Opening in New York, December 20, 2013

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Opening on Wednesday were two films, one a comedy sequel, the other prime Oscar bait.

The likely box office winner is Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (61), one of the most over-promoted movies in human history. It’s hard to understand why, since it certainly had a built in audience that didn’t need any reminding. There were articles on whether the incessant promotion would produce a backlash. I doubt that. But it did diminish my interest in the film, which was pretty low to start. I thought the original was just okay, and Will Ferrell’s schtick is wearing pretty thin. Ty Burr: “While Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is a disappointment — how could it not be? — it’s not for lack of trying. If anything, the movie tries too hard.”

For your Oscar consideration is Spike Jonze’s Her (91), a love story about a man and an operating system. Great reviews and several critics’ awards set this up as a potential Best Picture nominee, and there’s a debate about whether a voice-only performance, by Scarlett Johansson, should get an Oscar nomination. I doubt it. A must see for me, though. Andrew O’Hehir: “This is a handcrafted, passionate and sometimes impossibly beautiful film that argues for both the past and the future, with a poetic spirit that’s extremely rare in American cinema.”

Also this week is something called Walking With Dinosaurs (37), a 3D family film that I guess is educational. Tom Russo: “However well-intentioned the movie may be, it spills over with flat cutesy humor, making a slog out of an experience that should be filled with wonder.”

For more highbrow audiences, there’s The Past (84), Asghar Farhadi’s follow up to his Oscar-winning A Separation. It was just announced, though, that this one is not in the finalists for Best Foreign Language Film, something of a surprise. Elizabeth Weitzman: “The Past is not as nuanced as its predecessor — and not as impactful, either. But this is still far more complex than most family dramas.”

All the Light in the Sky (62) is the latest from mumblecore director Joe Swanberg about the difficulties of an actress entering middle age. Nathan Rabin: “All The Light In The Sky is a refreshingly grown-up exploration of a woman at a personal and professional crossroads that’s stronger for never pushing its narrative or its finely wrought lead character in the direction of big moments or bullshit epiphanies. It’s casual, but also quietly moving.”

Finally is The Selfish Giant (83), another British miserabilist picture, about the friendship between two boys in the North of England. Neil Young: “[A] solidly effective addition to Britain’s social realism tradition, elevated by excellent performances by the young leads and some unexpectedly poetic touches.”

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

5 responses »

  1. Saw the Anchorman sequel today and thought it was no better than so-so. Mind you I wasn’t really a fan of the first film so it wasn’t really a step backwards.

    As you’d expect with a Ferrell comedy, it had some inspired humour and off-the-wall moments mixed with a lot of flat spots, lame crudeness and shock events. And being a Judd Apatow production, it’s a given that it will be overlong.

    (some mild spoilers) There were bright spots – I liked the scene where Burgundy meets Veronica’s new lover (well played by the always enjoyable Greg Kinnear) and thought the scene where Burgundy awkwardly tries to fit in at a dinner with his black girlfriend’s family was hilarious.

    But there was a lot that didn’t work – especially a segment where Burgundy loses his sight which feels flat and only pads out the running time.

    As for the fight finale, I didn’t find it especially funny but it was entertaining in the form of its absurdity and plethora of celebrity cameos.

    Disappointingly, considering it’s so much about riffing and mocking a particular time period, it doesn’t have a particularly consistent and disciplined take on its time period; sometimes it feels like a late 1970s time period, other times it feels like an early or even mid-1980s setting. A surprising plus is that it’s quite pointed and sharp in its take on modern TV news.

    Rating: C+

  2. If you watch The Past, you may agree with is exclusion. The reviewer sums it up pretty well, and while it’s far from a bad movie, very far, it’s not nearly at the level of A Separation, which, while perhaps unfair and impossible, is simply the truth.
    A Separation is a masterpiece. And as Head On is a masterstroke of cinema, The Past is on the level with Fatih Akin’s lesser films.

  3. I really don’t understand how Anchorman 2 got a pass from so many critics. I’m assuming they were afraid of appearing unhip and/or being overly critical of something from McKay/Apatow.

  4. Agreed. I think Ron Burgundy has become such an iconic film character and the film’s promotion was so unique (and overwhelming) that many probably thought it would be easier to give it a pass.

    And of course there’s the Apatow factor, who seems to be untouchable because he makes pseudo-provocative comedies that are just the same old thing dressed up with some blunt language to make them seem fresh. In a couple of decades time, I’m certain there’ll be no filmmaker whose reputation from the 2000-2015 period will have gone down more than him.

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