Zoolander 2 **

zoolander2

“We’re back!” says Zoolander: Cautious applause aside after a 15-year absence. Naturally, any opportunity to reunite infamous male models Derek Zoolander and Hansel – Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson – fills you with joy for more fashion-world jibes in the silliest style. The actors struck the right comic pose back in 2001 and we embraced their on-screen idiocy and Blue Steel look. Though the pair have aged (sorry, Derek and Hansel), it seems the jokes have got weary too. The plot is just as plain stupid but lazy in writing style.

Zoolander is coaxed out of reclusion/retirement after the destruction of his family, when his estranged young son Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold) is located in an orphanage in Rome and he is invited to star in the fashion show of a trendy upcoming designer. Unbeknown to him, Hansel has also been prised from his desert orgy to co-star on the catwalk – the pair having not spoken since the tragic accident that also scarred Hansel. However, with music celebrities being taken out worldwide, and Derek Jr. being kidnapped, the models must unite – with a little help from Interpol’s Fashion Division, run by ex-swimwear model Valentina (Penélope Cruz) – to find out who is behind it all.

The fashion faux pas is there’s very little fashion to enjoy being berated in Part II, as Derek and Hansel try all their moves to wow old and new crowds, but seem more bogged down with their very own little Bond adventure. Granted, the franchise always provides a cheap giggle at non-actors in cameos trying to act. The opening scene with Justin Bieber on the run is one such example – though the trailer sadly reveals his fate. However, as with the finale that proudly parades an A-list of fashion icons getting involved – after some wouldn’t even touch the last film, the writers squander some perfectly, potentially great scenarios to really send them (and their egos) up.

Though the idea is Blue Steel is missing and vital to save the day this time around, we want more of it – and much sooner. The lack of the old dumb-smart comedy moments makes this film seem vacuous without any soul. Admittedly, it does peddle a few funny lines – the set-up of which the trailer spoils on the whole. In fact, Stiller and Owen pick up their characters’ personas without missing a beat, but the best line goes to Will Ferrell as the villainous, crazed fashion designer Mugatu – and that’s in the trailer.

Whilst watching the pair go from one car crash to another, you’re constantly waiting for the next cameo, like some social media addict needing their next celeb fix. In fact, one thing that rings true in Part II is the power of those with more online following that’s teased the hell out of here, much to our delight in a social-media-weary world. Even so-called current technology gets a ribbing, as these two archaic fashion-blazers are as mystified as some of us out there – such as how mobile battery life gets increasingly worse.

Ferrell steals what there is of a show, with an almost unrecognisable Kristen Wiig as Donatella Versace-pouting ‘twin’ Alexanya Atoz winning the most outrageous frock prize. The highlight cameo is Benedict Cumberbatch as s/he model-of-the-moment All, an absolute scream, regardless of the controversy surrounding transgender representation.

Zoolander 2 is a cheap knock-off of its haute couture 2001 comedy gem. The only positive is getting to see Derek and Hansel back together, so a small victory for Stiller and Owen, nevertheless.

2/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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While We’re Young ****

while-were-young

Noah Baumbach makes poignant dramas about characters at a turning point in their lives, and While We’re Young is no exception. It’s about the painful reality of trying to stay youthful and go against societal grain of what you should be doing at fortysomething – a poignant project for Baumbach, himself 45, as well as the rest of us of the same age.

Ben Stiller – who starred in Baumbach’s 2009 film Greenberg – returns to play another middle-aged man in mid-life crisis here as 44-year-old ‘failed’ documentary film-maker Josh (a character not far removed from Woody Allen’s role in Crimes and Misdemeanors). He is married to wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts), the daughter and producer of a celebrated documentary film-maker, Leslie Breitbart (played by Charles Grodin). As all their friends are now parents to young kids – a sore point for Cornelia who has gone through painful IVF with no success, the pair decide that their ‘freedom’ of choice to do as they wish is a far better predicament to be in.

After teaching a lacklustre continuing education class, Josh meets young hipster, married twentysomethings, wannabe film-maker Jamie (Adam Driver) and his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried) who makes strange-flavoured icecream. They have a passion for life, art and simple living, something Josh and Cornelia tap into very quickly. Soon the older pair is trying out all kinds of new activities with their new younger buddies, while Jamie uses Josh’s knowledge – and contacts – to make a documentary. But what are all their true intentions in the end?

