Between Two Ferns: The Movie


Given a choice between watching Between Two Ferns and two actual ferns…

(2019) Mockumentary (Netflix) Zach Galifianakis, Lauren Lapkus, Ryan Gaul, Jiavani Linayao, Will Ferrell, Matthew McConaughey, Bruce Willis, Keanu Reeves, David Letterman, Chrissy Teigen, John Legend, Rashida Jones, John Cho, Brie Larson, Paul Rudd, Adam Scott, Jon Hamm, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tiffany Haddish, Peter Dinklage, Tessa Thompson, Awkwafina. Directed by Scott Aukerman

 

I will admit that the kind of humor found on podcasts, YouTube videos and generally anything on the Internet leaves me pretty cool. I suppose I’m too old, not hip enough or just plain too curmudgeonly for the kind of wry humor that seems to dominate those forms these days, with the almost obsessive pop culture references. In any case, while I generally like Galifianakis and his short interview sequences on the Funny or Die website, I was hesitant about watching a full-length feature film about it.

Anyone who has seen the interview segments that Galifianakis conducts in the web series knows that they are deadpan and viciously funny, and that continues here. Asking McConaughey “Of all the things you could win an Oscar for, how surprised are you that you won one for acting?” or Keanu Reeves following up on his assertion that he researches for his film roles, “Have you ever thought of researching a character who has taken acting lessons.”

The thing is, these zingers are better on paper than they are live where they just come off as kind of dickish. Also, the surrounding storyline – Zach has to film ten Between Two Ferns episodes in two weeks if he is going to get the late-night talk show host position he so dearly covets. The road trip aspect of the movie is decidedly unfunny. Lapkus does commendable work as Zach’s long-suffering assistant while Gaul and Linayao are solid as his sound and camera operators. The parade of A-list celebrities turn out to be good sports about the often really nasty questions Galifianakis asks them. A closing credits blooper reel shows, however, that they are definitely in on the joke – most of the time.

Some will find this deliciously funny; others will find it needlessly cruel. Like I said, maybe I’m not exactly the target audience but I would trend more towards the latter group although there are some really hilarious moments. Just not enough of them to make me recommend this one.

REASONS TO SEE: Lapkus does a solid job.
REASONS TO AVOID: The droll humor is really hit or miss – mostly miss.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This marks the second time Hamm has been an interview subject on Between Two Ferns.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/5/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 75% positive reviews: Metacritic: 59/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Borat
FINAL RATING: 5/10
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Kin

White Boy Rick


Like father, like son.

(2018) True Crime Drama (ColumbiaMatthew McConaughey, Richie Merritt, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rory Cochrane, Bryan Tyree Henry, Bruce Dern, Bel Powley, RJ Cyler, Jonathan Majors, Eddie Marsan, Taylour Paige, Piper Laurie, Raekwon Haynes, Ishmael “Ishdarr” Ali, James Howard, YG, Danny Brown, Kyanna Simone Simpson, Heidi Sulzman, Lauren Ashley Berry. Directed by Yann Demange

 

The crack epidemic of the 80s that led to the “Just Say No” program was tragic in nearly every sense. There were no real winners – and the biggest losers were those in the poorest communities. Entire cities fell victim to the crime wave that followed the crack. Cities like Detroit, for example.

Young Rick Wershe Jr. (Merritt) has been caught up in a bad crowd. It’s not really a wonder; his dad (McConaughey) sells guns illegally, and you can bet those weapons are not being stored in a glass case. They’re finding use in the criminal underworld. Rick’s best friend Boo (Cyler) has connections with the Curry crime family. Rick, nicknamed White Boy because he is the sole Caucasian amongst the people he hangs with, ends up being recruited by a couple of unscrupulous FBI agents (Leigh, Cochrane) to be an informant – the youngest in FBI history at age 14. As it turns out, this doesn’t turn out so well for Rick or the rest of his family.

Demange, a French director best known for ’71, has the perfect directorial temperament for the urban grit this story demands. He manages to get some strong performances out of McConaughey who plays a lowlife hustler whose life is a series of miscalculations, and Merritt, a fairly unknown actor whose broad Baltimore accent doesn’t distract (too much) from the film.

The movie has a fairly bleak outlook; Wershe spent more than 30 years behind bars for a non-violent drug offense while others with more violent offenses arrested near the same time were released earlier. Now, the film doesn’t mention that when he was arrested Wershe had eight kilos of cocaine in his possession, but even so the punishment seems a little excessive. He has since returned to jail for a separate offense.

This is definitely meant to be a cautionary tale and certainly Wershe was no angel and made some bad choices, although to be fair people who live in the kind of poverty and hopelessness that is part and parcel to living in neighborhoods like that generally have few alternatives. This movie is generally pretty well-made, but doesn’t illustrate that fact perhaps as clearly as it might have.

REASONS TO SEE: Demange sets a great sense of tension throughout. McConaughey gives another outstanding performance.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit on the bleak side.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a plethora of profanity, a ton of drug use and references, violence, sexual content and brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although the film is set in Detroit, it was actually filmed in Cleveland.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Sling TV, Starz, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/5/20: Rotten Tomatoes:59% positive reviews: Metacritic: 59/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Prince of the City
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Between Two Ferns: The Movie