My Case Of posts arrive at the third Supporting Actor contender and it’s Jesse Plemons in The Power of the Dog. The first two write-ups can be found here:
Oscars 2021: The Case of Ciaran Hinds
Oscars 2021: The Case of Troy Kotsur
The Case for Jesse Plemons:
Having appeared in acclaimed TV and cinematic works including Breaking Bad and Fargo on the small screen and The Master, The Irishman, and Judas and the Black Messiah on the big one, Plemons scores his first Academy nod. Dog led all nominees with 13 and that includes Kirsten Dunst (the actor’s real life love interest).
The Case Against Jesse Plemons:
It also includes his costar Kodi Smit-McPhee, who’s nominated in the same category and won the Golden Globe. Despite a BAFTA mention, Plemons didn’t make the SAG, Globe, or Critics Choice shortlists. Smit-McPhee and Troy Kotsur (CODA) are looked at as the potential victors. Woody Harrelson in 2017 lost to his costar Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri as did Lakeith Stranfield last year to Daniel Kaluuya for the aforementioned Judas. Plemons could play that role this time around.
Plemons might be back again next year with Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon. Don’t look for an Oscar delivery here.
My Case Of posts will continue with Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s direction of Drive My Car…
Bob Odenkirk is one of the all-time great yellers. Go back and watch his marvelous comedy sketch series Mr. Show from 25 years ago if you don’t believe it. When Gene Hackman hollers, it can be terrifying. With Odenkirk, it’s unexpected and hilarious. The idea of casting him in a John Wick type of role (from the writer of the franchise no less) screams for more than what’s presented onscreen in the very brief runtime of Nobody. Post watch, I couldn’t escape the idea that a lot of cool stuff might happen following the events of what I’d just witnessed. What’s presented is effective in spurts and occasionally dull and repetitive in chunks.
Dull and repetitive aptly describes Hutch’s existence as the opening montage shows. He works a boring job. His marriage to Becca (Connie Nielsen) is devoid of any spark. Like clockwork, he forgets to take out the garbage. The middle class tedium is disrupted by a home burglary where Hutch catches the intruders redhanded but decides against using his golf clubs to take them down. From the police to his spouse to his kids, he’s seen as a weakling. However, when he discovers his little girl’s kitty cat bracelet was lifted, his true identity surfaces.
Hutch was once an “auditor” for the government. Not the numbers crunching kind. More of the bone crunching variety. He’s a former assassin that comes from a line of them including dad (Christopher Lloyd). RZA is also part of the clan (he’s heard more than seen because he’s in hiding). No longer content to hide his own particular set of skills after the bracelet heist, Hutch sets out to find the thieves and rough up anyone else who stands in the way.
One of the audited victims turns out to be the brother of a Russian mobster (Aleksei Serebryakov) who moonlights as an aspiring nightclub singer. With Hutch on his wanted list, the Wick-ish violence commences. If this all sounds like a tremendous amount of strange fun, it should. Doc Brown as an octogenarian renegade? Check. Our Breaking Bad standout breaking skulls? Check.
Sometimes it is. When Hutch first lets down his guard on a bus, it’s a violent delight. It never really tops that sequence that arrives early. Derek Kolstad (who wrote all three Wick flicks) is behind this (along with Hardcore Henry director Ilya Naishuller). The screenplay hints at our lead’s backstory. It gives us reason to believe Odenkirk and Lloyd and RZA have been on some wild adventures. The world building that’s become such an integral part of Keanu Reeves and his headshots isn’t present in Nobody. This is far more contained and that applies to Odenkirk’s performance. He’s a terrific comedic presence and, as mentioned, a glorious wailer. Those skills aren’t at the forefront in this though he commendably looks comfortable offing Euro baddies. I just didn’t find the concept sizzling enough to sustain itself before it kinda burnt out.
**1/2 (out of four)
Today kicks off my posts on the performers who will be remembered for having a strong 2019 and making an impact on the silver screen. However, as I have in previous years, my first writeup goes to a studio. And while Disney could be named every year nowadays (and they certainly had a terrific year), we turn to Netflix in 2019.
It’s hard to believe now, but it was a few short years ago that their big budget TV series House of Cards was considered a risk. Could this streaming service provide truly quality original content? Times have changed, ladies and gents.
Netflix has become an undeniable hub for high profile directors and actors. 2019 saw the studio give us successful comedies such as Murder Mystery with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston and the acclaimed rom com Always Be My Maybe.
Action directors like Michael Bay turned to the service with 6 Underground starring Ryan Reynolds. We have filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh making Netflix a home with both High Flying Bird and The Laundromat. Millions of eyeballs were tuned to the Breaking Bad continuation El Camino.
