Wednesday, December 11, 2013
The sort of people who slavishly read fantasy novels in general and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien in particular (like me) also tend to be the sort who play video games, especially the role-playing variety. (Again, me.) These overlapping constituencies are no doubt familiar with the concept of the expansion pack.
This is when the creators of a successful game issue a supplement that keeps the basic architecture in place, and just adds new elements -- extended storylines, new characters, new monsters, fresh hardware and so on.
There isn't nearly as much work involved in churning out an expansion pack as an original game, so they tend to be handsome going concern for game-makers.
In blowing up Tolkien's modest novel "The Hobbit" -- 287 pages in my ancient Ballantine paperback edition -- into a trio of movies tipping near three hours each, director Peter Jackson and his cohorts have essentially applied the M.O. of the expansion pack to moviemaking.
Oh, Tolkien's delightful children's story is still there, about an unassuming hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) who gets recruited to accompany 13 dwarves and a wizard on a journey to faraway lands to slay a dragon and win back a stolen kingdom. But it's been "augmented" to such a ridiculous degree that keepers of the original flame might have a hard time recognizing the quaint little tale they remember so fondly.
I still liked the final product, which is a rip-roaring, action-packed good time, because as I said this sword-and-sorcery stuff is totally in my wheelhouse. But in giving it the grand, elongated "Lord of the Rings" treatment, I fear casual fans may feel Tolkien's tender prequel has been burgled of much of its charm.
At the outset of the second film of the triplet, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," Bilbo, dwarven leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), sage wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and their companions have successfully crossed through the Misty Mountains and escaped the clutches of a horde of goblins and orcs who want their heads.
They still have a long way to go to reach Erebor, the lonely peak where the eponymous dragon lies sleeping under a mountain of treasure. To get there, Bilbo & Co. must brave the suffocating Mirkwood Forest, battle giant spiders and encounter some woodland elves who aren't so sprightly in their attitudes toward dwarves.
For me, this section contains some of the most rapturous portions of Tolkien's novel, as the wayward adventurers are forced to navigate both treacherous terrain and tricky political/racial territory. For some reason, though, Jackson and his co-screenwriters (Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro) decided this is precisely they area where they must economize the story down to bare bones.
Thus, the party's encounter with fearsome "skin-changer" Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt) is over almost before it begins. Likewise, the claustrophobic taint of the Mirkwood isn't allowed time to settle in. And Bilbo's comedic-yet-scary rescue of his compatriots at the hands of the spiders, employing his new magic invisibility ring, stinging sword and a bit of clever poetry, doesn't summon up the scares or the laughs it ought to.
Instead, we're treated to a whole bunch of byplay involving elven king's son Legolas (Orlando Bloom), brought back from the "LOtR" movies for another go-round, and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), a badass warrior elf woman who's completely invented out of whole cloth. We also get to know a lot more about the internal power struggles of Laketown and its would-be hero, Bard (Luke Evans), than is really necessary. Plus an expanded look at Gandalf's investigation of a mysterious Necromancer down south.
And, most bizarrely, the stirring of an interracial romance 'twixt elf and dwarf. Yes, really. The way Jackson and the gang are building this thing up, I think we're in store for the full Romeo/Juliet entanglement in the third installment.
I couldn't help noticing that nearly every time the film deviates significantly from the book, it's to diminish Bilbo as a character. Instead of being the center of the action and the doer of deeds, he becomes merely the person who sets in motion events that others take full advantage of.
So for example, instead of single-handedly rescuing the dwarves from their elvish captors using empty wine barrels, he's a bit player in a big action set-piece starring Legolas and Tauriel. And rather than being the one who notices the not-so-proverbial chink in the armor of the mighty Smaug (captivatingly voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), here he merely confirms what others have told him.
I still enjoyed the second "Hobbit" film. But in piling on so much extraneous other stuff, we feel less like we're watching a movie than playing it on our game console. Consequently, it's less consequential.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
“Despicable Me 2” is essentially more of the same, with super-villain-turned-super-daddy Gru (voice of Steve Carell) turning his attentions away from dastardly plots to raising his three adopted daughters and manufacturing “jams and jellies.” But he gets sucked back into the old life, this time on the side of the good guys, and dallies in a little romance to boot.
