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Sundance 2013: Can Stephenie Meyer get Twihards to ‘Austenland’?

Men have fantasy-baseball getaways and rock-star camp. For women? There’s a Jane Austen vacation.

At least so it goes in the fictional Austenland, Jerusha Hess’ romantic comedy of the same name about a place where fans of the author can take a holiday in an English manor. There they live out a “Fantasy Island”-style getaway filled with bodices, high tea and men as fine-looking as Mr. Darcy.

Based on Shannon Hale’s novel, the film’s main character is Jane Hayes, a down-in-the-dumps thirtysomething (Keri Russell) who memorized the first three chapters of “Pride and Prejudice” at age 13 and isn’t always sure where the playacting stops and true romance begins.

“I want something real,” Hayes says at one point. She seems to find it when she strikes up a connection with Martin (Bret MacKenzie), a man who works at Austenland but is not part of the re-enactments.

Much of the action centers on the camp and its list of colorful characters, both tourists and the actor employees who populate the resort. Jennifer Coolidge co-stars as the brassy Miss Elizabeth Charming, another Austenland visitor who has never read any Austen but loves the get-ups. And Jane Seymour plays the opportunistic woman who runs the resort, in a movie that both plays off and with the trappings of Austen-mania.

Hess is a co-writer of Sundance phenomeon “Napoleon Dynamite,” which husband Jared co-wrote and directed, and that film’s playfulness is much on display here. (Among the campy touches are musical montages featuring swoony throwback pop ditties like Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven is a Place on Earth” and Roxette’s “Must Have Been Love,” which add to the film’s romantic whimsy.)

“My husband, Jared, doesn’t make romcoms so he couldn’t help me with the kisses,” Hess quipped after the screening. Continue reading Sundance 2013: Can Stephenie Meyer get Twihards to ‘Austenland’?

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Austenland: Sundance Review

Overexposed material is fresh and fun in Austenland, an unlikely take on Jane Austen lore that sends Keri Russell to a sort of Regency Westworld, acting out romantic fantasies with fellow vacationing Brit-lit addicts. Funny, reasonably romantic and wholly commercial, Jerusha Hess’s debut should hold fans over until someone musters the nerve to do another straight-on remake of Pride and Prejudice.

Russell plays Jane Hayes, a socially awkward Austenmaniac whose sad little spinster pad is stuffed with teapots and tokens of love for Mr. Darcy. She sells her car to travel to Austenland, an English theme resort whose stuffy doyenne (Jane Seymour) promises every visitor a Persuasion-worthy romance with an actor on staff.

Some of those actors play their parts more convincingly than others — which is only fair, since some guests fall far short of PhD-level fandom: A wealthy American (Jennifer Coolidge) has never even read the books; she’s just here because she thinks she’d look great in “those wench dresses.” Producers get their money’s worth from Coolidge, who for the first half hour can’t open her mouth without bringing down the house. When she bellows “right-o” in a desperate attempt at an English accent, the final vowel becomes multiple syllables, something the word “diphthong” hardly begins to describe. (Not that the actress has to speak to steal a scene, as evinced in a hilarious needlepoint gag.) Continue reading Austenland: Sundance Review

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Review: Keri Russell and Jennifer Coolidge charm in potential breakout hit ‘Austenland’

As a movie pitch “Austenland” seems like a no-brainer. A devoted and sadly single Jane Austen fan (appropriately named Jane and played by Keri Russell) decides to spend her life savings to visit Austenland, an immersive vacation resort which promise her a personal Mr. Darcy experience. Of course, nothing goes as planned, but our heroine still finds love where she wouldn’t have expected it. Throw in some quirky British characters trying to pull off the 19th Century in the 21st Century and you have numerous comedic opportunities. Based on the novel by Shannon Hale and co-produced by Stephenie Meyer, Jerusha Hess’ “Austenland” should quickly evoke a bidding war that will make the numerous studios regret passing on the first time around.

The proceedings start off slowly with Jane finding resistance from her best friend who believes she’s making a huge mistake and, instead, should spend her money on a “life changer” vacation. Jane heads off to England anyway and soon meets a fellow guest, the goofy and a little out there Miss Elizabeth Charming (Jennifer Coolidge). Upon arriving at Austenland, Jane is sad to discover she’s only paid for the copper package which means she’ll be living in servant quarters (don’t worry, it looks better than you think) and has a much less glamorous wardrobe. Hess focuses a bit on Coolidge at first to generate the laughs, but as soon as we meet the residents or hired actors at the Manor things get much more interesting and comical. Continue reading Review: Keri Russell and Jennifer Coolidge charm in potential breakout hit ‘Austenland’

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Sundance: With ‘Austenland,’ Keri Russell seeks ‘Waitress’ magic

Six years ago Keri Russell came to Sundance with a small undistributed movie about a pie-baking hobbyist working in a small-town diner. The dramedy, “Waitress,” went on to become one of the crowd-pleasers of the festival and garnered more than $19 million upon its theatrical release.

