Tag Archives: New York Film Festival

Interview: Nebraska’s Bob Odenkirk

Bob_OdenkirkWhen you’re known for such a bold, extreme character like Breaking Bad’s money-hungry criminal lawyer Saul Goodman, it’s quite the show of talent watching Bob Odenkirk shedding that striking persona and losing himself in Nebraska’s far more grounded Ross Grant.

In the film, Bruce Dern (Coming Home)  leads as Ross’ father, Woody. As an extremely stubborn aging alcoholic, Woody receives a letter in the mail dubbing him a sweepstakes millionaire and he’s convinced it’s the real deal; nothing will stop Woody from traveling to Nebraska to collect his winnings. In an effort to uphold Woody’s spirit and sanity, Ross’ brother, David (Will Forte, MacGruber), plays along and takes him on the trip, much to Ross and his mother Kate’s (June Squibb, The Big Year) chagrin.

Even though Odenkirk, Dern, Forte and Squibb all make highly unique and unforgettable contributions to the film, one of Nebraska’s prime standout components is the Grant family as a whole, and it’s that very element that helped Odenkirk turn Ross into such a real, layered character.

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Interview: Alexander Payne Sees Nebraska in Black & White

nebraskaint1It’s been less than two years since Alexander Payne scored his second Academy Award for The Descendants, but he’s already circling for another round of awards buzz with his latest feature Nebraska.

Bruce Dern leads as Woody Grant, an elderly man determined to make it to Lincoln, Nebraska so he can pick up the million-dollar prize he thinks he won in a marketing campaign. His son David (Will Forte) tries to convince him the letter is just a scam, but Woody is relentless. Even though his mother (June Squibb) and brother (Bob Odenkirk) protest, David decides to ride the scenario out for the sake of Woody’s mental and emotional stability, and drives him from Montana to Nebraska.

Even though Payne hits it big yet again by achieving notably natural performances and a combination of comedy and drama that produces beautifully bittersweet results, he also treads into unfamiliar territory because Nebraska is shot entirely in black and white.

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NYFF 2013 Review: Nebraska

Nebraska_Poster“Nebraska” is packed with hilarious material, but it’s all rooted in a brutally candid presentation of old age, resulting in a unique and especially thoughtful union of quirky comedy and honesty.

Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is convinced that he won a million dollars. His son, David (Will Forte), points out the obvious – that the letter is nothing more than a scam – but Woody insists on traveling from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his winnings. In an effort to keep his father happy and mentally sound, David hops in his Subaru to take his father on the 750-mile trip, much to his mother’s (June Squibb) chagrin.

Considering the abundance of bogus big money sweepstakes, the inciting incident serves as an ideal starting point. Like David, you know the operation is a cheat, but, at the same time, seeing, “You’ve just won $1,000,000,” in black and white can make your heart skip a beat, granting access to both characters.

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NYFF 2013 Review: All Is Lost

All_Is_Lost_PosterWatching a man try to survive a mid-sea disaster is compelling, but watching a man try to survive a mid-sea disaster in an effort to live for something would have been exponentially more compelling.

“All Is Lost” features Robert Redford as an unnamed man indulging in some alone time on his yacht in the middle of the Indian Ocean. While asleep, his boat collides with a stray shipping container, causing the vessel to take on water. As time passes and his situation worsens, the man is faced with a barrage of decisions that will determine whether he’ll stay afloat and alive.

Lost at sea, lost in space, lost in the mountains, lost wherever movies come with an inherent connectivity. As long as the piece is mildly successful, it’s a thrill to watch a character try to figure out how to defy the odds and survive, and then to wonder how you’d fare in such a situation. While “All Is Lost” does bear that quality, it also suffers a major disconnect due to insufficient information.

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NYFF 2013 Review: About Time

About_Time_Poster1Time travel in “About Time” functions as highly entertaining and amusing component, but it’s also embedded in a barrage of tremendously honest and relatable drama that makes it a deeply affecting experience worth taking with you well after the credits roll.

Upon turning 21, Tim’s (Domhnall Gleeson) father (Bill Nighy) lets him in on a family secret – all of the men in their family possess the ability to travel back in time. After hopping into a dark closet and clenching his fists, Tim learns that this is no joke and sets out to use his newfound ability to achieve his primary goal, to find a girlfriend. While all the redos in the world do give Tim the ability to improve his life in various respects, the gift has its limits.

As someone in her mid-20s looking for “the one,” finding her footing within her career, and on the cusp of establishing a life of her own, “About Time” is overwhelming in the most wonderful way imaginable. That’s not to say that a moviegoer at any other stage in life can’t feel the effects of Richard Curtis’ directorial swan song, but as someone who drew an instant connection to the chain of events, “About Time” is a film I’ll never forget.

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NYFF 2013 Review: Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside_Llewyn_Davis_Poster1“Inside Llewyn Davis” features a remarkable lead performance and impassioned journey, but the character’s destructive habits and off-putting attitude can make the experience deflating and unfulfilling.

The film covers a week in the life of struggling singer, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac). While trying to make a name for himself in the Greenwich Village folk scene, Llewyn drags his bag and guitar around, crashes on friends’ couches, ruins some of those relationships with his sour attitude and then, when all seems lost, heads to Chicago for a long overdue meeting with a media mogul who doesn’t even know he exists.