It’s not the most ambitious sequel ever made, and if you measure your age in more than single digits, it will likely grow a tad monotonous. But for the young’uns there is a lot of zippy action, cool ray guns and other mad scientist hardware, and plenty of gastrointestinal humor featuring Gru’s gibberish-spouting army of little yellow minions.
Kristen Wiig provides the voice of Lucy, a junior agent of the Anti-Villain League who is assigned to be Gru’s partner. Seems a noxious serum has been stolen that turns the imbiber into a purple berserker, and they believe one of the proprietors of the local mall is the culprit. Gru and Lucy pretend to be cupcake bakers and set about mixing things up.
Gru’s chief target is the owner of the local Mexican restaurant, who bears a resemblance to a presumed dead bad guy named El Macho. But his new bosses aren’t buying the suspicion. Meanwhile, ardor blooms between Gru and Lucy, and his oldest daughter gets all swoony for the putative El Macho’s son.
Most of the best gags involve the minions, including a subplot where they are gradually kidnapped and injected with that serum. (If, like me, you’re wondering why they don’t just make a movie featuring the ochre-hued, overall-wearing little dudes – since that’s what the kiddies really want -- “Minions” is set to drop in 2015.)
I’ve despised a lot of lackluster sequels, but not this one. For a movie that doesn’t try very hard, it’s fun and reasonably entertaining.
The movie comes with a host of good extra features, headlined by three new mini-movies further exploring the world of Gru & Co. Of course, the minions get their own wee adventure. They even come with their own making-of featurettes.
There’s also an interview with Steve Carell, a profile of El Macho, featurettes on gadgets and Gru’s girls, and a commentary track by directors Chris Renaud & Pierre Coffin – who also moonlight as the voices of the minions.
Monday, December 9, 2013
"Das Boot" is one of the first foreign films I saw more or less contemporarily to its debut in U.S. theaters. A German submarine war epic is not exactly first pickings for most preadolescent kids, so I can only imagine my parents' reaction when I asked them to take me to see it.
It's not one of those films that slides in under the radar and whose reputation is burnished with the passing of years; seeing it, you immediately sense you are in the presence of greatness.
I remember the movie causing quite a stir at the time. In part because foreign films rarely got mainstream attention in America, but also because it was a German film that was purported to show German soldiers as brave and competent. Shunting aside that claim is easy, since the strength in writer/director Wolfgang Petersen's finely-crafted workmanship is that the submariners are depicted as real flesh-and-blood creatures with all sorts of varying qualities -- some of them vile, but a few of them noble, too.
Besides, it is a fundamental flaw in human thinking (and thereby our cinema) to believe that genuine heroism cannot be performed in service to a cause that is evil. The Confederacy fought for the preservation of slavery, our country's original sin, but that hardly obliterates the great gallantry shown by many of its officers and foot soldiers.
The soldiers in "Das Boot" are German naval seamen who are in some ways at the most forward front in the war against Britain: the North Atlantic sea battle of late 1941 and early 1942. It was a war of attrition Germany was destined to lose, as too few U-boats were available to stop the convoys of supply ships and destroyers feeding the Allied strength. They essentially acted as more or less autonomous rovers, hunting for juicy targets and wallowing in misery and boredom otherwise.
There are more versions of "Das Boot" than can be easily counted. There was a European version during its initial release, and an American one that ran a hair under 2½ hours. It also played on German television as a mini-series, six episodes of 50 minutes each, including recaps from the previous show, for five hours total. Petersen was allowed to present his own edit in 1997, but this 209-minute version wasn't available on Blu-ray until last year.
In general, I'm not a fan of director's cuts of films. Except in rare cases where a studio clearly took over a picture and hacked it to pieces -- say, Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil" -- most of the time I find that when a filmmaker gets the opportunity to present "their" version of a picture, the original was better. Director's cuts are invariably longer, lose narrative cohesiveness and have a self-indulgent vibe.
(James Cameron would be the glaring outlier in this regard -- his re-cuts of "The Abyss," "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" and "Aliens" are all improvements, with one notable exception.)
Petersen's cut of "Das Boot" is an hour longer, but somehow doesn't dramatically change the experience of watching it. The reinserted scenes are nearly all quiet character moments where the officers and crew interact with each other more deeply than we saw in the theatrical versions. We see an unnamed crew member complaining about the captain's bold tactics, or more reminiscing between the junior officers about their lives back home.
