The Way, Way Back

July 19, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney
Directed by: Jim Rash (debut) and Nat Faxon (debut)
Written by: Jim Rash (“The Descendants”) and Nat Faxon (“The Descendants”)

In 2011, writing partners Jim Rash and Nat Faxon burst onto the scene by taking home an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for the film ‘The Descendants.” Known mostly for their bit parts in TV and film, the two collaborated with veteran director Alexander Payne (“Sideways”) and became a hot Hollywood commodity following their success. Going behind the camera for the first time, Rash and Faxon unleash their directorial debut, the coming-of-age summer tale, “The Way, Way Back.”

In the film, 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) goes on a summer vacation with his mother (Toni Collette) and her annoying boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) who criticizes Duncan whenever he can. When they get to their beach house, Duncan feels out of place, finding only a little bit comfort when talking to his neighbor, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb). While exploring the beachtown, Duncan stumbles across Water Wizz, a waterpark  run by a fun-loving and mildly lazy man named Owen (Sam Rockwell). As Duncan begins secretly working there, he finally finds a true connection with Owen and a hide out where he doesn’t feel like a complete loser.

Led by James, who is in nearly every scene the film, the young actor seems far less experienced than his past screen experience would indicate. His delivery throughout the film is incredibly unnatural and although his character is clearly meant to be an awkward teenager, James’ performance seems more on the side of a poor performance. While some of the secondary cast like Rash and Faxon are decent, the ever-reliable Rockwell keeps the film at a watchable level. Even though Rockwell’s character isn’t the strongest written, his on-screen charisma, which has become so consistent in his career, works like the film’s life vest and keep it’s head above water. His overgrown laziness and wit really work in some of his scenes with James. As one of the most under-appreciated actors working today, Rockwell simply needs somebody to give him the opportunity to shine in a bigger role.

As a whole, there is a certain unpolished sense that lingers through “The Way, Way Back.” Much of the dialogue is cliché and jokes frequently miss their mark. The film is also filled with half-hearted relationships that are never fleshed out or explored beyond surface level. Duncan’s relationship with Susanna and particularly Trent ring completely untrue. In fact, the only believable relationship is between Duncan and Owen, who really find their chemistry when they share the screen.

The film wraps up with a scene involving a waterpark legend that ends up being anti-climatic and lame rather than the larger than life moment it shoots for. When all is said and done, one really wonders how much work Payne did on his own for “The Descendants.” “The Way, Way Back” is in dire need to have someone else go through it with a finely-toothed comb. Rash and Faxon’s hearts may be in the right place, but even with Oscar statues in hand, their work as storytellers on their own is average at best.

Judy Greer – Archer (TV)

June 22, 2012 by  
Filed under Interviews

TV fans have certainly seen Judy Greer around. From guest spots on live action shows like “Arrested Development,” “Two and a Half Men,” and “Californication” to the her unmistakable voice that is currently displayed in the FX animated show “Archer.” Though film fans might not know her by name, Greer has popped up in a lot of romantic comedies over the years, but more recently has been able to snag some really juicy dramatic roles in movies such as “The Descendants” and “Jeff, Who Lives At Home.”

At the first ever ATX Television Festival, I sat down with Greer to talk about “Archer,” geek out about talking to someone from “Arrested Development,” and to discuss her blossoming film career.

So I looked at everything you’re here for. Sounds like you’ve got a pretty busy weekend planned. Are you excited for the festival?

I’m excited for the festival because I think, not that I know of, there’s no other festivals about television. I think that television is kind of, well I don’t know, isn’t it kind of the most important medium? (Laughs) I mean, it’s kind of true. It’s free, most of it. So that was exciting to me. I love the projects that I’m here to talk about but I also have been, like all of us, watching television and why is there a million movie festivals and film festivals but only one TV festival?

That’s a great question. Regarding “Archer,” the show has really taken off. The ratings are great and it’s found it’s audience. What do you think makes it so successful to hit this audience that it’s now hitting?

I think it’s really smart and I think people are looking for smarter comedies. I think people like how raunchy, but like smart raunchy it is. Because it’s animated, [creator] Adam Reed can do whatever he wants. We can kind of say whatever we want. FX gives us so much leeway and Adam is such a brilliant writer. Then you have these cartoon people saying it and it’s not as horrible.

