Nebraska

Bill I’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

A very well-done film, with an overall depressing motif, from the people to the environment to the black and white cinematography. Bruce Dern, in a tour de force, plays an old codger who has had it with everything: his wife, his sons, his relatives, neighbors, and just life in general. He latches onto a glimmer of hope when a sweepstakes junk mailer promises him one million dollars, so he sets his mind on getting to the mailer’s headquarters in Lincoln Nebraska to get the money in person. (“I wouldn’t trust a million dollars in the mail!”) There are several themes that resonate: 1) caring for elderly parents as they slip to the end of their lives, often into dementia first; 2) questioning what are we living for, more money, family, friends; 3) regret about past loves, decisions made, favors made; 4) how money changes people’s outlook, bringing out their nastiest; 5) finally, and what makes this ultimately a lovely film, a love for one’s parents regardless of how nasty they may become. Will Forte plays the loving son, and it’s his patience, innate sadness and humaneness that makes this a touching film. By the way, June Squibb is wonderful as the long suffering wife of Dern’s codger, who suffers no fools and is quick to curse out anyone who crosses her path. By the way, there’s some very funny parts to this, including a pair of cousins who together probably don’t total an IQ of 100.

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

This is the first review from movies I saw at last week’s Austin film festival. I’ll write a few more reviews in the next few days.

Nebraska is the latest movie from Alexander Payne, the director of Sideways and The Descendants. Bruce Dern gives an exceptional performance as Woody, an aging alcoholic trying to get to Nebraska to claim his $1 million marketing sweepstakes prize (which, of course, is not real). His son David (Will Forte) offers to take him, and a road trip ensues. Woody and David have had a rocky past, and the road trip gives them an opportunity to work through some of their issues. A stop in Woody’s old home town also gives David a chance to gain more insight into his father (and mother) and the relationship they had with some of their relatives and others from the town.

The film has a good mix of humor and drama. While you don’t get to understand all that made Woody the way he is/was, you do end up pretty sympathetic to all the characters. In addition to Dern’s great performance, Forte was also surprisingly good in a non-comedic role.  June Squibb was as Woody’s wife stole just about every scene she was in.

I liked this a lot and definitely recommend it. Nebraska opens in a couple of weeks.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

Hanksgiving

The Master Pancake Comedy troupe on Austin usually screens a movie while talking over  and making fun of the film (like Mystery Science Theater 300 used to do). Most of their shows are at the Alamo Drafthouse (a great place to see a movie), although occasionally they perform at the Paramount Theatre. This summer Master Pancake also did a free show at the Long Center’s lawn. They are very funny and raunchy. I go to see them every chance I get.

This weekend and next, they are doing something a little bit different. Instead of mocking a single movie, they have a great time with compiled scenes from Tom Hanks movies. This is a great show whether you love or hate Hanks…and, as they like to point out, nobody hates Tom Hanks. The Hanks catalog runs the gamut from his early comedies, his Oscar-winning performances, romantic comedies , etc.

Master Pancake show usually sell out several days in advance, so get your tickets.early.

Tom Hanks Career

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The Armstrong Lie

Bill C’s Review – 3 out of 5

Documentarian Alex Gibney started out to make a film about Lance Armstrong’s return to cycling in 2009. As often happens for good documentaries, film makers need to be at the right place at the right time. In this case, as Gibney was finishing his original film, the final exposure of Armstrong as a cheat and liar evolved, and it was back to the drawing board for Gibney.

He did additional interviews with some of the people that Armstrong destroyed over the years as well as with Armstrong (including as recently as this year). While no new major revelations are made, this is an interesting portrait that sheds some additional insight in what shaped Armstrong, including his early days as a triathlete, his battle with cancer, and the incredible pressure to cheat in cycling in the 90s and stay one step ahead of the testing. This film also uses good archival footage of old Tour de France races as well as Armstrong’s winning years and his comeback in 2009/2010.

I’ve been a big fan of Armstrong since his first Tour win and he has been a well-known presence in Austin with the Livestrong Foundation and the annual charity rides (that I still participate in). Austin is probably the only place that still has something named after him: The Lance Armstrong Bikeway. After watching the recent interviews with Armstrong, it is sad to see he is still rationalizing his behavior and doesn’t really own up to his past mistakes.

