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Posts Tagged ‘Connie Britton’

Mark Wahlberg

“JOE BELL” My rating: C+

90 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Joe Bell” is a classic example of “yes/but” filmmaking.

It’s been well acted and competently directed. Its subject matter is drawn from real life and is heavy on inspirational uplift.

At the same time, it’s never saccharine. At times it’s downright disturbing.

And yet there’s something phony about star Mark Wahlberg’s latest. As much as I wish I were enthusiastic about “Joe Bell,” I’m not.

When we first meet the titular character he’s crossing America on foot, pushing an aluminum handcart filled with his pedestrian necessities. Joe sleeps in a tent on the side of the road; every few nights he gets a cheap motel room so that he can recharge his electronics, shower and get a solid 8 hours in a real bed.

He often phones back home to Oregon to discuss his travels with his wife Lola (Connie Britton).

Early in Reinaldo Marcus Green’s film Joe walks into a nondescript Idaho burg and within hours is addressing an auditorium of high school students about the evils of bullying. Joe isn’t a natural speaker…he looks uneasy and his language is rudimentary. Some of the kids in the audience are clearly bored. But the fervor behind his message comes through loud and clear.

Joe is accompanied on this trek by his teenage son Jadin (Reid Miller), an almost-pretty young man who, having grown up gay in a small town Oregon, knows all about bullying, though he never joins his dad on the podium to share his own experiences.

As they make their slow way down the two-lanes father and son carry on a running conversation about Joe’s decision to walk across America and his motives for doing so. Jadin suggests it’s because Joe is trying to make up for being a less-than-supportive father. Indeed, Joe seems to be perpetually struggling not to fall back into the judgmental, blue-collar machismo of his youth. When he feels cornered he’s capable of first-class redneck assholism.

“Joe Bell” was scripted by “Brokeback Mountain” scribes Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry (it was the last screenplay by McMurtry, the great Texas writer who died earlier this year). And the things about “Joe Bell” that don’t work (for me, anyway) are tied directly to their narrative choices.

Here’s the rub: One cannot talk about the gimmick at the heart of “Joe Bell” without lobbing a huge spoiler. So let’s just say that this tale of a father’s quest to redeem himself with his gay son employs narrative trickery that, upon the big reveal, left this viewer feeling disgruntled and a bit cheated.

Makes me wonder if McMurtry and Ossana sat through an M. Night Shyamalan marathon before putting pen to paper.

That said, Walhberg gives one of his most nuanced and cliche-free performances here, nicely nailing the conflicts inside a real-life protagonist struggling mightily to do the right thing after a lifetime of bullheaded behavior.

Young Miller is terrific as the somewhat enigmatic Jadin; flashbacks to his tormented adolescence are geniuinely upsetting.

Britton is her usual excellent self, and Gary Sinise has a touching if somewhat improbable last-reel appearance, exuding decency as a rural Colorado sheriff who befriends our hero.

Also you can’t argue with the film’s canny use of Brandi Carlile’s “The Joke.”

| Robert W. Butler

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“THE MUSTANG”  My rating: B+ 

96 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A violent, alienated man and an equally angry horse form an unexpected bond in “The Mustang,” an understated effort that often plays like documentary but carries the emotional weight of a classic drama.

Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s film opens with a roundup of wild mustangs in a vast Western landscape. The animals are herded by  helicopters into stock pens. From there they are loaded onto trucks.

Cut to a Nevada prison where Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) has just joined the general population after  months in solitary confinement.  We never learn what he did to merit that treatment; all he’ll say is that he’s not good with people.

The prison psychologist (Connie Britton) struggles to get a word out of the sullen, withdrawn inmate. She’s trying to find a prison job or activity that will interest him. Finally she settles on the horse-training program, which takes recently captured wild mustangs and turns them into well-behaved riding horses that can be sold at auction.

Not that Roman overnight becomes a cowboy.  His main job involves shoveling shit. But he’s intrigued by the violent horse that occupies a metal shed on the prison grounds. The animal inside spends all day banging on the walls and shrieking its defiance. It’s a kindred spirit.

