Saturday, January 18, 2014

Ice Age: Continental Drift

Year 6, Day 18 - 1/18/14 - Movie #1,617

BEFORE:  The animation category is almost cleared.  Again.  Last night's film featured dinosaurs and mammals impossibly co-existing, and that's a plothole last seen in the "Ice Age" series, so to me that's an obvious segue.  Linking from "Dinosaur", Alfre Woodard was also in "Beauty Shop" with Queen Latifah (last seen in "The Bone Collector").

 THE PLOT:  Manny, Diego, and Sid embark upon another adventure after their continent is set adrift. Using an iceberg as a ship, they encounter sea creatures and battle pirates as they explore a new world.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" (Movie #525)

AFTER:  See, now I've got proof that all of the Hollywood studios are working from the same playbook. (Yeah, I kind of had that before, but still...)  Last night's film featured dinosaurs trekking through a desert to reach their nesting grounds, and tonight's film has prehistoric mammals trekking over rugged terrain to reach a landbridge.  By Hollywood standards, those are totally different - but if you watch several of these films in a row, they all start to feel the same.  Still, in the talking animal genre, you could do a lot worse - trust me, I have.

"Ice Age" is on its fourth film, and its fourth time playing on the "We're separated, we have to find each other" trope.  (And its fourth film where Skrat fails to catch an acorn...gettin' a little tired)  But I think someone realized they were telling the same story again and again, because they added a subplot that riffs off of pirate movies.  A more cynical person would imagine they were trying to leech some audience off of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films, but in the end it's what makes this installment stand out.  (For an industry that hates movie piracy, they sure make a lot of films about the regular kind...)

Good villains make good heroes, and this series was definitely in need of a good villain.  A nasty-looking pirate monkey who rides galleon-shaped icebergs, and also jet-skis on narwhals?  That's a good villain.  And good voice-casting, too! 

On the negative side, it's filled with junk science.  It's bad enough that the 3rd film mixed dinosaurs and mammals, but now they've thrown plate-tectonics into the mix.  I'll allow that our cast of characters may have lived on Pangea, but the separation of the continents took millions of years, and here it happens more or less overnight.  I know, they have to sell the idea to kids, but there's no reason to jettison our collective scientific theories for the sake of a few jokes.  And yeah, there was a landbridge to America, but again, that appeared and disappeared over eons - and I'm pretty sure it didn't resemble a highway bridge. 

But hey, it turns out water drains upwards, mammoths sleep in trees, you can survive at the Earth's core, and you can sail from Asia to America and wind up in New York.  But as I said, it's a lot of fun, so turn off your mind, relax and float UPstream.

Also starring the voices of Ray Romano (last seen in "Welcome to Mooseport"), John Leguizamo (last seen in "Summer of Sam"), Denis Leary (last seen in "The Amazing Spider-Man"), Wanda Sykes (last heard in "Rio"), Peter Dinklage (last seen in "The Station Agent"), Jennifer Lopez (last seen in "U Turn"), Josh Gad (last seen in "Love & Other Drugs"), Aziz Ansari, Nick Frost (last seen in "Shaun of the Dead"), Simon Pegg (ditto), Drake (last seen in "Anchorman 2"), Nicki Minaj, Seann William Scott (last seen in "Goon"), with cameos from Patrick Stewart (last seen in "The Wolverine"), Alan Tudyk (last heard in "Wreck-It Ralph"), Joy Behar, Rebel Wilson (last seen in "Pitch Perfect").

RATING: 6 out of 10 hang-gliding chipmunks

Friday, January 17, 2014


Year 6, Day 17 - 1/17/14 - Movie #1,616

BEFORE: Let's check in on my TV viewing for an update - I finally feel like I'm catching up.  The original plan was to catch up on shows over the holiday break, but then of course I got sick.  I'm caught up on "The Amazing Race" and "Survivor" for once, and I just watched the season finales of both "The Voice" and "X-Factor" (just in time for "Idol" to start again...). On my first-tier shows like "CSI" and "SVU", Fox animated shows, "Mythbusters" and such, I've just started the seasons, watching eps from late Sept./early Oct.  And on my 2nd tier shows like "Shark Tank", "Cupcake Wars", "Little People Big World" and "Restaurant Impossible", I'm only about a month behind, watching eps from mid Dec. now.  A couple of Saturdays in the office and I'll be in good shape. 

