By Vernor Rodgers
Find out where it's playing
As summer approaches, the question is
whether there will be a summer blockbuster season, a tradition that
started in 1975 with the release of "Jaws" and then took a break in
2020 with the pandemic. The effects of that have continued into the
spring months of 2021 with few movies being released in theaters. It
was telling that at my local AMC theater, the latest release,
"Nobody," hardly expected to be of blockbuster proportions, was
booked into multiple auditoriums, with hourly showtimes, something
you would expect with, say, the newest Marvel comics adaptation.
As it turned out, "Nobody" was the No. 1 hit
at the box office of the March 26 weekend, but its haul of a little
less than $7 million illustrates how much more the movie theater
business must rebound to attain normalcy.
Actually, "Nobody" is a pretty decent action
adventure. It's violent for sure, with an astounding body count, but
also with touches of humor and humanity. Its star is Bob Odenkirk, a
writer as well as an actor known mostly for his four-time Grammy
Award-winning work as Jimmy McGill in "Better Call Saul."
Like Liam Neeson, Odenkirk, who will be 59
later this year, is tackling a hero adventure role well into middle
age. The movie is based upon an idea Odenkirk came up with after a
real-life experience of his home being burgled and the subsequent
frustrations of no justice. The concept was adapted to the screen by
Derek Kolstad, who brought the Jack Reacher stories to the screen.
It was directed by Ilya Nashuller, who got his action directing
chops from a movie he co-wrote and helmed, "Hardcore Henry."
As "Nobody" opens, Odenkirk, as Hutch
Mansell, is in an interrogation room, feeding a stray cat. He looks
like hell, as if he has been in an action movie. Two law enforcement
agents stare at him and finally ask, "Who ARE you?"
Well, nobody. The movie goes into a quick
rundown of his life. A mundane desk job at a manufacturing plant
owned by his father-in-law. He regularly fails to get his garbage
can out to the curb in time for the trash pickup. He slurps his
coffee, jogs, does pull-ups at the bus stop and engages in his share
of the cooking. He seems to have a stable if stale home life with
his wife Bekka (Connie Nielsen), teen son Blake (Gage Munroe) and
pre-teen daughter Abby (Paisley Cadorath), the latter who adores him
while insisting they should get a cat.
One night a male and female break into the
Mansell house. The duo doesn't get much -- some cash, Hutch's watch
and Abby's Kitty Cat bracelet. Even though Hutch can disarm the
situation, he does not, letting the burglars go, to the dismay of
Bekka and especially Blake.
Hutch appears haunted by this and the hints
are that Hutch has had a past in which he was a government-trained
asset programmed to be ruthless and lethal, and like John Rambo, his
adjustment to a civlian lifestyle is awkward. Much like Rambo, it is
an incident, in this case the burglary, that has triggered dormant
He responds by tracking down the burglars,
and while he gets his watch back, the bracelet remains missing and
once again Hutch has to pull back on his instincts when facing the
On the bus going home, Hutch's brooding is
interrupted when a group of drunken young punks, having crashed
their vehicle, get on the bus. When they start harassing a young
woman on the bus, Hutch goes into Paul Kersey mode a la "Death
Wish," venting his frustrations. A brutal brawl breaks out, and we
see Hutch is no Jason Statham character (Statham has a movie due
out, "Wrath of Man"), able to beat the crap out of people while
barely breaking into a sweat or suffering any injuries. In the
aftermath, he is seriously messed up, but can walk home. Meanwhile,
all the young punks end up in the hospital.
Wouldn't you know it, one of the punks --
likely permanently brain damaged from the fight -- is the younger
brother of a Russian Mafia bigwig, Yulian (Alexey Serebryakov), who
naturally is bent on revenge and has a seemingly endless roster of
goons to help him carry it out.
Hutch has a few allies -- his (half?)
brother Harry (RZA) who seems to be another former government asset
trying to live an anonymous life, and his aging father David
(Christopher Lloyd), who seems to be wasting away in a rest home.
When Yulian's gang attacks the Mansell home,
Hutch treats this as a breach of professional courtesy, and as Bugs
Bunny would say, "This means war."
A humorous element of "Nobody" is that we
learn about Hutch's past as he tells it to people he has mortally
injured, sending them to the great beyond with the story of his
past. But most expire before he finishes his talk. But we do learn
he was an "auditor," which he describes as "the last person you want
to see at your door." He recalls an episode in which he was supposed
to sanction a guy for crimes against the government but instead lets
him go. A bit later he checks in on the guy and finds the man has
completely rehabilitated. This serves as an epiphany for Hutch, who
believes he too can "rehabilitate" from his ultra-violent job. But
now he has doubts.
