Hidden Netflix Gems – Everything Must Go

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

Hollywood has a rich history of well-known comic actors taking on more serious and weighty roles, from Robin Williams to Ben Stiller to Jim Carrey, and now Will Ferrell, in what is probably his very best performance to date. Everything Must Go bears a strong resemblance to Stiller’s work in Noah Baumbach‘s Greenberg, or Adam Sandler‘s in Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Punch-Drunk Love, in its portrayal of a flawed but basically good-hearted man going through difficult times and coming out better for it. The difference between Ferrell and Sandler, of course, is that Ferrell’s comedies generally don’t suck.

Ferrell plays Nick Halsey, an alcoholic who loses his job at the beginning of the film and, after an ill-advised revenge against his boss, Gary (Glenn Howerton), returns home to discover that his wife has left him. Not only that, she has locked him out of the house, frozen their joint bank account, and left all of his possessions out on the front lawn. Nick is understandably upset, and reacts in the defeated way that has apparently become his life’s standard recourse: he buys a lot of beer and camps out in his La-Z-Boy on the lawn for the night. In the morning, having exhausted his beer supply and unable to find his car keys, he borrows a bicycle from his twelve-year-old neighbor, Kenny Loftus (Christopher Jordan Wallace), and heads down to the convenience store for more beer while Kenny keeps an eye on his stuff.

Nick also befriends his new neighbor, Samantha (Rebecca Hall), a beautiful young photographer who has just moved by herself from New York, where her husband is wrapping things up at his company, planning to join her in Arizona as soon as possible. There are hints that their marriage is on the rocks, as when she tells Nick early on that her husband wants to name their unborn baby (with whom she is currently pregnant) Jack, after himself, a practice she thinks is “kind of ridiculous.” I found this especially ironic knowing that the excellent young actor who plays Kenny is in fact the son of the other Christopher Wallace, best known as The Notorious B.I.G. We also meet Nick’s friend and former Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, Frank Garcia (Michael Pena), when he rescues Nick from arrest by virtue of the fact that Frank is himself a higher-ranking officer than the ones sent to Nick’s house on a complaint from his neighbors.

Frank allows Nick to remain living on his lawn for the next few days under the pretense that he is holding a yard sale; after that, if Nick can’t get himself together, Frank will have no choice but to take him to jail. Clearly, this is not a plot-driven film, but that is not to say it isn’t a very well-structured one; the yard sale provides the forward thrust for Nick’s attempt to get his life back on track, and subtle details pay off in unexpected ways throughout. It is to the great credit of first-time writer-director Dan Rush that the film never takes the easy or expected routes, and it also takes its time in developing its characters and their relationships, all of which are nuanced and believable. The approach is well-suited to the author of its source material, the great Raymond Carver, and the film finds a perfect balance between poignancy and humor, both of which are equally effective when employed.

  

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Hidden Netflix Gems – I’m Still Here

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

Joaquin Phoenix‘s much-publicized retirement from acting in order to pursue his burgeoning career as a rapper had cries of “Hoax!” surrounding it from the very beginning, and its subsequent critical and audience response was mostly negative. However, despite the apparent trend of people upset at being duped, Casey Affleck’s I’m Still Here is a fascinating and frequently hilarious send-up of celebrity culture anchored by an amazingly committed performance from Phoenix. In the film, as in reality, this is the kind of thing that could potentially end a career and forever ruin a reputation, and the courage he displays in sticking to it is very impressive.

In one of the best scenes, Phoenix rejects an offer to co-star with Ben Stiller (who you would never guess by watching is in on the joke the whole time) in Greenberg; in another, he hilariously attempts to obtain a record deal with Sean “Puffy” Combs, who isn’t quite the actor Stiller is, though his performance is just good enough that its weaker elements could be seen as arrogant posturing for the cameras that follow Phoenix everywhere. Then there is the famous David Letterman interview, in which he mumbles and stares blankly at the roaring audience, seemingly unable to fathom why they think he’s so funny (Letterman was not in on the joke, but of course he is unfazed after previous encounters with the likes of Crispin Glover and Harmony Korine).

