Dan Rush’s Everything Must Go

I like when comedic actors do serious roles, especially when they’re such a tonal and characteristic departure from what we’re used to seeing that you get to view the artist in a completely new light. Dan Rush’s Everything Must Go is a sensational indie drama that focuses on a mostly dead serious, unbelievably restrained Will Ferrell as Nick, an upper middle class fellow who is also a relapsing alcoholic and whose life is starting to spin dangerously out of control. After several pretty bad alcohol related incidents at work he arrives at his home in the Arizona suburbs to find his wife has left him, changed all the locks and dumped his belongings all over the lawn. Feeling pretty much at rock bottom, he stocks up on booze, posts up on his lawn and cracks open a tall can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, his drink of choice and the first of many. This is where much of the film finds him, just sitting in his yard amidst a maze of personal stuff that he attempts to sell in an impromptu ongoing yard sale with the entrepreneurial assistance of a local kid (Christopher Jordan Wallace). Various folks in his life try to do their best to help him including his cop buddy and former AA sponsor (Michael Pena) and the sympathetic pregnant homemaker (Rebecca Hall) across the road, while he makes his best effort to connect with them and with a former high school sweetheart played by Laura Dern who blesses the film with a brief but luminously earnest cameo. This is a pretty bleak film that focuses on someone who has nearly lost everything in life, it’s not an area of human experience the we or cinema overall likes to dwell on but think of the thousands of everyday people going through this sort of thing whose voices remain unheard, and the countless others who have made it through such a life altering addiction and it’s subsequent personal ramifications and how viewing a film like this may give them further hope and inspiration. Ferrell is a revelation as Nick; gone is his wacky, wild eyed persona and any moments of comedy to be found here are of the subtlest, driest variety, the kind of laughs that hurt on the way out. Everything that’s happened to him is essentially his own fault, but that didn’t stop me from caring about him deeply and wanting him to make it through his rough time intact, or noticing that underneath the mess his life has become, he’s a bright, sweet guy with a slightly dimmed but nevertheless good outlook on life and a kind, open heart. Just observe how he cares for the kid he’s hired to sell his stuff, or does his best to treat Rebecca Hall’s character with respect and kindness, even when his drinking and jaded mental perspective make it difficult to do so. There’s a scene near the end of the film which I don’t want to spoilt too much except to say that she gives him a gift, a small token that is profoundly resonant and reflective of the brief, unorthodox but very important piece of time they have shared together by pure happenstance, and it’s the emotional core of the whole thing: one human being doing their best to comfort and lift up another who has fallen on perhaps the hardest times they’ll ever see. This is an uncommonly emotionally intelligent film with a career best performance from Ferrell who is about as committed, grounded and heartbreaking as he’ll ever be in his career and a fleeting glimpse into the life of someone you might hurry past on your way, divert your gaze when they meet yours or speed up in indirect shame as you drive past and see him on that lawn, can of PBR in hand, surrounded by broken materialistic dreams. But his story, countless others just like it and the human beings in them are just as important as any others, and it’s life affirming to see a filmmaker tackle one with such compassion, honesty and empathy. Great film.