Hutch gets help from his brother and dad --
it is a delight see Lloyd in bad-ass mode. Though seriously
outnumbered, Hutch has a plan. He buys the factory his father-in-law
(Michael Ironside -- when did he get so old?) owns but wants to
sell so he can retire. Hutch then sets up the facility as a
booby-trapped and well-supplied-with-weapons fortress so he can draw
Yulian and what seems like a couple hundred armed goons into the
trap. Per usual a lot of bullets get fired but very few hit the good
"Nobody" is a good lead-in to what we hope
will be a return to the guilty pleasures of action movies to devour
along with popcorn during the summer months.
A nomad is defined as a member of a people
who have no fixed residence but move from place to place usually
seasonally and within a well-defined territory. Or simply a person
who roams around. It is interesting that to this day there are
nomadic people, even in the United States. Writer Jessica Bruder
wrote a book about it and director-writer Chloe Zhao has adapted it
for the screen in what is the critically acclaimed film "Nomadland."
Frances McDormand, who first received notice
when she was nominated for an Academy Award in 1989 for her role as
the brutalized wife of a deputy in "Mississippi Burning," has won
two Oscars -- "Fargo" and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing,
Missouri" -- and has received a Golden Globe award as well as an
Oscar nomination for her work as Fern on "Nomadland." Following the
death of her husband and the end of her regular income when the
sheetrock plant in her hometown of Empire, Nevada, shuts down, Fern
adapts the nomad lifestyle. Leaving most of her belongings in
storage, she converts her van into her living quarters. Cramped but
mostly self-contained -- accept for the issue of climate control;
one cannot run a vehicle's engine all night in order to keep the
heater running -- the van, which she calls Vanguard, is her
sanctuary as she travels around, mostly in the western part of the
country. She is a seasonal employee at Amazon but otherwise is on
the road, stopping wherever she can find work or at nomadic
gatherings. She offers mostly a positive perspective on her
circumstances. When the daughter of one of her acquaintances asks
Fern if she is homeless, she replies, "No, I'm not homeless. I'm
just house-less. Not the same thing, right?"
This film offers a "Route 66" and "The
Fugitive" vibe, without all the adventure and drama. Fern is not one
to wallow in self-pity. She is self-sufficient, and it seems the
misfortune she suffered was actually a liberation; we learn as the
movie progresses that Fern always was a restless spirit, and with
the exception of her marriage, rarely had strong relationships in
Fern does become sort of a peripheral part
of the U.S. nomadic culture. Zhao cast actual nomads -- Swankie,
Linda May and Bob Wells -- who really authenticate the nomad
experience. Like Fern, these people prefer to take care of
themselves and form a sense of community in looking out for each
other, although things are transient -- people come and go.
But as Bob Wells points out: "One of the
things I love most about this life is that there's no final goodbye.
You know, I've met hundreds of people out here and I don't ever say
a final goodbye. I always just say, 'I'll see you down the road'.
And I do. And whether it's a month, or a year, or sometimes years, I
see them again."
Bob again points out : "I think of an
analogy as a work horse. The work horse that is willing to work
itself to death, and then be put out to pasture. And that's what
happens to so many of us. If society was throwing us away and
sending us as the work horse out to the pasture, we, work horses
have to gather together and take care of each other. And that's what
this is all about. The way I see it is that the Titanic is sinking
and economic times are changing. And so my goal is to get the
lifeboats out and get as many people into the lifeboats as I can."
Fern also is inspired by Swankie, who at age
75 has terminal cancer but is refusing to quit although she has
concluded," I'm gonna be 75 this year. I think I've lived a pretty
good life. I've seen some really neat things kayaking all of those
places." And she takes off, continuing her Earth's journey until her
The closest Fern comes to establishing a
lasting relationship is when she meets Dave (David Strathairn), also
a wanderer, alienated from his family. Dave is quite fond of Fern
but she keeps him at arm's length. When Dave's son James (played by
Strathairn's real son Tay) tracks him down and tells him he is about
to become a grandfather, Fern urges the old man to go meet his
grandson. Dave asks Fern to come along but sees her lack of
enthusiasm and departs alone. Later Fern visits Dave, now grounded
and living with his son and family, and enjoying a renewed life as a
father and grandfather. Again Dave invites Fern to settle down with
him, even saying she can live in a guest house, but she instead
Fern eventually returns to Empire, but it
appears only to finally get rid of her belongings there.