So, what of the supposed rapping, you ask? Is it any good? The answer is a resounding “not really.” While the filmmakers wisely make it just decent enough to convince us that an arrogant movie star who has lost his mind to drugs and the excess of stardom would believe it was his new calling, his flows are about what you’d see in the mid-range of a good Hip-Hop open mic. The rhymes are clumsy and mostly monosyllabic, the beats generic; Phoenix’s delivery is full of the gruff showmanship of a spoiled rich dude with no real inkling of the dues a great emcee must pay. The funniest part about it is that at his few live appearances as a rapper, star-struck morons who are clearly just tickled to be near an Oscar-nominated actor mostly cheer him on. At one such performance he tells the lone heckler, “I’ve got a million dollars in my bank account – what do you got?” Cue the cheers.

This is why the film works, and why it is has not permanently damaged Phoenix’s acting career. By committing himself so fully to the performance and taking a great risk of being reviled and blacklisted by the Hollywood community, Phoenix has made a strong and convincing statement about our celebrity culture and the idea of reinventing oneself. Beyond any of that, though, it’s a very fun movie to watch, and all the more impressive for making you wonder what’s real even when you know it’s a hoax.

  

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Box Office Recap: “The Dark Knight Rises” Continues to Dominate

While it made just shy of $100 million less than its opening weekend figures, “The Dark Knight Rises” continued to demolish the competition. After all, a $100 million drop from the third best opening of all time still left the film with over $62 million by the time things were said and done. I mean, last week “The Dark Knight Rises” grossed $100 million more than the second through tenth place films combined. It couldn’t hope to top that, but in its second week Batman’s $62 million was identical to the combined grosses of the rest of the top 10.

Despite “The Dark Knight Rises” falling a hefty but expected 61.4 percent, the weeks two new wide releases, “The Watch” and “Step Up Revolution,” came in third and fourth place with $13 and $11.8 million respectively. Frankly, that’s embarrassing, especially for “The Watch” given its counter-programming angle and star power. The film was written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the team that brought you “Superbad,” and stars Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Richard Ayoade.

It might not have made “Avengers” money, but “The Dark Knight” is here to stay. We’ll see if “Total Recall,” the new “Bourne” film, or “The Campaign,” which stars Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis will be able to top it, but I don’t see it happening. No one messes with the Bat.

Here are the results for this weekend’s top 10 at the box office:

Title/Weeks in release/Theater count, Studio/Three-day weekend total/Cume

1. The Dark Knight Rises, 2/4,404, Warner Bros., $62.84 million, $287.851 million.
2. Ice Age: Continental Drift, 3/3,886, Fox, $13.3 million, $114.847 million.
3. The Watch, 1/3,168, Fox, $13 million.
4. Step Up Revolution, 1/2,567, Summit, $11.8 million.
5. Ted, 5/3,129 Universal, $7.353 million, $193.619 million.
6. The Amazing Spider-Man, 4/3,160, Sony, $6.8 million, $242.053 million.
7. Brave, 6/2,551, Buena Vista, $4.237 million, $217.261 million.
8. Magic Mike, 5/2,075, Warner Bros., $2.58 million, $107.587 million.
9. Savages, 4/1,414, Universal, $1.753 million, $43.899 million.
10. Moonrise Kingdom, 10/853, Focus, $1.387 million, $38.396 million.

 

  

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Box Office Preview: ‘The Watch.’ That’s All, Because You don’t Mess with the Bat.

The Watch

Studios were afraid to release much in the way of blockbusters this week, what with competition from “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Dark Knight Rises.” That hasn’t changed. Not a lot of big name movies (or movies with big names) are being released around now, save as counter-programming. That is, films that have star power but are decidedly different from those two blockbusters. For a case in point, look to  “The Watch,” the newest picture written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the team who brought “Superbad” into the world. You can almost see the gears churning in the studio exec’s head: the demographic who saw Batman last week might like a nice splash of comedy right about now.

From afar, it looks like “The Watch” could slide perfectly into that hole, given its writers and cast, which includes comedic heavyweights Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill in leading roles. Then there’s the fact that it was directed by Akiva Schaffer of The Lonely Island and “smaller names” like Will Forte and Richard Ayoade in the cast. For those of you wondering who the fourth guy in the above picture is, it’s Ayoade. He’s not very well known stateside, but he’s massively funny and a big deal across the pond. Watch “The IT Crowd” if you don’t believe me, it’ll be a Hidden Netflix Gem one of these days.

