DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Considering the massive overkilled marketing push behind this film, the inspired mix of absurdest humour and sharp satire make Anchorman 2 a genuinely pleasant surprise. The almost 10 years between the first film and this one is worth the wait. While the character of lovable buffoon Ron Burgundy and his outlandish gags and set pieces are finely tuned, it’s the film’s sharp critique of the commodization of modern news which sets the film apart from other money-making franchise ventures, such as 'The Hangover'.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013) dir. Adam McKay
Starring: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Steve Carell

By Alan Bacchus

The passage of time in the making of this film extends into the plotting here as well. We’re in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, years after the first film. Ron Burgundy and his partner Veronica Corningstone are still a crack team of news anchors from San Diego. Their partnership is tested when Corningstone is offered a national news desk job in New York City, but without Burgundy. As expected Burgundy’s response is obscenely selfish, splitting the couple and sending our hero onto his journey from the bottom back to the top.

Burgundy is soon offered a job by an especially sketchy-looking Dylan Baker who is hiring for a new 24 hour news cable channel. Burgundy naively laughs off the idea in his typically over-the-top fashion, but he does take the job.

There’s a fun sequence featuring Burgundy ‘getting his team back together’ – a clever way to introduce his three laughable compatriots, weatherman Brick Tamland (Carell), sportscaster Champ Kind (Koechner), and investigative journalist Brian Fantana (Rudd). The quartet have not worn out their welcome, writers McKay/Ferrell admirably recycle old gags and orchestrate a number of riotous new ones. In particular a shortish subplot about Champ’s new fried chicken restaurant using bats instead of chickens is downright hilarious.

If anything Carell is underused as Brick Tamland. His gags continue to follow random nonsensical deadpan one-liners. But with a love interest in Kristin Wiig – his female equivalent (the same case as in Melissa McCarthy’s appearance in Hangover III) – Tamland gets more screen time. Sadly his gags are mostly dead air.

The film exemplifies itself with its surprisingly sharp and relevant critique of modern news agencies who use cute animals, car chases and other salacious stories to anchor their newscasts, and arguably tarnish the reputation of its serious journalists. The 24 hour news network is an obvious a jab at CNN, but the network’s bombastic owner, Kench Allenby (Josh Lawson) is a smart comical hybrid of Ted Turner, Rupert Murdoch and Richard Branson.

At two hours it threatens to run long, especially in the overly extended action climax, a repeat of the cameo-heavy street fight sequence featuring the other news teams. The appearance of Vince Vaughn which extends the sequence way too long adds nothing to the film. But, however bizarre, we can’t help love Ron Burgundy and follow him through to the end of his journey - proof of Will Ferrell’s strong acting chops beyond his sketch/improv origin and the viability of his character, in the same way we loved Austin Powers. There’s genuine character here, and Burgundy’s development is not lost on us. That all said, after the marketing overkill of Ferrell as Burgundy in the media circuit last year, I’m fine for not seeing the character for another 10 years.

***

Anchorman 2 is available on Blu-Ray from Paramount Home Entertainment

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Agony and the Ecstasy

With Easter coming around, this also means the season of a historical epics – both in theatres and home video. Agony and the Ecstasy was one of the bigger films of its day, a 70mm showcase, telling the story of the Michelangelo and his tempestuous relationship with Pope Julius I who commissioned the surly artist to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. As usual with this kind of the film, the superb production value carries the weight over a dull story and hammy characterizations of historical figures.

Friday, 21 March 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

What a pleasure to see at age 70 Martin Scorsese, into the latter stage of his career, deliver one more sprawling crime picture, in this case a film which acts like a capper to a trilogy including Goodfellas and Casino, three pictures connected by the director's blistering cinematic pace, it's fascinating viewpoint into three segments of high stakes crime and corruption and it's sympathetic portrait of three contemptible characters. Once again Scorsese succeeds.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

George Washington

David Gordon Green’s dreamy feature debut renowned for its swath of Terrence Malick affectations feels even more warm and inviting fourteen years later. The consciously lazy narrative of a group of rural Texan kids, black and white, co-habitating happily, and growing up impervious to the pretty bleak squalor around them, is the functional foundation for Green’s lush tonal aesthetic. Essentially the film is made up of small moments of infectious and hypnotising beauty, moments and scenes which don’t always coalesce together fluidly, but collectively whet our palette through its nostalgic filter of childlike naivete.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen’s already celebrated picture consciously manages to find a medium ground between the intimate and avant-garde roots of his earlier pics and the broad historical canvas of American slavery. As devastating it is to see slavery depicted on screen he never seems to match the level of visceral impact as his debut Hunger. Thus, however powerful and moving there’s a feeling he’s tamed himself for the sake of American and Hollywood acceptability.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

A Brief History of Time

The story and science of renowned astro-physicist Stephen Hawking was given the Errol Morris cinematic treatment in A Brief History of Time in 1991. Morris’ ability to probe deep into unique idiosyncratic characters is put to the ultimate test in Hawking, the wheelchair bound genius with no way of communicating other than his hand controlled clicker and computer-translated voice. And yet through his inert facade emerges perhaps the most enlightening character study he’s ever made.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Saturn 3

