GOOD TIME (2017)

August 24, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. The Drifters and later George Benson sang “the neon lights are bright on Broadway”. Well, we aren’t on Broadway, and though they aren’t bright, the neon lights are ever present and crucial to the tone of the latest from brothers and co-directors Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie.

Robert Pattinson stars as Constantine “Connie” Nikas, and turns in a performance unlike anything we have previously seen from him. Connie is protective of his brother Nick (played by director Benny Safdie), and he’s also a grungy unhinged bank robber. He doesn’t look like a man with a plan, but fortunately, Connie is a smooth talker who thinks ‘quick on his feet’. We say fortunately, because he is barraged with an endless stream of danger, catastrophes and near traumatic events as the story progresses.

A botched bank robbery separates the brothers and sends Nick to jail and Connie on the lam. Co-writers Ronald Bronstein and Josh Safdie seemingly take immense pleasure in launching Connie off-the-rails has he desperately attempts to avoid capture while simultaneously figuring out how to spring brother Nick. With a frenetic pace that escalates Griffin Dunne’s misery in AFTER HOURS, Connie’s escapades have him crossing paths with his girlfriend played by Jennifer Jason Leigh (wish she had more screen time), a psychiatrist played by Peter Verby, a new anxious-to-help acquaintance in Taliah Webster, an accidental partner-in-crime played by Buddy Duress, an amusement park security guard played by Barkhad Abdi (“Look at me!”), and a brutish thug played by hip-hop artist Necro.

The pounding, pulsating techno/synth music perfectly complements the unusual tone (almost noirish, and bordering on comedic), feverish pace, and fascinating visuals throughout this hyper-kinetic frenzied trip. Some viewers will be turned off quickly, and those that stick with it will be rewarded with an entertaining crime thriller featuring Pattinson’s best performance to date.

watch the trailer:

 

Advertisements

THE CHILDHOOD OF A LEADER (2015)

July 21, 2016

childhood of a leader Greetings again from the darkness. Brady Corbet has established a pretty nice career as an actor (Melancholia, Funny Games), and along comes his feature film debut as a writer/director (co-written with Mona Fastvold). In this day of remakes and reboots, this one is anything but. The “Overture” sets the mood with video clips of the WWI aftermath and the explosive score from Scott Walker quickly establishes itself as a character unto itself.

Subsequent title cards are broken into three “Tantrums”, as we witness the ever-escalating inappropriate behavior from young Prescott (Tom Sweet). In what on the surface could be classified as a nature vs nurture expose’, the film leaves little doubt that Prescott is rebelling against the monotony of his environment and the disengaged parents to which he is tethered. However, it also seems evident that young Prescott is inherently “off”. He seems to be cold and emotionally removed as he engages in battles of will with his parents … his father (Liam Cunningham) a US diplomat knee-deep in negotiations that will lead to the Treaty of Versailles, and his mother (Berenice Bejo), a self-described “citizen of the world”.

Two obvious film comparisons would be The Omen (1976) and We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011). The ominous music and settings leave little doubt that we are headed somewhere very dark here, though it’s not in the religious sense of The Omen and it’s more global than the intimacy of ‘Kevin’. Thinking of this as evil in the making would be a just description, though a different title might have held the ending a bit longer.

Support work is provided by Stacy Martin as the French teacher and Yolanda Moreau as the housekeeper who has moments of connection with the challenging Prescott, but Robert Pattinson fans will be surprised at how little screen time he has – especially for dual roles.

Young Tom Sweet is fascinating to watch in a very tough role for a child actor, and director Corbet proves he is a filmmaker we should follow closely. His visual acumen is something special, and offsets a script that could have used a bit of polishing. The movie will probably prove divisive – either you will find it mesmerizing and creepy, or you simply won’t connect at all. That’s often the case with a creative and bold project.

watch the trailer:

 

 


LIFE (2015)

December 22, 2015

life Greetings again from the darkness. The film’s title has multiple meanings: “LifeMagazine as the source for the famous photographs we have seen so many times; the crossroads in “Life” of both rising star James Dean and photographer Dennis Stock; and a philosophical look at “Life” – how quickly things can change, and how we should appreciate the moments.

Director Anton Corbijn (A Most Wanted Man, The American) and screenwriter Luke Davies offer up a snapshot of 1955 as the not-quite-yet-famous James Dean (Dane DeHaan) traveled cross-country with photographer Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson) from Los Angeles to New York to Indiana. Each man was searching for their true self as Stock’s professional ambition and personal stress are palpable, while 24 year old Dean’s ambivalence about his pending superstardom borders on self-destructive.

