Legal Download: Indie Will Ferrell on demand

The world of film is changing. For one thing, there’s not much actual film anymore. The future is digital; more and more, it’s streaming on our computers, too. Every week in Legal Download, we survey the landscape of online movies to bring you a snapshot of what’s available. This week, I have an important piece of news and I need all of you to stop what you’re doing and listen: These Will Ferrell indie movies are now available on demand and streaming.

THIS WEEK’S THEME: Will Ferrell Indies

Though he’s been one of the biggest and most bankable mainstream comedy stars of the past decade, Will Ferrell harbors the instincts of an independent artist. As his clout in Hollywood has risen, so too have the risks he’s taken: starting a production company, Gary Sanchez Productions, to shepherd eclectic comedic fare like HBO’s Eastbound & Down, doing a one-man show on Broadway as a former president, creating a series of hilarious local ads for Old Milwaukee that aired only in Davenport, Iowa. Here are five of his riskiest, craziest, most interesting indie movies.

On Google Play
Directed by Matt Piedmont
$3.99 to rent

For this year’s CASA DE MI PADRE, Ferrell took himself way out of his comfort zone, starring as a simple Mexican cattle rancher in this all-Español production about loyalty, betrayal, love and revenge. Speaking in a language he couldn’t understand, much less pronounce correctly, meant Ferrell couldn’t rely on his remarkable gift for improvisation; instead he plays the straight man to Diego Luna as his drug-dealing brother and Gael García Bernal as a local kingpin. Sold as a comedy, CASA DE MI PADRE is more like a deadpan, south-of-the-border version of GRINDHOUSE. Director Matt Piedmont and co-writer Andrew Steele, two Saturday Night Live alumni, recreate an old-fashioned Mexican melodrama with tongues planted firmly in cheek, complete with awkward cuts, cheesy special effects and bad acting — a major windfall for Ferrell since his Spanish is about as good as my Icelandic. This strange brew of straight-faced comedy and intentionally underwhelming drama doesn’t always succeed, but you have to admire its spirit of experimentation — o, en Español, espíritu de experimentación.

On Netflix
Directed by Kevin Smith
Free for streaming plan members

Will Ferrell was still a cast member on Saturday Night Live when he appeared as Federal Wildlife Marshal Willenholly in JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK, but in many ways this is his first post-SNL performance; the prototype for everything he would do in the next phase of his career. Though it’s a fairly small supporting role in a sprawling narrative that include a staggering number of celebrity cameos (Chris Rock? James Van Der Beek? Judd Nelson?!), Willenholly, who is chasing drug-dealing stoners Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (writer/director Kevin Smith) and their stolen orangutan across America, is a quintessential Ferrellian hero: overflowing with unearned confidence and prone to bouts of intense stupidity (“Who let the cats out? Wait…”). Interesting trivia note: Ferrell’s character is named after the heroes of the ’70s children’s television show Land of the Lost (father Rick Marshall, and his kids Will and Holly), which was later adapted into a Hollywood blockbuster starring none other than Will Ferrell.

Directed by Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim
Free for streaming plan members

Like any good improviser, Ferrell is gracious about sharing the stage with other artists. He frequently puts his neck — and star power — on the line to help up-and-coming comics he admires, which is why he appears in a brief but very funny supporting role in TIM AND ERIC’S BILLION DOLLAR MOVIE from cult TV comics Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim (Adult Swim’s Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!). Ferrell, who also co-produced the film through Gary Sanchez, plays Damien Weebs, a sketchy businessman who hires Tim (Heidecker) and Eric (Wareheim) to refurbish his decrepit mall (located in beautiful S’Wallow Valley) and restore it to its former glory. Ferrell pops up occasionally throughout the narrative (term used loosely), mostly in conjunction with a vagrant named Taquito, played with equally charming insanity by Ferrell’s STEP BROTHERS co-star John C. Reilly. Weebs’ eccentricities harken back to Ferrell’s early days in Hollywood, when he was fresh out of SNL and the rising star in Ben Stiller’s repertory company (ZOOLANDER, STARSKY AND HUTCH). Stiller gave him a leg up in the movie business and now Ferrell’s returning the favor for guys like Heidecker and Wareheim.

On Amazon Instant Video
Directed by Dan Rush
$14.99 to purchase

Ferrell had tried his hand at drama before 2011′s EVERYTHING MUST GO, most notably in 2006′s STRANGER THAN FICTION. But that tale of a man who discovers that his life might be taking place in a work of fiction still permitted Ferrell to scream and rant and rely on many of his comedic tics. In contrast, EVERYTHING MUST GO forces Ferrell to try something really bold: minimalism. He doesn’t play a blustery news anchor or a macho Olympic figure skater or a beloved recording artist who tries his hand at professional basketball: He’s an alcoholic loser who, in the course of one awful day, gets dumped by his wife and fired from his job. Locked out of his house with no money and nowhere to go, he gets plastered and camps out on his front yard, where his ex has dumped all of his possessions. A loophole in a local law means Ferrell can live on his lawn for five days, selling everything to his name in a massive yard sale; it’s that week that give the film its structure and its title. Though writer/director Dan Rush gives Ferrell a few “big” moments to play, all the best scenes, surprisingly, are the quietest ones. In stripping away his character’s possessions and preconceptions, Ferrell strips away his own actorly armor, revealing a significantly more mature and nuanced thespian underneath.

On iTunes
Directed by Neal Brennan
$2.99 to rent, $9.99 to purchase; $3.99 to rent, $19.99 to purchase in HD

THE GOODS: LIVE HARD, SELL HARD is the most underrated title in the Gary Sanchez canon. Directed by Neal Brennan, co-creator of Chappelle’s Show, the film is about a car salesman named Don Ready (Jeremy Piven) brought in by a struggling dealership owner (James Brolin) to save his business. Ready, in turn, brings in a whole team of used car-salesmen — and comic-actor — all-stars, including David Koechner and Kathryn Hahn, to help move 200 automobiles over the 4th of July weekend. Ferrell, who produced the film with ANCHORMAN director Adam McKay, appears in a flashback — maybe the funniest flashback in the history of cinema — as Ready’s fallen friend McDermott, whose tragic death is the reason for Ready’s crusty exterior. Years earlier, Ready wanted to impress a woman so badly that he convinced McDermott to skydive into a dealership sale dressed as Abe Lincoln as the ultimate publicity stunt. The rest, as they say, is history. History and dildo jokes.

Photo credit: John Estes