STREAMING REVIEW: March-ing forward

Published March 2, 2021, 4:30 AM

by Philip Cu Unjieng

It’s March, Women’s History Month, and three of the choices here today have strong Women themes. One is Frances McDormand in Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland (Best Director & Best Motion Picture – Drama at the Golden Globes), and there’s Amy Poehler’s Moxie, set in High School USA. The Assistant is a thinly disguised take on Miramax and Harvey. And there’s a wonderful documentary about forgeries in the world of Art.

Nomadland (on Demand) – This is the road movie for today. If decades ago, it would be about social rebels taking to the open highways, or a pair of mismatched individuals finding understanding and friendship while on a trip; this road movie is about the uprooted individual American (in this case, Fern, the recently widowed character played by Frances McDormand). Fern used to live in Empire, Nevada, a small industrial town that loses its reason for being when the sheetrock company that drove the town’s existence shuts down due to economic reasons. Written and directed by Chloe Zhao, you’ll love how Fern explains she’s not homeless, but just houseless, and that there is a difference.

Beautifully shot, with stirring vistas and landscapes; Nomadland has garnered a lot of attention and acclaim, with Best Picture, Screenplay and Actress nominations heaped on the film. It’s easy to see why, as the film knows how to stay optimistic without waxing nostalgic in an exaggerated manner. It’s all about the quiet dignity of the people who’ve made this choice to take this untraditional path, harking back to the American pioneers of past centuries. McDormand carries the film as a pivotal character driven more by mood and bearing, than by actual narrative or plot twists. It’s a challenging role, and McDormand is up to the task. Just not sure if Filipino audiences will take to this, as it’s definitely not a mainstream kind of film.

Moxie (Netflix USA) – This drops on Netflix March 3rd, and it’s timed beautifully for Women’s Month as one of it’s major themes is that you can never be too young to think about Women Empowerment, fighting sexual harassment, and pushing for gender equality. Amy Poehler directs, and she knows well enough to cast herself as the mother of the central character, and maintain a comedic feel while still saying something weighty and important. At the film’s center is Hadley Robinson as Vivian, a nerdy student who decides to take on the issues affecting the girls in her school, but in a secretive manner.

It’s an engaging cast that makes this film shine. Real-life skateboarder Nico Hiraga plays the love interest Seth, there’s Lauren Tsai as the best friend Claudia, and interestingly, look out for the guy playing the top jock of the school, Mitchell – it’s Patrick Schwarzenegger, who you can guess is the son of Maria Shriver and a father named Arnold. There’s a smart script and Amy puts entertaining flourishes throughout the film. It’s Girl Power and it’s a cut above the YA fare we normally get on Netflix.

Made You Look (Netflix USA) – Here’s a documentary that takes a hard look at the contemporary Art world, and finds it sorely lacking in morality, scruples or conscience. It dissects and holds up to light the recent closure of the historically esteemed Knoedler Gallery in Manhattan. At the center is its director Ann Freedman, and how for over 15 years, whether knowingly or as dupes, Freedman and the gallery were involved in the selling of 60 fake works of Art to the tune of some $80 million. With painstaking research, the documentary calls art critics, culture writers and some of the parties who brought the Gallery to court, in front of the cameras – and it makes for a revelatory glimpse into the rarefied world of Art collectors, and astronomical amounts of money involved.

What makes the story crazy is how situated right of center is a Spanish-American smalltime gallery owner from Brooklyn, and a Chinese painter known for copying the great Abstract-Expressionist American painters of the mid-20th century. Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Motherwell, de Kooning – a treasure trove of undiscovered paintings by these Ab-Ex masters suddenly appears; and call it the lure of money, or honest enthusiasm, but all matters of research, provenance and authenticity get placed by the wayside as the Gallery and Freedman see profit dollars on the horizon. A truly engrossing documentary.

The Assistant (on Demand) – Julia Garner plays the central character, a fresh graduate and aspiring producer who ends up working at an office that bears more than a passing similarity to Miramax, down to its Lower Manhattan location. Written, directed, produced and edited by Aussie Kitty Green, this film is one of those #MeToo films that aims to study why it was so easy for the toxic masculinity of the Miramax/Weinstein culture to flourish for so many years, even decades. Success in a business is the passport to license, to get away with things and people not speaking out. And it’s shown here how speaking out only gets misconstrued and means you’ll be shut down.

To Green’s credit, she never has the ‘producer’ appear onscreen, he’s a disembodied voice emanating from his office or giving instructions to his assistant on the phone. But he is central to how the whole office operates and the kind of atmosphere that’s created. This is an indie film so don’t be surprised that there isn’t much that happens in terms of narrative – it’s literally a day in the life of this assistant, and it’s out to prove how we made it all too easy for the Weinsteins of the world to operate, survive, and believe it wasn’t going to end.