ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY Aimed squarely at the open-mouth-breathers who turned Dumb and Dumber and Big Daddy into hits, Anchorman is the movie as litmus test -- specifically, how much Will Ferrell is too much Will Ferrell? The Saturday Night Live vet, who had a banner '03 with Elf and Old School, now seems headed down the path that Adam Sandler often travels, making movies that solely target his fan base while excluding everyone else. As a chauvinistic news anchor in 1970s San Diego, Ferrell gets to wear ugly clothes, make silly faces, and lust after the ladies, but unless you hold the opinion that the actor is a comic genius worthy of Chaplin or Tati comparisons, then this sort of obnoxious oafishness gets stale quickly. With the exception of one recently anointed Oscar winner, the cameos merely include the usual suspects (Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn), while capable comedienne Christina Applegate is forced to play straight man -- uh, woman -- to Ferrell and his posse. There are a handful of inspired moments -- the tribute to Burt Reynolds, who made the concept of end-credit bloopers fashionable, is a nice touch -- but these clever bits seem almost accidental in the midst of so much kitsch. 1/2
BEFORE SUNSET Richard Linklater's 1995 indie fave Before Sunrise was a pleasant enough yarn about two college-age kids -- one American (Ethan Hawke), the other French (Julie Delpy) -- who meet in Vienna, spend the night talking (and loving), and agree to meet again in six months. Before Sunset continues their story: Unfolding in real minutes (about 80 of them), this follow-up finds Jesse, now a published author, and Celine, an environmental activist, again crossing paths, this time in Paris. Their planned rendezvous never took place, and now, nine years later, they find themselves forced to breathlessly bring each other up to speed before Jesse has to catch a plane back to the States. As they chat, their initial apprehension wears off, leaving them emotionally exposed as they discuss failed relationships and what would have happened if they had managed to remain together all those years ago. Superior to its predecessor in every way, this lovely film does an exemplary job of conveying the manner in which the freedom and naivety of youth inevitably fall by the wayside, leaving only cherished memories, present regrets, and the rigor mortis of a future that can only be avoided by those willing to take risks. Hawke and Delpy (who both co-wrote the script with Linklater) have never been better, and the movie's ending is letter-perfect. 1/2
THE CLEARING No superheroes, no car crashes, no sword-swinging knights, no animated critters -- for older viewers not interested in the glamour and glitz of the summer season, The Clearing would appear to be the winning ticket. Unfortunately, there's also no urgency in the execution and no point to the resolution -- all in all, a major disappointment for those seeking cinematic sanctuary. Marking the directorial debut of producer Pieter Jan Brugge (The Insider), the film is fortunate to be blessed with a powerhouse cast: Robert Redford as a self-made millionaire who finds himself abducted, Helen Mirren as his wife, and Willem Dafoe as the kidnapper. Their strong performances remain riveting throughout, yet the story that contains them is flimsy, with brief hints of psychological complexity being scuttled as this meandering movie heads for a conclusion that's meant to be devastating but instead proves desultory.
THE STORY OF THE WEEPING CAMEL It sounds a bit calculating, even more so for a foreign import -- a movie about a camel that gives birth to a colt and then immediately rejects her baby, forcing the Mongolian family that owns the animals to devise a way to bond the pair. Yet writer-directors Luigi Falorni and Byambasuren Davaa pull it off: Citing documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty as their inspiration, they've created a film that's both fiction and nonfiction, draping a loose narrative around the real-life experiences of a nomadic family living in the Gobi Desert. The film is as much about this clan as about the camels, focusing on the people as they spin established folk tales, tend to their livestock, and rub shoulders with the modern world only when absolutely necessary (in one subplot, the youngest boy discovers television and becomes obsessed with it). But the movie always circles back to the animals, and the touching finale might insure that the camel won't be the only one doing the weeping.
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS Less an adaptation of Jules Verne's novel than a quasi-installment in the Shanghai Noon / Knights franchise, this expensively priced but cheaply realized action yarn finds Jackie Chan playing a martial arts expert who takes on all villains in an effort to return a jade Buddha statue back to his remote Chinese village. Stranded in London, he passes himself off as a French valet named Passepartout and hitches an intercontinental ride with inventor Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan), who has bet that he can travel around... well, you know this part. Everything about this production seems tired, from Chan's fight routines to the soggy humor to the cameo by Arnold Schwarzenegger, looking rather ghastly as a lecherous Turkish prince sporting skimpy duds, a hideous wig and a jaundiced complexion. 1/2
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