Tag Archives: Ben Stiller

Zoolander 2 (2016)

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There’s no to sugarcoat this: Zoolander 2 is gaaaaaabage. Of all the sequels that should never have been made, this one’s right near the top of the list.

I’m sure it seemed like a good idea when Ben Stiller had nothing to do one day and decided to bring back his iconic character, the dim-witted supermodel who made “Blue Steel” the look everyone was imitating back in 2001. But like when Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels returned for Dumb and Dumber To 20 years after the original, it’s just as funny after so much time has passed. And sadly, Dumb and Dumber To is the far superior sequel. Minus a bit of nostalgia and a couple of decent laughs on the rare occasion, everything else about Zoolander 2 just feels stale, contrived, lame, and worst of all, unfunny.

The story is also set about 15 years after the original, with Zoolander and his former sidekick Hansel (Owen Wilson) living very different lives after another stupid tragedy. A new character, an Interpol agent played by Penelope Cruz, gets the ball rolling when celebrities are being killed all around the world. And of course, Will Ferrell returns as villain Mugatu.

So yeah, there’s essentially no story, just a bunch of idiots doing idiotic things. That’s not to say idiocy can’t be funny, because obviously enough people thought it was hilarious in the first film. But it’s simply just not funny here. I’d say a good 95-99% of gags fell entirely flat. It’s not even the delivery — the jokes themselves just had no wit, creativity or element of surprise. After a while, it will make you start to wonder whether you may have been overrating the first Zoolander for all these years. Personally, I started zoning out a little.

It’s unfortunate because the film starts with so much promise. The Justin Bieber gag that kicks off the show is pretty satisfying, though of course it would have been much funnier had the punchline not been tossed entirely into the trailer. In fact, almost all the good jokes have been spoiled by the trailer, which is sad considering the trailer is only about 2 minutes long.

As for the other 100 minutes…well, at least there’s a lot of celebrity cameos for people into those sorts of things. The list is far too long to even bother trying to name them (apparently there’s 39), though those who have seen the trailers won’t be surprised to see the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch or Kiefer Sutherland. Most play caricatures of themselves, and it makes you wonder whether they were just doing Ben Stiller a  favour or if they genuinely thought it was a good idea.

Back in 2001, Zoolander was a sharp satire on the fashion industry. In 2016 — though I’m sure it was made with the best of intensions, — Zoolander 2 feels like nothing more than a stale, feeble cash-grab when the ideas well has run completely dry.

1,5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

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I love Ben Stiller’s best work, but his resume has been a little mixed in recent years. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a loose modern adaptation of the 1939 short story by James Thurber, is very much a Ben Stiller project (he directs, produces and stars), and it’s definitely some of his best work.

Stiller plays the titular character, a negative assets manager who manages photographs for Life magazine. He’s a meek and mild mannered introvert, a bit of a loner, someone who escapes the banality and drudgery of his existence by “zoning out” into one of his elaborate and vivid daydreams. Without giving too much away, Walter finds himself on an adventure which requires him to track down legendary photographer Sean O’Connell (wonderfully performed by Sean Penn) through a series of clues. Helping him out is his secret crush (Kristin Wiig), whom Walter has joined an online dating service for despite working together in the same office.

As his journey gets crazier and crazier, Walter’s fantasies diminish in frequency, and the film’s simple message become apparent. But getting to that point is a lot of fun because you never really know what to expect next, and Walter is such a likable character that he infuses the film with plenty of warmth (despite the freezing conditions) and heart.

Walter Mitty is a grand adventure, a big, epic physical and spiritual journey that takes Walter to several isolated and extremely beautiful places around the world. The film is filled with amazing special effects, not only during Walter’s fantasies but also throughout his travels. Conversely, it’s also an odd, quirky little film that is only loosely attached to reality, with plenty of serendipitous occurrences and strange coincidences, and a slightly surreal feel that brings up memories of The Truman Show (incidentally, they originally wanted Jim Carrey for the lead role).

The result is an ambitious film doesn’t always work, but enough of it worked for me to make Walter Mitty a special experience. And make no mistake, the film is very funny. There are moments of comic brilliance scattered throughout the 114-minute running time, with a few generating some real belly laughs, though arguably it could have been a more consistently hilarious movie had they focused more on the comedy rather than the poignancy of the drama.

