Valdosta Daily Times


February 8, 2014

‘Nebraska,’ ‘Llewyn Davis’ an intriguing combination

VALDOSTA — “Nebraska” (Drama: 1 hour, 55 minutes)

Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk and Stacy Keach

Director: Alexander Payne

Rated: R (Profanity, violence and sexual innuendo)

Movie Review: The people presented in this amusing drama by director Alexander Payne (“The Descendants,” 2011) appear to live very mundane lives. That changes when an elderly, fragile Woodrow “Woody” T. Grant (Dern) is convinced he has won a million-dollar sweepstakes prize. Although Woody’s wife, Kate (Squibb), and sons David (Forte) and Ross (Odenkirk) try to convince him that the award notification is a marketing gimmick, Woody insists on going to Lincoln, Neb., to retrieve his prize. David decides to drive his father from Billings, Mont., but each stop of their trip brings about a new challenge for the father-son duo. A small town in central Nebraska where Woody grew up is especially taxing.

“Nebraska” is the movie for audiences seeking a slow drama with plenty of amusing scenes. Alexander Payne takes easygoing, straightforward stories and turns them into cinematic gems. Note some of his other films for confirmation: “Sideways” (2004), “About Schmidt” (2002) and “Election” (1999). Payne makes his screenplays story-driven concepts that contain unique characters. “Nebraska” neatly falls into that category. Like Payne’s previous films, it takes its time to make believable personas intriguing in uncomplicated narratives. Payne does this masterfully using black-and-white cinematography.

The cast is a bunch of ordinary people in appearance. They look like people one would see in any Walmart of a Western state. This is smart. Payne takes a bunch of ordinary people and makes their lives intriguing.

The head of the cast is Bruce Dern. He just received a nomination for an Oscar in a leading role. Dern’s last nomination was in 1979 for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in 1978’s “Coming Home” (Director Hal Ashby). Dern plays a fragile old man superbly. He is very convincing, especially when his character is intoxicated. Dern conveys much with little.

Dern is not alone in good performances. Forte is solid as his subdued son. He makes the film an earnest emotional piece. Squibb is hilarious as a senior citizen with no vocal filter. She thinks it; she says it. She is a hoot, potty mouth and all. Squibb steals the show in scenes often, delivering plenty of humor while doing such. Odenkirk and Keach round out a solid cast.

These and other characters are interesting, even when they are just watching television silently. These people are entertaining. This film takes small moments, especially the silent moments, and makes them gracefully engaging.

Grade: B+ (An intriguing state.)


“Inside Llewyn Davis” (Drama/Music: 1 hour, 45 minutes)

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund and Justin Timberlake

Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Rated: R (Profanity, violence, sexual innuendo and thematic elements)

Movie Review:
The Coen Brothers are solidly at the top of their game with this period piece. It follows the life of a Llewyn Davis (Issac), a young folk singer living in Greenwich Village. In 1961, the guitar-playing Davis lives night to night on the couches of friends to survive a snowy winter. He plays folk music in between.

This dramatic Coen Brothers’ production is a character-driven film. It thrives on authentic characters following their passions. Nice folk music performances are at the heart of this screenplay. For many of the players of this film, it is their passion. This is especially true for titular character Llewyn Davis.

Davis is an artist, and, like all artists, he wants to show his craft. He wants to perform in front of audiences. The problem is his style of folk music is fading. Plus, Davis is a vagabond. He is trying to find a place to stay while attempting to perfect his craft. He is a musician facing obstacles. His biggest problems are self-inflicted. Oscar Isaac plays Davis with a certain zeal. Isaac makes you feel Davis’ struggles. As an actor, Isaac appears to indulge in the struggles as much as Davis, making his ability to engage viewers a keen mechanism that propels this narrative.   

While it leaves one thinking is there more at its end, this drama thrives on being authentic. It takes folk music and allows it to be just that — the preferred melody of a generation.  

Ethan and Joel Coen’s greatest feat is that they are able make character-driven films that lack a solid story. The story is not necessary, as their characters are the focus. Audiences see how their players exist when they interact with others. Like real life, a solid conclusion is not the result, although it happens.

Instead, the Coen Brothers focus on tangible characters made interesting. “Inside Llewyn Davis” is another brilliant addition to their résumés.  

Its characters do the unexpected. This makes them unique. Their actions are surprisingly rewarding because the cast, especially an award-worthy Isaac, plays them genuinely.  

Grade: B+ (Inside intriguing.)

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