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A mixed bag.
1. Kane Hodder as Jason is a match made in heaven. Brings tons of character and visceral energy to the role in a way that elevates the (lack of?) material he's given.
2. John Carl Buechler as director/effects guy. With the uncut gore scenes reinserted (courtesy of fan ingenuity and initiative), we get a clearer sense of how extreme Buechler intended to go with the violence. The movie's overall vibe is also appropriately dark: the supporting characters are entertainingly cruel, the kills all take place in the woods at night (as it should be), and Kane Hodder's stunt coordination gives everything an added layer of brutality.
1. Too many characters. The delicate balance between body count and character development is something every slasher movie has to negotiate differently, and The New Blood simply introduces more un(der)developed side characters than the story can handle. Even the leads, Lar Park-Lincoln as psychic girl Tina and Terry Kiser as her psychiatrist, aren't given anything terribly interesting to do.
2. Lack of cleverness. Even before the censors forced Buechler & co. to remove all of the gore shots, there is a sense that the filmmakers were beginning to write themselves into a corner when it comes to the kill scenes. Except for the sleeping bag scene (which Jason X would eventually redo and improve upon), the kills in The New Blood tend to riff on things we've already seen: skull-crushings, defenestrations, popping out of the water, and (of course) a lot of stabbing. Considering that there is a) a surprise birthday theme introduced early on, and b) a Final Girl with telekinetic powers, The New Blood feels like a lot of missed opportunities for shenanigans.
A kind of Altman-does-Emmerich
I cannot recall the last time I was as excruciatingly bored by a Hollywood film as I was while watching Gareth Edwards' Godzilla reboot. In recent years, I have grown accustomed to feeling utterly insulted (Transformers 2), shamelessly bamboozled (Man of Steel), and sadistically blue-balled (Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises) by a growing number of tent-pole summer blockbusters. I was not, however, anticipating the level of sheer boredom that I experienced with Godzilla.
In principle, I should have ample reason to commend this movie. I cannot stress enough that it is not, as you may have guessed from the opening paragraph, your typical turn-your-brain-off action fodder—the kind of film that customarily ends with a whiplashing 45-minute orgy of punching, explosions, and apocalyptic carnage. To the filmmakers' credit, Godzilla actually aspires to something more: an ensemble human drama, detailing the hypothetical experience of a group of ordinary civilians caught in the midst of a Godzilla-related disaster. Altman-does-Emmerich, if you will. And, again, to the filmmakers' credit, they at least commit to that microscopic approach for the whole of Godzilla's two-hour runtime.
Two problems. One, audiences who want nothing more than to see Godzilla punch other giant monsters and knock down buildings will be bored. Two, audiences who want nothing more than to be emotionally-invested in the film's plot and characters will also be bored. Everyone loses.
Indeed, if handled differently, Edwards' approach might have amounted to a refreshing take on the sci-fi/action genre. It's easy to see the kind of films Edwards was likely hoping to emulate. Godzilla, from what I can gather, owes a lot to Spielberg, especially Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. From Jaws, you get the whole gimmick of building suspense by keeping the monster hidden until well into the second half of the film (not to mention that the main characters' families in both films are named Brody). From Close Encounters, you get the trope of the obsessive father (played by a scenery-chewing Bryan Cranston in this film) unravelling a government conspiracy to cover up an alien/monster invasion. You also get plenty of plenty of Spielberg's whimsical close-ups of people gazing in wonder at something off-camera.
What Edwards fails to do—and what Spielberg seems to command almost effortlessly—is to make us care about anything that happens to the film's human characters. I must ask: how does one assemble an international cast of nothing but top-shelf actors (count 'em: Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, David Strathairn, Bryan Cranston, etc.) and yet give them virtually nothing interesting to do? Binoche and Cranston come the closest to invoking a genuine emotional response, but their involvement is restricted to a twenty-minute prologue in the first act before they disappear from the film entirely. For the rest of the film, Edwards somehow expects us to remain engaged by Taylor-Johnson's bland, generically-handsome face and Ken Watanabe's unintelligible Japanese accent. Instead, you spend the second half of the film waiting for a) something interesting to finally happen, or b) the credits to roll, thereby putting you out of your misery.
