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Catching Up On 2018: Josh Reviews Holmes & Watson

In my “Catching up on 2018” posts, I review films that I saw in my busy end-of-the-year rush to catch up with as many movies from 2018 that I’d missed.

Good lord!  What is the behind-the-scenes story that explains this dud?

Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly are both comedic geniuses, and, prior to this misfire, their partnership has wielded comedic gold (see: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby; Step Brothers; Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues).  While I think there have been a few too many reinterpretations of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in recent years (see: the two Robert Downey Jr. films Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows; the acclaimed BBC series Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman; the Elementary TV series with Lucy Liu; the wonderful old-Sherlock Holmes movie Mr. Holmes, starring Sir Ian McKellan… shall I go on?), the idea of Mr. Ferrell and Mr. Reilly taking on these two iconic characters seemed like an idea with some merit.

So what happened?

I found Holmes & Watson to be mostly a bore.  There are a few funny moments (I thought the idea of an autopsy scene version of the infamous Ghost pottery-wheel love scene was inspired), but for the most part the movie felt like it was struggling to find its way.

The central characters were surprisingly muddled.  Will Ferrell’s Sherlock Holmes seems to be both a buffoon and a genius at the same time, and the combination doesn’t work smoothly.  Mr. Reilly’s Watson, meanwhile, seems just as stupid, if not more so, that Mr. Ferrell’s Holmes… except for the times when he seems to occasionally be aware of Holmes’ buffoonery.  I’m all for an anything-for-a-joke approach, but 1) I think these sorts of movies only work if the jokes are hung around strong characters who you understand and, if not care about, are at least clearly-defined and interesting enough to want to follow for two hours, and 2) if you’re going to focus on jokes at the expense of character development, those jokes had damn well better be funny!

There are all sorts of weird off-notes in the film, which to me show the film’s struggles to find a tone that works.  The movie begins with a sad flashback to Sherlock Holmes’ lonely childhood, which is distinctly unfunny.  It feels like the type of opening to a character-based film that wants to create some pathos around its characters, and to therefore solicit the audience’s empathy.  But after this prologue, the film never develops the Holmes character beyond a one-note joke, so that opening feels like it came from a different movie.

I was equally off-put by the end of … [continued]

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“Who the hell is Julius Caesar? You know I don’t follow the NBA!” Josh Reviews Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Comedy sequels are incredibly hard.  Don’t believe me?  Name your top five favorite comedy sequels.  Go.  Having trouble coming up with five?  Having trouble coming up with ONE great comedy sequel?  I rest my case.  (For the record, I have some love for Ghostbusters 2, The Naked Gun 2 1/2, and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, though all three of those films are, in my opinion, markedly inferior to their predecessors.)  Adding to the challenge of a successful Anchorman 2 is the long decade that has passed since the first film’s release.  In that ten years, the modestly successful Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy has grown ino a huge cult hit, beloved by many and joyfully quoted ad nauseam. Now that the longed-for-by-fans sequel has finally arived, it is hard to imagine any actual filming living up to all those expectations built up over the last decade.

I didn’t enter into Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues with too much of an attachment to the first film, which might make me something of a rarity.  Truth be told, I didn’t much care for Anchorman the first time I saw it.  While its pleasures and sublime silliness have grow on me over the years (I laughed quite a lot when I re-watched the film last week, in preparation for seeing the sequel), and I certainly think it’s a very funny film, I wouldn’t rank it amongst my favorite comedies.  My tastes tend to range towards the goofy comedies of my youth (films like Airplane!, Fletch, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, National Lampoon’s Vacation, The Naked Gun, LA Story, etc).  I also unabashedly love the work of Mel Brooks (particularly Young Frankenstein, The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Spaceballs), Albert Brooks (particularly Modern Romance), Christopher Guest (particularly A Mighty Wind), Kevin Smith (Clerks through Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) and Judd Apatow and Mr. Apatow’s circle of collaborators (including films like Superbad, I Love You, Man, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Tropic Thunder).   I love Monty Python (particularly The Holy Grail) and Woody Allen (particularly Annie Hall, Bananas, Zelig, and Crimes and Misdemeanors, though I could go on).  I love Waking Ned Devine and My Blue Heaven and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Aristocrats (the most profane film ever made) and Bull Durham and The Frisco Kid and Shaun of the Dead and High Fidelity.  Have I established my comedy leanings sufficiently?  Even among the sillier films headlined by Will Ferrell (which I tend to enjoy, though not as much as any of the other films I have just listed), I have always found Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby to be a far funnier film than the … [continued]

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Catching Up on 2012: The Campaign

In The Campaign, Will Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a handsome, smugly arrogant Democratic Congressman from North Carolina.  His easy-street string of running unopposed is broken when two corrupt businessmen (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) convince someone to run against him.  That someone is Raymond Huggins, played by Zach Galifianakis.  Raymond is a weird, squirrely little man, and he is chosen because of how simple and easy to manipulate he is.  As the simple Raymond is transformed into a canny political operator, he becomes a real threat to Cam, and the two men soon set out to destroy each other.

After digging deeply into real-world politics with Recount (which chronicled the weeks of indecision following the 2000 Presidential election — click here for my review) and Game Change (which focused on Sarah Palin and the 2008 Presidential campaign — click here for my review), director Jay Roach decided to stick with politics but move into a fictional, more straightly comedic film.  I thought that was a good idea when I first read about The Campaign, but I was disappointed by the execution.  I found The Campaign to be only mildly amusing, far from the laugh-riot I had hoped for from the pairing of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis.

But even more than that, what dissatisfied me about The Campaign was that — particularly in comparison to the incredibly sharp films Recount and Game Change — I could never quite see the point of The Campaign.  What message does the film have to tell us?  That politicans can be stupid and/or arrogant?  Wow, what a groundbreaking idea!  Had Raymond started out as a fairly normal character, who then was turned into a cruel, selfish politician, that would have been a story-arc.  Not a particularly original or insightful one, but that would have at least shown me that the movie had a point of view, and was commenting on the corrosive effects of the state of politics in 2012 America.  But Raymond starts out the film as a total nutball, equally as weird and unlikable as Will Ferrell’s John Edwards-like Cam Brady, just in a different way.  So… what’s the point  of view of the film?

Which leads me to conclude that the film has absolutely nothing substantial to say about politics, and is just using the political arena as a setting for a funny story.  Coming after Recount and Game Change, that would be a little disappointing to me but still a perfectly reasonable approach to take.  Except that the film isn’t nearly funny enough to make that work.  If The Campaign was intended by Mr. Roach and his team to just be a fun yuk-fest, then in my opinion … [continued]