Posts Tagged ‘Connie Britton’

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In 2009, Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart co-starred in ‘Adventureland,’ an excellent, soft-spoken charmer about theme park workers in the 80s.

It’s been a winding road for both actors since then. Eisenberg earned an Oscar nomination for The Social Network while balancing paycheck work like Now You See Me and Rio with obscure indie projects like The Double and Night Moves.

Similarly, Stewart presumably bought several houses with her Twilight money before spending the last few years rebuilding her indie cred with prestige dramas like Camp X-Ray, Still Alice and Clouds of Sils Maria.

Which brings us to 2015, with the actors reuniting to star in ‘American Ultra,’ an action comedy that tries to be both fresh and familiar, and ends up befuddled in the process.

Eisenberg and Stewart play Mike and Phoebe, a pair of underwhelming stoners in love in Liman, West Virginia. He wants to give her a better life, but his panic attacks and frequent drug-related interactions with law enforcement keep them firmly rooted in a status quo.

But their inertia is actually part of a government conspiracy. Their lives are blown up – literally and figuratively – when CIA assassins are sent to kill Mike, who is in fact a latent government operative with a bad case of the Jason Bourne memory wipe.

Mike is reactivated just in time to defend himself and his lady love, prompting an ever-escalating amount of government fire to rain down upon them. But no amount of action choreography and shaky camera can mask the fact that Eisenberg is completely unconvincing as an action star, and the movie’s BIG TWISTS are as easy to spot as a freight train in broad daylight.

The carnage, which arrives in abundance, is played for laughs. But the attempts a Pineapple Express-esque synergy are squandered by lazy corner-cutting by the writers. For example, Walton Goggins plays a particularly deranged assassin named Laugher, who laughs a lot. It’s supposed to be clever, it’s not, and it speaks to the glaring lack of anything that resembles character development in the undercooked script.

Stranger still is the cast that turns up to stain their reputations. I can only assume that everyone owed the producers a personal favor, as there’s no other way of explaining the presence of Goggins, Connie Britton, Bill Pullman, Tony Hale and John Leguizamo.

All involved would do well to let ‘Ultra’ fade into obscurity.

Grade: C

*American Ultra opens nationwide on Friday, Aug. 21.

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This is Where I Leave You is not a particularly good movie. It relies on a cloying sentimentality, arbitrary conflict and leaves much of its significant potential wasted.

And yet, it is not unenjoyable viewing, largely due to the incredible talent of its assembled cast that paradoxically leads to unattainable expectations.

Truthfully, if you were to assemble Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Cory Stoll, Adam Driver, Kathryn Hahn, Jane Fonda, Rose Byrne and Connie Britton for a dramatic reading of Technotronic’s “Pump Up The Jam,” I would likely rise to my feet in applause. Yet that performance, just like This is Where I Leave You, would be a tragic squandering of what this ensemble could have achieved.

The film is largely centered on Judd (Bateman) who is cuckolded by his man-child of a boss and whilst growing an impressive breakup beard learns that his father has passed away. His father’s dying wish was that his children sit Shiva, a week-long mourning ritual in Judaism that involves the immediate family of the deceased sitting and receiving guests during each of seven days.

And so the Altman children gather: namely eldest son Paul (Stoll) and his child-starved wife (Hahn); frenzied sister Wendy (Fey) and her prop of a family; Judd, who immediately reconnects with an old crush (Byrne); and youngest son Phillip (Driver) the immature screw-up dating his much-older former psychiatrist (Britton).

The family is dysfunctional in a textbook movie way, with outrageously explosive scuffles never steering the plot away from the inevitable group hug at the end. But while that saccharine reconciliation is a foregone conclusion, its unclear how most of the characters have achieved any sort of emotional evolution by the time the credits roll.

These are argumentative family members who maintain a lovingly distant relationship, thrust together by tragic circumstances only to again separate and argue, lovingly, when the credits roll. Any progress is incremental and in the case of Fey it’s unclear what transformation, if any, has taken place during the story.

And yet. And yet.

This is one of the best casts ever assembled and the sheer joy of watching them squabble is delightful despite the sometime asinine plot. Driver especially brings an unpredictable mania to the roll, further cementing his status as a national treasure, while the always excellent Stoll and Britton are unfortunately sidelined to make way for other toys.

It’s a bit of a shift for director Shawn Levy, who of late has been mostly consumed with the Night at the Museum franchise, short shift comedies The Internship and Date Night and, of course, the robot Boxing Movie Reel Steel. Levy never quite hits the dramatic notes required by the films more emotional moments, but handles the comedic elements with a breezy ease that almost makes up for the film’s shortcomings.

Grade: B-

*This Is Where I Leave You opens nationwide on Friday, September 19.

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In the latest teens-having-sex comedy “The To Do List,” Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza plays Brandy, a sexually-naive straight-A student who decides she needs more bedroom experience before transitioning to the extended orgy that is a freshman year at college.

