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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Marc Forster
Cast:
Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, Emma Thompson, Denise Hughes
Writing Credits:
Zach Helm

Tagline:
Harold Crick isn't ready to go. Period.

Synopsis:
In Stranger Than Fiction, Will Ferrell plays Harold Crick, an IRS Agent whose world is turned upside-down when he begins to hear his life being chronicled by a narrator only he can hear. The Narrator, Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), a nearly forgotten author of tragic novels, is struggling to complete her latest and best book, unaware that her protagonist is alive and uncontrollably guided by her words. Fiction and reality collide when the bewildered and hilariously resistant Harold hears the Narrator say that events have been set in motion that will lead to his imminent death.

Desperate to escape his fate, Harold seeks help from eccentric English professor Dr. Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman) and finds unexpected comfort in a burgeoning romance with a defiant audit subject, Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Unluckily for Harold, Kay's impatient publishers have unleashed a stern assistant named Penny Escher (Queen Latifah) to help the author finish her book and finish off Harold Crick.

Box Office:
Budget
$38 million.
Opening Weekend
$13.411 million on 2264 screens.
Domestic Gross
$40.137 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG-13

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16X9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Subtitles:
English
French
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 113 min.
Price: $28.95
Release Date: 2/27/2007

Bonus:
• Six Featurettes
• Two Deleted/Extended Scenes
• Previews


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EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 22, 2007)

With 2006’s Stranger Than Fiction, it looks like Will Ferrell wants to follow into Jim Carrey territory. Both performers made names for themselves with broad comedies. Carrey eventually ventured into quirkier fare, and now Farrell appears to want to do the same. At least that’s the impression I get based on the story of Fiction, a tale different than wild efforts like Old School and Talladega Nights.

Ferrell plays Harold Crick, an IRS senior agent who values regularity and precision in his life. Suddenly, on Wednesday he starts to hear a voice – a voice that narrates his life. This weirds him out, of course, but he attempts to carry on as normal. Through his job, he meets a radical baker named Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal). She only paid 78 percent of her taxes since she didn’t want to give the government money for causes she didn’t support. Despite their severe personality differences, Harold starts to fantasize about Anna.

From there we meet Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), a novelist with writer’s block. The publisher assigns Penny Escher (Queen Latifah) to be her assistant and help along the process. Kay complains that she can’t figure out how to kill Harold, so Penny will assist her.

Back with Harold, he seems to ignore the narration until it mentions his imminent demise. This freaks out our hero, and he goes into crisis mode. He consults with experts and ends up with literature professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman). It seems that Harold’s life is being written out as a novel, so they attempt to contrive ways to subvert his impending death. That thread leads to many changes in Harold’s life and a host of new experiences as we push toward his potential ending.

Stories like Fiction don’t come around very often, and they’re extremely difficult to do well. They balance so many odd elements and force us to accept such a high level of quirkiness that they threaten to collapse under the weight of their pretensions. At best, we get involving efforts like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, while at worst we find self-indulgent claptrap like Adaptation.

To my pleasant surprise, Fiction falls on the Sunshine side of the street. Actually, both films have a lot of similarities, one being their awkward starts. During the first act of Fiction, the painful preciousness of the premise threatens to overwhelm it and distance us from the material. The filmmakers’ use of annoying graphics to symbolize various elements causes some problems, and the painful simplicity of the portrayals creates low expectations.

However, once the story really starts to move, it gets much better. Fiction is an unusual product in that its structure allows it to embrace its clichés. For instance, take every aspect of the Harold/Ana relationship. Neither character displays three-dimensionality, and it quickly turns into an obvious situation in which a wild free spirit loosens up a buttoned-down nerd. However, the unusual structure of things in which the protagonist has extra knowledge of his situation makes the events more interesting.

Indeed, the movie gets to revel in clichés and mock them to a degree. This isn’t a serious tongue in cheek effort but it can have its cake and eat it too. Since it relies on our understanding of literary conventions, it can use them in a way that doesn’t seem pandering or simplistic. It plays with our expectations, so we aren’t allowed to call it trite; it can respond by telling us it’s supposed to be trite!

Ferrell plays against type as the straight man, and he does well as Harold. In his early “dramatic” roles, I thought Carrey felt a little repressed and unnatural, as though he had to work really hard to avoid his typical enthusiasm. That doesn’t mar Ferrell’s work. Of course, he’s never been as manic as Carrey; while a larger than life presence at times, it’s not as much of a challenge for Ferrell to tame his normal attitude. Nonetheless, it comes as a mild surprise how well he restrains himself. He never goes to his shtick in any way, and that helps make the performance more successful.

Fiction falters at times, mostly due to inconsistency. For instance, the narration comes and goes without much logic, as does the film’s “Graphic User Interface”. These become distractions more when they disappear, if just because their absence makes little sense. When they pop up again, they stand out too much.

But those are minor complaints for an otherwise engaging flick. Anyway, it’s probably best not to overthink Stranger Than Fiction. A movie built on such a precarious foundation could easily collapse, and excessive dissection would likely cause that downfall. Just immerse yourself in the flick’s offbeat world and enjoy the ride.


