Anchorman 2 jumps the shark. I wish, I wish that was a fun little inside joke based on a couple of sharks in a couple of actual scenes. But it’s not. What starts off as a charming return to the whacky wink-nudge lunacy of the first Anchorman movie rapidly descends into bloviating incoherence. It’s so all over the place, it’s like the screenwriters ran out of ideas and were just making it up as they went along. You can role out as many cameos as you like, but when it sucks, it sucks. Disappointing.
Oh, there is one good thing – Kristen Wiig. Awesome.
The Way Way Back tells the story of fourteen year old Duncan, painfully lacking in self-confidence, who’s stuck on a beach holiday with his insecure Mom, her new boyfriend Trent, and Trent’s snarly mean-girl daughter Steph. Fleeing the increasingly dysfunctional family dynamics (it’s no coincidence that their holiday home is called “The Riptide”) Duncan seeks and finds refuge at a rickety old waterpark managed by the cheerful wastrel Owen and a cast of lunatics.
So what can I tell you? Well, simply put: is one of the best films I’ve seen all year. Sensitive, thoughtful, sweet, touching and riotously funny, it’s packed with wry social observation, cringing coming of age embarrassment and magnificent force-of-nature performances. Alison Janney is stand-out, both teen leads are superb, and Steve Carrell as Trent is deliciously odious. But the heart and soul is Sam Rockwell. He’s fantastic here. The Way Way Back filmed in Massachussetts, specifically at the Water Wizz – seriously – in Wareham.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a sad, slow, sweet little movie from the writer of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. It’s about two damaged creatures who miraculously find each other as a massive meteor hurtles towards Earth and an “Extinction Level Event.” With fourteen days til impact, the rest of America parties and burns, Dodge (Carrell) and Whiny Penny (Knightley) take a road trip.
Seeking was billed as a romantic comedy, which is a misnomer on both counts; think Did You Hear About the Morgans but with astroblemes. Think Melancholia only, I don’t know, less upbeat and with fewer jokes. Keira Knightly looks like she’s stumbled in from the particularly grim East End set of Call the Midwife – plus she’s done something terrible with her eyebrows that look like they’re giving her a face lift. It’s saved by Steve Carrell. And yes (spoiler alert) everyone dies at the end. Being the eternal optimist, I was pissed off even at that.
I know I should care, and I know vaguely that it filmed in California, but actually I couldn’t be bothered to look up the locations. Sorry.
Crazy Stupid Love takes no time with set up, it goes straight for the sucker-punch. Steve Carrell plays Cal, a middle-aged Dad whose life falls apart quite spectacularly when his wife asks for a divorce. He’s jarred from his melancholia by the friendship of a handsome young player called Jacob (a pitch-perfect turn by Ryan Gosling) who recognizes something of his late Dad in the bumbling Cal. And thus Jacob re-styles Cal, teaches him the finer points of dating, and sends him out into the world. He’s only side-tracked from this Samaritan’s mission by the arrival in his own life of the delightful, charming fire-cracker Hannah (Emma Stone – let’s hear it for Emma Stone!) who turns his own world upside down. Throw in a love-sick baby sitter, a couple of scenes with Marisa Tomei, a brilliant Asian sidekick with nowhere near enough screen time, a bit of Josh Groban, crackling chemistry, great pacing and a really funny script, and you’ve got what’s actually a pretty delightful grown-up rom-com.
It also filmed in LA – I recognized several of the stores and walkways at the Westfield Century City Mall, where Jacob takes Cal shopping (Jacob: “Are you the billionaire owner of Apple Computers?” Cal: “No”. Jacob: “Oh, ok. In that case, you’ve got no right to wear New Balance sneakers, ever.”) Westfield is very pro-film, and sponsored one of the strands at the Produced By Conference last year.
A lot of the criticism of Get Smart – the Steve Carell / Anne Hathaway spy comedy – is that it doesn’t live up to the original tv series. But having never seen the tv show, I’ve no idea what they’re talking about. All I have to go on is a smileworthy movie with likeable stars (though hardly exuding crackling chemistry – inspite of the plastic surgery sub-plot she seems about a decade too young for him) and a thoroughly silly but happy plot.
Carell plays Maxwell Smart, a data analyst for a top secret government agency called CONTROL. Think Andy Stitzer with better gadgets. Following an attack on CONTROL’s hideaway HQ, the identities of all its agents are collectively compromised, meaning that the earnest Max is finally called upon to enter the field. I’m not really sure what happens next, but there’s a lot of explosions, funny dancing, some sky diving, and some hammy bad guys. Teamed with the beautiful Agent 99 (Hathaway) they trek to Russia on something of a goosechase (Red Square looks nice though) and end up at the Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, where a nuclear bomb’s timed to go off in the last few bars of Ode to Joy. Oh joy.
Undeniably daft. But what a remarkable looking building is the Disney Hall – it’s like the shed skin of the slimy monster in Deep Rising. Who knew?
Anyone whining about the lack of success of the South African film industry need only to look at a movie like Pieces of April to understand what we’re doing wrong. Written and directed by Peter Hedges, April is a small, personal film, well told. It stars Katie Holmes (post-Dawson and pre-Tom and therefore appealing) as an estranged daughter struggling to prepare a Thanksgiving meal for her dying mother and the rest of her dysfunctional family. A good portion takes place in the Lower East Side tenement block where April resides. It is a very human movie, full of sadness, good humour, wry insights and cracking one liners. The script is excellent and the performances are first rate; Patricia Clarkson was nominated for just about every award out there for her role as April’s dying mother. And there is Politics too; one of the most memorable scenes is when April’s black boyfriend (Derek Luke) goes out to what you’re set up to believe is a drug deal, only to realise that he’s actually gone to rent a suit to impress his girlfriend’s parents. See; Politics with a big P but without the trowel. Great script, great acting, small cast, few locations; South African film makers – never ever slow to wag a lecturely finger or bludgeon the audience with Issues – could learn a lot from this.
Anyway, I really only mention April because we caught Dan in Real Life at the cinema on Monday – a movie also co-written and directed by Hedges. Dan stars Steve Carrell and Juliette Binoche, and it has similar underlying themes to Hedges’ previous work; finding love, finding yourself, facing death and accepting the importance of family (however screwy, daft and inappropriate they may be.) Hedges also uses similar constructs including a central location where the family gathers – in this case a rambling timber-panelled home on Conanicut Island in the state of Rhode Island.
Like Louisiana, Rhode Island has a pretty aggressive and successful Film Incentive programme, and that’s why you’ll increasingly see RI locations appearing on screens before you. Dan was filmed in in the cities of Newport, East Greenwich, Jamestown, Westerly and Providence, with key scenes at Providence’s Seven Stars Bakery and the Point Judith Lighthouse in Narragansett.
However, the main focus is the family home (a monstrously ugly pile called “Riven Rock” located on West Bay View Drive in Jamestown) where the chaotic Burns clan gather en masse for bonding activitiesthat include family aerobics, family crossword puzzle races, family American football and family talent shows. I think we were supposed to learn from all this that the family unit, though it may be loopy, is warm and familiar and always supportive. Personally, if I’d been thrust into the midst of that zoo, I’d probably be considering doing a Jeremy Bamber.