Film Review : Nebraska (2013)

IMDB Score – 8.1
Rotten Tomato Score – 92%

Directed By – Alexander Payne
Starring – Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, and Stacy Keach

An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.

I’ve finally been able to get to the theater this week and while I still have to see “American Hustle” and “Wolf of Wall Street”, I decided to see this first in case it is no longer in theaters next week. I think I still have plenty of time to see the other two. My local art theater was still running it albeit in the smallest theater imaginable but I left satisfied.

Alexander Payne has always been a director whose work I enjoy. I haven’t seen a single film of his that I didn’t like and while he doesn’t have a flat out masterpiece in his body of work, he never fails to entertain or tell a good story. I think Nebraska might just end up being my favorite film of his.

First off, the cinematography in this is amazing. Phedon Papamichael did a phenomenal transforming the dull bland landscape of Nebraska and Montana into very pretty images of desolation and despair. I live in New Jersey. I have always lived in New Jersey. When I decide to move away from here I’m either going north/south or all the way out west because I don’t think I could last in that environment. I’ve never seen streets that empty besides Christmas morning and even then there are still people buzzing about. The minimalist way they decided to shoot this film, with the long wide angle shots of rolling hills and baron landscape made for a very relaxing and peaceful watch. I just don’t think I could live in such a place.

The film ended up being a lot funnier than I thought it was going to be as it captured the “culture” of living in such places hilariously. Mundane conversations and one worded answers have never been so funny. One review I read claimed that the film was like visiting his relatives so I’m guessing the film portrayed life out there pretty well. Bars with the same people in it that have been going there for 40 years and shops and stores that went out of business decades ago litter the main drag of the town of Hawthorne, where most of the film takes place. Bruce Dern, who plays the character of Woody, stops there on his way to Lincoln to collect his million dollars which he is convinced he won. Woody grew up there and the people he used to be around are still there after all these years, not having moved or changed an inch. It is there that the bulk of the story takes place as old friends and family try to cash in on their friends recent claim to fortune.

The acting was fantastic in this. Bruce Dern and June Squibb, who plays his crass and resentful wife Kate, were both hilarious. Dern did a remarkable job playing a lost and confused old man trying desperately to find meaning in his life. Squibb stole pretty much every scene she had as more and more horrible things came out of her mouth as if she had no idea anybody else around her would be offended. One particular scene at a cemetery had me dying as the respect for the dead was just non existent. Will Forte and Bob Odenkirk, two actors who are known for their comedy work, did a great job portraying the sons of Dern and Squibb who are trying to distance themselves from their old stomping grounds. Forte was especially charming.

The film displayed themes of family and greed while also sticking to the comedy that is just oozing out of the midwest. People from the area might not even find the humor in it because it was just so subtle. The whole theater was cracking up watching eight men sit and stare at a television without saying a word until somebody asks another “you still got that old chevy?”…”Yep.”

If you can get out to see it please do. It’s going to be a wonderful rainy day film for me when released on blu ray and is a gorgeous film to be seen on the big screen. Its Payne at his absolute driest bbut also at his funniest.

4.5/5




Film Review : Her (2013)

IMDB Score – (Currently) 8.6
Rotten Tomato Score – 91%

Golden Globe Nominee for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay

Directed By – Spike Jonze
Starring – Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Chris Pratt, Olivia Wilde, and Rooney Mara

A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that’s designed to meet his every need.

A week ago I thought I saw my film of the year. Inside Llewyn Davis was a bleak and ultimately devastating story about a folk singer who can never catch a break. It was soulful and moving and really just hit me in a way that no other film this year hit me. “Her” is the complete opposite. It is soulful and devastating but in the complete opposite direction. They are my ying and yang picks for films of the year.

