Nomadland

A woman living out of her van travels the country in search of inner peace in this lovely collection of moments anchored by Frances McDormand’s performance.

The film opens with two titles explaining that there was a factory town in Empire Nevada. The factory shut down in 2011, and within six months the town was empty and their post code was discontinued.

The film follows Frances McDormand as Fern. She travels all over the country, living out of her van, and taking any work she can find. Along the way she encounters challenges and makes friends and comes to terms with the life she used to have.

This movie is difficult to describe because there is no plot. It’s really just a collection of vignettes. Brief moments that add up to a whole experience. It is made up of incredibly short scenes. One scene involves Fern working a job cleaning a bathroom. A guy enters. She says it’s closed. He ignores her and uses the urinal next to her. She rolls her eyes and walks out. That’s the whole scene. On its own it’s nothing, and honestly a lot of the movie is forgettable to me because of that. While not much on their own these tiny little moments do add up to an experience that is felt more than anything.

Frances McDormand does good work, but she’s up against real people. she’s striving for authenticity where the rest of the inhabitants of the movie are authentic people. It often feels like an actress has stepped into a documentary about nomads.

There is only one truly dramatic moment. It comes at the 55 minute mark. I know because I had a strong emotional reaction. My heart stopped, and my stomach sank. It came out of nowhere which is why I checked the time. The funny thing about it is that in any other movie it wouldn’t have been anything. But because of the way this movie works it really hit me.

The movie feels as if it was assembled from deleted bits of a different movie. Like they shot a and edited more traditional film, then took all the bits they cut out of that film, and put them together to make this one. I kept saying to myself “there should be more to that scene” and “they cut away too soon.” Especially toward the end where the film is building to its conclusion and ultimate thematic point. I wish it had given us more.

This movie is a quiet collection of tiny moments that add up to a picture of a lifestyle. If that sounds like your cup of tea then please give it a watch on Hulu or in theaters. If it’s not what you’re into then it’s going to be a challenging viewing experience.

For me this type of movie isn’t my cup of tea. They’re usually too artsy and self important. This one worked better for me than most. I give credit to the director Chloe Zhao for weaving it together. That said it’s only like have a cup of tea for me. B

It’s just been nominated for a slew of Golden Globes. You’ll be hearing about this one all through awards season.

I Care A Lot

Rosamund Pike and Peter Dinklage give great performances in a mediocre that isn’t saying nearly as much as it thinks it is.

The movie follows Marla Grayson played by Rosamund Pike. She is a professional care giver and legal guardian to dozens of elderly people. She takes legal guardianship of those with dementia and declining mental health. She ticks them away in a Carr facility. She sells their property and drains their bank accounts until they die.

The problem of abuse within the guardianship system is very real in this country. People are having their freedom taken away and their finances ruined by a deeply flawed system.

The movie vividly depicts this system of abuse in its opening half hour in which Marla finds Jennifer Peterson, played by Diane Wiest. Jennifer is getting older, but she’s lucid and in control of herself. But that doesn’t stop Jennifer’s doctor from declaring Jennifer unwell and in need of help after Marla pays her off.

This early depiction of the guardian system is horrifying. I was in knots watching this woman’s life get dismantled by these people. knowing that this kind of thing happens in real life gave it so much more weight and horror for me.

Unfortunately the movie diverts from reality from there. I try not to spoil things in my review, but I’m probably going to get into spoiler territory from here on out.

It turns out that Jennifer has ties to the Russian mafia. Peter Dinklage is the head of the mafia and wants her out of Marla’s control. The rest of the film is a battle of wills between Marla and Dinklage.

The movie launches headfirst into thriller territory and it totally lost me. It squandered so much potential to tell a real story about the human cost of this kind of amoral greed, but it went the fantastical route. There are scenes of mob bosses making big threats and torturing people. There’s a gunfight in an old folks home. There’s a scene stolen straight from Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. The movie could have said so much about the guardian system and instead turns into a generic crime thriller.

It’s especially generic in the way it’s shot. This is some of the most bland cinematography I’ve ever seen. Everything is shot in bright even lighting. There is no style to any of the shots. It’s just mediums and closeups in generic daylight. Toward the end there are some night shots, but even these are shot with bland light. There’s not subjective camera work or story telling going on.

