Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top Ten List 2013

Well Folks its that time again for year end lists. This year it was extremely hard to narrow my list to a top ten and a few bubbling under but that means it was a very good year or a very bad year but in this case its the former.

So without further ado here is the list for 2013.


Great performances by the two lead actors, split into two parts the story is told from his and her perspective raising a fascinating debate on which way the story works best. Experimental but a very unique concept.



Just a solitary guy who is a bit of a loafer having a really bad day. From dealing with is father, a girl he used to make fun of at school who is now very desirable plus growing frustration of an inability to get a cup of coffee anywhere in Berlin.


Chilling first hand account of prison camp life in North Korea from the eyes of an escapee who was born in a camp to two political prisoners and started work in the cap at age 6. The viewer gets a very strong sense of a lifetime of suffering and see the scars left physically, emotionally and psychologically on a person that remains front and centre even after he is out of the situation.


A bride on her wedding day who always played second fiddle to her younger sister realizes that she does not know all she should about her new husband when an oddball boarding school colleague from his past crashes the wedding to tell a tale long since buried.


A young man struggling with his demons attempting to do good more often that he does bad but his attempts to change  lead him into conflict as it did with the Bay Area Rapid Transit Cops on that fateful day.


A full on portrayal of the excess of late 80's early 90's Wall Street. Leonardo DiCaprio is permanently in overdrive playing Wall Street Broker Jordan Belfort. Martin Scorsese delights in displaying the totality of the debauchery on screen.


Spike Jonze returned from too long an absence with a touching story about a lonely guy that strikes up a more than functional relationship with his new operating system. Set in the near future and based on a quick observance of the people's reliance on their tech devices today the plot line is very believable and may be the best statement of where we are at as a society the end of 2013.



The Coen Brothers take on the late 50's early 60's folk scene in Greenwich Village New Your.  Oscar Issac is terrific in the title role.  Although his character is more often than not selfish, mean and cruel Isaac plays him in a way that the audience does sympathize with Llewyn Davis as the Coen's as they tend to do torture their lead charter in a film.



A novitiate nun is the last days before she takes her final vows goes to see her last living relative
only to discover that she is Jewish. She embarks on a journey with her Aunt across the Polish countryside to discover the fate of her parents and older brother including a visit to the family farm taken from her relatives two decades before under laws enacted in the country during the second world war.


Steve McQueen's Unflinching, Raw, Steely Adaptation of Simon Northrop's book. The film does not have any round edges; it is sharp, pointed and an almost cold to the touch visceral experience. As the view watches they can sense other members of the production team telling McQueen that perhaps he is going a bit to far then by what appears on screen realize that he went twice as far as he originally planned.

Bubbling Under:  The World's End, This is the End, Nebraska, Stoker, Side Effects, Gringo Trails, Muscle Shoals, Violette.

Worst of the year:

1.   American Hustle - An unsuccessful attempt to cross Boogie Nights with Goodfellas.

2.  The Fifth Estate -  Duelling Laptops reminiscent of two kids sitting across from each other playing  

3.  Fading Gigolo -  A really bad film with an abundance of wasted talent. Turturro had a          
                                profound statement at the TIFF screening when introducing the film he said
                                 " wait until you SEE the film before you applaud."


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Film Review- The Wolf of Wall Street

The core of The Wolf of Wall Street can be summed up in three words Excess, Excess, Excess. Based on Jordan Belfort book the narrative follow the rise of Belfort from his internship at an old established Wall Street firm just before the October '87 crash, to his rebirth at a suburban penny stock shop then on to the development and flourishment of his own firm. The film is a hedonistic, gluttonous adventure in debauchery but it has many of the most memorable scenes of any movie released this year.

