VODepths: 'For the Coyotes,' 'Josephine Doe,' When the Starlight Ends'
For the Coyotes (James Carpenter, Joshua Schell, dir. Eric Daniel Metzgar) It's not too surprising that the small-scale two-character drama For the Coyotes was at one time meant to be a stage play, since writer-director Eric Daniel Metzgar plays out many of the scenes between dying religious scholar Wendell (James Carpenter) and his tech-entrepreneur son Josh (Joshua Schell) in static long takes, as the two sit at a table or stand in Wendell's kitchen and rehash their past. Estranged for years, father and son reunite when Wendell calls Josh and insists he come to Wendell's remote rural home, where Wendell reveals that he has terminal brain cancer. The title refers to Wendell's wish for a so-called "sky burial," leaving his body to be devoured by wild animals, which Josh vehemently opposes, at least at first. Although Metzgar throws in lots of arty nature shots and ponderous philosophical and religious soliloquies, this is at heart a fairly predictable drama about reconciliation between parent and child as one is about to depart the mortal world. The lead performances (especially from Carpenter, selling Wendell's spiritual bullshit) are impressive, and some of the images are pretty, but the story is rather superficial despite its existential musings, and the characters' arguments are mostly tedious and repetitive. Available on No Budge (free) and Vimeo.
Josephine Doe (Erin Cipolletti, Emma Griffin, Elisabeth Bennett, dir. Ryan Michael) The title character of Josephine Doe (Emma Griffin) is a figment of main character Claire's imagination, but it's never quite clear why Claire is having such a vivid, realistic hallucination, what kind of condition she might be suffering from, or what anyone can do about it. As a portrayal of mental illness, this movie is borderline irresponsible, although it's obviously more interested in being a lyrical drama about dealing with grief and family trauma, at which it's only marginally more successful. Erin Cipolletti, who also wrote the screenplay, gives a strong performance as Claire, who's reeling from the death of her father and clashing with her more stable sister, but her motivations remain opaque. Josephine is sort of a manic pixie dream girl type of imaginary friend, wearing quirky clothes and pushing Claire to do wacky stuff like break into a roller rink to go skating in the middle of the night. I kept waiting for some kind of twist that would explain why no one is more than mildly concerned about Claire's full-on manifestation of another person, but it never came. The black-and-white cinematography is sometimes evocative, but it seems to be standing in for other artistic ambitions that are never quite achieved. Available on Amazon and elsewhere.
When the Starlight Ends (Sam Heughan, Arabella Oz, Sean Patrick Flanery, dir. Adam Sigal) Thanks to star Sam Heughan's newfound fame and sex-symbol status on Outlander, terrible micro-budget romantic drama When the Starlight Ends is certainly reaching more viewers than it otherwise might have. I haven't watched Outlander, but Heughan's performance here is pretty bad, delivered with a horribly unconvincing American accent. He's not helped at all by the writing from filmmaker Adam Sigal, who sticks Heughan with nearly nonstop pompous voice-over narration from his character Jacob, a supposedly great writer who spews nothing but self-important pretentiousness. Jacob is devastated after he's dumped by his girlfriend Cassandra (Arabella Oz, daughter of TV's Dr. Oz), and he spends the entire movie moping and rehashing their relationship, via flashbacks as well as annoying "writerly" fantasies in which he casts Cassandra as different women he might meet and fall in love with. The distinction between past and present and between reality and fantasy is blurry at times, but not in a clever or illuminating way; it mostly just comes across as sloppy filmmaking. Jacob is insufferable, and his relationship with Cassandra never has the grand romantic feel that the movie needs in order to justify itself. Available on Amazon and elsewhere.