Review: The D Train

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DIR: Andrew Mogel, Jarrad Paul • WRI: Jarrad Paul, Andrew Mogel • PRO: David Bernad, Jack Black, Ben Latham-Jones, Priyanka Mattoo, Barnaby Thompson, Mike White • DOP: Giles Nuttgens • ED: Terel Gibson • MUS: Andrew Dost • DES: Ethan Tobman • CAST: Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor

 

Actor, comedian and musician Jack Black returns to the big screen in his latest black comedy drama from Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul, making their directorial debut in The D Train. Also co-written by the directors, the film, shot in a mere three weeks, sees the all-round entertainer undertake his first major film role, guest appearances and television roles aside, since the ploddingly laborious and commercial disappointment, The Big Year in 2011.

Black plays socially awkward Dan Landsman, the self-appointed chairman of his former high school’s alumni, who charges himself with the organisation of his class’s twentieth reunion. Scarred by his traumatic high school experience, Landsman is determined to ensure as many former students attend to bolster his popularity and finally garner the acceptance he craves. When the reunion fails to ignite much interest, Landsman travels to Los Angeles to convince his popular classmate, Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), now a seemingly successful commercials actor, to attend the reunion but quickly resorts to shockingly extreme measures to bring a reluctant Lawless home, with disastrous consequences.

Fusing Hollywood black comedy conventions with latter day morality play allegories, The D Train is an idealistic and cautionary tale about the perception of success in contemporary America and the exceptional circumstances undertaken to achieve such an ideal. Lurking beneath the caustic wit, boundless hyperactivity and pretentious energy synonymous with Black’s characters and the crude and provocative content aligned with dark comedy, the film explicitly explores the nature of the human condition and poses profound philosophical questions about the perils of placing emphasis on self-gratification as a means to success, regardless of the overall consequences. Analysing the nature of greed and desire for self-satisfaction, popularity and acceptance, the film holds a mirror aloft to a contemporary society to ponder on the nature of desire, lust and obsession and the lack of evident moral or spiritual boundaries prevalent in humanity’s desire for pleasure. As unpleasant and cringeworthy a character Dan Landsman is, he is a universal character nonetheless.

Creating wholly rapacious and self-indulgent personas, Black and Marsden illuminate an otherwise blunt and hasty script from the directors with immense pathos and impeccable comedy timing. As different as both characters are similar, the on-screen chemistry between the two actors creates a convincingly candid and affecting ‘bromance’ which refreshingly explores the nature of sexual identity by embracing both dark comedy and romantic elements that simultaneously jolt and engage. Forever on the outside looking in and scarred by continual rejections, unpopular Black oscillates from smug egotism to wounded sensitivity with ease, mirrored by drug-addled, sexually-charged narcissist Marsden, whose steely suaveness and bottomless bravado crumbles to affecting disappointment and palpable insecurity, creating a plausible and sensitive relationship that should be uncomfortable, disruptive and employed for cheap thrills but instead poignantly points to the nature of obsession and desire and the determination to satisfy the self by any means possible.

While the two male lead performances create a magnetic portraiture that traverse the seven deadly sins, igniting the narrative on a both a dark comedic and philosophical level, Mogel and Paul’s tepid script ultimately falls short on becoming a true black comedy classic. The introduction of too many ill-conceived sub-plots fails to enhance or execute the essential tenets of the narrative, only serving to detract and distract from the film’s overall philosophy, lacking the sharp, subversive edge required for black comedy. The film, at times, is too self-righteous, didactic and patronising, blinded by its own perceived importance and attempts by Black to compensate for lulls and digressions in the script’s trajectory through routine acerbic witticisms and exaggerated physicality, fail to penetrate the evident inexperience and indirection of the film’s directors.

The D Train cannot claim to contain a highly original or imaginative narrative, although an unexpected plot twist will enthral, but rather the film incorporates an archetypal morality tale that has been recounted by Hollywood on numerous occasions. The outstanding performances from Black and Marsden may take an old fable and repackage it for the contemporary dark comedy genre with impeccable comedic delivery and cocksure swagger but the reluctance of the writers/directors to venture beyond the traditional, ideological Hollywood ending is at odds with the nature of black comedy itself and ultimately disappoints. The D Train, in actuality, is noteworthy for its consummate leading performances, Black in particular returns to top form after a four-year hiatus in a leading film role and it is his emotive and energetic turn that steers the narrative’s core philosophy, delineating the antagonism between an unresolved past and a disordered present bound together by a will to self-satisfy, exploit and indulge, rather than any creative or philosophical management by the film’s inexperienced, first-time directors.