I can't definitely say which version is "better," other than the new version is "more" of the same movie. My judgment would probably be that if I was watching it in the theater, the original cut would make for a more engaging experience. But the slower rhythms of home video lend itself better to the expanded version, where we can get inside the heads of the characters a little more.
"Das Boot" is the sort of movie where you probably walk away unable to list the names of more than one or two characters, but they exist as distinct, easily recognizable individuals. There's the resolute captain (Jürgen Prochnow), a brilliant but overly aggressive strategist who repeatedly presses the luck of the U-96 and its crew. He's like a wolf pack leader who is often sullen that circumstances require him to be more careful than his instincts would dictate.
The first officer (Hubertus Bengsch) is a ramrod straight Nazi, the only man onboard who burns with ideological purity -- reflected in his carefully groomed appearance, in stark contrast to the pale, scruffy bearded submariners around him. Klaus Wennemann plays the quiet, hard-working chief engineer, his mind occupied by an unspoken problem with his wife at home; Martin Semmelrogge is the impish second officer and comic relief.
Erwin Leder has a memorable role as Johann, the chief mechanic known as "The Ghost" for his wan, sickly appearance and tendency to haunt his beloved engine room without ever leaving. The most seasoned man aboard, it is Johann who cracks in the middle of a tense battle with a British destroyer, attempting to escape out the main hatch (and thereby killing the entire crew). He redeems himself with his subsequent heroic efforts.
Acting as the eyes and ears of the audience is Werner (Herbert Grönemeyer), a war correspondent sent to chronicle a U-boat mission for propaganda purposes. Young, intelligent and sensitive, he has trouble fitting in with the hard-bitten camaraderie the men share -- even the captain takes great pains to keep him at a distance and uncomfortable. Appearing to confide in the young writer, he's actually mocking him most of the time.
Werner is a clear stand-in for Lothar G. Buchheim, an actual German journalist who spent several months aboard the real U-96. Buchheim milked his experience for literary purposes not once, but thrice. There was the initial short story published during the war, then a 1973 novel upon which the movie is based, and finally a nonfiction account of the same journey three years later.
(Interestingly, when the film came out Buchheim was a lonely voice criticizing it for historical inaccuracy, which is an odd choice for a man who exploited his time on a U-boat for propaganda, fiction and supposed neutral observation. Most of his ire seems to stem from the fact that Petersen preferred to write the screenplay himself instead of turning it over to a cinematic novice.)
For all its length and majesty, the storyline can be neatly divided into four unequal parts. The first is the initial launch of the U-96 and several dreary weeks spent at sea waiting for some action, other than a brief encounter with a British destroyer in rough seas where the German have their hats handed to them, though they escape serious damage. Then there is the successful attack on a convoy in which the U-96 sink two ships, only to be pursued and nearly destroyed by two avenging warships.
The third section is a brief visit to a German supply ship off the coast of Spain; at this point the audience has been confined inside the sub for two hours, so when the men emerge into the bright, sumptuous atmosphere aboard the merchant vessel, it seems practically like stepping onto an alien planet. Finally, there is the long sequence where U-96 attempts to sneak through the well-guarded Straits of Gibraltar, and is literally sunk -- stranded on the bottom of the sea, unable to move. An amazing undertaking manages to raise the submarine to the surface and escape to freedom, until being strafed by Allied planes while at dock and sunk.
The final image is of the captain, kneeling on the dock after being fatally wounded, watching through a steely gaze as he watches his ship slowly bubbling downward on its final death dive. Strangely, this somehow seems like a victory, since the captain got to die on his own two feet in the sunlight, instead of a cold, dark demise under the frozen ocean.
For most vessels, a captain going down with his ship is seen as a grand gesture. But as this film well shows, submariners have a love/hate relationship with their ships. Beyond stealth, they have virtually no defensive capabilities -- they are essentially a spear point, hurled at the enemy with little regard for what happens after to the weapon.
Petersen's claustrophobic camera work is simply brilliant, roving up and down the narrow 10-foot-wide shaft of the submarine like a wandering spirit. They built a real-size replica for the production, which lasted a full year and required the actors to stay out of the sunlight so they could take on the real pallor of submariners.
The sound design and editing is especially important to the success of "Das Boot," since there are long stretches where the movie is utterly silent, as the U-96 crew waits for the sound of enemy ships or the feared depth charges. When we first hear the harsh ping of a sonar array, searching for the submerged vessel like a groping, eyeless and icy finger of Death, it's positively chilling.
