TOP PICK OF THE WEEK
*** The play-to-film transition often lacks formal ingenuity. Regardless of quality, you know the type: static cameras, actors gnawing on scenery, wordy dialogue carrying protracted scenes. But French playwright Florian Zeller adapting his acclaimed dementia drama to cinema has the opposite effect. The Father either eludes or busts multiple movie norms of perspective, setting and unreliable narrators, and then cinches into a harrowing but not exploitative puzzle box. As the dementia-ridden Anthony, 83-years-young Anthony Hopkins resists the pleas of his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) to accept an in-home caretaker and grant the family some freedom. That's as much plot as can be said for certain, as scenes loop, rooms mutate in almost imperceptible ways, and basic facts aren't what they were five minutes ago. Robbed of truth but not his showy, sparring personality, Anthony isn't an unexpected character from Hopkins, but the performance is a gauntlet and his best in 10 years. Unfortunately, The Father doesn't offer Colman anywhere near the same material, but it does allow the audience to see things from her perspective, as well as Anthony's. You're fighting for understanding one moment, sure you've got it the next, rebuffed just after that, and then mercifully, fittingly ready to give in. PG-13. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. AMC Dine-In Progress Ridge 13, AMC Vancouver Mall 23, Bagdad, Century 16 Eastport Plaza, Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Liberty, Living Room.
**** Filmmaker Chloé Zhao's work has always sought to uplift voices that have been pushed to the margins. Her previous features, The Rider (2017) and Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015), both focused on Native American reservation culture, and she now sets her sights on documenting the lives of older Americans who travel in campers across the country in search of employment. The result is an awe-inspiring, dexterous hybrid of impromptu documentary and scripted drama, of nature and nurture, of ethos and pathos. Nomadland is anchored by multi-Oscar winner Frances McDormand, here playing Fern, a widow who lost her job at a gypsum plant in Empire, Nev., two years after the Great Recession officially came to an end. With nothing left to lose, Fern decides to sell her belongings, buy a van and hit the road in search of work. Along the way, she meets a litany of real-life nomads, most playing semi-fictionalized versions of themselves. These characters ground the film in a sober reality, reminding us it's possible to live and thrive in a community outside of traditional society. Though the story is technically manipulated for narrative purposes, it never once feels manipulative, emotionally or otherwise. It feels human. It is human. And it's the best film of the year. R. MIA VICINO. Hulu, Living Room.
*** Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci playing a loving couple on an RV trip in the English countryside is exactly as tender and intimate as it sounds. Their palpable chemistry is bolstered by Firth's frosty naturalism and Tucci's balmy theatricality; good thing, too, because this romantic drama's scant plot is almost completely dependent on the casting of actors up to the task. The tale itself is one that's (tragically) familiar: A long-term relationship is tested by early onset dementia. However, writer-director Harry Macqueen finds room to break new ground by making the couple in question gay. An overabundance of art has been made that revolves around LGBTQ suffering, though it's usually derived from homophobia. While that's most certainly a worthy topic to explore, sometimes it's refreshing to see gay people allowed to have other conflicts, too. Here, the characters' sexuality is almost never an issue—their family is openly supportive of their relationship. Instead, the tension revolves around regular, old-fashioned trauma. The couple is given space to deal with their own very real crises without the simultaneous weight of bigotry crushing them. While Supernova's melodrama would have doubtlessly been more compelling as a stage play, at least its meaningful story is much more publicly accessible in film form. R. MIA VICINO. On Demand.
** Robin Wright is a force of nature. After directing herself in 10 episodes of House of Cards, in which she played President Claire Underwood, she has stepped behind (and in front of) the camera again for her directorial feature debut. Land follows Edee (Wright), a bereaved woman cut from the same cloth as Cheryl Strayed of Wild (2014), as she struggles to cope with an unthinkable tragedy. Convinced that her mourning has made her incapable of human connection, she moves off the grid and into a tiny, unfurnished cabin in the isolated Wyoming mountains. Here, she attempts to hunt and provide for herself, but the environmental conditions prove to be so grueling she more often than not ends up catatonic with grief on the frigid wooden floor. Then, a savior in the form of a handsome hunter (Demián Bichir) arrives. Along with teaching Edee wilderness survival skills, he slowly coaxes her to open up—an emotional survival skill. While the dialogue is minimal and the characters somewhat sparsely sketched out, the film's most notable beauty is embedded in Bobby Bukowski's breathtaking landscape cinematography: The crisp snow and pristine mountains cleanse both Edee and the viewer like a glass of ice-cold water. Ultimately, this garden-variety story is rejuvenating and purifying, if a bit bland. PG-13. MIA VICINO. Liberty, Living Room, On Demand.