Linking from "Alpha and Omega", TV star Hayden Panettiere carries over.

 THE PLOT:  An orphaned dinosaur raised by lemurs joins an arduous trek to a sancturary after a meteorite shower destroys his family home.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Land Before Time"  (Movie #447)

AFTER: I hear there's a similar film out in theaters now, called "Walking With Dinosaurs".  I feel no need to go out and see that after watching this.  It's a little weird that dinosaurs have gotten lumped in with the "talking animal" films aimed at kids.  At first I thought this film was going to be really bold and innovative, and try to tell it's story without having the dinosaurs speak American (which is weird on a few levels, if you think about it).  The story could have been told just through growls and pantomimes, but then they'd run the risk of alienating the audience, who might find the story hard to follow.  But maybe the audience needs to be challenged once in a while - how else are kids going to learn how to pay attention to things? 

Storywise, it's another sort of quest film, with the dinosaurs having to move across desert terrain in order to get to their nesting grounds.  So that theme sort of carries over from "Alpha and Omega", along with the knowledge that like wolves, lemurs have some very human-like mating rituals.  Go figure.  It's also a sort of fish-out-of-water story, as a dinosaur is raised by lemurs, much in the way that Tarzan was raised by apes (or Mowgli in "The Jungle Book" or Simba in "The Lion King"...)

The real standout here is the animation of destruction as a giant meteor hits the Earth - of course, we have no way of knowing what that would look like, it's all speculation.  Who's to say it wouldn't look like the mushroom cloud of a nuclear bomb?  I think the general consensus is that ash would stay in the atmosphere for a long while and block out the sun, but I suppose there's some artistic license in play.  Also one would assume that the disaster would affect the entire globe, ensuring there would be no safe harbor anywhere for the dinosaurs, but again since it's a Hollywood film they can't really show the entire race getting snuffed out.  Maybe I'm putting the cart before the horse since I already know how the story ends for the dinosaurs. 

I feel like maybe I should have watched this with younger people, since my niece and nephew are dinosaur experts right now - over the summer they recited the name of at least one dinosaur beginning with each letter of the alphabet, and I think that takes some doing.  They'd probably be able to point out better than I can that warm-blooded lemurs just wouldn't be sharing space with cold-blooded dinosaurs.  They'd be millions of years apart on the evolutionary scale, right?  Perhaps more research is required here.

Also starring the voices of D.B. Sweeney (last seen in "The Cutting Edge"), Alfre Woodard (last seen in "How to Make an American Quilt"), Ossie Davis (last seen in "Joe Versus the Volcano"), Max Casella (last seen in "Leatherheads"), Julianna Margulies, Joan Plowright (last seen in "The Scarlet Letter"), Della Reese (last seen in "Harlem Nights"), Samuel E. Wright.

RATING: 4 out of 10 pteranodons

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Alpha and Omega

Year 6, Day 16 - 1/16/14 - Movie #1,615

BEFORE:  Linking from "The Lorax", Zac Efron was also in "New Year's Eve" with Larry Miller.

 THE PLOT:  Two young wolves at opposite ends of their pack's social order are thrown together into a foreign land and need each other to return home, but love complicates everything.

AFTER: Well, if there's a low-watermark to the talking animal genre, this might be it.  I wondered why this 2010 film took so long to air on cable, and it's no doubt because the film just isn't very good.  It ends up making the same point as "Brave" did - wolves should be free to marry whoever they want - but are wolves even monogamous?  Or do they just live in packs?

Perhaps the plot more closely resembles "Forces of Nature", since the two wolves fall in love while traveling home, and one is engaged already.  But this time it's the female who's engaged, and you have to imagine Ben Affleck and Sandra Bullock as wolves.  Go ahead, I dare you.

