Advertisement

Reviews: Ansel Elgort in 'Jonathan,' plus animation, indies and world cinema

Reviews: Ansel Elgort in 'Jonathan,' plus animation, indies and world cinema
Ansel Elgort plays an aspiring New York architect who suffers from a rare condition in "Jonathan." (Well Go USA)

‘Jonathan’

More a film to be admired than embraced, Bill Oliver’s first feature is a curious, sci-fi-tinged drama about a solitary young New Yorker (Ansel Elgort) struggling to make a connection with another human being.

Although that big city pursuit would pose a challenge for anybody, the obstacle facing Elgort’s Jonathan, a stiffly stoic aspiring architect, is compounded by his suffering from an extremely rare condition that finds him and his brother John (also Elgort) leading distinctly separate lives while inhabiting the same body.

Advertisement

If the premise sounds like a high-concept Farrelly Brothers comedy in the vein of “Stuck on You,” think again.

Here, as seen exclusively from straight-laced Jonathan’s point of view, his relationship with his partying sibling is depicted through the video diaries each leaves for the other during the course of a 24-hour period that sees Jonathan occupying the day shift while John emerges only at night.

To his credit, Oliver, who wrote the impressively contained screenplay along with Peter Nickowitz and Gregory Davis, directs the production with a studied precision, echoed by Zach Kuperstein’s exacting cinematography, which neatly captures the sterile environments.

But while Elgort, whose big breakout role was in last year’s “Baby Driver,” does a decent job of delineating the two characters and Patricia Clarkson reliably comes through as their sympathetic doctor, the clinically distancing production never forms a meaningful bond with its audience.

—Michael Rechtshaffen

‘Jonathan’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Playing: Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; also on VOD

-------------

‘A Cool Fish’

Pan Binlong's character is on the lam in "A Cool Fish."
Pan Binlong's character is on the lam in "A Cool Fish." (Chinalion Film Distribution Inc)

The Chinese film “A Cool Fish” is one of those bold genre collisions of crime, comedy and pathos that either carries you along on its currents, or leaves you a disaffected bystander, and the latter is the more likely outcome here.

Its parallel tracks of desperate souls include a pair of brothers (Pan Binlong, Yu Zhang) on the lam after their ill-thought-out phone store robbery ends with their getaway motorcycle in a tree, and widowed, single dad security guard Ma Xianyong (Chen Jianbin), whose financially stretched boss, a shady developer, has gone missing. While Ma conducts his own parallel investigation of the robbery — partly to worm his way back onto the police force he left in disgrace — the wannabe criminals find themselves hiding out in the apartment of a tired-eyed quadriplegic woman (Suxi Ren, captivating as a captive) whose foul-mouthed distaste for living just might overpower their puffed-up toughness.

Director Xiaozhi Rao’s facility with behavioral extremes that disguise the hardships of life in modern China is a scattershot mix of the Tarantino-esque and melodramatic, with bursting pop songs and visual tricks filling in any perceived gaps in logic or attention. When the story lines reveal their interconnectedness — some of which work, others that strain credibility — the stakes are raised, but the twists of fate that play out in a climactic nighttime bridge sequence during a public parade are hardly clever or emotional enough to keep “A Cool Fish” from seeming like a flashy, see-through distraction.

—Robert Abele

Advertisement

‘A Cool Fish’

In Mandarin with Chinese and English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 16, AMC Atlantic Times Square 14; AMC Puente Hills 20, City of Industry

-------------

‘On Happiness Road’

A scene from the animated Taiwanese film "On Happiness Road."
A scene from the animated Taiwanese film "On Happiness Road." (Ablaze Image)

The Taiwanese animated feature “On Happiness Road” is a promising but flawed work that marks the feature directorial debut of Sung Hsin-Yin.

Chi, an energetic little girl (voiced by Gwei Lun-Mei), grows up in an apartment on Happiness Road in a small town in Taiwan during the 1970s and ’80s, a time of political, social and economic change. Hsin-yin explores many aspects of Chi’s life with warmth and believability: her relationships with an extended group of relatives and neighbors; the loving bond she shares with her colorful grandmother (Giwas Gigo); and her troubled feelings about her perennially squabbling parents. Her checkered performance in school leads to increased pressure to succeed. Later, while working in New York, she marries a Caucasian man. Despite her achievements, disappointments and frustrations, Chi can’t escape the nostalgic pull of the shared life on Happiness Road.

