Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul star Bob Odenkirk goes from Mr. Chips to Scarface in Nobody, a cheeky shoot ’em up that cleverly reconfigures its key influences into one massively entertaining package. The most inescapable of these inspirations is the John Wick series, in which Keanu Reeves plays a hitman who retires legions of other hitmen who are after him for one reason or another. It also recalls vigilante films like The Equalizer and Taken, in which seemingly mild-mannered, middle-aged men are forced into large-scale retaliation when loved ones are caught in the crosshairs. But the movie that Nobody evoked most specifically for me is Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, where Viggo Mortensen plays a small-town diner owner whose thwarting of two robbers sends his life into a tailspin.
Odenkirk stars as Hutch Mansell, a listless accountant and father of two who seems to be stuck in a suburban rut. His teenage son Blake (Gage Munroe) has little to no respect for him and his wife Becca (Connie Nielsen) barely speaks to him, except to pester him about forgetting to take out the trash every Tuesday night. The tedium of his life snaps one night when he catches a pair of burglars in the act, only to let them go despite seeming to have the drop on them. Feeling the disappointment of his son and wife growing after the incident, Hutch shifts gears and decides to go after the robbers for embarrassing him on his own property. His path of vengeance soon intertwines with Russian drug kingpin Yulian (Aleksei Serebryakov), whose two primary passions are karaoke singing and ruthless violence.
Wick creator Derek Kolstad is Nobody‘s sole credited writer and he carries over elements of the first John Wick screenplay into this more overtly humorous take on a similar tale. Where the senseless killing of Wick’s puppy is what springs him back into action, a kitty cat bracelet that Hutch believes the thieves stole is ostensibly the reason that he goes on a retaliatory rampage. Where Kolstad unfortunately pulls his punches is in character development, instead favoring brevity over depth. While Blake and Becca’s role in the inciting events is critical, their characters are severely underwritten and Nielsen in particular seems to be underserved in a one-dimensional role that wouldn’t have taken much effort to give some nuance.
Director Ilya Naishuller drops clever clues early on in the film that there may be more to Hutch that meets the eye. In an expertly-edited montage, which dryly documents our protagonist’s mundane existence, he peppers in shots of Hutch capably performing pull-ups on a bus shelter bar during his commute. There’s a voice, that of the rapper-actor RZA, with whom he seems to exchange weapons intel over a hidden radio disguised as a CD player in his office. But beyond foreshadowing, Naishuller also doesn’t forget to deliver the goods when it comes to satisfying and kinetic action sequences once the cards are finally out on the table. The brutal bus brawl that comprises the film’s climax gives any of the setpieces in the John Wick trilogy a run for their money.
Lead actors in action movies sometimes get overlooked, perhaps taken for granted once they have a few films of the genre under their belt (Liam Neeson, for one, comes to mind). While this is Odenkirk’s first time in this kind of role, he does an incredible job of conveying someone who comes off as inadequate but may just be powerful beyond measure. When he takes hits during the lengthy fight scenes, we believe that he’s muddling through these imperfect melees out of necessity rather than bloodlust and will no doubt have the scars and bruises to prove it. Most importantly, he brings a wry humor and self-deprecation that perfectly rounds out the performance. Fierce and fun, Nobody may just be the movie that gets everybody back to the theaters.
Score – 3.5/5
New movies coming this weekend: Premiering March 31st both in theaters and on HBO Max is Godzilla vs. Kong, a creature feature starring Millie Bobby Brown and Alexander Skarsgård in which the two iconic monsters duke it out as the world watches. Coming to Netflix is Concrete Cowboy, a modern Western starring Idris Elba and Caleb McLaughlin about a teenager who discovers the world of urban horseback riding when he moves in with his estranged father in North Philadelphia. Available to rent on demand is Shiva Baby, a comedy starring Rachel Sennott and Molly Gordon about a college student who runs into her sugar daddy at a Jewish funeral service with her parents.
Despite it being a difficult subject to broach, dementia has been relatively popular in cinema over the past several months. Last summer saw the release of Relic, an Australian horror film that makes literal the treacherous indicators of a decaying mind. In the fall, there was Dick Johnson Is Dead, Kirsten Johnson’s unconventional Netflix documentary about her aging father’s worsening mental faculties. Just in time for Oscar season, we now have The Father, a prestige drama told from the perspective of a protagonist suffering from progressive memory loss. None of these three films will be easy for those who have loved ones suffering from similar ailments to watch and I suspect The Father could even be the most difficult to watch of the three.