Then, there's Godzilla himself. Different theories have tried to pinpoint Godzilla's enduring appeal to moviegoers. Some say that Godzilla embodies our collective fear of catastrophic destruction, specifically in the wake of Hiroshima and the onset of the nuclear era. Others say that people just like watching a guy in a rubber monster costume punching things. Whatever the case, none of that appeal translates into the new film. As I've mentioned before, Edwards attempts to tell the story entirely from a civilian's point of view, from the ground up. This means that everything we get to see of Godzilla comes from either news reports displayed passingly on TV screens or in the background of blurry shots behind piles of rubble and corpses. Godzilla junkies may explain that, even in the classic Toho franchise, Godzilla only ever appeared on screen for about fifteen minutes at a time, but at least he still managed to make an impression in those films (if his iconic status is anything to go by). Here, you could almost forget—or ignore—that Godzilla is in the movie at all. For a film that has the audacity to call itself just plain Godzilla, that is unforgivable.
The Big Heat (1953)
The cruelest (and best) of film noir
The Big Heat is a prime contender for the cruelest and most brutal of all film noirs, which is saying quite a lot. At the same time, a big part of why that may be so is that The Big Heat is in many ways hardly a film noir at all. All of the great canonical film noirs, including Otto Preminger's Laura, Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity and Ace in the Hole, Jacques Tourneur's Out of the Past, and Alexander Mackendrick's The Sweet Smell of Success, tend to be populated by characters with little trace of goodness left in them; they are all doomed, fated to their inevitably bitter ends from the outset. What makes The Big Heat so powerful and disturbing—and, ultimately, so unlike most film noirs—is that it has, at its heart, many genuinely good people.
Fritz Lang, the brilliant German director who had already cemented his place in cinematic history with monumental films like Metropolis, Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler, and M, creates in The Big Heat a film whose strength lies in defying expectations of plot, genre, and characterization. Its opening, for instance, is not a far cry from the usual hard-boiled detective formula. Police Sergeant Bannion (Glenn Ford) is assigned to investigate the suicide of a high-ranking fellow officer, which leads him to uncover a trail of corruption and licentiousness and, in turn, puts him into deep trouble with the local mob syndicate, headed by Mike Legana (Alex Scourby) and the psychopathic Vince Stone (a young Lee Marvin).
Lang manages to transcend these cut-and-dry foundations, however, by affording his protagonist a greater depth than one usually finds in a hard-boiled detective hero. The typical hard-boiled detective is unshakeable, wisecracking and ethically-ambiguous, but generally one-note: coolness is all they have going for them. Glenn Ford's character, by contrast, is a family man and, ultimately, a tragic figure. Whereas the characters in other film noirs are often so uniformly reprehensible that any misfortunes that befall them seem almost warranted, the juxtaposition between Bannion's tough policeman persona and his fatherly sensitivity and protectiveness—first with his daughter and later with Stone's abused girlfriend Debbie (Gloria Grahame)—makes the character's plights and perils all the more involving. You see, Bannion is not just a smart-talking male power fantasy, but a decent, honest man who is merely driven to brutality by tragic circumstances.
