Seasons greetings Film Geeks! The multiplexes are filling up fast, meaning there are dozens of movies from various genres to choose from for family holiday viewing. And since there is only about five days until SEVEN MORE movies open, you’re going to need to streamline in order to catch what you really ought to rush out and see. Unfortunately, folks, most of the major studio releases this Christmas have this Christmas film lover feeling like a bit of a Grinch. Here’s what’s available:
ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES (PG-13) — If Will Ferrell looks a little tired, that’s because he’s been promoting the living hell out of this sequel to the deliriously kooky 2004 comedy about 1970s TV newspeople so idiotic you wonder how they can even read the teleprompter. If the gags in “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” feel a little tired, that’s probably because they are.
Don’t get me wrong. I can get behind a brazenly goofy comedy as easily as the next guy. I laughed loud and hard at many of the bizarre non-sequiturs in the first “Anchorman,” so I was generally looking forward to this belated follow-up. Shifting from the 1970s to the 80s, “Anchorman 2” finds dippy newsman Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) rounding up his equally-moronic news crew (David Koechner, Paul Rudd and Steve Carrell) to work at a 24-hour news channel similar to CNN.
The problem with “Anchorman 2,” much like the problem that dogged the second and third “Austin Powers” films, is that the sequel tries so hard to duplicate the zaniness of the original film that the strains of its efforts show through. Yes, there are some very big laughs in the movie, but too much of it falls flat because co-writers Ferrell and Adam McKay (who also directed) toss so much wackiness at us that most of it doesn’t even make sense.
An example: for no reason whatsoever, Burgundy bonks his head and goes blind for a spell. Retreating to a lighthouse, he adopts an injured shark and nurses it back to health before regaining his sight and returning to work, where a rival (James Marsden) is threatening his livelihood. What is the point of this ten-minute-plus sequence? Hell if I know.
Rumor has it McKay has so much extra footage of the cast ad-libbing their lines that he could make an entirely different cut. Let’s hope “Anchorman 3” streamlines the gags and eliminates a lot of the filler. ★★ (out of ★★★★)
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (R) — It brings me no great joy as both a fellow Minnesotan and a lover of all things Coen brothers to report that their latest effort, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” is easily Joel and Ethan Coen’s worst film. Sorry, but it’s true.
“Inside Llewyn Davis” is about the 1960s folk scene in New York City’s Greenwich VIllage. Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) is a fledgling folk singer who bounces between couches and gigs, forever on the lookout for success but never seeming to find it. The product of a former folk duo, Llewyn bickers with a former flame (Carey Mulligan), takes a road trip with John Goodman and Garrett Hedlund, and records a hilarious folk track with Justin Timberlake called “Please, Mr. Kennedy,” and that’s pretty much the extent of the movie.
Look, I didn’t hate “Inside Llewyn Davis.” I just didn’t see the point. The Coen brothers are terrific at scripting kooky dialogue and putting their characters into situations that push them to the brink, but the dialogue in “Llewyn Davis” lacks punch (save for the Goodman scene, which is all too brief), and the character of Llewyn is such an unlikable lout that you don’t want to see him succeed anyway.
Bring back the Coens I know and love! ★★ (out of ★★★★)
AMERICAN HUSTLE (R) — It happens every once in a while. A movie comes out that is hailed by critics as one of the year’s best movies, and Uncle Jesse fails to see the hype. This year, we have two: “Inside Llewyn Davis” is one, “American Hustle” is the other.
David O. Russell, director of “The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “I ♥ Huckabees,” takes us back to the 1970s for this flashy con caper, investing us in a scheme populated by name actors wearing insane hairdos (Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper) who speak in ungodly accents (Jennifer Lawrence). The costumes are vintage, too, if you can picture Amy Adams wearing something Pam Grier might have worn in one of her blaxploitation epics.
The story in “American Hustle” is a flip-floppy affair in which the four leads scam each other to come out ahead. Bale and Adams are hustlers forced to work with the FBI (spearheaded by Cooper) to trap shady politicians who’re cooperating with the Mob. Lawrence plays Bale’s wife, and she is utter dynamite in a film that blends fine performances with a story that can’t quite justify the movie’s insane 137-minute run time.
Fun to watch but utterly empty, “American Hustle” is a conundrum, and not just because you feel you’re being bamboozled by Russell and his fine cast as it plays out. Sure, “American Hustle” is ambitious enough, but what’s the big picture? ★★ (out of ★★★★)
The season’s worst film is this utterly tedious kiddie adventure, which has impressive animation that gets overshadowed by a dreadful script in which poop jokes supersede science. Taking its title from the critically-heralded BBC series, “Dinosaurs” tries really hard to pass itself off as entertainment, though most kids will see right through the movie’s mediocrity. At least I hope so.
Patchi (voice of Justin Long) is an ambitious Pachyrhinosaurus (whatever that is) working his way up in the herd, butting heads with his even more ambitious brother Scowler and putting the moves on a female Pachyrhinosaurus named Juniper. Terrain is crossed, battles ensue, dumb jokes are told and everyone goes home underwhelmed.
It’s possible “Walking With Dinosaurs” was a better movie before the voice cast was added. Lord knows its enjoyability would increase tenfold if there were some way you could mute the movie’s narrator, a Latin-accented bird voiced by John Leguizamo who looks like a scary chicken. Alas, there’s no way to tell from the movie currently polluting multiplexes, which is bound to be extinct from view once word of mouth gets out on this dino-sized turd. ★ (out of ★★★★)
SAVING MR. BANKS (PG-13) — And now for some good news. “Saving Mr. Banks,” the story of how “Mary Poppins” made the leap from page to screen, is the best movie of the week and certain to be the movie of choice for families who’re given the option of seeing this or that dinosaur thing.
“Saving Mr. Banks” completely sugarcoats the prickly relationship between “Poppins” author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) and Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), but that’s okay because the interpretation the filmmakers came up with is so much more high-spirited that you really wish it were true. The real Travers may have been a decade or so older than Thompson when Disney flew her from London to his Los Angeles studios to finally persuade her to let him film her beloved novel, but that’s okay too because Thompson is so utterly delightful in the role.
“Saving Mr. Banks” is a fictionalized account of this story, made special by a slew of fine performances and a script that recognizes the seedier truths of how “Mary Poppins” came to be. Travers had a childhood overshadowed by a drunken father (Colin Farrell, in flashbacks), whose love shone through despite an inability to control his love for hooch. The movie lays these scenes on a little thick; too thick, in fact, as “Saving Mr. Banks” makes the mistake of flashing back in time far more often than it does spend time with Travers and Disney in 1961, which moviegoers may have been duped into thinking make up the bulk of the movie.
Nevertheless, “Saving Mr. Banks” is an entertaining holiday movie, perfect for families despite its PG-13 rating and certain to make all viewers seek out “Mary Poppins” once again, a classic that has just been released on Blu-ray and would make the perfect holiday gift for anyone who digs “Saving Mr. Banks.” ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
Categories: Jesse Hoheisel