Connie Britton

No Looking Back (1998, Edward Burns)

No Looking Back runs just under a hundred minutes. The first half of the film–roughly the first half–evenly relies on its cast. In fact, top-billed Lauren Holly almost has less than either Jon Bon Jovi and director Burns (acting, second-billed) in the first half. It’s a love triangle and she’s the prize. Burns is coming back to Nowhere, Long Island after running away to California years before. Ex-girlfriend Holly has moved on and in with Bon Jovi, who’s ostensibly a childhood friend of Burns’s but it’s a somewhat reluctant friendship. Burns is a jerk from scene two. He has two honest moments in the film; his first and his last. The rest of the time, he’s basically just a prick.

But he’s a different kind of prick than Bon Jovi, who’s the too perfect man. He wants to be a good dad, can’t wait for Holly to join his mom and sisters in the kitchen for football Sunday (he’s in the living room with his brothers), and so on and so forth. There’s this strange transition with sympathies, which Burns (as a writer and director) doesn’t deal with very well. He tries hard to keep the love triangle restless–the three characters never all interact in a single scene, even if all present–and it strains the film at times. But it also pays off because it means Holly gets more opportunity.

Then around the halfway market, a Bruce Springsteen song comes on the radio and No Looking Back totally changes. The first half soundtrack, with the exception of a Patti Scialfa track or two, is indistinct, bland, late nineties pseudo-alternative songs. Nothing distinct. And then, all of a sudden, Holly assumes the protagonist role decisively. Performance, script, direction. The first half of the movie has been an awkward setup to provide back story to turn the second half into a Bruce Springsteen mix tape set to film. And it’s exceptional. The film’s flow is better, the scenes more poignant–I mean, it’s a soap opera. The thing couldn’t fail the Bechdel test more if it tried. But it’s this exceptional soap opera turned character study. And what ends up saving it is when Burns, as writer and director, stops pretending there’s any depth to he and Bon Jovi’s characters. More, the characters have to stop pretending too. It’s awesome.

Plus, there’s scene payoff for most of the supporting cast. Blythe Danner (as Holly’s mom) gets almost nothing in the first half and ends up being essential in pulling off the big finale upswing. Connie Britton’s great as Holly’s sister, with the first half’s least disjointed arc. Jennifer Esposito and Nick Sandow are both good as various friends, though Sandow’s basically Norm from “Cheers” and Esposito doesn’t get enough to do.

Oh–and Joe Delia’s score is a mess in the first half. There’s this generic hard rock theme running through the score. Maybe Burns could only get the four or five Springsteen songs and had to save them, but it’s not a good theme for Holly as Burns intentionally and maliciously upends her life, albeit through accepted social conventions. Score is much better in the second half.

Great photography from Frank Prinzi. Nice, patient editing from Susan Graef.

Holly doesn’t have a great character here; Burns ignored her too much in the first half to setup the second, but she gives an excellent performance. The stuff she gets to do in the second half, it’s like a reward for having to suffer through the first half’s weaker scenes. Bon Jovi gives a strong performance and once Burns, as an actor, gets to the Springsteen section, he really comes through as well.

No Looking Back has more than its share of problems, all of them (with the exception of the music) director Burns’s fault. It’s also pretty darn great; again, all Burns’s fault.



Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, Frank Prinzi; edited by Susan Graef; music by Joe Delia; production designer, Thérèse DePrez; produced by Ted Hope, Michael Nozik, and Burns; released by Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

Starring Lauren Holly (Claudia), Edward Burns (Charlie), Jon Bon Jovi (Michael), Connie Britton (Kelly), Blythe Danner (Claudia’s Mom), Nick Sandow (Goldie), Jennifer Esposito (Teresa), Welker White (Missy), John Ventimiglia (Tony the Pizza Guy), and Kathleen Doyle (Mrs. Ryan).

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010, Samuel Bayer)

Watching A Nightmare on Elm Street, I can’t believe remake director Bayer ever saw any of the original movies. Because he doesn’t even want to borrow the better techniques of those films. He instead goes with a thoughtless approach to the film. Specifically, the dream stuff. He doesn’t have any interest in it. Not just as narrative possibility or narrative tricks to play on the audience, things to get them to think about to get a built-up scare instead of a jump scare. Bayer doesn’t even have interest in the effects. He’s cashing a check and doesn’t have the professionalism to feign interest.

The script’s terrible, but it’s clear Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer are familiar with the original movies. They try to make it more realistic and try to exploit little kids. They succeed with the latter, which makes for an unpleasant viewing experience (though it’s “funny” how prime time procedurals desensitized audiences better than slasher movies ever could have). The script just uses tragedy to fuel the characters because they have nothing else. The film’s universally badly acted, but there’s not a single well-written part.