Russell is back in Park City this year with another film of light whimsy. Working with first-time director Jerusha Hess, half of the writing team behind “Napoleon Dynamite” (and one of the many female filmmakers making their name in the Utah mountains this year), Russell is starring in “Austenland,” a romantic comedy in modern-day England based on Shannon Hale’s novel.

Premiering on Friday afternoon in Park City, where it is seeking a distribution deal, the movie looks at Jane Austen enthusiasts who take a country holiday to enact their Victorian-novel fantasies.

“The idea is kind of hilarious: There are these lonely ladies who pay all this money to go and live like that, and the end is a big dance where all the women are paired up with Mr. Darcy,” Russell, who’s set to take a short break from shooting her Cold War-era cable series “The Americans” to appear at the premiere screening, said in an interview with The Times. “It’s delicious and a little lewd-y,” she laughed.

The film has an unexpected, un-Sundance-like selling point: It’s produced by “Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer, the first movie she’s produced that isn’t based on one of her novels.

But it wasn’t vampires that vexed those working on the film. Russell had a more real-life difficulty: She was pregnant with her second child when she was shooting “Austenland.”

“It was interesting to frolic in the English countryside while pregnant but trying not to be,” she said. “The waists kept getting higher on my outfits. But it’s a movie with a lot of corsets and Victorian fashions so it all kind of worked out.”


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Sleeper Agent With new spy drama The Americans, FX again shows it’s unafraid to take risks to make quality TV

Craft services appears to have closed for business, but Keri Russell would very much like something to nibble on if it wouldn’t be an imposition on the people packing away the last of the chips, cookies and crackers. This is not a diva trip—if anything, the petite actress somehow appears to make herself physically smaller as she asks to forage around in the snack bin.

The sun is setting on the second day of the new year, and Russell has just spent the better part of the last three hours filming a pivotal scene for the new FX series, The Americans (Jan. 30, 10 p.m.). It’s a long, rather tricky passage—there’s a good deal of futzing with an old reel-to-reel tape recorder, and some of the lines seem a bit more knotty than they absolutely need be—and so Russell and her co-star, Matthew Rhys, had run into a few rough patches earlier in the afternoon.

Having secured a small bag of pretzels (“I promise not to munch too loudly into your tape recorder”), Russell’s discernible self-possession is offset by a disarming tendency to punctuate her sentences with one of the few words you still can’t say on basic cable. Joking about how long it took to nail the scene, she refuses to make any excuses for the delay.

“If I would have known my lines, I would have talked to you sooner. But I did not, as you saw!” she laughs. “Oh, for fuck’s sake, that scene! Good riddance, that scene! Never again!” Continue reading Sleeper Agent With new spy drama The Americans, FX again shows it’s unafraid to take risks to make quality TV

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‘The Americans’: FX Asks Viewers to Root for KGB in Cold War Thriller

Stars Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys and the spy drama’s EPs tell reporters enough time has passed to sympathize with Soviets — but are quick to point out that an al-Qaeda version would be “impossible.”

Briefly sidelined by Sandy, FX’s The Americans started production in New York in December and gets a speedy launch on the network later this month.

The thriller, which stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as embedded Soviet spies in 1981 Washington, DC, made an appearance during Wednesday’s Television Critics Association winter press tour — and producers were quick to emphasize who viewers should be rooting for.

“It might be a little different to believe and get used to, but we want you to root for the KGB,” said EP Joel Fields. “They’re going to try to get the Soviets to win the Cold War.”

History knows they’re fighting a losing battle, but the creative team behind the high-profile launch expressed a confidence that more than enough time has passed for American audiences to not hold a grudge.

“If you tried to tell a story like this about al-Qaeda now, it would be impossible; no one would want to hear it,” Fields continued. “I feel even the same could have been said up to 10 years after the cold war ended.”

But this isn’t Homeland. Though the Showtime hit went oddly unmentioned during the discussion, the similar theme of covert ops takes a backseat to the odd, forced family dynamic of two Russian spies raising their in-the-dark children as Americans.

“The show is about marriage and that marriage in an allegory for international relations,” said creator Joe Weisberg. “And international relations are an allegory for marriage.”

Speaking of the show’s tricky time period aesthetics, producers made more than a few jokes about Russell’s high-waisted jeans and defended their musical choices — particularly one steamy scene that used Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.”

