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Nebraska: An Alexander Payne State of Mind

By the 1960s almost every American feature was being released in color, but every once in a while a distinctive fiction film was shot in glorious black and white by a notable director, such as these 1970s classics: Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon and Woody Allen’s Manhattan. Add to this cinematically self conscious (in the best sense) tradition Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, which screened as an AFI Gala at the TCL Chinese Theatre and is being theatrically released Nov. 15. In it, Bruce Dern -- one of the mainstays of 1970s cinema, who was Oscar-nominated for 1978’s Coming Home -- returns to the big screen in a lead role as an aging father who goes on a road trip with his son, sort of traveling back in time to his small town origins.

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Saturday Night Live alumni Will Forte is a revelation in what I suppose is his first major dramatic screen role, although Nebraska is full of Payne’s trademark sly, wry wit, which enlivened 2009’s Sideways and 2011’s The Descendants. The feature also has Payne’s astute observations on human nature, with finely directed performances by Stacy Keach and Bob Odenkirk, the standup comic who played the slimy attorney on AMC’s Breaking Bad series.

Nebraska reveals what PTSD caused by wartime trauma renders and is one of those rare movies that focuses on the challenges brought about by aging and caring for the elderly. Ultimately, Nebraska is a poignant father-son saga -- that prized relationship worth more than, say a million bucks.

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Ed Rampell

The new book co-authored by L.A.-based reviewer Ed Rampell, “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book”, published by Honolulu’s Mutual Publishing, drops Nov. 25.