Monday, December 30, 2013

Anchorman 2: The Publicity Tour Was Better.

I like Will Ferrell. I do. I think he’s funny and charming and likeable and all that stuff. But when it comes to his movies—particularly the Judd Apatow productions directed by his pal Adam McKay—I am almost always unmoved (their short films on Funny or Die work much better for me, no doubt in no small part due to their brevity).

So it was with some trepidation that I snuck (about five minutes late) into a screening of ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES after seeing AMERICAN HUSTLE with my ladyfriend at the sprawling AMC multiplex at Clifton Commons the other night. Movies like this are usually best left for the small screen these days, what with the diminished returns in light of the boorish behavior of so many theatergoers (which we were mostly spared due to having to sit fully reclined in the second row).

And almost immediately, I was reminded why I don’t like these movies. ANCHORMAN 2 is a sporadically amusing exercise in self-indulgence that seems like it must’ve been way more fun to make than it is to watch. Ferrell and his co-stars (the eternally-endearing Paul Rudd, the perpetually-grating David Koechner, and the usually-effective-but-not-in-this-case Steve Carell) riff both individually and in tandem, with the results being more wacky than funny (let’s face it, this ain’t Michael McKean & Co.). Even the cameo-packed news team battle at the climax (a tired retread from the first film) comes off as nothing more than a wink-nod amongst superstar pals towards each other. The movie seems to think that the mere presence of a gaggle of well-known actors goofing around with each other is enough to entertain the huddled masses glancing at the screen between text messages.

Certainly, Apatow productions are not known for highbrow humor, but the frustrating thing about ANCHORMAN 2 is that there are a few tiny glimmers of the movie that could’ve been. Positing Ron Burgundy and his clueless crew as the progenitors of the superficiality of 24 hour cable news is a great concept, and the handful of scenes that exploit that conceit are the movie’s bright spots. If McKay and Ferrell had the balls to make the entire film a satire of what CNN hath wrought (a subplot about corporate synergy and the network’s Bransonesque CEO trying to kill a story about his airline’s faulty equipment gets the short shrift), this could’ve been their first great movie.

Who knows, maybe the comparatively tepid reaction to their last collaboration, THE OTHER GUYS—which mixed wacky cop comedy with a pretty strong statement against the banking industry—frightened McKay away from smart satire. Personally, I think THE OTHER GUYS is far and away their best film together, and the fact that it’s not produced by Apatow or co-written by Farrell (rather their FoD co-hort Chris Henchy) may explain why.

As it is, the smart stuff in ANCHORMAN 2 takes a back seat to lowbrow hijinks, silly non-sequiturs, Stoogey slapstick, and a third act left turn in which Ron loses his sight, moves to a lighthouse, and nurses a sick shark back to health. It’s dumb, pointless, and unfunny... like most of the film (another subplot dealing with Ron’s poor parenting skills is likewise forced and unsatisfying).

Ironically, this is a case of the publicity tour being far more entertaining than the movie itself. Ferrell’s talk-show stops (both in and out of character), takeovers of actual local newscasts, and even his Dodge Durango ads have, for the most part, been much funnier than almost anything in the film (that DAILY SHOW debacle notwithstanding).

Lest you think I’m above appreciating the goofy, I’ll go on record that my favorite Will Ferrell movie is ELF, which certainly traffics in some lowbrow humor and lots of wackiness. Like I said at the top, I like Ferrell, which is why movies like ANCHORMAN 2 kinda bum me out. It’s not just a lazy insult to the audience’s intelligence, it’s like there’s a great movie lost somewhere amidst the bowling balls to the ‘nads.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Pops Gallery: Christmas Comic Book Covers

As a pop culture obsessive who also happens to love the holidays, there are a lot of chunks of Xmassy media that stir up my bubbly Christmas bowl of nostalgia. In addition to the music, TV shows, books, and movies, there are the holiday themed comic books from the entire history of the medium. Not every story is a gem, of course, but there are some books (including the fantastic ARCHIE COMICS DIGEST #3, featuring a slew of gorgeously rendered holiday stories mostly from the 1950s and '60s) that I pull out every December and re-read while sipping some spiked egg nog. This installment of the Pops Gallery gifts you with a whopping stocking full of 101 classic Christmas comic covers from the Golden, Silver, and Bronze ages.