Movie Review: “Nebraska”

Starring
Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Stacy Keach, Bob Odenkirk
Director
Alexander Payne

Alexander Payne isn’t a particularly prolific filmmaker, but the movies that he does make are of the highest quality. At least, that was the case before “Nebraska,” which marks the director’s first bad film of his career. Well, not exactly bad per se, but the black-and-white dramedy is surprisingly mediocre for someone whose other movies are counted among the best American-made films of the past 15 years. “Nebraska” sees Payne return to his home state for a relatively simple story about a father-son road trip, and though it features some good laughs and decent performances, the movie never really goes anywhere.

Bruce Dern stars as Woody Grant, a stubborn, booze-addled crank who believes he’s just won $1 million from a Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize letter he received in the mail. It’s the kind of magazine subscription scam that most people have been targeted by at least once in their life, but Woody doesn’t know any better, so when his wife Kate (June Squibb) refuses to drive him from their home in Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his prize, he tries walking there instead. When his son David (Will Forte) learns of Woody’s foolish behavior, he agrees to drive him there just so he’ll shut up. After an accident forces them to take a detour through Woody’s childhood hometown, news of his good fortune spreads quickly, turning him into a local celebrity with his family and the other townspeople, despite David’s insistence that he hasn’t actually won anything.

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Bullz-Eye’s 2011 Fall TV Preview: What’s New for Fox

Monday

Terra Nova

(8 – 9 PM, Sept. 26)

The competition: Dancing with the Stars (ABC), How I Met Your Mother / 2 Broke Girls (CBS), The Sing-Off (NBC), Gossip Girl (The CW)

Starring: Jason O’Mara, Stephen Lang, Shelley Conn, Andon Liboiron, Naomi Scott, Mido Hamada, Christine Adams, Allison Miller

Executive producers: Brannon Braga, Alex Graves, Rene Echevarria

What the network says: “In the year 2149, the world is dying. The planet is overdeveloped and overcrowded, with the majority of plant and animal life extinct. The future of mankind is in doubt, and its only hope for survival is in the distant past. When scientists at the FERMI Particle Accelerator unexpectedly discovered a fracture in time that made it possible to construct a portal into primeval history, the bold notion was born to resettle humanity in the past – a second chance to rebuild civilization and get it right this time.

The Shannon family joins the Tenth Pilgrimage of settlers to Terra Nova, the first colony established in this beautiful yet forbidding land. Jim Shannon, a devoted father with a checkered past, guides his family through this new world of limitless beauty, mystery and terror. Jim’s wife, Elisabeth Shannon, is a trauma surgeon and the newest addition to Terra Nova’s medical team. Josh Shannon is their 17-year-old son who is angry to leave life as he knows it behind; upon arriving at the settlement, he finds himself instantly drawn to the beautiful and rule-breaking Skye. Maddy Shannon, Josh’s endearingly awkward 15-year-old sister, hopes Terra Nova will give her a new chance to reinvent herself. Although Elisabeth’s medical training secured the family a spot on the pilgrimage, a secret involving their five-year-old daughter, Zoe, soon endangers their place in this utopia.

Upon the Shannon’s arrival, they are introduced to Commander Nathan Taylor, the charismatic and heroic first pioneer and leader of the settlement. Taylor, along with his right-hand man, Guzman, warn the travelers that while Terra Nova is a place of new opportunities and fresh beginnings, all is not as idyllic as it initially appears. Along with blue skies, towering waterfalls and lush vegetation, the surrounding terrain is teeming with danger – and not just of the man-eating dinosaur variety. There is also a splinter colony of renegades led by the battle-hardened Mira, who is vehemently opposed to Taylor and his leadership. Even more threatening than what lies outside the protective walls of the colony is the chilling possibility that something sinister is happening inside Terra Nova. The Shannons will come to suspect that not everyone on this mission has the same idea of how to best save mankind; in fact, there may be forces intent on destroying this new world before it even begins.”

What we say: Critics began sharpening their knives when they heard that Fox was delaying the premiere of the series by several months in order to make sure everything was ready to roll without having to rush, but as a sci-fi geek, I was pleasantly surprised with the depth of the premise and the unrolling of the series’ mythology. Anyone concerned that the whole thing is little more than a bunch of haphazardly-thrown-together plot ideas covering up a bunch of big-budget CGI dinosaurs needn’t be worried. Not that there aren’t quite a few rampaging dinos on the premises, but there’s also a nice amount of family drama, intriguing characters brought to you by established sci-fi guys like O’Mara (ABC’s “Life on Mars”) and Lang (“Avatar”), and a mystery about this strange alternate-universe past the Shannons and their fellow colonists have found themselves in. Fox used to be really awful about letting sci-fi series catch their breath and find a groove, but with the way they’ve kept “Fringe” alive for the past few seasons, there’s a very real possibility that “Terra Nova” will have an opportunity to build a fanbase beyond just the gawkers who want to see dinosaurs.

