Reviews & More: Good Ingredients

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“Nomadland”

“Nomadland” (Hulu) I don’t use the word “masterpiece” very often, but “Nomadland” deserves the appellation here, for sure. Chinese-born director Chloe Zhao and lead actress Frances McDormand have created a stunning, unconventional film about a world most of us are not aware of. The economic ups and downs of capitalism have created a group of people whose homes are their RVs or campers or vans; they have usually lost everything and make their way to where the work is, seasonal and temporary. Fern, McDormand’s character, goes from December work at Amazon to scrubbing public restrooms to waiting tables to loading and unloading piles of rocks in the desert. Along the way, she makes friends with other nomads, a yearly high point being a gathering in Arizona of like-minded folks who teach the newcomers how to deal with their often dangerous existence. Zhao’s meticulous pacing, editing and script; gorgeous camerawork by Joshua James Richards; haunting music by Ludovico Einaudi; and real-life nomads, not actors, take us deep into the world they live in. Most of the dialogue feels improvised, whether or not it is. The film has a documentary feel but it’s not—it’s an adaptation from a nonfiction book by Jessica Bruder. Throughout, McDormand’s performance as Fern—with a face that has no vanity, only truth; eyes that reveal all the pain she has lived; and a smile to warm the heart of the coldest soul—she is the heart of it all and McDormand proves, once again, that she is among the finest actresses of her generation. 

 

“I Care a Lot” (Netflix) It’s a shame that a wonderful cast (Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Dianne Wiest, Chris Messina) and a script (by the director J Blakeson) with sharp dialogue and a tone that goes back and forth between amusing and horrifying doesn’t add up to something I can heartily recommend. Why? It’s about interactions among a group of individuals who are totally amoral, greedy and self-centered. Pike plays a scam artist who is supposed to look out for the elderly; Dinklage is a Russian mafia drug smuggler with a short fuse who kills people as easily as flicking away a piece of lint. There’s an easily corruptible M.D. and the same goes for the manager of an old age home. None of them have saving graces—I mean, none—which means we have absolutely no one to root for or care about and that makes sitting there for nearly two hours pretty  bleak going. You might as well read every news story about how the government, big pharma, billion-dollar corporations and your family doctor are all out to get you—and it’s the truth, not paranoia. Not good, right? Depressing. Feelings of bitterness. Not sure if life is worth living. Yes, I’m exaggerating but you get my drift. On the other hand, if this sounds like your cup of (poisonous) tea, go for it. 

“Clarice” (CBS) “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991) was one of the truly great films of the late 20th century. Jodie Foster’s indelible portrait of FBI profiler Clarice Starling contributed greatly to its success. Now we have an FBI procedural, “Clarice,” which takes place a year later. Clarice is still having nightmares, still suffering from PTSD, forced to see a psychiatrist and trying to keep her sanity with a basement office job at the bureau. The pilot does a good job of catching us up, but it certainly would be best if the viewer has seen the original movie. The formula is in place and nicely handled: Exposition? First 10 minutes. First step to pulling her out of the basement? A serial killer and her being forced on a special unit investigating it. Conflict? The head of the unit doesn’t like or trust her. Best friend to run things by? Check. Plot turn? Maybe not a serial killer. Violent confrontation, case solved, sort of—more to come. It’s usually in episode two that a series begins to show if it has legs. I watched it and I still don’t know. It features a new case (a Waco-like compound), new challenges… let’s be clear, all police procedurals have a main hero who wins the day, every time, so that’s not new. I’m pretty sure I’ll continue watching—for a while, anyway. Let me know how you feel. I’d be interested.