Tag Archives: A24

Good Time

Rating: 5 out 5 (Classic)

Director: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie

Cast: Benny Safdie, Robert Pattinson, Taliah Webster, Barkhad Abdi, Jennifer Lason Leigh, Buddy Duress

Synopsis: Following a bank heist gone awry Connie (Robert Pattinson) resolves to free his disabled brother Nick (Benny Safdie). From dodgy bail bondsmen to ex-cons and drug dealers, Connie traverses New York’s forgotten underbelly in a frantic spiral to bail out Nick.

Devoid of division between title and opening, Good Time pans across New York before swooping down onto Nick and his psychiatrist Peter (Peter Verby). The opening scene is a deceiving moment of calm, with the pulsating soundtrack by Oneohtrix Point Never foreshadowing events. Soaked in the grainy noise and neon colours of New York, Good Time engulfs the viewer as Connie commits a mesmerising display of self- destruction not seen since Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. Connie does both the imaginable and the unthinkable as he bungles his way towards Nick, yet Pattinson humanises Connie. Bearing a tangible desperation in his eyes, Connie is detestable but understandable and even charming when his oddball personality shows. Pattinson again proves what is witnessed in The Rover and The Lost City of Z, that he is a great actor.

Amid Connie’s frantic spiral springs a manic strain of humour from both Connie and the rest of the cast, depicted by upcoming and untrained actors.A standout performance comes from Buddy Durress as Ray, a freshly released ex-convict who becomes Connie’s accomplice. Ray’s confusion when Connie finds him and later attempts to befriend Connie adds emotion and humour into the plot. Equally facing lengthy prison time if caught, Ray’s recollected 24 hours since leaving prison unveils a parallel life to Connie. A cautionary tale of mixing brandy and Xanax, Ray’s story before crossing Connie is the perfect prelude to Good Time’s tense final act.

Sporting a substantial budget of two million dollars compared to their earlier work, the Safdie brothers mingle their hallmark guerrilla style with sleek longer shots and intimate close ups. The use of lighting is one of Good Time’s visual strengths, with ambient sources leaving characters in a darkened haze or a neon glow, pervading the film with a documentary feel. Beyond visuals, Good Time mirrors The Florida Project in having a great story alongside untrained actors. The combination transforms Good Time from being another cathartic dip through a city’s underworld into a believable tale beyond society’s safety net.

In film there are moments of convergence. Works from different artists unconsciously overlap into an undercurrent like rivers meeting at the ocean, crystallising the hopes and fears of our society. In The Florida Project, Good Time and Buster’s Mal Heart which I aim to review soon, we see the ignored parts of America, desperate and angry. Interspersed between the bank heist and the mad turmoil of Connie’s spree are still moments focused upon Nick. Emanating a vulnerable loneliness, Nick’s frustration spews forth, revealing his and Connie’s troubled childhood and that the heist was Connie’s plan to give them a new life. During these scenes Good Time resembles Matthieu Kassowitz’s La Haine, depicting the lives of people trapped outside the middle-class bubble. Beginning and concluding with Nick being comforted by his psychiatrist Peter (Peter Verby) a fatalistic tragedy looms over the brothers. Peter later consoles Nick, saying;

‘Nick, you are where you are supposed to be, and Connie is where he is supposed to be’.

Peter’s words are an unwitting admission that Nick and Connie were bound to remain in the mad world which Good Time depicts, where people deal, scheme and scam to get by. Despite all that unfolds, Good Time concludes with a moving end as Iggy Pop rasps about love while Nick begins to open up to others. The contrasting narrative between Nick and Connie emphasises the very human urge to protect loved ones which compels Connie, shifting Good Time beyond a simple crime thriller.

Having waited three months for Good Time to release in the U.K. since its distribution in America, the film was worth the delay. Good Time has sadly received a limited release across Britain. I thank Home Manchester for actually showing Good Time. For those yet to see the film, a DVD or streaming platform might be the only option.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

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The Florida Project

Rating: 4 out 5 stars (excellent)

Director: Sean Baker

Cast: Bria Vinaite, Brooklyn Prince, Caleb Landry Jones, Macon Blair, Willem Dafoe

Synopsis: Orlando’s Disneyland is the American Dream, a vivid mirage of luxury enticing people from every nation. Beyond that fleeting dream where tourists fail to look, are motels full of desperate people living week to week before they have to move on. 6 year old Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) and her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) live outside the Disney fantasy. Through Moonee’s eyes, we see her fragile life break down over one long summer break.

