Dustin Hoffman

Redeeming Features: "Stranger Than Fiction"

Welcome to Redeeming Features. The blog where I (poorly) review movies that are underappreciated, underrated or under the radar, in hopes of convincing you to give them a second chance. Stranger Than FictionTo set up this week’s feature, lemme hit you with a little nonfiction story. One Sunday afternoon, many many moons I ago, I found myself lazily wasting away the day flipping through channels on the ole idiot box. Somewhere between reruns of Rugrats and reruns of What’s Happening!!, I happened upon a flick that made me say, “Sure, that’ll do.” So I watched said flick. And I was so pleased with it that I put pants on and headed straight for Blockbuster. (Yep. Blockbuster, which still existed all the way back in 2007.) I bought the movie on digital versatile disc, and it’s been a go-to in my household ever since. Strange to think that channel surfing, a simple, seemingly innocuous act, would lead to my overwhelming love of this film.

This week, you’ll be reading about Stranger Than Fiction, a thought-provoking tale wrongfully categorized under “romantic comedy.” I mean, sure, there’s love and junk, and you definitely laugh at parts, but none of it is over the top or even remotely cliché. If anything, I’d call it a sentimental smirk with a dash of fantasy and fable.

Strange Than Fiction follows Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), an aging IRS agent whose life consists solely of self-inflicted monotony and boredom. Each day as forgettable as the next and lonelier than the last, Harold trudges through the hours by counting the minutes, the paces to the bus stop, and even the number of brush strokes one must apply to each tooth in order to maintain a wildly mediocre smile. Everything perfectly executed so that everything can remain perfectly diluted and devoid of drama. Ironic, considering Ferrell plays this “dramatic” role like a finely tuned fiddle. Little smirks, glances, huffs and puffs – all working together seamlessly to make him seem, just, normal. Well, as normal as one can be whilst hearing voices.

Living a life of background noise, Harold becomes hyper aware of a voice in his head that seems to be narrating his life. But not advancing it; only narrating it. I know, I know – another damn narrated flick from me. Lay off; they’re my favorite. Plus, it makes for some pretty interesting character development. Especially since he is not the one developing it. Unbeknownst to Harold, his life is being narrated by acclaimed novelist, Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), known for her profound proclivity for killing her characters in a crafty way. But, he doesn’t know that – yet.

Harold, shaken and incredibly annoyed by these constant interruptions, seeks mental shelter in the figurative arms of literary professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman). Hilbert, unlike the shrinks before him, finds Harold incredibly interesting. He cares not though for how Harold feels but more how the narrator feels. What are they like? Are they male? Female? What kind of things do they say about you? How do they feel about your single Windsor tie? In the end, it all comes down to four tiny words: little did he know. Little did he know…what? That he was living a tragedy? That the single Windsor really did make his neck look fat? Or little did he know, the fact he cannot shake the smell of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies might be a sign.

Now, you’re probably like, “whaaaaa? Why chocolate chip cookies? Also, can I take a break and go make chocolate chip cookies?” And yes, yes you absolutely can. But come back quick because I wanna wrap this up so I can go make some for myself.

Harold, caught in the throes of a mental meltdown, decides to take on one of the “easy” audits. He heads out to audit the tax return of one Ana Pascal, an ostensibly harmless baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal). But she’s not in the business of baking up bland muffins. No no no – the kitchen gets hot in a jiff when Harold learns Pascal intentionally underpaid her tax return and plans to make this audit a living-breathing nightmare. However, despite her obvious abhorrence for Harold, he still couldn’t help noticing “her thin arms [and] long, shapely legs…imagining her immersed in a tub, shaving her legs… and he couldn’t help but imagine her naked, stretched across his bed.” Needless to say: she was Crick bait.

I mean, what’s a guy to do? He can’t control himself, and he obviously can’t control his life. So, might as well do your best to live the shit out of what remains, right? Stop counting footsteps, stop going to your literally dead-end job, and stop telling yourself you don’t deserve that guitar, even if you have no idea how to play it. And most importantly, remember that sometimes you have to stop and smell the flours.

At the end of the day, I’m kind of glad Stranger Than Fiction isn’t super well-known or hasn’t been touted as one of the best films of all time. Because on one hand, I would have nothing to write about (haha), but also because it just wouldn’t feel right. This isn’t yet another addition in the onslaught of forgettable Hollywood rom-coms; it’s whatever you want it to be. A reflection of ourselves and the priorities we choose in life. An anthem for those to quietly rally behind. Or for me: an incredibly well-written movie I happened to find surfing my couch on a Sunday. Whatever it is to you, I hope you enjoy it.