I might have been inclined to return to the identity/purpose theme, since there are supposedly Alphas and Omegas within a wolfpack - but the roles aren't very well defined.  You might think the Alphas are the great hunters and the Omegas fulfill lesser roles, but Alphas instead seem good at jumping and flipping in the air, and Omegas hunt squirrels and surf down mountains on tree bark.  Umm, OK, but wouldn't wolf society value hunting more, since it's so important to their survival?  The film sees no need to clearly define the roles, or state what will happen if an Alpha loves an Omega, other than to suggest that one pack would then fight another, and the Alpha's mother would rip out the Omega's throat.

There's not even a coherent point made about love and how it works.  We're supposed to believe that the two leads are right for each other, even though one is "engaged" to an Alpha from another pack - but they fall in love after spending so much time together getting home.  So is it "love the one you're with", or not?  If they're meant for each other, why don't they realize it themselves?  Very confusing.

The two bird characters only add to the confusion - note that in the real world, the wolves would have probably eaten them, but I guess they needed their help to get home.  The birds understand how trains work, and also know which campers will be heading back to where the wolves need to be.  (All aboard the Coincidence Express...)  And the birds play golf, for some strange reason.

This might spark conversations between parents and kids about love and sex - since the wolves pair up and "howl" together, while sort of dancing/gyrating in pairs.  It's a thinly-veiled metaphor, since the wolves ask each other "Was it good for you?" afterwards.  But since one wolf keeps on howling without his partner, this may lead to some more questions from the kids...

Also starring the voices of Justin Long (last heard in "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked"), Hayden Panettiere (last heard in "Hoodwinked Two! Hood vs. Evil"), Danny Glover (last seen in "2012"), Dennis Hopper (last seen in "Rebel Without a Cause"), Vicki Lewis, Christina Ricci (last seen in "New York, I Love You").

RATING: 2 out of 10 caribou

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Lorax

Year 6, Day 15 - 1/15/14 - Movie #1,614

BEFORE:  I'll transition from literature back to children's books, and then round up the stragglers in the animation category.  After that, I'll finish the fantasy/adventure films, set up a Kevin Spacey three-play, and then set myself up for February's romances.  Linking from "The Man in the Iron Mask", Gerard Depardieu was also in "My Father the Hero" with Stephen Tobolowsky (last seen in "The Philadelphia Experiment"), who provides his voice tonight.

 THE PLOT:  A 12-year-old boy searches for the one thing that will enable him to win the affection of the girl of his dreams. To find it he must discover the story of the Lorax, the grumpy yet charming creature who fights to protect his world.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Cat in the Hat" (Movie #1,323), "Horton Hears a Who" (Movie #361)

AFTER: I think I'm outside of this film's target audience, and by that I don't mean children, I mean optimistic people who believe they can change the world.  I should mention that politically I believe  I skew more liberal, but mentally I think there are idiots on both sides of the aisle.  Can "cynic" be a new political party?  (As I mentioned after "Anchorman 2", I need my news funny and sarcastic, and these days there are plenty of politicians to make fun of.)  Perhaps it's a sign of middle age, but where I once thought I could make my mark in my chosen industry, these days I just want to show up (relatively) on time, get my work done (or at least look like I'm getting my work done), collect my check and go home.

As a kid growing up in the 1970's, I was bombarded by messages from Woodsy Owl (look it up) and I read a magazine called Ranger Rick, all preaching conservationism - I was recycling before it was cool, and donated to the WWF back before they were confused with a wrestling organization.  These days I put out bird seed and feed 1 loud squirrel and a stray cat, and that's about it.  What happened to me?  I don't think I've become conservative, so I either just don't care, or I'm hampered by reality.  The polar bears need a home?  Well, sorry, but my living room is off limits.

The problem is that "The Lorax" represents one of Dr. Seuss' most heavy-handed messages.  It's not even an allegory for anything, it just shows us that if you use up natural resources, that's it, they're gone.  There's a secondary argument about the evil and seductive power of marketing, perhaps.  Did everyone forget that this film itself needed to be marketed, and was pitched to tweens with IHOP tie-ins in order to get its message in front of their eyeballs?

There was also a commercial tie-in with Mazda, showing characters from this film driving a car through an animated world, and since the company had created some new supposedly fuel-efficient tech they wanted to hype, the ad agency said that the car had the "Truffula Seal of Approval".  So I should buy this car because a made-up tree has somehow given this car an award that doesn't even exist.  And you wonder why I'm so cynical?

