Brad’s Status (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★
Some reviews will claim that in order to have a complete appreciation for the whip-smart comedy “Brad’s Status,” written and directed by Mike White, one would have to be middle-aged because the topics it tackles requires considerable life experience. But I say anybody who constantly checks in with themselves will be able to connect with and enjoy the film for its searing honesty and ability to remain in touch with both the humor and the drama of a situation depending on one’s mood, personality, or general perspective when it comes to how life works. This film is clearly made for observant viewers.
The titular character, played by Ben Stiller, is most unhappy as of late because he constantly finds himself dreaming forward and regretting the past, rarely choosing to be present in the now, appreciating the great things in his life, and relishing what he has accomplished thus far. Although I do not relate to Brad’s suffering, despite his neuroses, I recognized this character right away: he is a colleague at work, a stranger walking down the street, a family member who puts on a fake smile during reunions. I empathized with him, but I did not feel sorry for him. The material is interested in dissecting differences between seemingly similar emotions.
Stiller fits the role like a glove. Observe how he expertly navigates a series of thoughts and feelings, often in one sitting and in quick successions, that run across Brad’s face. Couple the performer’s craft with an energetic screenplay that courageously combines daydreams, flashbacks, and scalding reality in a blender, what results is a highly watchable, entertaining, and surprisingly insightful look at a privileged man who has everything he needs yet still finds himself wanting for more. He doesn’t exactly know why he craves more, it’s just that he does.
He claims he is envious of his former college friends (Michael Sheen, Jemaine Clement, Luke Wilson, Mike White) because they possess power, ludicrous amount money, women, and fame, but notice how Brad, someone so detail-oriented when it comes to his yearnings, fails to describe what he would actually do if he acquired such things. Why is this man creating the pandemonium in his mind? Does he find pleasure in putting himself through mental agony? Does he have a mood or mental disorder? Is it his way of coping with the fact that his son (Austin Abrams), a gifted musician, is soon moving away for university? I enjoyed that the writer-director is not afraid to introduce possibilities thereby making the work layered, consistently worthy of exploration from different angles.
Perhaps the best moments in this sharp and humane film involve the father looking at his son and weighing whether the boy in front of him would become competition, whether the boy would eventually make him feel small, insignificant, like a loser—just like the way his former friends “made” him feel throughout the years. It is during moments like these that “Brad’s Status” is at its bravest and most uncomfortable—which makes it so worthy of our time because it forces us to look inwards, recognize, and perhaps even come to terms with some of our own monsters.
Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), The (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★
Comedies involving dysfunctional families are easy to make: throw in a bunch of superficially quirky personalities in a carbonated situation, shake it vigorously, and watch the reaction occur. But to make a good comedy that just so happens to focus on a dysfunctional family requires a bit more effort, some finesse, because the viewers are asked to attempt to understand how each mind is working, why certain personalities clash, and what present conflicts stem from which histories, real or imagined. Clearly, “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” written and directed by Noah Baumbach, belongs to the latter because it concerned about mental machinations and acrobatics behind behavior.
The characters we are asked to observe have been touched by the art world one way or another. Harold (Dustin Hoffman), the patriarch, has two sons (Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller) and a daughter (Elizabeth Marvel), none of whom have forged a career in the arts as he had once wished or expected. Harold the sculptor and former Bard College professor is an interesting specimen because although he does not mince words not once does he say outright that he is disappointed with his children.
Instead, the material and Hoffman focus on showing, occasionally underlining, what seeps through the cracks. We can catch the father’s regrets in the way he treats his children, one of them being the clear favorite but a disappointment nonetheless. Notice numerous instances in which he and his offsprings, as a group or one-on-one, are sitting on the same table but consistently talking through one another. Some may consider this technique as classic comedy trope but peer closer and realize that it is a symptom of passive aggression.