-Nate Hill

I like when comedic actors do serious roles, especially when they’re such a tonal and characteristic departure from what we’re used to seeing that you get to view the artist in a completely new light. Dan Rush’s Everything Must Go is a sensational indie drama that focuses on a mostly dead serious, unbelievably restrained Will Ferrell as Nick, an upper middle class fellow who is also a relapsing alcoholic and whose life is starting to spin dangerously out of control. After several pretty bad alcohol related incidents at work he arrives at his home in the Arizona suburbs to find his wife has left him, changed all the locks and dumped his belongings all over the lawn. Feeling pretty much at rock bottom, he stocks up on booze, posts up on his lawn and cracks open a tall can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, his drink of choice and the first of many. This is where much of the film finds him, just sitting in his yard amidst a maze of personal stuff that he attempts to sell in an impromptu ongoing yard sale with the entrepreneurial assistance of a local kid (Christopher Jordan Wallace). Various folks in his life try to do their best to help him including his cop buddy and former AA sponsor (Michael Pena) and the sympathetic pregnant homemaker (Rebecca Hall) across the road, while he makes his best effort to connect with them and with a former high school sweetheart played by Laura Dern who blesses the film with a brief but luminously earnest cameo. This is a pretty bleak film that focuses on someone who has nearly lost everything in life, it’s not an area of human experience the we or cinema overall likes to dwell on but think of the thousands of everyday people going through this sort of thing whose voices remain unheard, and the countless others who have made it through such a life altering addiction and it’s subsequent personal ramifications and how viewing a film like this may give them further hope and inspiration. Ferrell is a revelation as Nick; gone is his wacky, wild eyed persona and any moments of comedy to be found here are of the subtlest, driest variety, the kind of laughs that hurt on the way out. Everything that’s happened to him is essentially his own fault, but that didn’t stop me from caring about him deeply and wanting him to make it through his rough time intact, or noticing that underneath the mess his life has become, he’s a bright, sweet guy with a slightly dimmed but nevertheless good outlook on life and a kind, open heart. Just observe how he cares for the kid he’s hired to sell his stuff, or does his best to treat Rebecca Hall’s character with respect and kindness, even when his drinking and jaded mental perspective make it difficult to do so. There’s a scene near the end of the film which I don’t want to spoilt too much except to say that she gives him a gift, a small token that is profoundly resonant and reflective of the brief, unorthodox but very important piece of time they have shared together by pure happenstance, and it’s the emotional core of the whole thing: one human being doing their best to comfort and lift up another who has fallen on perhaps the hardest times they’ll ever see. This is an uncommonly emotionally intelligent film with a career best performance from Ferrell who is about as committed, grounded and heartbreaking as he’ll ever be in his career and a fleeting glimpse into the life of someone you might hurry past on your way, divert your gaze when they meet yours or speed up in indirect shame as you drive past and see him on that lawn, can of PBR in hand, surrounded by broken materialistic dreams. But his story, countless others just like it and the human beings in them are just as important as any others, and it’s life affirming to see a filmmaker tackle one with such compassion, honesty and empathy. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Amazon Prime’s Tales From The Loop

Do you like science fiction stories that put human characters, story and emotion before action, special effects and visual bedazzlement? Quiet, contemplative, episodically interwoven narratives that use SciFi as a means to illuminate hidden truths, internal revelations and complex interpersonal relationships? Lovingly detailed, retro-futuristic artistic creation lifted right off the pages of an iconic novel? Amazon Prime’s Tales From The Loop has all this and more and is one of the most gentle, low key yet deeply staggering pieces of work I’ve ever experienced in the genre. The story focuses on a small town somewhere that is built above ‘The Loop,’ a mysterious underground research facility home to a subtly sentient A.I. engine used to create and power countless inventions. Each episode shows a story centred around a few families and individuals from this town and how this mysterious power source from The Loop affects their lives in surprising, tragic, metaphysical ways. There’s a teenage couple who find an object that pauses time except for their perception, after which they’re left to their own devices and we see what that can do to a relationship. Elsewhere a lonely man wanders into a parallel dimension and literally (and figuratively too) finds himself. The elderly founder and engineer of The Loop (Jonathan Pryce, fantastic) struggles with his mortality while his daughter (Rebecca Hall) and son in law (Paul Schneider) have their own personal experiences with the forces around them, and so do many others whose lives are woven together organically to create a tranquil, reflective and hypnotic piece unlike any other. The SciFi aspects really only act as background scenery and catalysts for unconventional human experience; we never learn what The Loop really is and most of the robots, structures and tech it creates hover in the background like fish in an aquarium while the human being characters abide in wonderment, learning complex, challenging lessons around love, compassion, self identity, overcoming fear, reconciling one’s own life cycle, coming to terms with death, facing past choices/mistakes and all of that overwhelming stuff that makes us who we are. It’s all set to soul-stirring, mesmerizing and unique original music from maestros Phillip Glass and Paul Leonard Morgan and breathtaking, vintage inspired visual design that brings to life robots, domelike architecture, otherworldly technical ambience and all manner of stylistic splendour that always serves as atmosphere and allows story, characters and themes take centre stage overall. Brilliant piece of work, and the kind of life affirming, empathetic art we need right now.

-Nate Hill

“Are you watching closely?” A review of The Prestige – by Josh Hains 

“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.”