This is indicative of a bigger problem for me. The movie seems to have no point of view. It doesn’t condemn the guardian program. It doesn’t look down on its protagonists or even its antagonists. Peter Dinklage is involved in drug smuggling and human trafficking, but he isn’t depicted as evil or even scary. Marla does horrible things, and her only justification is that she wants to be rich. and she’s supposed to be our hero! Maybe this lack of point of view is supposed to be some kind of statement, but it doesn’t feel like it. And whatever message is totally unclear which nullifies it.

All that said Rosamund Pile really is fantastic as Marla. She is an awful person, yet she’a vividly watchable. She’s charming and engaging despite her villainy. She gives a wonderful person in a movie that doesn’t deserve her.

This movie really isn’t my cup of tea. It squanders its opportunity to say something and it stumbles as a thriller. It has a Golden Globe nominated performance from Pike, but otherwise there’s not much here. It’s currently streaming on Netflix if you want to check it out, but I think you can skip it. C+

Palm Springs

Propelled by explosive energy and a driving pace this movie takes a little bit of every time loop movie that has come before to create a vibrant romantic comedy.

Released on Hulu over the summer this movie follows Nyles and Sarah two wedding guests who get stuck in an infinite time loop and relive the wedding day over and over.

Sarah, played by Cristin Milioti, wakes up on her sisters wedding day with a messy past and a lot of regrets. She meets Nyles played by Andy Samberg, a guest at the wedding who seems a little off.

When Sarah’s maid of honor speech goes horribly wrong Nyles swoops in the save her. They head into the desert for a little canoodling when Nyles is inexplicably attacked. He is injured in crawls into a glowing cave. Sarah follows him and finds herself trapped reliving the same day on repeat. She and Nyles band together to survive their current situation.

There’s a concept in screenwriting about paying off the promise of your premise. It’s also called fun and games. It usually happens in the second act, and Palm Springs has one of the best payoffs I’ve seen. It’s second act is so much fun. These two explore everything you can do in a time loop. They party. They explore. They play pranks. They get arrested. They learn a dance routine and perform in a bar. It’s a ton of fun.

What Sets this one apart for me is the way it explores what comes after all the fun and games. These two begin to feel the hopelessness of their situation and start to really grapple with the consequences of their actions. The time loop becomes a metaphor for moving on from your past mistakes and breaking free from cycles of self destructive behavior.

Cristin Milioti and Andy Samberg are spectacular. Samberg tones done his doofier impulses and commits to a worn down guy stuck in this one day. Milioti gives a stellar performance as a woman who is lost and realizes she has to break herself free from her mistakes. She’s fierce and determined and just bursting with energy. I love these two.

There are moments that don’t work and scenes that fall flat. I hate big embarrassing speeches in front of crowds. It gets off to a bit of a rocky start for me. I had to warm up to it a little, but once I got into it, I was all in.

It is a hard R movie. There is sex, violence, and some gross out humor. If you’re looking for a sweet good natured time loop movie The Map of Tiny Perfect Things might be more your speed. If you want a more hardcore time loop experience check our Palm Springs. (Streaming on Hulu)

It’s definitely my cup of tea. A-

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things

We all know time loop movies. It’s the Groundhog Day formula. A character is stuck in a time loop repeating the same day over and over until they are able to break free. These movies really need to do something special to distinguish themselves.

What distinguishes The Map of Tiny Perfect Things now streaming on Amazon? Well it’s low key charm and the way it makes it’s time loop about something more than just a gimmick.

The film follows two high schoolers Margaret and Mark who are already deep into their respective time loops. Mark, played by Kyle Allen, has the day pretty much memorized at this point and uses the repeated day as a means of getting a girl. One day though things change when Margaret, played by Kathryn Newton, storms through his life. They decide de to try to break through the time loop by finding every perfect little moment that typically goes unnoticed during the day.

The leads are charming and charismatic. They have an easy chemistry and make the journey fun. The film throws a few wrinkles into their relationship, so that it never feels like an inevitable straight line. I enjoyed them both thoroughly especially Kathryn Newton.