Adapted from Florian Zeller’s 2012 play Le Père, the movie centers around octogenarian Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) and his slowly deteriorating state of mind. His daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) and her husband Paul (Rufus Sewell) have welcomed him into their London apartment, where he passes the time listening to opera and hiding valuables from caretakers that he deems untrustworthy. When Anne breaks the news that she and Paul are planning on moving to Paris, Anthony feels a sense of betrayal and fear of abandonment that reverberates through the rest of the story. As more characters are introduced, the sense of reality becomes more subjective as faces blur together and facts begin to lose their sense of permanence.
In his directorial film debut, Zeller demonstrates a keen ability to put the audience in the shoes of an essentially housebound man who grows more paranoid with each passing day. He has a way of making the limited confines even more stifling by filling the space with the loneliness of a man’s later years. When other characters do show up to the apartment, they are sometimes played by different actors who seem to have differing backstories from the people we think we know. Credit to the film’s deceptive nature also goes to editor Yorgos Lamprinos, who utilizes jump cuts and unconventional timing to give the film an off-kilter rhythm that mirrors an unsettled mind.
Despite establishing a uniquely deceptive tone that’s pitched somewhere between family drama and psychological thriller, the actual narrative is not as involving on its own merits. Even at just over 90 minutes, the film’s pace is often languid and not especially packed with incident. Perhaps this is a story better told on stage, where the singular location isn’t as much of a drawback and the atmosphere of the room heightens the experience. The theatrical aspect is carried over primarily in the central performance by Hopkins, which is indeed good work but exudes the kind of righteous anger that culminates in the film’s “stagiest” moments. It doesn’t feel as understated as the work that Colman and Sewell are doing here, although it’s possible that it was never supposed to anyway.
I applaud Zeller for creating a movie about dementia that so entrenches us in the experience of suffering from such a cruel and pernicious disease. The most effective scenes in the film recall the fear and insecurity that permeate heady alt-horror fare like last year’s I’m Thinking Of Ending Things but it doesn’t feel like a gimmick or exploitation; it just feels real. Just recently nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, it doesn’t seem likely to score any wins (especially since Chadwick Boseman is a lock for Best Actor) but the nods enough may draw enough attention for crowds to seek it out. The Father is certainly not an easy sit but it’s a brave portrayal of those struggling with senility and the caregivers on whom they rely.
Score – 3/5
Other new movies coming this weekend: Premiering on Netflix is Bad Trip, a hidden camera comedy starring Eric André and Lil Rel Howery about two friends who embark on a cross-country road trip to NYC with pranks and misadventures along the way. Streaming on HBO Max is Tina, a music documentary about Tina Tuner’s early fame, her private and professional struggles and her return to the world stage as a global phenomenon in the 1980s. Opening in theaters is Nobody, an action thriller starring Bob Odenkirk and Connie Nielsen about a mild-mannered Good Samaritan who becomes the target of a vengeful drug lord.
Last year, we got 9. The year before that, we had 8.
Now, we’re arbitrarily back to 8.
Can we just bring the number of Best Picture nominees back to 10, please? There are always obvious bubble picks that would fill things out nicely; this year it seems to be One Night in Miami… and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. The batch this year is generally strong, especially given how profoundly the pandemic affected the release calendar. Given how many awards it’s been scooping up all season, Nomadland will certainly be the one to beat and I doubt any of the other contenders will stir up the necessary momentum to do so. I always have personal favorites that are iced out of this category but The Assistant getting completely shut out is massively disappointing.
My Prediction:Nomadland My Vote: Sound of Metal Overlooked:The Assistant
Zhao is just as much a frontrunner in the Director category as her film is in the Picture group. She and Fennell being nominated together marks the first time two female directors have been up for Director in the same year. Vinterberg is a bit of an outsider pick, although it further solidifies Another Round‘s odds for International Film. It’s a shame that Fincher scored a nod for the weakest film of his career but then again, he lost to the director of Cats the last time he was nominated so the Academy should probably atone any way they can.
My Prediction: Chloé Zhao My Vote: Chloé Zhao Overlooked: Kelly Reichardt – First Cow
A strong field this year but Boseman, who passed away last August at the age of 43, will be very difficult to beat. Indeed, the Black Panther actor saved his strongest performance for last and even if he was still alive, I’d like to think his work as boisterous trumpeter Levee Green would make him a frontrunner anyway. If he wins, he would be only the second posthumous winner in the category (Network star Peter Finch being the other). Ahmed and Yeun would be very close second and third picks from me but hopefully they’ll find enough roles in their respective careers to land them nominations in the future.