** The debut film directed by Fresh Off the Boat creator (and then disowner) Eddie Huang follows a Chinese American basketball star, Boogie (newcomer Taylor Takahashi), who's shooting for a college scholarship. Replete with sports drama clichés—a needlessly dickish crosstown rival (played by late rapper Pop Smoke), parental pressures, a befuddled coach preaching teamwork, a blooming romance bigger than sports—it's the finer strokes that still merit Boogie a watch. Not just a vessel of his parents' professional dreams, Boogie is the evolution of their specific cultural expressions; he's portrayed as the product of a marriage (Dragon + Dog = Snake on the Chinese zodiac chart) destined to distress the son. Making sense of that legacy—explaining both this movie's swagger and genuinely foul mood—is more important than Boogie learning a pat American lesson about claiming his own path. To his credit, Takahashi can genuinely ball, though he looks about 12 years too old for high school and routinely falls flat in emotional scenes. It's Taylour Paige (star of the forthcoming Zola) as Boogie's beloved and Perry Yung as his ne'er-do-well father who shoulder the humanity. Ultimately, if most every other variation on these hoop dreams has been told, Boogie at least deserves the court time. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. AMC Dine-In Progress Ridge 13, AMC Vancouver Mall 23, Century 16 Eastport Plaza, Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Living Room.
** There are surely tales yet to be told about the 19th century playing card company destined to conquer the uncharted realms of digital home entertainment, but Crackle's new five-part docuseries, Playing With Power: The Nintendo Story, never quite levels up. Sean Astin's narration leans hard into the well-worn clichés of business school triumph to recount company highs and lows that are all gravely intoned amid a flurry of headlines absent any larger economic context. And the dawn of each decade triggers a pointless nostalgia package for anyone except perhaps the most hardcore Nintendo fans. Neckbearded arcade historians overexplain the importance of each gaming milestone while professional nerd icons (Alison Haislip, Wil Wheaton) overshare personal reveries—two-bit sound bites celebrating 8-bit soundscapes on endless replay. Admittedly, given how much of Nintendo's rise seems at first arbitrary and then inevitable, there's something sort of sweet about the corporate overlords' desperate efforts to invent a creation myth steeped in the daft whimsy of their de facto mascot. Whether or not the barrel-dodging antics of a plucky Italian plumber truly represented a leap forward in narrative gameplay, the all too human irreverence at the heart of Donkey Kong still charms, but writer-director Jeremy Snead gleaned the wrong lessons nonetheless. While audiences will helplessly ascribe emotional resonance to the flimsiest of plot points, nobody roots for the monkey. NR. JAY HORTON. Crackle.
* After grossing nearly $3 billion with Avengers: Endgame, directors Joe and Anthony Russo have cashed perhaps the blankest check in Hollywood history on a chaotic Tom Holland-led depiction of America's deepest wounds as pure home-blockbuster fodder. It's a revealing choice from all-time successful studio workmen now operating without a forgiving intellectual property net. Adapted from Nico Walker's 2018 novel, Cherry is an overlong, cynical saga of war, PTSD and addiction, despite its masquerading as a tome for the Bush years and ensuing opioid crisis. Chief among its downfalls is Holland's inability to express the soul of the unnamed soldier who appears in nearly every frame for two hours and 20 minutes. Sure, Holland sweats out his character's heroin withdrawals with commitment and talks a witty game (waxing about the U.S. Army's "proliferate confidence" in Iraq). But all his character's agony and lost innocence remain superficial on a young actor too self-consciously trying to graduate from Spider-Man. And the Russo brothers' swings at bravura filmmaking (muscular zooms, aspect-ratio changes, etc.) serve only to keep the viewer sensorially hooked to an empty vessel, reminding you that war is hell, drugs are bad and camera tricks are, as always, pretty sweet. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Apple TV+.