But let's take the story at face value - the story within the story reveals that the Once-Ler was a man who came into the forest looking to make his fortune, and to do this he had to do the unthinkable - chop down a few trees.  In doing so, he awakened the Lorax, who "speaks for the trees".  And apparently speaking is all the Lorax could do, because he wasn't able to prevent the man from making a product and convincing everyone that they needed one.  From there he cut a few corners, and cut down a few too many trees, and that's how the forest got replaced by a city where everyone drives a silly car and pays for bottled air.

It's an exaggeration, sure, but so is every allegorical tale.  What we're supposed to take away from this is that greed, marketing and capitalism are all bad, and ecology, conservation and planting trees are all good.  As with any black + white argument, I'm going to call bullshit, and I won't rest until I find a hole in the argument.  It's what I'm good at.

Let's start with planting trees.  And I agree, generally a good thing.  But here in NYC we had this benevolent dictator, let's call him Mayor Bloomberg, who also thought planting trees was a good thing, so he vowed to have a million trees planted in the city during his reign.  (Giving himself an illegal third term probably helped accomplish this...)  But somewhere in the process somebody picked the wrong kind of tree, or forgot that there are male trees and female trees (it's true...) and as a result, the city got flooded with superlative amounts of pollen, sparking allergies all over the city.  I swear, there's a Dr. Seuss story worthy of "Yertle the Turtle" in there somewhere.

Now let's talk about greed and capitalism.  Dr. Seuss picked the wrong metaphor for conservationism, because trees are simply one of the most renewal resources.  Plus, they're mulching Christmas trees as we speak.  The people who grow Christmas trees, or trees for paper, know exactly how long it takes to grow an acre of trees, and if they didn't replace the trees they cut down, well, they wouldn't be in business for very long, would they?  Greed is good, not for the Gordon Gekko reasons, but because anyone in agriculture or farming wants to stay in business, and if they don't sustain their own product, they'll be out of the equation pretty soon.  If you raise pigs, and you sell all your pigs, guess what?  If you're a fisherman and you overfish, same deal.

As for conservation, I'm for it, provided we're doing it for the right reasons.  I've seen the recycling program in our city instituted, and then scaled back because it "wasn't profitable".  Meaning that the city planners couldn't find a vendor to buy its garbage at a rate they were comfortable with.  This from a group of people who think it's a good idea to put trash on a barge and then float it out to sea with no fixed destination.  In this film, the main character wants to plant a tree - why, because it's good for the city?  Nah, because he wants to impress a girl.  That's a great message to send out to the kids.  "Hey, kids, conserving resources will get you laid!"  As if.

Look, we humans have overpopulated, and we've made a right mess of things.  Nobody listened to the zero population growth people, and look where it's got us.  We've paved over most of the places we like, and where animals are concerned we've put the cute ones in zoos and we're eating the tasty ones.  I accept all that, largely because I can't change any of it.  But barring a large viral attack or a meteor, I don't think we're going anywhere soon, and thinking we can change our ways just seems very naive to me - in general, our track record is not good.  But I don't like being told what to do, and I think I like it even less when a film's message gets overshadowed by a slapstick car chase.

Also starring the voices of Danny DeVito (last seen in umm, "The War of the Roses"?), Ed Helms (last seen in "The Hangover Part II"), Zac Efron (last seen in "New Year's Eve"), Taylor Swift, Rob Riggle (last heard in "Hotel Transylvania"), Betty White, Nasim Pedrad, Jenny Slate.