My Prediction: Chadwick Boseman My Vote: Chadwick Boseman Overlooked: Delroy Lindo – Da 5 Bloods
An especially competitive field this year and I could feasibly see any of these talented performers taking home the statue. McDormand and Mulligan are about neck-and-neck in terms of awards from other organizations but it’s impossible to count out Davis, who has won before and is simply one of the very best actresses working today. Kirby was indeed terrific in the underseen Pieces and the only major reason I’m considering seeing Holiday is the good word-of-mouth I’ve heard about Day’s work. It’s too bad that Elisabeth Moss, who turned in two strong performances last year, didn’t turn up here.
My Prediction: Carey Mulligan My Vote: Frances McDormand Overlooked: Han Ye-ri – Minari
My Prediction: Amanda Seyfried My Vote: Maria Bakalova Overlooked: Olivia Cooke – Sound of Metal
The Supporting Actor field turned out to be an absolute powerhouse, thanks to Judas co-stars Kaluuya and Stanfield both turning up here due to their similar amount of screen time. I would be thrilled with either actor, two of the best young talents around, bringing home the gold. Odom Jr. was a real inspiration as Sam Cooke and if Judas hadn’t made the eligibility cutoff, he would probably be my favorite. I’m a bit surprised Cohen was nominated here instead of for Borat in the Actor category, given how well the Academy seemed to like it. He only get iAct Mini; everybody know it for girls!
Even more than Actress, the Supporting Actress category is especially a toss-up. Seyfried had buzz early but in the more recent weeks, Youn and Bakalova have garnered a good deal of support and The Father‘s strong showing in overall nominations could help Colman. Close has the rare distinction of being nominated for both an Oscar and a Razzie for the very same performance. Ultimately, I’m going to go with the Academy’s penchant for Old Hollywood and forecast a win for Seyfried. It’s like I have ESPN or something!
Best Original Screenplay
Judas and the Black Messiah– Will Berson and Shaka King
Minari – Lee Isaac Chung
Promising Young Woman – Emerald Fennell
Sound of Metal – Darius Marder and Abraham Marder
The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Aaron Sorkin
My Prediction: The Trial of the Chicago 7 My Vote: Judas and the Black Messiah Overlooked: The Nest
Best Adapted Screenplay
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan – Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman and Lee Kern
Considering how the DC Extended Universe has unfolded over the past 8 years, it’s enough to wish that Superman would zip around the Earth to turn the clocks back and give Warner Bros a mulligan on the franchise. Beginning with the equally contemplative and cacophonous Man of Steel in 2013, the film’s director Zack Snyder became the de facto architect of a franchise that was already playing severe catch-up to the Disney-backed Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film’s sequel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, was intended to be a precursor to a trilogy based on the Justice League, DC’s analog to Marvel’s Avengers. Responding to that film’s poor reception, the executives at WB rushed out a solo iteration of Justice League just a year later, sandwiched in between standalone entries for Wonder Woman and Aquaman.
To say that 2017’s Justice League, intended to be the culminating film for the DCEU, had a troubled production would be an understatement. Snyder and his screenwriter Chris Terrio went through many different story ideas that had to be shifted at the last minute to match continuity with the preceding Suicide Squad, which also underwent profound changes in post-production. More studio meddling occurred after Snyder stepped down during post-production due to the tragic passing of his daughter, causing Joss Whedon (ironically, the director of Marvel’s The Avengers) to be called in as an uncredited co-director. The theatrical cut of the movie, derogatorily dubbed by die-hard comic fans as Josstice League, was derided by critics and fans alike, causing WB to pivot wildly again to spin-offs like Shazam! and Birds of Prey.
Now we have Zack Snyder’s Justice League, a rare director’s cut that is over twice the length of its theatrical companion. WB’s mandate that Justice League‘s runtime be no longer than 2 hours produced a myriad of plot holes and left hours of critical story moments on the cutting room floor. At a staggering 242 minutes, the “Snyder Cut” is obviously outside the realm of reasonable cinema but represents a fullness of vision that is admirable on its own unprecedented terms. The general storyline follows the trajectory of the original: the death of Superman (Henry Cavill) awakens both a trio of ancient artifacts known as the Mother Boxes and the warmongering alien Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds). Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) recruit Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and The Flash (Ezra Miller) to stop him.
When Justice League was released, I considered it the nadir of woefully misguided DCEU and opined that it “literally feels like it was patched together by a focus group that was held up at gunpoint.” Against all odds, Zack Snyder’s Justice League emerges as the strongest realization of these DC’s characters and the franchise’s finest film. Paradoxically, much of its success is addition by subtraction. Gone are the pathetic attempts at quippy humor, like Superman describing the experience of resurrection as “itchy” and The Flash riffing on the concept of brunch. The aggressive color grading that made the Russian-set third act appear as if the air was made of Cheeto dust has been undone. Cavill’s mustache, which had to be removed with CGI during extensive re-shoots for the original, is more convincingly absent this time around.
