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By Vernor Rodgers
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"NOBODY"

As summer approaches, the question is whether there will be a summer blockbuster season, a tradition that started in 1975 with the release of "Jaws" and then took a break in 2020 with the pandemic. The effects of that have continued into the spring months of 2021 with few movies being released in theaters. It was telling that at my local AMC theater, the latest release, "Nobody," hardly expected to be of blockbuster proportions, was booked into multiple auditoriums, with hourly showtimes,  something you would expect with, say, the newest Marvel comics adaptation.

As it turned out, "Nobody" was the No. 1 hit at the box office of the March 26 weekend, but its haul of a little less than $7 million illustrates how much more the movie theater business must rebound to attain normalcy.

Actually, "Nobody" is a pretty decent action adventure. It's violent for sure, with an astounding body count, but also with touches of humor and humanity. Its star is Bob Odenkirk, a writer as well as an actor known mostly for his four-time Grammy Award-winning work as Jimmy McGill in "Better Call Saul."

Like Liam Neeson, Odenkirk, who will be 59 later this year, is tackling a hero adventure role well into middle age. The movie is based upon an idea Odenkirk came up with after a real-life experience of his home being burgled and the subsequent frustrations of no justice. The concept was adapted to the screen by Derek Kolstad, who brought the Jack Reacher stories to the screen. It was directed by Ilya Nashuller, who got his action directing chops from a movie he co-wrote and helmed, "Hardcore Henry."

As "Nobody" opens, Odenkirk, as Hutch Mansell, is in an interrogation room, feeding a stray cat. He looks like hell, as if he has been in an action movie. Two law enforcement agents stare at him and finally ask,  "Who ARE you?"

Well, nobody. The movie goes into a quick rundown of his life. A mundane desk job at a manufacturing plant owned by his father-in-law. He regularly fails to get his garbage can out to the curb in time for the trash pickup. He slurps his coffee, jogs, does pull-ups at the bus stop and engages in his share of the cooking. He seems to have a stable if stale home life with his wife Bekka (Connie Nielsen), teen son Blake (Gage Munroe) and pre-teen daughter Abby (Paisley Cadorath), the latter who adores him while insisting they should get a cat.

One night a male and female break into the Mansell house. The duo doesn't get much -- some cash, Hutch's watch and Abby's Kitty Cat bracelet. Even though Hutch can disarm the situation, he does not, letting the burglars go, to the dismay of Bekka and especially Blake.

Hutch appears haunted by this and the hints are that Hutch has had a past in which he was a government-trained asset programmed to be ruthless and lethal, and like John Rambo, his adjustment to a civlian lifestyle is awkward. Much like Rambo, it is an incident, in this case the burglary, that has triggered dormant violent instincts.

He responds by tracking down the burglars, and while he gets his watch back, the bracelet remains missing and once again Hutch has to pull back on his instincts when facing the criminals.

On the bus going home, Hutch's brooding is interrupted when a group of drunken young punks, having crashed their vehicle, get on the bus. When they start harassing a young woman on the bus, Hutch goes into Paul Kersey mode a la "Death Wish," venting his frustrations. A brutal brawl breaks out, and we see Hutch is no Jason Statham character (Statham has a movie due out, "Wrath of Man"), able to beat the crap out of people while barely breaking into a sweat or suffering any injuries. In the aftermath, he is seriously messed up, but can walk home. Meanwhile, all the young punks end up in the hospital.

Wouldn't you know it, one of the punks -- likely permanently brain damaged from the fight -- is the younger brother of a Russian Mafia bigwig, Yulian (Alexey Serebryakov), who naturally is bent on revenge and has a seemingly endless roster of goons to help him carry it out.

Hutch has a few allies -- his (half?) brother Harry (RZA) who seems to be another former government asset trying to live an anonymous life, and his aging father David (Christopher Lloyd), who seems to be wasting away in a rest home.

When Yulian's gang attacks the Mansell home, Hutch treats this as a breach of professional courtesy, and as Bugs Bunny would say, "This means war."

A humorous element of "Nobody" is that we learn about Hutch's past as he tells it to people he has mortally injured, sending them to the great beyond with the story of his past. But most expire before he finishes his talk. But we do learn he was an "auditor," which he describes as "the last person you want to see at your door." He recalls an episode in which he was supposed to sanction a guy for crimes against the government but instead lets him go. A bit later he checks in on the guy and finds the man has completely  rehabilitated. This serves as an epiphany for Hutch, who believes he too can "rehabilitate" from his ultra-violent job. But now he has doubts.

