“CODA” (Apple+ and in theaters)
It is easy to understand why this film was such a Sundance favorite and why reviewers write about it with emotion—some admit to crying several times. Yet the tale it tells is predictable, a favorite trope, if you will, but one that works if the film works. And it does. It tells of a teenager who feels and is different from the rest of the family (in this case, mother, father and brother are all deaf), who connects with a special teacher who helps her find her passion (she is a gifted singer). There is the inevitable clash with her family, who have relied heavily on her to be their hearing interpreter in their fishing business and with the world at large. There is even a contest she must win in order to find her place in the world. So, yes, the story has been done and done but the reason “CODA” is so special is a script that makes no one a villain but allows us to see everyone’s point of view. This script is enacted brilliantly by a hearing and deaf cast: Mom—who is alternately loving and a real hard-ass—is Oscar-winner Marlee Maitlin; Dad—who is a funny, irreverent hippie—is played by new-to-me Troy Kotsur; the hearing teen is brought wonderfully to life by English actor Emilia Jones. The film has it all—humor and sweet, poignant moments, tension, the desire to take the girl in our arms and find a solution for her. Bravo to co-writer and sole director Sian Heder for breathing fresh life into an old but reliable storyline. Highly recommended.
“Suicide Squad” (HBO Max)
Despite my inner 15-year-old teenager I have written about here before, I have not been a follower of the entire “Suicide Squad” oeuvre—comics, a previous film, etc. This one was my first introduction and, yes, it’s quite violent. But it feels more like cartoon violence, so I wasn’t repelled by flying body parts and gore the way I usually am. Actually, the overriding feeling of the film is that it’s funny and sharp and often self-mocking. The cast is made up of actors who look like gods (or monsters) but all of whom can and do deliver the joke: Margot Robbie (as Harley Quinn), John Cena (Peacemaker), Idris Elba (Bloodsport), and the glorious Viola Davis as a mean government official. It’s got one of those plots that keeps turning left, all about a semi-official group transported to a remote island to save the planet...or something like that. Anyway, my inner 15-year-old and my aging-yet-still-in-the-game selves agree. The film moves fast; it’s forgettable and quite enjoyable.
“No Man of God” (on VOD and in theaters)
Ted Bundy, the rapist/murderer of upward of 30 female victims, was apprehended in 1975 and the state executed him 10 years later. In those intervening years, the concept of FBI profiling was being developed and Bill Hagmeier, a psychologist and FBI rookie, was assigned to see if Bundy would talk to him; so far, he had refused to talk to anyone. Hagmeier (played by Elijah Wood) was actually able to get through to him—to a point—and has written a book about it. This film is an adaptation of that book, which is basically a dialogue between two people, interspersed with scenes from the outside and directorial choices to ratchet up the tension with occasional snatches of young women in the 1970s and shadowy suggestions of violence. But it always returns to one room, one table, two chairs, two people. I don’t like saying this but I found Wood’s performance as an actual grown-up who wears a suit and tie, carries a briefcase, has a family at home, and is super serious, even studious, difficult to accept. Frodo, yes. This character, no. It’s his face. Not only is he painfully young-looking (even though he’s 40!) but it’s those iridescent, huge blue eyes of his; they hint of pain and innocence and fear and, yes, youth. Luke Kirby plays Bundy and although the two actors manage to get some chemistry going, nothing about either performance is magnetic. “No Man of God” is not a bad film at all. It just doesn’t quite work.