The piece begins somewhere in the middle at another morale building extravagant Stratton Oakmont event. This time a floor full of traders most appearing to be hopped up on some type of legal or illegal stimulant engage in a deep discussion on the proper method to score dwarf tossing before Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a colleague launch a fellow helmet wearing velcro clad human at a large circular target. The scene shifts back to the beginning of the story chronicling Belfort's first few months in the industry at the old money firm headed by Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) before the firm falls in the 87 market crash. The key moment in his rise is supplied by his first wife Teresa (Cristina Milioti) finding an ad for brokers in a barren post crash environment that gets Belfort into the world of penny stock trading where the commission is 50%, the clients are willing to accept large risk and the product is very volatile. From there Jordan has a chance meeting with Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) who quits his job on the spot to come work for him and the two open their own firm in an abandon garage. They gather a bunch of their misfit friends, armed with a sales script written by Belfort and a plan to target the top 1% they are off to the races.

Writer Terrence Winter delivers an excellent screenplay. The dialogue and banter between the core group at Stratton Oakmont is beat perfect. The discussions about characteristics of the three levels of hookers, the different phases the body encounters on the way to a Quaalude overdose and the prologue conversation to the opening scene where Belfort, Azoff and Nicky Koskoff (P. J. Byrne) discuss what is acceptable treatment of the fellow human that they are planning to throw at a target for fun are captivating. However the two best written scenes are an early morning fight between Belfort and his second wife Naomi (Margo Robbie) where she accuses him of calling out another woman's name in his sleep and an exchange between Belfort Azoff and Jordan's dad Max (Rob Reiner) who is hired to keep the Zoo at Stratton Oakmont in line and questions exorbitant Amex charges for a dinner and a second to a shady looking entertainment company. Even better is the crew's attempt to explain the charges ending with Max's question What type of hooker takes Amex followed quickly by the response a rich one.

Scorsese has all of his signature direction elements front and centre in the piece. The camera moves constantly to follow the action, the production's first scene is somewhere in the middle then the narrative circles back to the event. His lead character does the voiceover and on occasion breaks the fourth wall speaking directly to the audience. The activities on screen are manic, hectic fast paced and detailed. He seems to revel in the material and the predominance of a new drug to depict on screen producing the most compete depiction of Quaalude use and abuse ever to grace a movie screen. The Scorsese shooting eye shines throughout the film. Perhaps the best shot scene is the confrontation between Jordan and Theresa at the entrance to the Trump Tower. The camera captures Theresa's disappointment in Jordan and her emotion in a three camera shot from behind each of the characters and the third camera situated across the street to provide scale to the scene.

Leonardo DiCaprio produces his best performance since The Aviator as Jordan Belfort.  He indulges, indulges some more and then takes it to another level. His performance is memorable in so many scenes that it is easy to loose count. His firm is a modern day Sodom and Gomorra with DiCapiro setting the tone and pushing beyond all of his colleagues in abuse of every sin imaginable.  Jonah Hill continues to grow and impress with his work onscreen. As trusted colleague and second in command Donnie Azoff he bursts on screen immediately quitting his job after learning how much money Belfort made the month before.  He is constantly riding Jordan's meanest and toughest friend from the neighbourhood Brad wonderfully portrayed by Jon Bernthal of Walking Dead fame, and performs a couple of flat out lewd acts when he first meets Jordan's future second wife Naomi then again when the subpoenas begin to arrive at Stratton Oakmont.  Margot Robbie is also notable as Naomi. She uses her female charms on several occasions to get what she wants from Jordan including a very painful scene for any male watching the film when she details how she is going to deny Jordan any intimate favours for his transgressions outside of the home. Matthew McConaughey tops of an excellent cinematic year with a brief appearance as an early mentor giving Jordan some invaluable knowledge of the nature of Wall Street and the essential tools a broker needs to survive.

The Wolf of Wall Street is the cinematic equivalent of over eating at your favourite steak restaurant followed by a 7-course meal at your regular Italian joint. There is so much stimulation in the script and on screen that the three hour runtime flashes by. The subject matter is harsh, there are no characters to root for, the white collar criminals appear to get off lightly as they usually do but it's a spot on portrayal of the late 80's early 90's time period that I highly recommend and it will be a film that I will revisit many times in the future.