Hutch gets help from his brother and dad -- it is a delight see Lloyd in bad-ass mode. Though seriously outnumbered, Hutch has a plan. He buys the factory his father-in-law (Michael  Ironside -- when did he get so old?) owns but wants to sell so he can retire. Hutch then sets up the facility as a booby-trapped and well-supplied-with-weapons fortress so he can draw Yulian and what seems like a couple hundred armed goons into the trap. Per usual a lot of bullets get fired but very few hit the good guys.

"Nobody" is a good lead-in to what we hope will be a return to the guilty pleasures of action movies to devour along with popcorn during the summer months.

 "NOBODY" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/8VlBkajjQm4

"NOMADLAND"

A nomad is defined as a member of a people who have no fixed residence but move from place to place usually seasonally and within a well-defined territory. Or simply a person who roams around. It is interesting that to this day there are nomadic people, even in the United States. Writer Jessica Bruder wrote a book about it and director-writer Chloe Zhao has adapted it for the screen in what is the critically acclaimed film "Nomadland."

Frances McDormand, who first received notice when she was nominated for an Academy Award in 1989 for her role as the brutalized wife of a deputy in "Mississippi Burning," has won two Oscars -- "Fargo" and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" -- and has received a Golden Globe award as well as an Oscar nomination for her work as Fern on "Nomadland." Following the death of her husband and the end of her regular income when the sheetrock plant in her hometown of Empire, Nevada, shuts down, Fern adapts the nomad lifestyle. Leaving most of her belongings in storage, she converts her van into her living quarters. Cramped but mostly self-contained -- accept for the issue of climate control; one cannot run a vehicle's engine all night in order to keep the heater running -- the van, which she calls Vanguard, is her sanctuary as she travels around, mostly in the western part of the country. She is a seasonal employee at Amazon but otherwise is on the road, stopping wherever she can find work or at nomadic gatherings. She offers mostly a positive perspective on her circumstances. When the daughter of one of her acquaintances asks Fern if she is homeless, she replies, "No, I'm not homeless. I'm just house-less. Not the same thing, right?"

This film offers a "Route 66" and "The Fugitive" vibe, without all the adventure and drama. Fern is not one to wallow in self-pity. She is self-sufficient, and it seems the misfortune she suffered was actually a liberation; we learn as the movie progresses that Fern always was a restless spirit, and with the exception of her marriage, rarely had strong relationships in her life.

Fern does become sort of a peripheral part of the U.S. nomadic culture. Zhao cast actual nomads -- Swankie, Linda May and Bob Wells -- who really authenticate the nomad experience. Like Fern, these people prefer to take care of themselves and form a sense of community in looking out for each other, although things are transient -- people come and go.

But as Bob Wells points out: "One of the things I love most about this life is that there's no final goodbye. You know, I've met hundreds of people out here and I don't ever say a final goodbye. I always just say, 'I'll see you down the road'. And I do. And whether it's a month, or a year, or sometimes years, I see them again."

Bob again points out : "I think of an analogy as a work horse. The work horse that is willing to work itself to death, and then be put out to pasture. And that's what happens to so many of us. If society was throwing us away and sending us as the work horse out to the pasture, we, work horses have to gather together and take care of each other. And that's what this is all about. The way I see it is that the Titanic is sinking and economic times are changing. And so my goal is to get the lifeboats out and get as many people into the lifeboats as I can."

Fern also is inspired by Swankie, who at age 75 has terminal cancer but is refusing to quit although she has concluded," I'm gonna be 75 this year. I think I've lived a pretty good life. I've seen some really neat things kayaking all of those places." And she takes off, continuing her Earth's journey until her death.

The closest Fern comes to establishing a lasting relationship is when she meets Dave (David Strathairn), also a wanderer, alienated from his family. Dave is quite fond of Fern but she keeps him at arm's length. When Dave's son James (played by Strathairn's real son Tay) tracks him down and tells him he is about to become a grandfather, Fern urges the old man to go meet his grandson. Dave asks Fern to come along but sees her lack of enthusiasm and departs alone. Later Fern visits Dave, now grounded and living with his son and family, and enjoying a renewed life as a father and grandfather. Again Dave invites Fern to settle down with him, even saying she can live in a guest house, but she instead moves on.

Fern eventually returns to Empire, but it appears only to finally get rid of her belongings there.

