17 December 2013

Way Way Back with Dallas Buyer's Big Parade in Nebraska -- Another Four Films I've Seen Recently One of Which is Quite Old

The Way Way Back. Caught this one via my friends at Netflix who keep sending me DVDs to watch. This film centers around a young teen and we are all familiar with how badly these types of movies can go. They are often riddled with cliches one dimensional stereotypes and toilet humor. TWWB manages to almost completely avoid all of these pitfalls. Duncan (Liam James) is a fairly typical 14 year old who is absent easy charm athletic ability or dashing good looks. His parents are divorced and he's off for a Summer with mom (Toni Collette) her obnoxious boyfriend (Steve Carrell) and boyfriend's older teen daughter (Zoe Levin). He's not thrilled about the excursion doesn't like the boyfriend and is disliked by the daughter. Duncan -- one could say --  is not a happy camper. There is a comely girl next door (AnnaSophia Robb) who doesn't run with the usual crowd and is intrigued by the sullen Duncan. Eventually Duncan befriends a waterpark employee (Sam Rockwell) and gets a job at the park and matures and exposes the philandering boyfriend and befriends the girl and parities and wins mom's attention. There are a couple of plot contrivances and a few empty characters but there is much to admire in a film that neither over reaches nor settles for easy laughs. Rockwell makes every movie he's in better for his appearance and is a main selling point to a film that I can warmly recommend.

Dallas Buyers Club. We are now relieved of any doubts -- Matthew McConaughey is a terrific actor. He gives a transcendent performance as Ron Woodruff a hard partying good ole boy who contracts AIDS in 1985 when the disease is just becoming part of the public consciousness. He is like all his cronies a raging homophobe and faces immediate "accusations" from his "friends" about how he contracted the virus. Woodruff angrily fights back both against the questioning of his "manhood" and against the disease that a doctor tells him well end his life in 30 days. DBC is the true story of courage about one man's transformation and also about the evils of big pharmaceutical companies and their long time partner the US FDA. Jared Leto is also magnificent playing the cross dressing gay man who is in league with Woodruff's efforts to not just supply himself but other AIDS victims with the proper -- though non FDA approved -- meds. DBC is a powerful reminder of the early days of the AIDS crisis and the fear and homophobia it inspired along with the inept response of the government.

The Big Parade (1925).  Unlike the other films mentioned in my recent posts this one is not a recent release. I suppose in geological time it is being a mere 88 years old. It finally finally finally finally came out in DVD a few months ago and I finally got around to watching my copy yesterday. Masterpiece. King Vidor is one of the best directors many of you have never heard of and The Big Parade alone is proof. The Big Parade is an epic World War I love story which is like saying The Godfather is a gangster film. If I were to write a post listing my favorite all time film scenes the parting lovers scene from The Big Parade would certainly make the cut. The American soldier Jim (John Gilbert) along with the rest of the battalion has been called to the front. His French country girl lover Melisande (Renee Adoree) desperately searches for her Jim as the trucks roll down the road. They meet and their extended parting kisses bespeak all the longing fear and desperation that war brings crashing into romance. And there is always about them movement the forward march of the men and machinery of war. We see the long line of vehicles and troops making its way to battle and the lone figure of Melisande left behind so vulnerable and alone in the middle of the frame. Dropping at last to her knees. This is the central magic of a magnificent film.

Nebraska. The great middle of America. The flat lonesome plains. Small bars with sad men in tractor caps chugging long necked buds. Families in cheap old furniture staring numbly at TV screens trying to recall what sort of car Uncle Ray drives. Economic monotony trucks bad restaurants long highways and simple values. (Fittingly Nebraska was shot in black and white.) Not fertile ground for cinema unless a prehistoric monster emerges from a prairie dog's hole or a spaceship lands in Topeka. But director Alexander Payne combines dashes of the sensibilities of the Coen brothers Ingmar Bergman and Aki Kuarismaki to create one of the best films of the year. Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant a most senior citizen determined to go from his home in Billings Montana to Lincoln Nebraska to claim a million dollar prize that everyone else can see he has not really won. Will Forte was the inspired choice to play Woody's son David who gets sucked into his dad's quixotic journey. Best known for his tenure at Saturday Night Live Forte is just the right amount of dead pan and just the right amount of exasperated. But June Squibb as the long suffering wife is an absolute scene stealer. Nebraska is about aging its about family its about father-son relationships its about the heartland its about how we love or fail to. 

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