DVD Review: Seasoned comedic actors push limits, return to roots

DVD Review: Seasoned comedic actors push limits, return to roots

By Marc Larocque

Charlie Kaufman lite

Will Ferrell slips into the paradigm of prominent comedians dipping in and out of serious roles in his role in “Stranger than Fiction.” I wonder how well he can do it. If ads are any indication, Ferrell’s next movie, the ice skating farce, “Blades of Glory,” leans in the loopy direction.

In “Fiction,” Ferrell plays Harold Crick, an IRS agent who becomes troubled as his calculated life is suddenly narrated by a prominent writer within the context of the film. The ominous voice of the writer vexes Crick with a superior vocabulary, then causes him to go into a frenzy by foreshadowing his imminent death.

This is all foreign to Crick until he consults a college English professor, played by Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman analyzes the story and its signature omniscient third person narrative phrase, “little did he know,” and eventually concludes the writer is Karen Eiffel, played by Emma Thompson.

Eiffel is a struggling writer, and in all of her books, the protagonist dies. The rest of the movie shows her figuring out how to break her writer’s block and kill Crick, all while Crick is trying to find her first.

At this point, the movie’s level of interest peaks. The story stops unfolding and becomes boring and predictable. It made me forget about Crick’s love interest, an anarchist baker named Ana, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, whom Ferrell had audited after she sent the IRS an incomplete payment and a letter that began “Dear imperialist swine.” She shows up in the last scene. Parts of the film prior to this point, like the graphical user interface in which the daily actions of Crick were expressed, seem like colored tissue paper stuffed in an otherwise empty birthday present bag.

The GUI interface aspect to the movie, also used in “Minority Report,” was explained in one of the extra features, “Picture a Number: The Evolution of G.U.I.” This mini-documentary is nice, but lengthy, and I didn’t think the whole concept was that enjoyable in the first place.

Two other extra features for this disc include “Picking the Right Team” and “Actors In Search of a Story,” featuring director Marc Forster (“Finding Neverland”) discussing why each cast member is an integral part of the film. Cast members are seen complimenting each other. Maybe we should all pat each other on the backs too, as you are just as an integral part of this DVD review as I am.

“On Location in Chicago” takes an in-depth look at why Chicago locations and architecture were right for the film, according to the director. Both deleted scenes and “Funny Moments On Set” are hardly worth it. Though, one interesting fact noted one of these features is that all the characters were named after famous mathematicians.

Spoiler alert: if you don’t want to know the ending, stop reading here.

At the end of the movie, Crick skirts death. He is hit by a bus, but wakes up to Ana by his side in the hospital.

With a $17.99 retail cost (according to amazon.com), “Fiction” may merit a rental to avoid the purchase cost on rainy day.

The premise of “Fiction” has been likened to the concept movies of Charlie Kaufman (“Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation” and “Eternal Sunshine”), though it pales in comparison. “Fiction” lacks the everyday virtuosity of the latter because Crick is a less believable character, and his story evokes less sympathy.

Black returns to his roots

Jack Black has proven he is only entertaining playing himself. In “Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny,” Black cuts out the “King Kong” dramatics and does what he does best: praises the power of rock and smoking pot.

The movie, directed by Liam Lynch, is a straight-up comedy for the modern “Spinal Tap”-ped youth. The movie’s premise is exciting. It chronicles the lore of the Tenacious D, starting with the childhood of the raucous Black. Black is the black sheep (no pun intended) of his Christian family. In amazing musical choreography, Meatloaf plays Black’s father and castigates his son for his rock devilry.

Typical story. But Black brings it home with his energy-packed and relentlessly positive personality. He is motivated by a poster of Ronnie James Dio, the second singer of Black Sabbath, in the fashion of many typical metal kids. It fills him with wanderlust until he meets Kyle Gass in the park playing Mozart.

Gass completes the duo of Tenacious D, and the spectrum of rock dork for that matter. He’s the guy you know at home: the one who looms in his lair and learns intricate cover songs as an arsenal for future rock bravado opportunities.

Throughout the movie there is an abundance of song sequences. Many songs prophesize their rise, such as “The History of Tenacious D,” the first song they wrote in the movie. The song is “not just a list of things that are done in the past,” as Black says in the movie, but chronicles their rise to power. According to the song, the two have ridden with kings on mighty steeds across the devil’s plain and walked with Jesus and his cross.

During the song, “Blow Your Mind,” Black dreams in one scene. In the dream, the rock of the D causes flames to be conjured, audience members’ heads to explode and sumptuous women to writhe toward them with ardor. It is so decadent it blew my mind with throes of laughter.

But in the haze of all the antics, the movie reaches a point of exhaustion. I took a nap halfway through.

“Destiny” had an abundance of guest appearances. Ben Stiller plays a mysterious guitar store salesperson on edge, especially when the D inquires about the nature of the Pick of Destiny. “Saturday Night Live’s” Amy Phoehler offers tough talk as she plays an apparently beaten diner waitress.

I woke up to a scene in which, to turn off a laser grid security system, Black must cause his penis to become erect to press a button. He does so successfully.

The movie comes with some valuable extra features. One shows the writing process of the D. They fool around with a rhyming dictionary, but make fun of each other as they rehearse. Another shows Black in the recording studio working on some songs. “The bilabial fricatives really vibrate the vocal canal,” he says. We also see the band eating from huge containers of take-out food like typical guys.

Lynch prefaced his deleted scenes as the most “kick-ass deleted scenes of any movie ever.” One features the D in a sporting goods store in which they perform a song about how the government sucks. It is completely ignorant and therefore hilarious.

The DVD is $16.99 on amazon.com and is worth a rental for anyone with some time to burn.

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