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A good old fashioned premiere party with Lake Bell and Karina Smirnoff

The new comedy, “A Good Old Fashioned Orgy,” celebrated its premiere Thursday night at the Lexington Social House in Hollywood with a Maxim party for all cast and guests. Star and Maxim cover girl Lake Bell arrived in a killer Cushnie Et Ochs black dress paired with Salvatore Ferragamo shoes. Bell went straight to take photos with the giant magazine cover of herself. Also joining her at the event were co-stars Will Forte, Angela Sarafyan, Lindsay Sloane and more.

“Dancing with the Stars” performer Karina Smirnoff joined the party straight from the movie premiere in a floor-length Cynthia Vincent pleaded creme dress — perfect attire for Lexington Social House’s most desired outside patio. The Maxim girls carried an oversized Sobieski bottle and posed for photos with partygoers. Guests enjoyed Sobieski cocktails all night long with movie-themed drinks including The Good Old Fashioned, Ring My Bell and Dirty Martinis.

Check out the trailer for the film below and then read more about “A Good Old Fashioned Orgy” in our September movie preview.

  

A chat with the cast and crew of “MacGruber”

macgruber_1

When Universal’s big-screen adaptation of “MacGruber” rolls into theaters on May 21st, it’s going to face some pretty heavy competition. In fact, it’s a bit of an underdog when compared to some of the surefire blockbusters opening around the same time, but you wouldn’t know it from the reception it received at this year’s South by Southwest film festival. Although director Jorma Taccone announced that the movie was still in the later stages of post-production and not quite 100% finished, it brought down the house at the sold-out Paramount theater. The following morning, I was invited along with a few of my fellow movie bloggers to chat with Taccone, co-writer John Solomon, co-writer/star Will Forte, and star Kristen Wiig about making the film. (Warning: minor spoilers ahead.)

As the first “Saturday Night Live” movie since 2000’s “The Ladies Man,” everyone was curious how “MacGruber” was chosen as the next sketch to receive the big screen treatment. Taccone admitted that he didn’t know “how Lorne’s wonderful mind works,” but that “he’s always been a champion of the sketch and thought of it more highly than we did at times.” That doesn’t change the fact that the big joke of the skits is that MacGruber dies at the end of every one, and although Forte agrees that “a lot of people will probably think that’s what the movie will be – just a series of explosions,” Taccone was a little more defensive of the early criticisms:

“That was the comment: ‘What’s it going to be?’ We’re going to make a plot of it. What did you expect? But we did put that one little nod to the original sketch at the end, which is really nice that people seem to get that moment.”

Though Taccone wouldn’t get into any details regarding the recent lawsuit surrounding the film (Forte did say they would have loved Richard Dean Anderson to be a part of it), he was quick to state that the MacGyver character didn’t have any direct influence on the movie. Instead, they looked more to 80s and early 90s action movies for inspiration, and when asked if there was anything specific, Taccone offered up an example:

“I will say that me and John [Solomon] were watching a [Steven] Seagal movie and over an explosion you heard a cougar growl. We were like, ‘What was that? Oh my god, we have to put that in!’ It’s a technique, obviously, but you’re supposed to put it low enough so that it’s just a hint of something. So our sound dude was like, ‘People are going to think I’m bad at my job.’”

In addition to Forte, the film also features Kristen Wiig (reprising her role from the sketches), as well as Ryan Phillippe and Val Kilmer. Taccone confesses to being really lucky to get both actors, especially for how hard they worked and how little they were paid. Phillippe, in particular, plays an important role in the film according to his co-stars, not only because there are always three characters in the sketches, but because they needed someone who could “ground the craziness with something that we thought would be useful.” As for Kilmer, while he didn’t have a hand in shaping the villainous role of Dietrich von Cunth, Taccone joked that he “certainly made it more Cunthy.”

Everyone on set clearly got along really well, and it shows in the final product. While Forte and Wiig swear that a majority of their soon-to-be-infamous sex scene was scripted, they were more than game to talk about the difficulties of shooting it. When asked how she could possibly keep a straight face as Forte humped and grunted all over her, Wiig was quick to point out that it if you watch carefully, you’ll notice that she’s laughing so much that she had to turn her head ahead away from the camera. Forte, meanwhile, just felt bad for his co-star, who was being “pelted with major drops of sweat” the minute he started moving on top of her.

It’s not the most risqué moment in the film, though. That honor goes to a scene where MacGruber sticks a stalk of celery up his ass as a diversionary tactic. Forte spoke at length about where the idea came from, including a particularly funny anecdote about the day they filmed it:

“I think that was John and Jorma’s, and they pitched it to me, and it was just one of those things where I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ll stick some celery in my butt.’ The best part was that my mom was visiting that day, and she was saying, ‘Oh, I think I’m going to go into Santa Fe with my friends,” and I said, ‘Okay, there’s a pretty crazy scene we’re doing, so you could stay for that or got to Santa Fe.’ And I forgot exactly what we were doing, and I’m sitting there naked, cupping my balls, trying to place this celery, and I look over and there’s my mom and there was no judgment on her face. It was just like, ‘This is what my son is doing today…’ The weird thing is, she was with two friends, and they were not having it.”

And just like that, the interview was over, although I couldn’t think of a better place to end it. After all, they had just demonstrated how far they were willing to go in order to get a laugh, and that’s “MacGruber” in a nutshell.

  

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