DeHaan and Pattinson both underplay their roles, and it’s certainly more than a little confusing to see Pattinson in a movie about James Dean where he is not the actor playing the icon. DeHaan captures the low key, soft-spoken side of Dean but only teases at the “rebel” studio head Jack Warner (Sir Ben Kingsley) wanted so badly to control. We get a feel for Dean’s vision of challenging roles in quality productions … a commitment to the art of acting he no doubt sharpened in his time with acting guru Lee Strasberg. The story leans more heavily to the tale of photographer Stock, which is unfortunate, because he is significantly more awkward than interesting. Pattinson plays him as a social misfit who broods nearly as much as the “moody” young actor he is stalking through the streets.

The period look is well appointed, and we are privy to some of the moments of Dean’s life just prior to the release of East of Eden and his being cast in Rebel Without a Cause. His relationship with Pier Angelli (Alessandra Mastronardi), friendship with Eartha Kitt (Kelly McCreary), and his bond to the family and farm of his childhood in Indiana are all captured. In fact, it’s the clumsy relationship with Stock that comes across as the least realistic portion … though it may very well have happened this way. Even the manner in which the famous photographs were taken is underplayed … although it makes for a terrific tie-in with the closing credits where the real Stock/Life Magazine photographs are displayed.

It’s now been 60 years that James Dean has exemplified Hollywood “cool”, a label that can never be removed due to his tragic death in 1955 after making only three films. Capturing the essence of what made Dean cool is unnecessary because it’s present in every scene of those three films, as well as the photographs taken by Dennis Stock. That’s all the legacy either man needs.

watch the trailer:

 


THE ROVER (2014, Australia)

June 29, 2014

rover Greetings again from the darkness. This is Australian writer/director David Michod’s follow-up to his excellent 2010 film Animal Kingdom – one of my favorite films that year. While that film took us inside an Australian gangster family, this one is set in a dystopian Outback ten years after what the film terms “the collapse”.

Michod’s script from a Joel Edgerton story goes pretty light on the details and depends heavily on the shared scenes with Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson. Both deliver the goods, and Pattinson in particular is quite something to behold … his gun shot wound plays second fiddle to the most bizarre speech pattern and accent we have heard in awhile. Initially appearing somewhat flawed in his mental aptitude, Pattinson brings his character through a full cycle of emotions; which is the polar opposite of Pearce’s character who though quite stoic, leaves no doubt that he is angry at 3 goons for stealing his last possession – his car.

The mood of the film and the tone of the character keep us in suspense on why this blasted car is so important to Pearce, and it’s not until the final sequence that the mystery is solved. The more interesting scenes occur when Pearce and Pattinson are facing off – their relationship evolves from adversarial to something kind of oddly touching.

The usually dependable Scoot McNairy plays Pattinson’s brother, but really isn’t given much to do except for his final scene with Pattinson. The most interesting supporting role comes courtesy of screen veteran Gillian Jones as the inquisitive Grandma. She leaves the impression that a film about her would be much wilder than the minimalistic landscape and dialogue of our feature.

Michod’s latest is not at the level of Animal Kingdom but it does offer a couple of intriguing characters and vastly toned down Mad Max flavor. It’s beautifully photographed and the sparse soundtrack is the perfect compliment.

watch the trailer:

 


COSMOPOLIS (2012)

September 3, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. David Cronenberg is a brilliant filmmaker. Brilliance doesn’t necessarily translate into popular or even accessible. He tends to make movies that force a level of discomfort while viewing, while also stretching our intellect as we attempt to follow. Even his films that come closest to mainstream (A History of Violence, The Fly) refuse to allow us to just sit and be entertained. His more esoteric films (Naked Lunch, Crash) will cause your thoughts to swim and your gut to churn.

This latest is based on the Don DeLillo novel and there is no known group of film lovers for whom this can be recommended, save Cronenberg fans. Even that doesn’t reduce its brilliance. Robert Pattinson plays Eric Packer, the ultimate example of the 1% that is receiving such notice these days. Packer is a young, billionaire, who rides around in his mobile high tech ivory tower (you might call it a white stretch limo), taking meetings while on his mission to get a haircut. The meetings are vignettes designed to grow increasingly abstract and dialogue heavy as the film progresses.

The meetings feature Jay Baruchel as his Chief of Technology, Philip Nozuka as an Analyst, Emily Hampshire as his Chief of Finance, Samantha Morton as his Chief of Theory … oh, and a special meeting with his mistress Juliette Binoche. He also manages to continually run into his new wife played by Sarah Gadon, and work in his daily doctor’s exam which is extremely thorough. All of these occur while he is being protected by his security chief played by Kevin Durand.

