Review: 'A Good Person' and 'Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game'
In the wake of "John Wick: Chapter 4," is anybody ready for a kinder, gentler sort of movie? Oh. OK. Well, there are two such unanticipated films upon us anyway. One is an unabashedly teary family drama about grief and drug addiction; the other concerns the near-50-year struggle to legalize pinball machines in New York City. In neither of these pictures -- each of which has substantial merits -- does anyone get shot in the face. So be forewarned.
The first movie announces its emotional atmosphere in its title: "A Good Person." It was written and directed by Zach Braff -- still fondly remembered for his 2004 hit "Garden State" (in which he also starred, with Natalie Portman). Here, remaining behind the camera, he directs the great Florence Pugh (his girlfriend at the time of filming) in a story about a young woman named Allison, who was badly injured in a car crash that killed her fiance's sister and the sister's husband, and soon went spiraling into the blurry world of OxyContin addiction.
Allison is surrounded by characters who are uniformly good-hearted people (this is not a movie with much in the way of heated conflict). There's her loving but now-estranged fiance, Nathan (Chinaza Uche); Nathan's father Daniel (Morgan Freeman at his most avuncular); the dead sister's daughter, Ryan (a peppery Celeste O'Connor); and another recovering addict (Zoe Lister-Jones) who befriends Allison in an AA rehab program. The tensest part of the story crops up when Allison runs into two old high-school acquaintances -- both drug-biz lowlifes -- in a day-drinker bar. But that passes (after she succumbs to one last score).
The best reason to see this movie is to watch Pugh cycle seamlessly through a procession of emotions ranging from heartbreak and self-loathing ("I hate you so much," she says into a bathroom mirror) to tentative, slow-dawning hopefulness. There's no other actor quite like her working in movies at the moment. And Morgan Freeman is almost always stellar -- although here his character is given an elaborate HO train set down in his basement, where he stages scenes from earlier in his life and maintains, as he puts it, "a secret world of order and symmetry." A little lugubrious. But hey, it's still Morgan Freeman.
'Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game'
"Pinball" is an amiable account of one journalist's determination to overturn the nonsensical anti-pinball regulations in effect in New York City from 1942 until 1976. That was the year when the journalist, Roger Sharpe -- a pinball obsessive himself -- prevailed in a pinball showdown in a city council hearing room.
The movie is low-key and unassuming. But the writer-directors, brothers Austin and Meredith Bragg (both Reason contributors), have found an appealing way to lock us into the story. They've turned what might have been a dry libertarian tale of a little guy facing down the knucklehead power of the state into a love story of real warmth and charm. It involves the journalist -- GQ writer Roger Sharpe (Mike Faist, who played Riff in Steven Spielberg's "West Side Story" remake) -- and a single mom named Ellen (winsome "Teen Wolf" graduate Crystal Reed). There's even a meet-cute in which these two encounter each other in an elevator, followed by coffee dates and other innocuous activities, sometimes involving Ellen's 11-year-old son, Seth (Christopher Convery), with whom Roger quickly bonds.
Like Ellen, Roger is a refugee from a failed marriage. But they're both exceedingly straight arrows, and neither is in any rush to jump into bed. This might disappoint cinematic-sex fans, but it feels right for these characters. In any event, we have our own hands full absorbing the considerable amount of pinball lore churned up by Roger's interviews with key players in the history of the game. (One of them created the "Tilt" mechanism and added bells and lights; another worked on improving the bumpers introduced by the Bally manufacturing company.)
Roger is approached by a group called the Music and Amusements Association, which wants his expertise for its long-running campaign to legitimize pinball. (Municipal authorities across the country had cracked down on the game because of what they saw as its immorality, asserting that it promoted gambling and siphoned lunch money out of the pockets of innocent children.) Roger contends that these are not huge problems in the real world, and that adults don't have to be "protected" from them.
"Life is defined by risks," he says, after winning his argument in front of the city council. "Those you take, and those you don't."
Kurt Loder is the film critic for Reason Online. To find out more about Kurt Loder and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website at www.creators.com.
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