The Morning After: Jan. 20, 2014

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what I’ve seen over the past week either in film or television. On the film side, if I have written a full length review already, I will post a link to that review. Otherwise, I’ll give a brief snippet of my thoughts on the film with a full review to follow at some point later. For television shows, seasons and what not, I’ll post individual comments here about each of them as I see fit.

So, here is what I watched this past week:


Alexander Payne has attempted to focus his lens on “normal folks” while finding the humorous in their actions and adventures. He hasn’t always been successful at capturing real people, though he can capture real situations fairly well. Nebraska is one of those films that succeeds at both, bringing us into the lives of people with whom we can relate because they are more similar to hard-working, small-town folks than any of his prior films.

Nebraska follows a determined old drunk (Bruce Dern) as he sets his sights on Lincoln, Nebraska. He has received a letter saying he’s won one million dollars and to claim the money, he’s decided to walk all the way to Lincoln from his home in Montana if he has to. Although his family keeps trying to stop him from going, his disengaged son (Will Forte) decides he needs time away to think and agrees to drive his father across the northern U.S. to Lincoln to claim his money, stopping along the way to see relatives and old friends.

There are vague similarities here between Nebraska and David Lynch’s homespun The Straight Story. Both follow aging misanthropes across state lines while discovering something about themselves. Bob Nelson’s fascinating script takes some of the key elements of Lynch’s film and mixes in a type of buddy road trip element between father and son attempting to explore how each relates to the other and comes to terms with knowing that neither can truly know the other without intense one-on-one time.

Dern is superb, but Forte shines in the film as his son. Forte is known for his lame, Saturday Night Live-inspired comedy, not the tender, frustrated progeny of a tired, confused old man. June Squibb is also entertaining as Dern’s persnickety wife. Also notable in a brief role, Angela McEwan makes a compelling figure in a scant 5 minutes of screen time as the town newspaper editor.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Tom Clancy has a legion of fans that have made Jack Ryan the type of character everyone wants to read about and see on screen. There have been four prior outings of the C.I.A. analyst previously played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck. This time out, producers went with the young star of the new Star Trek franchise, Chris Pine in hopes that his visibility and youth would help establish the character for a new generation and a reboot of the franchise.

As the Cold War came to an end, audiences were still excited about seeing super spies on the big screen, but without the Cold War, rebooting a franchise so specifically connected to that era will be a tough sell, especially with a name at the top of the ticket who isn’t necessarily a household name (as his three predecessors were). Pine doesn’t show us a new side of his capabilities, falling back into well-worn tropes of the genre and reminding the audience far too much of his rendition of Captain Kirk. This is an actor who has yet to show anything resembling a range.

Kenneth Branagh hasn’t done well in villain roles, notably flopping in the ludicrous big screen adaptation of Wild Wild West. The role here is decently written and he tries to give the antagonist depth, but there’s too much menace and not enough humanity to bolster him. Keira Knightley puts on her blockbuster face and gives her character little emotion, though Kevin Costner is a bit more engaged and likable in his role as Jack Ryan’s mentor and handler.

The Bourne franchise this isn’t, but there’s enough of an attempt to create a compelling new origin story for the character that it could be made into a decent popcorn-friendly series. The film is a bit too straight forward and twist-less to be truly interesting, but it’s also invigorating at the same time. After all, linear storytelling is too often ignored in favor of flashy third-act gotchas.

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