Perhaps the reason that The Big Heat seems so sadistically violent, then, is that the audience is given genuine reason to sympathize with those who are subjected to it. Again, this is where Lang's genius really comes into play. Anyone who has seen enough Hollywood movies would naturally expect that after Bannion carries his unconscious wife (played by Marlon Brando's older sister, Jocelyn Brando) off-screen after she has been wounded in a car-bombing intended for him, there would be a scene in which we see her safely recovering in a hospital bed and Bannion angrily promising her that he will find out who was responsible for the attack. But no: in the next scene, we find out that she dies. On top of that, Lang mercilessly obliterates the quaint, idyllic domesticity of the Bannion household in earlier scenes with a scene in which Bannion bitterly packs up and moves out of the old family home, now cold and empty. It's truly heartbreaking, and it makes Bannion's subsequent trials all the more compelling and, dare I say, poignant. The same goes for the infamous scene in which Lee Marvin scalds Gloria Grahame's face with a pot of boiling coffee. The scene is especially cringe-inducing and sadistic because the audience realizes that she is not just some vain, self-obsessed gangster moll (which, in a more conventional film noir, would make the cruel attack seem like poetic justice), but merely an unlucky, good-natured girl who got caught up with the wrong kind of guys.
The rest of The Big Heat then works like the best of revenge tragedies, in which even more cruelty and violent retribution is enacted as form of catharsis. The one thing that struck me the most about the action in this film is just how much more forceful and yet satisfying it seemed. Just like any hard-boiled hero, Bannion goes around and punches the lights out of a lot of henchmen throughout the film. Under Lang's direction, though, the punching in The Big Heat doesn't have the stagey and almost slapstick-like physics of other cinematic punches, with the bad guys awkwardly stumbling backwards or flipping over tables. Instead, when Bannion punches somebody, they practically fly across the room, knocking everything down in their path. That Lang often quick-cuts or whips the camera around in tandem with the physical blows gives an even greater illusion of weight to the action. Furthermore, not only does Bannion punch a lot of people, but he strangles quite a few people too, including one of the female antagonists. It is here that I must give due credit to Glenn Ford for his performance here: he is not just good; he's scary good. Again, the fact that Ford is capable of showing Bannion as both a loving family man and a ruthless enforcer makes things all the more chilling.
It's almost unbelievable that a film as relentless, audacious, and absorbing as Lang's The Big Heat could have been made in the context of the Hollywood studio system under the notoriously restrictive Production Code. Then again, like many of the best films from this era, maybe it's precisely *because* of the constraints of the period that the film is so effective: denied the ability to portray realistic violence or sexual content—the kind that is all but commonplace in today's films—, a filmmaker like Lang would have had to rely on the subtle power of suggestion and of well-honed characterization to generate emotional impact. That Lang was still able to make it all work so astoundingly well is surely a testament to both his and the film's undeniable greatness.
Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2013)
Disappointing, but worthy stepping-stone for First Nations cinema
Movies that receive lasting attention tend to fall into two, non-mutually exclusive categories: Important Movies, which are significant but not necessarily good, and Great Movies, which are good but not necessarily significant. Rhymes for Young Ghouls is undoubtedly an Important Movie, but it is certainly not a Great Movie.
Rhymes for Young Ghouls is Mi'kmaq director Jeff Barnaby's first feature and, despite the honest praise it has generated through festival engagements and local word-of-mouth, it shows. Although the typical plot synopsis makes the film's narrative seem relatively undaunting—simplistic, even—Barnaby's screenplay is far from a straightforward affair. Aila (Davery Jacobs) lives on the Red Crow reserve in the constant shadow of the residential school system, represented by a tyrannical, corrupt, and paedophilic Indian Affairs agent named Popper (an ethnically-ambiguous Mark Antony Krupa). Her mother (Roseanne Supernault) is dead, having committed suicide after accidentally running over Aila's baby brother during a drunken outing, and her father (Glen Gould) has spent most of her childhood away in prison, having taken the blame for the incident. Under the loose guidance of her shifty uncle Burner (Brandon Oakes), she runs a pot-dealing circuit, furnishing artisan-crafted joints for weekly Bacchanalian gatherings at her family's deserted compound, until her father's unexpected reappearance throws the entire operation into jeopardy and drags Popper violently back into the picture.