I’ve been a fan of Spike Jonze since seeing him wear granny make-up and swing his boobs around in “Jackass”. His music videos are some of the most memorable videos of the late 90’s and early 2000’s and his films are visceral experiences that are unique and one of a kind. This time, Jonze puts his pen to the paper and crafts not only the best screenplay of the year, but one of the most intimate and personal films I’ve ever seen. The film stars Theodore, a lonely recently divorced man who is seeking a friend. Theodore walks past a kiosk advertising a new operating system which developing intelligence and personality. The operating that Theodore purchases is named Samantha and is voiced by Scarlett Johansson. The film takes place in an obvious future world but instead of being a dystopian nightmare, the future we see is vibrant and colorful. Social media seems to have evolved into a living breathing entity and everybody walks about with ear pieces in their ears which reads them the news, emails, or just converses with their user. This is really all you should know plot wise as the film grips you and takes you on the ride. Two hours never flew by so fast.

Having some relationship issues of my own at the moment, the film spoke to me. It’s premise is ultimately a very strange one. A man falling in love with a computer? How silly. Is it really that silly? Who is to say that a person can’t have a connection with somebody who is not there physically. I know it is usually frowned upon, but long distance relationships do work in small amounts. Those relationships are kept through phone conversations, letters, and recently with the ability of video conversations. I know people who have gotten married after meeting on the internet. I know people who have had extensive relationships with people miles away. Samantha may be a voice of a computer but in this world, that voice has a mind and personality that only builds more and more every day.

Spike Jonze created a perfect screenplay here. It is nearly flawless in its pacing and immersing in its intimacy. I don’t know what is going on in the mans life but he wrote from the heart and it showed. The whole film radiates red like it’s the center of a beating heart. I’m not usually a huge romance fan. I have been slowly integrating and finding wonderful films of this genre and am really warming up to the idea that romance films can not only be made well, but be considered important pieces of art. Jonze created a piece of art that is directly linked to the heart. Whether we have had many or only a few relationships, we each have gone through life changing events with another person. These events and the time we spend with somebody builds our character. They make us into the people we will eventually become. This is the main theme of Her. The relationships we have with other people, whether they end badly or flourish, create the people we turn into and help us learn from our mistakes until the next person comes along. I just can’t write enough how touched and moved I was with this film after this year. I have regretted more things than I can count. I wish I could change things. I wish there were some way to do things different. This is no way though. Those things happened and it’s only up to me to make sure that the future is made with all the love and happiness I experienced along the way. That is human nature. We push on and try to maintain happiness. The film just reiterated to me that everything is going to be okay.

I’m sorry I got a little personal there. It just it me hard.

The aesthetics of the film should also be noted. It’s a gorgeous film. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema should honestly win all the awards for this. As I stated before the film just radiates red which only goes to further the emotions thrown at us by the cast. Geez I haven’t even mentioned the cast. Scarlett Johansson could actually be nominated for a supporting role in which she doesn’t appear on screen in any way. She was that good. It was just a voice but it represented one half of a completely real and touching relationship with co-star Joaquin Phoenix who was incredible as always. Phoenix, who appears in nearly every single scene dominates as a lonely man who finally finds love after going through a difficult and draining divorce. Amy Adams, who really can’t do anything wrong recently, rounds out the trio by giving a heartwarming performance as Theodores friend and neighbor. It’s a film full of just amazing everything.

Go see this film. Take your girlfriend. Take somebody who is going through a rough time or recently lost somebody they love. It is a smart, funny, and incredibly real science fiction film that produces such honest and earned emotional response. Some people won’t get past the premise, but the people who have experienced loss in their lives are going to feel amazing at the fact that we still have so much to gain and learn. It’s my top film of the year along with “Inside Llewyn Davis”

5/5




Film Review : Elysium (2013)

IMDB Score – 6.8
Rotten Tomato Score – 69%

Directed By – Neil Blomkamp
Starring – Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Shartlo Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, William Fichtner, and Wagner Moura

In the year 2154, the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth. A man takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds.

One of my favorite theater experiences of my life was walking into “District 9” without really a clue what it was about and being glued to the screen for the duration of the film. It was a sci-fi movie that was both unique and entirely captivating. It featured amazing acting, badass action, and state of the art visual effects on the equivalent of a shoe string budget. It encapsulated the idea that completely original cinema is alive well and that all it needs is the backing of executives. Blomkamps follow up to that film is a promising yet ultimately disappointing one. I had high hopes for the film and couldn’t get out to see it in theaters due to its bad box office results and frankly disheartening reviews. I’m going to have to agree with the negative reviews on this one but the film does feature some positives.

