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Posts Tagged ‘Chloe Zhao’

Frances McDormand

“NOMADLAND” My rating: A- (In theaters Dec. 4)

108 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“I’m not homeless,” protests Fern (France McDormand) in a key moment from Chloe Zhao’s haunting “Nomadland.”

“Just houseless.”

There’s a significant difference, at least according to Fern and the countless other Americans spending their so-called Golden Years living out of their vans, RVs and cars.

Based on Jessica Bruder’s 2017 book about “the end of retirement,”  “Nomadland” straddles the line between fiction and documentary.

McDormand, of course, is one of our greatest actors; here she’s joined by the always-reliable  David Strathairn.

But most of the “players” in this film are real nomads, folk who follow the changing seasons (Texas in winter, the Dakotas in the summer) supporting themselves with seasonal gigs (working services jobs as cooks and cleaners, manning a sprawling Amazon fulfillment center during the Christmas rush).

By portraying themselves they give Zhao’s film a reality that seeps into the viewer’s bones. This film is less acted than lived in; as a result it is sad and beautiful and achingly human.

McDormand’s widowed Fern has been on the road for several years. She was more or less cast out into the desert when Empire NV,  the company burg in which she had lived her entire adult life — became an overnight ghost town with the closing of its gypsum mine.

Zhao’s unhurried screenplay follows Fern over the course of a year. There’s no plot to speak of; the film is a series of encounters with other wanderers. Fern attends a huge gathering of the houseless on BLM land out in the desert (the convenor, the bearded, barrell-chested Bob Wells — playing himself — holds seminars on nomad survival strategies).

She works in the kitchen of the famous Wall Drug Store tourist trap near the Black Hills. Her fellow nomad Dave (Strathairn) is a part-time ranger at the nearby Badlands National Park.

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“THE RIDER” My rating: B 

104 minutes | MPAA rating: R

With “The Rider” it’s nearly impossible to say where real life ends and art begins.

In Chloe Zhao’s film Brady Jandreau portrays Brady Blackburn, a South Dakota rancher’s son who has suffered a near-fatal head injury during a rodeo competition.

Basically Jandreau is portraying himself…he suffered precisely that sort of head injury when thrown by a bucking bronc. His real-life father and sister (Tim and Lily Jandreau) portray his cinematic father and sibling.

And his real-life best friend, quadriplegic former bull rider Lane Scott, plays himself.

You can’t say this film lacks authenticity.

We first meet Brady just hours out of the hospital, where he spent a week in a coma before awakening and checking himself out against all medical advice. He’s got a new plate in his head and a set of stitches worthy of Frankenstein’s monster.  Frustrated, he uses a pair of pliers to pull the medical staples out of his skull.

The scar will eventually heal.  More problematic is what Brady will do with himself.  He’s been told that just riding a  horse — much less  climbing onto 600 pounds of angry bronco — could prove fatal.

His widowed, hard-drinking, barmaid-chasing father tells him to tough it out: “Play the cards you are dealt. Let it go.”

But Brady — who looks a bit like Josh Hartnett’s country cousin — feels utterly incomplete without his legs wrapped around a horse. Essentially “The Rider” is about whether for the sake of staying alive he can give up an essential part of himself.

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