That much of a setup would have been simple enough to support the film's central revenge plot against Popper and the residential school system. Rhymes for Young Ghouls, however, does itself the unfortunate disservice of extending its plot and characters too far for its 88-minute runtime to contain. The entire film plays like a garbled, heavily-condensed version of much longer and presumably more fleshed-out screenplay. Barnaby's script throws around too many inadequately-drawn characters and off-screen backstory in its opening minutes for the audience to reasonably follow (the thick rez accents affected by the main characters only aggravates the issue), making the remainder of the plot nigh on incomprehensible, even after a second viewing. Aila, for instance, has two stoner sidekicks, Sholo and Angus, whose personalities, relationships, and significance to the plot are sped through in one breakneck exchange of dialogue. There is also a grandmother figure, who inexplicably claims to not even be Aila's real grandmother and whose only ostensible purpose is to front Aila's grow-op and to slow down the narrative with a blatantly reflexive interlude of oral history. There is a big difference between ambiguity and incoherence, and this film veers decisively into the latter territory.
Assuming that the narrative itself isn't also some kind of similarly-allegorical Thomas King-esque pastiche of oral history-—which I think would be giving Barnaby way too much credit—-the way that Rhymes for Young Ghouls plays out relies far too heavily on convenience and loose ends to work in the manner that a plot-driven picture like this requires. Popper, his henchmen, and the residential school for which they work as enforcers are initially painted as some kind of insurmountable menace on the Red Crow reserve, and yet both Aila and her kindergarten-aged protégé are apparently able to slip through their clutches and to walk right out of the residential school without any opposition whatsoever. Aila's father receives so many bludgeons to the face by the end of the film that it is a wonder he doesn't die of severe head trauma. I get the impression that Rhymes for Young Ghouls is desperately trying to tell me something or to make some kind of crucial point, but, even after two viewings, I still can't bother to trudge through the quagmire of its plot long enough to be able to engage with it at any deeper level. I'm all for a film that demands work from the audience to arrive at some semblance of meaning, but I draw the line at this one.
This is not to say that the film offers nothing of value. To be fair, I'm almost willing to forgive Rhymes for Young Ghouls' narrative shortcomings on the sheer strength of its performances and its virtuosic visuals. Devery Jacobs, without exactly knocking it out the park and lacking the charisma to effectively carry the film, surely deserves the accolades she's received for the angsty reticence she brings to her role. Michel St. Martin, a thus-far undistinguished cinematographer, shot this film and infuses it with some truly unforgettable images; there is both tremendous beauty and unflinching horror in this film. The opening credits sequence, consisting of a slow-motion tracking shot of drunken Indians being savagely beaten by Popper's henchmen outside of a strip club while the Black Keys play on the soundtrack, teases the audience with the promise of a masterful slice of pure cinema that, sadly, the film's garbled plot fails to follow up on. Although it is impossible not to roll one's eyes at Jeff Barnaby's repeated comparisons of the film to the likes of Inglourious Basterds and A Clockwork Orange (one of the characters even throws out the word "horrorshow" at one point), it is not a stretch to wonder if, with a tighter narrative and richer characterization, Barnaby and company could have come close.
Rhymes for Young Ghouls, while not a Great Film, will hopefully come to be widely recognized as an Important Film and open the floodgates for more mainstream projects by aboriginal artists. Although, as a tale of the unspeakable horrors of the residential school system in Canada, Rhymes for Young Ghouls pales in comparison to those of indigenous novelists like Thompson Highway, Richard Wagamese, Eden Robinson and Joseph Boyden, it is a clear step in the right direction that Barnaby's film has sparked further dialogue about Canada's dark past, both domestically and internationally. I may not be particularly sold on it, but, ideologically, I'm loath to wish failure upon it; if this is where First Nations cinema is going, I eagerly await to see where it finally ends up.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Mystifying, visually impressive and nostalgic
Inside Llewyn Davis is a work of art of startling complexity, couched in a deceptively lackadaisical simplicity. It entertains and intrigues on numerous levels: as a nostalgic document of the Greenwich Village folk renaissance that emblemized the transition between the blue-collar fifties and the freewheeling sixties; as a sort of obliquely personal kunstleroman; as a tale of the sad, tragic flip side to the artistic dream; as the most un-Coen-like of all the Coen brothers' films.