The script functions on this level of intelligence and realism throughout the entire picture. It is refreshing to hear the way people actually speak or behave with one another as we do in real life rather than yet another tired and true ideations gracing the screen. Although the dysfunctional family sub-genre is rife with clichés, Baumbach tweaks the formula just enough to keep the material interesting, whether it be in terms of characterization or how a scene is delivered. An example of the latter involves fading to black right in the middle of interactions, sometimes mid-conversation, when the punchline has been delivered.
Although the characters are well-drawn in general, I was less impressed by Sandler and Stiller’s performances, particularly when they revert to their go-to histrionics to wring laughter out of the audience. I enjoyed it best when they simply respond as real people when thrusted in certain situations. Yelling like madmen, destroying cars, and getting into a scuffle on a lawn, for instance, take us out of the situation. Right then we see Sandler and Stiller the comedians rather than Danny and Matthew the long-suffering half-brothers, the former currently unemployed and the latter a successful Los Angeles-based financial advisor.
Baumbach does not offer anything new in this project, but it is entertaining and honest about family dynamics and the shifts that inevitably occur when tragedy befalls a clan. Observant viewers will be rewarded because it is a picture that details information through subtle usage of words and body language.
While We’re Young (2014)
★ / ★★★★
Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) meet a couple in their mid-twenties, Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), an aspiring documentarian and an ice cream maker, respectively, and the former are reminded of their age—how they have lost track of the many things they wanted to accomplish because life had gotten in the way. Hoping to relive the spirit of their youth, the middle-aged couple spends more time with Jamie and Darby, unaware that these two are not exactly what they seem.
“While We’re Young,” written and directed by Noah Baumbach, is a struggle to sit through not only because of its standard, dull storyline but also because of its sluggish pacing. At one point there is a scene in the film where Stiller’s character is pitching a documentary—one that is charmless, dry, and convoluted—to a potential financial backer (Ryan Servant) and the latter just sits there feeling bored and wanting to play around with his cell phone. I imagine that the audience, including myself, is that man personified on film.
A few bits are amusing. Cornelia and Josh trying so hard to be young again is shot and performed with effervescence and a bona fide sense of humor. I never knew that Watts has a knack for physical comedy, especially the scene when her character tries hip-hop dancing. I can’t wait to YouTube that scene again. However, there are not enough of these surprising moments dispersed throughout the picture.
Pretty clever is the sequence that highlights the disparity between the two couples. For instance, Josh and Cornelia play games on their iPad while Jamie and Darby play board games. Jamie and Darby listen to records, Josh and Cornelia listen to CDs. The comedy works because we expect for the younger couple to lean toward technology while the other is more into “old-fashioned” things like reading an actual book than on a screen.
What does not work entirely is the forced drama between Josh and Cornelia. Just about every time they get into an argument, I noticed myself becoming increasingly frustrated because it almost always comes down to them not having much success with having a baby. Although Stiller and Watts try the best they can with the material, the lines often feel too script-like—which is not at all foreign to a Baumbach film but it is very jarring in this movie because the story is supposed to be a convincing comedy-drama.
Jamie and Darby not given depth prior to the turning point is a miscalculation. I was never convinced that they were as interesting a couple as Josh and Cornelia thought they were. This disconnect is a problem because the screenplay attempts to make them more human or relatable toward the end, but the entire thing comes across as disingenuous, all too convenient for the plot. These characters needed to be rewritten.
“While We’re Young” is likely to impress those who have not seen very many films— dramatic, comedic, or a mix of both—about aging as well as the concerns and awkwardness that come with it. The picture is not without good ideas but the execution lacks heft and power. Clearly this work is not made by Baumbach at the top of his form.
Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The (2013)
★★ / ★★★★
The employees learn that LIFE magazine has been acquired which means that many of them will be let go during the transition—to be overseen by Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), an insensitive lout who sports a bad beard. It is critical that the magazine’s final cover be representative of its title and so Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller), in charge of the photo units, is thrown in a panic when he discovers that negative twenty-five is missing.
