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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Midweekish movie news

It’s oh so late (or early) as I write this, but let’s see how much I can cover before my very late dinner and maybe a cocktail.

* I woke up to this morning the realization that Netflix has become a liberal cause celebre. It has to do with Comcast attempting to charge Level 3, a provider of Netflix’s streaming, a fee which the company says would effectively block access by cable companies to the interwebs and threaten the net neutrality that allows a site like this one to be readily usable. Brian Stetler at NYT has the details.

* Not sure how the Deadline team got scooped on this, but some lesser known sites have word that Tom Hanks‘ next acting gig, after wrapping directing duties on the upcoming “Larry Crowne,” will be in the new drama from the team that brought us “The Hurt Locker,” writer Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow. It’s the Latin America set “Triple Frontier.”

* Two categories of people get to say exactly what they want: the elderly and universally beloved film stars who took a creative risk and essentially made a franchise. Johnny Depp isn’t quite yet at the early bird dinner stage of his life, but he had some interesting things to say about Disney executives’ initial reaction to his Jack Sparrow — really, the only thing I ever liked about the “Pirates of the Carribean” franchise, other than the ride. They hated Depp’s performance, and for some rather disturbing juvenile reasons.

Johnny Depp runs for his life

* Nikki Finke claimed her “toldja” this morning over the actually really smart choice of having this year’s Oscar telecast hosted by James Franco and Anne Hathaway. Both clearly have comedy chops, Hathaway can sing, as she showed a couple of years back during the “Frost/Nixon” gag in Hugh Jackman’s opening number, and best of all, they’re not satirists like Jon Stewart and Chris Rock and therefore probably won’t perturb Hollywood’s well-manicured egos. The egos must, above all, be maintained. (H/t Anne Thompson for the Jackman vid.)

* The Independent Spirit Award nominations were announced today. Not too surprisingly, some of the biggest nominees were “127 Hours,” “The Black Swan,” “Greenberg,” “The Kids Are All Right,” (directed by Lisa Chodelenko, interviewed here by Ross Ruediger) “Rabbit Hole,” and “Winter’s Bone,” which already collected some Gotham Awards a day or so back.

* I’m sure the role of the U.S. Secretary of State in “X-Men: First Class” isn’t huge, but anything that keeps Ray Wise onscreen, where he belongs, works for me.

* RIP director Mario Monicelli, who passed on a day or so back at age 95. I have no excuse for having never seen “Big Deal on Madonna Street,” I fear.

Okay, that’s all for tonight. The gods of sleep and hunger have just about claimed me.

  

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Your post-Good Friday movie news dump

A few remaining items worth mentioning this late evening/early morn…

* RIP John Forsythe. The watchably stolid actor with a nice touch at both melodrama and low-key comedy and a memorable voice passed away at 92 late Thursday. He worked a great deal on stage and in kept his hand in at the movies, but he’s did most of his work in multiple television series and, ironically, is probably best known today as the disembodied voice of Charlie from “Charlie’s Angels.” Still, he was a strong presence in a number of notable movies, including playing opposite a very young and very adorable Shirley Maclaine in Alfred Hitchcock‘s black comedy, “The Trouble with Harry” and as a vicious judge taunting a youngish but far less adorable Al Pacino in Norman Jewison’s “And Justice for All…” He also dealt with a murderous Robert Blake in “In Cold Blood” and fended off a nasty, nasty Ann Margaret in, yes, “Kitten with a Whip.”

* Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg — the Jewish-American twosome who struck a blow for the depiction of Asian-Americans as actual human beings, albeit hilariously stoned ones, by creating “Harold and Kumar” — are set to reboot the “American Pie” franchise with a film that is also a sequel. Also, the third go-round with ‘Roldy and Kumar is in motion, even if Kal Penn is currently employed outside of Hollywood. I mean, good roles for Asian American males should not so rare that they are all forced to go to work at the White House.

* The lovely and talented Emily Blunt will not be romancing “Captain America,” according to the Playlist’s Edward Davis. I’m not sure why he’s so convinced it won’t be a very good movie except for the fact that, of course, most movies aren’t very good and the bigger the budget, the more often that turns out to be true. But even so, I don’t quite get it.

