Friday, July 28, 2017

“Good Time”– Movie Review

Good Time

Recently, I attended a sneak preview at The Film Society Of Lincoln Center of the new crime drama “Good Time”, starring Robert Pattinson.


Can a thief free his brother who was wrongly jailed for a botched bank robbery?


Constantine (Pattinson) wants to have a close relationship with his brother Nick (Ben Safdie), but that’s easier said than done.  Given their background of being raised in a highly dysfunctional family and the fact that Nick is developmentally disabled, developing such ties is a bit of a challenge.  With this in mind, Connie devises something that, in his own twisted way of thinking, will be a bonding experience between the siblings:  he will include his brother in a bank robbery he’s been planning.  Needless to say, this doesn’t turn out very well; although they make it out of the bank with a bagful of money, much of their loot becomes tainted when the dye pack explodes, coloring many of the bills (and the both of them) in bright red.

The other problem is a considerably bigger one:  while being pursued by the police, Connie is able to escape but Nick winds up being caught.  Learning of Nick’s arrest, he brings the cash to a bail bondsman who informs Connie he will be unable to use much of the take for Nick’s bail as the bills were stained from the dye pack.  Being $10,000 short on his brother’s bail, Connie turns to his girlfriend Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh) for help.  Corey isn’t exactly in the best shape financially either; she’s living with her mother because she can’t afford her own place.  Not only that, but she doesn’t even have credit cards; instead, she has to use an extra card from her mother’s account. 

Upon returning to the bail bond office with Corey, they discover that Corey’s mother has already cancelled the card so it can’t be used.   Not only that, but Connie is now notified that even if they could use the card, they wouldn’t be able to bail out Nick; it turns out that Nick’s been hospitalized following a severe beating resulting from a jail brawl.  The bondsman explains to Connie that until Nick is discharged from the hospital and returned to jail, the bail money is useless.  This being the case, Connie decides that instead of actually doing something sensible, he’ll sneak Nick out of the hospital to prevent him from being returned to jail.  But can this crazy plan succeed or will it only lead to greater problems that will cause the police to intensify their chase?


When it comes to an analysis of “Good Time”, the challenge is this:  it is just as easy to praise it as it is to deride.  On the one hand, Pattinson gives a remarkable performance as the type of character he rarely gets an opportunity to play.  On the other hand, Connie is such a low-life and an idiot, it gets increasingly difficult for the audience to root for him.  While Connie’s character may indeed be the protagonist in a technical sense, he is more of an anti-hero; the only thing that could be considered a redeeming feature is his desire to help his brother – although his motives might be more selfish than selfless.

So what makes “Good Time” worth recommending beyond merely Pattinson’s performance?  For one thing, the fact that it is an unusual story.  On the surface, it may seem like a typical heist tale, but on deeper inspection, it is truly a story of familial obligations and ties, even when that family is exceedingly dysfunctional.  Given the fact that Connie and Nick come from such a background makes Connie’s consistently poor decisions all the more plausible – almost to the point where it becomes comical (and his base incompetence does appear occasionally risible).   

Following the screening, there was an interview with Pattinson, co-directors The Safdie Brothers and co-screenwriter Ronald Brownstein.  Pattinson said that he appreciated the chaotic environment created on the set by the directors because it brought a considerable amount of energy to the shoot and to his performance.  He added that while many people view “Good Time” as very much a New York movie, to him, it looks like more of a horror film.  Brownstein said that he worked extensively with Ben Safdie to create a backstory for both Connie and Nick by emailing him as if he was the character Connie.

Good Time (2017) on IMDb

“From The Land Of The Moon”– Movie Review


This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new drama “From The Land Of The Moon”, starring Marion Cotillard. 


When a married woman’s health forces her to recover at a spa, she falls in love with one of the other patients – but will she leave her husband for this man?


Gabrielle (Cotillard) has never been lucky at love.  Living on a farm in a rural area of France in the 1950’s, a crush she has on a married schoolteacher goes awry when she misinterprets his friendly gesture for a romantic overture.  As she recovers from her bout with unrequited love, her mother realizes that she must somehow find a way to get her daughter married.  The mother notices that José (Àlex Brendemühl), an itinerant worker who has been toiling on the family farm, has had his eye on Gabrielle for a while now.  Gabrielle, on the other hand, could not be less interested in José.  As a result, her mother makes her an offer she can’t refuse:  either marry José or she’ll have Gabrielle committed based on the unorthodox behavior she’s exhibited.

