Good Time (Josh & Benny Safdie, 2017)

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The Safdie Brothers’ Heaven Knows What was one of the singular films of VIFF 2014, a harrowing, grimy, close-up look at the life of a homeless junkie and her estranged boyfriend, enlivened by a remarkable performance from Arielle Holmes, upon whose life the film was largely based. With a pounding score and aggressive handheld close-up images from cinematographer Sean Price Williams, the film delivered a kind of extreme realism, like a Neveldine/Taylor movie for the socially conscious art house crowd. The Safdies’ follow-up, which premiered at Cannes and opens at SIFF this week, is more explicitly a genre film, if only because instead of a real person playing the lead, they now have a bona fide movie star, Robert Pattinson. It’s a One Crazy Night story, with Pattinson digging himself ever deeper into trouble in the wake of a bank robbery he pulls with his brother, played by Benny Safdie. During the escape Benny is arrested, and later hospitalized after getting into a fight in jail. Pattinson tries to sneak him out of the hospital, which leads to the kinds of unanticipated snags and increasing lunacy that is the hallmark of this kind of film (the movie’s poster explicitly points to Martin Scorsese’s After Hours). As an exercise in suspense filmmaking, the movie is excellent, the music (this time by Oneohtrix Point Never) and Williams’s images perfectly suited to the manic nervousness and driving obsessions of the scenario. Pattinson is, as always, equal parts charismatic and deeply disturbing (would be interesting to pair this with his other great city film, David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis). The supporting cast as well is marvelously weird, headlined by Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Oscar nominee Barkhad Abdi, but also including newcomers like Taliah Webster, Eric Peykert, Peter Verby, and Buddy Duress (who was also in Heaven Knows What), who has rightfully drawn comparison’s to the great oddball character actor Timothy Carey. One performance though has me baffled, and that is Benny Safdie’s as Pattinson’s developmentally- and hearing-impaired brother. I don’t know what to make of the film’s bookends, with Benny in a hospital undergoing treatment, first answering free-association questions from his psychiatrist (Verby), later in a group exercise. It’s been a couple weeks and I still haven’t come up with a satisfactory explanation for these scenes, but they don’t feel right to me at all. But in-between them lies the most exciting American movie of the year so far.

Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson, 2015)

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One of the last major 2015 releases to find its way to Seattle Screens opens this week at the Guild 45th (we still have 45 YearsArabian NightsIn the Shadow of Women and Knight of Cups to come over the next several weeks), with the release of the latest film from Hollywood’s favorite self-loathing narrative-tangler, Charlie Kaufman. Teamed with co-director Duke Johnson and producers Dino Stamatopolous and Dan Harmon (among others), Kaufman has adapted his own play into a stop-motion animated film about a man (voiced by David Thewlis) who travels to Cincinnati for a conference. Lonely and depressive, he first tries to reconnect with an old flame, then finds himself attracted to a woman in the hotel. She catches his ear (and eye, eventually) because, unlike everyone else (besides him) in his world, she doesn’t look like Michael Ian Black and she doesn’t talk like Tom Noonan: she’s the voice of Jennifer Jason Leigh. A touching night of human (well, puppet) connection is followed by some explicit puppet sex, followed by a nightmare and then a nightmarish world. Like all of Kaufman’s films (both as a director and a screenwriter) it’s an uneasy mix of weird humor and sadness, and like all of them Kaufman refuses to give us the happy ending.

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