"Nomadland" is a rich character study and an
honest look at yet another subculture of America. But as one watches
this film, you can grow to admire and even envy these people who
have greatly simplified their lives and become very creative in
building what is for them comfortable lifestyles with minimal
expenses and a lot of genius in turning what most of us would
discard into practical materials that help the nomads survive.
McDormand offers a nuanced performance. She
often seems grim, but it is determination. She does see the beauty
of nature and can maintain a sense of humor. Her friendship with
Dave seems complex -- you sense there is a part of Fern that wants
to return to the settled life she had in Empire. Yet part of her
still is haunted. As she recalls to Swankie, "I've been thinking a
lot about my husband, Bo. When it got really bad at the end, they
had him in the hospital on morphine dripping. I was sitting there at
night in the hospital. And . . . I'd wanna put my thumb down on that
morphine drip just a little bit longer. So I could let him go. Maybe
I should've tried harder. So he could've gone sooner without all
"Nomadland" leaves us guessing as to where
Fern will go next and what she will do, but the mood is definitely
positive. Or as Fern says, "We be the bitches of the badlands."
"Nomadland" is in limited release and
available on Hulu.
"Freaky," a movie released late in 2020 but
didn't hit the theaters, at least in Tucson, until the onset of the
pandemic, is now out on DVD and likely other platforms, and can be
considered an R-rated variation on the "Freaky Friday" movies
derived by the book by Mary Rodgers. Basically it is a story about
two people who swap bodies as a result of some sort of magic.
But as adapted by director and writer
Christopher Landon, who directed both "Happy Death Days" movies and
wrote the screenplay to the sequel of that series, and penned four
of the "Paranormal Activity" films as well as "Scouts Guide to the
Zombie Apocalypse," this is no family-friendly Disney production,
especially with superstar horror production company Blumhouse
Casting Vince Vaughn in a horror movie --
his turn as Norman Bates in the "Psycho" remake was universally
panned -- was pretty interesting although he shares "killing" time
with young actress Kathryn Newton. Vaughn is The Butcher, a serial
killer, mostly dismissed as a legend until he goes on a killing
spree one night, dispatching in various hideous ways four teenagers
who should have "DOOMED" stamped on their foreheads. Before leaving
the murder house, he steals a dagger known as La Dola from a
collection of artifacts in the home, where one of the victims lived
with her parents.
Meanwhile, Millie (Newton) is one of those
teens who is having to endure a nightmarish high school experience.
Mostly an outcast and bullied, Millie has only two other friends,
Nyla (Celeste O'Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich), and harbors a
crush on Booker (Uriah Shelton). One of her teachers, Mr. Fletcher
(Alan Ruck), verbally abuses her in class. At home, things are
unsteady. Millie's older sister Char (Dana Drori), is absorbed in
her work as a police officer and her mother, Paula (Katie Finneran),
has turned to alcohol to help her cope with the death of her husband
a year earlier.
The night following the four murders, Millie
serves as a mascot during the high school's homecoming football
game. Later, while waiting for her mother to pick her up after the
game, Millie is attacked by The Butcher. In the ensuing struggle
both are injured by the La Dola dagger, which triggers some spell
and they swap bodies.
This is where Vaughn's talents are put on
display, being Millie in a man's body. In the special features part
of the DVD, Vaughn and Newton talk about how they had to work
together to imitate each other's mannerisms so that Millie, although
a man, still acts like a teenage girl while The Butcher in Millie's
body becomes brutal and calculating.
As with the "Happy Death Day" movies under
Landon's guidance, there are humorous moments. Millie in The
Butcher's body has a vicious brawl with her friends Nyla and Josh
before she can convince them who she is. And later, Millie is
fascinated and also sees the downside of dealing with his male junk.
Nyla and Josh get a photo of La Dola, which
has inscriptions on it, and take it to the school's Spanish teacher,
who delivers a grim translation -- if the curse is not reversed in
24 hours -- both Millie and The Butcher have to be stabbed again by
La Dola -- the curse will be permanent.
So the clock is ticking as Millie/Butcher,
along with Nyla and Josh, have to not only track down The
Butcher/Millie but also get their hands on La Dola, now stored at
the police station as evidence.
"Freaky" has some gruesome murders in it,
and a special feature on the DVD shows how some of them were done.
"Freaky" is fun in that it borrows from
other horror / slasher films, and the humor remains throughout. In
one scene in which Millie now as The Butcher goes to school, dressed
wildly different from her modest semi-nerdly wardrobe, strolls
confidently among the students as the soundtrack offers up The
Chordettes' version of "Que Sera Sera" that then segues into the
$uicide$' version of "Don't Trust Anyone," a real clash in styles.