 This film is not plot driven, but rather ideal and theory driven. From the discussions we can tell that the financial systems are collapsing and Packer is losing millions by the minute. His fortune is vanishing and there are threats on his life. The most interesting threat comes from his true polar opposite in life – Benno Levin played by Paul Giamatti. This sequence is the film’s longest and most dialogue heavy. Understanding every sentence is not necessary to realize it’s a comment on the faceless many vs the evil privileged. The paranoia has boiled over to the point where anarchy and violence somehow make sense.

Twilight fans will not be pleased with Pattinson’s performance, but he is absolutely perfect as Packer. His cold, arrogant nature and monotone voice are anything but emotionless. He apparently realizes his path is leading to the Village of the Damned, and he seems to have designed his own purgatory. One of the funniest, yet still odd, moments arrives in the form of Mathieu Amalric, who will generate recollections of a Rupert Murdoch incident.

Howard Shore provides an extremely subtle score that fits with the mood changes a the film progresses. Again, this is a bit like watching a philosophical laboratory experiment and certainly won’t appeal to a wide audience. If you are a Cronenberg fan, have at it. If not … the risk is yours.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a big time Cronenberg fan (I can’t think of another reason)

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are a Twilight fan expecting Robert Pattinson’s bedroom eyes to steal your heart

watch the trailer:


WATER FOR ELEPHANTS

April 23, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Everyone loves the circus (except those who are scared of clowns). Everyone loves trains (except those who are scared of wrecks). Everyone loves performing animals (as long as they are a safe distance). Combine those elements with a best-selling novel, three popular actors and a twist on Titanic and you end up with a very watchable, though slightly mundane dramatic love story.

You are probably wondering where I came up with the Titanic reference. Allow me to explain. The story begins with an old man caught in a rain storm. We quickly find out Hal Holbrook is playing the Robert Pattinson character as an old man. Mr. Holbrook’s character corresponds to Gloria Stuart‘s character in Titanic. Both provide flashback detail to a love story engulfed in tragedy. On top of that, both have twinkly blue eyes! Paul Schneider is in the Bill Paxton role … trying his best to get the secrets of what really happened so many years ago.

 The story is based on Sara Gruen‘s best selling novel and is set in depression-soaked 1931. Jacob (Pattinson) is sitting for his Cornell veterinarian finals when he is notified of a family tragedy. He promptly sets out on the road and jumps a train. Not just any train … the Benzini Brothers Circus train! He is taken under the wing of Camel, the old timer played well by silky-voiced Jim Norton. Soon enough he is summoned to meet the circus owner. A brief meeting leads first to the order to toss Jacob off the train, but he is saved by his knowledge of animal medicine – a valuable commodity in the circus world.

Now is as good of time as any to let you know that the great Christoph Waltz plays August, the circus owner. As in his Oscar winning role for Inglourious Basterds, Waltz’ August is alternatingly charming and chilling. He is a ruthless circus owner who values no man or animal. He values only making money and his star attraction and wife, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon). Oh, and just because he values her, doesn’t mean he treats her well. He is near-psychotic when he goes off on her or anyone or anything else. Pause … then a few minutes later, he is back to his charming self. Very frightening stuff.

Of course, it’s not surprising that Jacob is enchanted with Marlena (a bareback rider) or that she returns the affection. What is surprising is that they continue to push the boundaries of good sense while within the confines of the circus group – and August. You can imagine the confrontations and situations that arise, but Marlena’s insistence that no life exists for her outside the circus is a head-scratcher.

 The story really picks up when the struggling circus purchases a performing elephant named Rosie. It didn’t take me long to figure out that Rosie may be the smartest character in the film. She is certainly the most crucial for Marlena and Jacob.

The screenplay is from Richard Gravenese who has a track record with this type of story. He was also responsible for The Horse Whisperer and Bridges of Madison County. What’s surprising is the director is Francis Lawrence, previously known for I Am Legend and Constantine. This movie has (thankfully)no resemblance to those films and his cast and crew obviously help him adjust to a more melodramatic storyline.

What I like about the film are the realistic characters and the setting. The trains, big top, circus performers and workers all seem real, as do the few circus scenes presented. Without the Christoph Waltz character and performance, this film would be truly just a run-of-the-mill dramatic love story. His element and the realistic circus life make this one worthwhile.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF:  you are fan of the circus or the book or the three lead actors OR you thought Mr. Dark from Something Wicked This Way Comes was the creepiest Ringleader ever

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF:  you can’t handle a bit of melodrama with your trip to the circus OR a performing elephant who understands Polish is just a bit too far outside the comfort zone