While We’re Young has a wonderful mixture of stark reality that hits home and slapstick humour in measurable portions. There are moments that make you laugh – like the trippy shamanic ceremony attended by all – and then other times of sobering reality that brings you down to earth. What Baumbach achieves is a film that continually questions what is the right way to be in this situation without having societal norms burdening down – the danger point is always trying to avoid them to find self fulfilment. He also creates a little twist at the end that has you questioning all kinds of ethics and morals of all the characters – again, who’s right?

Stiller, Watts, Driver and Seyfried play their parts with easy, confident flare, aware of the complexities of their characters’ personalities. This is a film very much about what the males want, so the females do tend to tag along, but they reference this in the film, and ironically, are the power behind their men. It’s another interesting angle to contemplate.

While We’re Young is definitely very Allen-esque for those not familiar with Bauchbach’s other work like Frances Ha, Margot at the Wedding and Noah and the Whale, but it does speak fluently to those with similar concerns as its characters, making it a surprisingly holistic watch, even in the most outrageous situations.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty ***

walter-mitty

The new Forrest Gump this is not, in terms of an iconic screen character, but actor-director Ben Stiller’s remake of the James Thurber classic 1947 short, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty has some life-assessing moments, some of which you may be stirred into making. In that sense, it has a poignant and ‘inspiring’ legacy that rings more true in these gloomy days of austerity. Indeed, Stiller is a family favourite and guarantees a degree of endearing and modest entertainment value too.

Average, single Walter Mitty (Stiller juggling lead role as well as directing) is a hardworking stills library researcher at Life magazine who has a habit of zoning out and having fantastical daydreams. When his job is put on the line through a digital revamp of the magazine, led by ignorant hatchet man Ted Hendricks (a delightfully spiteful Adam Scott), and egged on by potential love interest and finance colleague Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig), Mitty’s daydreams become reality. His quest is to find a lost negative sent in by famous photographer Sean O’Connell (a Zen Sean Penn), said to be ‘the quintessence of life’, that will take pride of place on the last edition of Life magazine.

This is a situation where a film’s trailer sells quite a different kind of film. Indeed, to appeal to the usual Stiller audience, a degree of this is necessary. The actor is known for comedy roles and this is where any misconceptions could understandably happen. Hence, tonally, the film feels uneven, with the first half almost undermining the life-affirming sentiments of the latter and moving ending. Stiller places us in a false sense of security to begin with, with the greatest intention perhaps. He also confusingly blends fantasy and reality to the extent that Mitty’s encounter with a shark feels totally implausible. This is either more expertly seamless than the original film or subversively muddled in execution (the jury’s still out here).

Naturally, the most enjoyable parts of the film are where Mitty starts ‘living’ without fantasyland, with Stiller’s rather indulgent Icelandic scenery awakening the adventurer spirit in any of us. There are moments of being at the whim of the director’s own fantasies being played out (and ego to boot). Nevertheless, it’s perhaps the chance of escapism to places that most will never get to and being in obscure and exciting situations that really sell the film’s promise, regardless of any expectant Stiller affability.

There are also some nice if fleeting moments to savour from supporting cast members Wigg, Penn and Shirley MacLaine as Mitty’s slightly scatty mother, Edna. Penn makes another snatch bid for sex symbol status as brooding, deep-thinking, creative O’Connell on a mountainside. However, it’s Stiller’s championing of the ‘ordinary man’ on a serious note that keeps things very much grounded. In addition, the film challenges the changing working landscape due to the rapid advancement of technology and human expendability, where time-consuming, artful practices are becoming obsolete that resonate the loudest here.

Walter Mitty promises a bit of everything for the family appetite this festive season, but be prepared for it altering the goalposts between comedy classic of the Stiller variety and action-drama that some might find patchy to reconcile. The danger is the detail being skimmed over in parts as you try to find its comfortable grove. That said, you do get there in the end after quite a picturesque journey, with the last scene definitely hitting home with a nostalgic and gloriously triumphant air punch.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Watch *

The prospect of a comedy that sounds like a possible ‘contemporary Burbs’ remodelling, starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill is an intriguing one. With the addition of one of British filmmaking and comedy’s brightest stars in Richard Ayoade to add a little spice to the mix, battling alien neighbours, The Watch should be a sure thing at the box office this weekend. But those expecting a US Attack The Block will be sorely disappointed. The only winner out of this crude and lame excuse for a bromance is Costco – even Ayoade is a disappointing shadow of his usual witty self.

