Alexander Payne

Eavesdropping at the Movies 41 – Downsizing

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I look at my watch constantly. Mike walks out twice. Every sign of life seems extinguished by earnestness. Even the presence of Christophe Waltz and Udo Kier can’t rattle the film out of its complacency. I love Matt Damon. But there’s not an ounce of excitement on offer. How is the film well intentioned? How do those intentions achieve the opposite of what they intend.  How might the love interest played by Hong Chau come of as stereotypical bordering on racist? We discuss whether this is the most boring film of the year. Certainly it’s no more than nursery food for the brain.

 

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With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Nebraska (Alexander Payne, USA, 2013)

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Nebraska poster

Nebraska is very funny, bleakly beautiful, and sad in all the right ways. An elderly man (Bruce Dern) ravaged by a lifetime of drink and with incipient Alzheimer’s is convinced he’s won a million in a sweepstake which everyone else knows is a way of conning elderly people to take out magazine subscriptions. David (Will Forte), the youngest of his two sons, decides to humour his father and drive him to Nebraska as a way of spending time with him, a way of getting closer whilst there’s still time. What the son discovers is what all children no matter how old are shocked to learn about their parents; that they are not defined simply by their relationship to their children; that they are automous beings who have dreams, desires, hopes, histories, and wishes which may predate and extend beyond their offspring; which sometime does not even include them. Nebraska is like a ‘30s Depression movie in its bleak view of America and in some of the wisecracks the mother (June Squibb) gets to utter. It differs in that the wisecracks are sometimes mean-spirited and in that the characters are as bleak, blank and miserable as the conditions of their existence.  It also rather shames itself by having no one on screen as smart as the man behind the camera — the film is spiritually hemmed-in and diminished by a whiff of smugness and self-satisfied superiority towards its subjects . A Cagney, a Davis, a Blondell, any working class prole in front of the camera in the 30s would have punched the highlights right out of Alexander Payne’s hair. But Dern no can do, which is perhaps why, in spite of concerted efforts since the late 60, and no matter how good he is, he’s never become a star. That said, it’s a great performance in an almost great film.

José Arroyo