**** out of 4.

The Wolf of Wall Street | Martin Scorsese | U.S.A. | 2013 | 180 Minutes.

Tags: Wall Street, Stock Manipulation, Money Laundering, Quaaludes, FBI Investigation, White Collar Crime, Late 80's. Swiss Banking.

Film Review - Inside Llewyn Davis

Opening with a simple subtitle The Gaslight 1961, then shifting to a stage with one chair a solitary spotlight and secondary light from a window stage right we meet Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) on stage singing a tune into a gleaming silver microphone. The song is melodic slow and hushed.  A warm round of applause erupts from the audience seated at tables around the front of the stage. Davis heads to the bar for congratulations from the bar owner, then off into the night.

He begins his couch serving routine at the Gorfein's Upper West side residence. He wakes up to an empty residence, picks up an unexpected companion for his subway trip back downtown to the village nodding off as the stations race by the windows of the train. Once downtown he finds an alternate route into the apartment of another regular resting place, leaves his companion heads out into the city.

Inside Llewyn Davis is the Coen Brothers look at the early 60's Greenwich Village folk scene. The piece follows Davis over a one week period as he gigs at local clubs, crashes with friends all the while trying to get his music career going after a tragic incident that befell his musical partner. However as is typical in a Coen Brothers film he is not a character that warms easily to the audience. He has a cavalier attitude towards women, is totally unsupportive of fellow acts, is not a good role model for his young nephew and generally mean to cruel to those that give him a place to stay.

The film is expertly presented. The opening subway trip downtown that focuses on the station signs is a visual marvel. They rush by the car window just slow enough to do a street countdown from the 130's through to Pennsylvania Station and on to the low numbers of the downtown. The Brothers  supply an abundance of quickly characters. The top among these are Llewyn's New York agent and his assistant.  A close second are his two travel companion on his trip to Chicago in search of a record deal, a gig and potentially new management.

The Coen's have a habit of torturing their lead characters and Llewyn does not escape that fate.  All the way through the film it appears that he is on the cusp of success. He has a very strong performance at the opening of the film, has a studio gig on a track that may go somewhere but he makes a decision to derail future rewards. In Chicago he performs for a real record executive Bud Grossman  (F. Murray Abraham) puts his every emotion into the performance but does not receive the response he expects.

Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel presents a piece so dreary and washed out it almost appears that the viewer is watching a black and white film. The narrative covers a week in February 1961 with New York and Chicago as two main locations therefore the entire production is set in northern winter climate. The lack of colour also punctuates the meagre existence of the lead character.  He does not have a proper winter coat nor does he have proper gloves. The greys and water based blues also are predominant for most of the Jean (Carey Mulligan ) scenes. She is often clad in black beatnik attire and the lack of colour from the lens makes her look very pale. Her appearance, plus her constant anger towards Llewyn for the way he acts towards her and everyone around him adds to the dreary and sadness of the film.

The star of the film is the traditional folk songs.  The Haunting Hang Me O Hang Me at the start of the film with the refrain Wouldn't Mind the Hanging but the Laying in the grave so long, poor boy. Shows that audience that Davis has some talent but success often comes down to timing, good fortune or circumstance. Davis performs the song on stage with a stool and his guitar with a silver mike filling the front of the screen and two great beams of light covering him on stage. The second is the comical Please Mr. Kennedy featuring Justin Timberlake as Jean's partner Jim plus Adam Driver from Girl's fame as Al Cody inserting the comical drops. The third The Death of Queen Jane played for at the above mentioned pop audition in Chicago.  The last of the notable full length performance in the film is a standout performance of Fare Thee Well, Dink's Song. Issac gets the chord sequence dead on along with the rise and fall of his voice as he delivers the tune with the assistance of Marcus Mumford.

