Tag: alexander payne

MOVIE REVIEW | Citizen Ruth (1996)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Even with the hindsight of the rest of Alexander Payne’s, Citizen Ruth has a fresh, unique feel to it.”

Ruth 1
“I slept in a few dumpsters. Maybe I slept on some babies.”

Besides directing segments in a couple of soft core pornos for Playboy, director Alexander Payne is definitely on the prestigious side.  He’s made six features, five of which have all scored Oscar nominations of some description.  None of which take place in America’s usual movie locations like New York, LA and Chicago.  Alexander Payne tells stories about middle America, or in the case of The Descendants, Hawaiian America.  These unusual, uncommon settings are always filled with unusual, uncommon characters.  Is he making fun of these places and their inhabitants?  Is he celebrating them?  It’s a fine line that Payne walks expertly.  And he’s done so since the very beginning, as evidenced by his feature debut, Citizen Ruth.

Unmoving and with a look of complete boredom and detachment, Ruth (Laura Dern) lays under a filthy man in a filthy apartment as he pumps away.  When it’s done, Ruth doesn’t even get the one thing she wanted from it, a bed for the night.  The man kicks her out, sending Ruth to her brother Tony, (Jim Kalal) looking for a place to stay.  Instead she gets his disgust and $15.  Enough to buy a can of spray paint from the local hardware store to get high and OD.  Taken to the emergency room, Ruth recovers to the news that she is, in fact, pregnant.  With four kids already taken away from her by the state, the fed up Judge Richter (David Graf) imprisons Ruth for endangering her unborn child. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | Paris, je táime (2006)

“By acting like a man in love, he became a man in love again.”

Movies are often called a love letter to the city in which they’re set.  But usually, that geographical admiration is underneath a more standard narrative.  Characters go through the motions of a romantic comedy with the backdrop of a city constantly there, trying everything together.  Paris, je táime takes the concept a little more literally.  Translated as Paris, I Love, this collection of 20 odd short films by an impressive roster of A-list directors and actors never lets a story stick around long enough to get in the way of that city’s love letter.

Of all of the directors given the reigns to a part of this anthology, the contributions by the  Coen Brothers and Alexander Payne were the two I was looking forward to the most.  And they both deliver.  But the fact that the both tell stories about being American outsiders in the City of Lights makes me worry that my own cinematic tastes are a little too pedestrian and mainstream American. The Coen’s entry is them at their quirky, silly, slight best, as silent tourist Steve Buscemi reads his guide book a little too slowly to avoid a confrontation on a metro platform. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | Nebraska (2013)

So here it is, the last of this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Picture.  I’ve now ticked off all nine.  Regardless of which movies you might have loved or hated in this year’s batch, the variety is pretty amazing.  There’s the technical brilliance of Gravity, the intensity of Captain Phillips, and the glorious mess of American Hustle.  There’s the inspiration of Dallas Buyers Club, the sublime uniqueness of Her, and the mega heart string pulling of Philomena.  There’s also the extremes of the mind blowing, ass kicking awesomeness that is The Wolf of Wall Street, right down to the overly earnest, overly obvious and overly everything-Oscar-bait of 12 Years a Slave Amongst them all is something small, quiet, minimal and unassuming.  And it’s all of these qualities that somehow make it the perfect last movie in this list for me to have seen.  Because if you need a nice way to wind down after the extremities of all the other movies mentioned above, I can’t think of a better movie than Nebraska.

Bruce Dern is Woody Grant, a confused old man, ambling along the highway until a squad car picks him up and takes him in.  When collected by his son, David (Will Forte), we learn Woody thinks he’s won $1million in a dodgy sweepstake, and is one his way to Nebraska to claim the prize.  The rest of their immediate family is made up of Woody’s wife, Kate (June Squib) and their eldest son, Ross (Bob Odenkirk). When none of them can convince Woody that’s it’s a scam, David eventually agrees to take his father to Nebraska, if for no other reason than to just spend some time humouring is aging father.

Along the way, Woody and David are briefly stuck in their former home town, where they haven’t been since David was a young boy.  Staying with Woody’s even older brother, the story of the million bucks spreads across town until everyone thinks they have a claim to a share.  Especially Stacey Keach’s Ed, Woody’s former business partner from three decades earlier.

When Nebraska first came out, there was a lot of talk about Dern being a legit contender for the Best Actor Oscar. The likelihood of that has all but disappeared since, but now that I’ve finally seen his performance, it’s up there as one of my favourites of the year.

I don’t know if I’m not perceptive enough, or if it was a deliberate choice on Dern’s part, but I never knew for sure what was going on in Woody’s head.  Is he suffering from some variety of Alzheimer’s or dementia?  Is he a little forgetful as an octogenarian might be?  Is he just a stubborn old prick with no regard for how his actions affect others?  Is he lying to himself just as much as he’s lying to everyone else so he has a reason to live just that little bit longer?  For me, that ambiguity was a big part of what made me like Nebraska so much.

Director Alexander Payne has copped a little flack for making fun of his small town characters.  Accused of laughing at them, never with them.  But I thought it showed more of a familiar affection for them.  I think he actually likes these small town people and is making fun of them the way only an insider can.  As much as I like Sideways and The Descendants, those characters and settings don’t seem as personal to Payne as movies like Citizen Ruth, Election and About Schmidt.  I’d definitely put Nebraska in that latter group.

Nebraska might not be my pick for Best Picture, but in in such an eclectic year, it’s inclusion makes me the happiest.  So many of the other eight nominees were built from the ground up to be Oscar contenders.  Nebraska seems like it was made for no other reason than to just tell its own unique little story.

Directed By – Alexander Payne
Written By – Bob Nelson