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“Admission” review: Tina Fey aces college comedy

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The college-admission process can be the stuff of nightmares. You can have the greatest grades in the world, but let’s face it: what really decides whether a potential student will be accepted generally remains a mystery. In “Admission,” director Paul Weitz (“About A Boy”) ventures beyond the admissions-office doors for a comedy that might not teach you how to get your child into an Ivy League school, but does offer one key element that makes it infinitely more interesting than any other college prep course: Tina Fey.

The talented “SNL” alum is one of Hollywood’s fastest-rising stars these days, and “Admission” casts her opposite Paul Rudd in this romantic comedy about a Princeton admissions officer who has a crisis of faith when she’s introduced to a quirky teenage prodigy who might be the son she gave up for adoption years ago. The film is based on the book of the same name by Jean Hanff Korelitz, a former reader for Princeton’s admissions program tasked with evaluating prospective students.

From start to finish, “Admission” is a film that feels tailor-made for Fey – and it’s no surprise that the screenplay was written with her in mind. Princeton admissions officer Portia Nathan is essentially Liz Lemon (“30 Rock”) filtered through the tweed and sweater vests of Ivy League culture, equal parts smart and quirky, brilliant and awkward. Without the sort of personality Fey gives the character, Portia’s crisis of faith would never be believable, and both Fey and screenwriter Karen Croner do a nice job of first giving her a reason to believe in what she’s doing – and then giving her a reason to change.

“Admission” also benefits from an outstanding supporting cast headlined by Paul Rudd (“This Is 40”), whose chemistry with Fey makes it seem perfectly reasonable to want this duo to pair up for at least one movie together every year. They really are that good whenever they share a scene.

Also among the standouts in “Admission” is Lily Tomlin as Susannah, Portia’s razor-tongued, feminist mother who serves up some of the film’s best lines, as well as Nat Wolff, who finds the right balance of quirky brilliance as the teenage prodigy who may or may not be Portia’s child. Wallace Shawn and Michael Sheen do a fine job with the brief roles they’re given in the film, and fill out the performances nicely.

Even though “Admission” is saddled with the “romantic comedy” label, it’s worth noting that the film is more of the latter than the former, and lets the romantic element naturally spin out of the comedy rather than simply forcing two funny people together. Rudd and Fey’s relationship is a byproduct of events and not the main narrative of the film, and “Admission” is better for it.

To its credit, “Admission” manages to be a film that speaks to more than just the typical “date night” audience of parents and couples, and with any luck, will find that wide-reaching appeal validated at the box office. It’s not often a film comes along that’s just as much fun to watch with your parents as it is to watch with your partner or friends, but “Admission” is just that sort of film.

“Admission” hits theaters March 22. The film is directed by Paul Weitz and stars Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Lily Tomlin, Wallace Shawn, Michael Sheen, and Nat Wolff.

Underworld

Under Your Spell

10 Otherworldly Romances That’ll Melt Your Heart

Spend Valentine's Day weekend with IFC's Underworld movie marathon.

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Photo Credit: Screen Gems/courtesy Everett Collection

Romance takes many forms, and that is especially true when you have a thirst for blood or laser beams coming out of your eyes.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a werewolf, a superhero, a clone, a time-traveler, or a vampire, love is the one thing that infects us all.  Read on to find out why Romeo and Juliet have nothing on these supernatural star-crossed lovers, and be sure to catch IFC’s Underworld movie marathon this Valentine’s Day weekend.

1. Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine, X-Men series

The X-Men franchise is rife with romance, but the steamiest “ménage à mutant” may just be the one between Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Marsden), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Their triangle is a complicated one as Jean finds herself torn between the two very different men while also trying to control her darker side, the Phoenix. This leads to Jean killing Cyclops and eventually getting stabbed through her heart by Wolverine in X-Men: The Last Stand. Yikes!  Maybe they should change the name to Ex-Men instead?


2. Willow/Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon gave audiences some great romances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer — including the central triangle of Buffy, Angel, and Spike — but it was the love between witches Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) that broke new ground for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of a LGBT relationship.

Willow is smart and confident and isn’t even sure of her sexuality when she first meets Tara at college in a Wiccan campus group. As the two begin experimenting with spells, they realize they’re also falling for one another and become the show’s most enduring, happy couple. At least until Tara’s death in season six, a moment that still brings on the feels.


