Happy Death Day (Landon; 2017)

Movies which use the same central conceit as Groundhog Day, that is that a person is reliving the same day over and over again, are becoming regular enough that it’s beginning to become a small sub-genre of its own.  Since the original we’ve had Run, Lola, Run which is different from the original in that Lola isn’t really experiencing the day over and over, the audience is just being shown the same scenario in different ways it could have played out.  Then, there is Edge of Tomorrow (Live, Die, Repeat) in which Tom Cruise relives the same day over and over due to having inherited the powers of an alien, and learns that he is not the first to have gained this power.  In ARQ a science experiment causes a time loop which has a couple of scientists and a crew of mercenaries raiding their laboratory to relive the same day over and over.  So far, the premise has continued to hold up as in each incarnation a new, interesting twist is thrown in to keep the story intriguing in a different way.  Now we have Happy Death Day, which is a film about Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) who starts the day waking up in a strange bed in a dorm room after a night of heavy drinking and ends the day by getting murdered by a person in a mask.  This day also happens to be her birthday, and she keeps reliving it over and over again.

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A film like this relies heavily on the talent and charisma of its star.  Jessica Rothe (if she seems familiar, she was the blonde roommate of Emma Stone in La La Land) does have charisma aplenty, but it’s a little hard to determine the depths of her talent.  She does chew the scenery splendidly in Happy Death Day, bringing us a truly over-the-top bad stereotype level sorority bitch as the movie starts and becoming more of a decent person as the film goes on, but this is a film that isn’t interested in the least in realism, nuance, and honest character development.  To her credit, Rothe seems to recognize this and revels in her role for what it is – a walking talking plot device we are meant to root for rather than a fully fleshed out person.  She starts as a stereotype and as the movie moves forward just changes which stereotype she is for reasons that aren’t reasonably explained.  Given that’s what she has to work with, she does as admirable a job as anyone could be expected to.

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Scott Lobdell’s screenplay is another element of Happy Death Day which almost seems to revel in its imperfection.  Happy Death Day very obviously knows what kind of movie it is, going so far as to compare itself out loud to Groundhog Day at one point, and so it plays on the audience’s expectations of what they expect from a time loop movie.   The way it plays with the audience is both clever and fun, but it isn’t internally consistent.  Changes to a person’s character just happen because that’s what these movies do, not because the story gives us a real reason.  The film definitely has fun with and gives us a decent twist on the sub-genre, but it isn’t smart enough to always (and, the always is important here – sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t) incorporate those twists in a way that meshes with the story line, and can even seem counterintuitive to it.

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The most important factor of Happy Death Day, though, despite its many flaws and inconsistencies is that it is an entirely self aware movie.  It knows it exists simply to allow its audience to have fun via scares and playing around with our expectations.  Those things it does very well, and while I would have liked to see more from it in particularly the characterization department, I also don’t know what restrictions the cast and crew had to work with.  Perhaps this is a case of focusing almost entirely on the main thing the movie wants to do and letting other factors slide was the wise and not the lazy choice.  I’ll never know, but I do know that Happy Death Day is a film that is a ton of fun most of the time despite its flaws.

Final verdict:  While I wouldn’t quite classify Happy Death Day as a horror comedy, it is such a fun, unpretentious film that it will most definitely scratch that itch should you have it.  Its characters are shallow and change purely because in a plot like this you expect them to, but I can’t deny that all the actors here are charming and likable.  This is the exact opposite of the movie you should go to if you are looking for anything with any level of heft or depth at all, but if you like campy horror meant more to make you jump and laugh than to disturb or scare, then Happy Death Day is a surprisingly fun ride.

 

The Foreigner (Campbell; 2017)

To say that Jackie Chan has a specific signature style is an understatement.  At age 63 now, though, he can’t do the death defying seemingly superhuman stunts he was once capable.  He is still in remarkable shape, but a lifetime of stretching your physical capabilities to the limit, punishing your body, and just simple age mean that he has to change the way he approaches his roles.  In The Foreigner he does just that, and while there are still quite a few action scenes Chan does nearly a 180 degree turn from his usual frantic, comic, action based performance and attempts something more serious and thoughtful.

