Your girl J-Willy’s Netflix original is streaming this week, so that’s worth your 85 minutes of your time, easy. Also, four of the spring’s best indies are out on disc: a kaiju movie with a twist, a tale of marital separation and unexpected reconciliation, a crime drama with a touch of magic, and a documentary about death that’s surprisingly full of life.
The Incredible Jessica James : There’s nothing quite like a comic vehicle that loves its star, knows we do too, and knows why. Jim Strouse’s comedy/drama has plenty of flaws – it’s underwritten, its subplots are underdeveloped, it’s stylistically basic at best – but it’s got Jessica Williams in a leading role, being everything that’s great about Jessica Williams, and that’s far more than most movies can offer. She plays a New York City playwright and full-time force of nature, doing her best to bounce back from a bad breakup and figure out if the life she wants is in her grasp. For all its problems, this is a film that knows about coping with artistic failure (at one point, she thrills at getting a “personalized rejection letter” rather than the usual form ones) and about being a non-native New Yorker, particularly the feeling of going home and remembering all the reasons it’s not really home anymore. Some day, hopefully soon, Williams will star in a movie as great as she is. This will do until then.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Colossal : Things aren’t going so well for Gloria (Anne Hathaway): she’s been unemployed for a year, her days and nights are a blur of drinking and blackouts, she’s just been dumped and kicked out by her boyfriend (Dan Stevens), and she goes back to her hometown feeling that specific kind of failure that going back to your hometown conveys. And then, across the globe, a monster appears. More than that I won’t say; I’ll merely note that writer/director Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes) has a great, novel idea for a movie, but also gives it a smart script that works out all the variations and complications, and goes in genuinely unexpected directions. Not all of his risks work – but when they do, it’s doubly satisfying. (Includes deleted scene.)
The Lovers : Writer/director Azazel Jacobs (Terri) drops into this story of a disintegrated married couple, and the affairs that are about to finally end their union, at the point when most other films would end. That’s part of its genius; it’s the old saw about how every unhappy family is different, and there are telling contrasts between not only the marriage and the affairs, but between the affairs themselves. And then Jacobs flips the entire script, throwing their countdown to separation into an upheaval with the marvelous premise of a couple accidentally rediscovering their passion, and cheating on their lovers with their spouse. Yet even this isn’t played as the dopey comedy it could’ve been; Jacobs and his enviable cast (which includes Debra Winger, Tracy Letts, Melora Walters, and Aiden Gillen) play the humanity of the situation, its tenderness and its sadness, with an evenness and purpose that’s sort of astonishing. It’s a quiet little movie, but it lingers. (Includes audio commentary and featurettes.)
Sleight : A year ago, Bo (Jacob Latimore) was a scholarship student and amateur magician with a bright future. But after a family tragedy, he’s doing what it takes: working for a cheerful yet ruthless drug dealer (Dule Hull, very good), a side hustle that quickly gets out of his control. J.D. Dillard’s smooth-as-silk crime drama is an efficient piece of work; even if you can sense the dominoes lining up in its first half a bit too neatly, you can’t help but feel for this good guy who’s doing some unquestionably bad things. Latimore puts across the depths of his desperation, and while his romance with Seychelle Gabriel’s Holly is a bit of a drag on the picture’s pace, they’re sweet and likable together. And the climax is a sure-fire crowd pleaser. (No bonus features.)
Obit : “Oh, you’re an obit writer,” they are asked. “Isn’t it depressing?” But that’s what’s wild about working the obit desk at the New York Times, according to Vanessa Gould’s wonderful new documentary – “It’s almost never depressing.” You see, obituaries are less stories of death than a celebration of life, and Gould’s thoughtful film is equally interested in the people who write them and the logistics of their process: the formula (including the fascinating story of why they always have a second-graf confirmation), the reporting, the fact-checking, the questions of representation, length, layout, placement. Obit is loosely structured but well organized; it frankly doesn’t seem like there’s a full movie’s worth of story to tell, but Gould keeps finding angles, subjects, and compelling anecdotes. And ultimately, it’s a thought-provoking commentary on what it means to lose a public figure – and to acknowledge their mortality and humanness. (Includes trailer.)