Where the film surprised me and won me over was in the final act. I don’t want to give anything away, but the fun and games shift. The time loop takes on a more metaphorical or thematic nature rather than a strictly literal time loop. The movie dives into an exploration of moving on, feeling trapped, and not wanting things to change. It takes on more emotional resonance as it explores Margaret’s character and her story. To me this is where the movie really begins to click into place. It takes a long albeit charming road to get there, but it does get to a place that works for me on an emotional level.

I liked that this movie didn’t go for the big gags and bits these movies often do. There aren’t any big death scenes or slapstick violence. I appreciated that the movie took a different approach. It’s a more youthful optimistic approach to the time loop.

In the end, I think this is a nice Sunday afternoon movie. It has that easy going charm. It’s funny. It’s pleasant. It’s leads are good company. It has a strong emotional story that works nicely to offset the premise. I can definitely recommend this one.

It’s my cup of tea. B+

Judas and the Black Messiah

Part thriller, part biopic, and part historical tragedy this enthralling film features two unforgettable performances and incredible story telling that has a lot to say about the world then and now.

I think it helps to have a little history before stepping into the movie especially if your only experience with the Black Panthers is that one scene in Forrest Gump. Fred Hampton was a charismatic young leader in the Chicago chapter of the BlackPanther party. Their primary function was to provide meals for children, and support for families in the black community. Hampton’s outspoken views landed him the crosshairs of Hoover and the FBI.

The movie tells Hampton’s story from the point of view of Bill O’Neal a small time car thief who gets picked up by the cops and is threatened with serious jail time unless he joins the Black Panthers and becomes an informant for the FBI.

LaKeith Stanfield plays O’Neal as a mass of contradictions and contradictory impulses. He’s pulled in different directions. He admires his FBI handler Mitchell played by Jesse Plemmons, but he also sees real value in the Panthers. Stanfield has been a fascinating actor for years. Here he harnesses all his idiosyncrasies to paint an incredible portrait of this man.

The performance that captured me completely was Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton. Holy crap he was amazing. He completely embodies Hampton. His charisma is undeniable, and I was completely entranced the entire time. You never catch him acting in this movie. He simply is Fred Hampton. He deserves all the superlatives. People describe performances are “arresting,” “powerful,” and “stellar” all the time. Kaluuya deserves them all. He’s awesome.

The movie is really incredible the more I think about it. It is intense and suspenseful. It is touching and beautiful. It offers incredible insight into a fascinating chapter in history.

Because the movie isn’t a straightforward biopic, it resists the pitfalls of most biopics. It never tries to canonize its subjects. Hampton and O’Neal are real people with real flaws. It doesn’t try to pretend the ugliness and contradictions didn’t exist in them. It also makes their lives about so much more than just their deaths. Historical biopics often depict their subjects deaths as the most important moments in their lives. By putting Hampton’s ideas and his beliefs at the forefront the movie does a service to his life and legacy.

Finally the movie is entertaining. It’s not a civics lesson or a lecture. It is exciting and challenging and thought provoking. Give this movie a shot. It’s well worth it. It’s streaming on HBO Max.

It’s was definitely my cup of tea. A+

Last note, the title threw me at first. It’s a reference to a J Edgar Hoover memo in which he stated that they had to prevent a “black messiah” from rising up in the black community to unite them.

The Mystery of DB Cooper

This fascinating documentary covers the greatest unsolved heist in American history and explores the obsession with uncovering Coopers identity.

For those unfamiliar with the case, in November 1971, a man who came to be known as DB Cooper hijacked s plane and demanded $2000,000 in ransom. He got his money and jumped out of the plane to an unknown fate. He was never heard from again.

The film covers the facts of the case in great detail, but it never lets the pacing get bogged down in dates and discussions of airplane altitude. This is a movie about stories and story telling. The facts are recounted, but they are given life by the interviews with the people who were there.

Where the film gets really interesting is when it explores what happened after the hijacking. Over the years the FBI received thousands of confessions all claiming that they were DB Cooper.

The movie interviews dozens of people all claiming to know who Cooper was. A man who wanders the wilderness looking for Cooper’s remains is convinced he died. A couple whose friend Barbara confessed that she was Cooper over drinks. A woman claims her uncle disappeared to Mexico after the hijacking and must be Cooper. A woman has spent years following the trail of breadcrumbs her husband left leading her to believe he was Cooper.

