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Nebraska: Touching Comedy-Drama
After five decades in the business and a long string of supporting roles playing sociopaths and villains, 77 year-old Hollywood veteran, Bruce Dern, finally takes centre stage in Alexander Payne's incredibly poetic, tremendously moving drama, Nebraska.
Shot entirely in black and white, Nebraska follows Woodrow 'Woody' T. Grant (Dern); an elderly, progressively senile ex-alcoholic. After receiving a letter informing him that he has won a million dollars from a suspicious sweepstakes campaign, he is determined to make his way from Montana to Nebraska and claim his prize.
After failing to convince his delusional father that the prize money is a hoax, his son David (Forte) agrees to drive him to Lincoln, Nebraska, taking the opportunity to spend some quality time with his aging father.
Soon after hitting the road, the duo makes an unexpected stop in Woody's hometown of Hawthorne, where they're joined by his wife, Kate (Squibb) and David's older brother Ross (Odenkirk); both of whom think that Woody should be admitted to a home for the elderly. Their visit soon attracts unwanted attention when word spreads of Woody's newly-found fortune, bringing distant family members, old friends and foes, looking for a piece of the actions.
With his slumped posture and shuffling feet, Dern is absolutely riveting as Woody who, thanks to the years of drinking and childhood heartache, has managed to alienate himself from the world and everyone around him. Delivering a powerful and a quietly moving performance, Dern paints his character with a haunted look of a man who still appears to be connected with reality, but who chooses to find solace in his own world of imagination. As his sharp-tongued wife, Squibb is absolutely glorious, and delivers some of the film's most hilarious moments. As Woody's voice of reason, Forte goes for a gentle, unassuming performance, portraying a man struggling to find meaning to his existence, and a son who desperately wants to preserve a connection to his fading father.
Directed by Alexander Payne and written by Bob Nelson, Nebraska has an air of minimalism throughout. Thanks to the wonderful work of cinematographer, Phedon Papamichael – and lingering guitar-based scores by Mark Orton – each shot feels right in the moment, and manages to correspond wonderfully to Woody's state of mind.
Sad, humorous and graceful, Nebraska is a beautifully written character-driven drama that portrays the warmth of humanity, and the need for tolerance, in a very moving and restrained way.
They would try anything as if they had no fear of failure. They weren’t afraid of screwing up because the process and the act of creation were the important parts; if the product ended up sucking it was no big deal because they’d already be at work on the next piece. At least that’s the vibe that the documentary gives off. It also helps that the modern day, grown-up No Wavers seem every bit as cool as they did back then.
Titled from a popular term which describes the early transfer of a young offender from a juvenile detention facility to an adult penitentiary, Starred Up is by no means an easy watch. However, as much as it is difficult to digest at times, there is a certain poetic beauty behind its seemingly violent and destructive quality that makes it difficult to look away from.
Shot within the walls of an abandoned Belfast prison, the film opens with troubled nineteen-year-old Eric Love (O’Connell) undergoing an embarrassing admittance process, involving a complete body strip down, as he’s transferred into an adult reformatory.
Immediately marked as a “single cell, high risk” type detainee, it doesn’t take long for Eric – whose frequent and violent outbursts got him relocated there in the first place – to stir up trouble and make enemies both with fellow inmates and security guards.
After a mistaken attack on another inmate lands the young delinquent into the disciplinary hands of the law, Eric is soon approached – and rescued – by the in-house therapist, Oliver Braumer (Friend), who believes that he can help the young man rehabilitate.
Unfortunately, getting to the root of Eric’s problems - and getting him to open up - is no easy task and Oliver - together with the other rehabilitating convicts - often find themselves the targets of both verbal and physical abuse. To top it off, Eric has to find a way to learn to share the walls of his new confinements with his estranged father, Nev (Mendelsohn), who is currently serving a life-sentence in the same prison.
Penned by first-time screenwriter Jonathan Asser – a former prison psychotherapist whose own experience with the British penal-system adds a hefty dose of authenticity and realism to the film – Starred Up, told through a series of wordless and violent expositions, is fuelled with gripping intensity which is hard to shake off. Relying on action, rather than words, the uniqueness – and the heart - of the story lies with the father-son narrative, whose bonding difficulties are depicted through the oppressiveness of life in prison.
Contributing to the movie’s relentless and uncompromising approach to despair and violence, O’Connell – mostly known for his role in the British TV-series Skins and recently seen as the lead in Angelina Jolie’s war-drama Unbroken – is an absolute standout; feral and unpredictable, his performance carries the film, while Mendelsohn is equally superb as a man whose persona and motives are seemingly hard to read.
Powerful, emotional but never too sentimental, Starred Up is a true British-prison drama classic whose quietly yielding power and passion for storytelling will leave you feeling captivated and moved.