TOP PICK OF THE WEEK
**** 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. AMC Dine-In Progress Ridge 13, AMC Vancouver Mall 23, Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century 16 Eastport Plaza, Cinemagic, Hulu, Liberty, Living Room.
*** 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 Vancouver Mall 23, Bagdad, Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century 16 Eastport Plaza, Liberty, Living Room.
** 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 Vancouver Mall 23, Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century 16 Eastport Plaza, Living Room, On Demand.
** During the Cold War, British businessman Greville Wynne had a secret life. While exporting industrial engineering products, he worked as a courier for Col. Oleg Penkovsky, a Soviet military intelligence officer who was an informant for MI6 and the CIA. Wynne's espionage career ended with his capture in 1962, but he survived 18 months in a Moscow prison and later wrote two memoirs, The Man From Moscow and The Man From Odessa. It would take more than a facile film to diminish his heroic legacy, but it's still dispiriting to watch The Courier, a movie so bland it's barely fit for the BBC. Under the direction of Dominic Cooke (The Hollow Crown), a tale that should have been scary and suspenseful turns into a stately British period piece, complete with a surprisingly shapeless score by the brilliant Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski. As Wynne, Benedict Cumberbatch is exquisitely vulnerable—the prison scenes are haunted by images of his increasingly skeletal frame—but The Courier's cheery conclusion obscures painful realities, including the real Wynne's MI6 training, which he said was more brutal than the KGB beatings he endured. Greville Wynne risked his life to prevent nuclear war. The least The Courier could have done was risk being honest. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. AMC Vancouver Mall 23, Century 16 Cedar Hills, Century 16 Eastport Plaza, Living Room.
** His centrality to this hyperstylized shoot-'em-up notwithstanding, Bob Odenkirk shares one other crucial trait with the Bruce Willises and Dolph Lundgrens of the world—his head. That Easter Island chin. Those granite cheekbones. Stubble the color and texture of iron filings. Every time Odenkirk growls, broods or ironically luxuriates in the battering he takes in this half-comedic John Wick knockoff, that mug draws all attention away from the stunt men overselling his unremarkable punches and gunplay. Ilya Naishuller's debut feature is essentially Death Wish with dads who collect vinyl and cultivate man caves they would never deign to call man caves. The spree of (maybe righteous?) violence by suburban accountant Hutch Mansell (Odenkirk) begins when he freezes up during a home invasion, much to the chagrin of his wife and teenage son. From there, Hutch is on a collision course with the criminal underworld as Nobody becomes a bloody romp but skirts questions of wounded modern masculinity raised by the inciting incident. Nobody can't get over the fact that it cast Bob Odenkirk instead of letting the incredibly versatile actor tangle with the meaning of all this carnage. If only it took its own premise more seriously. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. AMC Vancouver Mall 23, Century 16 Cedar Hills, Century 16 Eastport Plaza, Cornelius 10 Cinemas.
** 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.
* A death in the family. Dueling directors. Wrathful fans. Zack Snyder's Justice League may be a slab of bloated mediocrity, but the story of its creation is a saga of epic, tragic proportions. In 2017, Snyder surrendered his superhero mashup Justice League to director Joss Whedon (The Avengers), who reshot multiple scenes while Snyder grieved for his daughter, Autumn, who had died by suicide at age 20. Enraged by Whedon's revisions, some fans demanded to see Snyder's version of the film, unleashing a campaign that included a Times Square billboard and an airplane banner. Zack Snyder's Justice League is the answer to their prayers: a restoration supervised by Snyder himself. It is also a four-hour bore that subjects us to a lifeless Batman (Ben Affleck), an apathetic Superman (Henry Cavill) and an appallingly clichéd screenplay (sample line: "The great darkness begins!"). The Justice League's more charismatic recruits—Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher)—provide spark and spunk, but not enough to elevate the interminable action scenes, which are clogged with sluggish slow motion, a Snyder trademark. None of this will faze Snyder's fans, who care about him so passionately they have donated half a million dollars to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. There are plenty of reasons to loathe Zack Snyder's Justice League, but it is important to acknowledge that it has meaning beyond its artistic failures—and to hope that finishing it brought some solace to a bereaved father. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. HBO Max.