This is where the movie gets really interesting. Everyone has an explanation they firmly believe in. Everyone is convinced that they know for sure who Cooper was. They are one hundred percent convinced they have the truth. It doesn’t matter that their unshakable conviction comes from very flimsy circumstantial evidence. They believe it, and that’s all that counts.

I really enjoyed that side of the film. In the beginning we’re given the mystery, then we get to hear everyone’s explanations for that mystery. Where I think some people might be frustrated is that the movie doesn’t try to give an answer. It doesn’t take anyone’s side. Instead, it asks the question; why do we need to know? Knowing Cooper’s identity isn’t going to bring the money back. This November will be the 50th anniversary of the hijacking. Cooper has likely long since passed away. Why obsess over this case? What gives our lives meaning?

Those are some heavy questions, but don’t be fooled. The movie is a lot of fun. It zips by with a fast pace that never sacrifices the story. It has a fascinating group of subjects. It feels like the best of a true crime podcast. It has really fun twists and turns. And some great truth is stranger than fiction moments.

Overall it’s a fun and engaging documentary you can check out now on HBO Max. It asks some good questions. It shares some great history. And it introduces us to some fascinating people. It’s a great documentary for your Friday night.

It was my cup of tea. A

Soul

Pixar has crafter a beautiful if completely predictable afterlife adventure that pushes the visuals bounds of animation while adhering to a well trodden formula.

The movie follows Joe a middle-aged music teacher with the dreams and skills to be a professional jazz musician. he has lived his life in single-minded pursuit of this goal. One day he gets his big break, but he falls down an open manhole and ends up in the afterlife. Joe tries desperately to get back into his own body in order to continue to pursue his musical dreams.

The movie is beautiful. The animation is on another level. Compare the look and feel of this movie to any other animated film, and its superlative quality is immediately apparent. Pixar has found a way to duplicate the qualities of an actual camera in their animation. They use soft focus to accentuate intimacy. They create a lifelike lighting scheme that accurately duplicates sunlight. Creating a beautiful moment late in the film when Joe catches a fallen helicopter seed. Their attention to detail and the quality of the output are stunning.

They also embrace surrealist and expressive imagery in this film in a way I haven’t seen Pixar do. It called to mind Fantasia or the best abstract work from early Disney. When Joe gets into the zone while playing piano, expressive colors and images fill the world around him and show us what jazz looks like. The afterlife is a gloriously odd creation that embraces this surrealist aesthetic and gives us a vision of the afterlife unlike any other.

The problem with the movie is the utterly predictable plotting. You can set your watch by this movie. At the five minute mark there’s going to be an inciting incident that changes Joes world. At the ten minute mark Joe will be thrust into an amazing adventure. At the 45 minute mark there’s going to be a twist. At twenty minutes to the end the main characters are going to split up in a manufactured argument which will launch us into a action packed conclusion.

If you’ve seen a Pixar movie, you know what’s going to happen and when. Really if you’ve seen a major blockbuster in the last ten years you know what will happen and when. They all follow the standard heroes journey three act structure. For all their visual invention, they need to invest in a new story structure.

This didn’t ruin the movie for me. I was still moved by the ending. I laughed when an accidental switch is made. I found the questions it raised about life thought provoking. But I found I didn’t fully engage with the movie. The predictable nature of the plot just felt artificial to me. I never got into the story because the machinations behind the story were too obvious. I couldn’t suspend my disbelief.

I want to end on a positive note and comment on the wonderful voice cast. Jamie Foxx is great as Joe. Tina Fey is delightful as an unborn spirit. Richard Ayoade brings his wonderful off kilter timing to an afterlife entity. Alice Braga has this soothing calm she brings to her character. Graham Norton and Rachel House both bring their A game. It’s a truly great voice they’ve assembled.

It’s a solid technical outing with some great moments and a nice message. It just needed more surprise or invention in its story for it to really shine.