The performances are really strong. Ben Stiller plays the kind of character we’re used to from him (by that I mean closer to There’s Something About Mary than Dodgeball or Tropic Thunder), and he’s very affable here, while Kristen Wiig provides an attractive love interest who is believable because she’s borderline in Walter’s league. A bearded Adam Scott is also very good as the office dickhead, and he seems to relish the opportunity to play such a role. Shirley MacLaine and Kathryn Hahn have small but important roles as Walter’s mother and daughter, while Sean Penn is brilliant as the enigmatic O’Connell. There are some very interesting minor characters, such as an online dating services rep (Patton Oswalt) who strikes up an unusual phone friendship with Walter, and the nutty Greenlandic helicopter pilot (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) who provides some of the best lines of the movie.

The ending of Walter Mitty was perhaps a little too neat and predictable for my liking, but apart from that I found myself captured by Walter’s imagination and his struggle for a more fulfilling life. The film has received mixed to polarising reviews, and I can understand that because it’s the type of movie where you either get caught up in the adventure and its characters or you don’t. I certainly did, which is why I think it’s one of the most likable and memorable movies of the year.

4.5 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 9

This latest tranche has a political flavour…kind of…

Act of Valor (2012)

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Just the title alone made me sceptical of this film, essentially a US Army recruitment video starring real-life soldiers. There must be people who lapped up the salty patriotism and corny melodrama of Act of Valor, but I was not one of them.

The plot — and there is a plot — is not important, and to be honest, I don’t remember much of it. The story focuses on a team of Navy Seals who have to shot and blow up enemies who pose a threat to freedom in the United States. Terrorists, that is.

The action scenes are well-choreographed, I don’t dispute that. Apparently they are realistic, but the shaky camera movements were too much for me. I had trouble telling what was happening when they had the helmet-mounted cameras and a few of the scenes made me feel nauseated.

But the main problem with Act of Valor, apart from the cookie-cutter plot, is the unintentional Team America: World Police feel that runs throughout the whole film. Much of it stems from dramatic score and the really really really atrocious lines spewed out by the really really really wooden “actors.” They just didn’t feel like real people. It was so bad that it was often either hilarious or distracting, or both. No offense to the soldiers, but it was akin to letting Stallone and The Rock go fight real terrorists on behalf of their country.

2 stars out of 5

PS: The mix of shaky camera movements and over-the-board heroism was enough to do this to me.

 

Game Change (2012)

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A great film for anyone interested in just how stupid Sarah Palin really is. Game Change is based on the true story of the 2008 Republican ticket of John McCain and Palin, and it’s a ripper. Sharp, funny and at times bewildering, it provides a fascinating insight into US presidential elections and the campaign strategies that direct the outcome. And above all, it reveals just how insane the Republicans were to take on a risk like Palin, who was believed to be a potential game changer — and she was, just not the way they wanted.

I loved the Tina Fey impersonations but Julianne Moore is equally brilliant in this more serious portrayal of Palin, who is depicted as an ambitious, self-righteous but incredibly naive and ignorant politician. Most of her most famous gaffes are repeated in the film, and they’re still just as funny. But it was also easy to see why the Republicans were so enamored with her in the beginning and so frustrated with her by the end. They essentially created a monster and didn’t know how to rein her back in.

Ed Harris was surprisingly good as John McCain, who I’ve always liked and was portrayed as a very decent man who really had no idea what he was getting himself into with Palin. The rest of the supporting cast, headed by Woody Harrelson as senior campaign strategist Steve Schmidt, was also excellent. Just a classy production all round.

Of course, the accuracy of the events depicted in the film have been disputed, but I’d like to think it captured the spirit of the campaign. Besides, both Palin and McCain, who said the film was inaccurate, never even saw it.

I really enjoyed it, even though it did have quite a strong TV-movie atmosphere.

PS: Here’s a scene by scene comparison between Palin and Moore.

4 stars out of 5

The Campaign (2012)

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While we’re on the subject of election campaigns, I’d like to review The Campaign, a pretty stock standard Will Ferrell farce about two numskulls vying for a congressional seat in a small town.

Ferrell plays his usual douche self who expects to earn another trip to DC unopposed, but a semi-retarded man played by Zach Galifianakis is somehow manipulated by corrupt businessmen to run against Ferrell so they can profit from a Chinese company (go figure). Retardation ensues as the two start getting down and dirty with outrageous plots to derail the other’s campaign.

If you know Ferrell’s brand of comedy and Galifianakis’s brand of comedy then it’s likely The Campaign will offer few surprises. It’s a lot of stupidity and randomness for about 85 minutes, a welcome length because the film starts to lose steam towards the end.

That said, there are some decent moments in The Campaign, and if you were lucky to have missed the spoilers in the trailers then you might find it rather enjoyable. Many of the jokes are borderline offensive or just plain offensive, but because they are almost always self-deprecating and take jabs at the usual politician antics they aren’t difficult to stomach or even appreciate. Both Ferrell and Galifianakis are in fine form and they do have nice chemistry on screen together.