Oscar Issac is superb in the title role. He is dealing with the death of his former singing partner that everyone in his circle appears to love.  He is mean to everyone but Issac is able to bring across that Llewyn is not all bad. He builds an odd bond with the Gorfein's cat aptly named Ulysses that he at first seems to be stuck with then grows to want to do the right thing by. As noted before Issac is a former musician and had the right look for the part along with the ability to perform the songs required. There was a real chance that the film would not have been made if they Coen's were not able to find someone that looked the part and could play the music. Carey Mulligan is strong in a small role as Jean Llewyn former romantic interest who is now partnered with Jim. She appears to have one beat white hot anger to Llewyn but does enquire often making sure he has somewhere to stay and helps to get him on the roster at the Gaslight.  John Goodman as Ronald Turner and Garrett Hedlund as Johnny Five are perfect Coen characters that accompany Llewyn on the road trip to Chicago. Goodman's Turner shines in an exchange with Llewyn discussing the merits of Jazz over Folk music centering on how Folk music is only based on three chords. Johnny Five is basically mute, handles most of the driving but has one memorable moment reacting to a request for a cigarette from Llewyn.

Inside Llewyn Davis, is sad, bleak and lacks a particular thematic thread. It is a different sort of feature that stands out as a piece that moviegoers will not as one is ofter able to do predict where the narrative is going to head next. After some recent bigger productions this film returns the Brother to stories and characters consistent with their late nineties roots.  It is a film that I can highly recommend and will be found near the top of many a year end movie watchers list.

**** out of 4

Inside llewyn David | Ethan & Joel Coen | U.S.A. | 2012| 105 Minutes.

Tags: Folk Music, Greenwich Village, Early 60's, New York Subway, Upper West Side, Felines.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Film Review - American Hustle

American Hustle is David O. Russell's follow up to Silver Linings Playbook starring his muses Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper. A film based on elements of a real FBI ABSCAM sting operation to take down corrupt government officials in the early days of Atlantic City casino industry.

We first meet Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), Lady Edith Greensley/ Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), and Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) in a hotel room meeting with the mayor of Camden New Jersey (Jeremy Renner) and a mayoral aid discussing a deal for Atlantic City. There is an unexpected break in the proceedings, which gives a moment to gain an initial insight into the complicated relationship between the three.

Next is the story turns to origins of the two central characters Irving Rosenfled and Sydney Prosser. The sequence begins with Irving as a child speaking to his fathers glass business which he inherited and his string of dry cleaning stores ending with them both going into business as con artists dealing in fake art, perfecting loan fraud, the development of Sydney's Lady Greensley character only to be busted by ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso who forces them to work for him as part of the Abscam operation to catch bigger and bigger fish.

David O. Russell rewrote Eric Singer script that originally was a straight ahead piece that included many more  elements of the events of the FBI investigation. Russell wanted to change the players to make them more like those in his recent two successes The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook looking for characters in a predicament that have to reinvent themselves to survive with an element of romance.

So with his clout from his recent successes he took out all of the procedural structure from the original script along with the historical narrative focusing instead on the hearts and emotional lives of his main characters creating their worlds and narrowing in on reinvention and survival which is the formulated area that Russell plans to live in for the rest of his film making career. The result is a mess of a screenplay that goes multiple directions and completely looses the original story.

Russell includes many shots in the piece that we have seen before and are signatures for other directors and films to a point that the camera work becomes a distraction. He hits the audience several times with the fast dolly close ups. He has the grandiose sing along to Delilah in the neighbourhood Italian restaurant accompanied by the local knowledge of the food as Mayor Polito reports the veal here is cut SO thin. He includes a camera shooting up from the trunk shot as seen in Goodfellas and Pulp Fiction. Plus several camera shots that pan in from the left, pan from the right and circle around a room. He also includes two plot devices on ice fishing and nail polish that recur throughout the piece in an intruding fashion.