Desperate to keep his job and quenching his subconscious’ need for adventure and excitement, Walter catches a plane to Greenland in hopes of meeting the elusive Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), the photojournalist whose work frequents the magazine’s cover, and asking if he even sent the negative in the first place.
Based on the short story by James Thurber, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is a nice movie—and that is not a compliment. “Nice” is equated with watchable but harmless, offering occasional beautiful images but none offers an immediate, visceral response. I enjoyed some scenes as they are but my brain could not help but think that with such a viewer-friendly premise, the final product ought to have been much stronger.
Stiller plays a nondescript forty-two-year-old convincingly. The performer does a smart thing: He does not play the character to be pitied. Even though Walter is a bit of a bore, we remain drawn to him somewhat—which is difficult to pull off—because Stiller does not turn off his charm completely. It is minimized to a flicker but we sense it nonetheless. I wish Stiller would play more nuanced characters like this. He can be very good at it.
I wish I can say the same about the screenplay. It is correct to inject Walter’s daydreams with exoticism, silliness, and excitement. However, when Walter’s mind is pulled back to reality, the material is not that interesting. Sure, some of the lead character’s interactions with his crush at work, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig—who manages to hit the right notes just about every time), are cute and sweet but aside from the romantic aspect, it shows little to no brightness in the other aspects of Walter’s life.
Perhaps that is the point. But I did not find that realistic. In order to be a true contrast against the more fantastic elements, realism must be sharp. In truth, ordinary lives may be boring but they are not boring all the time. Here, we get the impression that the truth represents the opposite of the latter and that is a lie. Thus, the picture lacks a defined reference point. Supposed opposite elements do not clash as strongly and so we fail to get strong reactions when they collide.
The best scene in the picture is when Walter and the photojournalist he admires finally get a chance to meet. Penn gets one scene and he plays it to perfection. At its best, it reminded me of a most wonderful feeling I had while watching Penn’s “Into the Wild” for the first time. The conversation that transpires between Walter and Sean has a poetic rhythm to it. Notice how the scene takes its time. It seems unconcerned in showing us the next magical thing that a computer can create. At its worst, it made me look at the beautiful scenery—and that is not a jab.
I liked the message that “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” based on the screenplay by Steve Conrad, has to impart. That is, great adventures can happen to all of us… but only if we are willing and present. One can visit foreign countries and explore the most exotic places but if the mind is somewhere else then there is no point. But notice that even when Walter is traveling to all sorts of places, clearly on a mission, there remains a tinge of sadness to him. Maybe Chris McCandless, during the final moments of “Into the Wild,” is right: Happiness is only real when shared.
Watch, The (2012)
★ / ★★★★
Antonio Guzman (Joe Nunez), who recently gained American citizenship, is found dead at Costco with his skin missing. Evan (Ben Stiller), the manager of the store, is outraged by the death of his friend and vows to find his killer. During the intermission of a local football game, Evan announces that he wishes to from a neighborhood watch and everyone is welcome to join. As a team, they will keep an eye on suspicious activities in Glenview and keep their small town safe. Expecting many to turn up, only Bob (Vince Vaughn), Franklin (Jonah Hill), and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade) decide to join Evan.
“The Watch,” written by Jared Stern, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg, misses the mark not by a couple of inches but a few miles. What could have been an interesting commentary on the effects of an idyllic life in suburbia shaken suddenly is turned into an interminable would-be comedy show with jokes that a group of dirty-minded ten-year-olds can write.
It starts off promisingly. Evan narrates and talks about how he aims to gather friends of different ethnicities. I found it funny because it has a specific target that is being satirized: a white person living in suburbia who thinks that the world really is as simple as black and white. A lot of people out there believe that just because they have friends that either come or appear to be from different parts of the world, somehow they are immune from creating racist remarks or tolerating it. The picture seems to have a goal that it wishes to pursue other than to make the audience chuckle.