"Nomadland" is a rich character study and an honest look at yet another subculture of America. But as one watches this film, you can grow to admire and even envy these people who have greatly simplified their lives and become very creative in building what is for them comfortable lifestyles with minimal expenses and a lot of genius in turning what most of us would discard into practical materials that help the nomads survive.

McDormand offers a nuanced performance. She often seems grim, but it is determination. She does see the beauty of nature and can maintain a sense of humor. Her friendship with Dave seems complex -- you sense there is a part of Fern that wants to return to the settled life she had in Empire. Yet part of her still is haunted. As she recalls to Swankie, "I've been thinking a lot about my husband, Bo. When it got really bad at the end, they had him in the hospital on morphine dripping. I was sitting there at night in the hospital. And . . . I'd wanna put my thumb down on that morphine drip just a little bit longer. So I could let him go. Maybe I should've tried harder. So he could've gone sooner without all that pain."

"Nomadland" leaves us guessing as to where Fern will go next and what she will do, but the mood is definitely positive. Or as Fern says, "We be the bitches of the badlands."

"Nomadland" is in limited release and available on Hulu.

"NOMADLAND" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/6sxCFZ8_d84

"FREAKY"

"Freaky," a movie released late in 2020 but didn't hit the theaters, at least in Tucson, until the onset of the pandemic, is now out on DVD and likely other platforms, and can be considered an R-rated variation on the "Freaky Friday" movies derived by the book by Mary Rodgers. Basically it is a story about two people who swap bodies as a result of some sort of magic.

But as adapted by director and writer Christopher Landon, who directed both "Happy Death Days" movies and wrote the screenplay to the sequel of that series, and penned four of the "Paranormal Activity" films as well as "Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse," this is no family-friendly Disney production, especially with superstar horror production company Blumhouse involved.

Casting Vince Vaughn in a horror movie -- his turn as Norman Bates in the "Psycho" remake was universally panned -- was pretty interesting although he shares "killing" time with young actress Kathryn Newton. Vaughn is The Butcher, a serial killer, mostly dismissed as a legend until he goes on a killing spree one night, dispatching in various hideous ways four teenagers who should have "DOOMED" stamped on their foreheads. Before leaving the murder house, he steals a dagger known as La Dola from a collection of artifacts in the home, where one of the victims lived with her parents.

Meanwhile, Millie (Newton) is one of those teens who is having to endure a nightmarish high school experience. Mostly an outcast and bullied, Millie has only two other friends, Nyla (Celeste O'Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich), and harbors a crush on Booker (Uriah Shelton). One of her teachers, Mr. Fletcher (Alan Ruck), verbally abuses her in class. At home, things are unsteady. Millie's older sister Char (Dana Drori), is absorbed in her work as a police officer and her mother, Paula (Katie Finneran), has turned to alcohol to help her cope with the death of her husband a year earlier.

The night following the four murders, Millie serves as a mascot during the high school's homecoming football game. Later, while waiting for her mother to pick her up after the game, Millie is attacked by The Butcher. In the ensuing struggle both are injured by the La Dola dagger, which triggers some spell and they swap bodies.

This is where Vaughn's talents are put on display, being Millie in a man's body. In the special features part of the DVD, Vaughn and Newton talk about how they had to work together to imitate each other's mannerisms so that Millie, although a man, still acts like a teenage girl while The Butcher in Millie's body becomes brutal and calculating.

As with the "Happy Death Day" movies under Landon's guidance, there are humorous moments. Millie in The Butcher's body has a vicious brawl with her friends Nyla and Josh before she can convince them who she is. And later, Millie is fascinated and also sees the downside of dealing with his male junk.

Nyla and Josh get a photo of La Dola, which has inscriptions on it, and take it to the school's Spanish teacher, who delivers a grim translation -- if the curse is not reversed in 24 hours -- both Millie and The Butcher have to be stabbed again by La Dola -- the curse will be permanent.

So the clock is ticking as Millie/Butcher, along with Nyla and Josh, have to not only track down The Butcher/Millie but also get their hands on La Dola, now stored at the police station as evidence.

"Freaky" has some gruesome murders in it, and a special feature on the DVD shows how some of them were done.

"Freaky" is fun in that it borrows from other horror / slasher films, and the humor remains throughout. In one scene in which Millie now as The Butcher goes to school, dressed wildly different from her modest semi-nerdly wardrobe, strolls confidently among the students as the soundtrack offers up The Chordettes' version of "Que Sera Sera" that then segues into the $uicide$' version of "Don't Trust Anyone," a real clash in styles.

"FREAKY" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/EqPnIcDW9g0

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