April 23rd, 2014

NEBRASKA (2013) ***

Bruce Dern stars as an old dude who mistakenly thinks he won the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes. He takes it upon himself to walk to Nebraska to claim his prize, which gets his family thinking it might be time to put him in a home. Dern’s son (MacGruber himself, Will Forte) thinks that maybe if they drive down there together, the old man will finally come to his senses and realize he didn’t win anything. So they embark on a long road trip, stopping only to visit some family in his hometown. Of course, Dern blabs that he’s a millionaire and people start crawling out of the woodwork to hit him up for cash.

Alexander Payne’s Nebraska feels like a black and white sitcom directed by the Coen Brothers. It’s full of off the wall characters, hilarious dialogue, and great performances by the two leads. The film may be a little long, and a bit one-note and predictable, but it’s always entertaining.

Dern is given one of his all-time best roles and was justly nominated for an Oscar for his performance. Forte is equally great, and I think his performance got overlooked in the shuffle. He and Dern make a great team and he’s really fun to watch in his scenes with the money-grubbing relatives. Stacy Keach is also quite good as Dern’s devious ex-business partner who hits him up for money. (He also does a great rendition of “In the Ghetto” at a karaoke bar, too!)

NURSE (2013) * ½

There’s a noticeable difference between going “over the top” and going “overboard”. Nurse is a movie that does not know the distinction between the two. I like T & A and blood & guts as much as the next guy, but it’s no fun when the filmmakers just pile it on without rhyme or reason. I mean it’s pretty hard to screw up a movie about a naked killer nurse. These bozos managed to do it.

Paz de la Huerta stars as a crazy nurse who becomes fixated with a cute blonde co-worker (Katrina Bowden). Before long she spurns her advances and nursey does everything she can to ruin her life. (Tries to make her break up with her boyfriend, kills her womanizing stepdad, drugs her and puts pictures of her having sex on the internet, etc.) When that fails, she goes nuts and starts offing everyone in the hospital.

The problem with Nurse is that the people in charge had no idea what movie they were making. In the beginning, it looks like it’s going to be a Ms. 45 kind of thing where she kills married men who cheat on their wives. This is a really good idea for a movie, but then that plot is immediately dropped and the flick becomes yet another “From Hell” movie. And like any other Single White Female rip-off, the scenes of the titular psycho killing people while the object of her fixation is totally ignorant of it will test your patience.

Then, in the final reel, the filmmakers just throw up their hands and the flick becomes a gorefest, and not a particularly good one. If it wasn’t for all the gore and nudity, Nurse would be totally worthless. With it, it still isn’t much. To add insult to injury, the filmmakers also resort to throwing a whole bunch of stuff at the screen, but since very few people actually saw this movie in 3-D as intended (I sure as heck didn’t), it’s all pretty pointless.

Further crippling the film is Paz de la Huerta’s awful performance. Her flat delivery and painful line readings will make you cringe. (When she talks, she resembles Liv Tyler in the midst of a debilitating stroke.) It’s almost as if they thought, “Well, she’s naked, no one will care what she says!” But if you’re going to make a memorable screen psycho, you need someone who can sell either the A) Sexiness of the character or B) The lurid aspects of the flick. And sadly, Paz can’t do either. And why employ otherwise game supporting players like Judd Nelson, Martin Donovan, and Kathleen Turner if you aren’t going to give them anything to do?

AKA: Nurse 3-D.

LEGENDS OF THE SILVER SCREEN: JOHN WAYNE

The Duke is one of the all-time greats. But while he is best known for his roles in westerns and war flicks, he also starred in a few serials early in his career. Today, we’ll take a look at two serials Wayne starred in, as well as a badass flick that teamed him up with two screen icons.

First up is…

THE SHADOW OF THE EAGLE (1932) **

The Shadow of the Eagle is a 12 part serial from Mascot Pictures. It stars John Wayne and was directed by Ford Beebe, a veteran of many serials (including The Phantom Creeps). Despite the pedigree, it’s a bit of a slog.