Unfortunately, its initial brilliance is shadowed by frat boy, man-child humor so bland that I found myself looking at the clock every three to five minutes and calculating the remaining minutes I had yet to sit through. At one point, I began to get extremely annoyed by Bob’s constant yelling as if he or everyone around him is deaf. Vaughn can be very funny but this script is clearly not right for him–or for anyone. I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt that perhaps the hypocrisy of his character is meant to be a criticism: a fun-loving, in-your-face guy who urinates in a can while inside a van is also an overly protective father especially when he sees a Facebook video of his teenage daughter making out in a closet with a random guy. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting if Bob, half the time, is played in a mousy way–maybe while participating in the neighborhood watch–but becomes Hulk-like when his daughter enters the equation?
Note that I have not mentioned the alien that murdered Antonio Guzman until now. That is because the special and visual effects look second-rate especially during the chase scenes. To hide this, heavy editing is utilized which actually makes the action less exciting. I would have preferred the aliens to look fake instead of sleek because the film is supposed to be a comedy. Why not allow the audience to laugh or poke fun of the bad makeup? I could have given it credit for being confident enough to have taken that risk.
Directed by Akiva Schaffer, “The Watch” is neither amusing as a comedy nor does it inspire a sense of wonder as a science fiction picture. So egregious as a sci-fi comedy hybrid that at times Jon Favreau’s sci-fi western “Cowboys & Aliens” flashed before my eyes. Saddest of all is seeing Billy Crudup’s talent go to waste as Evan’s creepy neighbor.
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
Alex the lion (voiced by Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the hippopotamus (Jada Pinkett Smith) were supposed to go back to New York City with the help the penguins, but an extended trip by the latter group in a Monte Carlo casino made the former grew extremely restless. Though the gang was able to follow the penguins and pry them off the casino tables successfully, a high-speed chase between the animals and an animal control personnel, Captain DuBois (Frances McDormand), left the city in ruins. In order not to stick out like a sore thumb in Europe, Alex and his friends pretended to be a part of a traveling circus. Based on the screenplay by Eric Darnell and Noah Baumbach, “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” was neither impressive nor unbearably terrible although it did depend on putting all its eggs in one basket, the bulk of its cotton candy humor targeted toward children while the crumbs, not at all tasty, were left for adults. As usual, a lot of effort was taken to make the characters on screen look colorful in order to create an illusion of energy or spark between and among the characters. The picture was most enjoyable to watch during its chase sequences; defying the laws of physics left and right proved unpredictable and entertaining. There was a funky rhythm between wide shots, placing emphasis on the action, and when the camera zoomed in on the characters’ faces, underlining the emotions of the wild experience. I liked that Captain DuBois was established as a formidable villain very early on. This was a woman so obsessed with her job, she actually had the ability to detect and follow animal musk for miles. I believed that if she got her hands on the animals, she would hurt them and enjoy every second of it. The filmmakers wanted us to dislike her so much, it was pretty amusing how she had only heads of cute-looking animals, like puppies and kittens, hung on the walls of her office. However, when Alex and his friends were given a chance to speak, there was no depth from their interactions. They were supposed to have purpose but their determination to return to New York City was not given a chance to be felt by the audience through more complicated or subtle story devices. Therefore, for example, grand speeches that were meant to inspire felt completely forced and phony. The new characters such as Stefano the seal (Martin Short), Gia the cheetah (Jessica Chastain), and Vitaly the tiger (Bryan Cranston) were not especially exciting. Stefano was the most interesting due to his inability to read sarcasm, flat-out lies, and compliments. I was tickled at times by his jelly-like movements because it matched his unrelenting eagerness. Meanwhile, Gia and Vitaly’s more relaxed energy made it feel like they were taken from another animated film. They weren’t given anything particularly interesting to say or do so we had to wonder why they were introduced in the first place. While understandable that “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted,” directed by Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, and Conrad Vernon, aimed to entertain very young children, it would not have taken too much effort to break from the formula of introducing a problem in one scene and solving it within thirty seconds. It felt lazy. If anything, the filmmakers should have worked harder to keep and stretch children’s attention spans through consistent and varied creativity instead of resting on the same old song and dance.
