Will Ferrell

Bewitched (2005, Nora Ephron)

If there’s anything more horrific than Will Ferrell trying to be a straightedge romantic leading man, Bewitched makes one forget about it. Director Ephron is either completely blind to the complete misfire she’s directing or she just didn’t care. Seeing as she and sister Delia Ephron wrote the script, one has to suspect she actually thought she had something. Some of her direction–straight out of Technicolor musicals–allows supports the idea she thought Bewitched was good work.

She’s very, very wrong.

She also apparently told Nicole Kidman to try to sound like Marilyn Monroe, which is hilarious since Kidman can’t even keep her Australian accent hidden. One wonders if she can walk and chew gum.

There are good things about Bewitched, however. Heather Burns is great in a small part, Shirley Maclaine’s hilarious, John Lindley’s photography is competent.

None of these good things make up for Ephron seemingly telling Ferrell to ad-lib scenes and then choosing his worst takes for the final cut. If the insipid selections in the film–a lot of Bewitched seems like Ferrell’s mocking himself–are the best Ferrell came up with… I can’t even imagine the worst ones.

For such a high concept–witch Kidman stars in a relaunched “Bewitched” series–the Ephron sisters don’t come up with anything good. It should be a no brainer, but they can’t even figure out the concept has to play out im real time.

Particularly terrible are Kristin Chenoweth and Jason Schwartzman. Especially Schwartzman.

It’s heinous.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Nora Ephron; screenplay by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron, based on the television show created by Sol Saks; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by Tia Nolan; music by George Fention; production designer, Neil Spisak; produced by Douglas Wick, Lucy Fisher, Nora Ephron and Penny Marshall; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Nicole Kidman (Isabel Bigelow), Will Ferrell (Jack Wyatt), Shirley MacLaine (Iris Smythson), Michael Caine (Nigel Bigelow), Jason Schwartzman (Ritchie), Kristin Chenoweth (Maria Kelly), Heather Burns (Nina), Jim Turner (Larry), Stephen Colbert (Stu Robison), David Alan Grier (Jim Fields), Michael Badalucco (Joey Props), Carole Shelley (Aunt Clara), Katie Finneran (Sheila Wyatt) and Steve Carell (Uncle Arthur).


Blades of Glory (2007, Will Speck and Josh Gordon)

A couple things are immediately interesting about Blades of Glory. First is Will Ferrell. While Ferrell’s top-billed, it’s really Jon Heder’s movie. It isn’t a question of likability–Ferrell, being funnier, is more likable–but of the script’s focus. It’s Heder’s story, with Ferrell along to make things a little more interesting.

But Blades isn’t a serious attempt at a narrative. The film occasionally attempts to talk about deadlines (for figure skating competitions), but the timeline accelerates to fit the pace. Blades is only ninety minutes and it probably could have shaved some of the love story between Heder and Jenna Fischer. None of the primary cast exactly gives a performance, just embodies a persona, and Fischer doesn’t have one. She’s boring, if mildly appealing.

It’s also a problem since Heder’s better opposite Ferrell than anyone else in the picture. When he’s on his own, Blades flounders a little.

There’s no reality–internal or otherwise–to Blades. But directors Gordon and Speck are careful to curb the absurdism with real figure skaters cameoing. At the beginning, with William Fichtner and William Daniels both showing up, it seems like they’re going to use character actors to amplify Blades‘s absurdism. But both actors disappear, Fichtner way too soon, and Craig T. Nelson–coaching Ferrell and Heder’s male figure skating pair–is sillier than he needs to be.

There are a lot of good jokes and some great ones. It’s a lot of fun, but Ferrell’s easily the best part of it.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon; screenplay by Jeff Cox, Craig Cox, John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, based on a story by Craig Cox, Jeff Cox and Busy Philipps; director of photography, Stefan Czapsky; edited by Richard Pearson; music by Theodore Shapiro; production designer, Stephen J. Lineweaver; produced by Stuart Cornfield, John Jacobs and Ben Stiller; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Will Ferrell (Chazz Michael Michaels), Jon Heder (Jimmy MacElroy), Will Arnett (Stranz Van Waldenberg), Amy Poehler (Fairchild Van Waldenberg), Jenna Fischer (Katie Van Waldenberg), William Fichtner (Darren MacElroy), Craig T. Nelson (Coach), Romany Malco (Jesse), Nick Swardson (Hector), Rob Corddry (Bryce) and William Daniels (Commissioner Ebbers).


