Between Two Ferns: The Movie
Zach Galifianakis (himself) runs a public access celebrity talk show that, owing to the incompetence of its host, finds greater fame when Will Ferrall (himself) uploads it to his website Funny Or Die. After a disastrous interlude with Matthew McConaughey (himself) destroys the studio, Galifianakis takes his show on the road, attempting to win the right to host his own national talk show through a succession of awkward interviews.
The Between Two Ferns shorts were always the perfect encapsulation of that sub-genre of quasi-improv comedy that sections of the internet specialised in during the late noughties/early 2010’s. The roasting of celebrity through Galifianakis’ stuttering insults and ad-libbed attacks was perfect for that short format, before the series tailed off owing to an apparent lack of creative inspiration. Fast forward a few years, and the “host” and series co-creator Scott Aukerman decided to give Between Two Ferns the feature send-off it deserved, presumably helped by the Netflix money. But does the longer format work?
Attempting to form a narrative around something as plainly ridiculous as the Between Two Ferns premise is always going to be a dicey task, and Galifianakis/Auckerman, seemingly recognising that, decide not to try too hard. Instead, we get the world’s worst docudrama (This Is Spinal Tap was obviously a huge inspiration here) and Galifianakis being given a Arthurian quest, sword and all, by a deranged version of Will Ferrell, a man who keeps a portable counter of the clicks Funny Or Die gets. It’s all very slapdash and amateur feeling, but that is very much the point I suppose. Lauren Lapkus, Ryan Gaul and Jiavani Linayao are along as Galifianakis’ camera crew, giving him someone to play off of in scenes where he isn’t sitting between the titular plants (that Lapkus’ producer has to keep replacing, since no one knows how to take care of them).
But you are not really here for any of that, though the cast does their best to infuse those “behind the scenes” moments with humour (Galifianakis measures the ferns before every taping, as well as testing them for “moisture content”). You’re here for the interviews, and Between Two Ferns: The Movie, packs them in. There are around twenty celebrity tete-a-tete’s here, mostly just brief clips, but all of them funny, from Galifianakis admitting to Adam Scott that he hates celebrities all the way to a “cloak vs cape” debate with Benedict Cumberbatch.
Galifianakis starts off his interviews with McConaghey (before a plumbing problem nearly drowns them both) by saying “Alright, alright, alright…oh, I was just looking at the box office for your last three movies” and things move from there, with plenty of glib insults and barely hidden criticism of whomever the interviewee is. It’s best when the celebrity’s get their own back of course (Brie Larson, after being told “Wow, they aren’t even trying anymore” regards the name of her superhero alter-alias posits that Galifianakis’ superhero would be “Captain Crunch”) or when things turn truly bizarre (Peter Dinklage is outraged when the camera crew try to steal his Faberge egg collection during his interview, screaming “My precious eggs!” as they run off). It’s great seeing celebrities either go along with Galifianakis or give it right back to him, making every segment a refreshing experience.
In the end, 80+ minutes of Between Two Ferns might be a bit too much, given how silly most of it is. It’s hard to care about the film’s story-driven backbone when all you want is to see Galifianakis trade insults with David Letterman or John Legend. Regardless, it is still an extremely funny movie, and that’s what you’re looking for with something like it. It avoids the pitfalls of “sketch turned into a movie” by knowing its limitations and knowing its audience, and that is something to be admired in this day and age of rote comedies that outstay their welcome. Recommended.
The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot
Calvin Barr (Sam Elliott) is a retired US Army veteran, living out his final years in his small town with his memories of his service as a special operative in World War Two. Then, as a much younger man (Aidan Turner), he was involved in a mission to assassinate Adolph Hitler: when government agents approach him looking for help in dealing with a deadly virus carried by the creature Bigfoot, his experience then, especially his failed relationship with Maxine (Caitlin FitzGerald), haunts his decision.
Now there is a title that makes you stop your scrolling and look again. It’s a name that immediately invokes the cheapest of 60/70’s Nazi-ploitation/monster movies, and one would be forgiven for reading it and thinking you would be seeing something that would be, at best, a reverent tribute to those sub-genres of cinema. How surprised they will be, like I was, to find that Robert D Krzykowski’s film is about combat trauma and painful regrets, wrapped around an unlikely narrative involving der Fuhrer and a very unimpressive Bigfoot costume.
