Category Archives: Paul Rudd

Movie Review Anchorman 2

I was going into the seventh grade when “Anchorman” came out. I was just the right age to be completely inspired and blown away by a fairly raunchy PG-13 comedy. Watching the original “Anchorman” was basically a right of passage for anybody around my age. If you can’t quote it by heart, then there might be something wrong with you.

So of course something this iconic called for a sequel.

“Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” knows at this point that it is kind of a big deal. Hell, it even has “The Legend Continues” in its title. That means that unfortunately, like many other sequels, it lacks the surprise of its predecessor.

Don’t get me wrong, I laughed at “Anchorman 2″ a lot. It ups the ante on just about everything it can that worked in the original. Ron has many more expressions to capture his anger beyond “great odin’s raven!” In fact, by biggest regret was not writing them all down.

“Anchorman 2″ takes place in the 1980s and weirdly the characters haven’t changed at all since the 1970s, except that they like disco and are much more casually racist than they ever were in the past. I don’t know if their lack of change is bad writing or intentional, but I would like to think that it is the latter. The gang all moves to New York to take place in an experiment called 24 hour news. Nobody thinks it will work. It actually does, when you don’t actually report the news at all. “Anchorman 2″ weirdly becomes a piece of social commentary.

The first “Anchorman” ran smoothly at a brisk 94 minutes. Meanwhile, “Anchorman 2″ runs close to two hours and proves that editing is secretly the tool that can make or break a comedy. At times, “Anchorman 2″ felt more like a blooper reel than an actual film. I guess you could say almost the same thing for Adam McKay’s last film “Step Brothers.”* However, “Step Brothers” knew when to end a scene. While blooper reels are fun, even a great extra take can drag a film down.

Weirdly enough though, the best scenes in the film are the ones where Will Ferrell is allowed to be Will Ferrell. Say what you will about how good some of his films have been lately, but the guy oozes funny. That doesn’t just disappear. To me, he is as funny as he was all those years ago in “Old School” and “Elf.” Like any good comedian, Ferrell is fearless. He is never afraid to make himself look terrible, or make himself say and do things that are borderline racist. It’s okay though, the joke is on Ron Burgundy.

“Anchorman 2″ is at its best when it revels in absurdity the same way its predecessor did. There is an entire subplot where Ron and his son take care of a baby shark. It is one of the weirdest things I have seen in a film all year. It makes no sense and yet I bought every second of it. Ditto for the fight scene, which is even more ridiculous than it was before. This time, Ron and his news team face off against one of the most successful rappers in the world, a legendary movie star, and an Academy Award winning actress, among many others. It seems like everyone wants to jump on the “Anchorman” train.

Where the film doesn’t work is when it takes a bunch of jokes that worked really well the first time around, and runs them into the ground. I love Steve Carell, and there were some classic Brick moments here, but he seemed less and less committed the more screen time he is given. Some side characters are side characters for a reason: they are good to pop in with a funny line to save a scene here and there, and that’s it.

Other times, “Anchorman 2″ veers away from utter weirdness and goes into obvious joke territory. Seriously, there is a good 20 minute chunk of jokes about being blind and not being able to tell different objects apart. Come on, Adam McKay and Will Ferrell are so much better than that.

Ultimately, it is really the running time that brings “Anchorman 2″ down. As I said, I laughed a lot. But the laughs were spread out whereas in the first “Anchorman,” they crammed in as many jokes as possible, and nearly all of them landed. Instead, there are long stretches of “Anchorman 2″ that are kind of dull. Jokes land here and there. At this rate: the “Anchorman” franchise is going the way of “Austin Powers”: still funny as it moves along, but with diminishing returns.

*I mean absolutely no disrespect to “Step Brothers.” That movie is a freaking comedy miracle.

Movie Review: This Is 40

Comedies aren’t supposed to be over two hours long. Then again, Judd Apatow is a very ambitious guy. He likes to let his camera run long, and he doesn’t shut it off until he feels like he’s ready to shut it off. “This Is 40,” which clearly comes from a very personal place, at first made me want to check my watch. However, once the credits began to roll, I realized that I wouldn’t have minded if it ran a little longer.

“This is 40″ is a “sort-of sequel” to “Knocked Up.” It would be better labeled as a spinoff, a title which is usually reserved for television. It takes the struggling married couple Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) and their two daughters Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow) and puts them into their own little world. Pete desperately finds ways to escape. He’s given up on his fantasy baseball league and seems more content sitting on the toilet with his iPad. Debbie, meanwhile, is fed up with feeling under appreciated and keeping everything together on her own. Naturally, this causes some problems.

