Paul McGuire Grimes, creator of Paul’s Trip to the Movies, sat down with the director of a new movie that’s getting a lot of Oscar buzz. He reviews Nomadland, The Mauritanian, and Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.
NOMADLAND (In theaters, Hulu)
Frances McDormand could be headed for her third Oscar with Nomadland. Frances McDormand’s latest role as Fern finds her herself living out of her van after a slew of events left her homeless. Her husband passed away and the gypsum plant she worked at was shut down following the Great Recession. The recession killed the city of Empire, Nevada displacing many people. For Fern, it now means joining a group of van dwellers in the desert finding odd jobs here and there wherever she goes.
The film is an adaptation of Jessica Bruder’s book that has been brought to life by Chloe Zhao who directed, edited, and wrote the adaptation. What Zhao accomplishes is a beautiful blend of fictional storytelling and documentary filmmaking.
We think we’re watching another stunning Frances McDormand performance but she’s immersing herself into this real world of van dwellers including Linda May who was the central character of the book. Linda May plays herself along with a variety of other non-actors who appear alongside McDormand and David Strathairn who is one of the few professional actors in the film.
Having non-actors provides the film an authenticity that couldn’t be captured if this was your traditional Hollywood film. There’s nothing artificial about the voice and vision given to this story. I felt like McDormand and Strathairn were really living the nomad life versus acting in scenes depicting this lifestyle.
Watching Nomadland was an insightful learning lesson with the stories of these van dwellers in how they got to this point in the unpredictable ride of life that is filled with loss and unanswered questions. Part of you questions if you could get used to this lifestyle that’s stripped down to its most minimal parts. It’s a way to feel connected to nature and be a part of community.
Chloe Zhao and Frances McDormand set out across the country through five states basking in the seldom seen beauty of America. We see Fern work in an actual Amazon facility, clean a restaurant kitchen, and explore national parks and more.
The cinematography beautifully captures the wonder of nature and a portrait of America that I was unfamiliar with. Nomadland is an engrossing film if you’re willing to invest in and understand this life. Some of the best moments are McDormand totally alone with the power of nature and a lyrical score behind her.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS
THE MAURITANIAN (in theaters now, OnDemand March 2)
Two months after 9/11, Mohamedou Slahi played here by Tahar Rahim, was taken in for questioning as he was thought to be a recruiter for the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center. We learn that he was taken to Guantanamo Bay where he has been detained since then. It’s now 2005 when Nancy Hollander, a criminal defense lawyer played by Jodie Foster, learns of his story. She along with her associate Teri, played by Shailene Woodley attempt to file a Habeus Corpus to determine if there’s enough evidence against to him to warrant his detention at Gitmo. Benedict Cumberbatch also stars as the lead prosecutor in the case who harbors a personal connection to the attacks on 9/11.
The Mauritanian is a fascinating true story that many people probably don’t know about. Mohamedou Slahi is described by someone as “Al Quaida Forrest Gump. Everyone you look he’s there.” He’s targeted given the multiple connections he has to the terrorist attack.
We’re naturally led to believe he is guilty and should be given the harshest punishment. All of the mistreatment he receives at Guantanamo Bay would be justified according to some people. The ethical use of torture and cruel and unusual punishment certainly comes into play.
Jodie Foster doesn’t spend a lot of time in front of the camera anymore as she’s been more focused on directing recently. It’s a treat having her take on a commanding role in The Mauritanian. She brings that intelligence and singular-focused angle to Nancy Hollander who’s forced to adhere and adapt to strategy and optics every step of the way.
The Mauritanian is a big story with a variety of moving parts. This easily could have gotten out of hand or fallen flat around a different director, but the focus is on the legality of Mohamedou Slahi’s story and the ethics of the criminal justice system. It may feel a bit truncated at times, but this allows for smooth pacing and reasonable runtime.
RATING: 4 out of 5 TICKET STUBS
BARB AND STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR (Video OnDemand)
Real life besties Annie Mumolo and Kristin Wiig star as our title characters and the plot is essentially given in the title. Both of these besties lose their jobs at a furniture store and are kicked out of the Talking Club. It’s a double whammy leaving them time to throw caution to the wind like rock and rollers and head down to Vista Del Mar. There they meet a dashing hotel guest played by Jamie Dornan, who may have dangerous plans afoot.
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, Jamie Dornan, Fortune Feimster, and Vanessa Bayer
Mumolo and Wiig are the genius minds behind Bridesmaids, and that ridiculous comedic talent is on full display. The characters of Barb and Star feel ripped from their sketch comedy days at the Groundlings. They look like church basement ladies excited for the bake sale. They have high pitched voices with exaggerated accents, teased hair and fashion that’s a little behind the times.
Mumolo and Wiig’s decades-long chemistry is noticeable on screen as they effortlessly play off each other with ease. They are a constant riot with their high-energy, optimistic characters.
Too often modern comedies take themselves too seriously and run longer than necessary, but Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar takes the exact opposite approach. Everyone is in on the tone. Director Josh Greenbaum allows every joke and gag to go one step further without going too far and killing the punchline.
It’s one big romp that includes full blown musical numbers with a large chorus of dancers. Even the production design is in on the fun as the resort Barb and Star stay at is on point with a gaudy look that hasn’t been renovated in decades.
It’s refreshing to see this kind of good-spirited, over the top comedy. It’s part spy comedy like Austin Powers and part buddy adventure comedy. It almost shouldn’t work as a movie, and yet, it completely does.
I was ready to watch it all over again as soon as the final credits ended. And yes, you’ll want to sit through the credits for even more.
RATING: 4 out of 5 TICKET STUBS