The Florida Project is a documentary wrapped inside a drama. The events are fictitious but the people who live in this forgotten corner of America are real enough. In 2014 I volunteered in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. Every second weekend was spent in a roadside motel outside of Asheville. Besides the straggle of unfortunate tourists and Mexican workers, the motel’s patrons were people who had nowhere else to go and would wind up sleeping in the alcove of McDonald’s when their money disappeared. Poverty is an eternal and ubiquitous problem. In Europe, we have a smug disdain for America’s inequalities, forgetting that we had the same problem until 70 years ago and to some extent still do. In The Florida Project, director Sean Baker has created an unflinching portrait of America’s poor and forgotten which neither fetishises nor patronises its subjects. Through Sean Baker’s lens, the inhabitants of the Magic Castle and beyond are just people getting by.

Baker’s Tangerine is a film that I have ashamedly not watched. I do remember the film, shot on iphone 5s and with mainly ordinary people playing the roles, being lauded upon release for its realism. The Florida Project continues Tangerine’s legacy, dissolving the fourth wall into a blurred pulp of reality and performance. Bria Vinaite is an untrained actress headhunted through Instagram. The children in the film are actors with only a few previous credits between them. The intermingling of young talent, untrained actors and season performers creates surreal yet beautiful moments where events might be scripted, improvised or the actors just being themselves. It is charming to watch Halley and Magic Castle’s manager Bob (Willem Defoe) arguing until suddenly both begin to snicker like old friends.

Baker lets his performers be themselves, especially the children. The young stars behave before the camera with the unfettered confidence of youth, running off-script and simply speaking their minds like children do. Earlier this year, charming animated french film My Life as a Courgette  broached the dark adult world through a child’s eyes, and The Florida Project does much the same. Awash with incandescent violent and popping orange, the children’s summer is a frolic through mysterious new lands as they run past the neon signs and cartoon figures of motels and gift shops. Their innocence lends both warmth and poignancy to later events as Halley increasingly struggles to keep her and Moonee sheltered.

Willem Defoe may deliver his best performance as Bob. Defoe does not need words to show Bob’s conflict between his job and his desire to help the Magic Castle’s residents, especially the children. Caring and fatherly to Moonee and her friends, Bob becomes slowly crushed by an uncaring world, much like Halley.

The Florida Project’s pacing falters for the final twenty minutes but does not detract from the film’s engrossing story or social message.

Thanks to A24 for supporting the unusual and the innovative like Ghost Story and Good Time. 

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

A Ghost Story

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Synopsis:  Haunting and harrowing, A Ghost Story confronts the truism that in a dark and cold universe our lives and legacies are inconsequential mayflies, leaving only the churning shadow of mortality. Couple C (Casey Affleck), a musician, and his wife M (Rooney Mara) are suddenly and tragically torn apart when C dies in a car accident in front of their quiet home. In C’s return as a ghost and haunting of his former home, writer and director David Lowery searches for a spiritual answer to death.

Visually, A Ghost Story is closer to a long piece of video art more comfortable in the quiet white walls of a modern museum. Sparse with dialogue and even motion, the film often becomes a beautiful slideshow of still images, framed through doorways and windows as the ghost perceives life coldly from the outside. There is almost a Vermeeresque knack to how Lowery composes these images. Through Lowery’s eyes, ordinary structures and objects bleed into one flowing image while audio samples of the world outside, or Daniel Heart’s score ebb and flow across it. C’s presence, returning as a simple white sheet with black eye holes, has an unsettling simplicity. Given the aspect ratio of the film and the ghost’s faceless presences, shots felt like uncovered old photos of seances, with C poised to lunge at the unaware people caught in the frame. C’s own disconnect with the world is poignantly conveyed by motion. The world seems deathly still even before C’s death. The inhabitants of C’s home move on and as C persists, the camera begins to spin between rooms while C shifts his gaze while days become months at a dizzying pace.

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(Affleck as C’s ghost along with director David Lowery)

Affleck and Mara perform well in their roles as props for Lowery’s vision and Daniel Heart’s soundtrack when either actor appears on the screen. Heart cannot be praised enough for his work on A Ghost Story. C’s ghost could have been a difficult character to connect with, but through Heart’s soundtrack the ghost becomes a canvas onto which each new song projects a different emotion. Heart’s work really conveys the ghost’s mounting anger and frustration, along with Lowery’s focus on the ghost’s expressionless face as lights flicker in response to his rage. The ghost’s maligned presence in various frames at times emanates menace or isolation.

A Ghost Story’s experimental reliance upon image and sound will cause many people to justifiably leave the cinema in the first twenty minutes. Although beautiful, the film is peppered with moments of dead time where nothing happens. In one particular scene Rooney Mara, grief stricken, makes a meal out of a pie.  The camera, without music or words, unflinchingly records Mara breakdown as she shovels the pie and crust until running away to vomit. These moments, like the one-man pie contest, are a struggle which only ardent art house cinema fans will persist through. Yet A Ghost Story is a rewarding experience with themes that few directors or film studios are willing to explore. The house and C’s return represent our shared fear of oblivion, to see whether the world remembers us. The world will likely not remember us and the only thing to do is leave little notes like M does, and let go.