At the end of the day, The Campaign is a forgettable comedy, but it’s also a pretty damn funny one (for the most part).

3.5 stars out of 5

The Watch (2012)

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Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn were pretty good together in Dodgeball, so I thought would give The Watch a shot. Without giving too much away (and there are potential spoilers), it’s about a bunch of average guys who decide to form a neighbourhood watch when locals start dying under weird circumstances.

The main foursome who form the neighbourhood watch are Stiller, Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade (an English comedian I’ve never heard of). They get up to stupid, juvenile stuff, predictably, until a discovery that puts their lives in real danger. There’s a lot of screaming in feigned fear and plenty of vulgar and sexualised jokes but sadly not a lot of originality or wit. In fact, I found the whole film strangely dull despite all the energetic stuff that was happening on screen.

Part of the problem is that Stiller and Vaughn (and to some extent Hill) seem to be playing the exact same characters with the same personalities and traits in every movie. Stiller is the bumbling nice guy who wants to be something more, and Vaughn is the deadpan specialist, while Hill is the awkward fatty. There’s just nothing fresh about it and they feel like actors playing themselves rather than characters.

I’ll admit, there were a few times in The Watch where the inner juvenile in me found a joke in the film funny — but these moments were few and far in between. As much I as enjoy these group buddy movies as much as the next guy, this one was uninspiring and forgettable.

2.5 stars out of 5

Mega Catch-up Movie Blitz (Part 3)

Here’s Part I and here’s Part II.

New Year’s Eve (2011)

I still cannot believe I watched New Years Eve, possible one of the worst abominations ever to hit the big screen in recent years. Putting all the biggest stars in the world (I’m not even going to attempt to name them all) in a romantic comedy about the yearly celebration has to be the most contrived idea since…Valentine’s Day, which was obviously trying to cash in on the success of ensemble films like Love, Actually.

The biggest problem with such films is that it are so in awe of the fact that it has all these big stars that it doesn’t bother with anything else – it’s as though seeing them on screen is reason enough for audiences to fork out some money. For some, that might be good enough, but for me it was pure torture (and I didn’t even fork out any money).

The other obvious problem is that with so many stars it’s impossible to give them a decent character or a decent plot to work with. Not unless you’re freaking Joss Whedon. As a result, you end up with a bunch of half-assed, obnoxious characters you don’t give a crap about doing very annoying and contrived things.

All of this could be forgiven to some extent if this romantic comedy was actually romantic, or funny. I don’t know about romantic, but it certainly wasn’t funny. Perhaps a couple of chuckles at most, but the rest was pure cringe city.

0.5 stars out of 5!

Footloose (2011)

Everyone knows about the song, but personally I have not seen the original with Kevin Bacon. In fact, I knew nothing about it other than the spoof scene from Hot Rod a few years back.

The remake is said to be better, though if you ask me I don’t really see why it had to be made in the first place. Professional dancer Kenny Wormald comes to a small town which has banned all unsupervised dancing due to a tragic accident involving some teens three years ago. But you can’t stop a man who wants to get down and boogie, and so Kenny finds himself up against church reverend Dennis Quaid while simultaneously trying to court his rebellious daughter, played by Dancing with the Stars champ Julianne Hough.

The plot is cookie cutter and the feel is very 80s, but I suppose Footloose does have a little bit of that country charm. And it does have a lot of energy. I’m not a big fan of dancing but if you are you might end up enjoying it more than I did. At the end of the day, however, I can’t see them remaking this one in another 27 years.

2.5 stars out of 5

Tower Heist (2011)

Ben Stiller movies aren’t what they used to be, but at least he hasn’t fallen as low as Adam Sandler these days.

Tower Heist, which combines the comedic talents of Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick (Mr Ferris Beuller himself), Casey Affleck and Gabourey Sidibe, plus one of my faves, Michael Pena, is nowhere near as good as it could or should have been, but it’s still relatively harmless fun that can be enjoyed on a lazy afternoon.

Basically it’s about a bunch of employees at a luxury apartment complex inNew Yorkwho are cheated out of their life savings by a wealthy businessman who lives there (Alan Alda), and come up with a scheme to try and get that money back.

It’s your typical heist movie with your regular bunch of misfits and quirky characters, and for the most part the chemistry is strong. Eddie Murphy returns to form a little (I don’t even want to mention the trash he has been involved in lately) but to be honest I didn’t find Tower Heist particularly clever or funny. It had its moments and there’s not a whole lot to dislike about it, but it’s a shame it couldn’t have been more memorable. A poor man’s Ocean’s Eleven, perhaps?