Tower Heist (2011)
★★ / ★★★★
Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), a Wall Street kingpin and the owner of a posh high-rise condominium, was arrested for fraud which left Josh (Ben Stiller), the building manager, and the rest of his staff shocked and angry. It turned out that Shaw invested their pensions in various schemes and lost it all. Eventually, though, an idea scurried into Josh’s head. There was a safe in Shaw’s penthouse which contained about twenty million dollars. With the help of Charlie (Casey Affleck), Josh’ brother-in-law, Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), one of the residents who was recently bankrupt, Dev’Reaux (Michael Peña), the establishment’s recent hire, and Slide (Eddie Murphy), one of Josh’ neighbor with a criminal background, they could purloin the money and distribute it to the staff. “Tower Heist,” directed by Brett Ratner, was uneven in tone and pacing with strong but often inconsistent laughs. The exposition was slow but necessary because it allowed us to see Josh’ pride in his work. As a building manager, he was more than a guy in a suit who bossed people around. He was determined to perform his job well. In order to be successful in his occupation, he needed to be liked which meant that he was required to get to know the residents beyond their superficial needs and to have a certain insight in terms of his co-workers’ personal lives. Since he was familiar to details and habits, when he did eventually decide to plot the heist, we were able to believe that he could succeed. The funniest parts of the picture were found in the middle prior to the actual break-in. In one of the scenes, Slide was not convinced that Josh and his friends would be able to go through with the heist. In order to be convinced, he assigned the tyro thieves to shoplift fifty dollars worth of items at the mall. There was joy and energy in the way each of the characters had to summon the courage to take something without paying for it. I just lost it when the store attendant walked away to get a catalogue and Charlie tried to pick up a pair of earrings with his mouth. I’ve never stolen anything from a store so I think that if I was dared to do it, I’d make a mess of things out of anxiety. Another very funny scene was a discussion about lesbians and why their breasts were better than heterosexual women’s. Just when I expected that the screenplay by Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson might turn mean-spirited, I was surprised that there was always a light-heartedness in the material. What didn’t work for me were the more serious scenes. In a more solemn movie about a person losing his entire savings, Lester (Stephen Henderson), the hotel’s doorkeeper, walking toward a moving train and trying to jump in front of it would have had more emotional impact. When the picture attempted to be more serious, it felt rather cheap. Like the most engaging heist movies, getting to the object of interest was the easy part. There was a running theme about playing chess. When Josh and company broke into the building, I thought it was more like watching people playing checkers–while some strategy was involved, it was straightforward. I was underwhelmed. The nearly impossible task was getting away with it. It was the point where, finally, I felt like I was watching a chess game. There were always unforeseen forces that threatened to destroy the operation. I wish there were more scenes of Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe), one of the hotel’s cleaning ladies, being sassy and having her way with men. “Tower Heist” gave a few laugh-out-loud moments but it could have been more snarky, therefore funnier. Poke fun of the more improbable physics employed, for instance. By being a step ahead of the audience who think they know better, the picture can appear smarter and get the last laugh.
