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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Monday, January 13, 2014


I first remember Bruce Dern from Family Plot, not considered the best Hitchcock, but definitely the last Hitchcock and possibly my first Hitchcock.  That was some 40 years ago, and this veteran actor now gets to chew some scenery in Nebraska, which won him the acting prize at Cannes, and is the newest film from Alexander Schmidt.  Schmidt has garnered more consistently wonderful reviews over his career than Dern has over his of twice the duration, often for films like Election or Citizen Ruth or About Schmidt that have often been good or had their moments but not really been that good, and in the case of Sideways been downright dreadful.  But he is coming of his clearly best film, The Descendants.

So Nebraska...

It isn't The Descendants.  It isn't that good, though I venture to say some the pleasures of Nebraska might longer longer than those of The Descendants.

It is much better than his raft of other never-really-that-good movies.

God knows it isn't Sideways!

This movie

It definitely isn't Sideways.

So the lingering pleasures:  the photography is splendid, the sheer craft of the movie, the vistas of the big country and the small towns and the people and places that pass thru the movie and which the movie passes along in turn.

Bruce Dern is a piece of work in the film.  A shambles of an old man, someone who gets one of those "you may already be a winner" sweepstakes letters that we don't get any more because the government cracked down hard enough to take the fun out of sending them, in part because of the Bruce Dern characters in real life.  The performance is natural enough not to have that feel of trying way too hard for the Oscar that Oscar often rewards (Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man).

The film finds an ending.  Bruce Dern's character hasn't already won, and you can't make him a winner. Yet the film finds a piece of triumph that works just well enough to give satisfaction to the journey that seems right and proper.

But the entire script is a conceit, and the conceit doesn't persuade.  It kind of requires there to be an entire town-full of people to believe what clearly isn't true.  A sane character could emerge at any moment and stop the film in its tracks -- maybe not Dern, maybe not his son (a surprisingly effective straight man turn by SNK's Will Forte to be witness to the events), but the things they encounter along the way go pffft the moment another same person enters the room.

While willing to recommend the film for the good things about it, I can't give it a full embrace because I can't lose sight of the artifice at its core.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is also full of stunning visuals and creative in its way, but you really can't turn a three page story into a two hour movie so easily, and Ben Stiller doesn't.  I have a hard time even giving points for the worthiness of the attempt.

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