Tag Archives: B+

GOOD TIME

Producer: Sebastian Bear-McClard, Oscar Boyson, Jean-Luc de Fanti, Terry Douglas and Paris Kasidokostas Latsis
Director: Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie
Writer: Josh Safdie and Ronald Bronstein
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Buddy Duress, Taliah Webster, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Barkhad Abdi, Peter Verby, Gladys Mathon and Necro
Studio: A24 Films

As many commentators have noted, “Heaven Knows What,” the previous film by Safdie brothers Benny and Josh, essentially revisited the territory covered in 1971 by “The Panic in Needle Park”—the grim, destructive reality of drug use. Their latest seems to take as its model another Al Pacino vehicle of the seventies, “Dog Day Afternoon.” The ironically-titled “Good Time” uses a bank heist as the basis for a character study that, in the end, is another intense, convulsive Safdie exercise in urban nihilism. Buoyed by a take-no-prisoners turn by an almost unrecognizable Robert Pattinson, however, it represents a considerable advance in purely cinematic terms, though the bleakness of tone, despite periodic bursts of gallows humor, will feel oppressive to many viewers.

The picture opens with Nick Nikas (Benny Safdie), a mentally challenged young man, being tested by a therapist (Peter Verby) at what is apparently a government treatment facility, presumably prior to his being enrolled in a permanent program there. Just as the questioning starts to uncover hints of a violent home life, the session is interrupted by Nick’s nervy, volatile brother Connie (Pattinson), a scraggly low-life who leads Nick away as the therapist futilely objects.

One might think that Connie intends to protect his brother somehow, but instead he makes him his accomplice in a bank robbery that initially seems to go well enough, despite Connie’s obvious amateurishness at such things, but turns out badly, with Nick under arrest and Connie on the run, desperately trying to raise the cash needed to bail him out. After an appeal to his druggy girlfriend Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh, superb in what amounts to a cameo) sputters out, Connie breaks a bandaged man under police guard, whom he believes to be Nick, out of the hospital, and embroils a woman (Gladys Mathon) and her sixteen-year old daughter Crystal (Taliah Webster, in a beautifully natural debut) in helping them.

Once the bandages are removed, however, the guy turns out to be not Nick but a just-out-of-prison hell-raiser named Ray (Buddy Duress), whose stream-of-consciousness rant about his post-jail adventures gives Connie an idea about raising the cash he now needs more than ever. Ray knows about a bottle of LSD hidden in the Adventureland amusement park, and if they can retrieve it, they might be able to sell it for big bucks. Of course, they’ll have to endanger Crystal and deal with the place’s security guard (Barkhad Abdi), but Connie’s the sort of fellow who’s never reluctant to put others in the crosshairs in order to achieve his immediate end.

Connie is the centerpiece of the action throughout, appearing in virtually every scene, and Pattinson grabs the character from the very first and never lets up, gleefully embracing his quicksilver changes of mood and a cunning ability to react to every situation by trying to turn it to his advantage, though even he seems haunted by the knowledge that the likelihood of things turning out well is slim. It’s an aggressively propulsive performance that conveys the character’s desperation while indicating that a real concern for his brother exists, however inept Connie is at finding a way to express it.

Pattinson isn’t the whole show, though. In addition to Leigh and Webster, Safdie offers a convincing glimpse of a man trapped in trauma he doesn’t understand and can’t express, and Dupress brings unbridled energy to the flamboyant but pathetic Ray. Abdi adds telling touches to what might have simply been a stock character, too. Adding to the film’s nearly surrealistic vibe are Samuel Lisenco’s production design and Sean Price William’s cinematography, which periodically introduce a spurt of visual grotesquerie in the form of explosions of color or weirdly off-putting compositions, to the gritty urban landscape. The propulsive, non-stop tempo is perfectly captured in the virtuoso editing of Benny Safdie and Adam Teninbaum, complemented by the equally pulsating score of Oneohtrix Point Never.

“Good Time” may not provide what the title promises in any conventional sense. In this case, however, there are rewards of a different sort—more challenging but also more compelling.

LOGAN LUCKY

Producer: Gregory Jacobs, Mark Johnson, Channing Tatum and Reid Carolin
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Rebecca Blunt
Stars: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Riley Keough, Hilary Swank, Katie Holmes, David Denman, Seth MacFarlane, Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson, Katherine Waterston, Farrah Mackenzie, Dwight Yoakum, Sebastian Stan, Charles Halford, PJ McDonnell, Jesco White and Robert Fortner
Studio: Bleecker Street Films

B+

Four years ago Steven Soderbergh announced that he was retiring from feature filmmaking; it was depressing news. Now, after working mostly in television since then, he returns with a new movie, and it’s a dandy. To quote the adjective from its title, we’re lucky to have him back.