For those who have found the Armstrong saga interesting, this is an informative addition.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

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Blue is the Warmest Color

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

What relevance does the title have? I don’t know. At some point I thought it might be because Emma (the “older” women in this love affair, although only a college student when we meet her) sports blue streaks in her punky hairstyle. But that’s not it. The original title, La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2 – “The Life of Adèle – Chapters 1 & 2, makes more sense, as it focuses on the younger lover, Adele, in a spectacular breakout performance by Adele Exarchopoulos. Adele the actress was 18 when she played Adele the character, who is a high school junior when we first meet her. This is a love story, with its tender, exploratory beginnings to its explosive sexual  and emotional dynamics and ulitimately its (spoiler alert, sorry) typical demise. I wondered how great this film is, given its biggest publicity has surrounded the lesbian aspect – is it exploitive, is it genuine or just titilating? Certainly the plot is nothing special: girl meets boy, girl meets the love of her life and forgets the boy, they have a fight and break up. And it takes 3 hours to do so. But it held my attention, and I really liked it. I attribute that to one main factor, which is the beauty and geniuneness of Adele playing Adele. Her captivating screen presence grew on me. She starts out looking like a typical high schooler, rushing off to catch the bus, hair a mess, dumpy clothes, nothing special about her. But you see her beauty, and her face is so expressive, in an understated way, that you can tell how she is feelling, from bored, to excited, to love, to vulnerable and to miserable. There’s some great scenes: with her classmates freaking out ’cause she’s hanging out with a butch girl; with her family around the dinner table; with her nursery school class as she rejoices in teaching the kids; with a party when she plays host/chef/server to Emma’s upper class artistic friends. And of course, the 1 on 1 scenes between the women show true love, show how routine life interferes and then how one intense fight can destroy it all. A lot has been written about the 10 minute explicit sex scene, and as a typical hetero male I certainly enjoyed it. Probably not as genuine as what I’ve seen in The L Word, or in actual porno films, but as close to real sex as you will see in mainstream movies. I mean, you can’t fake kissing and biting someone’s ass. But you can legitimately tell your spouse and friends that you are going to see an excellent foreign film, and mean it.

Dallas Buyers Club

Bill I’s Review – 4.25 out of 5

Matthew McConaughey shows once again what a tremendous actor he is, and with his role as HIV afflicted Texan good ole boy, Ron Woodroof, he deploys an unbelievable physical presence to great effect. His character is gaunt in the extreme, even before he’s diagnosed, and almost unrecognizable, certainly the polar opposite from his Magic Mike character. Based on a true story, set starting in 1985, he’s shocked by the diagnosis, in denial, because in his mind it’s a disease limited to c**suckers like Rock Hudson. He’s not an admirable person, and given 30 days to live, he’s desperate for any cure. AZT is just starting clinical trials and while he loves gambling on cards he doesn’t like the odds of getting the real drug vs a placebo in the double blind trial so he goes off on his own to get experimental, unapproved drugs from around the world. The film is a great character study as Ron starts to find some good as well as profit in helping others find a cure, and it’s almost documentary like in showing the medical establishment struggling to find a cure while hordes are dying. It is also shocking to see, and to be reminded of, the reaction of most people when confronted with friends and co-workers who have the HIV death sentence proclaimed. I flashbacked to Magic Johnson and his earth shaking press conference announcing his diagnosis, then to the reaction of some of his NBA colleagues (Karl Malone, for one) when Magic decides to try a comeback, while they fear bumping into him, getting blood, sweat or other bodily fluids onto their masculinity. With Jennifer Gardner playing a thankless role as doctor, the real second star is his hospital roommate, Rayon, a cross dressing, drug using, HIV infected presence, played by Jared Leto (I had no idea until checking the credits just now). Leto also molded his body into his character so that you are not watching a movie with a script but genuine people who are living, and dying, their real lives. It’s not a fun movie to watch, but never lost my attention or bogged down, humorous at times, carried by the wonderful McConaughey and Leto. Definite Oscar nominees, both.