Unfortunately, Hsin-Yin includes more elements of Chi’s life than she can adequately explore, even in 111 minutes. The film feels choppy, with some of its most interesting characters and events left underdeveloped, while minor figures receive more attention than they warrant. Chi’s intelligent, generous cousin Wen (Wei Te-Sheng) and her husband Tony disappear for long stretches, only to reappear when they’re needed to advance the story. The film also feels very talky, with the dialogue compensating for the limits of the animation.

At a time when viewers are calling for greater diversity in film, “On Happiness Road” marks the introduction of a promising new female voice in animation.

—Charles Solomon

‘On Happiness Road’

In Min Nan and Mandarin with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 16, Downtown Independent, Los Angeles

-------------

‘Who Will Save the Roses?’

Carlo Delle Piane portrays a gambler who is hiding money woes from his partner, in "Who Will Save the Roses?"
Carlo Delle Piane portrays a gambler who is hiding money woes from his partner, in "Who Will Save the Roses?" (Uncork'd Entertainment)

The multigenerational Italian drama “Who Will Save the Roses?” follows semi-retired gambler Giulio (Carlo Delle Piane) and his dying partner, Claudio (Lando Buzzanca). Giulio tries to hide their financial hardships from his love, but the arrival of Giulio’s estranged daughter Valeria (Caterina Murino) and grandson Marco (Antonio Careddu) brings both additional conflict and a possible solution.

“Who Will Save the Roses?” is capably shot by Giuseppe Pignone, capturing not just the lovely Italian locale, but also nuanced emotion on the characters’ faces. There’s something sweet in the relationship between the men that’s built on affection and sacrifice, but a scene where Giulio dons blackface in an attempt to make his partner laugh sours the proceedings. Ultimately, it’s the screenplay by director Cesare Furesi and co-writer Guido Furesi that is the film’s biggest impairment. Individual moments work, but there’s little to tie them together in a cohesive narrative.

—Kimber Myers

‘Who Will Save the Roses?’

Advertisement

In Italian with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 16, Laemmle Glendale

-------------

‘Madness Farewell’

Charlene deGuzman and Benjamin Font have something in common in "Madness, Farewell."
Charlene deGuzman and Benjamin Font have something in common in "Madness, Farewell." (Indie Rights)

Billing itself as “A Holiday Comedy About Suicide,” “Madness, Farewell” is more likely to earn the smirk emoji than an LOL. There’s a streak of dark, wry humor in Benjamin Font’s debut as a director, but its (small) wins are due to its concept and the lead performance from Charlene deGuzman (“Unlovable”).

Liza Ocampo (deGuzman, who also contributed to the script) wants out of her life as a Los Angeles comedian, so she hires the services of Club Noir to end it for her. They’ll kill her, but when she arrives at Ville Noir, she realizes that they’ve double-booked her room with Gus (Font), who shares her wish to die.

DeGuzman’s deadpan delivery works well here, even as the movie loses energy. “Madness, Farewell” is best when introducing viewers to Liza’s her simultaneously dark and sunny world, but later it turns into more of a standard quirky indie than its premise suggested.

—Kimber Myers

‘Madness, Farewell’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 16, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood

-------------

‘Adonis’

Adonis He Fe and Cici Lee in the gross and convoluted "Adonis."
Adonis He Fe and Cici Lee in the gross and convoluted "Adonis." (Breaking Glass Pictures)

If you want to see a guy use his privates as a paint brush or serve as a human sushi tray, the not-so-soft-core Chinese import “Adonis” is for you. This pretentious, disjointed mishmash, written and directed by a filmmaker known as Scud, contains more male nudity and graphic gay sex than any film I’ve ever seen that wasn’t outright porn.

The story, such as it is, revolves around pretty boy cipher Adonis Yang Ke (Adonis He Fei), a Beijing Opera actor forced into sex work after his performing company hits hard times. Ke has a “manager” (Justin Lim) who sells him out for mass rape and sex on the cross (literally) until Ke falls in love, opens a restaurant, turns 30 and then things get really weird. And gross and even more convoluted.

“Adonis” might have an afterlife as a campy midnight movie if it were even the slightest bit fun. It’s not.

—Gary Goldstein

‘Adonis’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 16, Laemmle Glendale

------------

Advertisement
Advertisement