Thursday, December 31, 2020

3 Mini-Reviews: NOMADLAND, FIRST COW, KAJILLIONAIRE

December 31, 2020

NOMADLAND

Written and Directed by Chloe Zhao

A widow in her 60s named Fern lost her home in the town of Empire during the recession in the late 2000s. She decided to go on her van (which she named Vanguard) to hit on the road and live the life of a nomad in the American West. She went from town to town getting whatever job she could get (in Amazon warehouses, in a beet farm, etc.) to earn a living. She met different people along the way and talked to them about their families, their jobs, their illnesses, and their lives in general. 

This acclaimed film written, directed, edited and produced by Chloe Zhao was a meditative journey into slices of real life in America's heartland captured in breathtaking cinematic images. Zhao just wisely allowed real-life modern-day nomads to tell their own stories, almost like a documentary in style. As Fern, a gritty Frances McDormand blended right in with the other nomads, giving a quiet performance that so restrained, yet so starkly honest and naked, wearing her heart right out on there her sleeve. 

This quiet film may not not for everyone as there was no real plot, but the seemingly pointless, rambling nature of "Nomadland" had its own charm. The non-actors around McDormand and David Straithairn (playing David, a fellow nomad who became close with Fern) had been chosen well, remarkable in their ability to deliver lines without being self-conscious. A lot of scenes only had gentle music or even utter silence accompanying the images onscreen, but they were nonetheless magnetic and poetic. 8/10.


FIRST COW

Written and Directed by Kelly Reichardt

In the 1820s in the Oregon Territory was a place where men gathered while seeking their fortunes in the gold mines of the West. One of these men was Otis "Cookie" Figowitz (John Magaro), a shy introverted cook from Maryland. One night, he helped a hide a fugitive Chinese man King-Lu (Orion Lee) who was in hiding from authorities who wanted to arrest him for murdering someone. 

Sometime later, the two chanced upon each other again in another settlement, and Lu invited Cookie to go live with him in his makeshift shack. There was a rich man Chief Factor (Toby Jones) who had brought in a dairy cow into their community. One day, Lu thought of stealing milk from the cow at night, so Cookie can bake cookies. Tasting how delicious the cookies were, Lu had the idea of selling them in the market, where the cookies became a big hit.

The dark comedy aspect came in when Chief Factor himself became a big fan of Cookie's baked goodies, while he was grumbling why his cow does not give him any milk. This was a slow-burn tale of friendship between two men as they coped with the rough life in the wilderness, as told by writer-director Kelly Reichardt. Cookie's gentle character and Lu's practical smarts shine right through the cold and dirty settings, giving the film an engaging warmth. 8/10. 


KAJILLIONAIRE

Written and Directed by: Miranda July

The Dynes are a family of petty thieves and con artists, just lived on the barest minimum . Whatever they earn out of their con jobs, they split evenly three ways, Mr. and Mrs Dyne (Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger) and their 26-year old daughter named Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood). The family relationship had been strictly business all this time, with Old Dolio treated as a partner in crime than as a daughter. 

Because they needed to come up with more than a thousand dollars to pay off the back rentals they owed for their living quarters, Old Dolio cooked up a major scheme to scam an airline for losing her luggage. Her parents picked up a charming fellow passenger on the plane, Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), to be their accomplice. Later, Old Dolio noticed that her parents were actually being sweeter to Melanie than they had ever been to her. 

From the very start, this film will immediately strike you as being quirky, with every character quite unlikable given their behavior and the things they did for their living. The oddball character of Old Dolio was unfashionable, aloof and bizarre, but writer-director Miranda July still managed to make us connect with her emotionally. What happened the morning after Old Dolio's birthday dinner was a total "what-the-hell" shocker I never saw coming. 7/10. 



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