Robert Pattinson slums it for a Good Time; Neither Wolf Nor Dog ends up as a turkey; Bruce Lee takes a hit in Birth of the Dragon; The Teacher puts Soviet politics to the test.
Tapping his none-too-smart sibling to partner in a bank heist is the first mistake Robert Pattinson makes in Good Time
Starring Robert Pattinson. Rated 14A
Shedding his pretty-boy image to play the 2
grittiest character of his career thus far, Robert Pattinson goes well beyond what we’ve previously seen from the sleek young Briton. But is Good Time really worthy of his efforts?
The ironically titled movie follows a number of allegedly working-class people having a much-lessthan-fun 24 hours. It centres on Pattinson’s Connie Nikas, a two-bit hustler in charge of his mentally impaired brother, Nick. The latter is played by Benny Safdie, who directed this brisk effort with his own brother, Josh. Connie’s idea of a good sibling day out is to rob a bank, and do it in slovenly enough fashion to spend the rest of the movie trying to get Nick and himself out of ever-deepening trouble.
Written by Josh with previous collaborator Ronald Bronstein, the script doesn’t explain why Connie needed such a gormless accomplice—or any at all—but then, it’s pretty stingy with all other relevant information. We know the bros have a troubled history with their elderly Greek grandmother, but not why. Connie takes frequent advantage of his whiny, insecure girlfriend, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh in one extended sequence, while battles with her mother loom unexplained in the background. Most crucially, we never know what turned Connie into such a relentless weasel, although you could conclude that the guy would do pretty well for himself if he put his wildly inventive survival skills into something more constructive.
In a way, the movie’s narrative opaqueness is also its charm. We never know for sure where the hell we are, and neither does Connie. This pays off in the middle section, with a funny switcheroo. And the locations keep changing in the final third. But Sean Price Williams’s handheld cinematography and a deafening electro score by Daniel Lopatin keep suggesting more gravity than the film delivers. (There’s also a weird racial subtext to it.) With his dead-on outer-borough accent and sleepless, thousand-yard stare, Pattinson is utterly convincing as someone who, despite all his heavy lifting, we never come to care about. > KEN EISNER
Starring Zuzana Mauréry. In Slovak, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable
All ideologies breed corruption, and not all 2
corruption is about money. That’s the simple and surprisingly entertaining message of The Teacher, the latest comedy of moral manners from Czech director Jan Hrebejk, and his first in the (slightly different) Slovak language.
The veteran filmmaker has frequently delved into his now-split nation’s past, notably in the Oscar-nominated Holocaust tale Divided We Fall. And he has a shrewdly antinostalgic view of the Communist period. Working again with usual collaborator Petr Jarchovský on screenwriting duties, Hrebejk heads to 1983 Bratislava, to follow people with no notion that the oppressive Soviet period will soon be over.
At a suburban high school, the students seem pretty well adjusted until the arrival of Mária Drazdechová, played slyly by award-winning Zuzana Mauréry. The new teacher seems nice enough, although it’s odd that she immediately asks how each of their parents is employed. Drazdechová is also the local party chief, but her ministrations are only implicitly political. Her real goal is nest-feathering: free cakes, haircuts, and appliance repair are more her speed.
This looks relatively harmless, but her afterschool work sessions are stealing kids away from sports and other extracurriculars. If they complain, grades suffer, and the more willing types get extra help with tests and such. Promising gymnast Danka (Tamara Fischer) is singled out for abuse, and Filip (Oliver Oswald) is punished when he defends her. The lad faces bigger problems when his brute of a dad (Martin Havelka) misreads the signals. And Danka’s parents (Zuzana Konecná and Divided We Fall lead Csongor Kassai) likewise think they merely have a sulky teen on their hands. Eventually, they notice the scam and start mobilizing.
The filmmakers deploy an intricate flashback structure, with a PTA meeting—held about a year after Mária’s arrival—deciding the fate of the corrupt “educator”, who has effectively fractured parental unity. This is an apt metaphor for social positioning in a totalitarian state. But scripter Jarchovský, recalling an incident from his own school days, is careful to make all the participants more than symbols.
Family apartments are individuated with wildly different wallpaper—except for the blank walls of mild-mannered single dad Václav Littmann (Peter Bebjak), a lanky physics professor in disgrace since his wife fled to the West. Our teacher has her eye on him for extra-special favours; good thing his tiny son (Richard Labuda)—a natural artist and born troublemaker—proves to be the hero of the story. Beautifully observed, paced, and resolved with a nifty twist, The Teacher is one of the most enjoyably instructive movies of the year. > KEN EISNER
NEITHER WOLF NOR DOG
Starring Christopher Sweeney. Rating unavailable
A highly necessary tale is told in Neither 2
Wolf Nor Dog. You simply have to look past amateurish direction, bad writing, and even worse acting to find it.
The central problem here is in a grindingly didactic screenplay, adapted by Kent Nerburn from his popular 1994 book of the same title. The book’s see next page