RATING: 3 out of 10 singing fish

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)

Year 6, Day 14 - 1/14/14 - Movie #1,613

BEFORE: Almost half a month into the new year, and the watchlist still stands at 205.  How does this happen?  Well, I blame Turner Classic Movies, which has been crushing it lately with their scheduling.  They ran some classic romantic comedies like "It Happened One Night" that simply must be included in my February chain, and then a couple of Rita Hayworth films - if I'm going to cover screen sirens like Marilyn Monroe later this year, I might as well toss Rita into that mix - and they also ran "Howards End" and "The Remains of the Day", which are going to round out an Anthony Hopkins 5-play.  From other channels I also picked up the two "Conan" movies from the 80's, follow-ups "No Strings Attached" and "The Legend of Zorro" and since Jan. 1 the premium channels got re-stocked too, with last year's hits like "Admission", "Oblivion" and "A Good Day to Die Hard".  Those films have to be added to the far end of the list, because I've settled on a chain that's locked until mid-June at least.  Last year my watchlist was stuck at 230 for three or four months, so that's just what happens when the year kicks off.  There's a list of films I want to add to the watchlist, and I enjoy crossing a film off from THAT secondary list almost as much as from the main list.

Linking from "The Prince and the Pauper", Aidan Quinn was also in "The Mission" with Jeremy Irons (last seen in "Reversal of Fortune").

 THE PLOT:  The cruel King Louis XIV of France has a secret twin brother who he keeps imprisoned.  Can the twin be substituted for the real king?

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Three Musketeers" (Movies #1, 277 + 1,303 + 1,304)

AFTER: I wish I'd realized that this story was a sequel of sorts, Alexandre Dumas' third book in his Musketeers series - but since I didn't have a copy of this film last January, I suppose it's a moot point.  Yes, Dumas was working from the same playbook as Mark Twain and Charles Dickens - he wrote this in 1847, so this predated "A Tale of Two Cities" and "The Prince and the Pauper", but this story relies on the plot point of secret twins, not accidental look-alikes.

ASIDE: I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that this "switcheroo" formula has been repeated many times over the years, not only in the infamous "body-switching" films, but also in "Trading Places".  The caper that the Musketeers attempt here assumes that you can replace a king with a properly trained commoner, and even though Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy didn't resemble each other, the question is the same - what will happen when these two are swapped?  That essentially makes the Duke brothers the modern-day Musketeers - but only one of the two stories has a man being raped by a gorilla in the denouement (and I think we all know how painful that can be).  End of ASIDE.

There actually was a masked prisoner in the Bastille in the 1600s, but no firm records of his identity, except for the probably-phony name Eustache Dauger.  As to whether he was the king's brother, or someone's son, or minister or valet, history is very unclear.  Dumas' story plays off of Louis XIII's 20-year estrangement from his queen, so it incorporates speculation on how the birth of Louis XIV during that time was possible.  What the heck, let's subvert the whole process of monarchy succession, what's the harm?  I suppose there were only a couple more Louises to go before they tore the whole system apart anyway.

According to this story, the queen had twins, and the king saw fit to remove one son from the equation, so there would be no struggle for the throne.  If you believe that a father would cast out his own infant son, you may also consider this an elegant solution that couldn't possibly have any implications 15 or 20 years down the line.  One son raised as king, given ultimate power and everything he desires, and the other raised in obscurity, then imprisoned - which one's more likely to be the a-hole? 

The tricky part here is that in order to not tip their hand about the switch, the Musketeers need to train the nice brother how to act like the evil one - so what will happen when he's sitting on the throne?  Once again, it's all about identity - do the clothes make the man?  If we change what this man does, will we change who he is - will he rule benevolently, or does power corrupt?  Assuming the Musketeers succeed, I'm not sure what this says about identity - Louis XIV might have been a great king, so things work out well for France, but the overarching question about nature vs. nurture is more of a mystery.

It's interesting that at the start of the story, the four Musketeers are fractured - D'Artagnan is now head of the organization and works for the king, Aramis is a priest working against the king, Athos is retired and sullen, and Porthos is actively pursuing wine and women.   But some purpose is clearly missing, and bringing about lasting change in France means getting the news team, sorry, the band back together.  Or at least three out of four working toward the same goal. 

Surprisingly, no one in this film asked the most obvious question - "Which twin was born first?"  Because that answer, to me, would make the Musketeers' actions either very right or very wrong.  You can't subvert the right of succession just because one guy acts like a dick and the other doesn't.  I'm not sure that Dumas' novel covered this point either, but the plot points in the novel were quite different, including the ending.  Hollywood plots need to have more twists, and end in a better place.