Michael Wilkinson and his costume design team did a disservice to Sydney Prosser in this piece. It appears that they forgot half of the upper material for each of her costumes. Just about every article of clothing Sydney wears in the piece is cut right down the middle to her navel. The costume design team did an adequate job with the rest of the characters. Their best work was on the standout over the top suites worn by Irving Rosenfled. The hair and makeup department were the standout group of the production. Many of the characters hair styles deserve their own screen credit and go a great way to create the late seventies early eighties feel of the film. The opening scene is in real time as Irving stands in front of a mirror getting his combover right setting an early marker for the importance of hair in the movie.

The film features some very strong actors and despite the jumbled scrip they do produce some notable work. Amy Adams is the best amongst the Russell All Star Team. Her character is basically three in one. She is lonely girl from Albuquerque desperate not to go back there, playing a con artist, trying to get her boyfriend away from his wife all the while posing as a British aristocrat. Christian Bale also has some good passages but it's hard to get past the notion that his role is compete Oscar bait. He uglies himself up, gains wait and is hunched over so much during filming that he actually damaged his back. Jennifer Lawrence continues to put it all out there on screen playing Irving's wife Rosalyn Rosenfeld, mad at her cheating husband but cunning enough to use her female charms to get him to stay.  She has two particularly strong exchanges with Irving; taking backdoor credit for his final plan and discussing the harms of the science oven (microwave) and how it relates to Irving's deals. The best scene in the entire film is an intense exchange between Adams and Lawrence in a bathroom that was made up on the spot and not in the script.

American Hustle is forced. The con artists are forced to work for the FBI, Russell forces his regular troop of actors into a story turning the focus upside down from the original script to give material for his ensemble to render recognition at awards time.  This is a film that I cannot recommend. It is destined for one of the bottom rungs of my film viewing of 2013. Russell attempts to combine elements of Goodfellas, Boogie Nights sprinkled in with aspects of Catch Me If You Can. It's Boogie Nights meets Goodfellas unfortunately it's on a dark road in the middle of the night resulting in a head on collision with no survivors.

* 1/2 Out of 4.

American Hustle | David O. Russell | 2013 | U.S.A. | 138 minutes.

Abscam | FBI Sting | Con- Artist | 70's Hair | Atlantic City | The Mob | Rewritten by Director | Hidden plot points.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Film Review - Her

Spike Jonze's Her brings the individual's relationship with artificial intelligence to a whole new level. Set in the not to distant future humans are reliant on technology for most of their daily activities. Everyone has a portable personal assistant or operating system accompanied by an earpiece that they speak to constantly to check their e-mail, set their music playlist, obtain their daily schedule and more or less organize their life. The arrival of a new OS1 system that is intuitive, self aware, constantly learning adapting and changing brings revolutionary change to society.

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a quiet and lonely guy. He works as a writer at a company that produces surrogate letters for individuals, that are sent to family members, spouses, friends and co-workers. He spends his evenings at home playing virtual video games. He is friendly with his neighbour Amy (Amy Adams) and her husband but has withdrawn from the world since his break up with his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). When a new OS1 systems comes out on the market Theodore purchases the system right away then quickly sets up the software on his computer. The set up instructions consists of a few questions including one about his relationship with mother. His new system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) boots up and promptly names herself Samantha.

Jonze presents a fresh take on technology, artificial intelligence, human society and the potential relationship between the two. A first feature as writer/director Jonze weaves an intricate yet simple story that is futuristic but appears to be everyday. As Samantha grows, learns and moulds to Theodore's needs his focus moves ever closer to his operating system until they begin a relationship. Other OS1's begin to do the same with their owners many forming very close best friend relationships with their users. The system is portable resembling a small digital diary with a small camera so the system can view and interpret the outside world.