The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus B-

Stranger Than Fiction appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. No significant issues developed during this strong transfer.

Sharpness consistently came across well. Only a little softness ever materialized, as the majority of the flick demonstrated strong clarity and delineation. I saw no jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement was minimal. Source flaws failed to crop up at any point.

Colors worked well. Much of the movie stayed with a light, chilly palette, though it warmed up as the film progressed. The tones always seemed appropriate and well-developed. Blacks were deep and dense, while shadows showed good definition and smoothness. I found a lot to like about this fine presentation.

Though I didn’t expect much from the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, I found a mix with a lot of life. Much of the film stayed subdued, with good atmosphere on display and positive imaging for the music. Those dominated, but the movie offered plenty of scenes with greater breadth. These included car accidents, storms, the assault on Harold’s apartment and a few other pieces. I liked these elements as they helped make the flick more involving and lively.

Audio quality always seemed strong. Music was bright and dynamic, with crisp highs and tight lows. Effects sounded accurate and vivid, while speech was concise and distinctive. I found much good material in this satisfying soundtrack.

As we shift to extras, we find six separate featurettes. Actors In Search of a Story goes for 18 minutes, 35 seconds as it presents movie pieces, shots from the set, and interviews. We hear from director Marc Forster, screenwriter Zach Helm, executive producer Eric Kopeloff, producer Lindsay Doran, and actors Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Queen Latifah, Tony Hale, Tom Hulce, and Linda Hunt.

“Search” looks at casting, characters and performances. A few decent notes emerge, but the show usually exists to praise the actors. Other than some nice behind the scenes glimpses and a few funny comments from Hoffman, this is a lackluster piece.

After this we find Building the Team. It lasts eight minutes, 31 seconds and features Forster, Doran, Kopeloff, Ferrell, Hoffman, Thompson, Helm, production designer Kevin Thompson, visual effects designer Kevin Tod Haug, director of photography Roberto Schaefer, editor Matt Chesse, and graphic artists Jed Carter and Tim Fisher. It looks at various members of the crew. We hear about Forster’s attributes as well as cinematography, visual design, effects, and storytelling. Expect a repeat of “Search”, as “Team” gives us generalities without much detail. It never turns into an informative program.

For the 10-minute and 28-second On Location In Chicago, we get remarks from Forster, Kopeloff, Doran, Kevin Thompson, Helm, Haug, Chesse, and Illinois Film Office managing director Brenda Sexton. We get notes on how the filmmakers chose Chicago as the flick’s locale as well as issues related to shooting there and location specifics. After two puffy programs, “Chicago” proves substantially more satisfying. It gives us a nice examination of the spots used for the film and why they were chosen. It’s a tight little show.

Words On a Page runs nine minutes, 26 seconds and includes Forster, Helm, Doran, and Ferrell. “Page” examines the script and story. We get notes about the screenplay’s development, its tone, and related elements. “Page” goes through these components in a pretty satisfying manner. I wouldn’t call it a stellar featurette, but it creates a useful look at the text.

Next comes the 17-minute and 11-second Picture a Number: the Evolution of a GUI. It presents statements from Forster, Haug, Chesse, Carter, Fisher, FX Cartel’s Gunnar Hansen and graphic artist Ben Radatz. They talk about the flick’s use of a “Graphic User Interface” for Harold and offer details about its creation and execution. Plenty of good facts pop up here, and the presence of interesting test footage rounds out the package in a nice way. The program provides a nice view of a potentially dry topic.

Finally, we discover On the Set. This two-minute and 59-second piece sets various shots of the production to music. It’s too much of a music video to provide a satisfactory glimpse of the set.

Two Deleted and Extended Scenes appear. We find “Book Channel Interview with Karen Eiffel (Extended)” (6:27) and “Book Channel Interview with Peter Allen Prothero” (4:55). It’s a stretch to call these “scenes”, really, since both were designed to play in the background. In the final flick, “Eiffel” offers some plot points, but here it’s just fun. Emma Thompson and Kristin Chenoweth improv together in a delightful way to make this clip very amusing.

“Prothero” works the same way; here Chenoweth interviews an author played by visual effects designer Kevin Tod Haug. This was originally intended to appear in the background at Professor Hilbert’s office but didn’t make the cut at all. Chenoweth continues to entertain, but Haug’s non-existent acting skills make the clip less fun.

The DVD opens with some ads. We get promos for Premonition, The Holiday, and Casino Royale. These also appear in the disc’s Previews area along with trailers for The Pursuit of Happyness, Marie Antoinette, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Bewitched, and the Stranger Than Fiction soundtrack. No trailer for Fiction appears on the disc.

Stranger Than Fiction walks a thin line between clever and stupid. It only occasionally ventures into the latter territory, as it usually seems bright and involving. The DVD offers very good picture and audio along with seem decent featurettes. The movie at least deserves a rental viewing.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3684 Stars Number of Votes: 19
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main