The Other Guys (2010, Adam McKay), the unrated version

The Other Guys ends with an animation explaining the financial bailout in terms of what it means to the average American (i.e. the viewer). It tangentially relates to the movie’s plot. It might be the “best” use of a mainstream film’s end credits ever. Someone will soon ruin it I’m sure.

Otherwise, The Other Guys is an amiable comedy. Will Ferrell is funny doing his regular thing, only this time in a new setting–though the New York cop movie setting is traditional, so they get to play with the genre a little. Mark Wahlberg is fantastic here, with a self-depreciating performance. Sure, he’s just doing his Departed role (there’s another great Departed reference here too) but it’s still funny. Similarly, Michael Keaton–in his first “big” live action movie in many years–is great. He’s doing a Keaton comedy performance, but it’s excellent. Steve Coogan’s good….

The surprise is Eva Mendes, who’s quite good. She’s really gotten better lately (she has one great scene where she can’t quite contain her laughter opposite Ferrell).

McKay’s direction mimics action movies, so he doesn’t have to do much special with it. It’s a wholly competent production; McKay’s greatest strength as a filmmaker isn’t his composition, which is fine. I mean, the choice of Ice-T as the film’s narrator would be the best thing about it if there weren’t so many other excellent choices.

The Other Guys is a self-aware, intelligently produced diversion.

I can’t believe it made any money.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Adam McKay; written by McKay and Chris Henchy; director of photography, Oliver Wood; edited by Brent White; music by Jon Brion; production designer, Clayton Hartley; produced by Patrick Crowley, McKay, Will Ferrell and Jimmy Miller; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Will Ferrell (Detective Allen Gamble), Mark Wahlberg (Detective Terry Hoitz), Eva Mendes (Dr. Sheila Ramos Gamble), Dwayne Johnson (Detective Christopher Danson), Samuel L. Jackson (Detective PK Highsmith), Michael Keaton (Captain Gene Mauch), Steve Coogan (Sir David Ershon), Ray Stevenson (Roger Wesley), Rob Riggle (Detective Evan Martin), Damon Wayans Jr. (Detective Fosse), Michael Delaney (Bob Littleford), Zach Woods (Douglas), Lindsay Sloane (Francine), Rob Huebel (Officer Watts), Natalie Zea (Christinith) and Anne Heche (Pamela Boardman). Narrated by Ice-T.


Land of the Lost (2009, Brad Silberling)

I kind of remember the “Land of the Lost” theme song, but don’t remember ever watching the show. I watched the movie because of an interview Elvis Mitchell did with Silberling, but have no idea what he said in that interview to make me interested in seeing it.

Land of the Lost was a box office disaster, which makes it sort of interesting to see. The film’s got some great production design, if not production value–the studio shoots are clearly shot indoors (the forest scenes and the volcano top) and it really hampers the effect. I can’t figure out if those scenes are supposed to look cheap or not (wasn’t a big thing of the original series how cheap it looked?). Because then there are scenes where it’s this grandiose sci-fi and not cheap-looking at all. So I’m confused.

I’ve also become something of a Will Ferrell fan, who knowingly plays idiots well. Because his character in this one is supposed to be a scientist, it takes a while–it’s not believable the guy graduated from sixth grade, much less got his doctorate (and why is a paleontologist doing work in quantum physics?).

The real draw is Anna Friel, who I don’t think I’ve seen in anything before. She plays straight woman to Ferrell and Danny McBride’s morons and turns it into this magnificent role.