What makes The Man Who… rise about the inherent stupidity of its premise (as outlined by the title) is, of course, Sam Elliott, and to a slightly lesser extent Aidan Turner. They both play Calvin really well, Elliott as this very scared veteran struggling to find anything to really live for in in his old age, and Turner as a man awkward in love and conflicted in war. The central theme of the film hits on the point of things: Calvin muses that his successful mission to assassinate Hitler was a waste of time since the Nazi’s replaced him with an impostor and the mission was kept secret; meanwhile, his special ops work destroyed his chance at a normal life with Maxine at home, very much the girl who got away. Turner and FitzGerald manage to give the film a beating emotional heart in several key scenes, and Elliott is an old-enough hand that he can reach inside you and twist the knife with a look of wordless anguish. Strangely enough, what should be a B-movie disaster turns instead into a thoughtful character study.
But of course The Man Who… can’t quite get away from the promise of the title, and that means we have to go through a very unlikely assassination mission of Hitler, a boys-own adventure in Nazi-occupied Europe that clearly wants to be Inglorious Basterds a little bit, and then some really silly stuff in the last act when Calvin ventures into the Canadian wilderness to track down and face-off against Bigfoot. The entire affair – involving government agents, hazard suits, survivalism and, eventually, a confrontation with a regrettably cheap looking Bigfoot, does bring the entire thing down a few pegs. Better perhaps if The Man Who… kept the Bigfoot an unseen force that is more of a symbolic foe for Calvin to tackle: as it is, the finale is the only part of the film that makes those initial expectations an unfortunate reality. Still, anything with Sam Elliott in it is generally worth watching. Partly recommended.
In Like Flynn
Long before he became the archetypal Hollywood action hero, Errol Flynn (Thomas Cocquerel) travels up the east coast of Australia in a search for long lost gold. Along for the ride is naer-do-well Rex (Corey Large), upper-class Dook (William Moseley) and haunted ship captain Charlie (Clive Standen): on their way they will encounter Chinese gangs, duplicitous mayors and a succession of disasters.
This was a real strange one to watch. Anyone familiar with the life and times of one Errol Flynn will probably raise a curious eyebrow at any modern attempt at biopic, perhaps wondering if it will cover the more unseemly aspects of his life (and I’m talking the underage sexual escapades, not the ridiculous “secret Nazi spy” stuff). Well, rest assured that In Like Flynn subtly dodges that bullet by having no pretense at being an actual biopic. Instead, taking its cues from a mix of a little-remembered novel Flynn wrote and some of his alleged life experiences – it should surprise no one that Flynn had a reputation as a chronic exaggerator – it tells what can essentially be considered to be a complete fantasy.
And a surprisingly entertaining fantasy it is. In Like Flynn is essentially a old-school serialised adventure, with obvious pretensions of being something akin to a real-life Indiana Jones, full of daring-do, exotic locations, and punch-ups. It’s episodic and more than a little rote, but manages to keep itself steaming ahead with a collection of decent performances, from a cast that most people will be more familiar with through soaps (both Neighbours and Home And Away alum show up here). The most well-known member of the cast is probably David Wenham, playing the resident villain in the film’s longest segment, which involves hookers with hearts of gold, an undergrounds boxing match and an unexpected shoot-out, but by the time In Like Flynn gets to that point it’s all par for the course really.
Cocquerel is having a fun time in the lead role essentially just having to look handsome and know when to take a punch, which is a skill to be employed liberally, replete with the thud you would expect of something aping Spielberg to this extent. He and the others manage to maintain an intriguing enough masculine camaraderie that keeps things ticking over, even as we move from crisis to crisis: some the ones hither-to unmentioned include a sinking boat, a shark attack and a bar-fight with Rectus Erectus himself Nathan Jones.
It’s only when the film tries to get serious that it really comes unstuck, when every other character reveals their terrible backstory (who cares!), leading up to a third act angle involving suicidal tendencies that really did not belong in the kind of production that In Like Flynn is otherwise trying to be. It’s general ending is also sudden and rather unsatisfying, blending fiction with reality to bring the narrative to a sharp stop. Those looking for something in-depth about one of that era of Hollywood’s more controversial figures should look elsewhere: everyone else will find this a suitable enough diversion if they have nothing else to watch. Partly recommended.
When former mafia boss Tommaso Buscetta decided to become the key witness in Italian prosecutions against members of the Casa Nostra, it caused a ruption in the world of organised crime across two continents. In this documentary, Mark Franchetti and Andrew Meier explore the reasons behind Buscetta’s turn, what his life became in the aftermath, and how his family view him today.
I don’t know if there has ever been a real-life organisation whose internal drama has been able to match or exceed fictionalised depictions of it like the mafia has. Of course, that term has a broad meaning, but in this documentary we are going back to the heart of the matter, to the underworld of Sicily, where the height of mafia-influenced violence in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s meant murder by the knife or the bullet – or worse – was a common enough occurrence to be observed.