Also starring Leonardo DiCaprio (last seen in "J. Edgar"), John Malkovich (last seen in "Mulholland Falls"), Gerard Depardieu (last seen in "Life of Pi"), Gabriel Byrne (last seen in "Little Women"), Anne Parillaud, Peter Sarsgaard (last seen in "Flightplan"), Judith Godreche, Hugh Laurie (last heard in "Arthur Christmas").

RATING:  6 out of 10 secret passages

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Prince and the Pauper (2000)

Year 6, Day 13 - 1/13/14 - Movie #1,612

BEFORE: When I realized I was working a theme based on identity, it made sense to move this one up in the line-up, because it's all about identities and the switching thereof.  And I've vowed not to watch those body-switching films like "Freaky Friday" or "The Change-Up" or that horrible film with Judge Reinhold, so what other course do I have?  Linking from "Bewitched", Nicole Kidman was also in "Practical Magic" with Aidan Quinn (last seen in "Unknown").

 THE PLOT:  Two lookalike boys, one a poor street kid and the other a prince, exchange places to see what the other's life is like.

AFTER: This much is historical fact: Edward VI was the son of Henry VIII, and became king at the age of nine.  Mark Twain got the year right, and speculated that just before his father died, Edward engaged in a bit of play and switched places with a poor kid who happened to look just like him.  Now, this was before the age of fingerprinting and DNA, so a facial resemblance was probably enough to make the switch happen - and before you go speculating about lost twins or switched babies, this is possible.  I just saw photos online last week about people who looked nearly identical who were NOT twins and had never met before.  Turns out there are only so many possible combinations of eye, nose and mouth shapes, so if you scan through a large enough sampling of people, you can find a 99% visual match. 

This film, of course, gets around the issue by casting identical twin actors - so no "split-screen" technology was required to create nearly identical characters.  This was a made-for-TV version, so obviously it was done on the cheap.  It reminds me of a show that ran once, exposing some of magic's "biggest secrets".  My wife and I watched the show, and we paused each trick before the reveal, each taking our best guess at how a trick was done.  The trick where someone disappears on one side of the stage and then instantly appears on the other - we paused it and I said "That's simple, it's a set of twins!"  She said, "No WAY!" but I turned out to be right.  Eliminate the impossible, and whatever's left, however improbable, must be true. 

I remember hearing about a rivalry between Mark Twain and Charles Dickens (of course, now I can't find that reference) and if you believe that, then Twain's story can be seen as a response to "A Tale of Two Cities", which also features two unrelated men who look very much alike, one a French aristocrat and the other an English lawyer.  Dickens' story came first by two decades, but the similarities are telling, and the switch occurs for the same purpose: to make observations on the different social classes. 

We can understand why Tom Canty, a poor boy, would want to switch places with a prince, but why would a prince want to make the switch?  This film suggests that after studying Latin and Greek, and learning so much about manners and the affairs of state, being able to run free and play in the mud might sound like an attractive prospect to a prince.  However, both boys get into more trouble than they bargained for, and are caught up in criminal matters - Tom, in disguise as the prince, urges mercy for an accused killer who was framed by Tom's father, and Edward is framed for stealing a pig.

Edward also gets a close-up look at what effect overtaxing has on the countryside, and how flimsy the evidence is that can convict people for crimes, especially when being Jewish or Baptist, or anything other than Anglican is considered a crime.  That's what you get when there's no separation of church and state, kids...

No one will listen to either child when he claims to be something other than what he appears - most everyone assumes that the poor boy is just pretending to be the prince, or the prince has a form of madness.  Considering all the inbreeding done among the noble class, you've got to admit that's a distinct possibility. 

But as for identity, this film falls on the side of the argument that you can change what you do, but you can't change who you are.  Edward is still the prince and heir, even while disguised as a poor boy, and it's his education and his drive to return to London that help put things back in order.  Tom was thisclose to being the first commoner crowned king - but he never had the resources to straighten out the mix-up.

Also starring Alan Bates (last seen in "The Mothman Prophecies"), Jonathan Hyde (last seen in "Jumanji"), Jonathan Timmins, Robert Timmins, Ian Redford.

