Truth

Truth is one version of the truth. The story comes via CBS producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) who was fired in 2004 for her role in a Sixty Minutes report that the network later admitted was inaccurate. The incident also took down longtime CBS anchorman Dan Rather (Robert Redford).

The film has a message for all journalists: Even if you have a great story, even if the story is true, you must do a good job of confirming your facts.

Did George W. Bush skip out on his Air National Guard duties in the early 70s? Mapes had information that he did. In Truth, she and her team (including Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid and Elisabeth Moss) work to find people who will go on the record about Bush’s alleged malfeasance.

When retired Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett (a sickly looking Stacy Keach) produces memos from back-in-the-day and another military man confirms their validity in a phone call, Mapes and Rather decide the story is ready for air.

In short order there are accusations that the memos are not legit. First, it is right wing bloggers who challenge them. Later, ABC News expresses doubts that they are authentic.

The CBS eye blinks at the rancor and Dan Rather issues an on-air apology for having aired the story. After a CBS internal investigation, Mapes is canned and Rather is allowed to resign.

Cate Blanchett’s Mapes is a conflicted woman. She wants to defend her team’s story, despite the holes in the reporting. Yet she also wants to keep her job. She is passionate when chasing the story and angry when the story implodes. Redford delivers a robust performance and captures Rather’s TV charisma. (After his lackluster work in A Walk In The Woods, it is nice to see Redford back on his game.)

But there is a major deceit in Truth. It is implied that Mapes and Rather had no political motive in airing the story. If you believe that they were not looking to knock the incumbent down a notch just two months before the 2004 election, I can get you a great deal on the Poplar Street Bridge.

The cozy relationship between CBS parent Viacom and government gets called out in an impassioned speech by Grace’s character. It is not news that the feds have regulated the airwaves since the beginning of commercial broadcasting. The speech purports to shed light but comes off as sour grapes from a person about to be escorted from the building.

Truth is a well-made bit of storytelling and an entertaining chronicle of how NOT to do journalism. Any good reporter knows that a film that names itself Truth must be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism. The fact that the production company for Truth is Mythology Entertainment (true) is only appropriate.

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Nebraska

Nebraska is one of the year’s best movies and Bruce Dern gives one of the year’s best performances. Huge credit goes to screenwriter Bob Nelson and director Alex Payne for their story, their characters and their settings.

If you’ve ever heard or read about Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, or if you have spent time in a rural plains community, you’ll recognize many of the people and places in Nebraska.

Hawthorne, the town in Nebraska where much of the movie takes place, has both Lutheran and Catholic churches, plenty of bars and large plots of farmland surrounding the town. It’s the hometown of Woody Grant (Dern) and his wife Kate (June Squibb). They live in Billings, Montana now.

The journey to Nebraska begins when Woody gets a letter in the mail naming him the winner of a million dollars. He wants to go to Lincoln, Nebraska to cash it in. Woody’s son David (Will Forte) finally agrees to drive his dad from Billings to Lincoln. After an accident slows them down, they decide to stop in Hawthorne and spend the weekend with Woody’s brother and his family.

Kate and David’s brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) also head over to Hawthorne and a family reunion of sorts gets underway. Old memories are recalled. Will runs into his former business partner and town blowhard Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach) who stirs up old turmoil. David learns things about his family that he never knew.

A favorite scene is a cemetery visit where tombstones elicit memories of past family members, friends, lovers and enemies. (I lived a version of that scene in my own life in 2009 with a visit to Gully, Minnesota, where my father-in-law and many more of my wife’s relatives are buried.) A visit to the old abandoned homestead brings back memories, some unhappy, for Woody.

Nebraska has several side characters that add spark to the film, especially David’s two cousins who are hilarious. Woody’s brother Ray, incidentally, is played by Rance Howard, father of Ron “Opie” Howard.

Director Alexander Payne shot Nebraska in black and white, which is perfect for showcasing a town that probably looks about the same as it did 50 years ago. He punctuates the film with lingering shots of plains landscapes, which communicate the sense of being in the middle of nowhere.

Dern won the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival and is a likely candidate for an Oscar nomination. His character appears to be simple, but is revealed to be complex, with demons and resentments that have haunted him for a lifetime. Dern should be ever grateful to Payne and Nelson for handing him such a wonderful role, especially at this point in his life. He’s 77.

84-year-old June Squibb brings spunk to her role as the wife who has endured much during her marriage to Woody. She should also be mentioned in awards conversations.

Nebraska is engaging on many levels, but mainly for capturing true human emotion. I highly recommend you see this film and, if they’re still around, take your parents and grandparents.

Planes

Planes is like Cars, but with airplanes. It’s not as good as Cars, but better than the forgettable Cars 2. I will admit that I missed the voice work of Larry the Cable Guy.

In Planes, Dusty Crophopper (voiced by comedian Dane Cook) manages to qualify for a round the world airplane race. Being a lowly crop duster, he is the big underdog. Do you think he might have even a tiny chance of winning?

As Brent Mustangberger (voiced by a famous sportscaster) describes the action (only once uttering the catchphrase “you are looking live…”), each leg of the race is a challenge for our feisty hero Dusty. But he always manages to hang on to fly another day. Along the way he becomes friendly with several other plane-toons and emerges as the favorite of fans around the world.

Just as Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) admired the crusty veteran Doc Hudson (voiced by Paul Newman) in Cars, so does Dusty look admiringly to WWII veteran fighter plane Skipper (voiced by Stacy Keach). Lightning had a romantic attraction to Sally (voiced by Bonnie Hunt) and Dusty has a smoldering affection for pink plane Rochelle (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus).

Dane Cook is not on my list of favorite comedians, but he was a perfect choice for Dusty. Other voices in the cast include John Cleese, Brad Garrett, Terri Hatcher, Cedric the Entertainer, Gabriel Iglesias, Val Kilmer, Sinbad and as bad guy Ripslinger, Roger Craig Smith.

Planes is not particularly funny, but is a pleasant PG-rated amusement. While Planes will charm kids as much or more than Cars, I think Cars had greater adult appeal with its Route 66 nostalgia and remembrance of things past.

Is this the beginning of a new franchise? Well, yes. Planes: Fire and Rescue is being prepared for Summer 2014. And while Planes is not released under the Pixar nameplate, it is executive-produced by the man with a thousand Hawaiian shirts, John Lassiter. And that’s close enough for me.