Nebraska was screened at the Hamptons International Film Festival in October, but now it is in wide release. Dear Mr. Watterson and Sunlight Jr. also come to theaters this week.
Nebraska, the new film from Alexander Payne, continues the director’s unflinching portrayals of unglamorous lives. The bleak cities and stark Midwestern landscapes where the film is set are shot in cold black and white. In decaying houses, shell-shocked people watch sports on TV and struggle to talk about anything other than cars. Even supposedly majestic Mount Rushmore, which makes a cameo appearance, is pictured from an unflattering distance, reduced to “a pile of rocks.” Amid this despair, Woody Grant thinks he has found something to live for. Portrayed seamlessly by the great Bruce Dern, the decrepit yet tenacious Woody, mentally enfeebled by dementia and alcohol abuse, thinks he has won a million dollars. In reality, Woody has simply fallen for a magazine subscription sales ploy, but he clings to his fantasy like a lifeline: his “prize” stands to make up for the things he’s done wrong, and the wrongs that others have done him. The film has all the makings of a modern-day classic. Read a full review from the Hamptons International Film Festival screening.
Bill Watterson is the creator of the beloved comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, and Dear Mr. Watterson is a documentary about the strip and its outsized influence. Outsized because, unlike Peanuts, Doonesbury, or even Dilbert, Calvin and Hobbes was relatively short-lived—Watterson retired the strip in 1995 after only 10 years—and yet the comic continues to have a following and a cultural impact. Indeed, people who weren’t born until after Calvin and Hobbes stopped running are still quite likely to be familiar with mischievous little Calvin and Hobbes—the toy stuffed tiger who springs to delightful life whenever Calvin is alone. Featuring interviews with cartooning luminaries, including Berkeley Breathed, who, similar to Watterson, retired his successful Bloom County strip when it was still fantastically popular, Dear Mr. Watterson promises to shed some light on the somewhat world of comic strips and their somewhat obscure creators.
’Tis the season for Oscar bait, and Sunlight Jr. features Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon as an impoverished couple. Watts plays Melissa, a convenience store clerk (the store is called Sunlight Jr., hence the name of the film), and Dillon is Richie, her paraplegic boyfriend. When Melissa gets pregnant and loses her job, the couple is torn between happiness for the coming child and misery over their horrible circumstances. It doesn’t help that there’s an aggressive rival for Melissa’s affections, or that Richie tends to hit the bottle in despair over his physical condition. Naturally, all of this sturm und drang provides ample opportunity for both actors to show off their chops in the high hopes of Oscar gold.