Our subject is Tommaso Buscetta, and the directors are at pains to give him as much character as can be found. It would be easy to characterise him merely as a murderer who realised the only way to save his own skin was to turn on his former friends. And it would be equally easy to portray him as some kind of saint-like family man who decided to seek redemption for earlier misdeeds by going against worse people. Instead, we get the healthy middle ground of those two divergent poles: a complicated figure who at times seemed confused about why he was doing what he was doing, and in the end seems to have been mostly motivated by the immediate safety and well-being of whatever family he had left.
Buscetta’s crusade is intriguing enough; thanks to the rules of Italian court systems at the time, the entire affair was recorded and is available to peruse. So you get to watch a succession of stone-cold mafia killers confront each other verbally before a judge, sparring with words when fists, knives and bullets are denied to them. There’s an eerie sense of pantomime to much of the performances in these moments, like we are actually seeing actors play a part, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t find the idea of key prosecution witnesses in such cases having to so the cross-examination themselves.
With the exception of some brief written notes, the two directors stay out of the limelight, letting archival footage and talking head interviews do the story-telling for the,. The most important people are Buscetta’s third wife, son and daughter, the three remaining members of the family that he was forced to move from place to place, identity to identity, always trying to stay one step ahead of mafia hitmen with a grudge. Today, nearly twenty years on from Buscetta’s death, they mostly remain ambivalent about the kind of man that their father was: the wife misses a husband, the son turned to the military to find any sense of solidity, and the daughter muses unhappily on the family’s break-up since her father’s death.
It’s a bit lengthy and covers a great deal of ground very quickly in its final twenty minutes: the creators perhaps weren’t sure whether the legal or family matters at the heart of the story should have been the main focus, and so Our Godfather becomes a sort of dual-documentary shoved into 90 minutes. But it is still very much worth watching, as a unique insight into the workings and traditions of the mafia in the time period depicted, and as a glimpse into what happens when a member turns against them. A fictionalised version of the tale is apparently coming soon, and this documentary serves as a good primer. Recommended.
A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
Life on the farm is getting a bit humdrum for Shaun the Sheep, thanks to the ever present attentions of guard dog Bixer. Things change when a vessel from beyond the stars crashes in the local village, bringing its extraterrestrial occupant into Shaun’s life, catapulting the sheep and other denizens of the farm into an interstellar adventure.
Fans of the site will remember that I really enjoyed Aardman’s first big-screen outing with the titular farm animal, all the way back in the ancient times of 2015. Going along to see Farmageddon was a last minute choice after a shopping excursion to town – I’m sure thats a regular target demographic for some studios – motivated primarily by my other half (the opposing choice of “gritty cop drama” didn’t appeal for some reason), though I would be lying if I said that wasn’t in the mood for something light and light-hearted.
And that is exactly what Farmageddon provides for an audience. Yes, like every tired franchise ever, we are going into space, but who cares? The plot is nonsense, there is no script and the film never lets you forget that you are watching a sheep engaged in crazy hi-jinks (though, of course, I have to identify more with the long-suffering Bixer), but Farmageddon is all the better for that. The extra-terrestrial element allows for the film to become a parody of a wide variety of alien media, from Close Encounters to The X-Files, and things really kick into gear when the “Ministry for Alien Detection” arrives in force, yellow hazmat suit wearing mooks led by a Woman in Black with a grudge. But of course, the silliness never stops: the “MAD” have a counter for “UFO’s Captured” that they gleefully move from “0000” to “0001” only to, in tears, move it back when the UFO escapes.
The wordless nature of the exercise – the most you get is grunts and mumbling that sounds vaguely like words – makes Farmageddon a wonderful modern example of the silent comedy, having to make do with tonnes of physical yucks (the Farmer runs an cheap alien-themed funfare that includes the option to “Look at the moon”) and written gags (the local paper is the “Echo…echo…echo”). The playful set-pieces abound, like a joy-ride in a combine harvester, an alien sugar rush in a supermarket and the aforementioned escape from the MAD black-site (whose “Secret Base” title is hidden by a car wash with cardboard attendants). As always, Aardman’s claymation is a charming example of the art-form, proving that computer graphics are not the be all and end all some presume them to be.
You’ll be well into this by the time that we reach the finale, involving a makeshift theme park tower, a mech-suit and a dog being shot out of a cannon. Farmageddon is ultimately just a classic piece of cinematic escapism: the jokes hit the required level for kids who like animated sheep and adults with a fondness for Buster Keaton, it isn’t too long or too short, has the necessary heart-warming ending and, in the end, sometimes it is good to leave behind the Bigfoot battles and the mafia kingpins, so you can trade it all in for something decidedly more fun on the belly-aching sense. Recommended.
(All images are copyright of Netflix, Eagle Films, RLJE Films, Blue Fox Entertainment, Umbrella Entertainment and StudioCanal).