Nebraska

Bruce Dern in Nebraska

 

Staggering along under a weight of folksiness, much like its old-guy hero is staggering along on his beat up legs, Alexander Payne’s latest movie is sweet and wry but let’s not all get too excited. The film certainly doesn’t.

Bruce Dern is the old guy, an amnesiac oldster with a “beer isn’t drinking” drink problem who reckons he’s won some obviously fake mailout sweepstake – “you could already have won a million dollars” kind of thing. With nothing else to live for, and getting under the feet of his wife (June Squibb), Woody decides he’s going to get to Nebraska any old how to pick up his winnings, even if it means walking.

Enter Woody’s second son (Will Forte), a milquetoasty soft touch who decides, eventually, after harsher counsel from both his mother and older brother (Bob Odenkirk), to take the old guy to Nebraska where the winnings will most certainly not be waiting to be collected, rub the old guys face in the fact, and then be done with it once and for all.

The stage is set for a road movie that also functions as a rite of passage – the child becomes the father of the man and grows a pair, while the old guy slowly, through what may be entirely bogus mental confusion, slowly comes to realise that this trip is his last hurrah.

While this is happening, Payne lays on the full Frank Capra – a film shot in black and white like some dustbowl photograph by Andrea Lange, a host of faces from the back end of the casting catalogue, a down-home soundtrack of country fiddle and lonesome piano, long shots of the highway, the road to nowhere.

Add to these sobering stylistic choice the fact that the film is a good 20 minutes too long and if you’re anything like me you’ll be just starting to get restless by the time the end starts pulling into view.

I feel terrible even saying this, but there it is, I got a bit “meh” somewhere on this journey, even though I was particularly enjoying Dern’s sly old dog performance as the perhaps not so befuddled oldster, June Squibb as the wife obsessed with who wanted to get into her pants when she was 50 years younger, Stacy Keach as a friend from Woody’s hometown who’s not quite the friend at all. And in particular Tim Driscoll and Devin Ratray as Woody’s thick-as-pigshit odious snickering nephews sharing about one half of either Beavis or Butt-head’s brain.

Squibb gets the best lines, and spits them out with style, which is absolutely as it should be since the film is so much about the sheer weird inadequacy of men unless they have a project on the go – entire rooms full of guys who can only break away from the TV when the talk turns to cars.

Because Payne made About Schmidt, which was about an old guy, and Sideways, which was about a road trip, it’s tempting to describe Nebraska as being a hybrid of the two. But it isn’t. Though it does share the elegiac tone – for its characters and the USA – of those films, that’s something Payne is always interested in. Even in films, such as Election or The Descendants, which swim in more youthful waters.

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

Filth

James McAvoy as the deranged cop Bruce Robertson in Filth

 

 

 

The last film I saw that had any Irvine Welsh involvement was The Magnificent 11, a comedy so peculiarly inept that I started to think it was deliberate, a tax write-off perhaps, or a spoof of depressing British comedies of the early 1970s, in which girls with blue eye-liner would shed an ill-fitting bra to reveal dog-eared breasts.

 

Jon S Baird’s adaptation of Welsh’s 1998 novel is far more what we expect from the writer of Trainspotting. Welsh has been out of fashion just long enough to be due a comeback, but is this what our New Puritan age is clamouring for – the sweary, druggy, skanky story of a very naughty Edinburgh copper?

 

The answer to that question will be weighed by the tonnage of bums on seats. Meanwhile, there’s James McAvoy’s performance to enjoy. It’s a big Oliver Reed man-beast of a turn with McAvoy as the beefy, hairy, bloky Bruce Robertson, a foul-mouthed, bipolar, sweaty Jock copper with stained teeth who is shagging, snorting and bull-charging his way towards a personal and career meltdown.

 

Outside Robertson’s head everything is Miss Jean Brodie by comparison. His fellow officers are capable, sensible, down to earth. There’s John Sessions, all bumptious authority as Robertson’s boss, while Jamie Bell and Imogen Poots are the 21st century cops who know how to bend to political correctness and how to bend it their way, unlike Robertson.

 

At the dusty Masonic meeting all of them routinely attend Robertson hooks in with a tweedy owlish character called Bladesey (Eddie Marsan), an unlikely escort towards the brink. The women in Robertson’s life are Chrissie (Kate Dickie, again heroically getting her kit off for Scotland in some athletic sex scenes), and Bunty (Shirley Henderson), whom Robertson is harassing with sex-pest phone calls, just for the hell of it.

 

With nods to Dennis Potter, when it’s not following Robertson as he ricochets through police duties, Filth plays interior fantasy as exterior reality. Most obviously in Robertson’s scene with a taxi driver (played by David Soul) as the two lip-sync along to Soul’s 1977 hit single Silver Lady while backing singers pop up from the back seat to contribute ooh-ahhs. But there are other hallucinatory episodes, in which Robertson is visited by a crackpot Australian shrink (Jim Broadbent) who goads his patient on to even worse excess. All very Singing Detective and very funny.

 

But never mind the interludes, what drove this big bad man to this pretty pass? You know, I don’t care. And I don’t think Welsh really does either. His main focus is to wind up deluded grotesques and set them off running around causing damage, most particularly to themselves. He’s never been that great at what you might call the comedown, the getout. Luckily, for the most part, what we get here is the good stuff – a violent frothing custodian of the law taunted by visions of people in animal heads as he falls apart in front of our eyes.