“Inside Llewyn Davis” is brimming with quality material, but Llewyn’s bleak existence and unpleasant demeanor makes it difficult to enjoy the experience. The guy is just a self-centered jerk. Not only does he suck all of his friends dry by invading their space, but then, while he’s there, he rarely manages a thank you because he’s totally consumed by his own agenda.

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NYFF 2013 Review: Captain Phillips

Captain_Phillips_Poster1“Captain Phillips” is the ultimate true tragedy-to-film adaptation. Rather than ride the “wow, this really happened” wave to an explosive finish, Paul Greengrass’ representation is so absorbing in and of itself, you won’t have an ounce of energy left for that until well after.

Tom Hanks is Richard Phillips, a cargo ship captain reporting to work for a new assignment, transporting a stock of relief supplies for Somalia, Uganda, and Kenya. While en route to Mombasa, the Maersk Alabama is boarded by four armed pirates determined to return home to Somalia with a sizable haul. With no cars or jewels, and little cash to give, it’s up to Phillips to keep the invaders from lashing out and harming his crew until, ultimately, he’s taken hostage himself.

When you’ve got a film that chronicles such a remarkable true story, it automatically gets a leg up. The material is intrinsically more profound because you know it’s the real deal. However, what makes “Captain Phillips” a standout in that sense is that the truth only comes into play before the film begins and after the credits roll because it functions as an all-consuming standalone piece. Then, once the material has sunk in, reconnecting with the idea that this series of events actually happened makes the whole experience all the more powerful.

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NYFF 2012 Review: The Bay

Typically a found footage film means one person just happens to be recording during a phenomenon and just so happens to be committed enough to risk his or her life to keep recording in order to tell the story from beginning to end in a format that just so happens to match a standard screenplay structure. Kudos to director Barry Levinson and writer Michael Wallach for making a movie that actually attempts to compile a more realistic version of found footage, but, in the end, doing so at the expense of a proper narrative and engaging characters just isn’t worth it.

Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue) is a college student interning at a local TV station who’s getting her first big gig – covering the Independence Day festivities in Claridge, Maryland. Conveniently located along the Chesapeake Bay, the day is packed with water-related events – swimming, a crab eating contest, a dunk tank and more. Too bad none of the Claridge officials properly investigated the recent case of two dead oceanographers. Otherwise they might have realized a parasitic outbreak was brewing in their pristine bay.

The story is framed just as you might expect – three years after the nightmare, Donna finally gets ahold of the footage from July 4, 2009 and opts to stitch it together, creating a found footage film. Donohue’s a fine actress, but it’s a tough sell as Levinson merely has 2012 Donna preaching to a computer camera, Skype-style in an empty room. But what makes it even tougher to connect to Donna is the fact that “The Bay” isn’t even her story. Donna commands a good portion of the film’s first act, but then we move into a montage of Donna’s 2009 footage as well as snippets from a number of other perspectives.

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NYFF 2012 Review: Life Of Pi

Piscine lives with his brother and parents in Pondicherry, India. When he isn’t spending time with the animals at his family-owned zoo, an inquisitive Pi is off exploring different faiths of which he adopts three. When Pi makes an attempt at befriending the zoo’s tiger, Richard Parker, his father steps in to teach him a rather harsh lesson, one that rattles his beliefs and curiosity.

At 17, Pi’s parents decide it’s time to seek a better life so board a Japanese cargo ship with their animals and set sail for Canada. Along the way, the boat encounters a vicious storm, sinking the ship and leaving just one human survivor, Pi. But Pi is not alone. He shares his lifeboat with Richard Parker.

Talk about bringing Yann Martel’s book to life. The instant the opening credits kick in, you know you’re in for one of the most vivid experiences the movies can offer. Ang Lee’s use of 3D throughout the film isn’t distracting in the least, but during this opening montage, the animals really do pop off the screen and the fact that the images are so colorful and crisp makes the effect particularly impressive and striking.

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Review: The Skin I Live In (NYFF 2011)

Ever since the release of the film’s trailer, it’s been quite apparent that The Skin I Live In doesn’t play by the industry’s standard rules of story telling. While this is generally a stellar characteristic in terms of innovation, it also runs the risk of, well, being confusing. The Skin I Live In isn’t too tough to follow, but the storyline does delve into some elements particularly deeply and glosses over others, and while this recipe might work for some, for others it could keep the piece from having the intended effect.

After his wife is burned in a car accident, prominent plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Legard (Antonio Banderas) turns his attention towards developing a second skin. In the privacy of his in-home facility, he manages to create something that’s not only soft to the touch, but has the power to withstand heightened weathering, or burning.

The problem is, his accomplishment isn’t exactly ethical, as it requires a human test subject. That’s where Vera (Elena Anaya) comes in. She lives relatively comfortably in Robert’s mansion, El Cigarral, albeit like a prisoner, confined to her bedroom. Robert visits her frequently and seemingly cares deeply for her, even beyond his research, but the sentiment isn’t always reciprocated.

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