REVIEW: Zoolander 2

2 03 2016

Decades-delayed sequels from “Anchorman” to “Scream” and even “Monsters University” tend to fall into some trap of relying on nostalgia for or nodding towards the original film. To some extent, if the makers do not strike while the iron is hot, they have to remind people that the iron existed in the first place. And, not to overload the metaphor, but by employing a heavy hand with said iron, they can burn a hole through the cloth of the new creation.

Given the fashion origins of the “Zoolander” series, it would only make sense that the 15-years-in-the-making second installment would hew all too close to its predecessor. In many ways – and perhaps in the ones that count – it does. But multi-hyphenate Ben Stiller does have a few new tricks up the sleeves for his old character, and even more than just a new signature look to go alongside Blue Steel and Magnum.

In another delightfully absurd caper, the pretty, dumb Derek Zoolander once again gets caught up in a tale of international intrigue. This time, it involves a conspiracy to murder good-looking celebrities and bring the fashion elite of the world to the slaughter. And, once again, it sidetracks so Derek can resolve some familial issues as well as tension with fellow model Hansel (Owen Wilson). Oh, and there’s a music montage

All in all, however, “Zoolander 2” breaks enough from the original to make the team’s efforts worthwhile. Much of the fun comes from the new characters like Kyle Mooney’s Don Atari, a pitch-perfect parody of über-trendy hipsters, and Kristen Wiig’s Alexanya Atoz, an en vogue fashion designer with enough Botox in her face to rejuvenate an entire school’s worth of soccer moms. (It’s best not to mention Penelope Cruz’s Interpol agent Valentina Valencia or Benedict Cumberbatch’s transphobic punchline All.) The whole affair is predictably stupid, though anyone who remembers the first “Zoolander” ought to expect just that. Nostalgia sometimes makes people remember things as better than they really are, and “Zoolander 2” is essentially a chip off the old block. B2stars

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REVIEW: While We’re Young

6 05 2015

If you mentioned the phrase “my generation” to people my parents’ age (straddling the Baby Boomer/Generation X boundary), they might start humming that hopelessly catchy song by The Who.  Ask millennials like myself what those two words signal and a combination groan and eye-roll will likely follow.

By this point, I have learned to take bulk criticism of people my age in stride, though biting my tongue on the gloom-and-doom predictions made about us does bother me quite a bit.  So long as there have been independently minded youth, there have been an older vanguard of adults sneering at the perceived ruin brought about by change to the establishment.  The lyrics may change over time, yet the melody remains the same.

While We’re Young,” from writer/director Noah Baumbach, arrives whistling that tired tune fearing the slow-dawning apocalypse of those darned kids these days.  What looked like a fascinating examination of intergenerational differences, rivalries, and friendships wound up playing like a cranky old relative or professor erecting a soapbox for themselves to rant about their monolithic conception of millennials.

Whether a running gag about a younger character not offering to pick up a check or Adam Horovitz’s Fletcher ranting about cell phone dependency, Baumbach barely conceals his personal disdain behind the veneer of his fictional creations.  His stance seems to imply the twentysomethings of today are uniquely self-involved, duplicitous, and dishonorable.  Has he forgotten that the Greatest Generation and the older end of the Baby Boomers said the same things about his cohort?  Rather than let his age provide a vantage point of wisdom on the issues he explores, his advanced years appear only to ensconce his bitterness.

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REVIEW: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

4 01 2014

24 hours before I saw “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” I was sitting in a press screening of “The Wolf of Wall Street” for three straight hours of sex, drugs, profanity, and despicable behavior.  Roughly an hour before I saw it, though, I was watching TCM’s broadcast of “White Christmas” with my family and listening to my parents ask once again where the nice movies are in theaters today.

It should be fairly obvious that “Walter Mitty” falls in line with the latter of the two aforementioned films; after all, it is based on a film from the 1940s.  And following an evening of watching a candle stuck wedged between Leonardo DiCaprio’s butt cheeks (one of the few shenanigans I dare to write about), it was just nice to watch a good, clean family feature.  Even though Ben Stiller’s film is nothing spectacular, its intermittently successful embrace from a bygone era is a nice change of pace.