 

It is hugely enjoyable. But Filth also insists on being grown up and explaining things. And the more it goes into Robertson’s psychological motivation – his brother’s early death, his wife’s absence from the marital home – the less I enjoyed it. It really is a film of two parts. Part one is kept afloat by Welsh’s funny, fast and sweary energy and McAvoy’s cortisol-burning performance as a Rabelaisian monster doing what the hell he wants and succeeding because he’s smarter and more driven than the others.

 

Part two is the descent. And after the fireworks of part one, the drool and sentimentality of part two is something of a downer. And without a compensating lift in pace elsewhere, it’s not surprising that, at the cinema I saw this at, people started to shift in their seats.

 

A relation of Woody Harrelson’s cop-out-of-time in Rampart, Robertson is a brute, but he’s doing what a lot of us would like to do. He’s behaving badly and he has the wit and the balls to get away with it. As Filth hits the home straight it suddenly asks us – in a “now look, you’ve had your fun” volte-face – to engage emotionally with people we were being encouraged to laugh at only a few minutes before: bored Henderson, timid Marsan, oversexed Dickie, ridiculous Sessions. The first half of Filth is pretty near perfect and, you know, we get it, we know Robertson is not a nice man, the film’s title is more than just an allusion to a nickname for policemen generally. Director Jon Baird keeps faith with the original novel, but he loses sight a little of what has made his film so entertaining. Irvine Welsh isn’t infallible – see The Magnificent 11 for confirmation. Couldn’t the director have just sent the raging Robertson off over a cliff, Thelma and Louise style?

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

 

 

 

Lovelace

Peter Sarsgaard and Amanda Seyfried in Lovelace

 

 

Amanda Seyfried has a spectacular rack and, gents, you get plenty of it in this biopic about Linda Lovelace the 1970s deep throat queen who unwittingly did more than most to make porn legit. Amanda Seyfried… rack… unwittingly. Those are the key words from that sentence and of this film, a well made, deeply period piece that would have us believe that it’s on the side of the unwitting, naïve Bronx Catholic girl born Linda Boreman – who went on to become the star of Deep Throat, the first porn film to screen in mainstream theatres – while all the time devoting 90 per cent of screen time, and 99 per cent of dramatic weight to her as Lovelace.

I point this out not to wag the finger, but because the film is doing what Lovelace herself did – after leaving porn she became a loud voice against the industry, a campaigner whose “yes I did” would swing to “no I didn’t” so frequently that you wonder whether she might not have cared either way, just so long as she was turning a buck.

The plot? Well, it’s Boogie Nights in all but name – the money, the guys in charge, the ostentatious consumption, the cocaine. That and the Gretchen Moll Betty Page film – nice young girl from nowhere is inveigled into doing all manner of bad things by all manner of bad people. Chief baddie in the Lovelace story is Chuck Traynor, the sleaze who bewitched Lovelace into appearing in her first porn film, where it was discovered that she had a huge gift for fellatio, a poor gag reflex. Peter Sarsgaard plays Traynor, and he’s done so many similar roles now that he knows how to pitch bad that it’s just about sympathetic – this guy is just a bit adrift morally, rather than out and out wicked.

In fact one of the many nice things to be said about this movie is how good Seyfried’s support actors are – Chris Noth finally does something to write home about as a shitty movie producer; Hank Azaria does a Hank Azaria turn as a flaky director; James Franco is just about believable as a young Hugh Hefner. Special mention must also be made of Sharon Stone as Lovelace’s strict, god-fearing mother. Stone is so believable as a woman in the grip of a rigid faith, yet struggling with motherlove that it was only when the credits finally came up that an entire film of “who is that?” was finally laid to rest.

As with many films right now, Lovelace sets about settling scores with the 1970s, with the boomers, with the let-it-all-hang-out philosophy and how that meant a rough deal for women, more often than not. A generation ago there would have been no truck with the character of Lovelace’s mother. Here, though she’s not exactly carried shoulder high for a lap of honour, her brand of morality does get a sympathetic hearing.

As for the rest of it, it’s a symphony of exquisite period production design, some very funny jokes at the expense of 1970s porn, Seyfried’s frequently unclothed body and those big, big eyes of hers, brimming with liquid naiveté. Seyfried is really quite remarkable as Lovelace. But in spite of Seyfried’s stamp on this, and the film’s title, it isn’t actually about Linda at all. On this it really is, foolishly, following the line she took in her mea non culpa post-porn autobiography, Ordeal. According to Ordeal, Linda wasn’t the agent of her own fortune or misfortune. In fact she wasn’t any sort of agent at all. So who’s the film about then?

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

 

 

TMNT

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

 

 

Can the sewer-dwelling Mutant Ninja Turtles dudes named after renaissance painters really still be teenagers? Just one of the many questions raised by the latest animated iteration of the once popular franchise that can trace its origins back to a comicbook spoof of the early 1980s. Foremost of those questions must be “Why?” Feeling a lot longer than its 87 minutes, TMNT is a franchise reboot that follows the familiar pattern – hence the “getting the gang back together” element which needs to be got out of the way before the real plot (a tech-industrial magnate, voiced by silky Patrick Stewart, wants to destroy the world) can be embarked on. The look is Tim Burton’s Batman meets Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and is undoubtedly the work of gifted animators. But the film has picked up one of Pixar’s worrying tendencies, concentrating on the look of the thing, rather than the story, which is brain-clenchingly complicated. The target audience – I’m guessing it’s eight-year-olds even though the Turtles are now apparently in their early 20s (see, one question answered) – may well grow restless. Adults watching might well wonder whether TMNT isn’t textspeak for “torment”.

© Steve Morrissey 2007

 

TMNT – at Amazon