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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A roundtable chat with Kevin Kline of “The Extra Man”

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A highly accomplished stage actor, trained at Julliard under the tutelage of such exacting instructors as the legendary John Houseman, Kevin Kline pretty much started his film career as one of the best of the best, a genuine “actor’s actor” and also something of an old fashioned movie star with the presence to match. His first movie role was opposite Meryl Streep in Alan Pakula’s 1982 Oscar-winning film version of “Sophie’s Choice.” That was followed by Lawrence Kasdan’s Oscar-nominated ensemble dramedy, “The Big Chill,” and a leading role opposite Denzel Washington in Richard Attenborough’s portentous 1987 apartheid drama, “Cry Freedom.”

Though that was followed up by a part in Kasdan’s lighthearted homage to classic westerns, “Silverado,” Kevin Kline’s comic gifts remained under-recognized until his utterly ingenious, deservedly Oscar-winning turn as the murderous and hilariously insecure and pretentious Otto in the farce classic, “A Fish Called Wanda.” After that Kline became one of the screen’s most reliable comic leading men with parts in such high-quality mainstream comedies as “Dave” and “In and Out,” was well as the occasional part in such hard-edged tragicomic dramas as “Grand Canyon,” again with Lawrence Kasdan, and Ang Lee’s “The Ice Storm.”

Kline, who recently completed a successful stage run in Edmund Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac opposite Jennifer Garner, has — like other outstanding actors of his generation — gracefully moved from the A-list to the art-house. Though once noted for turning down movie roles in favor of stage work — John Stewart reminded him of his “Kevin Decline” nickname on his recent “Daily Show” “Colbert Report” appearance — Kline has been a busy and hugely reliable film actor for decades. More recent roles include the screen’s first correctly gay Cole Porter in the 2004 musical biopic “De-Lovely,” Garrison Keillor’s radio detective Guy Noir in Robert Altman’s 2006 swan song, “A Prairie Home Companion,” Jacques in Kenneth Branagh’s version of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” and the 21st century’s version of Inspector Dreyfus opposite Steve Martin‘s Inspector Clouseau in the rebooted “Pink Panther” series.

Add to those the role of the suave but irascible platonic male escort Henry Harrison in Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s adaptation of the Jonathan Ames novel, “The Extra Man.” Taking in a confused and nervous younger protegee (Paul Dano of “There Will Be Blood”), Harrison is an utterly reactionary self-made throwback to another time and place, and an ideal role for an actor gifted with the finest of old fashioned acting virtues.

Kevin Kline and Paul Dano in

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Now, if we could only get the dragon into the hot tub…

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We’re getting off to a late start on this week’s box office preview, but it’s not like there’s a huge amount of suspense over what movie will rule the box office this early Spring weekend. Still, it’s not all skittles and beer out there.

America’s theater owners have decided to do a solid for the home entertainment business by trying to take advantage of the current 3-D mania by raising already inflated ticket prices during a still very rough economy/”jobless recovery.” I’m betting that whatever gains the owners see from this will be short term — especially as 3-D films become common as dirt with 3-D retrofits lowering the perception of quality — but that’s a rant for another day. However, one more thing, can someone explain to me how all the major chains increasing their prices over the same weekend doesn’t sound suspiciously like collusion, and if I’m right, how that can be legal?

In any case, the movie which will be generating a rude surprise at the box office for families nationwide is Paramount/Dreamworks digitally animated family fantasy-comedy, “How to Train Your Dragon.” The Hollywood Reporter‘s Greg Kilday is reporting that interest is increasing and as much as $40 million seems possible. Especially considering those extra inflated ticket prices and we know that once the family is at the box office, it’s far too late to turn back, I wouldn’t it expect it to go higher. Moreover, it sounds like people will be getting a dandy movie for their (too much) money. The reviews for this one are darn near Pixar-esque — in other words hugely positive — at least in terms of the Rotten Tomatoes numbers and when that many critics like a mass audience film, believe it not, most people will like it too.

With all due huge respect to Roger Ebert, who is predicting the film will come in at #2 based on his site traffic  (he gave it only the mildest possible positive review and unlike others was not wowed by its 3-D either, it appears), this seems like the closest thing there is to surefire hit. Moreover, my spies in the family world tell me child interest has been high for weeks.

