Posts Tagged Alexander Payne

Nebraska – Movie Review

In Director Alexaner Payne’s Nebraska, Bruce Dern gives a touching performance as Woody Grant, a simple man, an old man, a father of two, who is perhaps suffering from dementia, and insists on traveling to Lincoln, Nebraska, from his current residence in Billings, Montana, to collect his $1M sweepstakes prize.  While Woody’s son Ross (Bob Odenkirk) discusses with his mother Kate (June Squibb), his son David (Will Forte) decides to entertain Woody and take him on a road trip to Nebraska.  Nebraska was also where Woody had previously lived and has many friends as well as many members of his large family.  David arranges for Woody to see his hometown, stay at one of his brother’s place for a few days, and have an opportunity to meet his childhood friends.


Nebraska at Mill Valley Film Festival

Nebraska at Mill Valley Film Festival (Photo credit: Steve Rhodes)


The journey that father and son undertake offers a glimpse into the American heartland, its vastness, gentle rolling hills, fields, plains, and simple family life centered around food and football games.  The bleakness of life amid negative economic impact of the downturn, and scarcity of resources and lack of other stimulation, is also striking and often, depressing.  Streets in many towns are dead and empty and businesses shuttered, with most of the life happening at beer bars and pubs.  Despite David being fully aware that there is no rainbow at the end, or in this case, there is no million dollar prize waiting for Woody, he takes Woody on this journey.  In the course of the journey, David learns a great deal about his father.  His now alcoholic, crusty, old father, was once a kind, giving man, who was lauded for his service in the war, who had also stolen the heart of a young maid, before he married David’s mother, a quarrelsome woman.


But while David learns a great deal, Woody remains uninterested, often confused, mostly crusty, and singularly focused on obtaining his million dollar prize.  Woody’s family and friends refuse to hear from David that the prize is not real and their need and greed makes them relentlessly pursue Woody, in the hope of getting a piece of the pie.  The movie gives a strikingly realistic portrayal of what age does to a person, the fading faculties that never fully bring anything meaningful into focus.  The movie also gives a glimpse into life in fading towns in America’s heartland that may never be the focus of meaningful happenings.  While insightful and philosophical, the movie is depressing.  Perhaps clips and short segments will be shown and discussed in many academic classes.


The movie essentially portrays lack of excitement.  However, the end is beautiful, touching, exciting, and offers a redeeming quality to this “blah” movie.  I rate it a 3.6 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent.


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The Book Thief – Movie Review

“Here is a small fact.  You are going to die”.  I wasn’t too thrilled when the Grim Reaper began narrating the story and was glad to hear the voice of death only couple of times and only in very short pieces.  This is a story based on the original book by Markus Zusak and adapted for the movie by Michael Petroni.  Movie is directed by Brian Percival.

The story unfolds in Germany, during World War II, between 1938 and 1945. Liesel’s poor mother, unable to care for her children, is compelled to give her up for adoption.  Liesel’s adoptive father, Hans indulges her and teacher her to read, while her adoptive mother Rosa is a bit distant, at first.  Liesel is a bright girl who immediately picks up the linguistic skills and relishes books.  As is the case in all autocratic rules, knowledge is often suppressed, with suppression of freedom of expression, and in Hitler’s Germany, books are burned publicly and very few books have survived.  Liesel discovers a large home library and eventually finds a way to steal books to read, though she says, she is only borrowing them.  Her best friend Rudy promises to keep it a secret but incredulously asks, “people are dying due to lack of food, and you are stealing books”?  But in the end, it is the books that bring Liesel hope and helps the young Jewish man, Max survive, who is hidden by her adoptive parents, in their home, at incredible risk to themselves.  Liesel reads to Max, when he is fighting off poor health, she tells stories when people are taking refuge from the bombs, in the shelter, and she reaches out for a book, when she seems to have lost everyone and everything, as she emerges from the rubble, created from allied bombs.

The casting in the movie “The Book Thief”, is brilliant.  Recently, I heard Alexander Payne, (Director of such films as Nebraska and Dependants) say that 90% of directing is casting.  In “The Book Thief”, each character is marvelously played and that includes the roles of Liesel’s adopted parents, beautifully played by Geoffrey Rush as the kind and caring father, and outwardly stern and practical but inwardly soft mother, played by Emily Watson.  Ben Schnetzer, in the role of Max (son of a Jewish friend of the family) and Nico Liersch as Rudy, are perfect.  But it is Sophie Nelisse, in the role of Liesel, who captured my heart and wowed me, with her acting.  There are many opportunities for over-acting and the story and the plot certainly might compel a less experienced actor to do just that.  However, Nelisse conveys with very simple gestures, smiles, or sometimes by simply looking away, enormous depth of emotion or seriousness of the situation.  I will certainly look for her in other roles. 

The movie has made an effort to bring to screen a best-seller, but as is often the case, it has not succeeded entirely in rising to the level of being unforgettable.  However, overall, it is an engaging plot, great story, and Nelisse’s acting is supsuperb.  I give it a 4 on 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being excellent.

Cover of "The Book Thief"

Cover of The Book Thief

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