Here are four features that all have something to say.
Josie & Jack
102 minutes, 2019
Till death do us bind
Lancaster’s début feature (co-written with Kelly Braffet) is one of the most deeply disturbing films seen in several years.
A curious feeling of Romeo and Juliet—the incest version—with a side order of Little Shop of Horrors, permeates this tale of two siblings that love each other more than life.
Olivia DeJonge turns in an incredible performance as 17-year-old Josephine, who knowingly does nothing—save and except for reading: the book titles sprinkled along the journey from several characters ranging from Kafka’s Metamorphosis to a well-thumbed copy of Bluebeard—while following her elder sibling in search of a secure life of happiness, only to realize that life isn’t fair when relying on the “generosity” of family, friends, or lovers of convenience.
There is also an exceptional portrayal of Jack by Alex Neustaedter. This Don Juan of survival and paying the bills is happy to bed all comers as the siblings break away from a neurotic father (William Fichtner firing on all evil cylinders), only to be thrown out of several other abodes after the “love” between Jack and his paramours du jour inevitably goes sour.
As with many films this awards season, the music tracks—notably the lyrics, but here the cello and piano interventions are particularly poignant and welcome; Zach Robinson’s marvellously inventive original score also includes an eerie bloody rumble—become the musical icing that more sours than sweetens this ever-dark narrative cake.
Life is full of gloom and travesty, but for those who have the ability to see all sides of humanity, this film is worth a look: just know that lilies of the valley will never be seen again as only objects of beauty. JWR
90 minutes, 2019
Coming to a logical conclusion
Director/writer Goldberg’s second feature begins with much promise and mystery (Kansas City girl, Nina—accompanied by her mother’s urn—comes to “dangerous” LA in search of her sister, last seen working at a gentlemen’s club) ends up facing many gauntlets and moral challenges along the way. The attempt at impersonating her wayward sis for a raft of men who only “pay for a date…” is one of the funniest visual sequences (Senda Bonnet’s cinematography acumen is nicely cut together by editor Jeff Cummings), ending up by meeting “This is my first time” Hugo (Tom Choi in fine form throughout).
Various cults (religious, sexual, and—most importantly—Ha Ha Yoga) fuel much of the fun with antics of eccentrics, notably Cynthia Addai-Robinson as incense spreading, “strengthen your Chi” Yasmina (in bed or out), the wonderfully named Prudence who lives the life of the Calorie Protection Society (done up proud by Milena Govich) alongside her polyamorous sometime partner, Jack (John Sloan is marvellous in the delivery of Goldberg’s lines: “No, [not an actor] not that well liked, I’m a writer”—somewhere, Arthur Miller is smiling).
The pace is generally good as Nina seems to get further from the truth (her own and her missing sibling’s), but sputters every once in a while (e.g., the meeting with The Superior—Dee Wallace camps up her scene, only to turn things ugly for no apparent reason but to shock).
The two gumshoes also have hit-and-miss moments—at their best when teasing/taunting each other.
But it falls to Catea Ojeda to carry the film playing Nina, doing a credible job binding the narrative and its characters into cohesion, but then gamely recovering her purse when there is no payoff to that particular action.
In many ways, the real star of the production is the music. With lyrics readily reinforcing the action (“One fine day”; “Wondering if you’re still around”) and most especially, Jamie Christopherson’s largely film noir score (kudos to Antonia Barton’s exemplary trumpet lines), any quibbles with the plot are soon pushed out of sight and mind and savoured by the ear. JWR
117 minutes, 2019
How to let go
In what is essentially a two-hander, a couple of life-challenged women go on a road trip to confront their past, deal with the present in hopes that the future will be brighter for both.
Mads, the younger of the travelling duo, struggles with diabetes and tries to make sense of being abandoned by her mother. Jennifer Stone (who co-wrote the screenplay along with Bledsoe and Rob Senska) gives a commendable performance—at her best in the more lighthearted moments such as a hilarious round of Truth or Dare.
Junior is still grieving the death of sibling, Veronica, caused by a horrific car accident, which left her with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, Type 2. Daily meds and copious amounts of booze are required to alleviate both debilitating “hurts”.
What holds much of the production together on the journey from LA to Portland are Veronica’s songs which fit the situations to a T (lyrics such as “Fly away”; “Can you hear me?”; and—notably—“Sometimes you have to close your eyes” are ideal in every instance).
The only serious fly in the narrative ointment comes when the two women have a yelling match about Mads’ looming abandonment (irony of course) of Junior in order to fly from Portland to Vermont and confront her long-lost mom (this turn of events courtesy of older brother Miles—Rane Jameson—conveniently living in Portland and a whiz at tracking down people who don’t want to be found). Would one more plane ticket be impossible? Well, of course not, or the moving closing sequence could not have occurred.
Anyone dealing with issues of loss and health (and that is all of us!) will appreciate a viewing of this lovingly made film. JWR
94 minutes, 2019
Say it isn’t so
“Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now there are three million drug addicts…I’d be happy to slaughter them.”
This “fictional” look at Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s “War on Drugs” is a searing indictment of how the innocent (and, yes, alongside the guilty) get swept up in unbelievable tragedies, copious deaths, and no end in sight to the real problem.
Following the murder of her reformed-again husband, Maria (a stoically heroic performance from Alessandra de Rossi) must work with both sides of the malaise’s equation (protect and serve/kill and cash in) in order to have any chance of giving her three children any sort of hope for a “normal” existence.
Director/writer (along with co-scripter Rona Lena Sales) Rekhi has painted a grim, gruesome picture of the smaller players taking the brunt of their masters’ determination to win at any cost.
The cultural élite may well wonder what all the fuss is about (so long as their illicit deliveries remain uninterrupted), while those on the frontlines see loved ones slaughtered—doubtless fuelling the next cycle of revenge fucks that neither Duterte or Hitler can control, much less stop. JWR