Most notably, 2019 seems destined to be the year when Oscar voters won’t be able to ignore it. The conversation about Netflix being able to garner multiple Academy nods is about to become a moot one. 2017 and 2018 saw voters nibble around the edges. Two years ago, Mudbound managed a Supporting Actress nod for Mary J. Blige and Adapted Screenplay. 2018’s Roma received a number of nominations and Alfonso Cuaron won for Best Director. It was considered a frontrunner for Picture, but lost to Green Book. Some blamed it on bias against the biggest streamer.
This year, we have two films that could win the largest prize of all – Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. Other contenders for a nomination include The Two Popes and Dolemite Is My Name, which returned to Eddie Murphy to form. Between those four pictures, you could see as many as a dozen acting nominations.
There’s little doubt that 2019 gave us a shifting in the tide of Netflix’s credibility. And that’s likely to stay. My Year Of posts will continue soon with some of the actors who had a lot to celebrate…
For fans of Breaking Bad (of which I certainly am), one lingering question was whether Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) completed his emotional joyride after being freed from captivity in the title vehicle. El Camino answers it in a manner which never feels entirely needed, but with enough nostalgic merit to keep it from feeling superfluous. It’s been six years since the brilliant AMC show closed up shop with Walter White (Bryan Cranston) finally succumbing to the dangers of his career path. Jesse’s fate was more uncertain as his former teacher and meth mentor allowed him to escape.
Camino picks up immediately after the series finale. As you’ll recall, Jesse had been held prisoner by some Aryan dealers who kept him in an underground cage. During those final episodes of Bad, Paul perfected the wounded puppy cadence befitting his circumstances. That continues here as Jesse must adjust to his liberation. Being the lone survivor of the finale’s massacre makes him the most wanted man in New Mexico.
The Netflix pic volleys back and forth between his need to find a brand new life and flashbacks allowing favorite characters to return. Considering Mr. White and Cranston’s legendary performance, it’s no surprise to see him. Some cameos are more surprising and humorous and poignant. The most effective in my view is Todd, which affords Jesse Plemons more screen time to flesh out his calmly psychopathic creation. Robert Forster returns as a fixer who specializes in giving criminals fresh leases on life. His portion runs a close second in entertainment value. Sadly, the veteran character actor passed away on the day of the film’s premiere.
Does El Camino ever approach the most potent moments from its source material? Not really, but Paul gives a terrific performance with his tragic antihero. Vince Gilligan, the show’s creator, returns to write and direct. He was meticulous about his acclaimed series and this continuation doesn’t feel cheap. It’s a deadly and deadpan world that we loved and it feels pretty darn good to soak it back in for a couple hours.
*** (out of four)
If fish out of water tales with Mexican drug cartels is your desired viewing option, you can’t go wrong with “Breaking Bad”. Clint Eastwood’s The Mule is a considerably more mixed bag. Let’s call it Walter Whiter as our octogenarian subject makes a curious late career choice that is actually based (loosely) on true events. We have seen Eastwood go down the “I’m too old for this…” bit a few times in the past few years. This might rank as the strangest.
The first half of The Mule is engaging in its amiable way. Our star and director plays Earl, whose horticulture business is on its last legs thanks to that darn internet. He’s a man who makes fast friends and loves life on the road and has ignored his family along the way. That includes an ex-wife (Dianne Wiest), a child who won’t speak to him (real-life daughter Alison Eastwood), and granddaughter (Taissa Farmiga) who still wishes to connect.
A job opportunity arises for Earl to spend most of his time driving. It happens to be crossing state lines to transport larges volumes of cocaine. He’s pretty decent at the gig, earning the nickname “El Tata” (grandfather) from his heavily armed coworkers. Andy Garcia is head of the cartel. The new job leaves Earl flush with money and women. If you thought Clint Eastwood and threesome action isn’t something you’d ever see in a movie, think again. And again. Tata also garners the attention of the DEA, led by Bradley Cooper’s agent, Michael Pena as his partner, and Laurence Fishburne as their boss.
When The Mule enters its second phase, Earl is trying to make amends with numerous poor choices (a frequent theme in the filmmaker’s work). This is when the carefree tone shifts rather uncomfortably. None of the supporting characters are really developed at all. You get the feeling most of these accomplished actors just wanted to work with Clint. The dramatic exchanges with family members feels stilted.
I can’t deny there’s some joy in watching Eastwood for a while. If you loved Gran Torino, you’ll probably at least like this. There’s also no denying that he’s tackled similar themes with far superior results. As Earl attempts to get his act together, he goes off grid from his day job. I doubt one of the true elements in this fact based tale involved his bosses not being able to locate him for days. Don’t they track his cell phone? Or have his vehicle bugged? I found myself pondering this in the final act. Despite a game showcase performance, perhaps resenting the screenplay’s disregard for the intelligence of drug lords means the picture isn’t clicking on all cylinders.
**1/2 (out of four)