|The Trip to Spain|
|Ingrid Goes West|
|In This Corner of the World|
|4 Days in France|
Quick capsules on a great month at the movies (August was great last year too), with just two dogs among these ten titles:
The Safdie Brothers' "Good Time" plays like a contemporary update of Martin Scorsese's "After Hours" with a criminal overlay. An unrecognizable Robert Pattinson (whose "Maps to the Stars" scene as a chauffeur driving a boldly suggestive Julianne Moore through Beverly Hills is perhaps the sexiest of recent years) stars as a hood who enlists his slow younger brother (Benny Safdie) in a botched bank robbery, then tries to break him out of Rikers, eventually plucking the wrong handcuffed guy (Buddy Duress) out of a hospital on a perfervid and hallucinatory nighttime odyssey through the underbelly of New York. Events feel increasingly disconnected from reality, culminating in a did-that-really-just-happen moment that I will never forget. The cast, featuring the terrific Barkhad Abdi and Jennifer Jason Leigh in small supporting roles, is uniformly excellent, led by the chameleonic Pattinson, a serious and thoughtful cineaste who's going to be around for a long time. So will the supremely stylish, adrenaline-fueled and draining "Good Time," which more than half of my audience watched enraptured to the last of the closing credits… August brings another gift to moviegoers in the form of "The Trip to Spain," the third installment of the "Trip" franchise that is itself a gift that keeps on giving. Director Michael Winterbottom again reunites Steve Coogan and the otherworldly talented Rob Brydon (and that hauntingly beautiful music Michael Nyman wrote for "Wonderland') for a restaurant-review tour marked by hilarious bickering, dueling celebrity impersonations, and critiques of said impersonations. And when I say hilarious, I mean that I wiped tears of laughter out of my eyes regularly through the two-hour runtime that provides exceptional value for money. Coogan and Brydon exhibit a fair bit more self-awareness (of their status on the entertainment totem pole, of the passage of time) in this picture, imbuing it with a greater poignancy. The comedy also feels more unrestrained than ever, finding its clearest expression in an ambiguous ending that seems to thumb its nose at the audience and ask "Why the hell not?" A box set of the "Trip" trilogy would make a marvelous gift for anyone who loves to laugh.
Just one notch below lands Steven Soderbergh's "Logan Lucky," and how glad am I to have the shape-shifting director back from his self-imposed four-year exile. This is a deep-fried "Ocean's Eleven," with Channing Tatum as Jimmy Logan, a West Virginian miner who plots with his one-armed bartender brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and imprisoned explosives expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway by diverting the pneumatic tubes through which admission and concession monies are funneled to their own underground drop. The first-rate cast also includes Riley Keough (fast becoming a major talent), Hillary Swank, Katherine Waterston, Seth MacFarlane, Katie Holmes and a delightfully unexpected Dwight Yoakam as the warden who, no matter what goes wrong, insists "We don't have a _____ problem at Monroe." Driver and Craig have never been more fun onscreen - it's nice to be able to root for Driver for once - and as for the always dependable Tatum, who remains fully clothed, there are nonetheless a couple angles of him (front and back) that will make any gayboy in the audience have to excuse himself.
Moderate recommendations for the next three: Geremy Jasper's "Patti Cake$," with new face Danielle MacDonald as a very overweight young caterer who aspires to rap stardom and cabaret veteran Bridget Everett as her alcoholic hairstylist mother, too stupefied by her own shattered dreams of rock stardom to support Patti's vision. This is at heart a simple, feel-good Hollywood story of a girl making it in showbiz and making peace with her mom, but Jasper's well-written raps, stylish direction and effortless diversity (Patti's posse includes Siddharth Dhananjay as her pharmacist BFF Jeromio, Mamoudou Athie as her African-American love interest Bob, a superbly deadpan Cathy Moriarty as her terminal Nana, and MC Lyte as a supportive DJ) take it up a peg; Matt Spicer's "Ingrid Goes West" gives Aubrey Plaza a chance to branch out from the offbeat, eye-rolling drollery she perfected in "The To-Do List" as Ingrid Thorburn, a disturbed young woman with few friends who heads to Cali to insinuate herself into the lives of Instagram star Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen, much more effective here than in "Wind River") and her boyfriend Ezra (having-a-moment Wyatt Russell) after Sloane upvotes one of Ingrid's comments. Plaza delivers the goods with a performance that straddles the edge of psychopathology and sociability, also abetted by cute O'Shea Jackson, Jr. as her L.A. landlord and an effectively annoying Billy Magnussen as Taylor's brother Nicky, who's on to Ingrid's scheme from the jump. A few overwritten scenes threaten to topple "Ingrid," but in the end we're happy to accompany her to some unusually dark places; and Michael Almereyda's biodoc "Escapes," about the Zelig-like life of the sometime flamenco dancer and small-time actor Hampton Fancher, who went on to write and co-produce the "Blade Runner" pictures. Fancher makes a charming, if sometimes unwilling, raconteur, and Almereyda curates his stories with carefully chosen photographs and video, the relevance of which is sometimes only obliquely apparent.
As the ratings guide says, these next two are mildly discommended, though not without meritorious elements: "Marjorie Prime," also by the protean Almereyda, worked better as a play. I saw Jordan Harrison's work at the Mark Taper Forum in 2014, also with Lois Smith as the elderly and losing-it Marjorie, who uses a "prime" (an artificially intelligent facsimile) of her husband Walter in his forties. In the film, he's played (well) by Jon Hamm, and their dialogue raises intriguing questions of fantasy and reality, memory and denial. I'm also pleased to see Geena Davis back on the big screen, bringing her eccentric persona and line readings to the part of Marjorie's emotionally undernourished daughter Tess, who resents Walter Prime's new yet intimate friendship with mom. Tim Robbins is less effective as Tess' husband, Jon; ironically, he comes across more artificially than anyone else. "Marjorie Prime" is decorously appointed, filmed and scored, yet emotional connection remains frustratingly out of reach; and Sunao Katabuchi's Japanese animation "In This Corner of the World," the sweet but seriously slow remembrance of a girl's childhood near Hiroshima before, during and after WWII. Katabuchi, who worked on Hayao Miyazaki's all-time great "Spirited Away," conjures some lovely images, but can't sustain our interest over a brutal 129-minute runtime.
Descending still lower, we come to Justin Chon's overheated "Gook," about two Korean brothers, their women's shoe store, and the 11-year-old black girl they allow to hang with them on April 25, 1992, which would become Day One of the L.A. Riots. The performances - by Chon, David So, young Simone Baker, Curtiss Cook Jr. and Sang Chon as a male version of Soon Ja Du - come off somewhat false. The melodramatic dialogues that break up an otherwise quietly observant little movie come off really false, with some head-shakingly bad writing. Societal insight proves elusive.
In the basement we find Jérôme Raybaud's mind-numbingly boring, repetitive and phony "4 Days in France," essentially a gay man's four-day journey through France via Grindr. Don't get excited; there's nothing stimulating, sexually or otherwise, in a movie that almost caused my neck to snap back from falling asleep. When I realized I was over an hour in and had just as long still to go, I hotfooted it out of there.