"Das Boot" would end up with six Oscar nominations, including screenplay and direction, though it would not be represented as Germany's "official" entry for the Academy Awards -- so no nod for Best Foreign Language Film. Personally, I think it's the definitive submarine movie.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Film adaptations of 19th century British and American literature have a tendency to be stiff and remote. The characters in those books were often more like archetypes than flesh-and-blood creatures. They spoke in lilted sentences adored in upper-class salons of the day, but which were unlikely to actually spill out of anyone’s mouth extemporaneously. Movie versions tend to translate this distance between author and audience.
At first I thought “Great Expectations” was falling into this fold, based on Charles Dickens’ classic tale of a blacksmith’s apprentice transformed into a young gentleman. The early section where we’re introduced to the main players and set the plot in motion drags rather badly. Pip is plucked out of obscurity and given a sizeable fortune by a mysterious benefactor.
But something happens along the way. The actors grow comfortable in their roles, director Mike Newell and screenwriter David Nicholls trim away some of the book’s extraneous subplots and characters, and the movie actually grows deeper and richer the further we travel along with it.
By the end, I was fully caught up in the emotional journey of Pip (Jeremy Irvine) and his long-estranged lady love, Estella (Holliday Grainger). Their on-again, off-again affair is somehow both restrained and ravishing.
The cast is just spectacular, with the characters really popping off the screen despite many of them having limited screen time. Jason Felmyng has sort of shy, proud grace as Joe, Pip’s brother-in-law and passive protector. Robbie Coltrone is a fearsome, fulsome presence as Jaggers, the mercenary lawyer put in charge of introducing Pip into society. Ewen Bremner, Sally Hawkins and Olly Alexander are spot-on as, respectively, Jaggers’ assistant Wemmick, Pip’s abusive older sister and best chum Herbert Pocket.
The real standouts are Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes, both of whom deserve consideration when the award season rolls in.
As Miss Havisham, the wealthy spinster who takes young Pip under her wing, Carter is an eerie presence, a victim and victimizer who has shut herself away from life. Abandoned at the altar by a conniving embezzler, she still wears her wedding dress, now reduced to ragged strips, while the mice make a feast on her never-served banquet dinner. She’s both vile and pitiable.
It’s no secret Fiennes can be utterly unnerving onscreen, so his early scenes as escaped convict Abel Magwitch are fraught with terror. Later, while never losing his hard edges -- he’s a willing murderer who sleeps with a blade in his hand -- Magwitch is also exposed as more human than we might have supposed.
Irvine is fine in the lead role, though it’s more of a reactive part where the actor is required to play off of the other, more interesting people around him. Grainger has a nice feel for the coldness inside the heart of Estella, Miss Havisham’s adoptive daughter.
She delivers perhaps the most memorable line of the book and movie: “I have been bent and broken, but -- I hope -- into a better shape.” This surprisingly touching version of “Great Expectations” certainly breaks the mold for this sort of literary adaptation, breathing life into those dusty pages.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
So they made a Wolverine movie to spin off the most popular character from the X-Men film franchise, and it didn’t do so well. In the spirit of recent Hollywood tradition when it comes to superhero flicks -- their motto could be “try, try again” -- they decided have another go. Hugh Jackman reprises his role as the feral, be-clawed mutant with extraordinary healing powers.
As with the Superman and Hulk movies, the do-over wasn’t markedly better than the first attempt. Which begs the question of why they bothered in the first place, other than sheer naked money-making.
“The Wolverine” goes for an adaptation of a popular 1980s graphic novel set in Japan, but booted most of the narrative and replaced it with a confusing mish-mash of fight scenes, wooing and, for some reason, a cyborg.
Logan aka Wolverine is summoned to Japan to the deathbed of Yashida, whose life he saved in World War II. He is stripped of his mutant power and thrown into the middle of a family squabble between his friend’s son, Shingen, and granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), over control of their billion-dollar corporation.
Soon Wolverine is fighting ninjas, Yakuza mob thugs, and a mysterious Western doctor with her own poisonous powers. Jackman frequently sheds his shirt for these, revealing his weird, veiny bod. Meanwhile, he and Mariko manage to fall deeply, irrevocably in love in about a minute and a half, leading to some obligatory damsel-in-distress scenes.