An IRA bombing of a bank kills 58 people and injures 21 in the opening scene of The Foreigner, and among the dead is Fan (Katie Leung) the daughter of Jackie Chan’s Quan Ngoc Minh.  Since she was the last family Quan had left in the world, he is struck particularly hard and also is able to leave everything else in the world behind as he seeks justice and revenge.  His search leads him to Liam Hennessey (Pierce Brosnan) a former member of the IRA who is now reformed and is a prominent Irish politician.  Quan is convinced Hennessey knows who performed the bombing and the remainder of the movie is a cat and mouse game between the two as Quan does whatever he feels is necessary to get the names from Hennessey, and Hennessey in return seeks to stop Quan in order to protect both his career and his family.

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The screenplay for The Foreigner is based on a book called “The Chinaman”.  I have never read the book, so I can’t give a comparison, but I can say the story of The Foreigner is an intelligent and intricate one, but the characters are so thin as to be more plot devices than actual people.   It makes for a somewhat irritating experience because you can truly get swept up in the story, and be honestly surprised as well as impressed by its thoughtfulness and realism, but despite that not a single character in the film has a single character trait beyond events that happen to them.  No one is funny, or gullible, or dour, instead they are a man who has lost his family, a mysterious politician, a nephew with military experience, a wife who doesn’t like her husband, and so on.  What this does is make for a film which can be appreciated, but not enjoyed as you never empathize with anyone on screen.  It’s hard to even say there are protagonists or antagonists in the film, let alone heroes and villains, just a bunch of people whose actions weave together to form a story.

That being said, it’s hard to say whether or not this turn of Jackie Chan’s is a good one.  He shows here that he is still capable of some fun action scenes, damn he is still in great shape, and that he can frown and squeeze out a tear here and there instead of constant smiling and laughter, but with no real personality traits to express we just get a Chan who is much more calm than we are used to rather than a true performance.   The same can be said of every performance in the film, though Chan’s is the only one most are paying close attention to since his is the only great departure from his usual style, there is nothing particularly wrong with the acting, it’s just that there is no character given to the actors to portray.

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The camerawork in The Foreigner never reaches artistic nor impressive levels, but is still very solidly pulled off.  The film has a lot of moving pieces which have to followed, and at no point does it ever become difficult for the audience to do so, though on a handful of occasions it does become a bit awkward to do so with some quick editing which is necessary but comes out of nowhere and could almost certainly have been handled in a better fashion.  Aside from those handful, and they really are rare which is probably why they are so jarring, we get a film that is easy enough to watch that you can forget you are watching things through someone else’s eye, and if you aren’t trying for a visual art piece, that is one of the best things to accomplish in a film’s cinematography.

The pacing of the film is on the slower side.  There is a lot of talk about the past, or about what people should do, or about plans, but there is very little direct action taken by the characters for the vast majority of the film.  This makes for a movie that seems far longer than it actually is, and while the realistic constant twisting of the story is enough to get you to stay until film’s end since you just have to know what’s really going on and you need that sense of closure, you will also find yourself wishing to yourself that they could just move things along already for quite a bit of the running time.

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Final verdict:  The Foreigner is a very mediocre film which also happens to have fantastic plotting.   If political thrillers or revenge stories are really your thing then I would say to give The Foreigner a look, thought not necessarily in the theater.  If characterization is important to you, though, expect to be disappointed, and if you are looking for an over-the-top hilarious action packed Jackie Chan flick then avoid The Foreigner at all costs, or at least seriously reconfigure your expectations to the near exact opposite.  The Foreigner had a lot of potential, but poor character writing kills it for this critic, making it difficult to sit through despite its wonderful story.

 

Blade Runner 2049 (Villeneuve; 2017)

Making a sequel to the classic 1982 Harrison Ford science fiction film Blade Runner is either tremendously gutsy or stupid or both.  While it initially bombed at the box office, it has always been a critical success and it didn’t take long at all after its theater run for word of mouth to make Blade Runner a film which is now considered one of the greatest films ever made by many, and one of the greatest science fiction films ever made by so many that even its few detractors have to admit it’s something special.  In 2013, Denis Villeneuve caught the attention of smart filmgoers and Hollywood executives alike with Enemy.  Two years later he repeated his success in a more acceptably mainstream way with Sicario.  Then Arrival in 2016.  Denis Villeneuve finally gets his career making or breaking job with Blade Runner 2049, and not only is it certainly a career making job it’s one that cements him as one of the finest working directors and a man with the potential to be spoken about alongside the likes of Kubrick, Scorcese, and Hitchcock as one of the best directors of all time for giving us intelligent but also thrilling cinema.

