‘Nobody,’ ‘The Courier’ will keep you riveted

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Any “John Wick” fans out there? If the answer’s yes, you’re in for a gory treat this week with “Nobody.” It tops our list of what to watch, along with the Oscar nominee “Better Days,” the horror surprise “Toll” and the spy thriller “The Courier.”

“Nobody”: The violence reaches Tarantino levels while the plot is as dangerously thin as a supermodel. But so what? Ilya Naishuller’s tough guy smackdown is a bloody blast, a creative and inventively made thrill ride in which swarms of Russian henchmen egged on by a garishly dressed showman/nightclub owner (scene-stealer Aleksey Serebryakov) get mowed down one after the other. It’s ridiculous, unrepentant and will likely make you laugh and wince, sometimes at the same time. Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”) gives a “Die Hard”-like performance as Hutch Mansell, a beaten-down dad and husband who can’t even get Trash Day right. The docile Hutch hides a wild streak, though, and it leaps out after a botched home robbery attempt. What really gets this dweeby dad triggered is when he discovers his daughter’s kitty-cat bracelet has been snatched. No one stands a chance after that. “John Wick” screenwriter Derek Kolstad goes all out here, firing off grandiose action and deadpan one-liners, delivered with glee by Odenkirk, Christopher Lloyd — as Hutch’s assisted living dad —  RZA, as Hutch’s former cohort, and Connie Nielsen (“Wonder Woman 1984”) as Hutch’s breadwinner wife. This is destined to become a huge hit. Details: 3½ stars out of 4; in select theaters March 26.

“The Courier”: The old-fashioned spy thriller based on crumbs of truth used to be a genre unto itself. Now, they mostly pop up on streaming services and get strung out over way too many episodes. So there is something satisfying about the old-school way of getting in and out of a story, and “The Courier” delivers well on that. Director Dominic Cooke keeps things taut in the telling of a British businessman (Benedict Cumberbatch) tagged by Western intelligence officials to ferry out top-secret military info (including intel on nukes and Cuba) given to him by a high-ranking Russian whistleblower. Both Cumberbatch and Merab Ninidze, as the whistleblower, bring integrity and intensity to their well-written characters. Combine impressive production values and a ratcheting up of suspense, and you’re in for a solid genre entry. Don’t expect more than that. Details: 3 stars; now playing in select theaters and drive-ins; due out on HBO Max April 16.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbR1A95Ll8Q

“Six Minutes to Midnight”: Another British spy thriller that’s popping into theaters is equipped with an even more intriguing fact-based premise. Too bad it collapses into hyperactive melodramatics in its ridiculous final act. The best part of “Midnight” is its unique setting, an all-female German finishing school for teen-aged girls in England. Since we’re talking 1939 and the winds of war are imminent, the place rouses concern, especially when the English teacher vanishes and later washes up onshore. Enter Mr. Miller (Eddie Izzard, who co-wrote the screenplay and co-produced), a replacement with ties to British intelligence. He’s snooping about to see if the school is actually a finishing school for Hitler youth. For the first half, director/co-writer Andy Goddard channels Hitchcock convincingly and makes every character seem a tad suspicious, from a dowager (Dame Judi Dench) to a secretive former Olympic swimmer (Carla Juri) who is now the school’s administrator. But the film loses all sense of rationality in the end, relying too much on overarched eyebrows and double-crosses that border on the laughable. What a shame given the talent involved. Details: 2 stars; opens March 26 at Landmark Embarcadero Center Cinemas in San Francisco.

“The Toll”: Michael Nader keeps it lean and mean for his first horror feature, and the result is a creepy winner. A trip to see dad takes one bad turn after another for Cami (Jordan Hayes), who books a ride to pops’ home in the woods with the gabby and inappropriate Spencer (Max Topplin). Things only get worse after the car dies and both get stuck in a “Twilight Zone-”like alternate reality where a freak with a burlap sack over his head demands a toll be paid. Nader never lets the tension go slack as motives and backgrounds add more clarity to the seemingly senseless madness. The two leads couldn’t be better. Details: 3 stars; available to stream March 26.

“Violation”: Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer’s revenge nightmare ruins you emotionally much in the way that Park Chan-Wook’s “Oldboy” did. Sims-Fewer puts herself through hell as Miriam, an unhappily married woman who metes out vigilante justice after a sexual assault (briefly depicted) at the hands of someone she knows well. “Violation” messes with your head, showing us toxic male behavior and the dangers inherent in turning the tables on your attacker. Jesse LaVercombe, as the charming brother-in-law with a dark side, goes all in with his role, and he’s tremendous. Expect to be staggered, shocked and awed. Not for children by any means. Details: 3½ stars; available March 25 on Shudder!

“Wojnarowicz”: If you enjoyed HBO Max’s superb “It’s a Sin” series, you’ll want to check out this excellent portrait of underground New York artist and activist David Wojnarowicz. Wojnarowicz makes one fascinating subject, a complex person who survived a horrible childhood and endured the wrath of conservatives outraged by his works that dealt frankly with sexuality and AIDS. This engrossing documentary covers his eventful but short 37 years, including his deep bond with photographer Peter Hujar, who preceded him in death and tussles with NEA detractors. Chris McKim’s documentary brings to life a revolutionary artist who did things his way as well as New York in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Details: 3½ stars; available as part of the Virtual Cinema series at the Roxie Theatre.

“The Truffle Hunters”: In need of a delightful documentary that’ll lift the spirits and transport you to Italy? There’s no better one than Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw’s quirky travelogue featuring an old-guy crew and their lovable canines  searching high and low in Alba for coveted truffles. You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced the dog cam. Details: 3 stars; available as part of the Virtual Cinema series at the Smith Rafael Film Center.

“Better Days”: Hong Kong’s Oscar entry for best international feature landed one of the coveted five nominee spots, and deservedly so. Based on a Chinese YA novel, “Days” raises a loud and passionate scream against bullying. But actor-turned-director Derek Tsang’s epic isn’t a one-note vehicle to hammer home a message. It tells a convincing and moving story, first and foremost, about two bullied youths — a tormented female high school student Nian (Zhou Dongyu) and a bad-boy street kid Liu (Jackson Yee) — and how they become allies in a world that doesn’t want them. Both rebel against a system that is failing to protect them. “Days” might sound like a downer, but it lives up to its title. Details: 3½ stars; available as part of the For Your Consideration film series at the Smith Rafael Film Center.

Contact Randy Myers at [email protected]

 

 

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