Some of the action scenes are engaging, but the story is such a shredded mess, it looks like a Japanese tapestry that had a nasty encounter with Wolverine’s adamantium claws.
The video release is accompanied by some nice extra features, though you’ll need to shell out for the Blu-ray version to get the best stuff. The DVD comes only with a making-of featurette.
Go for the Blu-ray edition and you add an alternate ending, an interactive mobile device app, a more in-depth look at Wolverine’s journey, and a sneak peak of the upcoming “X-Men: Days of Future Past” set.
For the most complete experience there’s the “Unleashed” version that includes an extended, unrated cut of the film: “more violent and hardcore than ever before,” the jacket promises. And you get a feature-length commentary track by director James Mangold.
Monday, December 2, 2013
I've been thinking about the Reeling Backward selections I've written about recently, as well as the piles of potential films to feature -- mostly in the form of DVDs/Blu-rays sitting on my desk, stuff I've DVR'd off Turner Classic Movies and titles filling up my Netflix queue (more than 100, counting both streaming and DVD lists).
Conservatively speaking, it'll take me two to three years to get through all the films. And that's not accounting for any flux in the lists, as titles available for streaming suddenly disappear (annoying) or my interests change and I add new movies as I come across them (frequent). But it gives me a good idea of what sorts of things I've been watching or planned to watch.
Anyway, I've noticed a possibly disturbing trend: Reeling Backward has become a very testosterone-laden space. Most of the recent columns and queues are dominated by war pictures, crime stories, sports dramas and Westerns. There hasn't been a whole lot of comedy, and there's been even less of the "chick flick" variety.
The irony, of course, is that back in Hollywood's Golden Age they didn't think to divide films into "women's pictures" or "children's movies" or such. It was assumed that more or less everybody was more or less interested in every genre of film, and that as long as they made good pictures people of all ages and genders would come to see them.
(They most definitely thought of a certain subset of movies as being for "colored people," and indeed there was a little-known subsystem of films produced for and even by black folks. But that's another story.)
Romantic comedies have been one of the mainstays of popular film going back to its silent days, and Preston Sturges was widely considered a master of the genre. "The Lady Eve" is one of his better-known examples. Technically it's best described as a screwball comedy, but since most screwballs were subsets of romantic films, the categorization still works.
What's most notable about the film is the way Barbara Stanwyck completely dominates the film, even with the considerable Henry Fonda as her leading man. Fonda plays Charles Pike, an ophiologist (snake expert) who also happens to be the heir to the Pike's Ale fortune. Charles, having just spent a year doing research in the Amazon, is a socially inept bumbler who seems uncomfortable around the hordes of women zeroing in on him.
Until, that is, he meets Stanwyck's Jean Harrington, a con woman and daughter of hoary card shark "Colonel" (a fictional title) Harrington (Charles Coburn). Jean is a schemer and a shyster, but isn't quite the total mercenary that her father is. She finds herself genuinely falling for the patsy.
Their seduction scenes are quite electric, especially in that the man is totally submissive to the woman in a way you don't usually see in this era of film. First she makes Charles remove her busted shoe and replace it with another, in a paean to foot fetishism that probably drove Quentin Tarantino crazy. Then she nudges him off the divan and and hovers over him, lustily stroking his hair, in a clear stand-in for another part of his anatomy. Her midriff-baring outfit is quite racy for the time.
Later Charles is wised up by his bodyguard/protector Muggsy (William Demarest) that Jean and her dad are con artists, and he gives them the heave-ho. Segue to a few months later, and Jean decides to pull his chain again. Posing as a bogus Brit noble, the Lady Eve, she inserts herself into the upper-crust Connecticut set, and wheedles an invitation to a party being thrown by Charles' father, Horace (Eugene Pallette, famous for his rotund carriage and gravely voice).
Of course, it's ludicrous that Charles wouldn't immediately recognize Eve as Jean. But he insists that someone trying to fool him would change their appearance, so the fact that she looks exactly the same is proof in his mind that they actually are two women. For a scientist, Charles seems pretty impervious to logic.
The dinner scene of Charles falling over himself as he is flummoxed by Eve remains a high point, with the doltish boy having to repeatedly change tuxedos when he keeps getting an array of food spilled on his duds.