Dee O’Donoghue

15A(See IFCO for details)
100 minutes

The D Train is released 18th September 2015

The D Train– Official Website

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cinema Review: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

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DIR: Adam McKay  WRI: Adam McKay, Will Ferrell  PRO: Judd Apatow, Adam McKay, Will Ferrell  DOP: Oliver Wood  ED: Melissa Bretherton, Brent White  DES: Clayton Hartley  Cast: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, James Marsden, Meagan Good, Greg Kinnear, Kristen Wiig

 

 

Following its release back in 2004, Anchorman: The Legendary of Ron Burgundy became an unexpected comedy smash, grossing just under $91 million at the worldwide box office off a budget of $26 million. It brought the creative team of director Adam McKay and Will Ferrell (who had previously worked together on TV’s Saturday Night Live) a platform to develop the projects that were closest to their hearts, and also opened up several doors for co-star Steve Carell, who was best known at that time for his work alongside Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on The Daily Show, as well as a small-role in the Jim Carrey-starring Bruce Almighty.
With producer Judd Apatow also about to kick-start his directorial career, it is clear to see that Anchorman represented a pivotal point in the lives of much of the cast and crew. Indeed, many of them have enjoyed terrific commercial success since the original was released, but the idea of a follow-up to the ’70s-set satire has always been an enticing one for the main players.

 

The prospects of a second outing for Ron, Brick, Brian and Champ seemed bleak when Paramount Pictures decided against making a sequel in 2011, but a deal was finally brokered last year to make Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues a reality. The story picks up in the ’80s, where Ron and now-wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) are co-anchors at GNN, and now have a six-year-old son named Walter. However, Ron’s life is turned upside down when legendary newsreader Mack Harken (a growling Harrison Ford) decides to make Corningstone the station’s new weekend anchor, and relieve Burgundy of his position.

 

Although Ron’s career eventually plummets, he is given a second chance when he is approached about a new 24-hour news channel that is being established in Manhattan. Along with his trusted team of Brick Tamland, Brian Fantana and Champ Kind, he embarks on the Big Apple, where they shake the very foundations of broadcast news.

 

Nine years is certainly not the biggest gap between films in a series (the recent sequels in the Indiana Jones and Tron franchises took a lifetime to come to fruition), but it is nevertheless a long time since Ferrell & Co. brought their off-the-wall characters to the silver screen. While there was little pre-release hype for the original, the publicity for Anchorman 2 has been cranked up significantly, to the point that everyone who has even a passing interest in the film industry will be aware of its existence.

 

With all this in mind, it would have been easy for the various participants to rest on their laurels, but the good news for the many fans of the originals is that it maintains the spirit of the first outing, and registers a high laughter rate throughout.

 

The five principle returning stars (Ferrell, Rudd, Carell, Koechner and Applegate) clearly have too much affection for their characters to simply go through the motions, and they are all given their moments to shine. There are also some welcome additions to the cast in the form of Dylan Baker, James Marsden (as sharp-suited rival anchor Jack Lime) and Meagan Good as Ron’s new boss/love interest.

 

Witnessing the parameters of Ron’s romantic life suddenly shifting (Greg Kinnear also comes into the equation as a new partner for Applegate) provides much comic inspiration for the film, as does a dark third-act plot development for our eponymous hero.

 

Though lovers of the original will undoubtedly garner immense enjoyment from this second-parter, comparisons will inevitably be made with its predecessor. Only time will tell if the sequel will become as quotable as The Legend Of Ron Burgundy, but there is no doubt that its successor is lacking that certain element of surprise.

 

Also, at 119 minutes, it does over-stretch itself, and there are certain segments in the drama that could have been completely exorcised from the final cut. Aside from Brick (who finds his true soul mate in Kristen Wiig’s oddball secretary Channi), Ron’s fellow anchors are not given a great deal to work with, and when the celebrity cameos eventually arrive (in a heightened version of the first film’s Battle of the Anchors), they are thrown at the audience at a most extraordinary pace).

 

However, there are certain aspects to the film that are an improvement on the 2004 offering, namely the more coherent narrative structure, which indicates a desire on the part of Ferrell and McKay to properly develop the trajectory of their numerous creations.

 

Should the box-office receipts reveal healthy returns, then we can expect that a third film will follow in the not-too-distant future. On the basis of this film, there is no reason why the projected target audience wouldn’t be interested in another helping, because although the likes of Ferrell, Carell and Rudd have enjoyed great success away from Anchorman, it is clear that they are appreciative of what these characters have done for their careers.

Daire Walsh

15A (See IFCO for details)

118  mins

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is released on 20th December 2013

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues – Official Website

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Cinema Review: 2 Guns

2 Guns 10

Dir: Baltasar Kormakur • Wri: Peter Ladinigg, Umat Dag • PRO: Andrew Cosby, Randall Emmett, George Furla, Norton Herrick, Ross Richie, Adam Siegel DOP: Oliver Wood  • Ed: Michael Tronick • DES: Beth Mickle • Cast: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Edward James Olmos, James Marsden, Paula Patton

We meet smooth-as-silk Bobby (Washington) and motormouth Stig (Wahlberg) as they’re planning to rob a bank – a heist that goes even better than they could have imagined, because when all the dust settles they’ve got way more money than they bargained for. Way, way, more. Around $43 million dollars more, to be exact.