Llewyn Davis, played by the multitalented Oscar Isaac, is a man who could, on the surface, be labelled a selfish jerk. As a down-on-his-luck folk singer, still recovering from the untimely suicide of his musical partner (unseen on camera, but voiced on record by none other than Marcus Mumford), everything remains just beyond his grasp. In some cases, as when he foolishly signs off his royalties for a record deal in favour of grabbing a quick pay check with which he can pay for his ex-lover's abortion, there is a cold, survival-oriented singularity to his behaviour. In others, like when he watches in a dumb stupor as Garrett Hedlund is inexplicably snatched out of the driver's seat of his car and thrust into the back of a police cruiser, it is all part of his reluctant enslavement to fate and circumstance. Accompanied off-and-on by a vagrant cat, he remains stubbornly fixated on his goal of making it in the music industry, even as he stands permanently poised on the precipice between personal integrity and squalid failure.
There is hope on the horizon. Llewyn breezes through the Greenwich folk scene at an inopportune time when folk acts simply couldn't get a break. This was, at the same time, right on the eve of Bob Dylan's explosion onto the music world (a Dylan stand-in pops up briefly in the film, miming to an obscure outtake called 'Farewell'), bolstered by the cleaned-up pop sheen of the likes of Peter, Paul and Mary (who are also alluded to in the film) and The Byrds. We are left to wonder: is Llewyn Davis, whose story is loosely based on that of the late cult folk singer Dave van Ronk, doomed to the endless loop of rejection and failure that the film's moebius-like structure seems to trap him in, or will his odyssey of artistic and personal freedom ultimately find its own groove? Will Llewyn evolve, as suggested by his ever-shifting interpretations of the traditional tune, 'Dink's Song (Fare Thee Well)', or will he remain defiantly rooted to the same "three chords on an ukulele", as John Goodman's character condescendingly puts it? These are questions that Inside Llewyn Davis brilliantly poses but maddeningly refuses to answer. As such, it stands as the single most impressive and enigmatically fascinating film of the year.
As a longtime devoted fan of the Coen brothers, I'm at a complete loss as to how this film fits into their overall oeuvre. Cinematographically, it stands out from everything else they've done. Shot by Bruno Delbonnel, its visuals are characterized by a monochromatic haze that lacks the loopy wide-angle lenses or the eerily crisp exactitude that characterized their previous collaborations with Barry Sonnenfeld and Roger Deakins, respectively. Script-wise, there is only a tiny hint of the Coen brothers' usual eccentricity. In the spirit of something like The Big Lebowski, it is populated by an array of bizarre, improbable characters who pop in and out of the story without warning. It is a distant cousin to O Brother, Where Art Thou, with its folk soundtrack and rootsy reinterpretation of Homer's Odyssey, and also, less obviously, to No Country for Old Men, with its stark, pervasive pessimism towards the idealism of the American dream. Mostly, though, Inside Llewyn Davis scarcely feels like a Coen brothers film at all. One wonders what Joel and Ethan would have seen in this story, enough to pursue it so lovingly and to devote such a long period of gestation to it. Perhaps, as a pair of the most uncompromisingly idiosyncratic and visionary-minded filmmakers of their time, they would have seen something noble in van Ronk's—and, in turn Llewyn's—single-minded quest for his own brand of artistic liberty. Who knows. Maybe that's what the cat is supposed to represent.
