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Monday, December 16, 2013

PHILOMENA AND NEBRASKA

The #1 box office revenue film this weekend was The Hobbit (second of a trilogy, and a Smaug is a dragon), with Frozen at #2.  I avoid hobbit, vampire, zombie and animated features.  Instead, I saw Philomena at #8 and Nebraska #13.  They are totally different, but, nevertheless, with a similar ending:  anguished souls who find a kind of redemption.  Both are also anti-religious and could gain some Academy Award recognition.

Philomena, a true story, gained 92% reviewers' and 90% audience ratings from Rotten Tomatoes (which gave the current Hobbit 75%/87%).  You wonder why this title, as Philomena is not even in the top 100 of Irish girls names.  #1 is Chloe.  

The old Philomena is played by Judi Dench, who, after half a century of silence, revealed to her daughter that there was a son who was illegitimately born.  In those days in Ireland, this was close to a mortal sin, and fornicators such as Philomena were abandoned to Catholic nuns who then sold the child to the highest bidder, while the mother paid penitence by being a virtual slave to the convent.  A sacked Labour government official at the BBC, well played by Steve Coogan, was influenced by funding from a newspaper to root out this story.  Philomena and the journalist discover that this son was a high level Republican lawyer who 9 years earlier had died of AIDS, but, of all the ironies, was buried at that same convent where he was born, hoping his mother would find him.  Dench won't win, but could get an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.


A loser all his life, Dern's character beats him down to where he is convinced he won a million dollars from one of those publisher clearinghouse scams to elicit magazine subscriptions.  He is pathetic, but filled with this one final piece of hope.  In contrast, the long failing towns he visits from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to cash-in, with his son's (Will Forte was fine) exasperated help, were equally pathetic, but, worse, without hope.  It's a sad but fulfilling ending for him when he regains some credibility through the efforts of Forte.  At least he will live on with a tinge of happiness, while his rotten friends will wonder if this laughing stock actually pulled it off.

We hear of Detroit, but the shadow of cities that have been largely abandoned throughout the heartland of America might be the bigger tragedy.  You can now almost understand how big Nebraska football is when you realize that there is nothing else in the state worthy of cheer.  Dern won't win, but could get an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
Nebraska, directed by Alexander Payne (The Descendants), was a mostly depressing black and white film given 91% and 89% ratings by Rotten Tomatoes.  I like to criticize titles, and I would have called this one "Lincoln, Nebraska," or, maybe, "The Death of Our Heartland."





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