The plotting is lousy–the film drags on and on and it’s only occasionally funny (but then riotous), but it’s not terrible.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Brad Silberling; screenplay by Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas, based on the television series created by Sid and Marty Krofft; director of photography, Dion Beebe; edited by Peter Teschner; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Bo Welch; produced by Jimmy Miller, Sid Krofft and Marty Krofft; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Will Ferrell (Dr. Rick Marshall), Danny McBride (Will Stanton), Anna Friel (Holly Cantrell), Jorma Taccone (Chaka), John Boylan (Enik), Leonard Nimoy (The Zarn) and Matt Lauer as the host of the Today Show.


Step Brothers (2008, Adam McKay), the unrated version

I guess I feel bad John C. Reilly isn’t taking more… intellectual roles, but they probably don’t pay as well. He’s essentially playing his character from Boogie Nights here, only a little stupider but also a little more self-aware. He’s still great and he’s hilarious, but there is definitely something missing.

But Step Brothers is fantastic. I think I started laughing before the opening titles ended and laughed at the last joke. The wife looked at me like I had a third eyeball as I kept pausing it to wait for my laughter to end.

What’s so great about McKay and Will Ferrell’s script is the intelligence. The jokes aren’t intelligent–that I know Reilly’s running around in a 1997 Return of the Jedi t-shirt is scary, not good–but they way they’re presented, the way the film’s constructed–those are intelligent achievements.

Ferrell and Reilly are about even in the film’s emphasis–neither gets much more screen time than the other–even when one should, when Reilly’s father (Richard Jenkins) abandons him, for instance. Maybe the whole catch of the film is seeing Jenkins, this fantastic character actor, blurt out obscenity after obscenity. It is somehow magical.

The rest of the cast is fantastic–Mary Steenburgen, Kathryn Hahn, especially Adam Scott–and it’s this lowbrow masterpiece. It’s so self-aware, it can’t be anything else.

McKay shot it in Panavision, which is only useful for the opening titles, and makes it feel so… beautifully pretentious.

Pseudo-pretentious.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Adam McKay; screenplay by Will Ferrell and McKay, based on a story by Ferrell, McKay and John C. Reilly; director of photography, Oliver Wood; edited by Brent White; music by Jon Brion; production designer, Clayton Hartley; produced by Jimmy Miller and Judd Apatow; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Will Ferrell (Brennan Huff), John C. Reilly (Dale Doback), Richard Jenkins (Robert Doback), Mary Steenburgen (Nancy Huff), Adam Scott (Derek Huff) and Kathryn Hahn (Alice Huff).


Dick (1999, Andrew Fleming)

Andrew Fleming’s Dick has an irresistible premise (slow-witted teenage girls take down Nixon, not Woodward and Bernstein), but it turns out not to be enough for a movie. Not even a ninety-four minute movie. Besides inspired casting of Watergate figures (Dave Foley as Haldeman is probably my favorite, but Saul Rubinek’s Kissinger is the best–and Dan Hedaya’s a perfect Nixon), Fleming doesn’t really know what to do with his story. He covers some of the Watergate stuff, but not enough. He dumbs down the revelation of evidence and so on, not really taking advantage of it for his story. Once he’s established Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams in the White House, he does a couple montages and throws in Williams’s positively icky on Nixon, but the movie’s mostly on its way toward the end. Neither Dunst or Williams really have characters–which is fine, given Dick is a farcical comedy–but Fleming doesn’t have ninety-four minutes of story either.

Dick gets long after a while, once the laughing out loud stops–usually whenever Dunst and Williams are in charge of their scenes, instead of Foley, Hedeya, or Rubinek–and I don’t think there’s a single big laugh for the film’s last hour. There’s a good Foley scene, but it’s amusing, not laugh out loud. Given the lousy pacing of that last hour, I wonder if Fleming cut some stuff out to make the movie shorter, but I doubt it. Kirsten Dunst’s character doesn’t have a story, she has a brother. Devon Gummersall, as the brother, is good. Except he’s just a funny pot-head and the film’s better when he’s around because he says funny pot-head stuff. Dunst ranges from awful to bad. She’s worse when she’s alone. Michelle Williams, halfway through, goes from dumb to not-so dumb and she’s fine in the second half. The contrast between her and Dusnt’s acting prowess is stunning. One also gets the feeling Williams heard the word ‘Watergate’ before filming the movie.