It’s what “South Park” has gotten away with for years.

Yeah, exactly. I haven’t even thought about that. So, I think it’s successful because of the script and the storylines and the comedy.

Your character in particular gets to push things pretty far. As an actress is it kind of freeing to be able to say whatever you want and FX lets you do whatever you want?

Yeah, I mean the last time I felt that way was on “Arrested Development,” which obviously was live action. But I mean, never has anyone ever let us just go as crazy as they let us. And it’s really fun to be in a room by yourself doing it, because you really can come up with all the craziest things and just go crazy. There’s no one watching you, there’s not a crew full of people that are silently judging you. So it does feel really freeing and really creative. And Adam’s so excited, always for us to come up with something better than what he wrote. And most of the time we don’t, but he’s the No. 1 at saying, “Yeah! Say it! Try it! Whatever!” So that makes it fun.

You just said something about being alone and recording. Obviously the way you make these TV shows are different from live action comedies, you have to record in a booth and everything. Do you find the same kind of chemistry with the cast that you do versus an ensemble live action cast?

No, but not in a bad way. I just literally see them two to three times a year at publicity events. We don’t all live in the same city and we don’t have a real reason to cross paths, except for that we genuinely like each other and when we do have these events and press and stuff that we get together for we’re like, “Ahhh!” but we don’t really get to visit because we’re doing work stuff. I think the chemistry is really great, but it’s not like if we were spending every day together. Although we’d probably hate each other.

That’s actually kind of interesting because to me, so much of the humor in “Archer” is really subtle. There’s a lot of pauses and people talking over each other.

Yeah, people can’t believe we don’t record it in a room together.

Does that kind of timing take a while to develop or did it just kind of come naturally. Or do you have people directing you?

I think its some of everything. I think some of it is natural to us, some of it is direction, and some of it is editing. They can do so much with our voices digitally now. And back to the chemistry thing, I was thinking, one thing that all of us have in common, the main members of the cast, is that we all have a similar sense of humor. And I think that’s why we all blend really well together. Because we all share the same comedy. I don’t know if it would work if one of the cast was really crazy. We all fit into this whole really well.

The show is coming up on Season 4. Is it something where you can make the show fast and cheap and go many seasons beyond or is it something that you think maybe has an end point in sight?

Well, I don’t know the answer to that question. I want to do “Archer” for as long as it’s as awesome as it is. And not to answer for Adam but I feel like he probably would feel the same way. He busts his ass, he writes every single script and he’s toast by the end of the season. So I want what’s best for “Archer.” I never want it to be one of those shows where it’s like, “Oh, it used to be so funny.” It’s so good that I want to preserve the goodness. I feel like Adam can do that and if he can, I want it to go on forever.

The one bad thing about TV is that some things go on way longer than they should.

I know and it’s really a bummer. And because Adam writes every single script, if he can keep doing that, (I want to do it) for as long as he can do it, because he’s brilliant.

I do have to ask…my favorite show of all-time is “Arrested Development.”

(Laughs)

Your character in particular, there’s so much memorability to that character. What was that experience like? I’ve never got to talk to anyone from that show before, so this is really exciting. Did you know while you were making it how important and special and unique it was?

Hmm…I didn’t. But I was only on like 5 or 6 episodes. The more prominent cast members…maybe they did. I don’t know, it was real lightning in a bottle, you know? I think it was a hard show to make because it was so new. Like the concept of it and the humor of it. So many shows that we love now, and I probably shouldn’t say this, I think derivative of that.

Oh yeah.

So I think that when you’re making something like that…oh also, no one was watching it! So like, we’re making this weird show and I don’t mean to lump myself in with the series regular cast because they are the heart and soul of the show. But they were making this show that was totally weird and totally different that people didn’t really support and no one watched. You know what I mean? It’s this crazy phenomenon that really finally caught on. And at the time, it was like the number one TiVo’d show. But that wasn’t giving us the ratings that we needed to make more. So that was a drag.

But there’s a second life though.

Yeah, we’ll see!

Is that something that you would jump at the chance to be a part of?

Dude…yes. Definitely.

