleaming modern interiors, and John C. McGinley makes a meal of his role as the first of the worker bees to go loco. The kind of movie best enjoyed with a six pack.

NOTE: This is a “spoiler discussion”; ALL story elements of the film are discussed.

Ambient, unique tale about – literally – a heart.

heal-the-living-reparer-les-vivants-venice-2

* * * 

Even more than 21 Grams, Heal The Living is the story of a heart transplant, and, uniquely to my knowledge, the protagonist is a human heart. It starts in one body and moves to another, and we are witness to its journey, which is fascinating, involving, as it does, not only ambulances and doctors, but ice-packs, police escorts, agencies, and serious emotional dilemmas. The film is an eye-opener if nothing else.

The procedure itself is fully rendered, to the extent that I wondered if the film’s director Katell Quillévéré had found an operation to film first and a subject and story second (I have no doubt we are seeing a real heart in a real procedure). But the film is based on a novel, by Maylis De Kerangal, so that particular chicken did come before the egg.

The film’s structure is very satisfying, even as it leaves the viewer without an entire lead human being to follow. Despite the highly emotive subject, the film has an emotional distance, which Quillévéré fills with long, poetic imagery set to intense, trance-like music. At times it strains a little too hard, but generally, and especially amongst the performances, there is clarity, precision and taste. I suspect that if you’ve ever given or received an organ you’ll find the film respectful and rewarding.

Impeccably, masterfully crafted; somewhat confusingly told.

blade-runner-2049

* * * *

Visually, sonically, thematically and tonally, Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi masterpiece is absolutely spot-on, mimicking the very particular look, sound and feel of the earlier film with eerie specificity. As with J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens, which felt like Star Wars: A New Hope, this absolutely feels like Blade Runner, including buying into that film’s more ponderous aspects, and certainly into its very lofty ruminations. It’s a serious cinematic work, Villeneuve’s best film, and generally hugely enjoyable.

This is the third major (read: expensive and Studio-backed), “hard” sci-fi, intellectually ambitious examination of cybergenetic A(rtificial) I(ntelligence) this year. As such, it trumps Alien: Covenant and Ghost In The Shell. Both those films were rather terrific in their own ways – and both certainly were not afraid to wade deep into questions of where real life ends and artificial life begins – but Blade Runner 2049 is simply a bigger, bolder work of art. This is the one of the three that will be nominated for Oscars, and it will win Cinematography for Roger Deakins. His work here is sublime, masterful, faultless, jaw-dropping, incredible. It’s the most beautiful film of the year bar none. (It will also be, a la Mad Max: Fury Road, a potential Oscar sweep winner in all of the design categories.)

It is not the easiest film to follow; the story-telling is its weakest aspect, and the long third act (of a very long, though never boring, film) has elements that are simply incomprehensible. It’s a big problem, or was for me, because despite the way the film had ravished me with its visuals, its phenomenal production design, and its uncompromisingly elegant mise-en-scene, I walked out of my screening confused rather than sated. One character – played by Jared Leto, sprouting some seriously fruity dialogue – had me flummoxed and frustrated. Blade Runner 2049 admirably raises big, big questions, but less admirably refuses to provide some simple answers.

Too much Bobby, not enough Billie.

RIGGS KING

* * * 1/2

This telling of the events leading up to, and including, the tennis match instigated by Bobbie Riggs versus Billie Jean King and billed as a Battle Of The Sexes is fun and extremely easy to watch. But by dividing the film’s focus 50/50 between both players, and by bending over backwards to make Riggs seem like a totally acceptable dude in his own right rather than the bad guy, we are robbed of an insightful film about Billie Jean King, who is so obviously a more interesting, and historically significant, person than Riggs.

Riggs (Steve Carell) is portrayed as “wacky” but not disturbed, incorrigible but not troubled, annoying but not disturbing, frustrating but not dangerous. He’s like a tiny insect, pesky but not powerful enough to ruin your picnic. And, often, he’s “loveable”, and way too much time is given over to scenes with his wealthy, dramatically inert wife to try and prove it. I don’t think I’d find him loveable but the movie wants us to.

The other half of the film – Billie Jean’s half – is far superior, with Emma Stone giving a perfectly modulated, low-key performance. The film’s three thematic strands are The Match, Feminism, and King’s Transition to Gayness, and all three are touched on well if not enough.

The film looks great – it even has a 70s grain, and uses camera moves of the period, such as zooms – and the match itself is brilliantly re-created and, incredibly, tense as hell. But the movie feels like a massive missed opportunity. Emma Stone’s “Billie” would have been – potentially – a far richer film.

Incidentally, the portrayal of Margaret Court – given her current newsworthiness – is fascinating. Seems she was ever thus.

kongensrei

* * * * (out of five)

Since you asked, yes, The King’s Choice is kind of a cross between The King’s Speech and Sophie’s Choice. It’s about a largely ceremonial king who must rise to the challenge of guiding his nation, while forced to make a choice imposed on him by Nazis. It’s also an extremely well made and compellingly emotive historical drama, bleeding beautiful craftsmanship from every pore.

The King in question is King Haakon the 7th of Norway, and the choice he must make, over the course of three days in April, 1940, is whether to resist or accept German occupation. It’s a big, difficult decision, the kind that no training in the world prepares you for, because the Nazis were playing by new rules: their own. To resist would almost certainly result in Norwegian casualties; to “bend over” and let the Nazis walk in, as his brother the King of Denmark does hours before, would be a betrayal of, as he sees it, everything he stands for as a sovereign. Tough one.

As a history lesson, the film is exemplary; it certainly plugged gaps in my knowledge not only of Norway’s entry into the war but also many aspects of Scandinavian monarchy. But it’s also a deeply affecting story on a personal level, not only full of suspense and tension but also emotion. If Dunkirk is this year’s Big World War Two film about the planes and the boats, this is the one about the people.