I have four movies to bring to your attention this week, two of them brand spanking new and two of them oldies but goodies.
Nomadland is an extraordinary piece of serious moviemaking directed and written by Chloé Zhao, and starring Frances McDormand is a performance that is extraordinarily stripped down. She plays Fern, a woman in her sixties who has lost her job at the US Gypsum in Empire, Nevada. It is 2011, and her entire life is informed by loss; not only has she lost her job, but she's also recently been widowed, and the entire town of Empire has virtually gone away - the film points out that its zip code has been cancelled.
Fern takes to road, driving her van and wandering the American west, taking odd jobs where she can - packing orders in an Amazon warehouse, cleaning toilets in the campground, working in a restaurant at Wall Drug. The movie finds her in the company of other nomads - not so much homeless, but houseless, she says - who are part of a kind of underground society, living and working on the fringes, all but invisible and barely getting by. And yet, they're hanging in, living, in the words of Henry David Thoreau, live of quiet desperation.
The movie is episodic=, not plot driven, designed to let these people be seen, as if for the first time. The vast majority of the cast are actual nomads - they integrate seamlessly into the picture, and Zhao has coaxed gentle non-performances from them. McDormand, as I said, vanishes into he role, as does David Strathairn in a small supporting turn. Nomadland can be seen on Hulu, and I strongly recommend it.
I Care A Lot is as different a movie from Nomadland as I can imagine, but it is a hoot - a deliciously sardonic black comedy with terrific performances by Rosamund Pike and Peter Dinklage.
Here's the setup: Pike plays Marla Grayson, a con artist who persuades the courts to declare a number of older people to be incompetent and commit them to live in nursing homes, where she can control their lives and loot their estates. Then, she targets a woman named Jennifer (Dianne Wiest) - who, it ends up, is somehow connected to a man (Dinklage) who is someone Marla shouldn't have crossed.
I Care A Lot plays out like a gleeful game of Can You Top This?, with the actors sinking their teeth into their roles with just-over-the-top-enough relish. I'm not going to tell you anymore than that - just go watch I Care A Lot, now available on Netflix. Thank me later. (Note: the trailer below is NSFW.)
The two oldies - which I watched on the Criterion streaming channel, which has an enormous collection of old and classic movies - were Klute and the original version of The Manchurian Candidate.
Klute is the terrific 1971 noir thriller directed by Alan J. Pakula (All The President's Men, The Parallax View), starring Jane Fonda as a Manhattan call girl who a small town Pennsylvania detective, played by Donald Sutherland, believes holds the key to a missing person case he is investigating. The tension is palpable, the repartee between the leads is undeniable, and there's even Roy Scheider in a small role (shot around the same time as he did his breakout role in The French Connection.) Klute is terrific seventies-style paranoid filmmaking. I love it.
The Manchurian Candidate is just a great film - John Frankenheimer's direction, based on the Richard Condon novel, adapted by George Axelrod, is the very model of a conspiracy thriller. The story involves the Cold War, sleeper agents, brainwashing, McCarthyism, and political corruption - and yet, in 2021 this 1962 movie seems simultaneously current and prescient. Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and especially Angela Lansbury have never been better. If you've never seen it, go find it … and if you have seen it, watch it again. (Avoid the 2004 remake. It is execrable.)
That's it for this week … Have a good weekend … and I'll see you Monday.
Stay safe. Be healthy.