Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

Anchorman 2 (2013)

Cult status. It’s a bit of a ‘buzz term’. Typically, it means a film that came out at the cinema, didn’t do too well / attract too much buzz, but went on to become a hit in the home market thanks to DVDs and TV showings. These types of films then become quotable, and quotes permeate into daily discourse. These start off being quite cool – “oh yeah! I saw that movie too! Great line!”, but typically descend into overuse in no time at all. Several of these films have emerged and spring to mind for The Phage. Oddly, quite a few of them seem to feature Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, or a combination of the two. Funnily enough, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is the sequel to what I would regard as the most over-quoted and over-referenced film in recent memory… So can this long-gestating sequel add more quotes to the library or are we… Well…

Anchorman 2 (2013)

Let’s get one thing clear from the get go: I’m not a fan of the original Anchorman, nor am I the greatest fan of Will Ferrell‘s schtick. It all comes off as too staid, too low brow and down-right too unfunny. It just grates. I saw the original Anchorman, found it mildly amusing in places, but never felt the urge to return to it over and over again, like so many others. Plus, what has Will Ferrell produced in subsequent years that has been of note at all? You’ll struggle. He’s had cameos here and there, but none of it has been remotely funny. It just consists of him shouting combinations of words. That’s not humour. Or maybe it is, and I’m just too old for it?

Regardless, Anchorman 2 “picks up” where the first film left off: Ron Bergundy (Will Ferrell) and his new wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) are San Diego’s top news anchors, but it all falls apart when Ron is fired. He’s subsequently asked to join GNN – the first 24 hour news network over in New York City; thus leading him to reunite the gang (Paul Rudd, David Koechner and Steve Carrell) to make TV history. Add in a few random plot twists (read: random, not clever) and you’ve essentially got the premise of the film right there.

Anchorman 2 (2013)

Now, it’s not the basic nature of the plot that bothers me. Dumb & Dumber, which is another “cult” film that’s highly quoted (that I truly love) had a plot revolve around delivering a briefcase. It wasn’t big, nor was it clever, but it was funny. This is something that Anchorman 2 fails to be on all levels. The jokes either wear out their welcome very fast (see the image earlier), miss their mark entirely or are just copy and pastes from the original. Really, I shouldn’t have expected any less from Will Ferrell, as he’s not a gifted comedian given recent evidence.

The humour quickly resorts to trying to “shock” the audience with race jokes, which miss their mark entirely, or focus (and then come to rely upon) Steve Carrell‘s Brick character. You remember the “I love lamp” jokes from the first Anchorman? That was funny, right? Well, imagine that same type of humour on repeat, but becoming more stupid and more infantile every time to the point that it just becomes awkward to watch. It eventually turns into “oh no… here comes another Brick joke”. Yes, we get it, he’s mentally challenged, or slow, or whatever angle you’re gunning for…

Anchorman 2 (2013)

It’s quite telling that the most memorable moments were the cameos. It had people gasping and nigh-on applauding to see some of them. Although I won’t ruin the fun for anyone here, it’s easily the best bit of the film: seeing who else is in here! It’s ruining nothing to say that the film of course has walk ons from some of Will Ferrell‘s acting buddies that he’s appeared in numerous films with. Plus, within the first two minutes of the film you have a walk-on from Drake (who won’t be the only hip-hop star to grace the screen). What’s more interesting is the calibre of some of the actors that appear in the closing 15 minutes. You’ve got some true A listers of comedy, film and musuic, and some true movie whores too; ones that’ll seemingly appear in anything nowadays. The fact that the “ooo, who’s next?” was the best bit of the film is rather telling… as it didn’t actually feature Will Ferrell all that much.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is a legend that is hopefully now concluded. Surely this cannot be stretched into a trilogy?! But I guess if the money pours in at the box office, then we may inevitably see Anchorman 3: The Legend Concludes. Ultimately, if you enjoyed Anchorman and could laugh over and over again at those jokes, then this film will probably appease you. If, like me, you found the first film a bit “too” stupid, then this will do nothing to change your mind.

We’re just hoping that Dumb & Dumber To doesn’t fall into the same bin as Anchorman 2. Surely Jeff Daniels & Jim Carrey can pull out another classic as Harry and Lloyd? But that’s the risk… if you produce a “cult” classic then return to it several (or nigh-on 20 years later for Dumb & Dumber) you’re running a huge risk. I’ve yet to see it work for a comedy if I’m honest, as the temptation’s there to just repeat past jokes. Here’s hoping Harry and Lloyd had done wonders with that worm farm… and it’s not just that Petey’s head’s fallen off. Again.

