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 – Red Road

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.

After taking home the Best Live Action Short Film Oscar in 2005 for Wasp, Andrea Arnold made her stunningly assured feature film debut with Red Road, another grim, realistic portrait of unfortunate souls. Fair warning: this is definitely not a feel-good movie. However, if you’re in the mood for something dark, sad and challenging, you could scarcely do better.

Jackie (Kate Dickie) is a single woman working as a closed-circuit surveillance operator in Glasgow, Scotland, where there are apparently cameras on nearly every street corner. Jackie’s rather creepy and mostly dull job is to watch the monitors and report any criminal acts or emergencies to the proper authorities. For a good portion of the film’s beginning, we are thrust into the tediousness of Jackie’s everyday life with little dialogue and no exposition, a refreshing departure from the average movie’s need to explain everything right away. Red Road has rightly been compared to the work of Michael Haneke in this regard, and the element of voyeurism at work here especially recalls two of his best films – Funny Games and Cache – but Arnold has more empathy for her characters and, seemingly, less nihilism in her heart than the great and revered Austrian filmmaker.

The inciting incident of Jackie’s story comes when she glimpses the face of Clyde (Tony Curran), a man who has apparently wronged her in the past, for which mysterious act he has been imprisoned until now. After doing a bit of research, Jackie finds that Clyde has been released early and is now living on the titular “Red Road,” which houses a preponderance of ex-cons looking for a second chance. The idea of redemption for past wrongs is, in fact, the central theme of the film, along with the necessity of moving forward in life, as beautifully illustrated in the final scene.

As the film progresses, though, Arnold wisely leaves the audience guessing as to the exact nature of its protagonists’ shared history. Jackie becomes immediately obsessed with Clyde, to the point that she neglects her duties on the job in order to stalk him from afar, leading to a violent attack she might have prevented if not preoccupied. At first, the red herring we are given to believe is that perhaps Clyde raped Jackie at some point, but as they begin to actually interact in person, he shows no signs of recognizing or remembering her. This central mystery unfolds perfectly, with just the right amount of intrigue to hold the audience in suspense without ever resorting to predictable cliches.

Red Road is truly a remarkable and complex film that eschews easy black-and-white morality in favor of a more nuanced and intelligent approach to its characters and story. When Clyde’s past offense is finally revealed, it is suitably awful and impossible for Jackie to ever completely forgive, yet he is never made out to be a simple villain; likewise, while Jackie has every right to be as self-destructively angry and vengeful as she is, we are never invited to view her as a saint, or her mission as a morally righteous one. The result is a bold and uncompromising film that may not be for everyone, but is nonetheless one of the very best debut features of the past decade.

  

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Entourage 7.10 – Lose Yourself

There’s been a lot of talk recently about how much darker this season of “Entourage” has been, and while I’m not against the show flexing its dramatic muscle or exploring heavier material, tonight’s episode felt a little too serious, with almost no comedic moments to balance any of it out. That was clearly the point, however, as the season finale was a wrecking ball of destruction that tore through many of the characters’ like paper-mâché.

We’ve seen Vincent Chase down and out before following the aftermath of “Medellin,” but it was never quite as bad as this. The guy has been acting like a first-class jerk for weeks, and after making a scene at Sasha’s photo shoot that ends in him getting the boot, he comes home to discover that the guys have staged an intervention. Vince continues to deny that he even has a drug problem, but despite dumping that entire quart-sized bag of coke that Lloyd found down the sink as proof, his body language isn’t very convincing. The fact that he even had the nerve to then try and flip it on his friends was downright shameful, adding as he stormed out of the house, “I know you all need me, but I’ll call you if I need any of you.”

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Why anyone continues to be his friend is beyond me, but he finally gets a taste of his own medicine when Eminem kicks the shit out of him after he insults the rapper at his own party. Granted, his bodyguards did most of the work, but ‘ol Marshall Mathers did get the first punch in, and it was a doozy of a right hook. And when the guys rush to the hospital to see how he’s doing, instead of being thankful that his friends haven’t abandoned him yet, he blames his behavior on them. Like I said, what a prick, and I’m glad the police officer found that cocaine he was carrying. Now he can go spend some time in federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison and think about how he managed to fuck up a good thing – and all because of a porn star.