Hot Tub Time Machine
Still, I wouldn’t bet against a healthy showing for the film Mr. Ebert expects to be top new release this week, “Hot Tub Time Machine.” My spies in the middle-aged-overgrown-child-world (primarily: me, myself, I) tell me that interest in this raunchy but (I’m hoping) clever farce with a strong comedy cast and a instantly get-able premise has also been high for some time.

On the other hand, while some may be whispering of a coup along the lines of “The Hangover, my gut tells me it’s simply not the same kind of film and I don’t see this having the same kind of wide appeal. For all its guy-humor, “The Hangover” was a surprisingly sweet-tempered and almost low-key film by modern comedy standards, “Hot Tub Time Machine” seems to be more in the “Harold & Kumar” range of low-comedy that works for (relatively) high IQs. Anyhow, the film benefits from probably better than average reviews for this kind of comedy (62% “Fresh”).  Kilday is talking in the high teens. I suspect it’ll do well and perhaps more than that, but not shockingly so.

In any case, it generated the best RT pull quote I’ve seen in awhile, courtesy of A.O. Scott, who finds an undercurrent of melancholy amidst the low comedy:

It’s fun, it’s sad, and it’s kind of sad that it’s so much fun.

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“Alice” gets its three-peat, but it’s an upset at #2 for a “Wimpy Kid”

If anyone out there still doubts that family films are the surest path to box office glory, this weekend should be a stark reminder of that fact. The ongoing 3-D premium ticket price-boosted power of “Alice in Wonderland” once again nailed the #1 spot for Disney, and a very healthy estimate of $34.5 million in its third week.

That’s not all. Against some theoretically stiff, star-driven competition, our #2 film turns out to be a lowish budget, live-action version of a series of young adult comic books with no spectacular effects and no superstars — though young Chloe Moretz of “Kick-Ass” might be one fairly shortly. “Diary of Wimpy Kid” nailed an estimated $21.8 million for Fox on the strength of what appears to be a lot of kid-friendly low comedy.

It was perhaps a slightly humiliating result for the film that was supposed to be the #2 film this weekend. As we discussed last time, “The Bounty Hunter” benefits from two big stars and a strong ad campaign. Still, it’s terrible reviews appear to have been an indication of something other than a bunch of effete, “irrelevant” snobs who don’t know how to have fun or something. It’s just possible that “regular people” aren’t enjoying it much more than critics did.

Nevertheless, the action-oriented rom-com did hit the low end of expectations with an estimated $21 million. That’s close enough that it’s not impossible that the “actuals” could actually change the rankings when they come out. My hunch, however, is that, if they’re different, they’ll be different in the disfavor of “Bounty Hunter.” In any case, they can’t undo the reality that “Wimpy Kid” has already made an amount exceeding its budget ($15 million according to Box Office Mojo; $19 million according to Nikki Finke). At $40 million, “The Bounty Hunter” is not an expensive movie by Hollywood standards, but it took the very expensive marketing equivalent of carpet bombing to not beat the arguably under-promoted family film for the #3 spot.

Jude Law and Forest Whitaker face the abyssStill, if “The Bounty Hunter” was stung, the oddly topical “Repo Men” got its internal organs ripped out with an extremely poor fourth place estimate of about $6.15 million.  It’s yet another fiscal setback for Universal despite an instantly understandable premise and lots of advertising and marketing. My hunch here is that the action audience is not as hungry for straight-up gore as the horror audience. Also, its marketing seems muddled in terms of whether it was trying to sell it as a straight-up science fiction action film despite an inherently satirical premise. “Repo Men” seems to have pleased fairly few in the process but, by the numbers, its reviews were more than twice as good as for “The Bounty Hunter” for what that’s worth.

This week’s box office winner in terms of per-screen averages is the comedy-drama from Noah Baumbach, “Greenberg.” Though only playing on three screens, the film managed a terrific $120,000 for Focus Features. It benefits from an unusually big star for a limited release in Ben Stiller, not to mention sexy/likable possible-superstar-to-be Greta Gerwig in the female lead, and a writer-director who is a known quantity to the indie-audience thanks to his success with “The Squid and the Whale” and his association with Wes Anderson. Considering the plugged-in nature of the audience in New York and Los Angeles that tends to goes to indie films on opening weekends, it’s also tempting to wonder if the controversy, which I’ve been personally guilty of promoting, around critic Armond White’s beyond-over-the-top personal hatred for Noah Baumbach and, more to the point, for Baumbach’s ex-film critic mother, might have boosted interest just a touch. We’ll see what happens when “Greenberg” goes wider next week.

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