American Hustle (2013)
A supremely entertaining and biting Scorsesean romp
Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, Christian Bale and Amy Adams' characters in American Hustle, insist at one point that the key to their success as big-league con artists is that they keep all of their setups just small enough that they can never get out of hand. The same can be said for American Hustle, director David O. Russell's follow-up to I ♥ Huckabees, The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook. Of course, the obvious criticism is that American Hustle takes much of its cues from Scorsese, especially Goodfellas and Casino, with its oldies-laden soundtrack, flashy camera movement, extensive use of voice-overs and semi-affectionate attitude towards sleazeball, backroom criminal dealings. Realistically, though, American Hustle is far from "Goodfellas Lite"; or, at least it does itself the favour of switching gears before it can deteriorate into such. What David O. Russell manages to retain from The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, despite the very different tone and subject matter here, is his unique knack for comedy—a tricky blend of black humour and old-school, 30s style screwball antics—and for getting intimate, intense performances from his actors, even in the loudest moments. Thus, for all of the film's Scorsesean displays of virtuosity and twisty plot elements, what anchors it down is indeed Russell's keen eye for characters, interactions and situations; an eye of the storm, if you will.
Naturally, the principal attraction of a film like this to most people will be its stars. Russell, perhaps anticipating this, goes ahead and makes all of them appear as unattractive and unlikeable as possible. Christian Bale, operating in full Robert De Niro mode, melts into the role of Irving, the pot-bellied, combed-over, smooth-talking con artist who finds himself enlisted by the FBI to help set up a group of corrupt politicians for a sting operation. Amy Adams, with whom I hear many people are becoming fed up, plays his partner, Sydney (alias Lady Edith Greensly, complete with an oozy English accent) who, for all her plunging necklines and short skirts, comes across just as unflatteringly as Irving. One of the many joys of this movie is watching these two play off each other, continuously leaving the audience in the dark as to what they are truly up to and to whom they are really faithful. Even Bradley Cooper, while still essentially playing the endearingly inept schmuck, is uncharacteristically detestable as Richie, the ambitious and egotistical FBI agent/braying lunatic who ropes Irving and Sydney into his scheme. And yet, because these actors have such remarkable chemistry and because Russell is so good at extracting all the right notes from them, they're impossible to truly dislike and, as it should be with any decent crime caper, we root for them wholeheartedly.
More importantly, like Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle sets itself apart from mere pathos and eye candy by maintaining a very acerbic and funny undercurrent to its proceedings. I'm not talking about just Louis CK's and Jennifer Lawrence's comic side roles, either. Yes, the dominant mode of American Hustle is irreverence (the film opens with a plain title which drolly proclaims that "some of this actually happened") but, like some of the best Billy Wilder comedies, there is a biting, cynical truth to all of it. It helps to recall that, as a screenplay, the film was originally to be titled American Bullsh*t, which clearly was not going to do the studio any favours marketing-wise. Watching the movie, I kept thinking of that Dunkin Donuts slogan, "America runs on Dunkin's". Well, according to this film, America runs on bullsh*t. Not only does the word 'bullsh*t' pop up in this script more conspicuously and frequently than any other, but it effectively becomes the slogan for the film. If Silver Linings Playbook was all about how American culture is driven—for better or worse—by heuristic distractions and superstitions that border on neurosis, then American Hustle is all about how pretense, deception and, yes, bullsh*t are at the root of the so-called American dream. Whether it's moral bullsh*t (as with Cooper's warped, self-serving sense of ethics and legality), political bullsh*t (as with the rosy-cheeked politician façade of Jeremy Renner's character), social bullsh*t (as with Lawrence and Bale's song and dance about marriage-for-the-sake-of-not-having-to-get-a-divorce) or just plain interpersonal bullsh*t (as with, heck, everything Bale and Adams do in the movie), the film makes no mistake about the grotesque falsehood that sits behind just about every tale of good old American ambition and survival.
