Nomadland (2020)

Knew nothing of this film going in, that’s becoming a running theme with these reviews lately. Truth be told I don’t actively seek out films, I don’t go onto film sites and search for recommendations. My knowledge of what films to see come from four sources:

  1. Trailers at the cinema
  2. Personal recommendation (is why I watched Love And Monsters)
  3. If it gets nominated for a lot of awards (Sound Of Metal)

My fourth one is the one I’ve used the most this year. And if you ever wondered how the hell I found some random films, it’s likely to be from this. I go onto https://filmdistributorsassociation.com/release-schedule/this-weeks-releases/ every week to look at the films that have been released that week, if I haven’t heard of it at all I’ll quickly google it and see if it intrigues me. That’s why I end up hearing about films such as Come True (very much yay), Blithe Spirit (very much not yay), and I Blame Society (I don’t know yet as I haven’t seen it, but it looks great). When I say “it intrigues me” I mean that I read a quick one line synopsis, if that hooks me I usually just add it to the list. So there’s a lot of films where I haven’t even seen the trailer (if I had then I wouldn’t have seen Mouthpiece as I’ve since watched the trailer for that and it did nothing for me, which is a shame as it would have meant missing out on one of my favourite films of the year).

So yeah, despite it being one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year (well, technically last year. I’ll stop using parenthesis soon I swear), I went into this knowing very little. Highly recommend going into it this way as seeing everything unfurl in front of you is a delightful experience. I say “delightful”, it’s actually horrible. This has the tone and look of an apocalyptic future. It resembles a word in the near future left ravaged by war. So when is this film set? 2011. That’s a stunning indictment of American capitalism.

But that’s not really what this film is, it’s not about dystopia and bleakness. It’s ultimately about humanity and hope. It’s about beauty and life. It’s about everything and nothing all at once. It feels all too real, but sometimes that realness gives you a warm glow inside.

The feeling of reality is helped by the cast, mainly because Chloe Zhao decided to cast non-actors, instead reaching out to people who actually live the nomadic life. Risky strategy, but it definitely works. These characters know the perfect way to play every single piece of dialogue, bringing the characters to life in a way that few other films could. I should also mention the way that Zhao shot a lot of it. She doesn’t go to make it look like a dramatic film, it’s shot almost like a documentary. Again, this makes everything feel real. It doesn’t often feel like you’re watching a film, but more like you’re standing there alongside them, it truly makes you feel like part of a community (then the film finishes and you’re back to a reality where you’re alone with just a cup of tea for company, and you cry). Considering this film stars Frances McDormand, one of the best performers around, making you forget that she’s an actor is something incredibly difficult to do. But both the talent of the film, and the talent of McDormand herself, make that easy to do.

I suppose it is also helped by being based on a non-fiction book (Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century) which I now need to read I think. You’d think being based on a non-fiction book would mean it lacks narrative. It kind of does, but also doesn’t. It’s not a standard “A leads to B, which leads to C” style plot. It’s the cinematic equivalent of just wandering around somewhere (almost nomadically you could say) and observing. Sometimes you meander, taking stock of what’s in front of you at that moment, sometimes you move forward quicker, and sometimes you stand still. It’s the moments where characters just sit around talking which are the highlights. A key example of this is a guy explaining how his son committed suicide. He talks about how living on the road means you never say goodbye, because you know you’re going to see everybody further down the road. That’s why he does it, because he feels it means his son hasn’t said goodbye, they’ll always meet each other later on. Just writing that bit and remembering it almost brought me to tears just now. That’s how powerful it is.

In summary, you really need to see this. It’s one of the most compelling things I’ve seen all year, and it deserves everything you could give it. Plus it’s available for free on disney+ right now so….yeah.

Blithe Spirit (2020)

This, this was not a great movie. It’s in the running for one of the worst of the year already. I hope it is anyway as I can’t cope with films that are a lot worse than this. It’s a shame as I like Noel Coward’s stuff, his dialogue and situations are really good and are timeless, IF they’re performed correctly. The issue is that a lot of adaptations of these kind of films have the actors play the same way: they are full of overacting and BIG body language. Essentially they get performed like people think they were performed on the stage back in the day. The trouble with this is acting is different on stage and screen, on the stage you perform for the people at the back, so you need to be physically expressive and larger than life, especially in comedies, there is no place for subtle facial language. Film is different, the camera is close, so you don’t need to act so big, you can be more subtle, you can be quieter, and a lot of adaptations don’t take that into account and it’s frustrating. Not just because it seems fake and unnatural, but also because, even if the film was made this year, it makes them seem incredibly dated.

So that’s the issue with this film in general. More specifically? It just doesn’t have that spark that the film needs. I often talk about actors performances and mention how it feels like nobody actually enjoyed making the film, and how this can hurt it as everyone seems too wooden. This is the opposite, everyone seems like they’re having too much fun, it’s like they’re all just dicking about and waiting for someone to tell them “okay we’re starting now”. I watched it and I can’t tell what nationality Leslie Mann’s character was supposed to be, was she supposed to be British and couldn’t quite manage it, or was she just supposed to be posh and her mind automatically leant slightly British?

Coward’s plays are iconic, and it can feel like sacrilege to mess with them. But by continuously restraining adaptations to his own timeline you’re doing his work a disservice. The basic plot for this film would still work today, the concept and the characters would still be suited for a modern age. People update Shakespeare for a modern age all the time, so there’s no reason someone can’t do it with something like this. It would make it seem less dated, and would stop everyone giving the “oh darling how fabulous” style performances they all feel compelled to give in these movies.

On the plus side, some of the dialogue is incredibly funny, and it looks great. Often when films are set before 1950’s directors have a habit of either making everything rather murky and drab, or just gold-colours everywhere. There’s no room for bright reds and blues that pop. This is the exception, it’s a very colourful film and is a visual delight. It’s just the shame the rest of the film isn’t as good.