Though the track is synonymous with a similar moment in Risky Business, they called it “perfect for that time.”

Less superficial matters of the time will also play a big part of the show. Fields pointed out that the attempted assassination on President Ronald Reagan will come early in the series and will be a “big event” in the lives of the characters.

As a closing pitch to root for the bad guy protagonists, Weisberg said he wanted viewers to take a hard look at both sides of the Cold War.

“These were these really competing value systems,” he said. “And there’s no question that repressive socialism failed, but unbridled consumption hasn’t exactly led to great satisfaction — and one problem is how do we express that dramatically.”


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‘The Americans’: The fighting, music and espionage of the Cold War

First up, a warning: Just because Keri Russell is in “The Americans,” don’t expect another “Felicity.” Unless you always wanted Felicity to be a girl who could kick a man through a wall while working to bring down governments.

Those are the kinds of things we get in “The Americans.” It’s gritty, sometimes dark and unquestionably great to watch.

The show focuses on Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Russell and Matthew Rhys), a “normal” couple living with their two kids in 1981 suburbia. Of course, they’re not normal at all — they are instead undercover KGB agents on a long-term spy mission to undermine America.

Elizabeth and Philip are the heroes. As the show’s creator, Joe Weisberg, put it, “We want you to root for the KGB.” Continue reading ‘The Americans’: The fighting, music and espionage of the Cold War

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The Americans: FX Introduces the KGB Spies Next Door

Debuting on January 30th, the new FX new series, The Americans, stars Matthew Rhys (Brothers and Sisters) and Keri Russell (Felicity) as Phillip and Elizabeth, KGB spies living deep undercover in the United States in 1981 – in the midst of the Cold War.

At the TCA (Television Critics Association) press tour today, The Americans’ creator Joe Weisberg was asked if viewers are being asked to root for the enemy, as it were, and he replied, “I think that is one of the big questions of the series, and I think we would all very much like both for Philip and Elizabeth to have a happy, healthy marriage that goes on for a long time. From the start, it’s going to have a lot of ups and downs like most of the marriages that we’re all familiar with. And then in the Cold War, although it might be a little bit difficult to believe and get used to, we want you to root for the KGB.” He acknowledged, “They’re going to try and undermine the U.S. government. They’re going to try to have the Soviet Union win in the Cold War. We know that’s not going to work out too well for them.” Quipped Russell, “We will rewrite history!”

However, executive producer Joel Fields noted that there’s also a big part of the show set at the FBI, with US agents attempting to find exactly the kind of spies that Elizabeth and Phillip are and, “The hope is you’ll root for them too. What’s great about what Joe created is it’s a show about marriage, and the marriage is an allegory for international relations. So you kind of root for where you are, we hope, emotionally in the scenes.” Continue reading The Americans: FX Introduces the KGB Spies Next Door

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Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys talk about playing Soviet spies in ‘The Americans’ at the TCA Winter Press tour

Felicity, she ain’t.

For her TV return, Keri Russell stars as Elizabeth Jennings, a dedicated Soviet spy pretending to be a happily married American suburban housewife in The Americans, an ’80s-set FX series debuting Jan. 30. With her faux-husband Phillip, played by Brothers & Sisters star Matthew Rhys, she will kidnap, kill and offer her sexual favors, all to further the interests of the Soviet Union.

And she’s not just a commie spy, which would be change enough from the good girl she played in Felicity. She’s also an action hero. In the pilot, she kicks some guy so hard, his head goes through the wall.

“It was terrible to do. …There’s no pad, I’m kicking his head into the wall. He grabbed me and said ‘Do it and do it right, because if you mess it up, we’re going to have to do it again, and then I’m going to be (angry).’ ”

Posing as an American, of course, is nothing new for Rhys, a Welsh actor who has often played American characters. What he has learned about Americans, he says, is that we’re both welcoming and “incredibly honest” in the way we share how we feel.

“In day-to-day activity, there’s an incredible emotional articulateness that you don’t find in Britain … that’s lacking in the British system. That and a lack of therapy.”


Categories Articles & Interviews The Americans

23 TV Shows We’re Tuning In For

The Americans
Premiere date: Jan. 30
Stars: Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Noah Emmerich
What it’s about: Part family drama, part spy thriller, lots of 1980s clothes as Russell and Rhys play married KGB spies in America during the Reagan era. ”The show has such a weird perspective because the whole concept is told from the ‘other side,”’ says creator Joe Weisberg (Falling Skies). ”We think of the KGB as the enemy but on this show the enemy is the good guys. It changes how you come at the stories and the emotion. But at the end of the day, you’re watching a marriage that’s like any other marriage, albeit in a crazy situation.