American Hustle is so thrilling and entertaining that I didn't want it to end. When it finally did, after close to 2 and ½ exhilarating hours, I was honestly expecting it to go on for another half hour at the very least. Anybody who's familiar with my reviews will know just how much importance I attach to endings and, frankly, American Hustle wraps itself up perhaps a bit too abruptly and tidily than I would have liked. Given its breathtaking first act and its overarching irreverence, I suppose this was to be expected and, to be fair, it speaks volumes (especially coming from someone with such a short attention span as I) that the worst that can be said about this film is that there isn't enough of it. Even if American Hustle is not necessarily a perfect film or even a particularly original film, it is definitely one that I can foresee myself coming back to, and hopefully sooner than later.
A touching, cynical throwback
Nebraska is a movie that hits the sweet spot between cynicism and sentimentality. I hated Alexander Payne's last film, 2011's The Descendants with George Clooney, because it felt like an unbearably irritating hodgepodge of weepy dippity-doo-da melodrama and asinine comic relief. Because that film failed to strike a decent balance between emotional sincerity and cutesy dramedy, I found myself taking a strong dislike to the characters when, clearly, the movie was trying desperately to make me like them. Nebraska, with its rough edges and bitter undertones, has more or less the opposite effect: it made me become attached to the characters and their world despite the film seemingly doing everything in its power to inspire contempt for them. The crucial difference, I would image, is that of choice—choice over what to make of the characters and whether or not to like them, rather than a manufactured warm-and-fuzzy feeling. Nebraska is the stark, Last Picture Show-esque black & white antithesis to The Descendants' idyllic, colour-saturated quackery.
Nebraska has a simple story. Woody Grant, a senile alcoholic, is led to believe that he has won a million dollars in a mail-in contest and stubbornly drags his long-suffering family across two states to collect the prize money, stopping to reconnect with his old hometown along the way. This synopsis makes the film sound more like Wild Strawberries or The Straight Story than it actually is. The fact is, to the movie's greatest credit, that the character of Woody Grant (played letter-perfectly by veteran character actor Bruce Dern) doesn't give a hoot about anything most of the time. One would think that, beneath it all, the pilgrimage to Nebraska is just a plea for affection or familial bonding, but it really isn't. All he wants is that prize money, and to show all of those people who've doubted him and taken advantage of him over the years that he isn't such a bum after all. Like I said, it's a very cynical film, but it has a sweetness to it.
The sweetness of the film, I think, comes from the magnificent chemistry between the actors. It helps that none of them are recognizable starts, for one, despite all turning in top-of-the-line performances here. Bruce Dern, who won the Best Actor prize at Cannes for his work in the film, on his own carries great pathos as well as a certain level of mystique as Woody Grant. Given his senility and lack of understanding of what is going on around him most of the time, most of what we learn about his character and his past is from the other characters, most of whom chalk him down to a reckless drunk, a burn-out and a sponge. That is, everyone except for Kate, his wife, and David, youngest son, played by Jane Squibb and Will Forte, respectively. The interplay between Squibb, who balks loudly at Woody's stubbornness at every opportunity and yet still finds it in her heart to kiss him on the cheek when he winds up in the hospital for the umpteenth time, and Dern, who remains mostly silent (or, perhaps, merely feigns unawareness), is simultaneously touching, brilliantly humorous and thoroughly genuine. It is Will Forte, whose over-the-top antics I remember watching on Saturday Night Live when I was a preteen, who is the heart and soul of the film, however. Here, playing straight man against the various grotesque figures who circle Woody Grant like vultures upon learning of his alleged fortune, Forte provides a stable, tender-hearted center to the film. Even more so than Kate, Forte's David is the only character capable of finding the patience to understand and sympathize with Woody and his foolish quest. The viewer effectively experiences the film through his eyes, cringing and shrugging shoulders along with him as he trails behind Woody from tavern to tavern and humiliating episode to humiliating episode. And, because the relationship between Woody and David is never played for cheap laughs, by the end of the film, these actors come across like a genuine father and son. And that, I think, is precisely what makes Nebraska definitely worth watching.