EVERYTHING MUST GO: The Film Babble Blog Review

EVERYTHING MUST GO (Dir. Dan Rush, 2011)

Usually the summer movie season is time for a big dumb Will Ferrell comedy, but not this time around.

Here Ferrell takes on a spare indie film in which he plays a somewhat pathetic yet sympathetic character – a man who gets fired from his corporate job (by Glenn Howerton of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, no less) because of his drinking, then comes home to find his wife has left him. She changed the locks, and all of Ferrell’s possessions are on the front lawn. His company car is repossessed soon after as well.

Drinking PBR after PBR, Ferrell tries to make the best of the situation. He hires a young boy (Christopher Jordan Wallace) to help him hold a yard sale after his former AA sponsor (Michael Peña) tells him that’s the only way he can legally live outside on the property for 5 more days.

Ferrell eyes a new neighbor across the street – a pregnant Rebecca Hall – with who he strikes up a friendship, he blackmails another neighbor (Stephen Root) for electricity after witnessing some S&M practices through Root’s and wife’s window, and he schools Wallace in business tips as well as baseball training.

Through this all, Ferrell’s restrained though obviously pained demeanor adds up to his best performance. In previous films like STRANGER THAN FICTION, MELINDA AND MELINDA, and even his over-the-top comic work, he’s hinted at layers of this kind of depth, but here it’s present in every scene.

Although it’s based on a 4-page Raymond Carver short story (“Why Don’t You Dance?”), it bears little resemblance to it except for the basic premise of an alcoholic selling all his belongings in his front yard. Of course, it would have to be fleshed out for a 96 minute movie and writer/director Dan Rush does an admirable job of doing just that.

EVERYTHING MUST GO is a quiet touching movie that never tries to hard or panders too heavily to dramatic conventions. In its best scenes, themes aren’t spelled out; they’re inside the minds of the characters.

As an old high school friend who Ferrell happens to be reminded of because of an old yearbook, Laura Dern has a greatly affecting scene. Dern and Ferrell catch up after decades of non-communication on her front porch, and there’s a nice notion in the air that people in the movies can just share a moment together without a forced romance getting in the way.

Same goes for Ferrell’s scenes with Rebecca Hall – the organic connection between these 2 people’s desperate pleasantries is palpable and endearing.

In Carver’s short story, a young woman (who doesn’t exist in the movie), can’t quite figure out the man with his stuff in the yard who kept playing records on an old crappy turntable as she and her boyfriend danced.

Carver writes about her telling her friends about it: “She kept talking. She told everyone. There was more to it, and she was trying to get it talked out. After a time, she quit trying.”

This film knows that sometimes you can’t get things talked out. Hmm, maybe it resembles the short story more than I thought.

More later…

THE TOWN: The Film Babble Blog Review

THE TOWN (Dir. Ben Affleck, 2010)

“From the acclaimed director of GONE BABY GONE” goes the trailers and TV spot for this new crime thriller that don’t happen to mention that Ben Affleck is that said acclaimed director. For despite the fact that he’s slowly been gaining respect and career clout over the last several years, Affleck is a name still associated with box office poison like GIGLI and PEARL HARBOR.

GONE BABY GONE was indeed a strong directorial debut, but this much larger production is even stronger. “The Town” is about a crew of expert thieves from a one-square-mile neighborhood in Boston that the opening titles tell us is “the bank robbery capitol of America.”

Affleck, Jeremy Renner (THE HURT LOCKER), Owen Burke, and Irish rapper Slaine make up the crew who we meet in creepy green Skeletor masks and dark hoods in action at a downtown Boston bank. They take an employee hostage (Rebecca Hall) as they make their getaway.

They release the blindfolded Hall not too long after with Renner taking her driver’s license and threatening her life if she talks to the FBI.

Which is exactly what she does – in a traumatized state to an agent played by Jon Hamm (Mad Men). Hamm is determined to bring down Affleck’s crew: “This is a not-screwing-around crew, so find me something that looks like a print ‘cause this not-screwing-around thing is about to go both ways!” he exclaims.

The trigger-happy Renner wants to eliminate Hall since she is a potential witness that could bring them down, but there’s a little problem: Affleck may be falling in love with her.

That started with Affleck following Hall and talking to her at a laundromat. He couldn’t resist turning the charm and she almost immediately took to him.

Affleck, of course, wants out of the life of crime but don’t you know it – the crew + an elderly neighborhood florist who has Godfatherly powers (Peter Postlewaite) wants him to pull another major heist.

Everything comes to a head when…oh, I should stop with the spoilers because the best part is seeing how this all plays out. There is heavy artillery, many deaths, and a bunch of vehicles are wrecked if you want to know if it has plenty of action, but its concern for the characters is what drives it.