– Cutter (Sir Michael Caine); The Prestige, 2006

I’ve always been enamored by magic since I was a young boy. I don’t know how to perform any tricks and haven’t read dozens of magic books, but I’ve seen enough magic performed to validate my love for it. I’ve always enjoyed trying to decipher how a trick is pulled off. Sometimes I’m right, sometime I’m wrong. That’s the name of the game. In the case of The Prestige, Christopher Nolan’s 2006 masterpiece, I’ve spent the last couple years on and off deciphering the movie as best I can. A part of me doesn’t mind the ambiguity, and doesn’t need to solve the puzzle. The other half just had to solve it. I believe I have the movie figured out better than most, but whether or not I finished the puzzle isn’t the point of the movie. The point is entertainment, and I think The Prestige is amongst the finest entertainment you’ll find in cinema.

Apprentice magicians Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) work under Milton The Magician (Ricky Jay), frequently acting as fake volunteers for Milton in 1890’s Victorian London. Julia (Piper Perabo), Robert’s wife and an escape artist, drowns while trying to escape from a water tank with her hands bound when Alfred ties the necessary slipknot too tightly. She’s gone before stage engineer (or “ingenieur”) John Cutter (Sir Michael Caine) can break the glass with an ax. This tragic event sets into motion a bitter and violent years long rivalry, each man trying to one-up or sabotage the other.

During this time, Borden marries Sarah (Rebecca Hall), and together they have a child, their daughter Jess, while Angier launches his own magic career with Cutter and new assistant Olivia Wenscombe (Scarlet Johansson), and Borden perfects a new trick dubbed The Transported Man. The trick bewilders Angier, but Cutter is unimpressed, suggesting Borden uses a double to complete the trick. Angier finds that solution too obvious, and becomes obsessed with finding the answer at seemingly any cost. Through a series of unfortunate events, both Borden and Angier find themselves in possession of the other’s personal journals that hold the ins and outs of how each trick is performed. Borden’s journal leads Angier to Nikola Tesla and his assistant Mr. Alley (the late David Bowie, and Andy Serkis, respectively), in the hopes they hold the key to replicating Borden’s trick.

The Prestige reminds me of a Jenga tower. Remove the wrong piece and the entire thing comes crashing down, remove the right piece and it stands tall for a while longer. At any moment the film could derail if all the plot threads weren’t tied up nearly with a bow, and yet for me it never does derail. Remove the script from your mind for a moment. Are the performances great? At least 3 are Oscar worthy. And the cinematography, score, set design, and costuming, how are they? Immaculate as one might expect from Nolan and his trusted team. And the script, what do you think of it? Delightfully complex, thought provoking, and fresh. For me, there aren’t any cracks in the glass.

About that ending. The film gives you clues as to how the lives of both men will turn out. One is willing to kill a bird and present a new one to the audience in its place, the other willing to save the bird and re-present it to the audience. Bearing that in mind, the possibility exists that one of the two men acquired a machine capable of successfully duplicating a person, much like a pile of hats and black cats (“They’re all your hat.”). The first duplicate is killed, then every night for 100 nights straight, the man performs the “Real Transported Man”, constantly duplicating himself and either he or one of his duplicates winding up in a tank of water below the stage they perform upon. Perhaps the true prestige is that the other man pulled his trick off using a twin brother, while the other sacrificed his life and the lives of duplicates for the look on people’s faces when they witness his great trick.

Perhaps the solution is simpler, and the machine never worked to begin with, and Tesla was just a distraction from the real trick, the use of a double. And perhaps when that man found out he’d been tricked, he chose to use a double from prior engagements, a drunkard stage actor, to help pull off his great illusion, and no one ever drowned until the night his rival came up on his stage. Maybe a trick lock was always used beforehand and replaced with a real one to setup the rival. Maybe the duplicates seen in a morgue or standing erecting in water tanks at films end are nothing more than wax figures. And maybe the revelation that his rival used a double all along makes his efforts seem fruitless in his final moments. Maybe the prestige of the film is that simple yet no one wants to accept it because of the simplicity, and certain science fiction infused elements like a machine capable of duplication are far too compelling and obvious a solution to be ignored.

Maybe we’re not meant to solve the mystery, just be driven mad by our own obsessions with it. Maybe we’re all Angiers.