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Entourage 7.9 – Porn Scenes from an Italian Restaurant

I’ve been focusing so much on Vince’s downfall this season that I’ve pretty much ignored the possibility that Ari’s career might be in trouble as well. I figured he just dodged a bullet after Deadline Hollywood ran a story about his not-so-kind treatment of his employees, but Ari might have opened his big mouth for the last time. After making a scene in front of his embarrassed wife, Amanda Daniels, and some of the NFL board members (a classic Ari Gold rant that included plenty of insults and even a few borderline violent threats) Ari discovers that it wasn’t Amanda who leaked the tapes, but rather her assistant – a former employee with a grudge.

Apparently, Amanda was just interested in teaming up with Ari to bring an NFL team to Los Angeles, but now that opportunity is gone for good. It definitely wasn’t Ari’s proudest moment, but I’m sure he’ll survive. Of course, the suggestion that Amanda would suddenly be willing to work with Ari after threatening to ruin him only a few episodes ago seems ludicrous in and of itself. I mean, why the sudden change of heart? It’s not like they were ever friends, and Amanda clearly still isn’t over Ari’s sabotage of the Warner Brothers gig that ultimately went to Dana Gordon.

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Simply put, it would never happen, though I am warming up to the idea of Drama doing “Johnny’s Bananas.” I still feel like Drama takes the craft of acting a little too seriously to consider voicing a character on an animated show, but after a series of conversations with Eric’s secretary, Jenny – where we not only learned that the job would only take an hour or two a week to record, but that his condo has been foreclosed – it makes sense that Drama would finally decide to do the show, even if he is selling out as a result. It’s just a shame he didn’t come to that conclusion a little earlier, because it looks like Phil put a lot of effort in creating that presentation.

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Entourage 7.8 – Sniff Sniff Gang Bang

As has been the case with most of this season, tonight’s episode revolved around Vince’s downward spiral – not just professionally, but personally as well – as his relationship with Sasha continues to affect his life. Although the guys don’t think Vince could ever be serious with anyone, they clearly don’t know the new Vince as well as they think, because he’s falling for Sasha… hard. So when she tells him about an offer to shoot a new adult film, Vince gets a little overprotective, offering her the $200,000 she would have been paid for the gig not to do it. Of course, not only does Sasha plan to the movie (maybe a little bit out of spite, but mostly because she’s a freaking porn star), but she also informs him that it’s actually a five-guy gangbang. Ouch, for both involved.

And while Vince is busy trying to persuade Sasha not to do the porno by getting her a part in his new movie, Eric is desperately trying to keep Vince attached to said movie. That’s because the studio wants Vince to take a drug test, and he flat out refuses, claiming that he’s never been in any kind of trouble that would suggest he should need to be tested. Thankfully, Billy finally confesses to Eric that he did witness Vince doing some coke with Scotty Lavin at that party, and after ripping Scotty a new one right in front of a prospective client, he then confronts Vince about his drug use. But instead of apologizing to Eric for lying, Vince just acts like a giant prick, warning Eric to stay out of his personal business and practically demanding that he find Sasha a part in “Airwalker” or else.

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Personally, this behavior still seems a bit out of character for Vince (especially after everything he’s already gone through following the “Medellin” debacle), but he’s still attached to the movie when it’s all said and done. Unfortunately, Randall Wallace is not, who chose to walk away from the project after the studio bent to Vince’s will. The real question isn’t whether they’ll be able to find a new director, though, but just how in the world Vince is going to bounce back a second time when Hollywood becomes privy to this scandalous behavior.

It certainly can’t end well for him, but at least Ari is trying to mend his broken relationships as he experiences trouble on both home fronts. Not only has Ari promised a “kinder, gentler” workplace to his current staff just as old employees begin to come out of the woodwork to sue him, but Mrs. Ari feels embarrassed by the entire situation, going so far as to call an emergency therapy session to try and work out their marital problems one last time. Ari would probably tell you that there’s nothing wrong with his marriage, but Mrs. Ari wants some changes (including a no-Blackberrys-in-the-house rule and no more broken promises) lest she have to reevaluate their relationship. Though Ari seems a little hurt by the ultimatum, he eventually agrees, if only because he’s already late for an important meeting with Mark Cuban.

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