Even with a number of tough guy clichés and a certain percentage of implausibility in the last third, Affleck’s adaptation of Chuck Hogan’s novel “Prince Of Thieves” is a superb heist film with a compelling emotional core.

This is largely due to its cast who makes this material work. Affleck’s Boston accent is impressively un-annoying and he plays pathos much more convincingly than in the past.

Hamm hasn’t completely shed the skin of the smooth Don Draper, but his confidence in what could have been a standard by-the-book Fed role nicely contrasts with that of the attitude of the crew’s thug-like lo tech methods.

Hall does a lot with a very little of a character – the woman caught in the middle of a boys club’s row. She has cute chemistry with Affleck and the fearfulness is felt in her restrained shakiness. Renner is one note but he plays it well and it’s all that’s needed from him in this tightly plot.

Chris Cooper as Affleck’s prison lifer father is in one especially effective and necessary scene, and there’s also Blake Lively as a boozy bar floozy.

THE TOWN may not be another crime epic on the scale of HEAT or THE DEPARTED, but it’s a major work by a guy who next time – with hope – will have his name up front in the advertising.

More later…

Woody Gets His Groove Back! VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA – The Film Babble Blog Review

VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA (Dir. Woody Allen, 2008)

Woody Allen’s 43rd film as director is lush, absorbing, and easily his best film in 10 years. The 4th in his series of films that abandon his long-time cinematic comfort zone of Manhattan for the splendor of a European escapade, Allen is reunited with his most recent muse Scarlett Johansson but this time with terrific not abysmal results. After the traditional Allen white on black credits (now with Spanish guitar and not big band jazz accompanying) we join Johansson and best friend Rebecca Hall as they get off a plane in Barcelona – they are the Cristina and Vicky of the title.

A narrator (Christopher Evan Welch), a device that evokes memories of the docudrama style of HUSBANDS AND WIVES, tells us about our leading ladies’ temperments – Johansson is romantically impulsive while Hall is stable, analytic, and most importantly engaged to be married to a buttoned-down reliable but bland Chris Messina. While dining one night a smooth Spanish painter (Javier Bardem) approaches them and proposes that they join him for a romantic weekend in Oviedo: “We’ll eat well, we’ll drink wine, we’ll make love”. Hall is immediately cynical and put off by Bardem, having heard troubling gossip about his ex-wife, but Johanssen is giddily enchanted which wins over and we’re off and running!

Bardem’s ex-wife, the sultry and simultaneously sulking Penélope Cruz, is trouble indeed; she shows up after getting out of the hospital asking for vodka with daggers in her eyes aimed at Johansson as she storms into their life. Possible Spoiler!: both Hall and Johansson have fallen for Bardem by this point which threatens Hall’s marriage and makes murkier the matters of the heart between all of them. What’s never murky is the photography with gorgeous shots of the temples, landscapes, and luxurious patios of Spain framed by cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe. The dialogue is crisp and wittier than Woody Allen has given us in ages with even subtitled lines (Cruz and Bardem exchange many private asides in Spanish) stinging as the pace never drags with many expertly crafted uncut tracking shots flowing as the characters themselves flow through the beautiful scenery. Great naturalistic acting from all the principals abounds with supporting turns by the always charming Patricia Clarkson and the underused Kevin Dunn filling out the most colorful Woody Allen movie so far.

With Cruz, the Spanish locale, and Aquirresarobe (Director of Photography on TALK TO HER) it could look at first glance that Allen is aping Aldomovar but the pessimism, views on art and forbidden love, as well as the neurotic behaviour (can’t write a review of a Woody Allen film without some use of the word “neurotic”) is all classic Woody Allen. If you only know Bardem from his role as the cold blooded killer Chighur in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN his role here will be a revelation. Johansson does her best work since LOST IN TRANSLATION fully inhabiting her character with flare and much moxie. All the promotional material for this film (the poster, trailer, etc.) for a large part excludes Rebecca Hall (pictured at the top of this review) which is odd because it’s her tortured entanglement that really gives the film its narrative thrust – I suppose she wasn’t enough of a name for the publicity department.

The tedious repitition of worn-out plot points (Hello, MATCH POINT) and the lackluster lines of his last several films is replaced by a passionate and vital sense of purpose (and a great screenplay) which makes for a extremely satisfying meal of a movie. The only possible reservation I have is for the inclusion of Welch’s voice-over narration; much of the time I thought the film could do without it but I have to admit it contained some insightful and amusing remarks so I’ll leave it be. VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA is a welcome return to form for the Woodman and with his next project, the already completed WHATEVER WORKS with Larry David and Evan Rachel Wood (also featuring Clarkson) here’s hoping he’s on a roll.

More later…