After immediate viewing, A Ghost Story was going to receive three stars but in the passing week I have found myself revisiting the film, its ideas, and its haunting musical score. In retrospect the film is a struggle to watch, but many will appreciate it more in the days afterwards. Thanks to A24 for backing such a refreshingly unusual film.

For trailer, see below.

By Saul Shimmin

The Exception [Trailer Review]

Outlook: Simple, but possibly pleasing

Director: David Leveaux

Cast: Lily James, Jai Courtney, Christopher Plummer, Ben Daniels, & Eddie Marsan.

Whenever the A24 logo appears, I pay attention. When I noticed that The Exception takes place during World War II, I was sold. After watching the trailer, the plot appears fairly basic: Forbidden love, dark secrets, and a mysterious man who may end up being the villain.

Receiving little information from the trailer, I will go see this movie because I’m willing to fully place my faith in A24 to produce another solid film after having success across varied genres such as VVitch, Ex Machina, Room, 20th Century Women, Locke, and Moonlight. However, we must all remember that not all of the studio’s films have been well received by critics and audiences. Take Trespass Against Us or Mojave. Both films displeased their respective viewers despite sporting strong casts and interesting plots.

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I’m a fan of Christopher Plummer and The Exception’s trailer is reminiscent of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which is one of my all time favorite films. Placing my bias aside, The Exception has the potential to be great if David Leveaux can balance the atmosphere of mystery that the trailer cultivates alongside the themes of love and duty.  However, The Exception may be the opposite of its namesake, relying upon the well-worn trope of star-crossed lovers and devolving into a half-boiled thriller.

Overall, I’m cautiously hopeful. Let us know your thoughts.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

Free Fire

Movie Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Director: Ben Wheatley

Executive producer: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Arnie Hammer, Ben Wheatley, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley, Noah Taylor, & Sharlto Copley

Free Fire is one long Mexican stand-off between gun smugglers and I.R.A. members after a deal goes south. Trapped together in the confines of a disused factory upon the dilapidated waterfront of 1970’s Boston, Free Fire is a more refined version of Reservoir Dogs. Laced with humour, especially from South African gun smuggler Vernon (Sharlto Copley), Free Fire is a refreshing romp that other action films could learn from. Ben Wheatley delivers a brilliant action film which does not attempt to be overly serious or complex.

By sporting such a large cast including well-known and recognisable actors, Free Fire risked becoming filled with half-developed characters acting as padding for the plot. Yet Free Fire’s setting of a locked room is the film’s biggest strength. It focuses our attention towards the battle to survive, leaving only a few brief pauses where we learn about the many characters through interactions and scraps of dialogue. Given the backdrop, the characters feel real as they squabble, try to outsmart their opponents, or simply survive.

Having been a fan of Ben Wheatley since A Field in England, it seems that pitting characters in a closed environment is becoming one of Wheatley’s tropes.

The action stands out in Free Fire. Instead of being a slick set of choreographed scenes, characters fire haphazardly and nervously as they scramble for cover, while bullets ricochet off the walls. No one is smoothly despatched in the film. Every character suffers injury upon injury which adds to the film’s dark humour. Nor is the film purely focused around the action. Subplots of romance, betrayal and rivalry quickly emerge between characters before and in between the shooting.

The cast all deliver great performances, but Sharlto Copley, as bumbling and arrogant South African gun runner Vernon, steals the show. Arnie Hammer (Ord) was a suprising favourite due to his rivalry with hardened IRA member Frank (Michael Smiley). Although Free Fire is an action-comedy which has no main character, there is no competition between the cast to be the comic relief, as each character has their own moment to shine.

There are a few moments near the end, where Free Fire‘s pace begins to falter, but otherwise this an enjoyable film.

Free Fire is a great film that you should go see while it is in the cinema.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

It Comes At Night -Teaser

Outlook: Spine chillingly good

Director: Trey Edward Shults

Cast: Joel Edgerton, Riley Keough, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr.

In the wake of The VVitch and The Blackcoat’s Daughter, A24 has been developing a fine pedigree in the horror genre. It Comes At Night looks to be the darkest horror film produced by A24 so far.

The film’s premise is that two families, escaping an unknown menace ravaging America, find refuge together in an isolated hut. Yet the threat outside their shelter is quickly overshadowed by the enmity and paranoia which develops between them all.

It Comes At Night is directed and written by Trey Edward Shults, a rising director who gained critical acclaim for his debut film Krisha, about an estranged woman trying to reconnect with her family. Brandishing a larger budget for his second film, Shults has crafted a post-apocalyptic horror which borrows heavily from The Road, which is one of my favourite films. From the teaser trailer alone, both films explore the themes of family, love, and survival in a brooding and eerie post-apocalyptic setting where danger is everywhere. One scene in the teaser trailer, where the camera silently pans down a dimly corridor adorned by family photos, is reminiscent of the cannibal’s house in The Road.