Blade Runner‘s tone is instantly recognizable, yet also a little hard to grasp and explain.  It seems like it should be an action movie, yet it takes its time spacing the action far apart and getting it over with quickly.  It seems like mainstream science fiction, but it has camera work that so lovingly frames its painstakingly built world it’s more an art piece.  It seems like a simple good humans versus evil robots presence, but it’s really a treatise on what it means to be human.  Blade Runner 2049 understands all of this, and not only repeats it but manages to add more to the experience while also raising it to the next level.

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The tone and pacing which was the make or break element in the original Blade Runner for most is repeated in Blade Runner 2049.  Once again, we have a film which takes its time establishing its settings in silence before moving ahead with the action, a film which isn’t afraid to linger for a moment longer than usual on an empty room or a skyline.  While most appreciated this aspect of Blade Runner, there are those who say it makes the film boring.  Blade Runner 2049 uses this same style while also adding 45 minutes to the running time, so if you are in the Blade Runner is dull category, you will most likely feel the same about the sequel.

You’ll notice I didn’t do my usual brief plot summary of the film, and that is because to say anything about the plot of Blade Runner 2049 would be to spoil more than I like.  But, just like the original it is a story integrally tied to its themes.  It’s also a story which piggy backs both its plot and themes directly from the original in a way which both flows naturally and yet is also an entirely original creation.  In Blade Runner we were asked to think about what it means to be human and what our creations say about us, in 2049 we are asked again, and more dealing with memory, success, and the idea of our creations themselves becoming creators.

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The Vangelis soundtrack of Blade Runner was essential in establishing its unique dreamlike tone, and Blade Runner 2049 mimics that original soundtrack excellently with a gorgeous score from Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer.  Just like the story, the score mimics in exactly the way it needs to, yet still sets is self apart as its own entity showing us that the music just like everything else in Blade Runner 2049 is an evolution not a copy.

The cast of Blade Runner 2049 does the incredible job you would expect from this group of talented veterans.  Ryan Gosling in the lead, point of view role of “K” the replicant Blade Runner, does a fantastic job of portraying the artificial cop torn between doing what he was created and programmed for and his Pinocchio-like journey of self discovery and fulfillment which conflicts with his duties.  Harrison Ford reprises his role as Deckard, now confirmed to be a replicant, and gives us his best stuff despite being very vocal in the past about not liking nor truly understanding the first film.  Robin Wright is excellent as Ks boss/owner in the police department who brings a new twist to the role of hard ass cop with a soft spot for her subordinate, and relative newcomer Ana de Armas is a true revelation and a wonderful surprise in her part as K’s holographic companion.

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The crowning glory of Blade Runner 2049, though, is its visuals.  The special effects, art direction, and cinematography combine to make every frame a work of art.  The original Blade Runner practically invented the visual aesthetic of what we call cyberpunk, Blade Runner 2049‘s advanced technology and bigger budget takes that world we largely viewed from a distance and puts us right in the middle of it.  We get to look out the windshields of the flying cars as we weave between buildings, we interact with the larger than life holographic advertising which fills every available empty space, and we get to walk along streets then into alleys then through doorways filled with the desperate people of an overpopulated resource plundered world.  All this taken in and framed with the eye of a true auteur who makes the dystopia somehow beautiful and haunting and you have a masterpiece of visual artistry.

