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I watch a lot of movies: good, bad, indifferent; all genres; English and non-English speaking; and, occasionally, I write a few comments about those I enjoyed. Here are six mini-reviews, in no particular order. The percentage/numerical ratings in the title fields are from the review-aggregation website, Rotten Tomatoes (where I look for 60% or higher), and the internet movie database, IMDb (where I look for 6.0 or higher). Movies for Movie Buffs: Index lists all my reviews so far posted.  

13. Nomadland, Drama, Director Chloé Zhao, 2020 USA, 94%/7.4

I watched this film in February 2021, before the 2021 Academy Awards in which it was awarded Best Picture, Best Director (Chloé Zhao), and Best Actress (Frances McDormand). After my viewing, I sent the following comments to an American friend of mine.

I watched Nomadland today. It’s an interesting movie. I would class it more as a docudrama than a pure drama (IMDB’s classification). Frances McDormand, who plays Fern (no last name), was excellent, as always. She could feature in a full 90-minute movie without saying a word and it would still be a fascinating movie. She has amazing control of her facial elements and speaks volumes with just a glance of her eyes or a slight movement of her mouth.

The movie itself reminded me of the camaraderie I encountered in the days when my children were very young and we took them on a 6-week tour around Europe (France, Spain, Italy primarily), living in a trailer tent and camping every evening in campsites full of campers from all over Europe. More recently, my wife, Carol, and I experienced similar friendships on the multi-day long-distance walks we’ve done since retiring. The people we encountered both camping and walking were instantly and openly friendly and very open about their life experiences. You must have encountered similar reactions on your camping trips?

As an aside, it was interesting to see the inside of an Amazon fulfillment centre; one of the places where Fern works temporarily to earn some money. I’ve never been inside such a place and would like to see how Amazon achieves such a speedy response to an order.

I was also impressed by the fact that apart from Frances McDormand and David Strathairn (who played David), all the other players are not professional actors. They are mostly real-life nomads and play themselves. If you check the credits, you will notice they all use their real first names. Linda is Linda May; Swankie is Swankie; Bob is Bob Wells; and so on. It’s all credit to Chloé Zhao, the director, that she managed to extract such realistic performances from these people.

Overall, an excellent movie and, I see, already the winner of many awards (check Wiki’s article on the film). Several critics I read after watching the movie have said that Nomadland is in line for further awards later this year at the Oscars. I would like to see Frances McDormand win another Oscar. (She did.) She is up there with Meryl Streep and Isabelle Huppert in my book.

14. Penguin Bloom, Drama/Family, Director Glendyn Ivin, 2020 Australia, 67%/6.8

I’m not usually attracted to movies involving animals and a family with cute kids (Charlotte’s Web excepted). Such movies are far removed from the action/war/horror/sci-fi films that form my staple movie diet but Penguin Bloom caught my eye because the animal involved is a magpie. Now, I don’t know about you but my normal reaction when I see a magpie is mild animosity. They eat carrion, are arrogant, and as Rossini pointed out, steal things. But, not Penguin, the magpie in Penguin Bloom. Based on a true story, the movie is about how the Australian Bloom family—Mum Sam (Naomi Watts), Dad Cameron (Andrew Lincoln), and three sons, go on holiday in Thailand wherein Sam suffers an accidental fall with life-changing effects. On their return to their home in Australia, Sam becomes very despondent and all does not look good for the future of the Bloom family.

Noah (Essi Murray-Johnston), the oldest of the three boys, finds a young female magpie that looks to have fallen out of its nest. He takes the bird home, names it Penguin, and nurses it back to health whereupon it decides to stay in the Bloom household rather than return to the wild. The mother, Sam, initially rejects the bird but when it becomes her only day-time companion, she begins to warm to its cheeky avian behaviour and from there the story develops in a fairly predictable way leading to a reasonable feel-good ending.

I didn’t find the movie mawkish (another reason I usually don’t watch these types of movies) and, as stated, the movie is based on the true story of the accident that befell the real-life Bloom family (Penguin Bloom, Canongate Books, published 2017, written by Cameron Bloom and Bradley Trevor Grieve) and was filmed in their property in Australia. Fun fact: ten magpies were used to portray Penguin in the movie. Now that you know this, try to spot the differences when you watch the movie.

It’s a good family movie but my general feelings toward magpies have remained unaltered!