There may be trouble ahead, and it’s now that Bobby reveals himself as a deeply undercover DEA agent. He was looking to finally bring Greco (Olmos) to justice – it was his drug smuggling money they were stealing – but the tables are turned when Stig shoots him in the arm and leaves him behind in the desert, taking the cash to his boss Quince (Marsden).

Quince is a bigwig in Naval Intelligence, and it’s now that we find out Stig is also an undercover man doing his duty for Uncle Sam. But what’s the $43 million bucks going to be used for? That soon becomes a minor problem when everyone realizes that the money isn’t Greco’s – it belongs to someone else; someone serving a much more dangerous master.

Soon enough Bobby and Stig are on the run, a reluctant pair who trust each other about as far as they can throw each other – which isn’t far enough. Getting the cash back might get them their freedom, but then Greco gets hold of Bobby’s girl and fellow DEA agent Deb (Patton), and the bickering pair are tracking down – and trying to stay ahead – of a trio of gun toting, bull-breeding, helicopter-flying villains…

In a summer full of big blockbuster movies – nearly all of which have failed to hit the target – this guns ‘n quips action movie should find an audience. Starring the ever-reliable Washington and the likeable Wahlberg, this is by-the-numbers entertainment that’s high on bullets and explosions and contains the requisite number of twists and betrayals.

It’s a nice spin to have both of the leads working undercover and learning along the way that they’ve been lying to each other, though some of the subsequent revelations are obvious well in advance, so it’s kind of a pity Washington and Wahlberg didn’t get enough time to exercise their bitching, arguing and sniping.

More of this comic side would have made us buy them more cheaply as buddies, and the emotion is kept on a tight rein too, the pair seeming more like superheroes than people. Down the bullets rain as the bodies hit the dirt, but there’s no blood on show and the pair seem to barely get a scratch – probably in order to get the low certification – and at times it seems more like The A Team than a hard scrabble, dangerous actioner.

The roots of this story in Steven Grant’s graphic novel perhaps explain this pseudo-cartoonish feel, and though director Kormakur (who worked with Wahlberg on last year’s also blandish Contraband) does a decent enough job keeping up the pace, having three villains never really allows you to focus your fear for the lads, and in the end it’s all rather unforgettable stuff, if divertingly entertaining.

James Bartlett

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)

108 mins
2 Guns is released on 16th August 2013

2 Guns  – Official Website

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The Box

The Box

DIR/WRI: Richard Kelly • PRO: Richard Kelly, Dan Lin, Kelly McKittrick, Sean McKittrick • DOP: Steven Poster • ED: Sam Bauer • DES: Sam Bauer • CAST: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella

The Box is a bitter disappointment. From the outset, the film aims to tackle tough moral questions, and shed light on the nature of the human condition. However, by the film’s conclusion, you feel these issues have not been sufficiently explored, let alone analysed, and you are no wiser to the film’s take on morality.

Director Richard Kelly’s latest venture begins humbly enough. Depicting a struggling family in 1970’s Virginia, couple Norma (Cameron Diaz) and Arthur (James Marsden) are confronted with an arresting moral choice. The graphically disfigured Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) presents the titular box, upon which there is a red button. Should it be pushed, the family will receive one million dollars, tax free.

And the inevitable catch? Pushing the button will directly prompt the death of another person, unknown to the couple. Of Course.

So it’s definitely unique; ridiculous yet unique. And before the first act is up, Kelly has produced an engaging moral dialogue, framed skilfully by sympathetic characters and an interesting, if superfluous, sub-plot. Sound appealing? Well, brace for disappointment, as soon all momentum for substantial moral discussion is lost and the film becomes as misshapen as Steward’s lightning-scarred face.

The Box quickly descends into a farcical array of half-cooked themes and unexplored plot points. Although the film persists in referencing its moralising roots, this is done without effort and the façade is, in turn, as mentally vacant as the Steward’s body-snatched ‘employees’.

Technically, there is plenty to admire in this movie: the star-studded cast does an admirable and thoroughly convincing job, specifically Langella who lends an air of charm, tension and, peculiar likeability to his role, despite its innate silliness. The editing and camerawork neither jar not jolt the experience. The pacing generates tension while gradually revealing the plot. Most importantly, and to the films credit, the subject of deformity is addressed sensitively and tactfully.

Sadly, these accomplishments cannot mask the blatant abandonment of moral dialogue. It’s possible that if The Box had kept its cards to its chest, the whole experience would come up aces and the surprising route it takes would intrigue rather than infuriate. Unfortunately, it lacks the courage to deliver on it promises, opting instead for a deformed, alien and downright bizarre tale.

Jack McGlynn
(See biog here)

Rated 15a (see IFCO website for details)
The Box
is released 4th Dec 2009

The Box – Official Website

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