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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GE and Cinelan Announce Short Film Challenge at Tribeca Film Fest

GE and Cinelan, a video publishing company co-founded by Morgan Spurlock and Karol Martesko-Fenster, presented a special preview last night at 92YTribeca in Manhattan. The event was held to announce the opening of submissions for the Focus Forward $200,000 Filmmaker Challenge, and featured the world premiere of four new short films. Focus Forward’s “Short Films, Big Ideas” initiative is a series of three-minute nonfiction films centered around the idea of people or organizations whose innovative efforts in medicine, engineering and other fields of knowledge have had a significant positive impact on humanity.

Illustrating this theme were nine short films presented in the 30-minute program following a cocktail reception in 92YTribeca’s main room. Five of these were 2012 Sundance Film Festival Selections, including the extraordinary opening film, Jeremiah Zagar’s Heart Stop Beating, about the work of two doctors who managed to save a dying man by replacing his heart with a turbine engine of their own design. It was a bold choice to open the program with a film that features open heart surgery footage, but the mood was lightened by Jessica Yu’s Meet Mr. Toilet, a humorous look at the efforts of Jack “Mr. Toilet” Sim to bring proper sanitation to the large portions of the world still lacking it.

Following these first two films were a pair of world premieres: first, Nelson George’s All Hail the Beat, an all-too-brief look at the history of the Roland TR-808 drum machine, whose sounds are still in use today by artists from Kanye West to Daft Punk, despite the fact that it hasn’t actually been manufactured since 1984. Next came Katy Chevigny’s The Honor Code, the most emotionally moving film of the evening, and the only one that focuses on innovation in human thought, as opposed to technological invention. Honor Code uses stylish animation to illustrate the ideas of philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah and his efforts to end the deplorable practice of “honor killing.”

The other two world premieres were sandwiched between two more Sundance selections: Jessica Edwards and Gary Hustwit’s The Landfill, which documents a small New York landfill where trash is refined into electrical energy, and David W. Leitner’s Newtown Creek Digester Eggs: The Art of Human Waste, which examines the unusually beautiful Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The latter was the least satisfying film of the evening, mostly because it felt too rushed, with too much information crammed into its brief running time. On the other hand, the final film of the program, Phil Cox’s Hilary’s Straws, has a much more leisurely pace in its look at the innovative navigational tool that allowed a quadriplegic woman to sail across the world alone.

The final two world premieres were Steven Cantor’s The Bionic Eye, about research being done to artificially restore sight to patients suffering from degenerative blindness, and Michele Ohayon’s Solar Roadways, a very exciting look at the effort to produce solar-paneled roads and parking lots in order to cleanly and cheaply power nearby communities, as well as electric vehicles. Hopefully, the world premiere films will be available online soon; I would especially like to see The Honor Code and Solar Roadways again. In the meantime, the others are streaming on Focus Forward’s website, and if you have an idea that fits the theme, you can create your own film for the $200,000 Filmmaker Challenge, which you can read more about here.

  

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Wild paranormal law-abiding stepdads to rule box office, almost for sure

Where the Wild Things Are

If you’re craving variety and unpredictability in your movie weekend, then this weekend is for you. Still, most of the smart money seems to agree that the week’s likely fiscal winner is Spike Jonze’s new PG-rated adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s multi-layered picture book classic, “Where the Wild Things Are.”  The family film boasts an outstanding cast, both onscreen and as voice talent, including Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, and Forest Whitaker. It’s also got a director synonymous with high-quality and not-quite-mainstream fare and its hep cred is further bolstered by the name of bestselling author and McSweeney’s founder Dave Eggers on the screenplay. Best of all, commercially speaking, it’s based on a book that’s been read and loved by practically everyone. All told, it seems like a canny blending of mainstream recognition, family appeal, and more than a dash of arthouse appeal, but therein may lie the difficulty.

This is a film that really should bit a big hit with critics, and its advertising certainly sells the film’s visual beauty — always a plus with cinephile critics. However, it turns out our David Medskar’s very mild 3/5 star review is pretty typical of the critical reaction. Rating a good-but-not-great 68% Fresh on the Rotten Tomatoes scoreboard, critics are expressing sentiments similar to Dave, who found it “lacking in terms of emotional weight.” Since emotional weight — laughter and tears, etc. — not arresting filmmaking technique — is what most people are looking for at the movies, you have to wonder about whether the film will show any legs over the long term. Still, jolly Carl DiOrio’s prediction of a $25-30 million dollar weekend seems more than reasonable given the audience’s voracious appetite for strong family films with cross-generational appeal. On the other hand, Disney’s decision to extend the run of the 3-D double bill of “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” could cut into the “Wild” numbers just a bit with a terrific package of tried-and-true family fair bolstered by the appeal of 3-D.