There’s very little to praise in Saturn 3, the much-maligned Razzy-nominated science-fiction film from 1980, which appears like a stain on Stanley Donen’s ('Singing in the Rain', 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers') esteemed filmography. At the time, we could admire Donen’s desire to step into another genre, similar to Robert Wise’s success with 'Star Trek The Motion Picture' a year prior, but even with relaxed expectations today, the film never rises above a mere curiosity-piece for the talent involved.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Tess


Thomas Hardy’s tragic 19th century novel adapted as a luscious period film by Roman Polanski is a unique notch on his filmography rarely discussed or acknowledged. Made in 1979 after his escape to France, the film beautifully rounds out Polanski’s long and successful career as it remains one of the three pictures of his nominated for best picture and best director (along with Chinatown and The Pianist).

Thursday, 6 March 2014

300 Spartans


With today’s eyes this version of the Battle of Thermopylae serves only ‘Sword and Sandal’ genre enthusiasts (although this one was Greek-made with Hollywood involvement) and curiosity seekers interested in the origins of Frank Miller’s cult graphic novel 300 and by association the monumentally successful Zach Snyder film. Otherwise it’s a dull historical actioner from start to finish.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Alan's Top Ten Films of All Time

Ok, Daily Film Dose is not daily any more. It’s not dead, in fact very much alive (in my head). I’ve been it for over 7 years and I’ve never posted an all-time favourite list. And so here it is, for what it’s worth. Ten films that stick to me so vividly and profoundly more than anything else I’ve ever seen.


How Green Was My Valley (1941) dir. John Ford

This film exemplifies everything that is great about John Ford, even more so than any of his revered Westerns. Ford's signature elegant style creates a romantic view of Welsh coal mining family living through turbulent times. Told from the point of view of young Roddy McDowell's character there's a filter of romanticized nostalgia which Ford embellishes with all his cinematic powers. Breathtaking recreation of the town is front and centre. Arguably one of the greatest locations and sets ever built. The coal mine perched atop a hill at the end of the town and the rows of houses which follow down the valley creates Parthenon-like compositional perfection. And those plumes of smoke which linger in distance so perfectly in the frame was all part of Ford’s obsessive design. The film's trump card though is the astonishingly emotional ending, as moving and powerful as anything in Ford's oeuvre and the history of cinema for that matter. To some the film is notable for being the one that bested Orson Welles and Citizen Kane for Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards but How Green Was My Valley is better and I bet Welles would agree.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Raise the Titanic

Notable at the time for being an expensive flop, this audacious story of a covert CIA operation to quite literally raise the H.M.S. Titanic from the bottom of the North Atlantic in the hope of salvaging a rare mineral to be used in the production of an atomic nuclear defense system would seem like a Sisyphean task. But the Clive Cussler novel on which it was based was a best seller, a precursor of sorts to the Michael Crichton/Tom Clancy brand of techno-thriller of the '80s/'90s, and well, it's Hollywood.

Friday, 31 January 2014

The Long Day Closes

Though having only five dramatic feature films under his belt Terence Davies has been dubbed the greatest living British filmmaker. And there’s little argument here. The Long Day Closes, his second film exemplifies the dreamy beauty of his films, a symphony of cinematic elegance whose sole purpose is to bask in the beauty of his inspired marriage of imagery and sound.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Sundance 2014 - Day Four Wrap Up

Boyhood (dir. Richard Linklater)

A phenomenal achievement, shooting a film over 12 years charting the course of a child's life from from age 6 to 18. Unfortunately Linklater is not immune to the inherent problems with shooting kids, many awkward scenes early on threaten to douse the fire early but the film gains strength as goes along ultimately ending with the feeling of the film as greater than the sum of its parts. As customary to Richard Linklater the film is less about plot, drama or prefab conflict than the observing his main subject Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and giving the audience the cinematic equivalent to 'growing up'. As a dialogue driven movie it works best when the child actors Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater are older more mature and thus better actors. Thus there's a snowball effect which gains traction the longer we get to know the characters. It takes a long time get there, but it's a worthy journey to take.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Sundance 2014 - Day Three Wrap Up

Skeleton Twins (dir. Craig Johnson)

This high wattage comedy asserts Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as a contemporary classic comic duo. The spark of comic timing from the classic SNL material is evident. May/Nichols might not be the right comparison but their careers have no sign of slowing down. Wiig and Hader as depressed adults both of whom stunted emotionally and who come together in their home town to mutually reconcile their demons might sound like conciuosly casting against type but director Johnson effectively moves the story between brooding drama involving suicide attempts and broad improv comedy and uproarious set pieces. Adding up the ample doses of 80's nostalgia, hilarious comic set pieces and the multi-pronged plotting Johnson packs a lot fit into its brisk 90min running time, but by hitting all the structural beats in their right places more than smoothes over any loose ends.