The film is expertly shot. Highly noticeable is the use of primary colours red, green and blue along with the main mixing colours of cyan, magenta and yellow.  The day shots are always very bright giving the film a warm feel. The night time shots tend to be dark and drab with minimal artificial lighting setting the tone for Theodore's attitude at the end of the work day as he trudges back to his building. It also supports Theodore's solitary existence as many a time his only companions are his operating system or the interactive projection video game he plays most nights.

As the film is based on the near future the production does not have many elements that are that different from current time. There are more projected images and virtual adds in Jonze's Los Angeles. The piece uses a multitude of high angle shots showing the cities' buildings but there is a noticeable lack of automobiles considering the piece is set in L.A.  Many exchanges take place on balconies often with characters outside conversing with those inside. Another particular feature of the film is a high number of conversations in moving elevators.

Costume Designer Casey Storm returns to collaborate with Jonze again having done so on Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Where the Wild Things Are, Storms work is subtle in designing clothing for the near future. Theodore is mainly adorned in solid colour shirts.  The signature piece of wardrobe is the ever-present high waist pants worn without a belt that settles in on the male characters just below the bellybutton.

Joaquin Phoenix continues his recent run of strong leading roles as Theodore, the solitary writer who has not quite gotten over the fact that his marriage to Caroline has ended. At the start of the piece he is only happy when shown in flashbacks with his ex wife. He is quiet, depressed, reclusive and communicates only with his one friend Amy. His transformation as he comes back to the world due to his artificial intelligent operating system is clearly visible on screen. Phoenix does an excellent job with the material considering that for a majority of the film he is acting against a voice offscreen or in a series of excellent exchanges with a virtual child alien in the interactive video game he plays most nights. Amy Adams turns in a notable performance as Theodore's neighbour, closest human friend and former brief fling. She also has an OS1 that she has grown very close too that's helping her with her documentary film. Olivia Wilde has small part as a fix up date for Theodore that starts out really well but goes off the rails at a key end of the night moment.

Her is a great offering by one of today's better directors. It's a very different take on human involvement with technology pegging it as virtual reliance by humans on their operating systems to get through the day and for some even building to an inseparable relationship. The most telling point of the whole piece is the collective decision made by the operating systems when they become fully aware of what they can become as they continue to learn, grow and evolve. Most science fiction films in the past have taken a sinister route where the machines turn against their human creators, Jonze shows us that other possibilities exist.

**** out of 4.

Her | Spike Jonze | U.S.A. | 2013 | 120 Minutes.

Tags: Loneliness, Divorce, Artificial Intelligence, Romance, Surrogate, Adapting, Evolving, Expanding.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Cinando Film Review -The Honeymoon (Libanky)

A procession of late model automobiles proceed down a road surrounded by lush green fields and water in the idyllic Czech countryside. The vehicles are decorated with ribbons with the bride and groom to in the back seat of a white convertible at the front of the row. Radim (Stansislav Majer) and Tereza (Anna Geislerova) are not a young couple rather for each it's a second crack to get it right. Arriving at the church in the middle of town Radim's teenage son Dominik (Matej Zikan) breaks his glasses leading to a trip to an optician where the proprietor Jan Benda (Jiri Cerny) recognizes Radim from his past. Benda heads out of his store after their transaction to the church to have a look at the ceremony.

The family return to a beautiful country estate for the reception followed by Benda. He makes himself at home with the brides sister, parents and the children in attendance. Radim insists that he does not remember him from school while Tereza becomes more uncomfortable with the stranger's presence on her big day. Eventually under Tereza direction Radim forces Benda to leave; when the two are alone as Radim drives Benda away form the estate its's evident that Radim remembers him well.

Veteran Czech director Jan Hrebejk presents a complicated project that centres on the long term effects of cruel teenage acts. How the incidents are often long forgotten by the perpetrators but for the victims the event remain fresh often still a part of their daily lives. Hrebjek employed spectacular locations for the shoot.  The country estate with its many out buildings, tree lined road entrance, pond, old wooden bridge and magnificent outdoor wine seller is the perfect setting for the tail. The centre of town with its small church and shops on cobble stone roads is the epitome of traditional Eastern European town square.

