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GO WEST, OLD MAN
Over the last few years, the films of Alexander Payne have become a particular highlight when they are released. Election, Sideways and The Descendants are movies that have really engaged with me (I am less fond of About Schmidt). Nebraska is Payne’s latest effort, a low-key drama about Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), an old drunk who decides to make the journey from Montana to Nebraska to claim his winnings in a sweepstakes marketing prize, accompanied by his son David (Will Forte). Shot in black and white, Nebraska is not a film that will appeal to a general audience, as it’s got far more of an art house feel to it with a pacing that is almost glacial. Dern is good on screen but the film really belongs to Forte and Stacy Keach as calculating Ed Pegram, a ‘friend’ of Woody’s who shows what the promise of money does to ordinary people. Nebraska is an effective study of the human condition and while not much actually happens, Payne presents us with a film that stays with you after the credits roll. It is refreshing in these days of bloated tentpole summer blockbusters that filmmakers like Alexander Payne continue to fly the flag for understated human dramas. If you like his other films, you’ll find something to appreciate here…

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LONDON CALLING PART TWO

As promised, here’s reviews of the two other films I caught at press screenings at this year’s London Film Festival.
First is The Descendants, directed by Alexander (Election, Sideways) Payne and starring George Clooney, Matthew Lillard and Beau Bridges. Clooney plays lawyer Matt King in Hawaii and the film opens to reveal the fact that Matt’s wife Elizabeth has just had a terrible boating accident and she is in a coma in a hospital. As well as dealing with her wife’s predicament, King is also the head of the family trustees and the entire family has to vote what to do with a large unspoilt piece of land in Hawaii, whether to sell it to developers or leave it unspoilt. It turns out that King and his relatives come from a family whose wealth can be traced back to the fact that their ancestor married a Hawaiian princess in the 19th century. Unfortunately, as King battles with what his and his family’s future holds, certain things come out about his wife, causing him to rethink his life with his two daughters. The Descendants shows the same sharp and keen eye for dialogue and getting the best out of actors that Payne displayed with Election and Sideways. Clooney, a little inconsistent in his film choices, made a smart move here as he is very sympathetic and very human as the father and husband whose world has suddenly changed in an instant. The rest of the cast are also very good including a particularly degraded looking Beau Bridges as King’s cousin, Shailene Woodley as King’s difficult teenage daughter Alexandra and Payne uses the idea of Americans with a foothold into Hawaii very effectively. We see Hawaii as a place with the same problems as the US mainland. Bittersweet and funny at the same time, The Descendants is a well-made and accomplished drama with a very likeable cast and a strong script…
A Dangerous Method is the latest effort from David Cronenberg and looks at the relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud and how modern psychoanalysis was created. This is the third collaboration between Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen, who plays Freud. The ubiquitous Michael Fassbender (X-Men First Class, Shame) is Jung while Keira Knightley plays Sabina Spielrein, a troubled Jewish Russian girl who comes to Jung for treatment. There are a number of flaws in A Dangerous Method: it feels too much like a play rather than a film with its theatrical setpieces and Knightley just doesn’t convince here, pushing her chin out to show the audience that she’s not all the ticket. The tone is rather arch, cold and self-important too which is a shame because the story of Jung’s friendship with Freud is one that should be intriguing and engaging. Mortensen and Fassbender do have some chemistry as the doomed friends but none of it really gels. Cronenberg is a strange director and while he should be applauded for trying to move outside of his comfort zone, A Dangerous Method really doesn’t work although it does look stunning…
Here’s a few pics from the press conferences for both film with Cronenberg, Payne and others…