RATING:  4 out of 10 proclamations

Sunday, January 12, 2014


Year 6, Day 12 - 1/12/14 - Movie #1,611

BEFORE:  I forgot to mention that I almost made it back to the Sundance Festival this month, I last went there in 2004 - actually that was to Slamdance, which takes place in the same city at the same time, so I got to see a bunch of films at Sundance also.  My boss's new film is opening at Slamdance this coming Friday, and we were going to get 5 or 6 crew members to rent a ski loft or something in Park City, but the plans fell through.  So I'll have to sit this one out and watch more movies at home.

I'm falling behind in the count again, so as they say in baseball, "Let's play two."  Linking from "Anchorman 2", Will Ferrell and Steve Carell both carry over.

 THE PLOT:  Thinking he can overshadow an unknown actress in the part, an egocentric actor unknowingly gets a witch cast in an upcoming television remake of the classic show "Bewitched".

AFTER: Movies are often glimpses into fictional universes, where impossible things can exist - like vampires, minotaurs, or witches.  And most times for convenience's sake those universes function just like our own, except for those things.  If you're familiar with the old Marvel Comics, then you know that within that universe, there's a publishing company called Marvel Comics, that publishes (presumably authorized) stories where heroes fight villains - you would think that since superheroes exist in that world, kids would not need comic books, they could just look out the window and watch the fights as they happen.  But more likely it was a way for our world's Marvel editors to write themselves into cameos in the books.

In a similar vein, tonight's film depicts a universe where witchcraft/magic is possible - but it's also a universe that had a TV sitcom called "Bewitched".  Again, you would think that maybe witchcraft wouldn't be the basis for entertainment if it actually existed.  So, it this our universe, or a different one?  Yes and no - it all becomes quite confusing, and I've probably put more thought into it already than any of this film's producers or writers.

So a real witch trying to deny her heritage and powers tries to get by in the real world, and gets cast in a TV sitcom, playing a witch trying to deny her heritage and powers and get by in the real world.  Make sense?  Good, please explain it to me.  The larger question is why would anyone make this so convoluted, so meta?  Perhaps it's more like "Adaptation", in which a screenwriter is trying to adapt an impossible book, and instead writes a movie about how hard it is to adapt that book.  And you're never quite sure if that screenplay became the basis of the film you're watching, or not.

My feeling is that someone tried to do a straight adaptation of the old Elizabeth Montgomery series, and found that they didn't have enough material - so they created this framework, turning the sitcom into the "play within the play".  If Shakespeare wrote a sitcom, though, or even a play about a sitcom, it would no doubt be better than this.

Ah, yes, it's identity and purpose again - who is Isabel, if not a witch?  Can she change who she is by changing what she does?  Well, no, because she ends up using her powers all the time anyway, because how boring would it be if she stuck to her resolution?  And every time she uses them, whether it's to clean the house or give herself more lines in the pilot episode, it's always for personal gain.  So in the end she's no different from her egotistical, self-serving co-star.

Yep, it's Will Ferrell back-to-back, playing a TV star in both films who needs to be taken down a peg or two, and who goes through a divorce and personal crisis before becoming more self-aware.  That's a pretty big coincidene.  Steve Carell plays Paul Lynde's Uncle Arthur role (or is he playing Paul Lynde himself?) which is only weird because the TV show didn't cast an Uncle Arthur, and he first appears in the lead actor's dream, then again in the movie's reality.  But, was he real or not?  This whole section of the film made zero sense, and like the majority of the plot, was just ill-advised.

Also starring Nicole Kidman (last seen in "Cold Mountain"), Michael Caine (last seen in "The Dark Knight Rises"), Shirley MacLaine (last seen in "Guarding Tess"), Jason Schwartzman (last seen in "Marie Antoinette"), Kristin Chenoweth (last seen in "Running With Scissors"), Stephen Colbert (last heard in "Monsters vs. Aliens"), David Alan Grier (last heard in "Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil"), Carole Shelley, with cameos from Michael Badalucco, James Lipton, Amy Sedaris (last heard in "Puss in Boots"), Richard Kind (last seen in "Argo"), Conan O'Brien, Mo Rocca, Kate Walsh, Nick Lachey and Wendi McLendon-Covey (last seen in "Bridesmaids").

