Category Archives: Film Festivals

Nebraska – Comedy from the Heartland

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, filmmaker Alexander Payne has a knack for finding poetry and wit in the everyday mundane lives of ordinary Americans.  So, he’s the perfect director for Bob Nelson’s story from the Heartland titled “Nebraska”, filmed entirely in black and white.

Screen legend Bruce Dern plays Woody, a man in his senior years who like so many ordinary Americans today, finds himself at the end of a long road of missed opportunities, dashed dreams and futile choices.

Bruce Dern (Woody) and Will Forte (Dave) in Alexander Payne's "Nebraska".

Bruce Dern (Woody) and Will Forte (Dave) in Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska”.

A road trip, “Nebraska” follows Woody and his son Dave (played by Will Forte) as they drive across the open bluffs and pastures of the Midwest to collect money from a mail-sweepstakes prize that really doesn’t exist.  A journey that challenges a father and son’s dysfunctional relationship and forces each of them to examine their own personal struggles to “be somebody” in life.

I attended the 2013 AFI FEST Gala screening of “Nebraska”.  And having grown up in the Midwest myself, it’s refreshing to see a film that so accurately portrays its people and culture, and with such grace and humor.

Bruce and Will are supported by an equally talented cast of actors, which include Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach and June Squibb.

Out of the Furnace – Has True Grit

Saturday night, I attended the 2013 AFI FEST’s Gala Premiere of director and screenwriter Scott Cooper’s “Out of the Furnace”.

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“Out of the Furnace” Director Scott Cooper with cast members Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Forest Whitaker, Zoe Saldana and Tom Bower at the 2013 AFI FEST Gala Premiere.

Cooper’s blue-collar film paints a stark reality that is relevant to our modern times.  This gritty, powerful story set in a languishing mill town in Pennsylvania follows the Baze brothers — steel worker Russell (Christian Bale) and Rodney (Casey Affleck) an Iraq War veteran — who struggle to survive a world that seems pitted against them.  Woody Harrelson plays the kingpin of a crime ring whose merciless act of violence sends Christian Bale’s Russell Baze on a suicidal mission of personal redemption and justice.

The cast includes strong performances by Forest Whitaker, Zoe Saldana, Willem Dafoe and Sam Shepard.  Among the film’s notable producers are Leonardo DiCaprio and Ridley Scott.

August: Osage County – A Tour de Force

For playwright Tracy Letts, “August: Osage County” has been a labor of love.  Now Letts has adapted his Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play into a screenplay, and with Director John Wells at the helm, Letts’ beloved masterpiece about the dysfunctional Weston family has been made into an equally funny and deeply moving film.

I just attended the AFI FEST’s Gala screening of “August: Osage County” at the TCL Chinese Theater in downtown Hollywood, where Director John Wells introduced the film’s Academy Award winning Producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov, and some of the cast.

"August: Osage County" Director John Wells with cast members Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney and Julianne Nicholson.

“August: Osage County” Director John Wells with cast members Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney and Julianne Nicholson and Producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov.

The ensemble cast of the film “August: Osage County”, which includes Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper and Benedict Cumberbatch, is a tour de force.  As I experienced the film, I couldn’t get over how perfectly and meticulously the actors had been matched with their characters.  You couldn’t hope for a better adaptation of an already perfect play.

AFI FEST – A Red Carpet Event!

It’s that time again when Hollywood rolls out the red carpet for the AFI FEST presented by Audi. Every year AFI FEST screens some of the most provocative and compelling films from around the world. I just bought my Premiere Pass and picked up my AFI FEST Film Guide, and this year’s lineup looks just as promising.

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The 2013 AFI FEST presented by Audi opens tonight, premiering Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in SAVING MR. BANKS. The festival runs through November 14, closing with a screening of Joel and Ethan Coen’s INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS.

Like last year, I have totally committed going to as many film screenings as I can squeeze into seven days. And in addition to hobnobbing with other filmmakers and seeing great films, I will be blogging every day about my 2013 AFI FEST experience.

To read all of my blog posts about the festival, go to DAVID WENDELMAN IN REEL TIME! at http://davidwendelman.com/blog/ And while you’re there, be sure to subscribe to my blog.

For more information about the films that are screening at this year’s AFI FEST, visit their Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/AFIFEST.

Come join me at the festival!