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

I need to start reviewing movies before Bill as he leaves me nothing to say.

This is another movie that shows how quickly the world has changed, from the effectiveness of treating this disease to the way gay people were treated in this country.  The film hilights the transformation of Woodruff from a self-centered, gay-hating person to a crusader fighting for those who had no hope.

The physical transformations and performances by both McConaughey and Leto are amazing. It’s also amazing to think of how McConaughey’s career has evolved from his early days to his recent choices of interesting movies/performances, including Tropic Thunder, Bernie, Killer Joe, and Mud. Jared Leto was a revelation in this role. It will be interesting to see how he splits his time between acting, which he has dabbled in, and as lead singer of Thirty Seconds to Mars.

While Dallas Buyers Club is tough to watch, it is definitely worth seeing.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

12 Years a Slave

Bill I’s Review – 4.5 out of 5

It’s a rare film that is so powerful and moving that I know I will remember not only the plot but how I felt after watching it: The Killing Fields, The Deer Hunter, Schindler’s List, The Excorcist (OK, not all of them are about killing), and now 12 Years a Slave. I said after I saw Django Unchained that while it had some typical Tarantino stylistic exaggerations, graphic violence and revenge fantasy, it served as a necessary reminder of how terrifyingly brutal slavery was in reality. 12 Years a Slave takes this to another level, where you see the human evil, of one man owning others, treating them much worse than he treated his animals, rapes at the drop of a hat, whips to near death at a whim, separates families without a second thought, and preaches the gospel without even considering that what he’s doing every day is a worse sin than anything mentioned in the ten commandments. What elevates this film above documentaries and other films of this subject is the magic of the director, cinematographer and the actors. Ever see a lynching on film? Not like here, you didn’t, where Solomon (the main character played by a soon to be Oscar winner Chiwetel Ejiofor) is strung up just high enough so his toes can support him on the ground, and they let him hang in the midday sun, gasping for breath, under the watch of the overseer and the occasional glance of the master’s wife while his fellow slaves continue their daily business, and some of their kids play in the field. No dialogue is necessary as the only sound is Solomon’s desperate breathing, a scene that seemed to last hours but is probably 4-5 minutes of just in your face reality you can’t avoid. Made me think am I really of the same species as these people? Was it only 160 years ago that this happened in our country? My grandfather’s parents (maybe) and grandparents (definitely) were living during this time, so it’s really not that long ago. Now flash back to the present time, where apparently 60,000 people are modern day versions of slaves right here in the US (read this: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/07/opinion/slavery-isnt-a-thing-of-the-past.html)

I won’t get into the plot, which is a perfect vehicle to tell this story, and it’s based on a real person and his real hellish experience. You can read about that here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon_Northup

What a film!

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

I don’t have much to add to Bill’s excellent review. The movie shows the brutality of slavery, how some people coped and others didn’t, and how it never occurred to many slave-owners that they were doing anything wrong. The movie is well-written, beautifully directed, and has an excellent cast. In addition to the great performance by Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender as a religious but cruel slave-owner, and Lupita Nyong as a slave in one of her first roles were standouts.

As Bill says, this is one of those movies that will definitely stick with you long after you’ve seen it.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

 

