Nebraska

Paramount Pictures

Rated R for profanity

Father And Son Bond During Nostalgic Road Trip Across America’s Aging Heartland

77-year-old Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is an addlepated alcoholic whose brain is so bent out of shape that he’s convinced he’s struck it rich after getting one of those mass-produced letters in the mail announcing that you’ve just won a million dollars in a magazine sweepstakes. Nevertheless, he soon sets out on foot by himself from Billings, Montana, to collect his grand prize in Omaha, Nebraska.

Once it’s clear that the cantankerous curmudgeon can’t be talked out of that foolhardy endeavor, son David (Will Forte) opts to drive his dad there. This doesn’t sit well with Woody’s acid-tongued wife, Kate (June Squibb), who’s too well-grounded in reality to indulge the old coot’s nonsense.

However, as futile as the quest might sound, the pair’s ensuing sojourn across four states does prove rather fruitful. After all, not only does it afford father and son a chance to spend some quality time together, but they also get to catch up with lots of long-lost friends and relatives they visit along the way.

Eventually, Kate and elder son Ross (Bob Odenkirk) join them en route, grudgingly making the long jaunt a family affair. It’s understandably hard for them to be enthusiastic about an outing inspired by a fraudulent marketing scheme.

Still, sometimes, getting there is all the fun, as is the case with Nebraska, a nostalgic road trip unfolding against the barren backdrop of the heartland’s crumbling infrastructure. The film was directed by two-time Oscar winner Alexander Payne (for writing Sideways and The Descendants), whose decision to shoot the picture in black and white was nothing short of a stroke of genius. For, the lack of color only serves to further emphasize the absence of hope in a rural region left devastated by the failure of its factory, farm and small town life. It’s no wonder, then, that some of the poor souls the Grants encounter might seize on Woody’s pipe dream as a way of alleviating their own misery.

Featuring a career performance by Bruce Dern destined to be remembered during awards season, Nebraska is a lighthearted character study which, ironically, offers a stone-cold sober look at the downsizing of the Midwest’s American Dream.

 

Excellent (4 stars)

Running time: 115 minutes

 

Philomena

The Weinstein Company

Rated PG-13 for profanity, mature themes and sexual references.

Mom Seeks Long-Lost Son In True Tale Of Overwhelming Regret

Philomena Lee (Dame Judi Dench) made a big mistake as a teenager, namely, having unprotected sex with a cute boy (D.J. McGrath) she had just met at a carnival. The naive girl was left pregnant by the one-night stand, which was no minor matter inIrelandin 1952.

Before she had a chance to disgrace her family by showing signs of bearing an illegitimate child, she was shipped off to a convent to have the baby away from public view. There, she was forced to sign a document not merely relinquishing her parental rights but promising to never even ask to see her son again.

Without her being afforded an opportunity to say goodbye, he was adopted by a wealthy family from the United States at the age of three and whisked away to the city of Chicago. Meanwhile, Philomena remained beholden to the abbey where, like a latter-day indentured servant, she continued to serve at the beck-and-call of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart order. Although she would eventually escape the convent and pursue a career in nursing, Philomena remained forever haunted by the conspicuous emptiness left by Anthony’s absence.

Fast-forward to his 50th birthday, and she was still consumed with worry about his fate. So, she enlisted the help of Martin Hixsmith (Steve Coogan), a recently-disgraced investigative journalist conveniently in need of a shot at redemption. And, after being denied access to any of the convent’s adoption records, the unlikely pair departed forAmericatogether with just a few clues to follow.

Directed by two-time Oscar nominee Stephen Frears (for The Queen and The Grifters), Philomena is a true tale of overwhelming regret based on The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee, Hixsmith’s heart-wrenching account of their desperate quest. Dame Judi Dench turns in another inspired performance as a wayward woman from a humble background who belatedly summons up the strength to search for her son and to take on the sadistic Mother Superior (Barbara Jefford) who had been the bane of her existence.

As much a poignant meditation on motherhood lost as a searing indictment of the Catholic Church’s antiquated attitude about what might be in the best interests of an adopted child.

 

Excellent (4 stars)

Running time: 98 minutes

 

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

For movies opening December 20, 2013

 

American Hustle (R for sexuality, pervasive profanity and brief violence) David O. Russell wrote and directed this crime drama about a couple of con artists (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) forced by an overzealous FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) to infiltrate a New Jersey underworld inhabited by mobsters protected by a crooked, big city mayor (Jeremy Renner). Support cast includes Jennifer Lawrence, Louis C.K. and Michael Pena.

 

Anchorman 2 (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, crude humor, drug use and comic violence) Will Ferrell reprises the title role as the oafish broadcaster in this sequel which finds his former news team reuniting inNew York to work for a 24-hour cable network. Returning cast members include Steve Carell, Vince Vaughn, Paul Rudd, Meagan Good, David Koechner, Luke Wilson, Chris Parnell, Fred Willard and narrator Bill Kurtis, as well as new additions Greg Kinnear, James Marsden, Harrison Ford, Kristen Wiig, Meagan Good and Christina Applegate. The film also features cameos by Will Smith, Jim Carrey, Kanye West, Amy Poehler, Nicole Kidman, Drake, Tina Fey, John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen and Kirsten Dunst.

 

Her (R for profanity, sexuality and brief nudity) Oscar nominee Spike Jonze (for Being John Malkovich) directed this romance drama revolving around a lonely letter writer (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with the voice (Scarlett Johansson) on his computer’s operating system. With Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Bill Hader and Olivia Wilde.

 

Saving Mr. Banks (PG-13 for mature themes and unsettling images) Period piece recounting Walt Disney’s (Tom Hanks) bending over backwards to secure the film rights to Mary Poppins from P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), the overprotective author of the beloved children’s book. With Paul Giamatti, Colin Farrell, Rachel Griffiths, Ruth Wilson and Jason Schwartzman.

 

Walking With Dinosaurs 3D (PG for peril, action and rude humor) Prehistoric animated epic, set 70 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous period, chronicling the lives of a trio of dinos (Justin Long, Tiya Sircar and Skyler Stone) from infancy to adulthood. Narrated by John Leguizamo, with additional voicework by Mary Mouser, Clay Savage and Katie Silverman.

 

All The Light In The Sky (Unrated) Character-driven drama directed by Joe Swanberg about an aging actress (Jane Adams) forced to reassess her career prospects when her fresh-faced, aspiring niece (Sophia Takal) arrives in Malibu for a weekend stay. With Kent Osborne, Larry Fessenden and Ti West.

 

Dhoom 3 (Unrated) Third installment in the Bollywood action series finds crime fighter Jai (Abhishek Bachchan) and sidekick Ali (Uday Chopra) matching wits with a new pair of worthy adversaries (Aamir Khan and Katrina Kaif). With Jackie Shroff, Diana Penty and Don Kress. (In Hindi, English, Tamil and Telugu with subtitles)

 

The Past (PG-13 for mature themes and brief profanity) Fractured family drama about a Persian man (Ali Mosaffa) who returns to Paris from Iran four years after abandoning his family there only to find his French wife (Berenice Bejo) dating an Arab (Tahar Rahim). With Pauline Burlet, Elyes Aguis and Jeanne Jestin. (In French and Persian with subtitles)

 

The Selfish Giant (Unrated) Adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s cautionary, coming-of-age tale of the same name about a couple of ambitious teenagers (Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas) whose ill-advised association with a crooked junk dealer (Sean Gilder) leads to tragic consequences. Support cast includes Lorraine Ashbourne, Ian Burfield and Steve Evets.

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