On the other hand, I completely agree with the premise of another post by Davis: Yes, the thought of Tom Cruise uglying himself up in a major way to play Phil Spector really does have some demented genius to it. I’m not Cruise’s biggest fan but, well cast, he can be brilliant and playing lunatics seems to work for him. I have no idea why that might be the case.

And, yes, I like a third Davis post about a long-delayed movie being labored over by Cameron Crowe about the equally great and equally demented Marvin Gaye. Re: casting, I’m rooting for Jesse L. Martin of “Law & Order” — a terrific actor and the physical resemblance is pretty eerie.

* Another comic book adaptation for Ryan Reynolds.

* Don’cha just hate it when a star and director team up, get plenty of compliments, and then just repeat themselves? Well, fresh off their mostly good reviews and general decent business on “Greenberg,” about the personal travails of a bitter forty-something musician-cum-carpenter,  the two are simply rehashing the same basic premise with “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.” Oh, wait…

* From a couple of days back, Anne Thompson nicely summarizes the spreading conventional movie-geek wisdom on the making and consumption of 3-D films. Shorter version: really, not every movie should be in it, it’s worth a little extra to see movies actually shot in 3-D in 3-D, but the conversions from 2-D to 3-D are pretty much best ignored and may even end up ruining the fun.

* Sharon Waxman writes that a mystery bidder has entered the fray to purchase the studio original named for the Weinsteins’s parents, Mira and Max. Could it be Harvey and Bob W.’s long lost older brother, Mogul X, who fled in shame after his first producing effort sold exactly three tickets at Sundance, and vowed only to return only after he had become the world’s greatest movie executive? It’s a thought.

racer_x

  

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“How to Train Your Dragon” wins the box office race; “Hot Tub Time Machine” is all wet compared to “Alice”

how_to_train_your_dragon_001

Yes, no gigantic surprises as the combination of family appeal, outstanding reviews, good word of mouth, the 3-D inflationary spiral, and a sufficient number of theaters in which to milk it, made for a solid opening for the weekend’s most high profile new release. To be specific, as per Box Office Mojo‘s handy dandy weekend chart, the 3-D animated “How to Train Your Dragon,” netted an estimate of $43.3 million for Dreamworks/Paramount and enjoyed the highest per-screen average of any film released this week on more than one screen, and it was on 4,055 of them. It’s a result not far from what was expected earlier.

Some may find this a slightly below-par opening. True to form in the ever-spinning world of Hollywood PR, some executive for a rival studio complimented the film but told Nikki Finke it tracked badly — and some day I’m going to learn exactly what that means — because it “lacked comedy,” which confuses me deeply. I mean, the trailer made me laugh. I guess he means it lacked a poop-eating joke or something. Anyhow, Ms. Finke is quite correct that, given the good word of mouth and the coming school holidays it should enjoy “good multiples.”

Meanwhile, Anthony D’Alessandro, Anne Thompson’s resident box office guru, has this to add:

While some box office analysts are crying foul that this figure reps a paltry opening weekend, particularly for a 3D film saddled with an estimated $165-million budget, these claims overlook the fact that animation films are a different breed at the box office than run-of-the-mill features.  Toons have longer legs, making anywhere from 30-35% of their total domestic haul in their opening weekend, whereas the average bow reps 50%.

In other words, do not cry for the filmmakers or Dreamworks. They’re going to do fine.

And, though their film is out of the top spot, neither should you shed a tear for Disney or Tim Burton even if “Alice in Wonderland” is out of the #1 spot. They had a terrific three week run at the top spot and this week’s second place estimate of $17.3 million is not too shabby either.

John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Lizzy Caplan, and Clarke Duke suffer past shock in On the other hand, the melancholy clowns of “Hot Tub Time Machine” led by John Cusack, Rob Cordry, the always hilarious Craig Robinson, and Clarke Duke, could perhaps benefit from a bit of sympathy. The comedy from MGM, currently on the auctioneer’s block, earned an estimated $13.65 million.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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