Posts Tagged ‘Friday Night Lights’

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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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In 2005, a team of Navy Seals on a compromised mission was swarmed by Taliban forces, who ultimately killed all but one man.

That man’s eyewitness account was turned into the book Lone Survivor and now the feature film of the same name, directed by Peter Berg (Battleship, Friday Night Lights) and starring Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster.

Berg lends his trademark kinetic directorial style to a film that is equal parts a gritty, tense actioner and a reverent tribute to the armed forces. Under siege, we watch our four heroes fight to survive with a minimalist trained precision that exhibits none of the customary bells and whistles that typically accompany Hollywood portrayals of war. It is as spartan as it is unrelenting, as the audience feels every piercing bullet, jagged rock and broken bone as the cast quite literally tumbles down the face of a mountain on the run from enemy fire (Berg fans will remember the director’s penchant for throwing his actors off cliffs from movies like The Rundown, a practice he has seemingly perfected to almost unbearably realistic-looking results).

The filmmaker’s respect and admiration for the military is apparent in every scene, from the opening credits backed with boot camp training footage, to the light-hearted barracks ribbing of a new recruit to the film’s epilogue, which passes through a slide-show tribute of the fallen men. Moral questions are raised about the rules of engagement and American superiority, but by-and-large Lone Survivor is a story about the horrors and heroics of modern warfare.

That singular vision works in the movie’s favor. Gone are the love triangles of Pearl Harbor, the volleyball games of Top Gun or the surfing of Apocalypse Now. Those scenes served the mission of those particular films, but the mission of Lone Survivor is simply to get home, or die trying.

Grade: B

*Lone Survivor opens in limited release on Dec. 25 and nationwide in January.

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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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