Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Nebraska is not a road trip movie, it's not a character study, it's not a father and son tale.  The film is about focusing on what you want and remain determined until you get what you want, but be realize that getting what you want may lead to disappointment.

Bruce Dern plays Woody, an aging married man and father of two adult sons.  He is well into his golden years and lived a hard life following his time serving in the Korean War. He is also one of the youngest of a large family of brothers.  He grew up in Hawthorne, Nebraska but raised his family in Billings, Montana.  After Woody receives a letter from a magazine company telling him that he's won a million dollars, he is bound and determined to travel from Montana to Nebraska to pick up his winnings.  His younger son, David (Will Forte) agrees to drive Woody there, since he can no longer drive.

On their way, they two end up staying with family in Hawthorne and he is reunited with family and old friends from the neighborhood.  Through some miscommunication, Woody becomes very popular in the town and everyone wants some attention from him.  Through these interactions, we learn more about him and the lives he's affected throughout his life.  This is all contrary to him, a man who is not prone to speaking much and does not seem to carry even an ounce of sentimentality.  Whether due to mental illness, aging senility or just personality, Woody is only semi-present in the here and now.

The scene stealer is Woody's wife, played by June Squibb.  She is the balance in the relationship. Where Woody rarely speaks, his wife Kate always speaks her mind and has an opinion about everything.  As with many couples married for decades, she seems exhausted by Woody but deep down still cares about the man and will defend him when necessary.

Alexander Payne films are notable for portraying real-life and reflecting on some of the more depressing aspects of living. My experience with his other films are that the characters are solid, the performances are strong and the film will leave you feeling sad but satisfied.  That holds true for this movie as well.  This film did not have some of the trademark "shocking" sequences seen in prior films, like Kathy Bates naked in a hot tub.  It did not need them.  Nebraska is much more focused and deliberate.  The dreariness is magnified through the use of black and white.  The soundtrack reflects the droll northern mid-west life, where this is not much going on. Little employment, little hope.  Woody has lived his life out and realizes there is only two things he still wants after picking up his million - a new truck and an air compressor.  With those things, his life is complete.

While I have been trying to write about every new movie (or new to me movie) in the past year. I have realized that I can only really write something when I am moved either from hate and disgust or from enjoyment.  Nebraska is a film I enjoyed. The "R" rating was only for language and mild violence.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"Saving Mr. Banks"

It's been an exciting couple of years for me. First they make a big-screen bio pic of one of my cinema heroes: Alfred Hitchcock. (I'll pretend The Girl, the less-flattering HBO bio pic, didn't happen) and now Saving Mr. Banks. Of course, Saving Mr. Banks is not really a movie about Walt, it's more of a bio pic of P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins.  It is, however, the first time that Walt Disney has been featured PROMINENTLY in a major motion by an actor.  What's more is that the struggle to get Mary Poppins made, itself, makes for a great story and turned into a wonderful.

The film tells the tale, with use of flashbacks, as to just how personal Mrs. Travers held the characters from Mary Poppins.  We see the relationship between Travers and her doting father who had his own demons to deal with.  Disney struggled for 18 years to convince Travers to adapt the books into a film. Like many, she saw Disney as a guy that makes cartoons for children. She was deathly afraid of the characters being trivialized, animated and candy coated. This is another film where we know the ultimate conclusion, she allowed Disney to have the rights to the character, but it was not without a lot of charm from Walt, the Sherman Brothers (song composers), Don DaGradi (screenwriter) and likely many other people from the Disney camp. The process to convince Travers to allow Disney the rights to make the film is the framework for the film.

I was packed into a theater with hard-core Disney fans who signed up for the Disney Parks Blog meet-up, so this was an audience that really wanted to see this film done right. I think I can speak on behalf of the majority and say the film was "practically perfect in every way." Hanks as Walt Disney did the man justice. He was not a caricature, but actually portrayed Disney at his essence. He still looked like Tom Hanks, but there was just enough make up and hair styling to allow you to forget that it was him. Emma Thompson was wonderful and I was able to completely believe she was Mrs. Travers.

Of the many things I love about Disney - the institution, is Disneyland. I recall last summer when all they were filming a couple of key sequences inside the park. I was unable to get over there that day, by my Disney social media friends provided plenty of coverage on Twitter and Instagram. The moment I was most looking forward to seeing was when Travers was brought to the park for a personal tour by Walt Disney, himself.  The park has evolved a lot since 1963, when that meeting actually occurred. Other than the addition to a few elements at the entry to the park, there was little done as far as set dressing to date the park back to the 60s. Instead, the art designers focused on the clothing worn by the extras. They were really the only thing you could see in focus, as the rest of the back was merely a background.

The film, Mary Poppins was Walt Disney at his finest. We've seen through time that Mary Poppins was the pinnacle of live action films while Walt was alive. The film was released in 1964 and Walt passed away just two years later in 1966.  By all acclaims, Travers remained critical of the film, even after it's release. She continued to hold tightly onto the rights. It was only after she passed away that a stage musical version of Mary Poppins could even be considered.