Tag Archives: Connie Britton

Road to Nowhere

Joe Bell

by Hope Madden

In April of 2013, Joe Bell explained his walking trek from Le Grand, Oregon to New York City. He was doing something. Those who watch bullying and do nothing about it are as guilty as the bullies themselves.

It makes sense, then, that Reinaldo Marcus Green’s film Joe Bell is more interested in what Joe did and did not do when confronted with his son’s bullying than it is in the bullying and victimization themselves. Because the truth is, this walk is as much a penance as anything.

Mark Wahlberg plays Joe, volatile but loving husband and father just trying to fly under the radar and still accept, as best he can, his oldest son Jadin’s (Reid Miller) sexual orientation. Joe’s a blue-collar guy in a blue-collar town, and neither Wahlberg nor writers Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry (both of Brokeback Mountain) let him completely off the hook for the misery Jadin faces.

Wahlberg performs admirably as a man who’s trying and failing, but the breakout here is Miller. Warm, bright and brimming with life, Miller’s work the highlight of the film, although Green puts together a solid ensemble including a heartbreakingly understated Connie Britton.

Though an early film contrivance threatens to sink things before they can even really swim, the film eventually finds its lonesome way, more or less. The examination here is culpability, and it’s uncomfortable, messy terrain.

Wahlberg’s performance is raw and emotional. He lets the character struggle, sometimes sinking under the weight of loss and culpability, sometimes accepting the easy balm of celebrity in lieu of real change. His interactions with Britton offer the most complex and satisfying suggestions that Green and team recognize the wide and shattering reach of this kind of trauma.

The film Green builds around Wahlberg never stoops toward easy epiphanies or patronizing catharsis. There is a simmering anger and barely checked pain beneath the surface of this narrative, and no cliched structure or manipulative storytelling gimmicks can entirely cage that.

In the end, Joe Bell does break through the contrivance of familiar storytelling because this story doesn’t fit neatly or cheerily into that package.

Just Desserts

Beatriz at Dinner

by George Wolf

Have you ever owned the worst car in the parking lot of some fancy event?

Then you’ll immediately identify with Beatriz.

Beatriz is a holistic therapist finishing up a massage at the elegant home of her friend Cathy, when her car won’t start. Cathy (Connie Britton), over the mild objections of her husband Grant (David Warshofsky), invites Beatriz to stay for the dinner party that evening. Alex (Jay Duplass) and Doug (John Lithgow), two of Grant’s business associates, roll up with their wives (Amy Landecker, Chloe Sevigny), and it isn’t long before Beatriz is mistaken for the hired help.

Writer Mike White and director Miguel Arteta, after teaming for Chuck and Buck and The Good Girl, reunite for the first time in fifteen years with a clearly defined purpose.

As the dinner gets increasingly awkward, Doug is revealed as a narcissistic billionaire mogul reveling in the obnoxious ass-kissing of his company. Beatriz, egged on by multiple glasses of wine, confronts him, and suddenly it’s Trump and the resistance taking dessert in the living room.

The comedy is dark and biting, the performances sharp and well-defined. Stumbling only when it trades sly observations for broader speechifying, Beatriz at Dinner is plenty satisfying.


Bourne and Chong

American Ultra

by George Wolf

Here’s the pitch: what if Brad Pitt’s Flintstones-watching stoner from True Romance was actually a highly trained government operative who can kill you with nothing but a spoon and a cup of soup?

Intrigued? Me, too.

So why can’t American Ultra fully capitalize on that promise?

Okay, its not really Floyd from True Romance – he’s baking comfortably in the stoner Hall of Fame – it’s Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) from the Cash and Carry mini-mart in Liman, West Virginia. Mike plans to propose to his live-in girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) during a romantic trip to Hawaii, but they never make it on the plane.

Mike suffers strange panic attacks anytime he’s about to leave town, but that seems like a minor problem once CIA agent Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) visits Mike at work and keeps repeating a strange phrase. Turns out Mike is really a sleeper agent who’s been suddenly branded a liability, and Victoria needs Mike to wake up before he’s taken out.

Writer Max Landis, much as he did with Chronicle, pieces together a winning premise from parts of differing genres. We think we know what to expect from weed-soaked characters, but breaking out the MacGyver shit to bust open some heads is not on the list. Throw in plenty of spy game skullduggery, and there’s ample opportunity for black comedy that the film only partially explores.

Director Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) seems equally caught in a pattern of two steps up and one back. He unleashes stylish, well-paced bursts of action, followed by slow-moving exposition and then back again, sometimes punctuated by isolated bits of sharp comedy just looking for a home.

On paper, Eisenberg seems miscast, but he’s able to make both extremes of Mike’s character blend surprisingly well. Stewart continues her recent winning streak in the film’s early going, excelling as Mike’s sweetly sympathetic love. Once Phoebe’s true motives come to light, though, it’s back to the well worn K-Stew pained expression once too often.

A little too slow to be action packed, a bit too nasty to be fun-filled, American Ultra seems held back in a familiar haze. It’s got plenty of good ideas, but just when they really start to gel, it decides to just watch some cartoons instead.







Yeah, It was Great..Really.


by George Wolf


Fifteen minutes in, The To Do List has the feel of something assembled from one. That list must have been titled “teenage girl sex comedy,” with the filmmaker checking off the elements required to get her point across.

It is the debut feature for writer/director Maggie Carey, a TV and web series veteran. Twelve years ago, in one of her first credited projects, Carey directed Ladyporn, a documentary about making porn films that center on female sexual fulfillment.

Clearly, women’s sexuality in film is an issue close to her heart, which is justifiable, but The To Do List only proves weak sex comedies can go both ways.

It is the summer before college for uptight, brainiac Brandy (Aubrey Plaza), and meeting a hot older guy at a party prompts her to make a list of sexual acts she needs to experience before finally losing the V card.

Those acts, save for one scene of She Boppin‘, aren’t overly graphic, but the language gets down and dirty.  That’s expected of a sex comedy, but alongside the cliched characters and their obvious situations, it all reaches a point of protesting too much, trying too hard to prove that a women’s point of view has been neglected in these types of films.

Not that Carey isn’t right, she is. But the best of the male centered “virgin” films, such as American Pie or Superbad, featured memorable characters that were at the very least funny and a bit unpredictable. The To Do List features none of that.

The film’s timing isn’t much help, either, as Brandy takes a lifeguard job at a pool with an older, unconventional boss (Bill Hader). That’s also a pivotal setting in The Way, Way Back, a far superior coming of age film that hit theaters just last week.

Maybe the biggest surprise is Plaza, fresh from her terrific breakout performance last year in Safety Not Guaranteed. She can’t seem to make Brandy much more than a caricature, but seeing the same fate befall the always solid Connie Britton and Clark Gregg (as Brandy’s parents) leads the trail right back to weaknesses in script and direction.

Pardon the pun, but Carey may have been trying too hard the first time.