#306. Based on TV

The rallying cry of fans of the TV series, Community was “Six seasons and a movie.” While playing to an established fan-base is a wise move for movie producers, sometimes striking a nostalgic chord with audiences is the better path to success. Sure, there have been plenty of movies based off of TV shows which have also featured the original cast, but sometimes a reinterpretation with modern actors gives the concept a fresh feel. That’s not to say that the movies based off of TV shows that feature the original cast (a la the Star Trek films before 2009) are bad, it’s just that an original take on the themes and motifs of the TV show makes the movie feel more like a standalone story, instead of just an extended TV episode. This week’s two films were based off of television shows but did not feature the shows’ original cast.

The A-TeamThe A-Team
Year: 2010
Rating: PG-13
Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours

Clearly, the wave of nostalgia for those people who grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s is what has inundated Hollywood with the plethora of TV show adaptations. Starting around 2004, the trend to bring these television shows from the golden era of television has only continued. Films like Starsky & Hutch (2004), Bewitched (2005), and The Dukes of Hazzard (2005) all played as standard comedies, albeit updated to the comedic styles and tastes of the new millennium. A couple of years later, we saw these adaptations gain steam again with such films as Get Smart (2008), Land of the Lost (2009), and Dark Shadows (2012) leading the pack. Of course, none of these films were that great. Occasionally audiences would get a treat with such fantastic films like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), but these were rare. Most films were campy throwbacks, much like The A-Team (2010).

Acting as an origin story for the eponymous “A-Team”, this film modernizes the original premise behind the television show. “In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum-security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire… the A-Team.” Instead of taking place in 1972, these commandos were shown to be Army Ranger veterans from the Iraq war. Upon being framed for a botched mission involving U.S. Treasury plates, these four men set about to find the man behind their wrongful incarceration and manage to bring him to justice.

MaverickMaverick
Year: 1994
Rating: PG
Length: 127 minutes /  2.11 hours

Even before Hollywood began marketing on the nostalgia of comedic television shows, they had already adapted a few films to prove that the concept worked. What’s interesting about these earlier adaptations from TV was that they almost were able to maintain their own notoriety apart from the source material on which it was based. Films like The Fugitive (1993) earned Oscar nominations for Best Picture, whereas Mission: Impossible (1996) spawned a five-film franchise. Even newer adaptations like Star Trek (2009) have been able to cash in on the popularity of its fan-base, even if most of them don’t particularly care to be pandered to. Of course, there are also the television shows that haven’t remained nearly as relevant in popular culture, so few modern moviegoers will know that these films were even based on TV shows. One such film that would fit this category for me would be Maverick (1994).

Bret Maverick (Mel Gibson) is confident he is the best card player in the world, so in order to have definitive proof of this, he enters in a poker tournament that requires $25,000 as an entry fee. While he’s a little short on the money, he sets out to get the rest of it from some of his contacts. Along the way, he meets two others who want to participate in the tournament: Annabelle Bransford (Jodie Foster) and Angel (Alfred Molina). Bransford and Maverick manage to con a Russian Grand Duke out of some money so they can both enter the tournament, while Angel is on a mission to stop Maverick from playing. Meanwhile, Marshal Zane Cooper (James Garner, who also played Bret Maverick in the original show) is keeping an eye on all the players, hoping to arrest some of them for illegal activities. The tournament comes down to a single card to determine who will win. So, who has luck on their side?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 TV transitions

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#225. Will Ferrell

Ever since its start in the 1970’s, Saturday Night Live has been a vetting ground for many comedians. The successful ones find their niche and develop recurring characters, eventually transferring these skits onto the big screen. Sometimes these films are successful and timeless. Movies like The Blues Brothers (1980) and Wayne’s World (1992) had their beginnings as bits on SNL. That being said, not all of the SNL films are that great (let’s all try to forget MacGruber (2010)). For Will Ferrell, his breakout SNL film was that of 1998’s A Night at the Roxbury. Since then, he has acted in numerous comedies, to various levels of success. And while most of the roles Ferrell takes on are rather crass, there are occasionally some gems that show he has a bit more talent. This week’s two films are just such examples of Will Ferrell’s acting talent.

ElfElf
Year: 2003
Rating: PG
Length: 97 minutes / 1.62 hours

For the most part, as I mentioned above, the movies Will Ferrell appears in are not family-friendly. A lot of them rely on shock-humor to be gross enough to elicit laughs for the sheer ridiculous nature of the act. Fortunately, there are a few gems that are safe for viewers of all ages. More recently, he has lent his voice to some animated fare, which has been quite good. Films like Curious George (2006), Megamind (2010), and The Lego Movie (2014) all have Ferrell’s distinctive voice in a lead role. Even though most people recognize Will Ferrell from such films as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006), many also know him from the modern Christmas classic, Elf (2003). While the majority of this film is appropriate for all ages, there are still elements of the “fart humor” that plagues his other films.

With an origin story akin to a Christmas-y The Jungle Book, Santa Claus (Ed Asner) finds that a baby has been brought back to the North Pole in the now-empty sack of gifts. Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) agrees to raise the child, despite knowing the truth about the boy’s non-elf origins. Going by the name of Buddy, due to the brand-name on his diaper, this lost child eventually grows into manhood. Despite his obvious differences, Buddy (Will Ferrell) is convinced that he is one of the elves. One day, he learns that he is human and is now convinced that he needs to go to New York City to find his father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan). Once there, he finds this world to be a lot harsher than the North Pole, but he makes the best of it, eventually saving the day and redeeming his father, who has been on the “naughty list” for many years.

Stranger than FictionStranger than Fiction
Year: 2006
Rating: PG-13
Length: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours

As is the case with other SNL-alumni (Steve Martin and Adam Sandler most notably), sometimes the draw of a more dramatic role can prove to be a shining gem in an otherwise lackluster filmography. These roles may still end up in comedies, but they’re a little more refined than the normal roles often filled by these actors. For Will Ferrell, his roles in such films as Bewitched (2005) and Everything Must Go (2010) show that he’s got a greater range as an actor than just a slapstick foil. For me, I was quite skeptical when I went to go see Stranger than Fiction (2006), as I had become used to the types of characters that Ferrell portrays. That being said, I was blown away by the heartfelt, down-to-earth performance in this film. I have seen a lot of Will Ferrell films over the years, but I must say that this one is his greatest achievement as an actor.

Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) works in the least comedic of jobs: an agent for the Internal Revenue Service. Every day is a set routine for him, living his life according to his wristwatch. That is, until he starts hearing a voice narrating the things he does. When his watch stops, he resets it and overhears the voice saying that this action has led to his eventual death. Concerned with this new development, he sees a psychiatrist, who suggests he discuss this narration with a literary expert. Enter Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), who attempts to place the narrator by having Harold figure out whether he’s in a tragedy or a comedy. The story teeters between comedy and tragedy as Harold lives his last days, eventually pushing a boy out of the way of an oncoming bus, which strikes him instead. In a turn of fortune, he lives, but only due to his wristwatch.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 fabulous Ferrell roles

Bacon #: 2 (Stranger than Fiction / Tom Hulce -> Animal House / Kevin Bacon)