Little Fockers (2010)
★ / ★★★★
It seemed like Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) and Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) had finally found a way to get along after years of power struggle which often involved physical pain. Much to Greg’s surprise, Jack wanted him to be the “Godfocker” or the head of family. But when Jack began to feel a gnawing suspicion that Greg was having an affair with a beautiful pharmaceutical representative (Jessica Alba), Jack and Greg’s temporary ceasefire was shaken. Directed by Paul Weitz, “Little Fockers” was lifeless, tedious, and humiliating. There was no good reason for these characters to be on screen again because not only was there no story, there was no chemistry among the characters. We learned nothing new about them and they weren’t very funny because all of the jokes were either uninspired or recycled from other lame-brained comedies. The “I’m watching you” joke may have been amusing more than a decade ago but after hearing the same joke over and over again, it wasn’t even chuckle-worthy. The slapstick scenes served no purpose other than to disgust and Alba’s character doing physical stunts felt utterly desperate. The only two characters I found somewhat amusing were Roz (Barbara Streisand), Jack’s mom, and Prudence (Laura Dern), the recruiter for the elementary school Jack and Greg were interested in for the twins. Roz’ jokes about sex and aging were transparent but least they served a nice break from the two warring fathers. Prudence, on the other hand, was amusing because she found herself in disbelief when dealing with the Fockers. Having experience in working with obnoxious kids and dealing with, to put it lightly, difficult parents her fake smile was all too familiar. I enjoyed Dern’s performance, even though she wasn’t given very much to do, because she made Prudence relatable and less of a caricature. Unfortunately, the picture had to return its focus to Jack and Greg attempting to make each other’s lives miserable. It was almost masochistic. Toward the end, I thought its sweetness was completely false because the evolution in Jack and Greg’s relationship was absent. It was insulting that the filmmakers actually believed that we would buy the charade. The scene right before they were nice and gooey, Jack and Greg were so mean-spirited toward each other, I wondered if they genuinely regarded each other as family. Greg perfectly knew that Jack had a serious heart condition yet he wasn’t attuned enough not to throw a punch. With a sharper script equipped with enough character development and jokes that were actually funny and subversive, perhaps “Little Fockers” could have passed as a remotely mediocre comedy. Instead, this movie personified what the bottom of a barrel looks and sounds like: dark, depressing, and desperate.
I’m Still Here (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
When Joaquin Phoenix announced that he was to retire from acting and pursue a career as a hip-hop artist, the media was abuzz, wondering if he had lost his mind. Some were angry with his decision because they thought it served as a mockery of something they deeply respected. Personally, I did not care so much of the announcement. While I was a bit saddened because he was a very good actor, I thought he was well within his right to change career paths. After all, hundreds of thousands of people decide to change jobs every day. I saw his decision to move from being an actor to a music artist as no different. If I had seen this film prior to the announcement that it was all a hoax, I would have been seriously disturbed. I would not have laughed at the most intense scenes such as when the actor in question had an argument with one of his friends concerning a leak of information (which led to a disturbing payback), the meetings with Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, and when Ben Stiller offered Phoenix a role in Noah Baumbach’s “Greenberg.” I find it difficult to find humor in something that I believe to be non-fiction because I take no pleasure in seeing the suffering of others, especially through ridicule. In a way, I took comfort in the fact that it was all a joke so I was able to pay attention in what Phoenix and Casey Affleck, the director, wanted to convey about celebrity life. Naturally, one of the main messages was being a celebrity did not necessarily equate to happiness or financial stability, but I relished small details I wasn’t aware of before like the paparazzi actually booing actors who chose not to pose in front of the camera. The harrassment Phoenix had to endure (some, admittedly, he incited) were sometimes difficult to watch. I could not help but feel sorry for him. However, the paparazzi were not the only ones that showed cruelty. Even people I’ve never even heard of (like YouTube “celebrities”) can have opinions that not only sting but leave a mark in the psyche. At the same time, Affleck’s film was effective in showing the ridiculous nature, as well as dangers, of method acting if taken to an extreme. Mostly everyone was convinced that Phoenix had lost control of his mental capacity and that made me question the amount of truth, if any, in the images I saw. I’m not convinced all of the scenes were designed to simply poke fun. After all, the most convincing lies stem from a truth. “I’m Still Here” is not for everyone because most people don’t understand satire. But I think Phoenix’ fans just might enjoy the film because it really was quite a performance.