Also, the script’s arranged poorly. Strick and Heisserer try to show off plot feints, but they’re obvious ones. Maybe if Bayer were doing anything but he’s not, except dressing Katie Cassidy like an eighties Barbie doll. It’s the only time in Nightmare I actually thought Bayer was trying, but I’m not sure. Maybe it was coincidence. Anyway, with the eventual reveal, it’s clear the film should’ve at least had a more natural flow.

So real bad acting from the following–Kellan Lutz, Thomas Dekker, Katie Cassidy. Bad acting but in completely the wrong part from Kyle Gallner and Jackie Earle Haley. These two are exceptionally miscast. It’s kind of hilarious how little anyone actually tried making this movie any good.

And Rooney Mara’s almost okay. She goes from really bad to not as bad to deserving of pity. She and Gallner’s arc is rough going as far as what Mara gets to do with scenes.

There’s no reason a Nightmare on Elm Street remake couldn’t be good. This film’s problems are all ones it intentionally, maliciously and not, brings to the table on its own.



Directed by Samuel Bayer; screenplay by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer, based on a story by Strick and characters created by Wes Craven; director of photography, Jeff Cutter; edited by Glen Scantlebury; music by Steve Jablonsky; production designer, Patrick Lumb; produced by Bradley Fuller, Michael Bay and Andrew Form; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Rooney Mara (Nancy Holbrook), Kyle Gallner (Quentin Smith), Thomas Dekker (Jesse Braun), Katie Cassidy (Kris Fowles), Kellan Lutz (Dean Russell), Lia D. Mortensen (Nora Fowles), Connie Britton (Dr. Gwen Holbrook), Clancy Brown (Alan Smith) and Jackie Earle Haley (Freddy Krueger).

The Fitzgerald Family Christmas (2012, Edward Burns)

The Fitzgerald Family Christmas is going to be frustrating to talk about. Burns contrives a melodrama and then proceeds to remove all the melodramatic fluff. During the scenes when–after the first act concludes–more of these melodramatic events occur, there’s a brief recognition of what he’s achieved. At some point in the second act, after three more events Burns should not be able to get away with occur, I wondered if he was just testing himself. He assembles the finest ensemble cast in years–costarring alongside them. They (and the filmmakers) bring Fitzgerald to a whole new level.

At one point, when Burns (as an actor) is listening to Heather Burns speak, I found it hard to believe was able to contain his zeal at giving her such good dialogue and directing such a good performance. There are a couple other similar scenes with Burns and his costars, but the one with Heather Burns stands out. She might give the film’s best performance. She’s certainly in the top three… or top four.

Fitzgerald concerns a large family in the two days before Christmas. I didn’t gauge the time on how Burns split the days in the run time, though they seem about equal. Burns is the oldest son–he lives with mother Anita Gillette (in one of the other top four performances), who turns seventy the day the film opens. Heather Burns is one of the daughters; in the female children category there are also Marsha Dietlein, Caitlin Fitzgerald (another top four) and Kerry Bishé. The other two male children are Michael McGlone and Tom Guiry (last top four). After the top four, in case you’re wondering, are “the next two,” being Bishé and McGlone.

And Ed Lauter is the absentee father. He’s great too. Everyone’s great. It’s just how to measure them–like I said, frustrating to talk about. It’s hard to think of an ensemble where everyone has such perfect parts. Not “good” or “great” perfect, but actual perfect–they will never be this good in anything again.

Burns himself almost steps back into his own story arc with Connie Britton. He also gives McGlone and Bishé a little story arc, which Burn then uses to imply history about the family without relying on artificial exposition. He does, of course, have exposition, but he’s able to layer it in organically.

I’ve got to get to the technical aspects–I decided on the first sentence Fitzgerald needs a double-length response. P.T. Walkley’s score, which adapts Christmas standards, helps in Burns’s draining of the melodrama. The songs imply the holiday and the confusion behind it for the characters; it’s essential.

Burns shoots Fitzgerald Panavision aspect; it’s another angering feature. Some of the shots are so good, so precise and exact in how Burns positions the characters together, they made me mad. His composition-William Rexar’s photography is key–is unbelievably meticulous as to how he presents the characters interacting with one another.

The Fitzgerald Family Christmas is wondrous.



Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, William Rexar; edited by Janet Gaynor; music by P.T. Walkley; produced by Aaron Lubin, Burns and Rexar; released by Tribeca Film.

Starring Kerry Bishé (Sharon), Edward Burns (Gerry), Heather Burns (Erin), Marsha Dietlein (Dottie), Caitlin Fitzgerald (Connie), Anita Gillette (Rosie), Tom Guiry (Cyril), Ed Lauter (Big Jim), Michael McGlone (Quinn), Nick Sandow (Corey), Noah Emmerich (FX), Joyce Van Patten (Mrs. McGowan), Dara Coleman (JJ) and Connie Britton (Nora).

The Brothers McMullen (1995, Edward Burns)

The Brothers McMullen is filled with moments of brilliant filmmaking. More than enough. It just doesn’t finish off on one of them. The film needs to go out as strongly as it starts and it comes up short. Burns’s filmmaking is organic (undoubtedly a result of a long filming and imaginative editing) and the ending is far too perfunctory.