To say that their marriage is loveless is a major understatement; she refuses him sex, so he goes off to be with prostitutes.  Realizing this, Gabrielle offers herself to José on the condition that she be paid for providing him marital services.  Despite her best efforts, she winds up getting pregnant.  However, she has a miscarriage which uncovers a serious medical condition; while surgery can treat this, Gabrielle goes with the less radical option of spending a month and a half at a spa in The French Alps where she will receive an alternative form of treatment which is believed will heal her.

Once there, however, she is introduced to André (Louis Garrel), a lieutenant in the French army who, until recently, was serving his country in Indochina.  The reason why he is a patient in the spa is because while overseas, he developed a rather severe case of uremia, which now leaves him mostly bedridden.  Not particularly caring that she’s got a husband back home, Gabrielle falls hard for this dreamboat and is none to subtle when it comes to putting the moves on him.  As sick as he is, André nevertheless appreciates all of the attention by a pretty young woman.  But will Gabrielle run off with André once they’re both discharged or will pangs of guilt ultimately force her to return to José?


It’s understandable to be deceived into thinking that “From The Land Of The Moon” would be a movie of high quality.  After all, it’s a romantic French film that stars the brilliant actress Marion Cotillard, so that would lend it a certain degree of gravitas and credibility, wouldn’t it?  Sadly, the only who will appreciate it are the hardcore fans of Cotillard; the rest of the public will likely see “From The Land Of The Moon” for what it truly is – a muddled mess that is a filmic version of one of those Russian nesting dolls in that it is melodrama within a melodrama within a melodrama. 

This movie is based on a book; perhaps readers of that novel can understand the reason why this adaptation is titled “From The Land Of The Moon”, because it’s never quite made clear in the film itself.  But that is the least of the things which aren’t quite clear.  With all of the physicians Geraldine has seen over the years in which the story covers, it is amazing that not one of them is a psychiatrist capable of accurately diagnosing her rather disturbing behavior.  Suspend your disbelief at your own risk; caveat emptor has never been so wise a piece of advice when it comes to this motion picture.

As a novel, “From The Land Of The Moon” was probably quite the page-turning yarn.  However, aside from allusions to the French involvement in Indochina, there is precious little in this utterly preposterous tale that even remotely resembles reality.  Not the least of which is the record-scratch of an ending when something is revealed (Welcome To The No Spoiler-Zone) that calls into question much of what we just saw in the previous hour.  It is something of a cheesy filmmaking trick to hook an audience in only to pull the rug out from under them in the end.         

From the Land of the Moon (2016) on IMDb

Thursday, July 20, 2017

“Landline”– Movie Review


This week, I attended a sneak preview at The Film Society Of Lincoln Center for the new comedy, “Landline”, starring Jenny Slate, Edie Falco and John Turturro.


When sisters discover that their father has been unfaithful, what impact will this have on the life of their family?


In the mid-1990’s, life is good for Dana (Slate) and her family.  She’s engaged to Ben (Jay Duplass), a sweet but dull young man who’s very much in love with her.  Ali (Abby Quinn), her teenage sister, has an impending high school graduation; while her parents are pushing her to attend college as they did, she is not quite so sure.  As for their parents Alan and Pat (John Turturro and Edie Falco), both siblings appear to get along splendidly with them, even if their own relationship with each other can cleave toward being a bit fractious, so put it mildly.  Alan and Pat, on the other hand, seem to have grown a bit distant over their years together.

At a party, Dana runs into Nate (Finn Wittrock), an old college flame with whom she winds up re-igniting their passionate relationship behind Ben’s back.  Meanwhile, Ali stumbles upon evidence that Alan is having an affair of his own.  Does Pat know about this?  If not, should Ali be the one to blow the whistle on her father?  On this matter, Ali is a bit conflicted; while she sees Alan’s unfaithfulness as wrong, she has also witnessed her mother’s behavior toward him as deliberately driving him away.  Unsure how to properly handle this awkward situation, Ali spills the beans to Dana and seeks her advice on the matter.

Before either of the sisters have the opportunity to confront Alan or Pat regarding this troubling news, Pat reveals to Alan that she in fact knows what he’s been up to.  The two separate and plan to divorce.  In the meantime, Ben is growing increasingly concerned about Dana; she moved in with her parents shortly after things started heating up with Nate and Ben has barely heard from his fiancée in the intervening period.  Ultimately, Dana confesses to Ben that she’s been seeing Nate, which causes Ben to break up with her.  Realizing that she needs to settle down with Ben, can Dana convince him that she’ll be faithful in the future?  Also, with their family on the verge of breaking apart, can the two sisters put their differences aside (at least temporarily) to try to unite their family?


