The Lighthouse

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A youngish drifter joins an old-timer to serve as his assistant running a lighthouse on an isolated, indeed god-forsaken, island. That’s all you need to know about the plot of The Lighthouse, because it’s not a film you see for the plot; it’s experiential, a sublime example of an ostensibly narrative feature film that compels you (and boy does The Lighthouse compel you) through its 109 minutes through virtuosic visual and aural stimulation. Call it ecstatic cinema.

Robert Eggers, the auteur of this absolutely auteurist work, previously made The VVitch, and The Lighthouse reverberates with that film’s early-times-in-New-England setting (The VVitch was set in the 1630s, The Lighthouse in the late 1800s), its hand-made wooden sets and props, and its spectacularly florid period language (wait’ll you hear Willem Dafoe, in an Oscar-nominated performance, get his mouth around it). But, like his contemporary, peer and possible artistic soulmate Ari Aster, Eggers’ sophomore effort is as much a black comedy as a horror film. As Aster’s Midsommar was to Hereditary, so too is The Lighthouse a wild trip compared to The VVitch’s mapped-out precision.

And what a trip! This is mesmerising, head-spinning stuff, full of shots, moments, scenes and sequences that are pretty indelible and pretty incredible. Shot in miserable conditions (and the dramatic weather’s all up there on the screen) in Nova Scotia, as essentially a two-hander (Robert Pattinson being the young gun up against Dafoe’s incredibly salty sea-dog), in striking 35mm B&W (the cinematography is nominated for an Oscar), there is nothing else like it. I was stunned to get to see it at Event Cinemas Bondi Junction – a mainstream Australian theatre chain and location – on their biggest screen (VMAX!) – as though it was the latest superhero movie. Whether they felt that Pattinson’s involvement meant this would pack in the young ‘uns, or they actually recognised a spectacle demanding their best possible facilities, they’re to be praised for playing a film this wonderfully nutty as though it’s mainstream. Unclassifiable, maybe it was pitched to them thus: Wake In Fright meets Ida meets Splash. That’ll sell some popcorn!

Good Time

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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.