3. Selene/Michael, Underworld series

The Twilight gang pales in comparison (both literally and metaphorically) to the Lycans and Vampires of the stylish Underworld franchise. If you’re looking for an epic vampire/werewolf romance set amidst an epic vampire/werewolf war, Underworld handily delivers in the form of leather catsuited Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and shaggy blonde hunk Michael (a post-Felicity Scott Speedman). As they work together to stop the Vampire/Lycan war, they give into their passions while also kicking butt in skintight leather. Love at first bite indeed.


4. Spider-man/Mary Jane Watson, Spider-man

After rushing to the aid of beautiful girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the Amazing Spider-man is rewarded with an upside-down kiss that is still one of the most romantic moments in comic book movie history. For Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), the shy, lovable dork beneath the mask, his rain-soaked makeout session is the culmination of years of unrequited love and one very powerful spider bite. As the films progress, Peter tries pushing MJ away in an attempt to protect her from his enemies, but their web of love is just too powerful. And you know, with great power, comes great responsibility.


5. Molly/Sam, Ghost

When it comes to supernatural romance, you really can’t beat Molly and Sam from the 1990 hit film Ghost. Demi Moore goes crazy for Swayze like the rest of us, and the pair make pottery sexier than it’s ever been.

When Sam is murdered, he’s forced to communicate through con artist turned real psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg in her Academy Award-winning role) to warn Molly she is still in danger from his co-worker, Carl (a pre-Scandal Tony Goldwyn). Molly doesn’t believe Oda is telling the truth, so Sam proves it by sliding a penny up the wall and then possessing Oda so he and Molly can share one last romantic dance together (but not the dirty kind). We’d pay a penny for a dance with Patrick Swayze ANY day.


6. Cosima/Delphine, Orphan Black

It stands to reason there would be at least one complicated romance on a show about clones, and none more complicated than the one between clone Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) and Dr. Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu) on BBC America’s hit drama Orphan Black.

Cosima is a PhD student focusing on evolutionary developmental biology at the University of Minnesota when she meets Delphine, a research associate from the nefarious Dyad Institute, posing as a fellow immunology student. The two fall in love, but their happiness is brief once Dyad and the other members of Clone Club get involved. Here’s hoping Cosima finds love in season four of Orphan Black. Girlfriend could use a break.


7. Aragorn/Arwen, Lord of the Rings

On a picturesque bridge in Rivendell amidst some stellar mood-lighting and dreamy Elvish language with English subtitles for us non-Middle Earthlings, Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) bind their souls to one another, pledging to love each other no matter what befalls them.

Their courtship is a matter of contention with Arwen’s father, Elrond (Hugo Weaving), who doesn’t wish to see his daughter suffer over Aragorn’s future death. The two marry after the conclusion of the War of the Ring, with Aragorn assuming his throne as King of Gondor, and Arwen forgoing her immortality to become his Queen. Is it too much to assume they asked Frodo to be their wedding ring-bearer?


8. Lafayette/Jesus, True Blood

True Blood quickly became the go-to show for supernatural sex scenes featuring future Magic Mike strippers (Joe Manganiello) and pale Nordic men with washboard abs (Hi Alexander Skarsgård!), but honestly, there was a little something for everyone, including fan favorite Bon Temps medium, Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis).

In season three, Lafayette met his mother’s nurse, Jesus, and the two began a relationship. As they spend more time together and start doing V (short for Vampire Blood), they learn Jesus is descended from a long line of witches and that Lafayette himself has magical abilities. However, supernatural love is anything but simple, and after the pair join a coven, Lafayette becomes possessed by the dead spirit of its former leader. This relationship certainly puts a whole new spin on possessive love.


9. Nymphadora Tonks/Remus Lupin, Harry Potter series

There are lots of sad characters in the Harry Potter series, but Remus Lupin ranks among the saddest. He was bitten by a werewolf as a child, his best friend was murdered and his other best friend was wrongly imprisoned in Azkaban for it, then THAT best friend was killed by a Death Eater at the Ministry of Magic as Remus looked on. So when Lupin unexpectedly found himself in love with badass Auror and Metamorphmagus Nymphadora Tonks (she prefers to be called by her surname ONLY, thank you very much), pretty much everyone, including Lupin himself, was both elated and cautiously hopeful about their romance and eventual marriage.

Sadly, the pair met a tragic ending when both were killed by Death Eaters during the Battle of Hogwarts, leaving their son, Teddy, orphaned much like his godfather Harry Potter. Accio hankies!