Final recommendation:  If you found the original Blade Runner overrated and dull, then you are not the audience for its sequel.  If you call yourself one of the millions, if not close to billions, of people who are a fan of the original, though, what you are getting in Blade Runner 2049 is more than just a continuation of the original story, much more than just an homage.  Blade Runner 2049 takes everything that made the original one of the greatest science fiction films of all time and somehow brings it to a level even greater.  Its themes are explored with even more nuance and depth, its characters more three dimensional and fascinating, its story even more gripping and surprising, and its visuals are of the sort that not just win awards, but which are shown off as examples which revolutionize the art of film making.  Blade Runner 2049 is a masterpiece, a more than worthy successor to the original, and of course I recommend it as wholeheartedly as is possible.

 

American Made (Liman; 2017)

Doug Liman, the director of this latest Tom Cruise vehicle, has a fairly hit or miss career as a director to date.  The Bourne Identity is now a classic which revitalized and revolutionized the spy genre, Swingers is a cult comedy classic, and Edge of Tomorrow (also titled Live, Die, Repeat in one of the worst marketing blunders in film history) was one of the biggest surprises of 2014 and is destined to become something of a sci-fi classic in its own right.  He also brought us Go, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and Jumper, and I’m betting the only reason you remember one of these movies is more for behind the scenes tabloid level drama than the film itself.  So, I wasn’t sure which Doug Liman we’d be getting as I went in to see American Made, I kept my expectations moderate, and leaving the theater I was pleasantly surprised having seen a film that I would rank up there amongst the films I just called classics – and while it’s going to take some more time and perspective to really classify American Made, my first impression and instinct is that I like it even more than two of those three great ones.

American Made is the Hollywoodized true story of Barry Seal, a TWA pilot recruited by the CIA to spy on the Soviet backed Nicaraguan Contras toward the tail end of the ’70s.  It’s the story of the beginning of the War on Drugs and its connection to the Iran-Contra scandals, but it’s the story told through the point of view of one of its lesser known central figures, which makes for an experience that’s both familiar and fresh at the same time.

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I probably shouldn’t have been so tepid in my expectations for American Made since it is pairing up Cruise and Liman for a second time, and Cruise has always shown he can give one hell of a great performance when paired up with a director who understands him, and Liman has already proven once before that he works really well with Cruise.  I won’t oversell Cruise’s performance here as one of the best of the year, but it is quintessential fun, charming Cruise.  Most of what Cruise gives us as Barry Seal is the manic charm that seems to take far more energy than a man in his 50’s seems capable of giving, but there is a nuanced vulnerability here, as well, that we see in many of Cruise’s best works. While he’s always go-go-go, we can also sense that Seal knows he is capable of making a bad decision despite his chutzpah and talent, and that bad decision which could ruin his life and his family is a nearly visible burden Cruise manages to subtly portray giving Seal a dimension which is all too often absent in your typical Tom Cruise action thriller.

The supporting cast also does a wonderful, if never quite spectacular, job bringing us a group of characters which are familiar enough to ground us but never dip into stereotype.  Domnhall Gleason as Schafer, Seal’s CIA recruiter, is definitely the shifty, never know exactly what he’s up to character we’ve come to expect from a middle-man secret agent type, but he also displays a lack of confidence in his own abilities that is incredibly rare in this same type of character making him a unique, memorable figure.  Sarah Wright as Lucy Seal, Barry’s wife, is also excellent truly embodying a family focused woman who loves her husband and children more than anything, hates what he’s doing, but is blinded by the money coming to the family so much she overlooks her own values and instincts.  She, in fact, is probably the most three dimensional and well acted character in the entire ensemble, and if I were to pick out a possible award winner to come out of this film, it would be her.

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The visuals of the film are excellent.  While I’m sure there is some CGI in the film, a scene in which two planes touch wings is one instance that comes to mind, it’s not at all obvious and it seems like what we are viewing is a combination of excellent cinematography combined with practical stunts and effects.  The cinematography really is excellent with its combination of gorgeous aerial shots and more practical yet still stylistic work when the action is grounded.  It’s nothing I would ever call truly artistic, but it most definitely has a style which meshes perfectly with its screenplay.

That screenplay is the most stand out element of American Made, a film which I obviously feel has quite a few stand out elements.  The tone and structure is one which reminds me a great deal of The Big Short from a few years back in that it educates its audience on a series of events that we are familiar with but may be lacking on details unless we are a scholar on the era and events, that education is not just on the history but also looks forward to how those events effect us today, and it does it all with a light, entertaining touch which makes the lesson oh-so-easy to take in that we don’t even realize we’re learning as much as we are until the film is over.  Combine that with the excellent character work mentioned earlier and snappy, witty dialogue, and you have the makings of a truly memorable bit of writing.

