Rated R for some full nudity. Opened Feb. 19 in select theaters and available on Hulu.
The cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Swankie and Bob Wells.
What it’s about: Following the destruction of her job and rural Nevada town in 2008’s economic collapse, Fern (McDormand) packs some basic necessities into her van and sets off to live as a modern-day nomad. Rather than attempt to rebuild her life according the stereotypical American Dream, Fern explores what it’s like outside of conventional society.
The good: McDormand’s new collaboration with filmmaker Chloé Zhao (which was the Atlanta Film Critics Circle’s choice for Best Picture of 2020) should remind audiences that we often take the actress’ brilliance for granted. Her dialogue is steeped in realism — especially her interactions with actual nomads like May, Swankie and Wells, as well as beloved character actor Strathairn — which makes the film feel like a documentary rather than a fictional narrative.
Because there are no grand monologues or Sorkin-esque one-liners, it seems like cinema verité.
“Nomadland” eschews a typical three-act structure and meanders at a deliberate pace, allowing viewers to get a sense of Fern’s day-to-day existence and her interactions with fellow travelers. There’s a poetry to each scene that takes some getting used to — especially since our fast-paced lives have destroyed most of our attention spans — but it pays off in emotionally resonant ways.
Thanks to Joshua James Richards’ cinematography and Ludovico Einaudi’s score (which is one of my new favorites), every scene is beautiful, even when there’s nothing inherently dramatic happening onscreen.
The not-so-good: The lack of traditional plotting in “Nomadland,” along with its unhurried pace, will likely be off-putting for some. However, viewers who hang in there will find their patience rewarded.
I’m also annoyed by the film’s ridiculous R-rating, earned because of “full nudity.” Frankly, it’s a stupid decision; the nudity in question occurs during a brief scene where Fern bathes in a river. It isn’t meant to be sexual or titillating — she’s just getting cleaned up. I doubt there are a ton of teens dying to see “Nomadland,” but for parents concerned about the film’s content, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be PG-13.
“Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar”
Rated PG-13 for crude sexual content, drug use and some strong language. Now available on VOD.
The cast: Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo and Jamie Dornan.
What it’s about: After losing their jobs, best friends Barb (Mumolo)
and Star (Wiig) decide to leave their small Midwestern town for the first time to go on vacation in Vista Del Mar, Florida. They arrive just as a ridiculous supervillain (also Wiig) and her handsome, dimwitted henchman (Dornan) begin to execute their diabolical scheme to kill everyone in town with genetically engineered mosquitoes. Love, adventure and a hilarious musical number ensue.
The good: This weird, bonkers comedy wasn’t remotely on my radar until it blew up my Twitter feed last week. I was fortunate enough to get a screener and I’m so glad I did. I probably haven’t laughed so hard at a ridiculous premise since “Hot Rod” back in 2007.
“Barb and Star” is much different in tone than Wiig and Mumolo’s previous effort “Bridesmaids,” which was a brilliant decision on their part. Attempting to recapture the magic of that funny, emotionally raw kind of storytelling would’ve been almost impossible, so they went in a totally different direction. Instead of cringe comedy, they shoot for something closer to “MacGruber” or “Austin Powers.”
The flick is destined to be a cult classic thanks to the nonsensical plot, constant barrage of random one-liners and a sweet, heartfelt relationship at its core. Plus, viewers who only know Dornan from the “Fifty Shades” movies are going to be shocked at how hilarious he is as the baddie who’s torn between his desire to successfully complete his mission and his attraction to Star.
The not-so-good: “Barb and Star” isn’t designed for everyone’s sensibilities, particularly those with an aversion to nonsense. However, those who love goofy comedies like “Anchorman” are going to have a blast.
Not rated, but contains strong language, violence and sexuality. Now playing in select theaters and VOD.
The cast: Nicolas Cage, Emily Tosta and Beth Grant.
What it’s about: Cage plays a quiet loner who finds himself stranded in the middle of nowhere after his car blows a tire. The mechanic doesn’t take credit cards, so he agrees to work off his debt cleaning up Willy’s Wonderland, an abandoned Chuck E. Cheese-style family restaurant that the owner is planning to reopen. However, the townspeople have an ulterior motive: they plan to use the new janitor as a human sacrifice to appease the possessed animatronic mascots who reside there. But this time they picked the wrong victim.
The good: If that brief synopsis sounds like an insane fever dream that you have to see to believe, I’ve got good news. Writer G.O. Parsons and director Kevin Lewis have crafted 90 minutes of dumb, schlocky fun that delivers on everything promised above.
The premise of “Willy’s Wonderland” is definitely “inspired” by (we’ll go with
that instead of rip-off) recent horror properties like the “Five Nights at Freddy’s” video game series and “The Banana Splits Movie,” but there’s nothing scary about it. Everyone involved knows exactly what kind of flick they’re making, so they go through the proceedings with tongue planted firmly in cheek the whole time.
Fans of Cage’s “unique” acting style will be happy to know he commits fully to the goofy premise. His unnamed character doesn’t seem a bit surprised to find himself in a battle against demonic robots. He just gets right to work taking them out and returning to his cleaning duties. The wildest part? He doesn’t speak a word the entire movie.
Aside from Grant — the phenomenal character actress who plays the town sheriff — the performers are there to provide a body count, so nobody makes much of an impression. But I don’t think the flick’s target demo is going to be too heartbroken.
The not-so-good: “Willy’s Wonderland” is the epitome of disposable — fun while you’re watching, but it instantly evaporates from your mind the moment the credits roll. But that’s to be expected from a silly B-movie, and it allows for repeat viewings if viewers want to give it another shot.