“Logan Lucky” will be compared to Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s” pictures, and that’s apt, as far as it goes; it’s about a complicated heist. But perhaps a better description would be that it’s a Southern-fried, larky take on Stanley Kubrick’s great 1956 racetrack robbery flick “The Killing.” Based on a screenplay credited to the otherwise unknown Rebecca Blunt—who may or may not be a pseudonym for Soderbergh (who, after all, shoots many of his movies himself under the nom de camera Peter Andrews, as here), it spins an improbable but agreeable tale of a group of West Virginians at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum who pull off an elaborate theft at the Charlotte Motor Speedway during a big NASCAR race.

The organizer of the heist is Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), a divorced guy whose main joy in life is the time he spends with his daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie). She lives with her mother Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) and her new husband Moody Chapman (David Denman), who runs a car dealership, and his two sons. Sadie is preparing intensely for a talent show in which she intends performing, in glitzy style, a Rihanna song, but she’s always ready for an outing with daddy.

Jimmy, however, is not doing so well. He’s been bounced from his job handling a bulldozer at a repair job at the speedway, simply because somebody spied him limping from an old football injury—which could cause insurance problems. Before being fired, though, he noticed that all the cash taken in during a race was still being transported to the underground vault via a pneumatic tube system that can be easily hacked—especially since, while repairs are ongoing, the usual alarm has been turned off.

Jimmy enlists his brother Clyde (Adam Driver), a dour bartender who lost his lower left arm in Iraq and now uses a prothesis, in a scheme to pull off the job, despite the fact that Clyde is convinced that they both suffer from a family curse that will doom the scheme. Their sister Mellie (Riley Keough), a spitfire hairdresser, also becomes involved. But for the plan to work, they will need the services of the local explosives guru Joe Bang (Daniel Craig). Unfortunately Joe is incarcerated, and so the robbery has to be preceded by a jailbreak—one that, however, will be engineered so that his absence won’t be noted. That will necessitate orchestrating not only Clyde’s getting jailed with him, but a riot that the warden (Dwight Yoakum) won’t report to preserve his sterling record.

That’s only a preliminary cast of characters. Others include Joe’s doofus brothers Fish and Sam (Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson), who have to be convinced that the heist is a moral one before agreeing to participate; Sylvia Harrison (Katherine Waterston), a worker in a health-care trailer that criss-crosses the impoverished locality; Max Chilblain (Seth MacFarlane), an odious English NASCAR owner who aims to win the race; Dayton White (Sebastian Stan), Max’s top driver; and Sarah Grayson (Hilary Swank), a brusquely by-the-book FBI agent. They all play roles, some more peripheral than others, in the increasingly labyrinthine action, where things seem to go off the rails as often as they remain on line. Toward the close the movie adds a major twist that appears to throw everything askew, and then another that sets affairs right again, before appending a sentimental coda followed by yet another turn that promises to take the story in an entirely new direction—perhaps in a sequel.

That description might make “Logan Lucky” sound confusing or precious, but in fact the script is so carefully laid out, Soderbergh’s direction is so secure, and his editing (under another pseudonym, Mary Ann Bernard) so smooth, that it all hangs together like a fine clockwork mechanism, and the shifts in tone are pleasant rather than jarring. Even the different qualities of characterization—from Tatum’s regular-guy seriousness, Waterston’s earnestness and Driver’s moodiness through Keough’s rambunctiousness and Swank’s brittle officiousness to the zanier turns by MacFarlane, Quaid, Gleeson and especially Craig, whose send-up of the tough-guy archetype marks a great change of pace for the actor. While a few of the others—like Holmes—are underused, that’s probably inevitable when such a bevy of characters are introduced. The other tech credits, including Howard Cummings’ production design and Ellen Mirojnick’s costumes, are all fine for a modestly budgeted effort, and David Holmes contributes a score that doesn’t becoming overbearing, like those of so many comedies.

Last year there was another “hillbilly heist” movie, “Masterminds,” with Zach Galifianakis. It was terrible. Soderbergh proves that it’s not the idea that was bad, but the execution. “Logan Lucky” is, quite simply, one of the most sheerly enjoyable movies of the year.