3 stars out of 5

Conan the Barbarian (2011)

I assumed it was “remake” of an original I haven’t seen before, but apparently the 2011 version of Conan the Barbarian is not related to the Arnie films of the 80s and features a new interpretation of the Conan mythology.

Whatever.

I’m a sucker for sword and sorcery films and there haven’t been a lot of high profile ones lately, so I suppose you could call Conan a guilty pleasure of mine. Jason Mamoa (who also played a barbaric fellow on season one of Game of Thrones), gives a pretty decent, if not uninspiring portrayal of the relentless, sword-wielding titular character who is out for revenge against those who killed his tribe and father. I’m sure he’s more believable than some beefy eastern European guy with a funny accent and a gap between his front teeth anyway.

The action in Conan is brutal and bloody, just the way it ought to be. Mamoa’s physicality is an advantage here, but it’s unfortunate that his character was not more interesting. Rachel Nicols plays the love interest (body double, people) and Avatar villain Stephen Lang and a freaky Rose McGowan are the central villains.

I have no idea why this film had to be 113 minutes, which was way too long and had me yawning through most of the second act. If they had pared it back to a compact 90 action-packed minutes it would have been a much more enjoyable ride.

Nevertheless…

2.75 stars out of 5!

 

Movie Review: Little Fockers (2010)

Meet the Parents (released in 2000) is one of my favourite comedies.  The 2004 sequel, Meet the Fockers, was silly and disappointing, despite the added star power Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand.  And so I was a little wary of the third film, Little Fockers. Any time a franchise reaches its third standalone film (ie not a planned trilogy), there’s a risk that the jokes will start wearing thin.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened here.  Even with the whole gang back (Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Tero Polo, Blythe Danner, Owen Wilson, Hoffman and Streisand) plus a surprisingly good Jessica Alba inserted (along with Harvey Keitel and Laura Dern), Little Fockers failed to capture the essence of what made the first film so good.

This one, as the title suggests, takes place several years after the second film, with Greg Focker (Stiller) and his wife Pam (Polo) raising twins, who are about to celebrate their birthdays.  Of course, Greg’s father-in-law and former CIA agent Jack (De Niro) is still around making Greg’s life hell, and the majority of the movie revolves around several subplots — Greg representing an erectile dysfunction drug (which is where Alba comes in), getting his place ready for the birthday party (enter Keitel) and the trying to get his kids into a prestigious kintergarten (enter Dern).

I won’t deny that there were some good moments and funny one liners, especially with Wilson, Alba and Dern, but on the whole there were too many stale, lame jokes.  The cleverness and the subtlety of the original have been thrown out the window in favour of unoriginal cheap laughs and sex gags, especially towards the end.

While Little Fockers is definitely a level or two better than the disaster that was Meet the Fockers, it nevertheless continues to damage the goodwill of the original.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Greenberg (2010)

What can you say about a film like Greenberg?

For starters, you can be sure that this unambitious, character-driven comedy-drama would never have been made had big names such as Ben Stiller (actor) and Jennifer Jason Leigh (producer and story — her husband Noah Baumbach directs and co-wrote the screenplay) not been attached to it.  It’s one of those weird movie experiences that’s intentionally awkward, somewhat quirky, and tugs at the heart strings without making it obvious that was the aim.  Is it a bad film?  Not really.  But is it any good?  Not really either.

Greenberg is about Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller), a 40-year-old carpenter recovering from a nervous breakdown who moves from New York back to LA to “do nothing” while he house sits for his wealthy brother.  It’s also about the relationship Greenberg develops with his brother’s assistant Florence (Greta Gerwig), an aimless, slightly naive 25-year-old girl who says yes to just about everything.  And it’s a little bit about Greenberg’s friend and old band mate Ivan (Rhys Ifans), who is trying to be there for Greenberg despite going through a messy separation.

If that sounds unexciting to you, that’s because it kind of is.  Expectations that something outrageous will happen in Greenberg are understandably low.  After all, it’s all about the characters, their flaws, their life choices and their regrets.  It’s essentially about three people wondering what they are doing with their lives and trying to make sense of a confusing world.

There are some solid scenes of self-discovery and reflection plus a couple of amusing lines in the film, but that’s not enough to save it for me.  My biggest problem with it is that the titular character is not a particularly likable guy and there is no true sense of change or redemption in him.  You simply follow him around as he does one strange thing after another.  Consequently, the film drags through its 107-minute running time.  I wouldn’t call it boring, but it was so uneventful that it gradually sapped away my anticipation for something exciting to happen.

Ultimately, I think Greenberg is one of those films that fans of quirky independent dramas will probably embrace.  For everyone else, it’ll most likely be a forgettable affair.

2 stars out of 5