Mostly my cup of tea. B

No Holds Barred

We love good bad movies These are movies that are so bad they’re good. They’re movies that are made with enthusiasm but without skill. They are movies that are so misguided that they end up being fun to watch despite their failings. Is this action movie from the 80’s a good bad movie or just just a bad movie? Listen to our thoughts below…

Listen to our three minute review here

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Malcolm and Marie

Now streaming on Netflix, this movie is a well acted, beautifully shot disappointment. It has everything going for it except a script and a story.

The film stars John David Washington and Zendaya as Malcolm and Marie respectively. Malcolm is a filmmaker who has just premiered his breakout movie. At the premiere he made a big speech and forgot to thank Marie. This is doubly hurtful to her considering the movie is partially based on her life. An argument about this lack of gratitude tears a whole in their relationship and all the resentments and hostilities they’ve been bottling up come spilling out.

I talk all the time in reviews about acting and cinematography. Both elements are incredibly important to me especially in dramas. Without flashy special effects or action, you have to have great performances and compelling visuals to make a successful film. This movie has outstanding actors giving it their all and truly gorgeous cinematography. Unfortunately it doesn’t have much else. Without the rest it’s a hollow and forgettable endeavor.

The story here is nonexistent. It’s two people talking about events that took place in the past. What happens in the movie? They argue, then they seem to make up. This making up leads to sexual activity that quickly descends back into arguing about their past. Then they make up and almost have sex, but they quickly descend back into arguing about their past yet. This pattern continues until the film runs out of gas. It gets tiresome after about an hour. The problem is once I hit the hour mark, I checked and there was another forty five minutes left.

Some of the things they argue about are very compelling. They have a very interesting argument about carrying resentments and holding on to grudges. They have an engaging debate about telling your own story and authorship, but for the most part it’s just them yelling at each other about stuff that they did in the past. Most of the yelling takes place in long drawn out monologues. Big speeches designed to give the actors something to chew on. And chew they do, but when they aren’t saying something interesting it just becomes a lot of yelling.

This is some really good yelling, don’t get me wrong. Yelling isn’t always very good in movies, but this is some grade A yelling. John David Washington has a 7 minute rant in which he does battle with himself about a mixed review for his film. He’s great in the scene. I think what he’s saying is self centered, egotistical, crap, but he’s yelling it with conviction.

When they aren’t arguing about their sordid past, they’re arguing about movies. This is a movie made by filmmakers for filmmakers complaining about the film industry. That’s definitely compelling stuff if you’re a filmmaker pondering the eternal questions about film, but to an average viewer it’s just going to look like privileged people whining. They are working in one of the most exclusive industries in the world. They are living in a massive house that Malcolm’s production company paid for, and they are complaining about mixed reviews that were mostly positive.

Now it’s my turn to be positive. This movie was shot on black and white 35mm film. It looks amazing! I loved looking at this movie. I didn’t like listening to it, but I loved looking at it. It is seriously one of the most beautifully shot movies I’ve seen in a long time. It is stunning. They have incredible shots in this movie that convey so much subtext. Marie standing on a porch smoking, while Malcolm walks outside and stands in the yard. They are separated by a huge gulf of space, but contained within one shot. It’s glorious stuff. There’s an early scene in which Malcolm paces the living room. The camera follows Malcolm until it settles on Marie in key moments. Great stuff! I love the look of this movie!

Zendaya and Washington have great chemistry. They are truly equals in this movie. They listen and respond in kind to their scene partner. They have a wonderful give and take. Zendaya has moments of deeply felt emotional resonance. Washington tells her he loves her in a stunning close up that is deeply felt. It’s great acting.

Too bad it is a terrible script. I wish I could get over the script, but I can’t. I wanted to love this movie, but the movie falls apart completely because of the script. I’ve been trying to boil down my problems with the script. I think it comes down to one thing.

The first is that it never makes me care about their relationship. After five minutes I knew they should break up. They have a toxic relationship in which they are constantly tearing each other down and trying to hurt each other. They weaponize each other’s mistake to hurt each other in the arguments. I just wanted them to break up and walk away. I should’ve wanted them to work through it and stay together. Instead I just wanted them to break up and walk away.

I wanted to like this movie! I just couldn’t. I love the acting. I love the look, but I definitely think you can skip this one. Not really my cup of tea. C+