In the end he falls for Eve just as he did Jean, and following a quickie marriage she extracts her revenge, fabricating a litany of former lovers (including at least one elopement) as part of the Lady Eve's backstory. Mortified, Charles literally jumps off the train they were riding to their honeymoon destination.
Eric Blore is a real treat as Sir Alfred McGlennan Keith, a fellow scam man who teams up with Jean to help her perpetrate her ruse as an English lady. I love how, when introducing himself to his fellow rascals, he prefaced his name with "at the moment" -- indicating that such things are as interchangeable as the hats he favors.
I liked a lot of little bits 'n' pieces about "The Lady Eve," though as a whole I found it somewhat disappointing. The best screwball/romantic comedies have a little heart to them as well as flimflam -- "It Happened One Night" being the classic example. "Eve" is straight go-go-go comedy, and in the end I felt more breathless than charmed.
Perhaps I'm just too used to manly flicks.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
"Nebraska" is a movie of pauses and unspoken words. If you were to spell out everything that happens in the film and everything that's said, it wouldn't amount to much. A lot of people might find it rather slow, but they aren't the sort who go to a black-and-white dark comedy/drama from the guy who directed "Sideways" and "The Descendants," anyway.
Although "Nebraska" is a movie of slowness and deliberateness, director Alexander Payne doesn't revel in being so. His takes are long, but don't tarry a second longer than needed. The people speak in few words, the main character in so few he's practically mute. Yet any more dialogue would seem too much.
The plot is ... a non-story. A crotchety old man with some degree of undiagnosed dementia wants to travel from his home in Billings, Montana, to Lincoln, Nebraska, to claim his $1 million prize he received a letter about in the mail.
The "prize" is simply one of those scams where you sign up for some magazine subscriptions and you're entered into a contest. Of course, the letter has dollar signs and says "You are a winner!", so old folks like Woodrow Grant (Bruce Dern) are fooled into handing over their money.
Woody's insistence borders on obsession, to the point he starts walking cross-country to get his money. The police dutifully pick him up and return him safely home every time, but his family's so fed up that younger son Dave (Will Forte) finally agrees to drive him to Lincoln just to put the matter to rest.
Payne and screenwriter Bob Nelson slowly peel back the layers of Woody, a guy who at first seems like a walking joke but gradually is revealed as nothing less than an American icon. Woody came from a small farm, went to war and didn't talk about what he did there, got himself a wife and a business, drank too much and lived a life of quotidian repetition.
Now he's old, his mind is going, his wife and sons are exasperated by his erratic behavior, and basically everyone is just waiting for him to die, including Woody himself.
Dern is just terrific as Woody, a total transformation that we don't even question. With his nimbus of scattered white hair, unshaven face and neck, he looks half a step up from homeless. He walks in a hunched, stiff-legged shamble, as if he were a mummified duck.
While Woody wears the mien of a stubborn loner, Dern subtly reveals the yearning inside him. Woody doesn't really have any use for the money, only able to specify "a truck and a compressor" when asked what he'll buy. What he really wants is to be a somebody, instead of the nobody he's become.
Things really ratchet up when Woody and Dave stop in his tiny hometown of Hawthorne, where the social calendar seems to consist of drinking beer and watching TV, then going to the local bar to do the same in the company of others. Woody casually mentions the prize when asked why he's back, and the locals accept the sham as willingly as did he, turning the town joke into the big celebrity.
Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach) is the local big man and bully, a former business partner of Woody's, who figures he's owed a slice of the pie because ... well, just because. Worse yet, some of Woody's relatives get the same idea in their noggins.
June Squibb shines as Woody's put-upon wife, who obviously decided long ago to give out as much grief as she's gotten out of life. It's a brassy, showy part, and Squibb milks it for every ounce while still remaining believable as a person. I also enjoyed Bob Odenkirk as their older, more settled offspring.
The best scenes are between Forte and Dern, as the dutiful son tries to puzzle out the inscrutability of his father before he falls into the same trap of passivity and obstinacy himself. Recently split up from his girlfriend, Dave quizzes Woody about getting married and having kids. "You must have been in love at first?" "Never came up," is the laconic reply.
"Nebraska" is not a film for everyone, its rhythms too languorous for people who just want to munch their popcorn and "have a good time." But for those who can appreciate the unhurried unraveling of a mystery, the riddle of the extraordinary ordinary man, it's a delicious dark treat.