Unfortunately, looks can be deceiving. Despite all that potential, “The Watch” currently sits at a 14 percent on the Tomatometer. Bullz-eye’s Ezra Stead had this to say:

Much of the humor comes from screaming, dick jokes and colorful profanity, and the film overall is pretty loud and dumb. Hill and Forte give the funniest performances, and Stiller and Vaughn deliver exactly what is expected of them at this point (I’m pretty sure Vaughn is just playing himself in most of his comedies), but Ayoade and DeWitt have very little to do until the third act. Delivering exactly what is expected is this film’s modus operandi, though, and it’s entertaining and intermittently very funny. It’s only when the audience is asked to care about the idiotic Evan and Bob as characters – particularly in subplots involving Abby or Bob’s teenage daughter (Erin Moriarty) – that “The Watch” falls short of its relatively modest ambitions.

Oh, yes, I’m sure you’re wondering about the plot. Four bored suburban guys come together to form a neighborhood watch after after a friend of Stiller’s character, who works as a night shift security guard, is brutally murdered. But guess who’s actually responsible for the crime? Aliens. No, seriously.

If you do fit “The Watch’s” target demographic: you need to see a movie this weekend and don’t care to see “The Dark Knight Rises” twice, then it could be for you. Just don’t expect the film to be anything but the phoned-in counter program that it is.

  

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Box Office Preview: ‘Prometheus’ and ‘Madagascar 3’

Prometheus

“Prometheus” is the story of a team of explorers who “discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth.” Which makes sense because I feel like I’ve been hearing about it since the dawn of man. This is one of my biggest problems with the Hollywood hype machine, even when a movie is (supposedly) good, I start to hate it before it even comes out simply because I’m sick to death of hearing about it. Anyway before I get too off topic, the rest of the synopsis is that the clue leads the explorers “on a thrilling journey to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race.”

If we read between the lines a bit, what we get is this: Ridley Scott (the man who gave us “Alien” and “Blade Runner” returns to sci-fi, which is probably a good thing. In fact, “Prometheus” was originally intended to be an “Alien” prequel. Luckily, that notion was abandoned, because prequels suck. Instead, Scott says the film shares “strands of “Alien’s” DNA” and takes place in the universe but creates and explores its own mythology.

Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof (of “Lost” fame) wrote the film, and its stars include Noomi Rapace (the original “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series), Michael Fassbender (the British dude who fucked up three in “Inglorious Basterds“), Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, and Idris Elba. “Prometheus” has been certified fresh and stands at a 74 on the Tomatometer, so check it out if your a fan of the genre or any of those involved.

Madagascar 3

It’s the second sequel to an animated children’s movie. It still stars Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, and Jada Pinkett Smith as a lion, zebra, giraffe, and hippopotamus, respectively. And they’re all still trying to return to blissful captivity in a New York zoo after being shipwrecked in Madagascar and a host of other misadventures. So if you’re the kind of person who a) thinks animated films are only for children or b) enjoys the unexpected at the theater, “Madagascar 3” isn’t for you, right? Let’s ask Bullz-eye’s David Medsker:

A culture change is clearly taking place at DreamWorks Animation. After spending years making films that made lots of money but had no soul, the studio slowly but surely began making smarter films and, for the first time ever, one of their films outclassed a Pixar movie released in the same year (“Kung Fu Panda 2” vs. “Cars 2”). The first two films in the “Madagascar” franchise were definitely products of the old regime; there was lots of busyness, but little to sink one’s teeth into. When grown-ups dismiss animated films as kid’s movies, it’s movies like “Madagascar” and its sequel that they’re referring to.

Aw, rats… But wait, there’s more:

Which is what makes “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” such a pleasant surprise. For starters, the movie is batshit crazy… It is so ridiculous that it becomes sublime.

See what I did there? A little preview switcheroo for ya. Medsker seems to believe there’s a changing of the guard going on over at Dreamworks, and the rest of the movie reviewing establishment seems to agree. “Madagascar 3” is at a 75 percent on the Tomatometer, and Lisa Kennedy of the Denver Post (who gave the film three and a half out of four stars) wrote: “From time to time the improbable occurs: A sequel outdoes its original.”

I think my sheer hatred of all thinks sequel is giving me an ulcer, perhaps “Madagascar 3” will make me (and those like me) just a little less cynical. Alright, let’s not get crazy here, probably not, but Madagascar 3 just might be one of those exceptions that proves the rule.

  

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