Gerard Butler and Jamey Foxx in
For some decidedly non-kid-friendly fair, Director F. Gary Gray and writer Kurt Wimmer’s “Law Abiding Citizen” boasts two more or less A-list leads as Jamie Foxx portrays as a careerist D.A. pitted against against tragedy stricken family man turned imprisoned vigilante serial killer played by Gerard Butler. I think Butler has starred in like 200 million mainstream movies this year. None of those movies has been a hit with the critics so far, and “Citizen” is no exception.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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We love New York: Cinematic love letters to the greatest city in the world

As any film fan can tell you, American movies tend to take place in one of a few locations — Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco or Seattle, and, of course, New York. Unlike those other cities, though, New York is often much more than just a backdrop in the movies; in fact, it’s often more or less a character — a character whose crowded skyline, busy streets, and peculiar odor are truly singular.

In that spirit, the Bullz-Eye staff put its heads together and came up with a list of their favorite New York-based movies. In order to avoid a list dominated by Scorsese and Woody Allen, they limited themselves to one film per director, and ended up with 15 of the finest cinematic love letters to the City That Never Sleeps ever committed to celluloid.

There are obvious choices — hey, look at that big gorilla up there! — but the list also makes room for a few movies you may not expect. How many of your personal favorites made the cut? Click here to find out!

  

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American Idol: Say hello to Hollywood

Mercifully, the audition rounds of “American Idol” Season 8 are in the books. We have endured eight stops and seven episodes in the last few weeks, and now the scene is shifting to the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood next Tuesday. Last night they lumped two audition stops into one, and those were New York City and San Juan, Puerto Rico. The back and forth during the episode was a little confusing, but the talent was as bad and as good in both places as it had been in Kansas City or Salt Lake or Phoenix or wherever else. Here were the good and bad of the ones who had the most airtime on Thursday night….

THE BAD

Adeola, who had quit her job because she was so sure she was going to Hollywood, sang a Jennifer Hudson song and was just awful, and I mean every note was off-key. Lucky for her, Simon Cowell was nice enough to call her former employer and get Adeola her job back. Who said Simon was a tool? That was classy…..Jessica Byers, a 20 year old who sang Celine Dion, was so loud and emotive that she made the audition uncomfortable for everyone. She claimed she was just nervous, but no, she just wasn’t good….Joel Contreras was a crazy rocker dude from San Juan who called himself the “human iPod” and was more talented at being nuts than at singing…Alexis, who auditioned last season and was also a bit of a wack job, returned to the New York City auditions and claimed to have toned down her act through stuff like yoga. Yeah, okay. Alexis attempted Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” and let’s just say she can also go back to being nuts, because she is better at that than at singing. Also true to form, she gave the judges the finger on the way out. Nice.

THE GOOD

Jorge Nunez, a 20 year old from Puerto Rico, sang “My Way” and had a nice Latin flair about him. The judges started saying he may have trouble singing in English, but Simon correctly pointed out that they came to San Juan to find Puerto Rican natives with talent, otherwise they would have gone to Omaha…..Melinda Camille, who admitted she likes to dance naked in her bedroom while singing, sang “Feeling Good” and had a really great voice. No confirmation on whether or not she will bring her clothes to Hollywood….Jackie Tom, who sang Jason Mraz’ “I’m Yours,” picked an odd song but had a nice tone to her voice and got through….Nick Mitchell, who goes under the moniker “Norman Gentle,” had this cabaret thing going on, and tried to inject humor into everything he did. This pissed off Simon to no end, but even he laughed when “Norman” made a crude joke about Simon and Ryan Seacrest. Anyway, when dude stopped joking and sang “Amazing Grace,” I think I speak for all of America when I say it was a pleasant surprise. Norm is off to Cali, and he will no doubt be polarizing to everyone there….after a medley of good auditions and yellow tickets, things were winding down. Next up was Monique, a 16 year old who brought along her 9 year old brother, Christopher. The kid was like a used car salesman to the judges, and since Monique was above average but not great, an assist goes to young Chris for sending his sis to Hollywood….finally there was Patricia, a 20 year old who took on Whitney Houston. That’s never a good idea, because artists like Whitney or Stevie Wonder or Aretha Franklin are just so hard to live up to vocally for an amateur. Anyway, Patricia did earn her ticket, but barely.

So our initial auditions are over, and now we head to Hollywood for the next round. Soon we will have our Top 24 and a clearer picture of who some of the contenders will be. See you all next week!

  

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