The old hand who runs the program (Bruce Dern) believes the horse is too mean to be domesticated, but gives Roman — who has absolutely no background with these animals — a chance to train the beast. If it doesn’t kill him first.

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Connie Britton, Salma Hayek

“BEATRIZ AT DINNER” My rating: C+

83 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Beatriz at Dinner” might be called a comedy of discomfort.

Actually, there’s a lot more discomfort than comedy.

Scripted by Mike White (“The Good Girl”) and directed by Miguel Arteta (a veteran of numerous TV seres), “Beatriz” offers a fish-out-of-water scenario brimming over with class, race and political implications.

Beatriz (Salma Hayek, sans makeup and sporting a mildly horrifying set of bangs) is a New Age-y therapist whose skills run from your standard massage to aura readings.  On this particularly day she has schlepped out from her headquarters in Pasadena to see to the needs of one of her richest (and, it seems, most demanding) clients.

Cathy (Connie Britton) lives in a gated community with an ocean view, along with her high-rolling husband Grant (David Warshofsky). She’s preparing to host a dinner that night and feels a desperate need for some hands-on work from the talented Beatriz.  (It says volumes that Cathy is stressed when all she really had to do was decide on a menu. Household servants and a caterer do all the real work.)

With the massage session over, Beatriz prepares to drive home, only to find that her car won’t start.  Cathy — who credits Beatriz’s therapies with getting her daughter through a bout with cancer — graciously suggests that the masseuse join the other guests for the evening.

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Olivia Cook, and

Olivia Cooke, Thomas Mann and R.J. Cyler

“ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL”  My rating: B

105 minutes  | MPAA rating: PG-13

The dying teen film — last year’s “The Fault in Our Stars” being a prime example — typically wrings romance from the weepy nexus of young love and early death.

The Sundance hit “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” takes a different approach, eschewing tearful swooning and emphasizing a snarky (almost too snarky) humor.

Oh, it’ll still have you groping for a tissue in the last reel, but it’s much more devious than its filmic brethren about getting us there.

The protagonist and narrator of director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s debut feature is Greg (Thomas Mann), a high school senior who like many a smart dweeb before him employs post-modern irony to shield himself from adolescence’s slings and arrows.

Greg oozes weary contempt for the inanities of both teen and adult society (the latter represented by his touchy/feely parents played by Connie Britton and Nick Offerman). He has navigated the shark-infested waters of a big-city school by becoming a human chameleon, ingratiating himself with various youthful castes. Everyone thinks he’s part of their club, but nobody really knows him.

Perhaps not even Earl (R.J. Cyler), Greg’s best friend since elementary school. They’re an odd couple — the nerdy white guy and an ultra cool black kid.

Greg and Earl are fans of art house movies — we can’t be sure if they really like highbrow films or are just determined to set themselves apart from their mass-consuming peers — and devote their spare time to making short movies parodying cinema classics.

These goofy amateur remakes have clever names (“Grumpy Cul-De-Sacs” is the boys’ take on “Mean Streets”: “MonoRash” spoofs Kurosawa’s “Rashomon”; “Senior Citizen Kane” and “My Dinner With Andre the Giant” speak for themselves) and they’re fun in a so-bad-they’re-good way. (Jesse Andrews’ screenplay, adapted from his novel, references Wes Anderson’s “Rushmore,” whose high school hero stages theatrical adaptations of his favorite films. )

Greg’s too-hip-to-be-bothered facade gets shaken up though, when his mother insists he pay a visit to Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a classmate recently diagnosed with leukemia.

Neither Greg nor Rachel have any illusions about why he shows up at her door. It’s mom-mandated community service, and since Rachel shares some of Greg’s suspicions about conventional sentimentality and socially appropriate behavior, she makes  no demands on her new friend (although Rachel’s needy single mom — Molly Shannon with endlessly replenished glass of white wine — is pathetically grateful for her daughter’s gentleman caller).

One reason Greg keeps coming back — though he’d never admit it — is that Rachel has his number.  She knows the teenage fear of putting oneself on the emotional line and drawing back a stump; she recognizes in Greg and Earl fellow committment phobes. (more…)

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