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Final verdict:  American Made is yet another highlight in a year filled with so many of them.  It’s an important film with not an ounce of pretentiousness.  It’s a film with true weight and depth, but with such a light touch there is nearly no effort on the part of the audience to take in its insight.  It’s a film which is equal parts comedy, thriller, biopic, crime film, spy movie, and true history, and it works on every single one of those levels.  There are not many audiences I would not recommend American Made to, though I have a feeling those with a kinder vision of the Reagan era than the movie portrays may be offended by some of what the movie has to say, but I will also say that as fantastic as the film is, I don’t think many, if any, would pick it as their favorite film of the year.  As odd as it sounds, the film may be perhaps too well made because it seems to lack the spark of humanity present in the greatest works of art.  Still, this is one hell of a well made film, and if the premise interests you in the least I’d have to think you will get a lot out of it.  It’s good enough that I think it will even thrill a great many who find nothing to grab them from the marketing campaign alone.

mother! (Aronofsky; 2017)

If Eugene Ionesco or Samuel Beckett, your surrealist playwright of choice, were alive and working in Hollywood today I imagine the fever dream which is mother! is the sort of thing they’d come up with.  mother! is the latest offering from Darren Aronofsky the writer/director who gave us Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream, and The Fountain, among quite a few others.  mother! combines his obsession with the artistic process with his proficiency for creating images which are at once disturbing and beautiful and his penchant for creating an experience for the movie viewer more so than telling a story.

The prominent cast members of mother! are Jennifer Lawrence as mother, Javier Bardem as Him, Ed Harris as man, and Michelle Pfeiffer as woman.  The cast is impressive, and they do an excellent job for the most part, but what I wanted to point out here is the fact that no one in mother! has a name.  It’s one of many factors which make the film such a dreamlike experience, one of the many factors which make for an experience which is always on the border of being familiar, but never comes close to being intimate.

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mother! is a nearly impossible film to discuss on anything but a sheerly technical level without giving away spoilers, so past this I’m not really going to try, but it’s a film that is steeped in metaphor and in which the story such as it is is really only there to rope you in and give you a framework to start you on your journey into the nightmare which the movie ultimately ends up being.  No one has a name, yet you know who everyone is.  Everyone but you and Jennifer Lawrence seem to understand perfectly what is happening, but you and your anchor in this world are lost, scared, and confused.  It’s more dream than movie, and like a dream, mother!‘s purpose is to send you a message which is anything but obvious.

The performances in mother! aren’t going to win any awards, but they are what we’ve come to expect from a crew of veterans, and its especially nice to see Jennifer Lawrence return to form after the dreck she gave us in 2016.   Michelle Pfeiffer is the real standout among the main cast, in my opinion, giving us a performance brave enough that I’d wished she’d been playing roles like this for more of her career.  Javier Bardem and Ed Harris are more foils and excuses to move the action along than actual characters, but both perform this job admirably enough that you don’t notice that fact at all while the story is unfolding.

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The true draw for this movie, though, is the combination of sights and sounds which are at once gorgeous and disturbing, breathtaking and mundane.  The camera frames each shot in a way which is both practical and artistic, making the feel of a dream which Aronofsky so obviously is striving for making sure we are looking exactly where he wants us to be, but still unsure of exactly what it is what we’re seeing except that whatever it is is fascinating.  The combination of sounds and art direction add so much the proceedings and transform the house all the action takes place within into another character, and a character that in many ways is more important and more developed than the people living inside of it.

So, what kind of movie is mother! aside from an artsy one?  It’s closest to a horror film in that it is disturbing, creepy, and bewildering, but it’s goal is to unsettle more so than to scare.  What it primarily is, is a message to unravel, a puzzle to take apart.  It’s unclear if Aronofsky had one theme in mind, but I saw messages about immigration, fame, the process of creating art, environmental concerns, and others.  mother! is an art house film that somehow got a major release, and I really hope it gets the audience it deserves.