Applying her same academic zeal to the project, Brandy organizes a list of sexual acts (most of which she does not even marginally understand) in her trapper keeper and sets off transforming herself, with the goal of eventually harpooning the great white whale: intercourse with dreamy golden-locked college boy Rusty Waters (played by Friday Night Light’s wheelchair-bound quarterback Scott Porter).

But before she can bed Mr. Waters, Brandy gets help along the way from a sprawling cast of B-list comedic talent that would take a full paragraph just to list, which is what I’m about to do: SNL’s Bill Hader and Andy Sanberg, Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat, Community’s Donald Glover, Happy Endings’ Adam Pally, 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer, Rachel Bilson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Johnny Simmons,  Connie Britton and Clark Gregg.

The To Do List (it irritates me that there is no hyphen in the title) is unabashedly crude in its antics and yet innocent in its portrayal. For a movie in which a new sexual act is performed every 5 minutes, there is not a stitch of nudity as the filmmakers prefer to use the power of sound and suggestion to drive the awkwardness of the humor to almost unbearable lengths that can not be confused with eroticism.

This is not the typical gross-fest that drives teenage boys sneaking into screenings after buying a ticket for Despicable Me. Most of the humor is actually derived from the film’s 1993 setting (in Boise, no less) as the film functions best as a winking nod to Gen Y nostalgia (VHS tapes, “electronic mail” etc) than as an entry into the Superbad/American Pie family of shenanigan cinema.

But this also results in the film coming off slightly confused in itself. The tone hop-scotches constantly between Clinton-era tribute piece and naughty-nerd romp, never quite landing comfortably on other side. The winning cast is effortlessly game, riffing off each other and enjoying the 90s stereotypes they’ve created (Grunge-rocker, sensitive nerd, Rush Limbaugh-reading protective father) but the end result is a funny movie that entertains, but is quickly forgotten.

Grade: B-

*The To Do List opens in theaters Friday, July 26.

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Nashville (ABC)

It’s been interesting to watch the string of musical TV shows that have rolled out since Glee blew up three years ago. Last season gave us Smash, a “Let’s Put on a Broadway Show!” drama that struggled to work it’s auto-tuned music into the plot (Let’s go to the Karaoke bar…again!) and now we have ABC’s Nashville, the new season’s most well-reviewed drama (so far) that pits an older Faith Hill-type country legend against a new flash-in-the-pan country/pop post-teen label monster. The two women (Friday Night Lights’ Connie Britton and Heroes’ Hayden Panettiere) spar over band-members, lovers, concert billing and sparkly dresses with Britton coming off as an overall nice though slightly self-absorbed musician who may have missed her exit sign and Panettiere coming off as a completely self-absorbed hack in a pushup bra.

The rest of the show is rounded out by a bunch of secondary characters — a jealous husband, a former flame, a controlling father, an old producer — and secondary plots — a new tour, declining record sales, mayoral politics and the changing face of American country music — but the main action is the grunge match that will play out between the old school and the new school, personified by the two well-cast and charismatic leading ladies.

It’s not exactly my cup of tee, partly because I hate country music and partly because I feel like they ripped of The Civil Wars without giving Joy and John any credit, but the production value is top notch, the universe is elaborate and, most notably, the music sounds good. Unlike the obviously lip-synced and uber-polished nonsense that permeates Glee and Smash, Nashville’s smartly-limited musical pieces actually sound like they could possibly be a human being singing into a microphone. I know, crazy right? I also give bonus points to the show for calling out modern country music for what it is, lazily written and produced drivel written by unsung musicians and made famous by no-talent faces.

Grade: B
Class: Subscribe if you like country music, Keep an Eye On if you don’t.

Chicago Fire (NBC)

From producer Dick Wolf (Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, Law & Order: CI, Law & Order: UK, Law & Order: LA, Law & Order: Trial by Jury) comes a series that looks and feels a lot like L&O but instead of solving crimes they fight fires. Chicago Fire has been largely panned by critics, with many expecting a thinly-veiled pleasure at waiting for the show to be axed (PUN!). I’m not sure all of the criticism is warranted but then again, CF isn’t particularly good either.

Starring Jesse Spencer (who inexplicably looks and sounds younger than he did on House) and a cast of people you’ve never heard of with largely forgettable faces, Chicago Fire’s 44-minute pilot is packed with about 230 minutes of melodrama. I’m not sure how they do this, it’s much like the old commercials for Golden Grams, but literally every second of screen time is filled with strained relationships, sexual tensions, feelings of inadequacy, physical toll, emotional anguish and what have you. Each and every character seems to be dealing with some sort of baggage and in what comes closest to being comedy the chief of the show’s fire station rattles of one cliched caricature line of dialogue after another.

The set pieces are impressive, and the show must cost a boat-load of money to produce, but even in Chicago, you don’t see multiple high-rise fires every day. At the rate these guys are working, CF might have better luck suggesting that Chicago has descended into some sort of post-apocolyptic wasteland by the time season 1 wraps. My advice would be to somehow add some levity, but it probably won’t last that long.

Grade: C
Class: Kill and Bury

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