Phage Factor:

2 Stars

Les Misérables (2013)

Les Miserables (2013)

Back in a former life, before Film Phage was born, I actually worked in the record industry. I scouted bands on a national and international basis for a rather large record label. As such, I’ve got a pretty discerning ear for music. Most music. And if I had started a music site, it’d be called Phonic Phage. Maybe one day we’ll mutate into that, so hands off the name – same for Flick Phage if I ever decide to start reviewing books! All that being said, nothing terrifies me more than the prospect of a musical film. I don’t even like it when someone sings a solitary song in an otherwise tuneless film, so with that weighing heavily on my mind I headed out to see Les Misérables

Les Miserables (2013)

As I say, I’m no musical film fan. I remember seeing Sweeney Todd a few years ago and being mortified by the endless churning out of songs! Even my great love of all things Matt Stone and Trey Parker was tested with South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, which featured a whole slew of songs. Some enjoyable, some less so. But saying that, I’m not averse to musical theatre and I’ll be one of the first to see The Book of Mormon when it hits the UK in a couple of months… but me and musical films? An entirely different kettle of fish.

Before seeing Les Misérables I was ready to write this off. For me, Hugh Jackman is Wolverine and not Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe is Maximus Decimus Aurelius and not Javert and Anne Hathaway is now Catwoman and not Fantine. And Sacha Baron Cohen? Well, his role’s pretty accurate: bizarre. And certainly none of them sing. Wolverine certainly doesn’t sing. But the film caught me off guard… Although I may have checked my watch a couple of times.

Wolverine needs to get his act together and have a shave before July!

Wolverine needs to get his act together and have a shave before July!

So, a real summary? Essentially, Wolverine / Jackman / Jean Valjean steals a loaf of bread and is jailed / enslaved for an illogical length of time in revolutionary France. He’s overseen by Gladiator / Crowe / Javert – an Inspector who swears to monitor Valjean for the rest of his life to make sure he doesn’t reoffend. But Valjean flees. And does quite well for himself after changing his name – a total character reformation. But Javert never gives up – he’s a lot like Wile E. Coyote constantly chasing that roadrunner. Or General Ross who constantly chases The Hulk. He’s remorseless. There are also several subplots woven in here to add more songs. You’ve got Anne Hathaway‘s impoverished quest to get money for her daughter (who’ll become Amanda Seyfried) who’s in the care of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. Oh, and you’ve got the whole French Revolution underclass being led by Marius (Eddie Redmayne).

OK, a tough plot to summarise, I’ll concede that. That’d be why it’s a three hour West End / Broadway musical then, split up into three acts. As someone who has no clue about what happens, I found Les Misérables particularly interesting and the plot intrigued me. I was dubious of how Hathaway‘s somewhat short time on screen could tally with all the praise and awards she’s been nominated for / received. But that dubiousness evaporated pretty sharply… Wow…

Les Miserables (2013)Much fuss has been made of the singing calibre of the cast. Praise has been rightfully doled onto Jackman, who is fantastic as Valjean – he really sells you every emotion that his character feels throughout the film. And Valjean has some major highs and lows in his life. However, less praise has been given to Russell Crowe as Jalvert. Some are saying his singing is awful, out of key etc. etc. However, I’m going to go on record as saying I thought Crowe was perhaps my highlight of the film. I loved his character and just think he conveyed it brilliantly. I’m no thespian, and my talent scouting days are from more popular music genres, but I still thought he brought the goods. I’m a fan of Crowe in general though. He’s often mocked, but I still hold him in high regard. In my eyes he’s on par with Jackman here. Maybe less emotional, but certainly as entertaining.

The other roles? They all do their part. I need to of course focus back onto Anne Hathaway. She looked incredibly distraught and beaten down and really sold me her plight with stark emotion, but she was somewhat “absent” from most of the movie, as fans of the musical will be well aware. Cohen also merits mention for providing some great comic relief. His accent lurches from horny Frenchman to cockney geezer to Ali G, but he definitely plays his role with aplomb.

Les Miserables (2013)

You’d be surprised just how accurate College Humor’s send up is… But it’s not necessarily a bad thing!

What was slightly more confusing is the choice of extras / minor parts. Why were all of the peasants in revolutionary France either from Yorkshire in the north of England, or from the east end of London? Yet all of the middle class were clearly from somewhere around Hertfordshire. I found it quite laughable that they still use northern accents / cockneys to play the impoverished. Some of the singing sounded like a track from the British punk band Gallows (see below for a great, aptly-titled, tune).

That wasn’t my only gripe either. I mentioned earlier how I was checking my watch. The film is simply too long winded in places. Its run time pushes 2 hours and 40 minutes, so it tests your resolve. If you love the stage version of Les Misérables then you’ll surely see time fly by. But for everyone else? Well, let’s just say that the third act drags quite a bit. Further to this, I just found some of the filming techniques a little dull at times. A lot of emphasis has been placed on the close up of the person singing. That’s great… but this is a film, and not a stage musical. I don’t need to see every mouth movement. I want to see the scene and put it in context. Films have such a large budget for a reason… use it.

Having said that, Les Misérables was a pleasant surprise. I didn’t think I’d stay awake for the entire film, let alone enjoy it. I think a good deal of that enjoyment comes from the fact that I’ve no prior exposure to the plot, so as a film lover I could enjoy where events would take us next. The singing was just “there” in my eyes. Yes yes, it’s all delivered live to film and it worked well, but that wasn’t the reason I enjoyed the film. And I really think more credit needs to be given to Russell Crowe – people are being too snobbish about his performance. He’s an actor. A damn fine one. He’s not a musician.

