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Movie Reviews (4/20/15)

Movie: Nebraska (2013)
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****
Notes: Minimalist in character, but overflowing with charm, this small, poignant, and funny slice-of-life story of a son driving his cranky, elderly father across the upper midwest to redeem a scam prize is all about the performances and the environs. Bruce Dern and all the other older citizens of small, lost-in-time towns of the flyover states communicate little, but in doing so exhibit character best compared to Coen Brothers films. The humor is not so much in the dialogue as it is in the pauses in between, the absence of content, and the quirky behaviors of age. At its heart, the story is about retaining one's dignity as the years claim body and mind, so there's a meaningful sadness to the proceedings, but it's balanced by the rustic quirkiness of the friends and relatives they visit on the way who are all the picture-perfect examples of midwestern lifestyle. There's no action and the delight is in the slow unrolling of the road trip, so you'll need a tolerance for pacing, but the characters' appeal buoys the piece out of artsy and into accessible.

Movie: Riddick (2013)
Rating: ***1/2 out of *****
Notes: In this third feature film entry into the adventures of Riddick, the galaxy's anti-hero badass, we find him marooned on a hostile desert planet. How he got there is revealed in a loose flashback sequence, but we really don't care. What matters is how he dominates the local fauna, which he doesn't very well, and that's actually great. The 2nd film in the franchise made Riddick out to be an unstoppable juggernaut, and thus boring. Here, he gets his ass handed to him by the local critters for the first third of the film and, while he's back to his old demeanor when the bounty hunters show up, they tend to merely be comic relief until the planet gets around to getting the best of them as well. The dialogue amongst the hunters and their reactions to Riddick are full of dark comedy, a welcome addition. The CG looks amazing, but the interactive physics and overlays - Riddick's companion in particular - still needs work. The last scene is a bit troubling, suggesting Riddick's bad-boy behavior can change a character's sexual orientation. Still, a notable improvement for the franchise, being more fun than the last and showing what Vin Diesel can do as a producer (he now owns the franchise rights).

Movie: How I Live Now (2013)
Rating: **** out of *****
Notes: Based on a novel of the same name, "How I Live Now" is a contemporary story of a countryside British family and their American visitor, Daisy, who are displaced when war breaks out with an unnamed opposing force. Throughout, the viewer follows the American girl as she tries to survive and collect the scattered children together, as the parents are nowhere to be found. Very little in the way of combat is seen, as the story is told from the point of refugees. The first third is a long setup, establishing the charming old house, youthful activities, and budding teenage twitterpation. Daisy starts off as an angsty, unlikable rebel similar to the main character in "Housebound," and she only somewhat redeems herself by film's end. That said, her entire drive seems to be based on her desire to reunite with her love interest, which isn't clearly distinct from a lust-interest. However, the harrowing encounters and flight-for-life, as well as the portrayal of modern life in a country under siege by today's battle tactics is fascinating and distracting from the film's shortcomings. As well, the film is not for those who have difficulty viewing harm to or the death of children, as "Hunger Games" has broken the seal on that taboo. Intriguing, dark, and adventurous - this is a well-made survival story whose creative aspects overwhelm its occasional plot holes.

Next: The Escapist, Frequencies, Pump

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