TL;DR – an IRS agent finds himself the subject of a deadly narration that begins to affect his entire life, or at least the book he's living in.

Cody Tidmore is a Level Two sketch student at DCH. He’s been watching movies for as long as he can remember. Seeing it all – the good, the bad, even the ugly. And when it comes to annoyingly working movie quotes into regular conversation, he’s the reel deal.

What We're Loving: Life Experience, Cooked Hamm Sandwich, Illiterate Hollywood

photo (1)Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week David Allison finds a new favorite tv show, Ashley Bright might be the real Don Draper, and Ryan Callahan pays a visit to 1980's Hollywood.

imgresLook, I am well aware that Andy Daly has been talked about before on this website, specifically here and here. With that said, his new show Review is my favorite thing on television right now and you need to know to check it out.  The program is a stateside interpretation of an Australian show where a host, Forrest MacNeil (Daly), reviews and rates life experiences like doing cocaine, going to prom, and being Batman.  Each episode opens with the quote “Life, it’s literally all we have, but is it any good?” which is a perfect summation of what to expect.

The show is four episodes in and, unlike most shows of this type, each episode builds on the previous  Thus far, the peak has come in week three. The episode begins with his review of eating fifteen pancakes, a task he previously found unimaginable as he’s “never eaten more than two pancakes in a month.”  The way the episode heightens his pain in the next two reviews is beautiful and I refuse to spoil any of it.  Review can be seen on Thursdays at 9 pm cst on Comedy Central or you can just come over and we’ll watch it together. Either way works for me, I just want to make sure you check out this show. - David Allison

mad-men-season-6-jon-hamm-2I'll admit it: I'm partial to Jon Hamm. His appearances during the live 30 Rock episodes were some of my favorite moments of the show. And if I can personally relate to any fictional character, it's Don Draper. You may be thinking to yourself, "Geez Ashley, you must think you're quite the cool customer." I do, but I also relate to his less cool (i.e. slightly crazy) emotional complexities. Also, we learned in the "Zu Bi Zu Bi Zu" episode that Don's birthday is June 1 - so is mine! I've gotten off topic trying to convince you that I'm as cool as Don Draper. This week I watched A Young Doctor's Notebook starring Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe. I've only watched the four episodes available on Netflix, but it was such an intriguing 80 minute nugget that I can't wait to watch the rest. So far, two seasons of four episodes each have aired on BBC. The show is cringingly amusing. I literally cringed and covered my eyes while watching it. But I also laughed. It's dark and different and recommend giving it a watch. And not just because I'm partial to Jon Hamm. - Ashley Bright

jon-peters-book-0905-03Stories of behind-the-scenes drama and the clash of creative egos have always appealed to me. Over the past few years, books like Difficult Men, Pictures at a Revolution, and Marvel: The Untold Story earned a spot on my nightstand with their gossipy takes on artists and wannabe-artists behaving badly, boldly, and blindly. Hit and Run by Nancy Griffin and Kim Masters, which I read this week, tells the story of Sony's disastrous foray into the movie business. But that's not why I'm writing about it. I'm writing about it because it contains a treasure trove of the best kind of Hollywood stories: Jon Peters stories. Jon Peters stories are the best. For those who don't know, Peters, pictured at left carrying his business partner Peter Guber, is a famous Hollywood rags to riches story. A high school drop-out turned hairdresser, Peters became, thanks to then girlfriend Barbra Streisand, a producer on the remake of A Star is Born. Peters used Streisand's clout and his own brand of personal intensity to make the movie about his love affair with Streisand. It was a six million dollar home movie. And it was a hit. From there, Peters was off and running, using his relationships, his force of will, and his fearsome temper, to become one of the richest and most powerful producers in Hollywood, despite being largely illiterate.

Today, Peters is remembered, if he's remembered at all, as the man who wanted to make a Superman movie where Superman didn't fly, didn't wear his costume, and fought a giant mechanical spider. But in his day, Jon Peters was the 800 pound gorilla. Nobody did it bigger, costlier, or crazier. Hit and Run is full of Jon Peters stories: Jon Peters wooing Swedish supermodel Vendela by sending her a private jet full of flowers. Jon Peters visiting the set of Rain Main and asking Dustin Hoffman whether he played, "the retard or the other guy." Jon Peters breaking the jaw of a marketing executive and then hiding under a desk when the cops came. They don't make them like Jon Peters anymore, nor should they. Hollywood is, was, and will always be, the real Land of Misfit Toys. For a while, Jon Peters was the greatest misfit of all. I'm thankful that a man like him exists, and that I never have to meet him. - Ryan Callahan