We rented Dick because a) we’d just watched All the President’s Men and b) I thought it was funnier. I remembered it being funnier. But it isn’t. The film only makes it through the second half because of Hedeya, Williams, and Will Ferrell and Bruce McCulloch as Woodward and Bernstein (Bernstein’s such a jackass I wonder if Fleming consulted with Nora Ephron). The film also benefits–more than it deserves–from the great use of the 1970s music. The end is–as I remembered while watching it–a real kicker set to Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.”

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Fleming; written by Fleming and Sheryl Longin; director of photography, Alexander Gruszynski; edited by Mia Goldman; music by John Debney; production designer, Barbara Dunphy; produced by Gale Anne Hurd; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Kirsten Dunst (Betsy Jobs), Michelle Williams (Arlene Lorenzo), Jim Breuer (John Dean), Will Ferrell (Bob Woodward), Dave Foley (Bob Haldeman), Teri Garr (Helen Lorenzo), Ana Gasteyer (Rose Mary Woods), Devon Gummersall (Larry Jobs), Dan Hedaya (Dick), Bruce McCulloch (Carl Bernstein), Ted McGinley (Roderick), Ryan Reynolds (Chip), Saul Rubinek (Henry Kissinger), Harry Shearer (G. Gordon Liddy), Len Doncheff (Leonid I. Brezhnev), G.D. Spradlin (Ben Bradlee) and Checkers (Brunswick).


Melinda and Melinda (2004, Woody Allen)

Woody Allen has written around thirty films, probably thirty-four. Ten of these films are some of the finest in the last thirty years, give or take. But he tries something new in Melinda and Melinda and it doesn’t work.

Of his recent work, his post-Miramax period, Melinda is the second strongest–Curse of the Jade Scorpion holding the title. His work hasn’t been astounding, but it’s still good work. Melinda and Melinda had the potential, the writing, and the cast to be his best film in twelve years or so. Wait, I forgot about Sweet and Lowdown. Anyway, when I said Woody tried something new, he screwed up his narrative and ruined the film’s effectiveness.

Melinda and Melinda has three concurrent stories. The reality one: two playwrights, one comedic, one dramatic, at dinner and then each playwright’s story of the titular Melinda. Since neither of these stories is real, but are told with lovely care for their characters, the effect is something annoying (unlike the similarly afflicted, but unmoving The Usual Suspects).

And it’s too bad, because Woody’s got his best cast in years in this film. A bunch of people who, shockingly in some cases, turn in great performances. Chloë Sevigny is great, but we all know that–but Jonny Lee Miller? I had no idea. Amanda Peet continues to impress (her turn in What Women Want starting this run) and Chiwetel Ejiofor, who I’ve never seen in anything much less heard the name, is quite good too. Will Ferrell does a couple too many Woody impressions but is fine otherwise. Touching, even, in some parts.

As the eponymous Melinda, Rhada Mitchell occasionally loses her American accent, but is rather good. Melinda isn’t the protagonist, however. Ferrell is in one story, Sevigny in the other. Melinda isn’t the subject either, instead, Woody uses her as the catalyst, which would work great if the stories had weight. Worse, one story ends before the other, jarring the viewer into realizing the uselessness of his or her investment in the film.

Still, the film is beautifully directed, with amazing Vilmos Zsigmond cinematography, and is still quite good overall. I haven’t seen a Woody Allen film in about a year and watching one always produces a nice feeling. A feeling that the world isn’t empty of art. (Except maybe Bullets Over Broadway or Another Woman).

Narrative device warts and all, he’s just so damn good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Woody Allen; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Alisa Lepselter; production designer, Santo Loquasto; produced by Letty Aronson; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Radha Mitchell (Melinda), Chloë Sevigny (Laurel), Jonny Lee Miller (Lee), Will Ferrell (Hobie), Amanda Peet (Susan), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Ellis), Wallace Shawn (Sy) and Josh Brolin (Greg).


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