Nebraska (2013)

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Reviewed by Rob Munday

Nebraska, one of those states you can’t put your finger on unless you’re looking at a map (and even then it may take a while). Florida, New York, California all come with pre-wrapped expectations: sun and sand, New York New York, and Arnold Schwarzenegger; but Nebraska is largely a blank. And that works for this film, as Alexander Payne’s latest is about a lost America, a place strangely devoid of the life it should have.

Woody (Bruce Dern) is out on his own. Coat flapping, cotton wool hair torn apart by the wind, he walks along the great American pavement (or highway as it’s better known). Woody has purpose, he’s off to Nebraska, keen to collect the million dollars promised to him in a letter. But he has ignored the small print; the letter is just a circular. Woody’s no millionaire, he’s just a deluded old man.

NEBRASKAHorrified by his antics, his wife Kate, a lady full of grouch with a foul mouth to match, calls in son David for help. But David is ill equipped for this task; his life ain’t going so great and he’d rather not deal with this old man who never did much for him. Woody’s having none of it; he’s going one way or the other – maybe a road trip to Nebraska is just what David needs.

This being Payne, Nebraska is no ode to the open road but instead a chance for these characters to get to know each other. Woody and David get diverted on the way and become caught up in their past – back in the small town where they once lived. The shadow of recession looms large here. There is nothing much happening in this town beyond beer and TV; the streets lie empty and forlorn in the hope tumbleweed may provide some excitement.

They stay with relatives who all seem stuck in arbitrary lives. The mum fusses pointlessly, the dad sits watching TV along with the two fat sons who may as well be called Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. A beer in their hands they all seem happy to wait for the apocalypse. For David you can see the creeping horror, this is what happens when you get caught in the flow of everyday poverty. Meanwhile word gets around of Woody’s fortune and excitement spreads. We see the stink that money brings, the praise heaped on those who have it and the base instincts its lure encourages.

NEBRASKAAs time slips by David learns more about his dad’s past and his view starts to change. Maybe Woody is less a drunk that’s lost his marbles and more damaged goods after living a life too open to abuse in a cynical world. There is pathos in Woody and this is down to Dern who holds the screen beautifully with his usual mix of unpredictable magnetism. He’s aided by the casual evil of Stacy Keach (who plays his nemesis Ed Pegram) and understated support from Will Forte as David.

This is the first of Payne’s features not to be written by him and yet Bob Nelson’s script is not only based in Payne’s home state but fits right in with his output. There is a sadness in Payne’s work, a disappointment with people in general but also a willingness to care for them and laugh at their foibles.

nebraska-movie-image-01Nebraska moves at a casual pace and has the solid feeling of a well crafted film but there are missteps. Scenes are played flat and slow which can lead to deadpan delights but when the acting falters, proceedings soon become stilted and lifeless.
This is a gentle and effective comedy but you may yearn for the bite of Payne’s sharp debut Citizen Ruth, a film that starred Bruce Dern’s daughter Laura.

The Eyes Have It: Otto Heller

If you look up cameraman Otto Heller on imdb.com you will find 235 credits. Like many film crew during the silent era Heller shot many films each year (in 1921 alone he has 10 listed credits). Czech by birth Heller worked around Europe before settling in England in 1940. And it is his work on British film that is still vital 50 years on.

Perhaps the huge experience in silent cinema contributed to his bold approach, for Heller is notable for his striking imagery, unusual angles and use of high contrast in both black and white and colour photography. The viewpoint is fresh but never gimmicky, with each shot only adding to the characters, the story, and the feeling. These are visuals that remind you what cinema can be…

The Ladykillers:

Ladykillers_BD_cap05Peeping Tom:

peeping-tom-112The Ipcress File:

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posted by Rob Munday

The Eyes Have It: Roger Deakins

Roger Deakins is perhaps the greatest cameraman alive.

His visuals for Sid & Nancy beautifully capture the necessary grit of the punk scene while revealing a magical realism that adds to the doomed romance. He started out shooting documentaries where he learnt how to use minimal lighting and adapt to filming on location.
With Barton Fink he started his productive partnership with the Coen Brothers. His input seems to have added heart and realism into their stylised world with the sparse simplicity of his work on the snowbound Fargo particularly impressive.

He also shot 1984, Dead Man Walking and Kundun and has been nominated for an Oscar ten times without ever winning.
Deakins knows how to create images that are utterly true but never run of the mill. This is the world in your head, the seen and the felt, perfectly combined.

Sid & Nancy:

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Assassination of Jesse James:

Roger Deakins - The Assassination Of Jesse James

True Grit:

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A Serious Man:

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posted by Rob Munday

A Face In The Crowd: Nigel Green

There has been many incarnations of Hercules on screen. Most of the time he is played by some anonymous slab of shaved meat, a massive lunk with more pecs than personality (see Arnold Schwarzenegger in Hercules in New York).

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There is however one example that is very different. The definitive Hercules appears in the Ray Harryhausen classic Jason and the Argonauts. Older than you’d expect and much, much hairier, this is Nigel Green. His Hercules seems truly a man of legend – charismatic, imposing and with a barrel chest that suggests real strength rather than gym-honed curves. He steals the film from the lead actor (although to be fair to Todd Armstrong it’s not easy playing a man called Jason).

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Nigel Green was a remarkable actor who lent gravitas and wit to a whole range of roles. Before Hercules he was brilliant as a loose-cannon soldier alongside the youthful Christopher Lee and Richard Burton in Nicholas Ray’s ‘war-what-is-it-good-for’ movie Bitter Victory. This was followed by Joseph Losey’s underrated and underseen film The Criminal and the more successful Zulu. He starred with Caine once again in the iconic The Ipcress File. He is Dalby, a Secret Service suit that Green plays with such a stillness and exactitude you don’t know whether to laugh or crap yourself.

One of the unsung heroes of British movies Nigel Green was great with a tache and without and remains the only Hercules you should ever trust.

Posted by Rob Munday

A Face In The Crowd: Timothy Carey

“Every time a policeman gets a look at me I can see the wheels starting to turn in his head. He’s positive that I’m on his “wanted” list for at least three major crimes” – Timothy Carey

MV5BMTUxMTgyMzk1Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTkwNDQzMQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_That long face, those droopy eyes – Timothy Carey is unmistakable, unpredictable, and electrifying with those lizard features that became both a blessing and a curse.

He appeared briefly in The Wild One alongside Lee Marvin and Marlon Brando – three heavyweights in a hokey B-movie. But is was Kubrick that first unleashed his potential. In The Killing he’s Nikki Arcane the sniper with the snarl and in Paths of Glory he is one of the court-martialled men. His looks have meant a career playing villains but here he is heartbreaking as the soldier bearing the emotional brunt from the generals supreme abuse of power.

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A true maverick known for improvising and getting fired he’s worked with Roger Corman, Coppola, and Cassavetes including a memorable turn as a mafia heavy in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (we know just from the look in Carey’s eyes that Ben Gazzara is in deep, deep shit).

Carey is an actor to get excited about, like Bruce Dern there’s a manic energy inside him, a screw loose combined with a fearless realism. He often didn’t seem like an actor at all, more like a wonderfully intuitive amateur dragged out of a skid row bar and slid in front of the camera.

Nic Cage wishes he was Timothy Carey, but Carey didn’t have things easy…

“I can’t even take a stroll through a park. As soon as women see my face they start gathering up their children and running for home.” – Timothy Carey

Posted by Rob Munday