Stiller, who also stars as the film’s titular character, does not drown the film in excessive sentimentality, often a hallmark of Hollywood’s golden age cinema.  But perhaps it would have been welcome had it brought any charm, which is largely absent from this languidly paced film.

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REVIEW: Tower Heist

14 10 2012

I’ll set the scene for you: it was a dark and stormy Saturday night.  OK, I don’t know if it was raining, but it was the Saturday of the last weekend of spring break and no one was on campus.  Thus, it was a perfect night for a movie.  I was tired after a long day of flying on airplanes, and I really just wanted a throwaway, lowest-common-denominator type of film.  Something that was pure entertainment and would just make me smile.  Laughing wasn’t even necessary.

Tower Heist,” surprisingly, filled my need quite nicely.  Perhaps my exceptionally low expectations are making my enthusiasm a great deal larger than it actually is, though.  This isn’t a movie I intend to ever watch again, but for the one time I did watch it, the ride was decently enjoyable.   Which is really all I could have wanted from the movie.

Sure, the humor is sophomoric and stupid, and it’s a far cry from Ben Stiller’s “There’s Something About Mary,” Eddie Murphy’s “Beverly Hills Cop,” or Matthew Broderick’s “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”  But this Occupy-esque comedy does manage to deliver a few small satisfactions.  It’s a particularly great time watching Murphy, who seems alive for the first time since “Dreamgirls.”

As a con man brought in by the staff of a hotel to execute a “Mission: Impossible” type plan to rob their über-one percenter boss (Alan Alda as a thinly veiled Bernie Madoff caricature), Murphy has the best lines and the best moments.  You might even see a flash of Axel Foley peeking out from behind the levels of Hollywood hardness.  Go back to the classic comedy if you want the real deal, but “Tower Heist” will do for the moment if you’re folding laundry and it happens to be on Cinemax.  B-





F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 10, 2012)

10 08 2012

When most people think of Edward Norton, they think “Fight Club,” “American History X,” or perhaps his brief stint as “The Incredible Hulk.”  In other words, I doubt many people would immediately classify him as a funny, light entertainer (though “Moonrise Kingdom” could change a few minds).  But take a look at Norton’s résumé and you will see that his only directorial venture was, in fact, a comedy!

His “Keeping the Faith,” my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week,” is a delightful romantic comedy of interfaith understanding and rivalry.  Norton plays Brian Finn, whose best friend growing up in New York is Ben Stiller’s Jake Schram.  Fast forward to adulthood, Brian becomes a Catholic priest, and Jake is a Jewish rabbi.  Still buddies, they find hilarious commonalities between their similar positions in different religions.

But their friendship gets a shock when Jenna Elfman’s Anna, a dreamgirl for both Brian and Jake back in their teenage years, moves from California back to the Big Apple.  She may have disappeared long ago from their lives, but Anna picks up right where she left off with both men, rekindling an old flame that burns brighter than ever.  But each men presents their own problem in terms of dating: Brian is required to be celibate as a Catholic priest, and Jake has to marry a Jewish woman (which Anna is not).

Yet in spite of the occupational challenges, both men vie for her love and affection.  She’s put in the unenviable (but seemingly always optimal choice for Reese Witherspoon) situation of choosing which illicit love to pursue.  I know this sounds a little bit like “This Means War,” but give it a chance.  It’s heartfelt, funny, and truly sincere.  Plus, it’s a movie that doesn’t shy away from having a good time with religion while also taking it totally seriously.  Why Edward Norton stopped directing after “Keeping the Faith” is beyond me.





