Good Time (2017, A24, Elara Pictures & Rhea Films)
Directed by Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie, featuring Robert Pattinson, Jennifer Jason Leigh Benny Safdie and Barkhad Abdi
It is just too rare to find a film like Good Time these days. Independently stylish, original, creative story pitch, and taut, knife-edge action. There are no ground-breaking attempts here, but it is certainly distinctive. The Safdie brothers have been around for a few films now (Daddy Longlegs in 2009 and Heaven Knows What in 2014) and they are now established as young, bold and talented independent film-makers, who have the capabilities to bring bigger and better films to the fold. With Good Time, they have produced a brilliant crime film that is edging them further in that direction.
We are given a low-key but gripping beginning – there is a close-up of two very menacing eyes. It turns out to be a young man called Nick (played by co-director Ben Safdie), who has mental development issues, and he is being assessed by a psychiatrist. This absorbing scene is then abruptly disrupted by another young man who bursts in to pull Nick away. This is his older brother Connie (played with lucid gusto by former heartthrob Robert Pattison) and he is recruiting Nick to help him in a bank heist. After the heist predictably goes south due to the brothers’ collective ineptitude, Nick is arrested and put in prison where he is violently beat up in a brawl. Meanwhile Connie gets away, but wracked by guilt over leaving his brother behind, he desperately seeks a way of getting him out of prison. The ensuing events revolve around his attempts to do this, which are at times funny, and at other times harrowing. There is an eclectic mix of humour, violence and existentialism at work here and Pattison, in particular, drives proceedings with his pulsating portrayal of a confident but tragic hoodlum. He is at times unsavoury (he exploits his girlfriend for money and when that doesn’t work, tries it on with a very young girl) but at other times he can be relatable (he loves his brother and will do anything for him). In many ways, I found his character resembling Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad – a gregarious manner but a lost soul caught on the wrong side of the tracks, spiralling into a no-win situation but still believing there is a purpose to his life.
The film too has a feel of unease throughout. Perhaps this is the mood-driven electronic score by Oneohtrix Point Never, which is reminiscent of Cliff Martinez’s unforgettable music in Drive. But maybe it is more to do with the setting – the deep down and dirty streets of Queens in New York City. It is a street film after all. The use of character and location visuals are also very effective. The cameras stay close to the characters’ faces for much of the film, but then pulls way back and shoots from afar: for example, when Connie drives along the neon-lit streets at night, which are very Michael Mann-esque. I also noticed a homage to Hitchcock’s use of the Bird’s-eye view shot, i.e. when Connie is chased by the cops through a parking lot – the scene is shot from the apartment above so everything looks two-dimensional (like in the earlier Grand Theft Auto video games).
Don’t be misled by the title – the film is not exactly about having a ‘good time’. Quite the contrary. But despite the at times grim and hope-less subject matter, it is still a good watch.
Reviewed by JJ McDermott – Rated 4/5
Ideal Home (2018, Brainstorm Media, Baby Cow Productions)
Directed by Andrew Fleming, featuring Steve Coogan, Paul Rudd and Jack Gore.
Ideal Home is a comic drama. The film premiered at the 2018 Mardi Gras Film Festival in New South Wales, Australia. Erasmus (Steve Coogan), a somewhat vain TV personality, and Paul (Paul Rudd), his more down-to-earth director, are a gay couple who discover that Erasmus has a grandson. His name is Angel – or as he prefers to be called Bill (played by Jack Gore) – and he suddenly appears at their home because his father is being carted off to prison. As a comedy, this film is more mildly amusing than funny. As a drama – there’s plenty of poignant moments – it is heart-warming (at least in the end) but it is a bit predictable. As you might expect, all sorts of things go wrong, and all sort of adjustments have to be made, but the three gradually come to accept each other and develop a strong attachment. But then the father gets out of prison and takes his boy away, all too swiftly. Boo-hoo! Hmmm… I never would have imagined such originality.
Some of the story is based on the personal experiences of the writer/director Andrew Fleming, but story aside, I don’t really think that the balance between comedy and drama actually works. Especially in the second half of the film where the trauma of loss and the stress of relationship breakdown doesn’t afford a lot of laughs. But you know, it’s okay. It’s an okay movie. And I kind of liked that it was a gay couple who didn’t hide any part of their relationship to the boy. Maybe it is predictable, but it is nice all the same. The cast are fine, although Steve Coogan is perhaps hamming up the ‘vain gay man’ personality cliché a little too much. But I guess it is meant to be a tongue-in-cheek performance. Paul Rudd on the other hand gives a much nuanced performance, which is solid and convincing. The rest of the cast, including young Jake Gore, do a fine job too.
Well gosh! In this current world where we are crying out for greater diversity in film, this is a welcome addition. It is a sometimes light romp, sometimes soppy drama. But it is a film that offers an old story with a new cover. I appreciate it for that reason.
Reviewed by Robin Stevens – Rated 2.5/5