Most importantly, the movie actually has time for trivial things like character motivation and story development. Divided in 6 chapters with a cameo-heavy epilogue, it’s structured more like a comic book series than a traditional superhero epic. Cyborg, who was little more than a curious afterthought in the 2017 version, has a complete and satisfying arc that renders his character both essential and compelling. The Flash’s humor, which came across as strained and desperate in the predecessor, somehow fits in much better and tempers the self-seriousness for which Snyder has been known to indulge. Sporting film history’s largest Most Improved Award on its oversized chest, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is an unwieldy yet undeniably powerful instance of creative control overcoming corporate contamination.
Score – 3.5/5
Also new to streaming this weekend: Premiering on Netflix is Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal, a documentary covering the 2019 bribery scandal that snuck the kids of rich and famous families into top US universities. Available to rent digitally is Happily, a comedic thriller starring Joel McHale and Kerry Bishé about a married couple who go on a tense couples’ trip with friends who may not actually be friends at all. Also new to video on demand is Last Call, a comedy starring Jeremy Piven and Taryn Manning about a man who returns to his Philadelphia suburban neighborhood when he inherits his family’s pub following his mother’s death.
Transitioning in and out of a franchise-defining role can present a unique challenge to an actor, especially early in one’s career. Take Daniel Radcliffe. Starring in the first Harry Potter movie at the age of 11, he only appeared in one non-Potter film, the Australian weepie December Boys, during the octology’s 10 year run. His effort to break free from the specter of the bespectacled sorcerer in the 10 years since the series capping Deathly Hallows has led to roles that range from safe to bewildering, with flashes of brilliance in between. Tom Holland, currently filming the second sequel to 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, has faced a similar challenge shedding the image of his squeaky-clean superhero persona when taking on new projects like the pitiless dud Cherry.
Based on the bombshell autobiography from Army vet Nico Walker, Cherry stars Holland in the title role as a wayward young man who drops out of an Ohio university to become a military medic. In the transition, he meets the precocious but charming Emily (Ciara Bravo) and quickly falls in love with her. It isn’t long before he’s rushed through basic training and sent off to Iraq to treat soldiers’ horrific wounds while fighting for as much phone time with his true love as possible. When he returns stateside, he finds respite from his worsening PTSD by way of opioids and quickly falls down the steep spiral of drug addiction, while jeopardizing Emily’s future in the process. As hinted in the film’s prologue, Cherry eventually turns to bank robbery as a means of funding his heartbreaking habit.
After disintegrating the universe (half of it, technically) in Avengers: Infinity War and putting it back together in Avengers: Endgame, directors Anthony and Joe Russo are necessarily dealing in smaller stakes here by comparison. The main issue with Cherry is that even though the scale of the story should be much more modest, the Russos render every frame of their posturing crime drama with the same intensity of a big budget blockbuster. Nearly every scene incorporates at least one filming technique, be it exaggerated uses of focus or shifting aspect ratios, that seem designed to inspire nods of understanding from packed film school lecture halls. It’s enough to make one wonder if MCU architect Kevin Feige needed to tell these guys to rein it in more often than to punch things up during their 4 film stint with Marvel.
Beyond the over-stylization of the film’s visual palette, the Russos also lay it on way too thick when it comes to the themes of the narrative, which are displayed as ostentatiously as lighted letters on the side of a bank. There is a sensitive story still to be told about how veterans returning to the US don’t receive the treatment they need and become victims of drug abuse and suicide at disproportional and alarming rates. The directing duo may indeed care about these issues but the leading principle behind their vision isn’t “how can we intelligently convey this tragedy?” but rather “how can we make this look really cool?” When they do attempt to address the societal problems that sprout up from the story, their grasps at profundity couldn’t be any more amateurish and shallow.
The try-hard theatrics behind the camera could be forgiven if they at least generated a revelatory performance from Holland but the young actor is caught trying just as hard to shatter his clean-cut image. I simply never bought him as an ex-soldier turned hardened criminal, no matter how many four-letter words he spit out or how many times he brandished a gun in someone’s face. Ciara Bravo, whose name is incidentally homophonous with two letters from the military phonetic alphabet, is only slightly more convincing in her underwritten role. A product of directors trading epic storytelling for an epic failure, Cherry is filmmaking made rotten by the sickness of rampant over-direction.