REVIEW: The Watch

30 07 2012

The post-Spielberg generation of fanboy filmmakers has a few things to learn.  I’m talking about the boys who grew up thinking that Indiana Jones is the slickest hero ever, E.T. is the most benevolent force in the universe, and the alien coming out of John Hurt’s chest in “Alien” is the scariest thing in the world.  They’re coming of age now, and their paying homage to their myth-maker.

We saw the first extreme homage in last summer’s “Super 8,” J.J. Abrams’ pleasant trip down ’80s memory lane that ultimately rips off more than it can chew.  Now, one of the members of The Lonely Island, Akiva Schaffer, is here to give us his Spielberg tribute with “The Watch.”  It’s less of a carbon copy and more tongue-in-cheek parody, but that still doesn’t make its rancid treatment of Spielberg’s hallowed material any less acceptable.

Even without its frequent invocation of the action-movie deity, “The Watch” would still have disappointed on comedic standards.  When I say I didn’t laugh once, I mean it.  No exaggeration.  I did smirk on one occasion, though: a cameo appearance by Andy Samberg.

It’s a failure from concept for writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, whose résumés include the uproarious “Superbad” and the gut-wrenchingly hilarious “Pineapple Express.”  Unless that concept was to replicate the experience of being waterboarded, in which case congratulations are in order.  It’s time to screen this movie for the President, I’m sure he needs some new enhanced interrogation techniques at Guantanamo (which is still open despite his first day in office pledge).

“Got protection,” the film’s slogan asks.  So I’d like to ask you to protect yourself and not see “The Watch.”  Some movies you can’t unwatch.  You can’t get that time back.

Protect yourself from yet another Ben Stiller uptight straight-man grating on your last nerve; let’s be real, that one was already getting dated back in 2004’s “Along Came Polly.”  Protect yourself from the latest iteration of the Vince Vaughn sassily obstreperous man-child.  Protect yourself from a reprisal of Jonah Hill’s disturbed character from “Cyrus” that is reborn here totally humorless.  Protect yourself from the self’-conscious tokenism casting of Richard Ayoade, which ultimately devolves into outright racism.  To use the obvious pun, don’t watch “The Watch.”  Pop “E.T.” into the DVD player for a twentieth viewing.  D





REVIEW: Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

23 06 2012

I had just finished sixth grade when the first “Madagascar” film came out, and I must say, I enjoyed it probably as much as the six-year-olds in the theater.  Then I was in tenth grade when “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” hit theaters, and I disdained it like a ten-year-old who thinks he’s too cool for school and animated kids entertainment.  Now, I’m heading into my sophomore year of college while “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” is taking over screens in three dimensions.  Regardless of your age watching this movie, if you can just accept the inherent childishness of the series, you can enjoy it.

DreamWorks Animation found a way to reclaim what they do best (and thus separates them from their main competitor, Pixar): providing a family movie experience that creates a bottom line of ridiculous, zany antics for the kids while also littering the film with very sophisticated wordplay and adult humor that flies right over the little ones’ heads.  Pixar tries to level the playing field and get child, parent, and grandparent to view the movie from the same viewpoint; that’s what makes “Up” one of my all-time favorites.

But only DreamWorks provides maturely humorous animation that you can watch the tykes around, and it’s pretty ingenious how they can create two totally different intellectual experiences.  I know you probably don’t expect to hear intellectual tossed around in many reviews of the “Madagascar” series, but it’s a smart way to make money and maybe turn that ticket stub into a DVD purchase.

If you can’t handle Chris Rock’s ludicrous “Circus Afro” song or any of the New York Zoo crew’s antics, then maybe your appetite for humor will be met by their numerous pot shots at Europeans.  Kids aren’t going to get all the jokes about European labor laws and culture, but if you’ve tuned into CNN in the past year, you might get a kick out of it.  (Seeing this just two days after coming back from Europe sure made me chuckle – these movies may ask you to suspend reality, but they sure nailed Europe.)  I’m not saying that any sort of comedic brilliance exists in the DNA of “Madagascar 3;” however, I will say I think you’ll be hard-pressed to sit through the movie without having a few good laughs.  B /