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Showing posts from 2013

Nebraska

From it's earliest sights and sounds - a vintage Paramount logo, black and white photography and a score rich with fiddle, dobro and other implements of Americana - Alexander Payne's Nebraska would seem to announce itself as something aiming for timelessness.  Something big and American and perhaps even profound. Hence, the broad, emblem of a title, placing us in the proverbial heartland of the country.  Bruce Springsteen did much the same in 1982 with an album bearing the state's name as its title, whose fairly bleak cycle of songs also tried to get at the simple heart of the country by way of some it less fortunate constituents.  Of course, Payne has a bit more claim to the title and state as a Nebraska native.
To his credit, Payne goes after his big theme -whatever that might be -  in a small way.  As usual, he grounds his work in very credible detail.  Payne has taken us on the road before, in About Schmidt and Sideways.  The director has a relatively keen eye for the…

Dallas Buyers' Club

Death, the most common of human experiences, is refracted through billions of individualized nightmares. Perhaps in time, when the reality settles with an inexorable gravity, when the dark dream is proven to be waking reality, grace comes.  Perhaps in time; perhaps for some.
There's a sense of nightmare about the initial scenes and images in Dallas Buyers' Club.  These occur at the bull riding portion of sparsely attended Texas rodeo.  In a darkened, unused stall just off the rodeo floor, a man is seen having sex with one and then a second woman against the wooden planks of the enclosure.  This hardly seems a life-affirming exercise.  Rather a desperate, shadowy rutting.  Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), the cowboy in question with the very active libido, gazes between the boards onto the dirt of the ring to see another cowboy lying motionless after feeling the wrath of the bull he had just attempted to ride.  A rodeo clown comes into focus, like some particularly garish …

12 Years A Slave

Like the Holocaust, America's woeful history of slavery tends to be looked upon in monolithic terms.  A colossal, calculated, horrible example of man's inhumanity to man.  A grievous monument of hatred and brutality beyond, for some at least, words and comprehension.  But as with the Holocaust, about which new stories seem to emerge yearly, America's slave history has produced many and disparate narratives.

One such story was that of Solomon Northup. After being lured to Washington D.C. for some brief but lucrative work, Mr. Northup, a free man who lived with his family in upstate New York, was drugged and awoke to find himself in chains.  When he protested that he was a free man, he was brutalized for the first of what would be many occasions in the succeeding dozen years.  Northup endured a slave's life in various Louisiana plantations until his whereabouts were finally discovered by family and friends, thanks to a friendly emissary, Canadian carpenter Samuel Bass.…

Prisoners

Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is a man of patched together contradictions, bound with borrowed shreds of catch phrase and philosophy.  Hoping that strength and diligence alone can shepherd him and his family through whatever adversity life might bring.

Dover is the one character that writer Aaaron Guzikowski's long labyrinth of s script really bothers to reveal to any depth in Prisoners.  When a distraught Dover - coming undone in the days after his daughter and that of a neighbor have disappeared - reveals to detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) that he's taking his first drink of alcohol in nine and a half years, it's not the least bit surprising.  Keller Dover has the desperate, detoured energy of a former addict that approaches zealotry when stretched.  "Pray for the best and expect the worst," we hear him utter more than once in Prisoners.

Canadian director Denis Villeneuve has given us an ample serving of the worst through his last two features (or three for th…

Blue Jasmine

Over forty years into his career as a film director, Woody Allen keeps going.  This has become both a kind of grim certainty and, only very rarely, a virtue.  Over the past 15 to 20 years, Allen has been like a man trying to mount a sumptuous feast who finds himself thrashing around in an empty pantry.  In lieu of something fresh, we get warmed-over dishes, whose recipes might not have been such a good idea in the first place.

Since 2005, he has frequently done what had long seemed unthinkable, set and film several of his projects somewhere other than the island of Manhattan.  The first such effort, Match Point (2005), was his strongest in years, imbued with a gravity not seen in a Woody Allen film since Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989). Mixed results followed:  Vicki Christina Barcelona (2008), a shiny wet dream of a film; the vastly-overrated Midnight in Paris (2011), a lot of half-baked philosophy, self-indulgence and artistic name-dropping hid behind some lovely artistic design.

The Spectacular Now

Summer.  In many ways the season of youth.  As much in the movie theater as on the beach.  So, perhaps not such a surprise of a high summer that a  film would come along about young love.  The surprise, the irony of The Spectacular Now is that it's every bit as subtle, as substantial, as replete with strong acting as any Oscar bait likely to be released between now and year's end.  Hiding in plain sight among the summer's forgettable fare, for your consideration, The Spectacular Now.

The irony of the film, the third feature of director James Ponsoldt, written by Scott Neaustatder and Michael H. Weber, extends beyond its quality and timing of its appearance.   When the film's title appears on screen a few minutes in - huge block white letter on a black background - it's already apparent that darkness is lurking around the edges of the bright life of high school gadabout Sutter Keely (Miles Teller).

The high school world of The Spectacular Now is one of the many th…