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Final verdict:  mother! is a difficult film, but it’s one worth unraveling.   It’s the act of unraveling, in fact, which makes mother! so fascinating.  To anyone who thinks dream interpretation is a good time, you will love mother!  To others, mother! is a hard movie to recommend, not that I don’t recommend, just that what you get out of mother! is going to depend an awful lot on what you’re willing to put into it.  If you want to turn off your brain, relax, and just let entertainment come to you when you see a film, avoid mother! like the plague.  If you want to actively engage with a film, sifting through its sights and sounds for meaning like a detective ferreting out clues at a crime scene, and if you don’t mind or even enjoy more a film which practically demands more than one viewing to take everything in, than mother! is exactly what you’ve been looking for.  I know I definitely plan on taking it again when I can.

American Assassin (Cuesta; 2017)

1987 called, it wants its movie back.  I suppose I could have also said that about last week’s It, but in the case of American Assassin its even more true.  Whereas It at least had modern sensibilities where its cinematography, special effects, and treatment of the subject matter are concerned American Assassin feels in nearly every way like a 30 year-old movie in which Michael Keaton has somehow aged and they forgot to write in the corny one liners.  This is a movie in which every American but one is a no questions asked good guy and every one who isn’t an American except one is a no questions asked bad guy.  America – yay!  Not American – Boo.

The premise behind American Assassin is that a guy who hates terrorists (Mitch played by Dylan O’Brien) is recruited by the CIA to kill said terrorists, but one guy who used to have the same job the guy who hates terrorists (“Ghost” played by Taylor Kitsch) now has has gone bad for reasons and is helping the Iranians get a nuclear weapon, because all Iranians really want to do is blow stuff up despite treaties they entered into.  The strokes painted here are so broad as to be downright insulting to anyone with enough reason to see the world in anything other than absolutes.  Add in the old trainer who is so much better than anyone else that you wonder why they don’t just send him in to do the job in the first place (Stan Hurley played by Michael Keaton) and an undercover operative whose main skill is being pretty (Annika played by Shiva Negar) and you have nearly every offensive stereotype in the book pretty well covered.  At least the Deputy Director of the CIA is a black woman, I guess (Irene Kennedy played by Sanaa Lathan), but in this movie its the equivalent of someone saying “I have a black friend”.

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Okay, so cliches are rampant and offensive, but how is the plot?  There was not a single beat or motivation in this entire film that was not both telegraphed and, again, cliche.  Even if you’ve never seen a movie before I find it hard to believe that you wouldn’t see every single bit coming in this movie long before it actually happens.  Add to that the fact that the writers didn’t even attempt to come up with plausible bits of action for our characters – for instance, the bad guy who is the world’s greatest bad ass secret agent gets caught showing his face on security camera easily and immediately for no good reason (it’s not part of some ploy) but apparently that’s okay because the Deputy Director of the CIA doesn’t even think to check security footage – and you have writing that is both inept and broadcast.

The best thing that can be said about American Assassin is that at least the acting and camerawork aren’t as bad as the script.  The actors aren’t given anything to truly work with, and they never manage to rise above the material – even Keaton who seems to be in “doing it for a paycheck” mode – but, they at least show that they may have some promise if they are ever given a decent script and director.    As for the cinematography, the opening is probably the worst bit as its meant to be the main character filming on his phone, but even I who have made the claim that I have never taken a decent photograph could do a better job.  After that, though, the camerawork becomes serviceable, if never in any way, shape, nor form artistic.

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You would think a film in this style would at least be over the top with American nationalism, but we don’t even get that.  There’s no American flags to be seen, no cries for God and country (though, there is one call to prayer), no speeches about American superiority, nor worship of the military.  It’s a film based entirely on terrorists being bad, foreigners being terrorists or at least in league with them, and these facts give Americans an excuse to beat them up and kill them.  That’s the gist.

Final verdict:  The only reason I don’t call American Assassin the worst movie of the year is because the plot was at least mostly coherent, if still nonsensical in its own way.  The script is horrible, the action basic and dull, the characters offensive stereotypes, and even the special effects look like they come straight out of the ’80s.  The only reason to see American Assassin is as a bet with someone you dislike to see who can hold out the longest, either disgust or sleepiness will almost certainly overtake anyone before the movie’s end.