So whilst my past is shrouded in mystery, you now know me as The Phage that used to dabble in music: the Phonic Phage. But much like Jean Valjean I’ve been on the run from my past for too long. It’s good to have it out in the open. But what I won’t do is sing a merry little song about it. For two hours. Because although I enjoyed Les Misérables, I hope Hollywood doesn’t jump on the bandwagon of making all musicals into films. It’s not a two way street, nor should it be! Just look at poor Spider-Man!

Phage Factor:

4 Star

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

The animated sequel is something that’s hard to pull off owing to the law of diminishing returns. Each subsequent entry in a franchise seems to scramble for a new hook or new way of breathing life into its core set of characters. Not all of them can pull this off. Whilst Toy Story successfully spawned two sequels (although I think the original is by far the best), other franchises, such as Cars, have produced very lacklustre sequels that were thin on ideas. This year we’ve seen two of the “B-list” animated franchises: Ice Age and now Madagascar. Whilst I really enjoyed Ice Age: Continental Drift (so did the box office), others lambasted it for being so thin on character and featuring another nonsensical plot. So how does Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted stack up in comparison?

For those unfamiliar with the series so far, it follows a collection of animals on their wild adventures. There’s Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), as well as a couple of other oddballs including a battalion of penguins and an eccentric lemur called King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen). In the past we’ve seen them find a way to get out of a New York zoo and wind up in Madagascar. They then decided they didn’t like it there so tried to fly back home, but got dumped in mainland Africa. And now we see them once again trying to get back to New York, but by way of Europe by serendipitously joining the circus to evade the clutches of Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand). She’s a bit like Ace Ventura pet detective, but way less likeable, wears less amazing clothes and generally likes to kill her captured animals. OK, so not like Ace… this comparison doesn’t fit… like a glove.

Yep, all pretty regular behaviour…

So there you have it, the typical eccentric plot of a threequel, but how does it fair? Surprisingly well, I must say. It seems like the writers have thrown caution to the wind and embraced every wild idea they could come up with on their late night benders. You want Chris Rock singing an incredibly annoying song about polka dots and afros? You got it! You want a giraffe and a hippo to fall in love and do the tightrope together? You got it! You want a lemur to fall in love with a grizzly bear that rides around on a children’s tricycle? You got it! Yes, the ideas are bombastic and absurd, but they work beautifully in the context of the film.

Now, for me, the biggest thing that I dislike about a film starring Chris Rock is Chris Rock. I just don’t get his humour – it really grates on me. People tell me he’s the “new Eddie Murphy” – but I like Eddie Murphy; that guy has charisma and is genuinely funny. I can’t say the same for Rock, especially in his stand-up. However, all of his utterances that caused me to squirm in my seat are already in the trailer; thus eliminating his annoyances from the film itself as I’d already seen them / heard his schtick. With that said, all of the cast are great – but as ever, this is just voice acting… it’s pretty hard to commend someone for “great acting abilities” if all they’re doing is reading lines. It is funny how this is Ben Stiller‘s best work in quite some time though. I really hope that guy catches a break soon so he can be acting in genuinely funny films again. I just hope the Adam Sandler effect hasn’t enveloped him yet.

What makes the film so fun is the characterisation and therefore the humour. All of the animals’ personalities are conveyed so well on screen owing to the writing and choice of accents / actors. Although once again it’s probably Sacha Baron Cohen that steals the most laughs with his always-eccentric Julian and absurdly Robin Williams-esque accent. His character’s romance with Sonya the grizzly bear is both humourous and at times quite touching (once you get through the absurdity of a tutu-ed bear on a tricycle). Also, mention has to go to the visuals. I’ve never thought of the Madagascar series as being mind-blowingly beautiful but there are some spectacular scenes in there that just look fantastic.

If I’m honest, I found the film as humourous as Ice Age: Continental Drift, but without the “slow” moments. Madagascar 3 doesn’t know where the brake pedal is and hurtles along at a rapid pace. This therefore eliminates the weaknesses I saw in Ice Age: Continental Drift – the slow romance scenes with the young mammoths. Therefore kudos must be given for the pacing of this film, which makes it even more suitable for the youngsters in the audience. In a year that’s seen so many “mature” animated films, it’s great to see something that is aimed at the kids, as opposed to aiming at the adults. Sure, there are laughs to be had for us more mature folks, but it’s not expressly for us. And that’s what makes it a great watch.

With Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted I think you know what you’re getting yourself in for when you purchase the ticket… it’s about talking animals. And it ably delivers on its aims of entertainment. Whilst it’s by no means going to catapult the franchise into the upper echelons and make it as note-worthy as Toy Story, it’s definitely injected fresh life into the premise. I just wonder where they’ll go from here…

And who doesn’t like some wild speculation on that fact? I don’t think they’ll go the totally bonkers route that Ice Age has pursued… but who knows. I’m sure the writing team have read the reviews praising their off-the-wall humour, so maybe we will? Aliens? Dinosaurs? Space? Who knows where we’ll be heading next!

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star