Sundance has come and gone, but the films that Amazon took there this year will soon be available to a wider audience. Recently I noticed that all four of the films are tied together in an interesting way: they all bear a relationship to books (and in one case, a play). The other interesting connection is that Joaquin Phoenix stars in two of them.
"You Were Never Really Here" is written and directed by the Scottish film maker Lynne Ramsay, but it is based on a novella by the author Jonathan Ames. The film is in selected theaters now, and it will be everywhere on April 20th. Phoenix plays a traumatized veteran named Joe. Joe tracks down missing girls for a living, and let's just say he is unafraid of using violence. When a job spins out of control, his nightmares overtake him, a conspiracy is uncovered, and he begins walking a tightrope with death on one side and his awakening on the other. Phoenix won Best Actor at Cannes for this role.
The other film coming out on April 20th is "Pass Over", which is directed by Spike Lee. "Pass Over" is based on Antoinette Nwandu's play by the same name. Actually, it's slightly inaccurate to say the film is "based on" the play; it's a film of the play--performed in Chicago in 2017 and shot like a film, with multiple camera angles and fantastic editing. "Pass Over" has a small cast but delivers in a big way. It's essentially a modern day "Waiting for Godot," with two young black homeless men as the protagonists. The film will be available on Prime Video.
"Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot" is the second film on this list that stars Joaquin Phoenix (as well as Rooney Mara and an almost unrecognizable Jonah Hill--and it is directed by Gus Van Sant). The movie is based on the life of John Callahan, who was a quadriplegic, a recovering alcoholic, and a cartoonist from Portland, Oregon. Callahan used his cartoons to find humor in the macabre, and the film, which will be released in select theaters on July 13th and everywhere on July 27th, does the same. Here's an excerpt from his obituary, which ran in the New York Times in 2010: "Like his friend Gary Larson, creator of 'The Far Side,' Mr. Callahan made drawings with a gleeful appreciation of the macabre that he found in everyday life. He was, however, a man who lived his life with disadvantages, some of them self-wrought, and he viewed the world through a dark and wicked lens. 'This is John, I’m a little too depressed to take your call today,' the message on his answering machine said. 'Please leave your message at the gunshot.'”
Lauren Greenfield's documentary "Generation Wealth" is not exactly based on a book, although there is a related book of photographs used in the documentary. Greenfield began her career as a photographer (and it's a well-published one), and her unique view of the world is on full and memorable display in this fascinating film about our obsession with things, as well as just plain obsession. "Generation Wealth" will open in select theaters on July 20th.