What I liked…

There were some great set pieces in this that showcases not only Blomkamp’s visual style but his ability to shock his audience with a perfectly timed gruesome scene. “District 9” certainly had its share of shocking scenes and I expected more of those in Elysium. We got a few, one coming from a perfectly timed grenade, but overall the dead spaces between the action was just too boring for me. Matt Damon wasn’t terrible but it seemed like he was phoning it in at times. The only real acting highlight for me was Shartlo Copley who played a pretty menacing villain.

What I didn’t like…

Like an earlier original sci fi film, “Oblivion”, this film just seemed to be too heavy on visuals and futuristic set pieces and just completely skimped out on a coherent and logical plot. Too many times I was sitting there going “Why the hell is this happening? I hope they’re going to explain this—-okay they’re not explaining anything”. That;s not good for a film that is almost 100% comprised of technology that we don’t have right now. If you’re going to introduce a device that can put somebodies face back together then you should at least tell us why the hell that is even possible considering the man had no damn face. Also, Jodie Foster should stop acting. I’ve never really been a fan of hers and this was possibly the worst acting I’ve seen all year. She tried to be this cold robotic evil woman but it just came off completely corny and just plain strange. You can’t just movie your face around while trying to give off a horrible accent to make yourself seem more bitchy. It was horrible. The ending could be seen from space and they totally ripped off the ending to “Blood Diamond”. The whole film just fell apart at the end without really having a leg to stand on besides a very promising middle.

Overall it just wasn’t very good. I think if Blomkamp gets a big budget film again he’ll prove he’s one of the best up and coming sci fi film makers but to be honest he really didn’t do much to impress me with this.

2.5/5




Film Review : The World’s End (2013)

IMDB Score – 7.2
Rotten Tomato Score – 89%

Directed By – Edgar Wright
Starring – Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Roseamund Pike, and Pierce Brosnan

Five friends who reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from 20 years earlier unwittingly become humankind’s only hope for survival.

As stated in my previous post, I’m going to be seeking out the films of 2013 that I procrastinated on seeing in the theater when they were released. First up is the third and final installment of the now infamous “Cornetto Trilogy” which was preceded by one of my favorite films of all time, Shaun of the Dead, and a vastly under appreciated Hot Fuzz.

Honestly, I think this is the most fun out of the three but not necessarily the best. Simon Pegg once again proves he’s one of the best comedic actors working today. His role in Shaun of the Dead might be the best of his career but this role certainly pushed for the title. He is hilarious albeit a bit annoying in this one. I think you just have to buy into the character to see past the frustrating way he carries himself to see what a great character study Pegg and Edgar Wright penned up. Wright has always been almost masterful in pacing. If you have ever seen Scott Pilgrim then you know what I mean. This film doesn’t take a breath the entire time. It’s almost two hours but they FLEW by like I’ve never seen. I honestly wish it was longer because of how much fun it was. The writing is to thank but it also is blessed with a perfect cast.

Usual tag team partner Nick Frost sits opposite Pegg in a starring role, but this time roles have been reversed and it is Frost who has the smart head on his shoulders. Paddy Considine (Please direct another film), Martin Freeman, and the always incredible Eddie Marsan make up the supporting three friends who each have their moments, especially Marsan. I ended up giggling a lot by how his character Peter sees most of the world. The five of them together is enough to see this movie.

This film has the unfortunate luck of having a trailer force feed the entire plot to us in two minutes so the twist in the middle is not surprising in any way but there are still great little nuances to the threat the five face throughout the second half of the film. That’s where the fun really is to be had, the second half, but the first is equally as good. I live in a town with people like Simon Pegg’s character Gary. People hold on to their youth and instead of creating new memories, they hold on to the old ones. Gary is the driving force behind the films main theme which in my eyes was to experience life to the fullest despite what other people tell you to do. I’ll admit that whole thing seems a bit cheesy but they really pulled it off here. The film also has some incredible fight scenes and great special effects. The only thing I can say I didn’t like was the films ending but by that time I was having too much fun to really care.

It’s a great way to end a hilarious, emotional, and just f’ing fun trilogy.

4.5/5