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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From Captain America to “American Idiot”

It’s your late night movie news.

* The big breaking news around the film geek blogosphere is that THR’s Heat Vision blog is reporting that Chris Evans will, indeed, play Captain America. I’ve only seen Evans in the first half-hour of “The Fantastic Four” (that was as far I made it through that one) but let’s say that, for the time being, I’m having a very hard time getting excited about this news.

* Moving from a project I’m interested in with some casting I’m not finding so interesting right now, we move on to some very interesting casting for a project I’m really not that personally interested in except to root for it to do as little business as possible because of the kind of filmmaking it symbolizes. It appears that John Malkovich, Francis McDormand, and Ken Jeong will all be in…wait for it…”Transformers 3.” Christopher Campbell has the predictably cynical and amusing blog reactions. I should add that I have absolutely no criticism of them for being in it. If Michael Bay wants to give me a few hundred thousand to do something connected to one of his films, I’m taking it. Now, if he wants me to say something nice about the flick, that’s going to cost a whole lot more.

* The bidding deadline has been extended a bit for the sale of MGM to make room for an offer from Time Warner. I imagine that would put the classic-era and later MGM library all under one corporate umbrella, which could make life a bit less confusing for us film buffs.

* I love spy movies. Also, in theory, I have no problem with movies based on video games — apart from the fact that I can’t think of one that people actually like very much, much less that I’ve personally seen and liked. Still, with all the great spy novels of all shapes and sizes that there are, the thought of a spy movie based on a video game does not make me very happy.

* I’m confused, is “Everything Must Go” starring Will Ferrell, which starts production this week with financing direct from its producers, really going to be an entirely non-comedic film, or is it being billed as a “drama” simply to distinguish it from Ferrell’s usual ultra-wacky comedies? To me, the premise sounds laden with a potential for dark humor, though I don’t know the Raymond Carver story, I do know he occasionally indulged in that.

* Previews begin the day after tomorrow on Broadway of the new stage musical, “American Idiot.” With a book by Green Day singer and lyricist Billie Joe Armstrong, the show’s “dialogue” is, as I understand, almost entirely sung.  It ran to mixed-to-positive reviews last year in the main theatrical venue of the Green Day’s California Bay Area hometown, Berkeley Rep. While not all the critics were high on the NoCal edition of the show, apparently Tom Hanks and his producing partner Gary Goetzman like it and are “in talks” to turn the production into a feature movie. I love some of the music on the highly acclaimed original album, so I’m intrigued by this one, though I could easily see it turning out horribly. (The music video featured by Kevin Jagernauth of the Playlist shows one way example of how a film version could go rather badly wrong.)

One thing this is not is a “jukebox musical” along the lines of “Mamma Mia!” but a concept album adaptation closer in spirit, I imagine, to “Tommy” and “Pink Floyd’s The Wall.” Still, one hurtle all these movies rarely overcome is the difference in energy between a live performance of a great rock and roll tune and the inevitably more packaged version you’ll get in a movie. Personally, I’ll be impressed if anything in the film version, if there ever is one, matches the intensity of the performance below.

  

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Friday movie news dump

It’s that time of the week when we offload the week’s last few stories.

Will Ferrell in * In the wake of his “Land of the Lost” debacle, Will Ferrell is going back to “Stranger than Fiction” territory with a more low-key form of comedy, writes Mike Fleming. “Everything Must Go” will be from first-time feature director Dan Rush and is based on a story by Raymond Carver — not an author frequently connected with hilarity though the script is apparently primarily a comedy and the premise (a newly unemployed guy’s wife locks him out and deposits his stuff on the lawn…and the guy responds by trying to sell all of it) sounds potentially pretty funny.

It’s important to remember that, once upon a time, not all comedies were expected to be laugh-riot farces and, ironically enough, they were often funnier anyhow. (The classical definition of comedy, by the way, is less about being funny and more about having a happy ending. By that definition, many black comedies are not comedies at all.)

* More from Fleming: Robert Redford’s new Lincoln conspiracy film started shooting on Monday and he has quite a cast assembled. This one could be good.

* American liberals like me complain a lot, and for very good reason, about the actions of media mega mogul Rupert Murdoch, particularly in regards to how his TV news network is essentially an arm of the Republican Party. But, it could be a lot worse. Italy’s scandal-ridden, far-right movie and TV mogul Murdoch-equivalent actually runs the freaking country and I bet Italian rightwingers cry about the “liberal media” and the evils of the Rome film-making establishment too. But, hey, at least they have health care,.

* Speaking of media moguls, Nikki Finke believes that GE may ultimately divest itself of NBC Universal, which may please ecologically minded and antiwar folks while depriving “30 Rock” of one of its best running gags. Still, Finke says it may be seven years before it’s complete, so Tina Fey & company should be able to milk it sufficiently. Also, Finke wonders about Ted Turner’s mental health in regard to Time-Warner.

* It may be last summer’s news here in the U.S., but “Up” continues to land on top of the global box office.

  

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