Saturday, March 8, 2014

QWFF Day 4: Far away, so close

Let's get straight to the movies in this post. They were seen last night in two blocks at P.S. 69:

Odessa is a short about an astronaut on her last night before going up in space for a long, long time, and her chance encounter with a stranger in a bar. You could call this Gravity meets Before Sunrise: the key here lies not only in what the actors say, but what they don't say, which makes for a nice character study. Here's the website.

Katia, from Russia, is a doc about a girl traveling through India. She grew up dirt poor, and the narrative of her life story is juxtaposed with images of the abject poverty of the Indian slums, punctuated by occasional moments of bliss. It's a well-made, well-filmed movie, but man, is it brutal to sit through. No trailer or website that I can find, just the IMDB page.

'Odessa' co-star Ken Fuller
& director Cidney Hue
Thanks is a funny short about a guy who's unexpectedly saddled with a strange child who simply walks into his shop one day. But why is it this child in particular...? Lots of deadpan humor, good acting, and a perfect ending. Here's the trailer.

And then there was a film called The House That Jack Built. This one played before a great big, enthusiastic audience that almost filled the school auditorium. Many of the cast and crew were in attendance as well, and when they came up front afterwards for a Q-and-A, they filled up almost one whole side of the floor.

This feature-length dramedy concerns a Latino dude named Jack who buys an entire apartment building in the Bronx and moves his entire extended family into it to live rent-free. He always felt close to his family as a child, and as an adult, he thinks that providing his parents, grandmother, siblings, in-laws and so-forth with a single home (with their own apartments, naturally) would bring them closer together. He's wrong, to say the very least.

'Thanks' director Tom Patterson & co-stars
Dylan Dawson & Erica Tachoir
Jack is directed by Henry Barrial from a screenplay by the late Joseph Vasquez, a story that was completed in 1995, but he never lived to see it filmed; he died from AIDS. Vasquez had a modest breakout hit in 1991 with the film Hangin' With the Homeboys. Jack was his passion project, inspired by his own upbringing. Producer Michael Lieber (who was in attendance last night), along with co-producer Sam Kitt, kept the script alive through the years until they found the right director, Barrial, for the movie.

THIS IS A GREAT GODDAMN MOVIE PEOPLE. You have no idea. Everything works, beginning with a star-making performance by EJ Bonilla as Jack, a highly flawed yet believable character who does morally questionable things to keep his family together under one roof. He has his prejudices, his vices, his limitations, but he remains sympathetic throughout the whole story and Bonilla plays him with equal amounts of comedy and tragedy. It helps that he's surrounded by an outstanding supporting cast as well.

Vasquez' script is a gem. It balances a wide variety of storylines throughout the family and it's pleasing to see them weave in and out of each other as the story unfolds, and the actors make the most of it. Director Barrial unleashes them on each other and he gets the right amount of bile and vitriol and pathos and silliness out of all of them. And when the tale takes a turn towards the dark side, Barrial does not flinch (though you might!).

Jack is a delight from start to finish, and it's such a shame that Vasquez is no longer around to see it because I have no doubt he would love it. Here's the website.

Members of the cast and crew of 'Jack,' including producer Michael Lieber (far right)

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