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 : About Schmidt (2002)

IMDB Score – 7.2
Rotten Tomato Score – 85%

Academy Award Nominee for Best Actor – Jack Nicholson
Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress – Kathy Bates

Cannes Film Festival Nominee for Palm d’Or

Directed By – Alexander Payne
Starring – Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Kathy Bates, June Squibb, and Dermot Mulroney

A man upon retirement embarks on a journey to his estranged daughter’s wedding only to discover more about himself and life than he ever expected.

I’ve been meaning to get out to see Alexander Payne’s new film Nebraska, which has been playing in my local art house for two weeks now. I’m going to have to get motivated or else I’m not going to be able to see it due to the five or so films that I still have left to see in this waning year. I’m a new fan of Payne. I saw Election about eight years ago and only recently revisited it on this site. I rented Sideways the year it came out and couldn’t finish it before I had to bring it back to the rental store. The Descendants was the first of his films I saw in theaters and while I loved it, I still haven’t revisited it since. There does seem to be a bit of a strange relationship I have with his films. On the one hand I find them unique and enjoyable and on the other I just can’t seem to watch them and appreciate them like some have. Hopefully Nebraska breaks that mold but until then I wanted to round out his mainstream filmography by watching About Schmidt.

The film is completely centered around the character of Warren Schmidt, played beautifully by the amazing and legendary Jack Nicholson. I don’t really know of anybody who isn’t a fan of of Jack and while his recent “retirement” from film have left most of us saddened, it’s honestly been a long time coming. We’ll still have his giant body of work to go back to and relive again and I hope his performance in this film is included because it was one of his best. The film is a character study focused directly on what happens to people when their age forces changes in their lives. Nicholson’s Schmidt goes through death, retirement, and the realization that his only daughter is getting married to somebody whom he finds intellectually substandard. It’s something that millions of Americans have gone through in their lives and will continue going through. Nicholson handles the role with subtle sadness and obvious disdain for the situation he’s in. He’s not ready for life on his own and it’s not going to get any easier. The only thing that is keeping him balanced is the six year old Tazmanian child whom he is supporting through a televised charity agency. He writes letters to this poverty stricken child like he’s writing an old friend. It’s more of a way to grasp his reality than actually wanting to inform his “foster child” of what’s going on in his life. It’s like therapy for him. This is the driving theme in this story…dealing with sadness.

Payne is used to this. His films have always been layered with emotion and usually feature somebody who is on the brink of a breakdown. George Clooney could have won an Oscar with his performance in The Descendants. Paul Giamatti SHOULD have won an Oscar for his performance in Sideways. He wasn’t even nominated. Now Bruce Dern is winning awards left and right for his portrayal of man who thinks he won a million dollars in Nebraska. Payne brings the pain in almost every film (Horrible pun, I’m so sorry) and he didn’t break that mold when making About Schmidt.

The supporting cast was great as well as most of the comedy came from them. Kathy Bates plays a free spirit with horrible marriages she doesn’t mind talking about and Dermot Mulroney plays a lovable but completely annoying and lame brained man who is to marry Schmidt’s daughter. The film has a bunch of those little awkward moments that make you squirm and writhe with unease but it never breaches into unsettling. It’s like little moments of watching Steve Carell on the Office.

Overall a very good film that should be remembered as one of Jack Nicholson’s best roles in a lifetime of amazing roles.

4/5

Film Review : Election (1999)

IMDB Score : 7.3
RT Score : 92%

I’ve always been a fan of Alexander Payne. The Descendents and Sideways were very enjoyable and while George Clooney got recognized for his work by the academy, Paul Giamatti got robbed of a nomination. His performance in Sideways was fantastic. I recently read that Payne’s newest film Nebraska got a great response at the Cannes Film Festival and that Bruce Dern won best actor. I’m looking forward to that. That being said you’re not going to find those pivotal acting performances in this film. Election isn’t that kind of movie. It is a very dark comedy about high school that gets by on its wit and satire. I enjoyed it but not as much as Payne’s later work. Matthew Broderick plays a good down on his luck and ultimately bad person but it’s the characters surrounding him that make the film. It’s a film that brought on by these characters, sheds light on political and moral corruption, effects of seduction, and fucking blatant adultery. Like I said, it’s dark. Also, I’m glad Chris Klein is no longer really working. He never worked in the first place. He’s so bad. YOU ARE AWFUL SIR.

3/5