10. The Doctor/Rose Tyler, Doctor Who

Speaking of wolves, Rose “Bad Wolf” Tyler (Billie Piper) captured the Doctor’s hearts from the moment he told her to “Run!” in the very first episode of the re-booted Doctor Who series. Their affection for one another grew steadily deeper during their travels in the TARDIS, whether they were stuck in 1950s London, facing down pure evil in the Satan Pit, or battling Cybermen.

But their relationship took a tragic turn during the season two finale episode, “Doomsday,” when the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose found themselves separated in parallel universes with no way of being reunited (lest two universes collapse as a result of a paradox). A sobbing Rose told a holographic transmission of the Doctor she loved him, but before he could reply, the transmission cut out, leaving our beloved Time Lord (and most of the audience) with a tear-stained face and two broken hearts all alone in the TARDIS.

“Admission” screenwriter talks higher education, comedy, and writing for Tina Fey

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In “Admission,” the new film from “About A Boy” director Paul Weitz, Tina Fey plays an admissions officer for Princeton University who has a crisis of faith when she’s introduced to an alternative-school prodigy who might be the son she gave up for adoption years ago.

Based on a novel by a former reader of Princeton candidates’ applications, “Admission” is a lighthearted, funny take on parenting and the pursuit of life, love, and higher education, thanks to a script by Karen Croner. Fey is joined in the cast by Paul Rudd, who plays the idealistic head of an alternative school she visits during one of her recruitment drives.

IFC spoke with Croner about “Admission,” writing for Fey, and what the film really says about the importance of where you go to school.

IFC: Before we even get started, it’s worth pointing out that I went to a relatively unremarkable state school for college, so there was a lot about this movie that I found surprising – and fascinating – about the admission process.

KAREN CRONER: [Laughs] Yeah, I’m a public-school girl, too. I went to a big public high school in Los Angeles and then applied to the University of California system, knowing that whichever school I got into is the one I would attend. So it’s all brand-new to me, this process. But we were applying to middle schools a while ago for my son, and it’s a really fascinating rabbit-hole to go down.

IFC: It certainly seems that way, but I’m curious how much of the book made it into the movie. How similar are they? I got the impression that the book wasn’t really a romantic comedy…

CRONER: Well, one thing that usually happens in Hollywood is, whenever a book is optioned, the author is then completely shut out of the process. I absolutely abhor that, and with everything I’ve done, I’ve tried to keep the author as involved as possible. So I’m very good friends with the author [of Admission]. That being said, though, the book was given to me and described as a very sad book about an admissions officer who has a breakdown. I had just gotten through getting my son into middle school and thought, “Hey, that doesn’t sound sad – that sounds funny! I want to see that character suffer like I did!” [Laughs] So maybe I came at it from a slightly unhealthy position.

IFC: Beyond the general tone of the story, what other changes occurred in the adaptation process?

CRONER: A lot of the book is very internal. Also, the main revelation of the book – which our movie starts with – happens at the end of the book. In terms of the plot and the tone, though, it’s a pretty major departure. But it’s still really true to the theme of a woman who is barreling ahead at breakneck speed with blinders on, and having the guts to look up and go, “I’m doing the wrong thing and I have to change.” So in that way, it’s very true to the book. The woman who wrote the book was a reader for Princeton’s applications, so she was able to take us behind those closed doors and show us what really happens [in the admission process]. It was a great inspiration for me to interview admissions officers and try and understand who would do this job and what shapes their decisions. They’re an absolutely fascinating group.

IFC: And that comes across in the film, too – but it’s clearly not the only theme of the movie. Beyond the admissions process, what else did you set out to explore with the story? It feels like there’s a lot of interesting points in there about parenting, the whole “nature vs. nurture” relationship, and what type of people hold all of this power to change students’ futures….

CRONER: It’s not just about the admissions world, no – it’s about having the nerve to look at this job you’re doing and this life you’re living and how you’re in the process of launching everyone else into spectacular lives and realizing that it’s time to launch yourself now.

IFC: This is a major departure for you, too. Your previous projects have almost all been these intense dramas, but this movie is genuinely funny. What brought on this shift in focus?

CRONER: What happened was, I’d written a lot of dramas for television and “One True Thing,” which was very sad. And I’d just written the saddest thing ever about girl soldiers in Uganda (“Girl Soldier”), which is possibly one of the saddest things I’ve ever come across on this planet. So one night, out of the blue, I turned to my husband and said, “I want to write a comedy for Tina Fey.” I had this realization that this was something I always meant to do, but I’d gotten on a particular path. So I guess I have a very personal connection to the story of a woman changing her life. [Laughs]

IFC: So you had Tina Fey in mind for this project from the very start?