★★ / ★★★★
A syndicate of fashion designers assigned Mugatu (Will Ferrell), a fellow successful fashion designer, to find an extremely dim-witted male model and brainwash him to assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia, the man who would be responsible for passing laws against child labor. Mugatu thought Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) was perfect for the job. Zoolander was blessed with great bone structure but he lacked brain power. The poor man-child couldn’t even spell the word “day” (he spelled it “d-a-i-y-e”). Written and directed by Ben Stiller, “Zoolander” was an effective spoof of the fashion industry when its humor wasn’t all over the place. Strangely enough, it had a one-dimensional main character but it worked because he was supposed to be unaware about everything that was happening around him. Much of the film played upon the stereotype about models being dumb and self-centered. For instance, Zoolander claimed he wanted to find meaning in life so he decided that he would establish a center for kids who wished to learn. However, Zoolander didn’t know the first thing about charity or education. His hypocrisy was wild but still amusing to watch because we knew he meant well. There were two scenes that were downright hilarious. The first was Zoolander’s reaction to Mugatu’s model for the children’s center. The man-child was at the forefront; it was as if he had no concept of representation, something that children normally learn during an early age. The other was the walk-off between Zoolander and his blonde rival named Hansel (Owen Wilson). It was cheesy, ridiculous and completely unnecessary, but I couldn’t help but smile because the lead actors and the spectators were obviously having fun. I could just imagine how many takes it must have taken the actors to complete a scene as they struggled to keep a straight face throughout the farce. I do wish, however, that there were more models that were featured. Milla Jovovich was great as Mugatu’s villainous assistant with an edgy haircut and Tyson Beckford milked every second he was given during the walk-off. I wouldn’t have minded crazy Tyra Banks appearing out of the blue and lecturing how important it was to “smize” (smiling with your eyes). There were also some surprising appearances from a young (and barely recognizable) Alexander Skarsgård and David Duchovny, an expert in delivering lines in a monotonous voice but still keeping us interested. “Zoolander” lacked in story and character development but it had memorable lines and manic energy which helped the picture stay afloat. It’s one of those movies I won’t watch for a long time but when I do see it playing on cable while flipping through the channels, I couldn’t help but sit down and enjoy the ride.
Flirting with Disaster (1996)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Ben Stiller and Patricia Arquette star as a New Yorker couple with a five-month-old unnamed baby. Stiller’s character was adopted and he thought it would only be right to find his biological parents (Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin) before naming the baby despite disapproval by his neurotic and self-absorbed biological parents (Mary Tyler Moore, George Segal). So the couple headed for San Diego along with a psychology student (Téa Leoni) who wanted to document the expected warm reunion. It’s a shame this film had been forgotten or overlooked by most as a great comedy. I had such a great time watching it because every minute was laugh-out-loud funny, intelligent and had an element of surprise. All characters had a chance to shine under the spotlight and used to the fullest but they were never exploited. They were made fun of but the sense of humor was never mean-spirited. The filmmakers were obviously aware of the fact that the audiences will most likely see themselves in these characters so the material and execution treated them with respect. The jokes were spot-on and the movie seemed to never run out of them. When the movie ended, I found myself smiling and wishing that it wasn’t yet over. I highly enjoyed the addition of Josh Brolin and Richard Jenkins as an FBI couple who wanted a baby. Again, it was easy to target these specific characters due to their sexual orientation but the material did not succumb to stupidity or bigotry to generate cheap laughs that ended just as the next scene was introduced. I liked the scene when the characters were stuck in a confined car and the script acknowledged the fact that not all gay men were into anal sex. It may sound obvious reading it now but one would be surprised that not a lot of people are aware of that. Sure, there were stereotypes but it attempted to break the mold by allowing the characters to think and act like real people. Furthermore, the director had a great ear for dialogue. I thought it was true to life because I often noticed characters talking on top of one another. It certainly is like that in my family especially during the holidays when everyone seems to lose their minds. (Or maybe we’re just too happy.) Astutely written and directed by David O. Russell, “Flirting with Disaster” is a highly successful roadtrip picture. If I were to be stuck with a group of people, I wish to be with them because I related to their quirkiness, neuroticisms, and flaws. This sleeper hit makes movies like Jay Roach’s “Meet the Parents” look pedestrian because movies like that rely more on slapstick to generate laughs.