Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Two worth streaming on Netflix: Bill Oliver's original sci-fi drama, JONATHAN, and Maya Forbes' so-American comedy, THE POLKA KING

I finally caught up with THE POLKA KING, a very charming and often tone-perfect American immigrant comedy directed and co-written (with Wally Wolodarksy) by Maya Forbes. If you are a fan of Jack Black, you will not want to miss this unusual film which details the very up and down career of Jan Lewan, the born-in-Poland but more-famous-in-Pennsylvania band leader specializing in polka and (on the side) Ponzi schemes. Mr. Black, just as he did in Richard Linklater's wonderful Bernie, plays an uber-positive, you-can-do-it! character with
such truthfulness and care that he almost makes lying and cheating seem like a kind of blessing.

Ms Forbes, shown at right, with Black's huge help, gets very close to just right the tone of the film: an American immigrant story of a white male with an uber-positive attitude bent of achieving success by hard work (and whatever else it might take) at any cost.

This isn't really satire. Instead, it's
life from the viewpoint of its protagonist. And Black (shown above) makes it funny, of course, but more importantly, he makes it genuine. You may cringe -- depending on your musical tastes -- at the performances here, but neither Forbes nor Black are making fun of the musicians or their audience. Consequently, you can understand the popularity, in Pennsylvania at least, of this let's-include-a-bear in-our-act! oddity.

Jenny Slate (above, center) is good as Mrs. Lewan, but it's Australia's Jacki Weaver (above, right) who pretty much steals the supporting scene as Lewan's mother-in-law. Just how versatile and fun is this marvelous actress? (Check out the Secret City series on Netflix for further evidence.) Robert Capron is sweet and sterling as Lewan's grown son, while Jason Schwartzman does a surprising and (as usual) very fine turn as the most important band member. The rest of the well-chosen cast contribute much to the movie's sense of authenticity and Americana.

The story itself here is rather staggering in its own quiet, comic and a little sad way, and the final shots of the real characters doing their thing are fun, too. A Netflix original, the movie's been streaming since January. Try to catch it if you're able.


If you're a sci-fi fan and also enjoy the quieter, subtler incarnations of this genre, be sure to see JONATHAN, now streaming on Netflix and featuring a simply stunning dual performance (it grows ever stronger as the movie proceeds) by Ansel Elgort, yet another actor who keeps surprising us with his versatility (Baby Driver, anyone? TrustMovies is more than primed to see him play Tony in the new version of West Side Story.) 

As directed and co-written by Bill Oliver, the story idea seems  
initially a rather simple one in which two separate brothers inhabit the same body, taking turns living their lives in twelve-hour segments each. How this has come about, how their lives are now lived out, and what finally happens to the brothers, Jonathan and Jon, is delivered with surprising gracefulness and subtlety, thanks to Oliver's touch (this is the director's first full-length film) and the dedicated, riveting performance by Elgort, shown below. The details of the brothers' work and play lives are handled very well, and most questions you'll raise should be properly laid to rest by film's end.

The two leading supporting players are Suki Waterhouse as the young woman with whom both Jons become involved and the ubiquitous and consistently wonderful Patricia Clarkson (below, left) as the doctor responsible for the creation and care of the brothers.

By the time you reach the extremely moving finale of this unusual film -- it's one that manages to avoid sentimentality while rocking you to your core -- between Jonathan and a cab driver, you may realize that you've just witnessed something quite special, with a performance you're likely to remember for a long time to come.

By now we've seen too many movies that tackle multiple identities within the same person (Split has got to be the showiest -- and silliest -- of the bunch.) This one is not only different; it's by far the best of the lot. Released theatrically in the fall of last year to mostly good reviews, Jonathan is streaming now on Netflix. Try it.

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