Yet, despite all their problems, what makes “This Is 40″ unique is that I never doubted for one second that Pete and Debbie weren’t right for each other. “This is 40″ is more about unfortunate speed bumps than the absolute deterioration of a marriage. It takes place on the week that Debbie turns 38 (although everyone treats her like she’s 40) and Pete turns 40. This begins what many in Hollywood would call a midlife crisis.

I never found “This Is 40″ to be a film about people drifting apart. Rather, its about two people who want to be closer together finding ways to get closer together. “This is 40″ is about the modern family struggling to grow and remain close in a very wired world of cell phones and tablets. It’s the same thing that “Modern Family” tries to do, except “This is 40″ doesn’t have Ed O’Neill repeatedly telling us how much he loves his family. I have not reached the age of 40 yet, but I can tell that “This is 40″ comes from a very real place. It has absolutely no problem showing us the bad as well as the good.

While “This Is 40″ is not my favorite Judd Apatow film, it is definitely his most mature, and his most lovely made to date. Yet, maturity does not mean that he eschews vulgarity. It has a hefty load of what I like to call “butt stuff.” One scene that has been frequently discussed is one in which Debbie is forced to look at Pete’s butt because he thinks there’s a problem. It’s a scene that shows both the sparks of a marriage that has faded away and the unconditional love that remains. There is also a less talked about scene where Pete lets one rip. The moment was unscripted. It’s hilarious and it’s a fine example of the loose and spontaneous feeling of the film.

Often, “This Is 40″ feels less like a story and more like life unfolding before our eyes. It is one of the more unconventional mainstream comedies you’ll see nowadays. It refuses to settle for the usual plot beats, and it doesn’t try and immediately ruin happy moments with sad ones. Judd has a great talent for knowing when to be funny and when to be sad at just the right times. It was something he tried to do in “Funny People,” but had much less success with. You can tell that someone has become confident in their comedic abilities when they know that it is okay to go for an extended period of time without a laugh.

Even if SAG didn’t recognize it, “This Is 40″ has one of the best ensembles of the year. Every cast member participates in what I would like to call “confessional acting.” As Pete and Debbie, Mann and Rudd are so convincing as this married couple. Even though I felt that the film was running a little long during the third act, I was surprised to find myself teary eyed (not from boredom) by the end. The extra running time made them into real people, and their performances hit that point out of the park. Also impressive is the oldest Apatow daughter, who has a way with words and emotions at such a young age. And to no one’s surprise, Albert Brooks is perfect as a bitter old Jewish man.

Like every good project Judd has worked on, “This Is 40″ is special because of its great display of empathy. It makes us dislike our characters when they are acting based on their most flawed instincts, and it makes us like them when they overcome and change. By the end of the film, Pete and Debbie don’t necessarily change who they are, but rather they learn to embrace what they have, and what they can become. The greatest thing that can happen to an Apatow character is when they gain a sense of self-awareness.

As the film began, I almost thought I wasn’t watching an Apatow film. He has embraced a quieter, more artistic sense of filmmaking, which I am rather enjoying. The opening felt like a Wes Anderson film, but with less thick-rimmed glasses and Kinks songs. But even as Apatow changes, the best parts of his works doesn’t disappear. Even as Pete and Debbie battle financial troubles and deteriorating health, characters still manage to get into fights about “Lost” and “Mad Men” and talk about how they pee “like a shower head.”

The characters that Judd portrays are getting older and older as his career progresses, yet he luckily hasn’t abandoned his distinct style of humor. While it is called “This Is 40,” you don’t have to be that enjoy to enjoy this film. When you laugh at something as hard as I laughed at parts of “This Is 40,” there is no use in questioning it.  

If this scene doesn’t help “This Is 40″ earn over $100 million, then there is no hope for America anymore.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Usually, romances based on Smiths mixtapes and friendships based on vinyl collections* are on the list of things that annoy me most in movies. However, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” makes all these little obsessions feel authentic.

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is based on a novel that I now feel the need to read. This is a rare adaptation that was actually written for the screen by its original author. This is also the directorial debut for author Stephen Chbosky, who should spend more time directing movies in his future.

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” deserves to be mentioned alongside many great classics about misfits in high school, from “Rebel Without a Cause” to “The Breakfast Club.” Based on the music, a very prominent feature here, “Perks” takes place in Pittsburgh during the early 1990s. Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a Holden Caufield-type with real problems. After some emotional issues and time spent in a hospital, Charlie returns to the real world in preparation for his freshman year of high school. Before I saw this film, I forgot how much high school tended to suck: the immaturity, the propensity for hurtful nicknames, and the culture of cliques. On his first day, Charlie can’t even eat lunch with his sister Candace (Nina Dobrev). So, he becomes a wallflower.