Good Time (Safdie and Safdie; 2017)

Rules in screenwriting and film making exist for a reason, and breaking them usually creates a mess of a movie.  Knowing exactly how and when to break these rules, though, can occasionally make for a classic.  Memento and The Sweet Hereafter break the rules of time, telling the story in non-chronological fashion, and these two are remembered as classics and started a trend which film makers are still trying to mimic.  Man With a Movie Camera and Koyaanisqatsi will live on for a very long time due to the fact that they don’t even have a plot and just attempt to observe the real world.  Dogville forgoes having a set whatsoever and From Dusk ‘Til Dawn throws the preconceptions of genre out the window.  I mention all these because Good Time is another rule breaking film, but it’s unlike any other that make the attempt in that it is neither a mess nor a movie that is destined to be talked about in film classes for years to come, but merely a film that you look at as an interesting idea that worked relatively well.

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That unwritten rule which Good Time breaks is that a story needs to have a mapped out plot and subplots with clear high points and breaks according to a long accepted structure.  Good Time‘s story is less structured and more the feeling of being dragged along by strangers through a place you’re unfamiliar with to a destination you don’t know.  The story is one of two brothers, Connie Nikas played by Robert Pattinson and Nick Nikas played by Benny Safdie who also wrote and directed Good Time.  The story starts when Connie decides he is going to rob a bank dragging Nick, who is intellectually disabled, along.  Connie gets away with the robbery, but Nick is captured by the police and the money stolen is lost.  The majority of Good Time takes place over one night in which Connie tries to get his brother out of jail using whatever means are available to him as the night progresses.

Good Time never focuses on any one part of the story arc for very much time, and once a specific incident is finished from Connie’s perspective, that incident and everything it involved is left behind never to be seen nor spoken of again.  This means that the fate of important characters are left up in the air, objects that were once important are forgotten about, and central ideas are discarded.  It makes for a story which feels more like a panicked night of grasping at straws than a coherent plot, and I’m sure that is exactly what the film makers were trying for.

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Adding to the disorientation is the camera work.  Normally I consider it a knock against a film, particularly an action film, when the director of cinematography chooses to use close-up shaky camera techniques as a means of disorienting the audience and thereby masking the fact that the stunt work doesn’t look good or some other flaw in the creation of the film’s action visuals.  Here, the grainy shaky hand held camera is very much a feature not a bug as it accentuates the disoriented mix of dream and reality which the Safdie brothers are trying for.  It’s certainly not a law being broken, as this style of camera work is still in regular usage even if it is in disfavor by most critics, but this cinematic technique is still a gutsy move as it is going out of style and is used not just to hide lack of talent or budget but to give the entire film an emotional core.  In my opinion, it works.

Robert Pattinson’s performance as Connie is the final make-or-break element of the film, and ultimately what Good Time‘s success hinges on, and he certainly pulls it off.  He manages to make Connie a realistic person and a relatable one.  We may not approve of his criminal lifestyle, but we can definitely see that underneath it all is a confused man who loves his brother above everything.  Pattinson delivers a character that is at once tough and vulnerable, intelligent and charismatic, yet also willfully ignorant and selfish, and it all works to make a truly three dimensional human being.  With Good Time, Pattinson shows there is a lot more to him than he was able to show off in the Twilight series.

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Final verdict:  Good Time is an unusual film in that it takes a lot of chances, all of those chances work, yet it still doesn’t manage to elevate itself above the level of an interesting study.  Perhaps it’s its subject matter, crime movies are hardly original, perhaps it’s its hyper-realism, we have all had nights like the one focused on in this film, but the circumstances are too foreign to really relate to, but Good Time is a movie that is more fascinating than entertaining.  The Safdie brothers have given us a movie that film scholars will truly appreciate, but that general audiences will most likely find dull and disjointed.  If you are the type who goes to a film largely for intellectual reasons, then I recommend Good Time, but most others won’t get a great deal out of Good Time other than a feeling of “what the hell did I just watch?”.