RATING: 2 out of 10 doorknobs

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Year 6, Day 12 - 1/12/14 - Movie #1,610

BEFORE: Well, I'm finally getting out to the movie theater today, 11 days later than planned, but we're going to make it happen.  I could have linked to this film from any one of this week's films, but the optimal thing for the chain was to link from "Wreck-It Ralph" via John C. Reilly, who has a cameo in this film.

THE PLOT:  With the 70s behind him, San Diego's top rated newsman, Ron Burgundy, returns to take New York's first 24-hour news channel by storm.

AFTER:  This is a dumb film, let me just say that right off.  But it's a dumb film that knows it's dumb, and revels in being dumb, kind of like the "Naked Gun" films.  It's not setting out to make any larger point, or some commentary about humanity, it's just striving to be funny by being dumb.  The question becomes, is it too dumb or too self-aware about it's own dumbness?

I noticed the main characters represent four different flavors of dumb - you've got the egotistical delusional dumb in Ron Burgundy, the suave cocksure bravado dumb of Brian Fantana, the clueless racist dumb of Champ Kind, and the just plain low-IQ mental defectiveness of Brick Tamland.

I suppose after the huge hype this film got in early December, there's no way the movie could have lived up to its own self-promotion.  And there was apparently no way it could be as funny as the first "Anchorman", or chart a course that was too far off of the original film's structure.  Ron Burgundy succeeds, Ron Burgundy fails, he goes on a quest of self-enlightenment and then returns to glory again.  They even maintained many of the original film's bits, just replacing scotch with crack and cologne with condoms, to reflect the early 1980's setting.

What's new is adding a son, little Walter Burgundy, and once the band, err, news team gets back together, placing them at a new 24-hour news channel, an obvious poke at CNN called GNN.  There's a telling look at the beginning of tabloid journalism, with Ron accidentally creating the rubbernecking effect by airing a live car chase to boost ratings.  And the use of patriotism to create a news fervor suggests that he predated Bill O'Reilly and Jeff Beck by a few years - all completely tongue-in-cheek, of course.

Don't get me wrong, I love my news mixed with comedy - once I got used to a steady diet of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and SNL News, it's hard to go back to watching the stuff that doesn't make me laugh while informing me at the same time.  The straight stuff is too depressing, like drinking decaf coffee.

So I can't be expected to take a film serious when it refuses to take itself seriously, right?  I suppose that they did manage to move the characters forward a bit, with Brick finding love and Fantana actually filing a serious investigative report, and Ron Burgunday becoming slightly more self-aware, learning to put family before his career, but that's about it.  Other than that, it was more of the same, while simultaneously also being less than the original.  Why repeat the "news battle royale" scene from the first film, only to make it 20 times more outrageous?  Funny but also too over-the-top.

You could say this continues my theme, since Ron goes through a crisis of identity, having to determine what kind of anchor he's going to be, and whether it's more important to be an anchorman or a family man, but then I kind of feel like I'm giving this story a bit too much credit.  It was good for a few laughs, but now I'm glad I didn't kick the year off with it.

Also starring Will Ferrell (last seen in "Dick"), Steve Carell (last seen in "Seeking a Friend For the End of the World"), Paul Rudd (last seen in "Wanderlust"), David Koechner, Christina Applegate (last heard in "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked"), Dylan Baker (last seen in "Changing Lanes"), Meagan Good, James Marsden (last seen in "Hop"), Kristen Wiig (last seen in "All Good Things"), Greg Kinnear (last seen in "Green Zone"), with cameos from Harrison Ford (last seen in "Cowboys & Aliens"), Fred Willard, Chris Parnell, Sacha Baron Cohen (last seen in "Hugo"), Marion Cotillard, Will Smith (last seen in "The Pursuit of Happyness"), Kirsten Dunst (also last seen in "Dick"), Jim Carrey (last seen in "Mister Popper's Penguins"), Tina Fey (last seen in "Mean Girls"), Amy Poehler (ditto), Liam Neeson (last heard in "A Christmas Carol"), Vince Vaughn (last seen in "The Watch"), Drake and Kanye West.

RATING: 5 out of 10 teleprompters