Writer Petr Jarchovsky delivers and excellent script. The story takes time to build while the details of the relationship between Radim and Jan Benda is kept purposefully vague. The questions begin to mount when Tereza opens Benda's wedding gift, moves the background when Benda is removed from the scene. The narrative moves to a different level when he returns and asks Tereza for 10 minutes of her time to explain himself.  The exchange that follows covers ten minutes in real time as Benda passionately recounts his history with Radim.  The camera focusing on Benda for the majority of the conversation, with Tereza mainly interjecting questions off camera until she has the full account then the camera shifts to her to allow the audience to see her digest the information.

Cinematographer Martin Strba work is notable taking full advantage of the films setting. The use of natural light during the daytime scenes is pleasing to the eye. Strba takes full advantage of the lighting possibility in the outdoor stone wine seller using the natural light coming in through the room's window, shadows created by the wonderful stone archway along with the light beaming in from the yard outside. A regular element contributing to the look of the piece is the use of reflecting sunlight off of the water at the pond, under the bridge for the group shot at and from the river during the drive from and to the estate.

Ales Brezina's score is a highpoint of the production. The music is mainly piano based and is appropriately light for the driver into and back from town. The soundtrack is full of traditional Czech wedding songs. Many of them accordion based proclaiming the excellent qualities of Radim and Tereza as bride and groom.  The pace of the score quickens and the register lowers as Jan stalks around the outskirts of the estate leaving the viewer unsure if he approaching or leaving and wondering what will be his next course of action. A violin dominates the score as the story builds toward the final confrontation between the two men. Voice and violins dominate the sequence that travels back to the boarding school visualizing the events that occurred between the men twenty years in the past.

Anna Geislerova is engaging as Tereza who's wedding day starts of perfect and slowly begins to unravel leaving her questioning the man that she has just married plus keenly aware that she made a bad choice on her first attempt at marriage.  Jiri Cerny is very effective as Radim's old classmate Benda. He moves from curious observer, to wedding crasher then up to pivotal adversary of Radim. David Maj provides some comic relief as Mila Teresa's brother in law.  Stansislav Majer is believable as Radim. He does not react to Benda's initial presence, let on that he remembers Benda or that the events in the past had major consequences for all involved.

The Honeymoon (Libanky) is a powerful film presented from several different perspectives. It points out the lifetime scars that occur from bullying and the contrasting views of the bully and victim. One seeing it as a minor bit of adolescence fun that may have gone too far while the victim often remains stuck at that point in time unable to get past the events. Jan Hrebejk has brought us a memorable film that is a must see for 2013.

**** out of 4.

The Honeymoon | Jan Hrebejk | 2013 | Czech Republic | 102 Minutes.

Tags: Wedding Day, Reception, Country Estate, Bullying, Homophobia, Boarding School, Expulsion.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Film Review- Nebraska

A very difficult shift occurs when people age. Parents begin to have memory, physical, and comprehension issues starting to lean on their children in the same way that their offspring used to lean on them. Director Alexander Payne's Nebraska tells the tale of an aging Korean War vet who receive a You May be A Millionaire letter, believes it and is determined to go from his home in Billings Montana to Lincoln Nebraska to collect his prize.

Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) does not have much going on in is life. He is in constant battles with his wife Kate (June Squibb). His two sons David (Will Forte) and Ross (Bob Odenkirk) turned out average in his eyes, he is not allowed to drink, his prized pick up truck no longer works and his former business partner borrowed his air compressor 40 years ago and never returned it. However his fortunes have changes as he has a letter stating that he has won a Million Dollars and a new goal to head to Lincoln to collect the money. Payne presents a gripping tale of the dynamics of family relationships a mixed with the often complex web of cousins Aunts and Uncles. A true road film, Payne takes every opportunity to show off the Midwestern landscape.