15. Shadow in the Cloud, Action/Horror/War, Director Roseanne Liang, 2020 USA, 78%/4.8

Oh, where to start with this edge-of-your-seat movie about a female WW2 pilot, Maude Garrett (Chloë Grace Moretz at her most feisty) hitching a ride aboard a B-17 bomber on its way to Samoa from Auckland, New Zealand. Supposedly with permission and supposedly carrying secret documents to be delivered to the Samoan airbase authorities, Maude boards the flight at the last minute and settles down among an all-male crew, some of whom resent her presence and display unpleasant misogynistic feelings towards her. Not long into the flight, Maude claims to have seen a gremlin out on the wing. Gremlins, defined to be imaginary mischievous creatures that sabotage aircraft (Wiki), were often cited by the UK’s Royal Air Force as the cause of unexpected behaviour but were not considered to be real. Not in this movie! They are real and the scene where Maude attempts to rid the plane of the gremlin will have you seated right on the edge of your seat or cowering in a corner with your hands firmly clasped over your eyes.

I enjoyed this film. It’s rated R, probably because of the language and maybe because of the horror content, but it’s a film to be enjoyed in company and with a liberal supply of popcorn, nuts, and fizzy drinks including beer. And be aware; the plot is very very twisty and will defy the predictions of even those experienced in out-guessing the scriptwriters.

16. The Family Friend (L’amico di famiglia), Drama, Director Paolo Sorrentino, 2006 Italy, 75%/7.1

I can’t recall what led me to view Paolo Sorrentino’s movie but it was surprisingly good. The story revolves around a loan shark, Geremia De Geremei (Giacomo Rizzo) who cultivates and ingratiates himself into a family group and then persuades them of their need for money and he’s just the man to fulfil that need—a family friend indeed. He is then ruthless in exacting the payments of the debts and, in one case, demands the sexual favours of a bride-to-be, Rosalba (Laura Chiatti), whose parents have borrowed to pay for the upcoming wedding. Rizzo’s depiction of the mean, sometimes vicious, but always unctuous and obsequious moneylender is spot on, even down to the clothes he wears and shufflely way he walks, always with a supermarket carrier bag hanging from one arm.

The movie split Rotten Tomatoes’ critic reviewers with eight red tomato (positive) reviews and three green tomato (negative) reviews. I’m in the red tomato camp.

17. The Father, Drama, Director Florian Zeller, 2020 UK, 98%/8.3

Antony Hopkins justifiably won Best Actor Award at the 2021 Academy Awards for his portrayal of an aging parent, also called Anthony, with advancing dementia. Films about dementia usually show the onset and effects from the perspective of those around the afflicted person. Not so in The Father. The movie presents the world as seen by the sufferer and it takes some getting used to as you work your way through the events. Was that really Anthony’s daughter who came in through the door and did she really say she was when in fact she wasn’t? The film portrays the confusion and difficulty of distinguishing between reality and unreality, truth and fiction, in a way that completely modifies your perception of this debilitating and irreversible disease.

Supported by Olivia Colman, who may or may not be the daughter, Anne, and a fine cast of other actors, The Father is an impressive piece of filmmaking.

18. Cash Truck (Le Convoyeur), Action/Thriller, Director Nicolas Boukhrief, 2004 French, 62%/6.6

Wrath of Man, Action/Thriller, Director Guy Ritchie, 2021 UK, 66%/7.3

When a mollusc sea snail dies, it leaves behind a shell. Oftentimes, a crustacean hermit crab will make use of the discarded shell as its new home, curling up inside and carrying the shell as it moves about. The shell is the same as when the sea snail created it but the occupant is completely different. So it is with Guy Ritchie’s Wrath of Man remake of the earlier French movie, Cash Truck. The shell of the story is the same but there is very little resemblance in terms of the detail.

Both movies centre around attempts by criminals to steal the contents of security vans transporting bags of money from, say a supermarket or casino, back to the depot for safe storage, and both movies open with an armed-gang robbery of a security van resulting in various deaths and, in the following scene, by a mysterious newcomer joining the security company. From then on, the movies are as different as chalk and cheese, or should I say mollusc and crustacean?

In Cash Truck, the mysterious man, Alex (Albert Dupontel), is a somewhat sickly antihero who becomes involved in repelling subsequent raids and who clearly has a hidden agenda which is gradually revealed through flashbacks. Alex is a loner, living in a hotel room where he expressly forbids even the cleaning staff from entry and who is reluctant to engage with criminals who attack the van. The action, when it comes is a curious mix of aggressive bad guys and mostly timid good guys but the movie held my attention and I recommend you watch this version before watching the Wrath of Man remake, as I did. Knowing the basic plot will not spoil your enjoyment of the remake.

Wrath of Man reunites Jason Statham, who plays the mysterious man, nicknamed H, with director Guy Ritchie but there’s no humorous repartee, no banter, no quickfire one-liners that characterised Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and Revolver. This is Statham at his mysterious menacing straight-faced best. In fact, I don’t recall even one smile or slight grin. Statham plays it straight with more action scenes than Cash Truck, more violence and an earlier reveal of why he joins the security company. If action movies are your thing, Wrath of Man is a blast.