Unlike The Road, where the apocalypse is caused by an unknown cataclysm, It Comes At Night suggests an unknown, but palpable force is sweeping across the world. Horror films have been using the trope of an unseen menace since The Blair Witch Project,  to create the monster in the audience’s own imagination.

Horror based on suggestion is effective but also destructive. The trope creates a subjective expectation of what the menace is, which often surpasses the final reveal and renders a film anti-climatic. The better horror films which rely on suggestion conclude without any revelation. Paranormal Activity did an excellent job in crafting the house’s dark presence without divulging anything at the film’s end.

It Comes At Night bears the challenge of delivering upon the threat outside, without the revelation being disappointing or jarring with plot’s slow-paced tension. Regardless, I am excited to see this film on release, and from the trailer alone, Trey Edward Shults has the potential to be a great director.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

Moonlight

Moonlight follows the life of Chiron, a boy raised in a volatile household and drug-ridden neighborhood, from childhood to manhood. Director Barry Jenkins divides the movie into three sections: LittleChiron, and Black. Each part corresponds to a different stage of Chiron’s life: elementary school, high school, and life as a young adult. Jenkins delivers a heartfelt story that provokes audiences to the point of almost being infuriating. At each stage of his life, Chiron navigates different ordeals: living with a drug-addict mother, discovering his sexuality in a non-accepting environment, and finding his path in life. Moonlight is only Jenkins’ second full-length feature film and it is distributed by the burgeoning film company, A24.

Film Score: Five out of Five  (Classic) 

Everyone needs to see this movie, but not everyone will enjoy it. On its surface, Moonlight appears to be another Boyhood due to their similar plots about following a boy through pivotal moments in his life. Moonlight, however, is about much more than just a boy growing up. Instead, it expertly questions a wide variety of things: the ethics of drug-dealing, masculinity, teenage love, and self-identity.

Moonlight excels in dealing with each conundrum Chiron faces, but the movie’s strongest moment comes in its third act, Black. Here, Chiron is a young man, dealing drugs in Atlanta to make a living. One day, a high school friend/lover, Kevin, phones Chiron to tell him he’s been on his mind. After the call, Chiron goes to visit Kevin in Miami and arrives in a pimped-out Cadillac, wearing a gold grill, and playing a throbbing hip-hop song that exclaims “Ya’ll fucking with the wrong muthafucka.” With each of these facets of his appearance Chiron attempts to exude a tough facade and hide his true nature and homosexuality.

I highlight this act because Jenkins beautifully sets up a realistic persona for Chiron, then just as realistically tears it down. Despite his macho demeanor and muscled up form, the audience can tell Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) is still struggling with his identity. This is not because Rhodes overacts or Jenkins overtly tells the audience that Chiron is struggling. Instead, the audience learns of Chiron’s inner-struggle due to his awkward stuttering and inability to maintain eye contact with Kevin after seeing him for the first time in a decade. A teenage girl might say “Awwww that’s so cute that he’s so awkward.” It is not cute. What it is, is a mastery of acting and storytelling. Chiron’s facade, the act he’s been hiding behind and polishing since he went to juvy, falls apart after Kevin admonishes him for dealing drugs and living this false life. The penultimate moment happens when Kevin goes over to his cafe’s jukebox and puts on Barbara Lewis’s “Hello Stranger.” The song fits the scene perfectly and forces the two men to share their first real moment of the night. Both of their adult-selves disappear, and they become two teenagers, again, in love.

While Moonlight, like Fences, challenges stereotypes of masculinity, this movie is at times the complete opposite of Fences . Where Fences is garrulous and often quite loud, Moonlight utilizes silences. For instance, in the above scene, it is in the quiet moments between Kevin and Chiron that the audience sees Chiron’s love for Kevin. In Fences, Troy (Denzel Washington) would have expounded his love loudly and with as many words as possible. Fences had a warm, softly-yellow visual style creating an aged look, while Moonlight utilized such cinematography for stressful nighttime scenes. For example where Chiron’s mother calls him a faggot, or where Kevin confronts him about why he drove all the way to Miami to see him. In other nighttime scenes, Jenkins switches to a stark style that is more alike to what our eyes perceive in real life. During these scenes, good things happen: Chiron finds love on a beach and Chiron is reunited with Kevin in the cafe.

Please, please, please go see this movie. I deem it a new classic. It grapples with so many issues that I do not have the space nor the wisdom to do them justice. Not to mention the supporting cast is phenomenal. Mahershala Ali, Naomi Harris, and Janelle Monae excel in their respective roles of drug dealer/mentor, mother/drug addict, and girlfriend/mother-figure.   

As always, we welcome your comments.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham