Friday, November 22, 2013


'NEBRASKA' (R) (3 1/2 STARS)

Written by Bob Nelson
Directed by Alexander Payne
Actors: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach, Rance Howard, Mary Louise Wilson.

In gorgeous black and white we see an elderly man walking aimlessly down a street, looking disheveled and lost. We will find out that this man is named Woody Grant. We are also seeing the start of a performance by one of out national treasures in cinema. Bruce Dern has always been seen as a supporting character actor. When he tried to stretch as a leading man with 1973's "The King of Marvin Gardens" his quest failed. That movie became a curio and a cult movie but Bruce Dern has always given great performances no matter the role. Now with "Nebraska", Dern gives his best performance of his career as a lead character. You can tell he has been licking his lips for decades for this opportunity and he hits a home run!

Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, who believes he has become a millionaire when he is sent one of those marketing letters telling him he may have the winning number to win millions. His son David, played by Will Forte, tries to convince his old man that this is a scam. Woody, who lives with his wife in Billings, Montana, wants to go to Nebraska, where the letter came from, to collect his money. Woody is stubborn and dementia is starting to sink in and he won't listen to his son so David will take a road trip with his father to Nebraska. His wife Kate, June Squibb, is a great match for Woody even though she berates him and calls him crazy and lazy. Woody will go with David to Nebraska and on the way they will visit Woody's old town where he used to live and where he will try to settle old scores.

As Woody visits the town he used to live in the word spreads that Woody is a millionaire and Woody's creepy twins, his old partner(Stacey Keach) and old friends come out of the woodwork asking for money. "Nebraska" deals with small towns where living is easy and people just want to relax and just live. "Nebraska" is beautifully shot in black and white by Alexander Payne who just relaxes and let's us soak in the atmosphere. The screenplay by Bob Nelson is very deadpan but also brilliant and hilarious. I laughed out loud a lot during this movie and I was amazed that the movie treated it's characters so honestly and didn't ridicule them. A lot of writers would have poked fun at these simple town folk because let's be honest, movies about small towns and the South are usually full of stereotypical rube type characters in Hollywood.

Director Alexander Payne and writer Bob Nelson love Woody, his family and all these people. The movie successfully captures the simple beauty of the country, the small stores, the hole in the wall type bars. There are some priceless lines of dialogue and some wonderful, tender moments and this movie wouldn't have worked without it's wonderful cast of actors and their performances. Bruce Dern has acted in some iconic movies and given such wonderful performances but this is definitely his best performance of his career. He does not have much dialogue but when he does speak he carefully delivers each line with precision and poignancy. June Squibb is his equal and her performance is a hilarious gift of put downs but also some nuggets of honesty. Kate is not afraid to speak her mind and when she does I laughed my butt off! Squibb just might run away with Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars, she is pitch perfect and steals the movie.

I also was surprised by the wonderful performance by Will Forte as David. I wasn't surprised that he was capable of a great performance in something substantial. I know Forte could become a great actor but I was surprised that he would give such a deep and measured performance that would be Oscar caliber. He works wonderfully off of Dern and I hope to see Will Forte tackle more big roles in more movies in the future. There are also some great supporting performances of well written characters by Bob Odenkirk and Stacy Keach as Woody's old partner who wants the money Woody still owes him.

This is Alexander Payne's best movie since "Sideways" and it reminded me of his other movie dealing with old people "About Schmidt" but this is deeper, more entertaining and ten times better. I also found this to be just right in it's focus and much more compelling than Payne's "The Descendants". It is beautiful to look at, charming, poignant and downright hilarious. The performances are beautiful and this movie won't insult a much older audience's intelligence like the terrible "The Book Thief" did. This movie could have gone so wrong but Payne and writer Bob Nelson care about their story and it's characters. Then there is Bruce Dern who I couldn't be more happy for getting a lead role that displays how amazing an actor he is. I love actors and the feeling I have watching a performance of a well written character by someone as great as Dern, that was long due in a movie like Nebraska", lifts me up and touches me.

Friday, November 8, 2013



Written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
Directed by Jean-Marc Valee
Actors: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Deni O'Hare, Steve Zahn, Dallas Roberts, Griffin Dunne, Kevin Rankin.

Movies can transport us back to a time of our lives and a period of time that we have forgotten existed, that has evaporated from our minds. The best movies take you back to a time and effectively puts you in a certain era and teaches you something you didn't know. "The Dallas Buyers Club" is one of those great movies, it moved me, taught me a lot and effectively put me in a time and place that enveloped me and introduced me to people I would come to care about deeply. This is a fascinating movie and a very entertaining movie despite it's bleak subject matter.

"The Dallas Buyers Club" tells the true story of electrician and rodeo star Ron Woodroof who in 1986 was infected with the HIV-AIDS virus. Ron partied hard and definitely scored with a lot of women, having unprotected sex with them all, but Ron explains to a doctor that he is in no way a homosexual. Ron is a very homophobic man and a lesser movie would just be about how Ron learns to accept homosexuals as equals by living through a disease that was once thought of as only affecting homosexuals. "The Dallas Buyers Club" is much better than that, it follows Ron's change of heart and lifestyle but it also taught me a lot about the disease, the drugs used to try to curb the disease and what Ron finds in other countries, other forms of unapproved medicine that could help him.

Ron will also set up a club called "The Dallas Buyers Club" where HIV infected people could pay a monthly membership fee and Ron would then provide them with alternative medicine. Ron will strike up an unusual friendship with a transvestite named Rayon who will help him with the club's business. Ron will go to Japan and to Mexico to find alternative medicine with the FDA, police and doctors trying to stop them. My joy in watching this movie was learning about this time in history and the drugs that were available, but not FDA approved. We have seemed to ignore this period in time as it pertains to this horrible disease that changed us and a lot of others. The movie jolted me to my seat and I was fascinated by the subject matter, enthralled like I was watching an intense thriller. I was riveted by what I was learning and fascinated by all the characters and Ron's journey.

The pulse of the movie, that made it so special for me, was the two lead characters and the magnificent performances by Matthew McConaughey as Ron and Jared Leto as Rayon. These are two of my favorite characters I have spent time with in a movie and two of the best and most lived in performances I have seen. The heart of the movie is the developing friendship between the once homophobic Ron and the open hearted Rayon. McConaughey has now emerged as one of the best actors of my generation with his amazing performance here. Though I am not talking about the 40 pounds he lost for the role, I am talking about how he becomes Ron. His McConaughey southern drawl is there but he also disappears into his role. He is matched by the wonderful Jared Leto who we grow to love and respect because of Leto's way of not holding back but also touching us emotionally.

Ron and Rayon's friendship reminded me of the central friendship between Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman in "Midnight Cowboy" but I love this friendship and movie much more. There is also a small subplot of a love story between Ron and a doctor who tries to help him, solidly played by Jennifer Garner. Critics have complained that this plot development of a minor, almost budding romance is manufactured but I strongly disagree. We come to love Ron as much as she does and the wonderful screenplay by first timer Melisa Wallack and Craig Barten doesn't turn the subplot into a major love story, they scale the romance back. It is also a touching and effective emerging friendship and respect instead of a head over heels romance.

My favorite movies transport me back to a time and place that fascinates me and introduces me to people I wish I could have known and that I grow to love and respect. "The Dallas Buyers Club" is such a movie, it kept me enraptured for the entire running time. I didn't find any major missteps and the movie may seem long but I never wanted it to end, a mark of a great movie indeed. I loved the performances by McConaughey and Leto so much I now might put them as my front runners for Best Actor and Supporting Actor. McConaughey and Leto never appear as they are acting, they become Ron and Rayon and with McConaughey it had to be so difficult to do. My favorite period of filmmaking is 1968-1979 where movies taught me and also moved me to tears and made me confront life, helping me grow into adulthood. "The Dallas Buyers Club" is an effective evocation of the 80's equal to what the great movies of the 70's like "All the President's Men" and "The China Syndrome" did for the 70's. Bravo!



Written by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley
Directed by Alan Taylor
Actors: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgard, Christopoher Eccleston.

The sudden rush of superhero movies, "Avengers" movies and "X Men" movies are exciting to many movie goers in the last half decade or more. That's fine with me but it gets to the point when I have had enough, I have to sit through sequel after sequel without that much time in between to breathe. "Thor:The Dark World" is the first one of these to make me think all this for it is a lazy movie and I am figuring out the problem. These movies are all being rushed and jumbled together in one or two years. With that traffic jam it's easier to rush one of these movies at the expense of the movie's story. If you rush the release dates time will not be spent on the screenplay. That brings me to the lazy screenplay to the weakest of these movies so far and that is this dumb "Thor" sequel.

I don't mean dumb in a fun way, with "Thor:The Dark World" it is a dull, badly written idiocy. I am not a prude when it comes to these movies I swear. I think the original "Thor" was dumb but a lot of fun and fast until the over stuffed ending. I also think "Ironman" is one of my all time favorites. I don't expect a home run at every bat but when the bar is set high with "Ironman" you at least have to try to bring something original to this kind of movie or people will get bored fast. This "Thor" sequel has such a drag of a first hour, a glum, dark, hard to follow suck fest, that it can't recover even with a better, funnier, lighter last half hour. Maybe the problem is the Thor character is the least interesting of the "Avengers" characters. Argue with me if you will but I think Thor is the most dull character of the lot.

Further backing up that opinion is that of all the bad guys, here the antihero, this "Thor" sequel is stolen by the sneering, funny and energetic Loki. Loki is the pulse of this movie and "Thor"The Dark World" shoots itself in the foot with putting Loki to the side while Kat Dennings blabs on and Stellan Skarsgard stumbles around embarrassingly in the awful first hour. The supporting characters are all dull here, the major bad guys are elves!? Hello, "Lords of the Rings" rip off! The first hour is dark, hard to understand, Natalie Portman proves she is below her pay grade here and Anthony Hopkins (terrible here) shouts and growls his lines. Maybe Hopkins should join Harrison Ford in a alcoholic grouch gabfest.

There is not an original thought or ideal in this movie, at least "Ironman 3" added an ingenious, little twist in it's plot. The movie belongs to Tom Hiddleston as Loki and he is a delight. My suggestion for the third "Thor" movie is to drop Thor and make it a Loki spin off. Chris Hemsworth is still effective as Thor but he is given nothing interesting to do and you can't do that to a fairly dull character to begin with. The effects are all very effective here but to what purpose? This "Thor" sequel is a waste of everybody's time, cast, crew and movie goers. Thank a Thor God that Loki is saving your ass or "The Avengers" movies might be in trouble.