That was a stupid question, wasn’t it? (Laughs)

No, not a stupid question but oh my God. In fact I was just at a party last weekend and I saw Portia [de Rossi] and we’re like, “Do you know anything? Do you know anything?” We’re excited if we can do it. I’m hoping I’m a part of it. I think I will be. But I never know until I’m sitting in the theater or watching it on television.

That’s what I’ve been saying for years. I won’t believe it’s back until I’m watching the opening credits.

That’s how I feel, too.

I wanted to just briefly touch on your film career. In the past year you’ve had some really good dramatic roles. “The Descendants” was great and I thought a really underrated performance in “Jeff, Who Lives at Home.”

Thank you, I really love that movie so much. I really, really love it.

It’s very good. As an actress, what was it like to be able to tackle these dramatic roles and not only that, but be alongside great performers who are giving great performances.

For me it was awesome because I don’t usually get the opportunity to play parts like that. So it was a huge compliment and then the actors I was working with…I’m always blown away by other actors. Whether it’s someone as famous as George Clooney or Susan Sarandon, down to someone whose name you might not know yet. I love actors and I love working with them. Sometimes it’s nice to work with people you don’t know because you don’t bring anything with you. You can be this whole new person. Not to say that I was approaching it in a method way, but it is fun to create this new Judy as well as creating the character with people. It helps on set because going to work people aren’t like, “Oh, you’re the funny girl, who’s the funny one, be funny!” because they didn’t really know me that way. It was cool. I was really thankful for the opportunity and hopefully it will give me a chance to do more of that. Although I don’t like to think of it as too dramatic because I always think all the comedic roles I have played could have easily had scenes like that. But it was great, and it was great to do it with both Alexander Payne and the Duplass brothers, who I hope to work for for a really long time. The Duplass brothers are a-ma-zing and like here they are gods. So anyway, it was kind of a career high, I have to say, thus far.

The Descendants

November 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Beau Bridges
Directed by: Alexander Payne (“Sideways”)
Written by: Alexander Payne (“Sideways”), Nat Faxon (debut), Jim Rash (debut)

With the beautiful scenery of Hawaii as backdrop, Matt King (George Clooney) describes how people assume just because he lives in the island paradise, he is on vacation all the time. Truth is, he hasn’t golfed in years and his problems are no different than anyone living on the mainland.  Although his problems are plentiful, none is greater than struggling to care for his comatose wife.  This crisis becomes the center of “The Descendants,” a story about a father struggling to hold onto everything, including his family.

After his wife is left gravely injured in a boating accident, Matt is thrust into taking care of his two daughters; the younger Scottie (Amara Miller) who is lost without her mother, and the older Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who is off to college and acting out against everyone.  As Matt pries further into why Alexandra is so mad at her mother, he discovers that his wife might have been cheating on him. While trying to find out information on the man who slept with his wife, Matt must also deal with pressure from his extended family as he negotiates a deal to sell a huge mass of land that was bequeathed to his family from their Hawaiian ancestors.

Clooney is brilliant in his role, but what else is new? It’s truly astonishing how effortless Clooney emotes and delivers his lines with such great personality and wit. He will without question carry on his tradition of bi-annual acting Oscar nominations with his performance. For the supporting roles, director Alexander  Payne decided to fill out the rest of his cast with a melting pot of veteran and novice actors. While every cast member does a really great job, none are better than Woodley. Best known for her role on the ABC Family show “The Secret Life of The American Teenager,” Woodley plays the role of a foul-mouthed rebellious teenager to perfection. Although frustrated with her father for numerous reasons, her character Alexandra slowly grasps the situation at hand and attempts to mature, something that Woodley approaches at the level of a far more experienced actor.

After a seven-year absence, Payne returns with one of his more accessible films to date. The script he co-wrote is darkly funny with some very devastating one-liners that are delivered with perfection by Clooney. A good portion of the comedy also comes from Alexandra’s dopey free-spirit friend Sid, played by newcomer and Austin,Texas native Nick Krause. Although Payne does a good job at balancing comedy and drama, the film skews far more dramatically than one might think. This happens to be a great thing, as the more dramatic scenes are among the best in the film.

While the final act of the film is just a touch predictable, it carries extreme power. Anchored by a stellar performance from one of the most consistent actors in Hollywood, “The Descendants” is a fantastic and sometimes heartbreaking portrayal of a father struggling with responsibilities he’s not prepared for and trying to confront and make peace with the past.