Some of the problem with the ending is Burns’s decision to give himself the least interesting role in the film. Even Jack Mulcahy, whose infidelity arc (the three brothers–Burns, Mulcahy and Mike McGlone each have separate crises, which–very nicely–never come together) is somewhat awkward as its mostly an internalized crisis, has more to do than Burns.

Burns’s arc (with Maxine Bahns as his love interest) is basically a romantic comedy with the slapstick removed. It’s very pretty, but it lacks a certain amount of emotional weight. Instead of turning himself into the protagonist–though he allows himself the showiest monologue–Burns gives that role to McGlone. With a nauseating amount of Irish Catholic guilt, the character shouldn’t even be sympathetic, but Burns’s script takes the character on a significant personal journey, all beautifully essayed by McGlone.

His two romantic interests–Shari Albert and Jennifer Jostyn–are both excellent. All of the performances in the film (Connie Britton probably gives the best) are good, though Burns’s direction occasionally leads to unsure moments.

The direction, while consistently excellent, falters whenever there’s a dramatic one shot.

But those quibbles are minor.



Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, Dick Fisher; edited by Fisher; music by Seamus Egan; produced by Burns and Fisher; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Edward Burns (Barry), Mike McGlone (Patrick), Jack Mulcahy (Jack), Connie Britton (Molly), Maxine Bahns (Audry), Elizabeth P. McKay (Ann), Jennifer Jostyn (Leslie) and Shari Albert (Susan).

Looking for Kitty (2004, Edward Burns)

After Ed Burns’s last couple films, I’d forgotten to expect something great from him. Looking for Kitty opens with a shot straight out of The Brothers McMullen, or at least a camera move straight out of it. Kitty also borrows a lot of the same music style and, watching the film, I kept remembering Burns’s low budget filmmaking tricks from McMullen and noticed them again in Kitty. Except Burns is a different filmmaker now and Kitty, which runs all of seventy-five minutes, doesn’t make a single mistake. A friend of mine used to say he wished there were short (he meant hour-long) features one could go see while waiting for a bus or a class or dinner. Kitty certainly shows off the possibilities for such a genre. Around the seventy minute mark, I got worried Burns was going to pad it out. Then he didn’t. Instead, he left it alone, let the story run its course. Structurally, it’s a lot like a short story. I’m not particularly sure I’d want to read the short story, but as a film, it works beautifully….

Kitty‘s strength, oddly, comes from Burns’s performance and his character. Back in his first three films, he let himself be the least dynamic (but showiest) actor, which changed with the next two; here in Kitty, he slowly lets the film be about himself, starting with it centering around David Krumholtz’s goofy high school baseball coach who looks like something out of a 1970s Folgers commercial. Once it becomes clear–probably in the first twenty-five minutes, but those twenty-five are amazingly well paced–Burns is actually the protagonist, the film shifts a little. It ceases to be a “mystery” and starts being a rumination on sadness. There’s one sequence in the film–the DV hurts it, but still–it’s wonderful and perfect and it’s when I realized I hadn’t even considered the possibility of Burns turning out another good film, much less a great seventy-five minute one.

The film’s visual tone, how Burns showcases New York City, is interesting, because–while his character continuously espouses its virtues–Burns the director frames his shots tight outside and big inside. The only time it ever feels like he’s doing a detective movie homage is when the characters are in the car, but even then, Looking for Kitty seems like another film, one where the grownups get to do what they wanted to do as kids (play baseball every day and be a detective) and have to deal with it. The friendship between Krumholtz and Burns is particularly nice, because Burns layers it right, paces it right.

If it weren’t for a few really great things–editing-wise, Looking for Kitty is absolutely beautiful. Some of the cuts in this film are breathtaking. Problematically, Burns doesn’t always have the right coverage (he’d probably do well to shoot American Graffiti-style, multiple cameras at once) so sometimes the compositions don’t match, but the editing itself is unbelievable. Anyway, if it weren’t for a few really great things, content-wise, I’d say Looking for Kitty‘s greatness came from its running time and Burns’s sense of how to pace a small story. But it does have a bunch–like six–really great moments and they don’t have anything to do with the running time… (one has to do with the story’s time, I’m not sure about the others).

But it’s a wonderful surprise (though it shouldn’t be, Burns’s really good early films tended to have significant dings holding them back–Kitty has none… and maybe not the time for them). I’m ashamed I didn’t see it until now.



Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, William Rexer; edited by Sarah Flack; music by Robert Gary and PT Walkley; produced by Burns, Aaron Lubin and Margot Bridger; released by ThinkFilm.

Starring Edward Burns (Jack), David Krumholtz (Abe Fiannico), Max Baker (Ron Stewart), Connie Britton (Ms. Petracelli), Kevin Kash (KK) and Chris Parnell (Guy Borne).

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