“NOBODY” MESSES WITH NORMAL GUY; “MAHALIA” SCORES A HIT
A Film and TV Review by Tim Riley
“NOBODY” RATED R The feeling of getting back into a movie theater to enjoy a film on the big screen, as it is meant to be, is exciting. As entertainment venues reopen, the best advice is to jump at the chance and take in “Nobody” for starters. Never would it be a logical thought that Bob Odenkirk, well-known as Jimmy McGill in “Better Call Saul,” would superbly play an action role like that of Liam Neeson or Keanu Reeves in “Taken” and “John Wick,” their respective franchise films. In most of these action films, even going back to Charles Bronson in “Death Wish,” the premise of the genre has bad guys messing with the wrong guy. That formula works, but what if the villains mess with a normal guy who is not perceived as a threat? Odenkirk’s Hutch Mansell is a suburban family man living a mundane life with his wife Becca (Connie Nielsen) and a teenage son and young daughter. Every day of the week is the same boring routine for this pencil pusher at a tool and die company.
Two robbers break into the Mansell home one night, and Hutch can’t bring himself to defend his family even when his son is in danger. After suffering indignities from co-workers and an obnoxious neighbor, Hutch morphs into vigilante mode. What turns Hutch from a meek office drone into a fighter with a skill set that could have only been acquired by a trained pro is his hot rage and burning desire to retrieve his daughter’s kitty cat bracelet.
Once he was an auditor for a three-lettered federal agency, but he had to be doing something more than crunching numbers. Riding on a bus, Hutch goes full John Wick on a bunch of nasty Russian thugs who are taunting a young female passenger. One of the victims of Hutch’s beat-down is the brother of unhinged Russian gangster Yulian (Alexey Serebryakov), a man so ruthless and lethal that he would ordinarily be a caricature, but here he’s truly scary and dangerous. The revenge-minded Yulian, backed by an army of violent trigger-happy henchmen, tracks down Hutch’s identity from a discarded Metro card, thereby setting the stage for fireworks. The Russians didn’t figure on their target has a lot of tricks up his sleeve, to say nothing of his nerve to show up at their nightclub with an unmistakable message not to mess with him. It’s great to see Christopher Lloyd, as Hutch’s father living quietly in a rest home watching westerns, take up arms with his son, and joined by Hutch’s adoptive brother Harry (RZA) when the trio lure Yulian and his thugs to a wild, brutal climactic showdown. A barrage of fists, knifings, and gunfire, “Nobody” works on the visceral thrills of witnessing truly awful human scum getting the living daylights knocked out of them by the vigilante. Now you know what to expect.
“ROBIN ROBERTS PRESENTS: MAHALIA” ON LIFETIME
Watching a biography of any famous person that is meant to be entertainment invariably raises questions about the veracity of dialogue and the events that define the life of the subject. Lifetime Channel’s “Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia” is no exception for New Orleans native Mahalia Jackson, widely and appropriately known as “The Queen of Gospel,” a black singer who hewed closely to her deeply-held religious beliefs. In her own right, Danielle Brooks, Tony Award-winner for best performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in the musical “The Color Purple,” has the strong voice needed to portray Mahalia Jackson, who also had the fortitude to resist entreaties to sing the blues. More than vocal cords tie Brooks to the gospel crooner. During the press tour, Brooks acknowledged that “Mahalia stood firm on her faith with God,” and that she felt connected to Mahalia for having to “lean on God when I felt like I couldn’t do things.” Generous of spirit and kind of heart, Mahalia’s upbringing in childhood of dire poverty taught her to care for the needs of others. She would also barnstorm at tent revivals in the South during the Jim Crow era, showing courage to overcome racial hostilities.
Auditioning for a Chicago stage production early in her career, Mahalia encounters a young boy on the street eager to be a part of it. Mahalia takes the boy home for a meal, much to the chagrin of then-husband Isaac (Jamall Johnson). As told in this movie, the boy named John (Benjamin Charles Watson) never returns to the streets, effectively becoming Mahalia’s adopted son or so it would seem. However, searching for information about the putative adopted son comes up empty, leading to the possible deduction that John’s presence is a story construct to add another dimension to Mahalia’s life. Mahalia Jackson’s story needs more time than allotted for a TV movie. From her early struggles to a friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights activism, and to sing at Carnegie Hall, “Mahalia” should have been a mini-series to do justice to her life story.