Before you bookmark TheCroakingFrog—and permanently remove all other (inferior) entertainment sites from your RSS feed—be warned: Ben has very specific tastes in film, tastes you may not yet have developed as your own. The following might surprise you. In his own words...
You've seen it (several dozen times) before. After 90 minutes of tight direction, creative gunplay, and car chases timed to the timpani drum of Tchaikovsky's greatest symphonies, the movie concludes with a six-minute-long fistfight between hero and villain. Incredibly, most moviegoers seem to love this. Sure, that cerebral interrogation sequence may have reinvented the action genre for the next decade, but gee whiz, can Bond throw a haymaker!
There are so, so many things wrong with these scenes, but I'll name two here. First, any gloveless boxing match should last exactly one to four punches, with no exceptions. These are human beings, not cyborgs. The next time I see Jason Bourne take 16 blows straight to the cranium, then flee his opponent along two miles of rooftop, keeping perfect balance and shooting like an Olympic marksman, I am going to light myself on fire.
Second, every fight follows the same formula:
1) Villain sneaks up on hero and throws a cheap shot. Our hero falls to the ground.
2) Our hero recovers, and the two exchange 7-10 blows, nearly all to the head.
3) The villain gains an advantage, often because of a knife or small gun he had on his person. He knocks our hero to the ground again.
4) Our hero struggles to get up!
5) Our hero gets up.
6) The two exchange 7-10 blows, nearly all to the head.
7) The villain gains an advantage, once again because of a knife or small gun he had on his person.
8) Our hero struggles to get up!
9) Our hero finds some sort of tool in the surrounding environment, whether a stray wrench, rope, or controls to a nearby machine.
10) Our hero uses the tool to turn the tide of the battle. This seems creative, but only because everything else our hero has done to this point in the film has been horribly, horribly derivative.
11) Our hero wins the fight!
Okay: so there's some primal appeal to a one-vs-one, fists-only fight. There's also primal appeal to living under a tree and eating raw meat. That doesn't mean everyone has to do it.
Generally, you want one or two big names in your summer blockbuster. Three? Go ahead and risk it. Four or more? Trouble. Still, the general public continues to attend the likes of He's Just Not That Into You (Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connolly, Bradley Cooper, Scarlett Johansson) and New Year's Eve (Michelle Pfeiffer, Zac Efron, Robert De Niro, Halle Berry, Jessica Biel, Jon Bon Jovi, Katherine Heigl, Ashton Kutcher,
*pausing for breath*
Sarah Jessica Parker, Hilary Swank). Terrible. I'll admit the first 15 minutes usually work—it's fun to see all 13 nifty, look-who-it-is intros—but the subsequent hour ranges from "lousy" to "this film could single-handedly sink Ben Affleck's career, and yes I've already taken Gigli into account."
Redeeming activity: watch the first 15 minutes with your friends, pause the film, then take bets on which high-profile actor will go the longest before visibly quitting on the film. High comedy.
Two notable exceptions:
1) Ocean's Eleven (2001) succeeded despite 10+ Hollywood favorites. The reason? A clear hierarchy. George Clooney was the undisputed captain of the ship, Brad Pitt the first mate, and everyone else dutiful members of the crew. (Of course, the ship promptly sprung a leak, caught fire, sunk and killed everyone on board 10 minutes into Ocean's Twelve. Too bad.)
2) British films. Perhaps it's all that shared stage experience, but even the brightest British stars seem capable of playing bit parts well on demand. To wit: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Love Actually, Hamlet (1996), Murder on the Orient Express (1974).
Popularized by The Bourne Identity, "shaky cam" should be renamed "lazy cam." The gist: instead of setting up polished, tripod-aided, carefully choreographed action shots, the cameraman simply stands among the brawling/riotous participants, presses record, and collects whatever footage results from all of the jostling, shoving, and sparring. To put it another way, the cameraman does nothing.
In an ideal world, we'd have cheerfully rebuked director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) for his creative-but-unsuccessful choice in an otherwise excellent film, and the cinematic world would have moved along without a second hiccup. Outrageously, however, the shaky cam sequences were roundly praised. "Mr. Liman's fimmaking has an old-fashioned rigor" trumpeted The New York Times. The damage was done.
A year later, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World took the shaky cam phenomenon to new, laughable heights, literally lowering the camera down on a poll amidst a mob of drunken sailors—you know, a lot like how cattle documentaries are made. Lulled to sleep by the film's two (otherwise eventless) hours, critics were once again duped. "Edge-of-your-seat battle scenes" proclaimed The Christian Science Monitor.
Mercifully, the shaky cam tradition has stabilized; outside of the Bourne series, most modern movies actually pay someone to think about what the camera should do during a fight. But I'm still wary. Let's just hope Hollywood isn't reading The New York Times.
I suspect a few quiet, introverted souls actually agree with my critiques thus far. Here, however, I imagine we will part ways. Please, excuse yourself for a glass of water before reading on. This won't be easy. For any of us.
Declaration: Anchorman isn't that funny.
I know. I heard your gasp from here. I mean no disrespect to Will Ferrell. He's the greatest Saturday Night Live contributor of all time, and he's responsible for such classic roles as Steve Butabi (A Night at the Roxbury), Mugatu (Zoolander), and even the delightfully wooden Harold Crick (Stranger Than Fiction). But in Anchorman, Ferrell takes a classic comedy sketch caricature—the clueless, misogynistic, overconfident Ron Burgundy—and plays him into the ground, each one-liner stupider, cheaper and more opportunistic than the last.
I'm taking the film too seriously, you say. Perhaps. But maybe Anchorman doesn't take its own content seriously enough. Let's explore a few examples and see what we find.
Brick Tamland: I'm Brick Tamland. People seem to like me because I am polite and I am rarely late. I like to eat ice cream and I really enjoy a nice pair of slacks. Years later, a doctor will tell me that I have an I.Q. of 48 and am what some people call mentally retarded.
Champ Kind: Tell me about it, this morning, I woke up and I shit a squirrel, but what I can't get is the damn thing is still alive. So now, I've got a shit covered squirrel running around my office and I don't know what to name it.
Brick Tamland: O, I'm sorry champ, I think I ate your chocolate squirrel.
Ron Burgundy: I'm gonna punch you in the ovary, that's what I'm gonna do. A straight shot. Right to the babymaker.
Ron Burgundy: You stay classy, San Diego. I'm Ron Burgundy?
Ed Harken: Dammit! Who typed a question mark on the Teleprompter