CRONER: We gave her the book and I told her how I wanted to change it, and she signed on to the project. Once that happened, we were able to get it set up at Universal. Still, the real pressure was on writing that first draft and turning it in to perhaps one of the greatest writers out there, Tina Fey – which was thrilling and terrifying. But she read it and said she was in.

IFC: Is it intimidating to write for someone like Tina Fey, who is so highly regarded as a writer already?

CRONER: It’s absolutely inspirational, and at the same time, every line you write, you think, “Tina’s going to read this. Tina’s going to judge this.” So it couldn’t have been more exciting. The chance to write for an extraordinary writer is a huge challenge, but it was also such an affirmation and a blessing. And here we are. I feel extremely fortunate.

IFC: Were there any surprises for you when you saw the final cut of the film? From the writing side, you can only envision so much, and then the director and cast put their own spin on your work…

CRONER: Well, in the same way that I took this book and made it my own, the director then came in and made it his own. That’s the way it works. What surprised me most was what great chemistry Tina and Paul had when they were on screen together. They were somehow able to make parenting issues sexy. That really surprised me. It made the movie into this perfect date movie for parents, but it will also work for so many other audiences, too.

And I’ll tell you what else: Lily [Tomlin] and Tina and I are all serious feminists, and the character that Lily plays in the film is so funny. She took it and ran with it. We’re all able to laugh at ourselves and that part of ourselves, and Lily’s ability to have such a sense of humor about that type of character she was playing was a great surprise.

IFC: So did this movie scratch that comedy itch for you, and now it’s back to dramas? Or are you planning to try out another genre?

CRONER: The next thing I’m writing is an R-rated comedy for Charlize Theron, so I’m going even harder into comedy next time. And honestly, everything I’ve written along the way, I inevitably write a screwball sequence in every script that I have to cut out. So the comedy has always been there. Somebody once described life as this leaky life-boat and we’re all going down together, so you can either cry about it or laugh about it. I’ve embraced the laughing as we go down.

IFC: Any interest in going back to television?

CRONER: Absolutely. I’ve written an autobiographical television series for Fake Empire, who did “Gossip Girl,” “The OC,” and a thousand other shows. It’s based on growing up in Laurel Canyon, and it’s about a woman who returns to her family’s compound as an adult and moves back home. So it explores the same kinds of themes [as “Admission”] in some way.

IFC: Back to “Admission,” what’s the one thing you hope audiences will take away from the movie with regard to higher education and our pursuit of it?

CRONER: The point of the movie is that it doesn’t matter where you end up going to school. It’s not a referendum on you in any way. No one should ever base their self worth on these kinds of decisions, and unfortunately, these kids are in the insane situation of competing with far too many people and having to brand themselves and sell themselves. We’re trying to look at this system and stand back for a second and say, “Don’t let this define you.” We’re trying to take some of the pressure away from it and demystify the powers-that-be that seem to be determining your fate.

”Admission” hits theaters March 22, and stars Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Wallace Shawn, Michael Sheen, and Lily Tomlin.

Tina Fey talks “The Muppets… Again!” and Peter Serafinowicz joins the cast

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Tina Fey might be playing a Russian gulag prison guard in “The Muppets… Again!” but it turns out that character will be a good guy. The former “30 Rock” star opened up about her new role during a recent interview.

“I actually play a Russian good guy, kind of. Who knows? Maybe she seems like the bad guy. But just before I called you I was on Skype with a dialect coach. And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is for real. I have to try and do this!'” Fey told The Huffington Post. When asked if she had done that accent before in the past, Fey said, “I have, but probably not well. But they offered it, and I was like, “Yeah, great!” I think that’s a fun thing to do and try to practice.”

Meanwhile, “Shaun of the Dead” star (and voice of Darth Maul in “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace”) Peter Serafinowicz revealed on Twitter that he joined the cast of the upcoming movie.

“Just on the set of the Muppets movie! Filming next week. Very excited!” he tweeted.

“The Muppets” sequel currently stars Ricky Gervais as its leading man, Ty Burrell as a lazy Interpol agent and Fey as a Russian gulag prison guard. Christoph Waltz and Ray Liotta also have parts. The film is said to be a European adventure along the lines of “The Great Muppet Caper.” It’s due out on March 21, 2014.

Do you think Fey will do a good job in “The Muppets… Again!”? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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