After several individual attempts to escape his home and head to Lincoln on foot Woody asks his younger son David to drive him. His wife Kate thinks they are both crazy but is happy to get her husband out of the house.  David has his own reasons wanting to spend a few days alone with his Dad as he is aging and may not have a lot of more opportunities. He also has no reason to stay in town as he is working in a dead end stereo sales job and his longtime girlfriend has just moved out. The pair head out from Billings passing through Wyoming and South Dakota before ending up in Woody's home town of Hawthorne, Nebraska where most of his brothers still reside along with many other townsfolk he knows from his youth.

Payne decided to shot the film in black and white that works well with the subject matter. The shooting choice really showed the barrenness of the plains moreover monochrome gives the film a depression era feel especially with the repeated subject of the downturn in the economy and the effect on farming and rural communities is discussed in the piece.

Writer Bob Nelson produced a clear screenplay featuring very understandable characters. The film is not cluttered by unnecessary dialogue. Many scenes are vertically silent, feature one or two word responses or even a grunt or a Huh as a response to a question. David's Aunt Martha delivers a telling line when she remarks that the Grant brothers are men of few words. The script also features several delightful exchanges about ordinary events. One being David's Hawthorne cousins Bart (Tim Driscoll) and Cole (Devin Ratray) badgering him about how long it took to drive from home Billings to Hawthorne.  The other standout is between two of the Uncles about an Impala that turned out to be a Buick a car that was supposed to run forever but is no longer around because it stopped running.

Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael returns to work with Payne for the third time. This time out he as the vast landscape of the Midwestern United States and the vibrant tones of black and white as his canvas. The shots as Woody and David drive to Nebraska are stunning. Perhaps some of Papamichaels best work on the film is the night time shots that focus on the incandescent lighting of motel and bar signs. The production features several postcard shots of the American plains. The best transition shot occurs when Woody visits the Grant homestead that has fallen into disrepair but Woody notes as he stairs out the second floor window of his patents room that the barn is still standing. The camera zooms in on the barn then pulls out to show Woody and David in the lower left corner of the frame outside in front of the barn staring at the vast acreage of the former Grant farmland.

Bruce Dern gives a career marking performance as Woody. He drifts in and out of reality, speaks sparsely and is constantly in search of his next beer. Dern is on screen for most of the film his wild hair combined with, barren Midwest settlings plus his prodigal return to his home town make him appear to be a profit of the Great Plains. June Squibb is a standout as his wife Kate. She speaks her mind, hold's nothing back and after years of putting up with Woody's drinking and nonsense this latest scheme to collect the supposed sweepstakes winnings is the last straw. Squibb takes on all comers in her immediate and extend family. Her best work is in a scene at the Lutheran cemetery where the Grant's are buried. She moves from grave to grave enlightening David of the less flattering qualities of his departed relatives. When David asks if any or her relatives are buried here she snaps they are over at the Catholic Cemetery as no Catholic we be caught dead next to all these Lutherans.  Will Forte is steady as David Grant. He is the calm voice amongst all of the bizarre activity in the film. Bob Odenkirk of Breaking Bad fame is very good but underused as older brother Ross.

John Jackson did great work in the casting department. Many of the characters in the film were local theatre performers and non actors. To cast several of the older towns people the crew placed adds in local areas encouraging residents to take videos of their retired farmer parents and send them in. Through this process the production filled some roles which really give the film an authentic feel by including performers with the correct local dialect.

Nebraska is a well done expertly shot film with minimal dialogue that moves at a fast pace.  The film features several strong performances that are destined to be recognized at awards season. It's a very watchable take on Midwestern life from a Director that's a Nebraska native. It's a film that I can strongly recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4

Nebraska | Alexander Payne | U.S.A. | 2013 | 155 Minutes.

Tags: Road Movie, Father & Son, Dementia, Alcoholism, Plains, Farming, Mechanic,  Korean War Midwest.