Fact and Fiction Flicks for the Weekend
Low-rent heists, horror, dystopia in fiction and—sadly—nonfiction all this week in film. This week sees the welcome return of a great filmmaker, a couple of calls to action, and an an indie horror worth your spooky season viewing.
Screening theatrically at Gateway Film Center and available on VOD.
by Hope Madden
Can a film be absurd without really being cynical? That might be the miracle of Miranda July, who mixes heartbreak and humor like no one else.
Fifteen years since her groundbreaking Me and You and Everyone We Know and nine years since The Future, the writer/director returns to the screen with a film every bit as ambitious but perhaps more contained and intimate.
In Kajillionaire, a miraculous Evan Rachel Wood is Old Dolio Dyne, 26-year-old woman-child who knows no existence other than that of the low-rent cons she runs day in, day out with her disheveled but wily parents (Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger).
Like Hirokazu Koreeda’s delicate 2018 film Shoplifters and Bong Joon Ho’s 2019 masterpiece Parasite, Kajillionaire disregards the idea of the glamorous con and settles fully into the concept of scam as a daily grind. And, like Koreeda and Ho, July uses this workaday world to examine family. Although July’s vision is more decidedly comedic and highly stylized, she hits the same notes.
The Dynes make their home in an abandoned office space that shares a wall with a car wash. Every day—twice on Wednesdays—pink bubbles descend that wall and it’s up to the Dynes to collect, discard, and dry, lest the foundation of the building become besot with dampness and mold. The precision clockwork (their digital watches are timed to go off) and the pink ooze become ideal identifiers of Old Dolio’s rigid yet surreal existence.
Things get unpredictable when Mom and Dad take a shine to Melanie (an effervescent Gina Rodriguez). She loves their oddball qualities and wants to join the team, but Old Dolio is immediately put off by the disruption, and more than that, by her parents’ doting affection for Melanie.
July is a sharp, witty and incisive filmmaker, but Kajillionaire benefits more from the performances than any of her other films. Wood is like an alien visiting human life, then imitating and observing it, and the performance is oddly heartbreaking.
Jenkins and Winger are reliably magnificent, and Rodriguez’s bright charm is the needed light in an otherwise gloomy tale.
The film hits July’s sweet spot: gawky introverts struggling to find, accept and maintain human connections. The humor works as well as it does because the whimsy and eccentricity in the film is grounded in compassion rather than mockery.
Available on VOD.
by George Wolf
Do we really need another documentary showcasing greed as one of America’s most identifiable traits, “rigged” as our favorite path to winning, and Donald Trump as one of our biggest mistakes?
Check the calendar. Yes, we do.
Director David Byars, whose 2017 debut documentary No Man’s Land profiled the fight over Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife refuge, returns to environmental concerns with Public Trust, a deep dive into an ongoing battle for ground.
That ground is a swath of some 640 million acres of public land, currently held in trust by the federal government and “owned” by every American citizen. Cut to the chase: conservatives have been trying to privatize these National Parks, forests, grasslands and refuges for decades (since Reagan – shocker!), and the lunatic now in office makes something as unthinkable as selling off the Grand Canyon seem like it might be on the table.
As good documentarians do, Byars humanizes the issue through people invested in the subject. From a journalist in the trenches to a climate change warrior to a Native American tribe fighting for their livelihood, we feel how these lands are tied to identity and common good on one side, and industry profits on the other.
With Robert Redford on board as executive producer, the lack of narrative flash here comes as little surprise. But while Public Trust‘s case building is workmanlike, the rallying cry is no less urgent.
Vote, before it’s too late.
Available on VOD.
by Hope Madden
Life takes unexpected turns, no matter how tirelessly you prepare.
Writer/director Dean Kapsalis explores a horrific side of this notion in his confident feature debut, The Swerve.
The film nestles into suburbia where Holly (a phenomenal Azura Skye) lays awake, waiting for the alarm. Her face is a mask of resignation and obligation. As the morning rituals rush themselves toward a day at work and school for Holly, her two teenage boys and her husband, Rob (Bryce Pinkham), it’s clear that Holly lives inside herself. In her home she observes and facilitates but is almost never regarded, reached out to. She’s barely even there.
The film takes us through one week in Holly’s life. Her sister (Ashley Bell) returns home, stirring resentment and jealousy. Her husband works late. There’s a prescription bottle. There’s a mouse. There’s a boy at school, another boy on the highway. Some of this is likely imagined. All of it is leading somewhere, and as inevitable as that destination is, it will still hit you right in the gut.
