Don't judge actors by the books they cover on screen. It appears truer with each performance that two of our finest got their starts with the Twilight franchise.
Kristen Stewart rose from glum punchline to Cannes darling, and now Robert Pattinson's indie stock soars with Good Time (R), an uncommonly humane crime yarn, equal parts ferocity and lowlife feels. From the moment Pattinson bursts into the picture we're hooked on his bottle rocket vibe, set to go off any second in any direction.
Pattinson's Connie Nikas just interrupted an intense therapy session for his mentally challenged brother, Nick (Benny Safdie, co-directing with his brother Josh). Connie's devotion to Nick is foolishly blended with desperation; he's pulling a bank robbery and wants his brother involved as a self-esteem boost. Of Mice and Men by way of Sidney Lumet.
The robbery goes wrong, Nick is jailed, and Connie frantically tries raising bail money before the defenseless man-child gets killed. From that simple premise, the Safdie brothers shove viewers through a neon-hued night of shady dealings with shadier characters and one innocent exception, a teenage bystander (Taliah Webster) who will bring out the best and worst of Connie's survival instinct.
Good Times is inventively plotted by Josh Safdie and co-writer Ronald Bronstein, throwing obstacles in Connie's way with underworld credibility. Connie's simplest solution is hitting up his needy girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh) for a loan but her mother knows him too well. Even tired cliches of mistaken identity and abandoned amusement parks are refreshed by the Safdie brothers' breathless approach.
Then out of nowhere the movie breathes, when Connie's flight from police leads to the home of young Crystal (Webster), living with her grandmother. Connie charm-cons his way inside, intriguing the girl. Pattinson's performance calms, morphing into unsettling manipulation. Crystal ends up tagging along, a human shield believing she means more.
Crystal's feelings, Nick's mental illness and why Connie feels responsible for him lend an emotional depth to Good Time that most capers ignore. The Safdies' knack for '70s-era grit set to techno beats impresses nearly as much as their star, a teen dream waking up to an exciting new stage of his career. A-
Billed as the first Yiddish-language film in 70 years, Menashe (PG) is set in Brooklyn's ultra-orthodox community where a widower (Menashe Lustig) is pressured to surrender custody of his preteen son (Ruben Niborski). Director Joshua Z. Weinstein, making his feature debut after several documentaries, reportedly needed a translator on set since he doesn't speak Yiddish.
"Weinstein flirts gently with slapstick throughout. … But the emotional underpinnings of the story are absolutely sincere," wrote the Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney at Sundance. (Tampa Theatre, Sundial 19 in St. Petersburg)
BLOODY GOOD TIME: TAMPA BAY SCREAMS
You know it's a slow weekend at the movies when there isn't even a new horror flick opening.
Take heart, ripped from someone's chest, bloodhounds. The second annual Tampa Bay Screams horror convention Saturday should do the trick.
Starlets and veteran victims attending include Camille Keaton (the original I Spit on Your Grave) and Jill Whitlow (Night of the Creeps). Dozens of grindhouse actors and artists are expected at Clarion Inn, 9331 E Adamo Drive, Tampa.
Convention tickets are $8 at gatorbladefilms.com, $10 at the door. Another $10 gets entry to an all-day film festival including the world premiere of Death-Scort Service Part 2: The Naked Dead. Two severed thumbs up.
In theaters: our Top 5
Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:
1 Good Time: Robert Pattinson eclipses Twilight in a crackling crime thriller.
2 Dunkirk: Christopher Nolan's WWII masterpiece will be chased all awards season.
3 Logan Lucky: Channing Tatum and Adam Driver play dumber than two bags of hammers.
4 Wind River: Wildlife tracker (Jeremy Renner, above) hunts a killer on a Wyoming reservation.
5 Detroit: Kathryn Bigelow embeds viewers in Motown's 1967 racial disturbance.
(Dates subject to change)
Aug. 31: Patti Cake$
Sept. 8: It; Home Again; 9/11
Sept. 15: American Assassin; Brad's Status; Mother!; All I See Is You
Sept. 22: Kingsmen: The Golden Circle; Battle of the Sexes; The LEGO Ninjago Movie; Stronger; The Trip to Spain
Sept. 29: American Made; Flatliners; Lucky
Oct. 6: Blade Runner: 2049; The Florida Project; My Little Pony: The Movie