Wayne stars as a skywriter in a traveling carnival. The owner of the carnival is a former jet pilot known as “The Eagle” who was shot down in WWI by his greedy business partners. They left him for dead, stole his invention, and profited greatly from it. Now, there’s been some mysterious writing in the sky about the Eagle returning, and naturally, they think The Duke had something to do with it. For twelve chapters, they try to get the drop on Wayne and/or the carnival owner; with varying degrees of success.

Even by serial standards, The Shadow of the Eagle is too darn long. Maybe if I saw the flick as it was originally intended (in 20 minute chapters at weekly intervals), it might’ve worked better. (Like most serials, the plotlines often repeat themselves, and some of the reused footage gets to be a bit much.) There are some OK moments here (like when The Duke outruns a crop duster, North by Northwest style), but because of its hefty 3 ½ hour runtime, it’s a long haul. Maybe if it had a Crimson Ghost or some Rocket Men, it would’ve made for an easier sit.

One thing that is interesting about The Shadow of the Eagle is that not all of the chapters end in a cliffhanger. And I liked how the characters all stand in front of a white background at the start of each chapter while the narrator gets the audience up to speed. Plus, it’s pretty cool seeing The Duke in an early role; earning a paycheck.

Our next Wayne flick is…

THE HURRICANE EXPRESS (1932) **

John Wayne stars as an airplane captain investigating the mysterious death of his father onboard the titular train. Along with a pretty secretary, Wayne looks for the killer; known only as “The Wrecker”. Since The Duke landed his plane against orders while trying to save his old man, he gets fired from his job. He eventually uncovers a vast conspiracy and unmasks and exposes the evil Wrecker.

The Hurricane Express is a condensed version of a 12 part serial The Duke made for Mascot. Since it’s been slap-dashed together, the pacing is a bit herky-jerky. At only 80 minutes, the plot feels both convoluted and flimsy, all at the same time.

One thing the flick does have in its favor is that the plot doesn’t really lend itself to the serial format anyway. Most serials work when there are some fantastic elements in play. (The Wrecker wears Mission: Impossible type face masks to fool the police, but that’s about it.) This is basically an overlong whodunit, so it somewhat works as its own thing. (Most condensed serials suffer from narrative whiplash.) That being said, I can’t really imagine trying to watch this in its original 12 chapter format.

The Duke isn’t bad in this. He does an OK job as the square hero trying to find his father’s murderer. He does look a bit lost without his cowboy hat though.

And our final Duke movie is…

THE SPOILERS (1942) ***

John Wayne, Randolph Scott, and Marlene Dietrich star in this story of claim jumping in Alaska at the start of the 20th century. Dietrich plays a sexy saloon owner in Nome. Scott is an unscrupulous gold commissioner looking to swindle The Duke out of his claim. Naturally, Wayne and his fellow gold miners band together and fight back against the crooked commissioner.

Wayne may get third billing, but he’s the real star of the movie and steals the flick out from under his two higher-billed co-stars. His interactions with Dietrich and Scott are fun to watch and the scenes inside Dietrich’s rowdy saloon are pretty sweet. Dietrich and Wayne have a lot of chemistry together and their performances help carry the flick whenever it threatens to bog down. (I think she wears a different dress in every scene she’s in.) And it was kinda cool seeing Randolph Scott playing the villain.

Some viewers will be uncomfortable with the scene where The Duke dons blackface to rob a bank. They probably won’t like some of the stereotypical supporting characters either. But even those who would poo-poo the politically incorrect aspects of the flick will have to admit that the big barroom brawl between The Duke and Randolph Scott is pretty awesome. It’s one of the best fight scenes of its time and as far as Wayne films go, is on par with the great mud fight scene in McLintock.

Next time on Legends of the Silver Screen, we’ll take a look at three films from the legendary Bruce Willis!