Farrell gets serious in 'Everything Must Go'

Will Ferrell has constructed a successful career playing outrageous, exaggerated, slapstick caricatures. Recall "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," "Step Brothers," or "Talladega Nights." He has perfected the deer caught in the headlights moment, the comedic intersection between plain, dumb obliviousness and a grudging, cranky awareness and has found a fan base.

Ferrell has done straight drama far too infrequently. Surprisingly, he is an actor who can portray a certain character with subtlety and insight, pathos and humanity, as he so nicely demonstrated in "Stranger Than Fiction," and again in the recently released "Everything Must Go." In fact, it could be argued that some of his best work is to be found in these two films and not in those banal comedies he has starred in following his years on "Saturday Night Live."

In "Everything Must Go," his character, Nick Halsey, is a study in sadness, touched by an existential despair.

He arrives home after an awful day — he's been fired from his job as a mid-level sales executive because of an alleged drunken episode with a female employee and his ongoing battle with alcoholism — and finds the locks on his house changed and all of his stuff, soup to nuts, on the front lawn, including his favorite recliner. His marriage, evidently, is over and he has been moved out, if no further than the lawn.

It's his quiet and deliberate response that makes this film appealing. He begins to arrange all of the items as if the lawn were his rec room, then heads off to the local liquor store and buys two 12-packs of beer.

He returns to his lawn and his recliner where he sits, contemplating his life and future. Such as it is. What's intriguing about Nick is that he neither rages, nor becomes maudlin; instead, he drinks a beer (and then another and then another) and looks out at his neighbors, feigning a studied sense of normalcy — I now live outside the house and not inside the house — though life has dealt him a crushing defeat, his loneliness suddenly defined with a brutal clarity.

Clearly it's time to make some changes, and he starts by unloading his stuff, a metaphor for so much that has cluttered up his life and gotten in his way, perhaps insulating him from who he is, which, as it turns out, is a pretty decent guy.

Good narrative cinema is rare. So much of what is sold by Hollywood as substantive is nonsense, likely based on the premise that character driven films will not attract an audience. Our loss.

Based on a Raymond Carver short story, "Everything Must Go" is an evocative film, nuanced and engaging, an examination of life and the human condition, such as it is.

As well, Ferrell is working with a talented ensemble of actors to include Rebecca Hall, a pregnant neighbor who is waiting for her husband to arrive from New York; Christopher Wallace as a young, at-loose-ends kid whose mother works in the neighborhood; Michael Pena, portraying Nick's AA sponsor and a Scottsdale detective; and Stephen Root, delivering a nice cameo as a tightly-wound next-door neighbor. They're all top-drawer.

'Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides'

"Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" is, in essence, Johnny Depp returning once again to his signature role as the charming, strangely androgynous and ever resourceful Captain Jack Sparrow.

His costume, his line delivery, his sashaying walk, his raccoon-like eyes are pure, campy genius. And his performance is close to the sole reason to see this fourth installment of what has been a wildly successful franchise. Audiences, of course, are ever hopeful that they will be present for the reincarnation of something as captivating as the "Curse of the Black Pearl."

Alas, of the films that followed the 2003 "POTC" debut, a solid story has been elusive. All of the sequels, regardless of their subtitles, have been either decidedly convoluted or so thin in plot that it's tempting to just strike coherent story as an expectation and simply relish the characters. In "On Stranger Tides" the plot has been reduced to: find the fountain of youth for England before the Spaniards find it and do something rash. Rumor is, there's a map. That's it. The meaning of the subtitle, "On Stranger Tides," which sounds very cool, is a mystery.

In fact, there are few strangers on any tides in this, the latest installment of "POTC." Okay, there is Blackbeard (Ian McShane), who is a nasty piece of work. Also new is the alluring, if duplicitous, Angelica (Penelope Cruz), with whom, we're told in a nice piece of exposition, Jack has history. A broken heart was involved. Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), Jack's nemesis, returns. As does sidekick, Joshamee Gibbs.

They're all great characters, wonderfully portrayed, the photography stunning. But, like its antecedents, with the exception of the original "Black Pearl," the current journey of Captain Jack Sparrow seems unfortunately pedestrian — with the exception of the first fifteen minutes that involves an escape by Sparrow and stalwart Joshamee Gibbs. But then, swashbuckling adventure films must have an opening with a huge wow! factor. It's de rigueur. Often, that first action filled setup can be the best part of the franchise ride.

The reality is, any sequel that follows the first "POTC" represents, for writers and director, Everest. It's a tough climb. The initial introduction of Captain Jack Sparrow and company was fresh and original, the story winning, despite the film being named after a Disneyland attraction. The burden of replicating that initial excitement is no easy trick. As demonstrated by "On Stranger Tides."

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