While the complicated love story might seem like the central motivation for most of Charlie’s actions, it is the friendship formed with Patrick (Ezra Miller) that opens Charlie’s eyes for the first time. Patrick, who is called “Nothing” by his classmates, spends most of his spare time messing with his shop teacher as well as anyone else he can find. He is also the only openly gay kid in the entire school, at a time when being open was not accepted by all. Patrick is played with a manic energy by Miller, who always moves his body around and yells with excitement when there’s nothing to be excited about. It surprises me that everyone wouldn’t want to follow in his footsteps.

When Charlie has no one to sit with at the football game, Patrick has no problem keeping him company. Patrick then takes Charlie under his wing and brings him to his first party. There, he accidentally eats a brownie filled with weed that finally gets him out of his head, and his witty thoughts amuse the exiles of the school, who are appropriately labeled “the island of the misfit toys.” Most importantly, it is here where Charlie meets Patrick’s step sister Sam (Emma Watson) and is on the path to first love. Not before he finishes that milk shake, though.

“Perks” is much more about how kids affect each other, as opposed to just how adults affect kids. The adult characters are just there in Charlie’s life, and they are almost an alien species that he can’t properly communicate with. We will find out why this is so later on. His parents are never given names. Charlie’s one true adult friendship is with his English teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd). I have a feeling that the book delves much deeper into their relationship, as the film shows no conflict in it, except for the fact that Mr. Anderson is always giving Charlie books, which Charlie reads in no time. Despite that, I still really liked this element in the film. It is not just because Paul Rudd is an incredibly likable dude, but because it felt meaningful and never trite.

It is really the young actors that shine brightest here. Watson can now be known as more than just Hermione Granger. Her American accent seems shaky at first, but she ends up sliding into it comfortably and then embodying a character who is both proud of who she is and uncomfortable with who she once was. As Charlie, Lerman is memorable yet understated. Charlie is a complicated character to get down, but Lerman nails it. While the story is told from Charlie’s perspective, there is the feeling that there is information that Charlie is withholding both from the audience and himself. This might be the first film I’ve ever seen in which the narrator is unreliable because he is lying to himself. I think that’s a little more radical than people have made it out to be.

“Perks” feels like a scattered collection of someone’s journal entries and memories that sprung to life with vivid sound and color. The film brings an entire time period to life, and it makes feel as alive as the present day. Its sense of place is evident in a scene where Sam stands in the back of Patrick’s truck as they pass through a tunnel and onto a bridge. Shockingly, it makes Pittsburgh seem more magical than industrial.

The film finds its sense of time in its soundtrack. The music selected is so good that after seeing the film, I immediately listened to the soundtrack, and then listened to it many more times. In terms of creating nostalgia, the soundtrack is on the same level as “Dazed and Confused” and “Almost Famous.” In the same way that I will always associate Foghat’s “Slow Ride” with the ride to get Aerosmith tickets and Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” with a bus ride sing along, I will forever associate The Smiths’ “Asleep” and Dexy Midnight Runners’ “Come on Eileen” with mix tapes and such. The best part about a great soundtrack is when it can open your mind to new music. All I can say is that after first finding out the track listing, I had a lot more new artists to find on Spotify.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Emma Watson
The exact moment that everyone who wasn’t already in love fell in love with Emma Watson.

Now, there might be some people who find the idea of friendships and romances based on a love of movies and music to be a little impractical. This idea was parodied quite well in “500 Days of Summer.” Yet, it does not feel pretentious in “Perks” in the slightest bit. “Perks” is not about a group of people showing how cool they are because of their taste. It is about the ability to bond with others over shared cultural experiences. Sometimes, the words we speak can only do so much. Liking the same piece of art as someone else can bring out so much about one’s personality that they could never even speak. And yes, if you don’t like certain things, I may be judging you.

But I digress. It is hard for me to speak to those who have read the novel, because they have a much greater wealth of knowledge of these characters and this world than I do. But I can speak to “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” as a film. Every emotional punch hits as hard as it was fully intended to. It pulls out a late in the story twist that I did not see coming. I believe this was a story that was made to be told on film.

Oftentimes, the purpose of great art can be to create characters who are suffering and who are lonely. I believe this provides catharsis to those who went through these emotions at one point or are currently experiencing them. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” will connect to everyone because no matter who you are, at some point in your life, you were once an awkward high school kid who didn’t quite know where you belonged.

*For the record (pun possibly intended): I like The Smiths and own a vinyl collection. I don’t know what that makes me.