It’s hard to tell if the gifts of Gillian Robespierre as a filmmaker inspires the performance delivered by actress Jenny Slate or if it’s Slate’s acting that inspires Robespierre’s directing choices.  Perhaps it’s a little bit of both.  Regardless, they make an incredible collaborative team, proving that their previous work together, “Obvious Child”, was no fluke; “Landline” shows that the team of Robespierre and Slate do not suffer from the dreaded Sophomore Jinx.  Once again, they are able to present a story full of both mirth and sorrow, often simultaneously.

A great deal of credit also must go to Elisabeth Holm, who shares the screenwriting credit with Robespierre.  This duo also co-wrote “Obvious Child”, their breakout movie from several years ago.  They have a sensibility and storytelling style that appears to bring out the very best in each other; remarkably, the pair are able to find humor in truth and truth in humor.  The characters they have delineated are rich and, as heartbreakingly real as they may be in their flaws, are also deeply funny, even when they don’t realize their own ridiculous behavior. 

Following the screening, there was a question and answer session with Robespierre, Slate, screenwriter Holm and Slate’s co-star Abby Quinn.  Robespierre said that the story came about because she and Holm share a similar background; not only did they grow up in New York City during the 1990’s, they also both saw their parents divorce during that same period.  In their case, this shared trauma only served to strengthen the familial bond that both had with their respective parents and siblings.  Slate said that following “Obvious Child”, she and Robespierre kept in touch and were eager to work together again.  

Landline (2017) on IMDb

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

“Valerian”– Movie Review


This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new science-fiction/adventure “Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets”.


In the future, a planet with peace-loving people is destroyed – but can the agents charged with investigating the attack find out who did it and why?


The society that exists on Alpha 400 years from now is a collective of humans and aliens who both live and work together in collaboration in order to improve each other’s life.  This is especially true in the demographically diverse City Of A Thousand Planets, which contains the largest population in all of Alpha.  However, the long-standing peace in the universe is disrupted when a planet is unexpectedly attacked and destroyed; only a small group of its inhabitants survive by escaping in a pod.  Slowly, over a course of many years, they try to rebuild their society – and all the while, plotting revenge.

With the universe’s peace disrupted, The United Human Federation is called into action.  The Federation is an organization of humans responsible for maintaining order and vanquishing possible threats to all of society.  Two of The Federation’s top agents are Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne), who work as partners on all their missions.  They are assigned the task of investigating who attacked the planet and why.  In the meantime, The Federation Commander (Clive Owen) is kidnapped by the alien survivors of the destroyed planet so Valerian and Laureline are sent to rescue him. 

Upon finding The Commander, Valerian and Laureline are unable to free him without themselves confronting the aliens first.  Instead of being engaged in a fierce battle, the aliens relate their story to the agents; the new information they get from the aliens is alarming and forces the agents to view their situation in a whole new light.  With better insight into the aliens’ background and the motivations for their actions, the agents realize the objective of their mission must be altered.  Are the aliens justified in their capture of The Commander?  Did The Commander have prior knowledge about the attack and destruction of these aliens’ planet?  Can the agents help the aliens to restore their society?


One might forgive a viewer who anticipates fun while watching the opening credits of “Valerian” – it’s quite a visual spectacle with musical accompaniment.  Unfortunately – between the special effects and the relentless action scenes – the movie as a whole winds up feeling like more of an assault on the senses rather than a coherent story featuring protagonists about whom we can invest our emotions or time.  Ultimately, at two and a quarter hours, the film is something of a slog rather than the fast-paced adventure to which it aspires.

By the end of “Valerian”, the viewer is left caring neither about the fate of the survivors of the destroyed planet nor about the future of the possible romance between Valerian and Laureline.  It is, in fact, the aliens who seem considerably more human than the actual humans themselves – and considering it’s the humans who are the protagonists, that’s not something that bodes well for the movie itself.  Also, these members of The United Human Federation of the future appear to sustain the racism and sexism of the present:  very few non-white faces are seen among them and there seem to be no women in positions of authority. 

What little there is of entertainment value in “Valerian” comes from being able to quickly identify the famous faces, many of whom appear only in cameos.  In addition to Clive Owen, they include Rutger Hauer, Ethan Hawke and (as has been widely publicized already) Rihanna as a character called Bubble – a shape-shifting alien who performs a seductive dance for Valerian.  Although their characters do indeed move the story forward, their presence it not enough to elevate this film.  We can hope that there will be no sequel to this motion picture – or if there is, it’ll be at least a half hour shorter. 

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) on IMDb