Score – 1.5/5
Also new to streaming this weekend: Premiering on Netflix is Yes Day, a family comedy starring Jennifer Garner and Édgar Ramírez about a pair of parents who give their three kids a “yes day”, where kids make the rules for 24 hours. Streaming on Disney+ is Own The Room, a documentary from National Geographic which chronicles five students from disparate corners of the planet as they take their budding business ventures to the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards. Available to rent digitally is Dark Web: Cicada 3301, a techno thriller starring Jack Kesy and Conor Leslie about a hacker and his friends who get caught up in a secret society’s global recruitment game.
Coinciding with the launch of yet another unwanted streaming service, The Spongebob Movie: Sponge On The Run arrives this Thursday on the newly rebranded Paramount+ platform. Though this is the first time American audiences will have a chance to see it, the film was distributed internationally on Netflix last November and even had a Canadian theatrical run way back in August. Sadly, the third entry in the SpongeBob SquarePants franchise comes as an afterthought not only due to its awkward release strategy but also because it adds little to the legacy of the iconic series that has run for over 20 years now. It’s another road trip/buddy movie variation that has even lower stakes than the prior two films and even more transparent fluff to pad its scant 85 minute runtime.
We begin at the start of what seems to be another ordinary day in Bikini Bottom, the quaint underwater city home to all manner of talking sea creatures. The pineapple-dwelling SpongeBob SquarePants (Tom Kenny) wakes up, hugs his beloved mollusk Gary (also voiced by Kenny) and goes off to flip Krabby Patties at the fast food joint Krusty Krab. Plankton (Mr. Lawrence), owner of the rival restaurant The Chum Bucket, has been after the Patty formula for years. After another unsuccessful attempt at stealing it from Krab owner Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown), he instead decides to “snail-nap” Gary and hand him over to the vain King Poseidon (Matt Berry) to supplement his skin care regimen. With the help of his trusty friend Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke), Spongebob sets out to The Lost City Of Atlantic City to save his treasured companion.
Both fans of Spongbob and first-timers will notice early on in Sponge on the Run that something looks a little, for lack of a better word, off. That’s mostly due to the fact that this is the first Spongebob outing to be completely in CGI, replacing the trademark 2D animation style of the series from which it’s adapted. This gives the characters and settings a brighter sheen that will no doubt draw in the eyeballs of younger audiences but come across as hollow for those who experienced the show from its humble beginnings. The first Spongbob movie, which came out 5 years after the series debuted in 1999, actually has the feel of a supersized original episode of the show but Sponge on the Run retreads storylines from existing episodes without adding much in the process.
It becomes apparent about a third of the way through, with the appearance of a live-action Keanu Reeves as a mystical sage, that this film is going to rely on celebrity cameos even more than the first movie relied on David Hasselhoff. Moments after Reeves’ initial musings, Spongbob and Patrick enter the Inferno Saloon and we’re treated to a completely out of place musical number by Snoop Dogg followed by Danny Trejo as an umbrella-wielding bar-owner. Worse yet are the litany of flashbacks by each of the main characters, which are only included to set up the Kamp Koral, a spin-off series also debuting on Paramount+ this Thursday. Spongebob creator Stephen Hillenburg, who passed in 2018, wanted to conclude the series after its third season for fear that it would jump the shark and sadly, it seems that’s exactly where we’ve ended up.
Of course the movie isn’t totally devoid of jokes that land. My favorite bit, taking place at our hero’s low point, is scored by an ominous portion of Hans Zimmer’s musical contribution, only to reveal that it’s actually the result of Patrick playing around with sound patches on his keyboard. I appreciated the sparing but effective use of Awkwafina as Otto, an automaton whose original function was to fire employees at the Krusty Krab but who ultimately serves as a perpetually unreliable getaway driver. Despite a few amusing gags, The Spongebob Movie: Sponge On The Run wrings nearly all of the goofball charm and surreal wit out of what used to be a shining spot in the world of TV animation.
Score – 2/5
Also new to streaming this weekend: Arriving on Amazon Prime is Coming 2 America, the belated sequel to 1988 comedy, again starring Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall, about an African monarch who searches for his long-lost son in the United States. Available on Disney+ through Premier Access is Raya and the Last Dragon, a fantasy adventure starring Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina about a magical realm where a young warrior searches from the world’s last remaining fire-breather. Premiering on Hulu is Boss Level, a sci-fi action movie starring Frank Grillo and Mel Gibson about a retired soldier who finds himself trapped in a program which results in a never-ending time loop, leading to his repeated death.