Thor The Dark World

Bill I’s Review – 2 out of 5

This sequel fell short of my already low expectations, and I couldn’t wait for the closing credits.  When I find myself squirming in my seat, closing my eyes and not worrying I am missing something then I know it’s not a great movie for me. It started out OK, with the same characters as the first Thor, but then towards the end got more preposterous and boring. The actors are fine (Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Natalie Portman as the brainy beauty scientist, and Tom Hiddleston as Thor’s bad bro Loki), some of the repartee is witty, but oh, the plot. I don’t think I need to give a spoiler alert because I don’t think I understood enough to explain what exactly happens. I can say that someone wants to destroy the universe, and they need to capture the “ether” from Natalie (she has absorbed it somehow, while pining away for her dream beauty Thor who said he’d be right back two years ago, while he had to go back to his world in another galaxy, deal with his father and unruly brother, and save his world), then wait for the precise moment when convergence happens (don’t remember convergence from your high school physics class? Well it’s when all the planets line up in a row and gravity goes nuts causing havoc – my wife says it causes worm holes but I don’t recall them using that terminology), and only at that moment can the ether be deployed to destroy everything. Unless, of course, the brainy beauteous Natalie is wielding her iPad with knobs to zap the bad guys into another dimension. Some minor questions arose in my mind along the way. Such as, when and how did Natalie, or her mentor wacky scientist who runs around in his underwear (or less), figure out how to create this super iPad without even asking Apple? Or why do the good guys on Thor’s world use swords to fight the bad guys even though they have super advanced technology that allows them to travel through worm holes and to fly super fast ships with great ray guns and automated ray canons? And how do the bad guys, who have been exciled in some type of remote prison since the first Thor, come back armed with super AK-47 type ray guns and grenades that suck into thin air anyone within 50 feet? Let this be a warning to all of you, not to snooze so you can figure out these puzzlers. Or not.

Inside Llewyn Davis

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

Inside Llewyn Davis is the new Coen Brothers movie about a folk singer struggling for success in a one week period in 1961.  I liked this a lot but I do not think it quite makes the top echelon of Coen Brothers many diverse films.

This is a really good, sad character study as success eludes Davis on both a personal and professional basis often times due to self inflicted actions.  Oscar Isaac stars as Davis.  I had never even heard of him before and he totally dominates the movie.  I think he was probably in every scene and he did a great job performing the  music as well as acting.

The music definitely evoked the music of the era and much of the music was played in it’s entirety which was a pleasant surprise.  T-Bone Burnett, who wrote the music for Crazy Heart and many Coen Brothers movies wrote the music with Isaac.

While overall this is a sad movie the Coen’s do inject a fair amount of humor including a great song about JFK  and the space program sung by Isaac, Justin Timberlake (showing he could have been a successful folk singer) and Adam Driver (from Girls).

Definitely check this one out.

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

The main character, Llewyn Davis, is based on Dave Van Ronk, a genuine folk singer that I have never listened to. I thought his singing (Oscar Davis in a tremendous performance) in this film is excellent, and was shocked when he gets told at one desperate point that it’s not a money making sound, but it must be true because Van Ronk was never a big seller as far as I know. There’s a cool scene towards the end where you see Bob Dylan (an actor playing him of course) on stage with his unique voice at the Gaslight club, who proved there’s money and fame to be made if you were good, and unique, enough. Or maybe a big dose of luck and timing. To base a movie on such a sad character who is also fairly despicable at times and still make it compelling is an amazing feat. But it’s a great character, who is multi-dimensional, with the overriding theme of the life of an artist. An artist who is so focused, and self-centered, on his craft that it blinds him to what he needs to do to be successful. The life of a self-destructive artist. The visuals are great as usual in a Coen brothers film, although nothing that brings us out of reality. Throughout it’s an understated film, with some unexpected funny/shocking scenes, and not much that is predictable.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

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Nebraska

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

This is the first review from movies I saw at last week’s Austin film festival. I’ll write a few more reviews in the next few days.

Nebraska is the latest movie from Alexander Payne, the director of Sideways and The Descendants. Bruce Dern gives an exceptional performance as Woody, an aging alcoholic trying to get to Nebraska to claim his $1 million marketing sweepstakes prize (which, of course, is not real). His son David (Will Forte) offers to take him, and a road trip ensues. Woody and David have had a rocky past, and the road trip gives them an opportunity to work through some of their issues. A stop in Woody’s old home town also gives David a chance to gain more insight into his father (and mother) and the relationship they had with some of their relatives and others from the town.

The film has a good mix of humor and drama. While you don’t get to understand all that made Woody the way he is/was, you do end up pretty sympathetic to all the characters. In addition to Dern’s great performance, Forte was also surprisingly good in a non-comedic role.  June Squibb was as Woody’s wife stole just about every scene she was in.

I liked this a lot and definitely recommend it. Nebraska opens in a couple of weeks.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

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