The Swerve busies itself with too many catalysts. The film could have benefitted from slightly less. But there is no escaping Skye’s performance. As a woman on the verge, her delicate state, the way she fights against her own tendency to submit to misery, is devastating.
Skye is not alone. Pinkham is excellent in a role that too often is a throwaway, one dimensional bastard. The likeable authenticity he brings to the performance makes the character and the situations so much more frustrating. Likewise, Bell and Zach Rand (The Woman) bring life and complexity to their roles as well as Holly’s dilemma.
In its most authentic moments, the tension the film generates is almost unbearable. As small mistreatments build, Skye’s posture and dead-eyed stare say everything you need to know about Holly’s whole life. Skye delivers half of her stunning performance without a single word.
Kapsalis’ understatement as a director capitalizes on Skye’s still, unnerving descent. Together they deliver a climax that will haunt you.
Available on VOD.
by Rachel Willis
It’s been a hell of a year.
Not only will 2020 live in infamy as the year we grappled with a worldwide pandemic, it is also the year Trump faces a reckoning in the United States. Will he be voted out of office? Or will he secure a second term?
As unlikely as a second term might sound to some, director Cheryl Jacobs Crim doesn’t want her audience (likely those opposed to Trump and his agenda) to become complacent. With her film, Resisterhood, she reminds us why people, particularly women, are fighting the Trump agenda.
On Day 1 of Trump’s presidency, as many as 500,000 women, and men, descended on the nation’s capital for the Women’s March – a gathering that let the new president know he was on watch.
And as the days of Trump’s presidency progressed, he was indeed being watched. As every devastating and harmful decision was passed down, protestors lined the streets around the country to declare this was not their America. From the People’s Climate March on Day 100 to the United We Dream protest on Day 231, Crim documents it all.
Crim captures the feelings surrounding these moments by interviewing women and men who are part of the resistance. From psychologist Jean Graber, who is following in the footsteps of her grandmother – suffragette Edith Hooker – to Egyptian immigrant, Mimi Hassanein, who ran for office in her community, to Illinois Representative Luis Gutiérrez, Crim intersperses these interviews with scenes of protests, primarily in the nation’s capital.
The movie runs pell-mell through the actions and reactions of Trump’s presidency. At times, when reminded of everything Trump has realized as president, it’s hard not to feel dejected. However, many of the women Crim interviews are still hopeful. More and more women, minorities and young people are participating in the democratic process – either in the streets, at the ballot box, or as political candidates.
But there is a reminder that complacency is the enemy. It would be easy, worryingly easy, to topple our democracy, and while Resisterhood is steeped in the culture surrounding our current political climate, it has a timeless message.
If you want to effect change, you must participate. If you need a reminder that your vote, your voice matters, start with Resisterhood.
Available on VOD.
by George Wolf
Well, you’ll save money on sunscreen.
Because in the near future world of LX 2048, the only way you can venture out in the daylight is by going full hazmat. In fact, the sun has become so lethal that clone technology is needed to meet the demand for augmented dayworkers.
Once the clones arrive, the unintended consequences are sure to follow. And Adam Bird is getting an up close look at some of them.
Things are not going well for Adam (James D’Arcy). His tech company is on shaky ground, and he hasn’t been taking his LX “mood stabilizers” which could help with the really bad news: his heart is failing and he doesn’t have long to live. Though his relationship with wife Reena (Anna Brewster) and the kids was already on the rocks, Adam is worried about securing their future.
Then, through frequent flashbacks, writer/director/producer/editor Guy Moshe fills in the backstory. Though virtual reality has taken over by 2048, “the chip” is the next big thing. There’s been a massive decline in population. And the Premium 3 insurance plan allows you to “tailor” your spousal replacement clone in the event of death.
What luck for Reena! The Birds are Premium 3 plan holders.
Moshe’s overly cheesy opening credits lower the expectations of what’s to come, but there are engaging visuals and some solid sci-fi ideas here, albeit ones fighting to overcome stilted dialog and tonal swings.
Adam’s conversations with unseen VR avatars are overly explanatory only for our benefit, sometimes bringing a wince-worthy phoniness to D’Arcy’s performance. And yet, when Moshe suddenly introduces moments of absurdist humor, you wonder if either tract was intended.
Delroy Lindo’s cameo as cloning tech legend Donald Stein instantly raises the stakes. Lindo’s natural gravitas make Stein’s musings about what it means to be human and the wages of playing God land a tick higher on the scale of standard sci-fi existential crises.
This is a film that often feels adrift and in need of an anchor. It’s neither as smart as it wants to be, nor as dumb as you fear early on. Much like its main character, LX 2048 has heart, but you’re never sure how long it can hold out.