Good citizen Evan (Ben Stiller) is a likeable manager of a Costco store who returns to work the next day to discover one of his employees has been brutally murdered. Determined to get to the bottom of the cause of a possible neighbourhood killer on the prowl, he tries to get a Neighbourhood Watch group up and running. Unfortunately for him, the only willing attendees are big-mouthed, under-the-thumb Bob (Vaughn), weirdly disturbed and angry Police Academy reject Franklin (Hill) and eccentric Brit Jamarcus (Ayoade) – all more interested in forming a regular boy’s night in of beer, babes and bad jokes than keeping suburbia safe. But all four soon have they hands full with extraterrestrial invaders who are using Costco’s services to the fullest.

Indeed, there were such high hopes for a ‘2012 Burbs‘, a good-hearted suburban fiasco. However, these are knocked off the road map by OTT frat-boy idiocy and bodily-parts jokes that drown out any interesting relationship development and possible charming comedy rift between the four chalk-and-cheese characters. It’s as if relative writing newcomer Jared Stern and Pineapple Express and Superbad’s Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have been at the brewskies themselves while penning this, going overboard with the crass humour, without being at all clever about it. It’s a disappointing result that could have been highly entertaining. Even throwing in sub-plot issues with each member and the standard oafish cops does little to elevate the status quo.

All the leads play the same-old, tired characters we have seen them do countless times before, adding nothing new: Stiller is a nervy goody two-shoes; Vaughn is Detroit’s token shouty, motor-mouthed lad; Hill is the oddball with dark hidden secrets; and Ayoade is an off-colour Moss. If that’s your bag, take The Watch as it comes (and no more), with lots of run-of-the-mill, flash-bang effects while groaning at the blatant Costco’s advertising of ‘it’s all under one roof’. Quite so: it’s all predictable, off-the-production-line superstore comedy, marketed as a sci-fi fan-boy’s lighter bit of fluffy entertainment. And the aliens – seen them, zapped them all before. Which reminds me, must do a Costco’s run…

1/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Tower Heist ***

Looking for a no-brainer to delight you while you munch on some deserved popcorn at the end of a long week? Director Brett Ratner may have come up with one of his best movies since Rush Hour (the original) yet – and there is no sign of Don Cheadle, Chris Tucker, Jackie Chan or Ken Leung either. Tower Heist offers one of the most exciting assortments of comedic acting talent at play in a long time in this tongue-in-cheek, cheap Ocean’s imitation that has elements of the ridiculous to it and touches on topical, economic current affairs while providing some golden nuggets of entertainment.

Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) is great at his job, managing the staff at a luxury Central Park condominium and gaining the trust and friendship of its super wealthy elite. However, after the FBI get involved (Téa Leoni as Special Agent Claire Denham), it’s soon apparent that the penthouse billionaire, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), is not who he seems, and has stolen Kovacs’ staff’s retirement funds he was entrusted to invest on Wall Street with promises of big returns. After getting fired, Kovacs recruits a gang of disgruntled tower workers (Casey Affleck, Michael Peña, Gabourey Sidibe etc) and a ruined banker and former resident (Matthew Broderick) to plot the ultimate revenge: a heist to reclaim what the billionaire took from them. But they are going to need some outside help from the likes of alleged ‘criminal mastermind’ Slide (Eddie Murphy).

The reason this works from the word go is nice-guy Stiller’s winning formula of sarcasm and empathy with the worker-bee character he portrays. It avoids being slapstick, with Ratner introducing a respect for the characters and giving a brief but deciding glimpse of their personalities while Kovacs does the rounds – almost like watching the first episode of a TV soap set in Trump Tower. With the groundwork set, and the position of each character established, when the penny drops and the class divide opens up, the effect is deeper felt that you would expect in such a comedy drama. This is accentuated by any subjective economic hardship the viewer might be feeling in today’s climate, gaining our backing for the heist at hand; after all, bringing down a fictitious banker with a crass dollar bill motif in his private penthouse pool is as good as it’s going to get at present.

The combination of Stiller, Affleck, Broderick and Peña is fascinating enough, but it’s not until Murphy arrives on the thieving scene that the film ups in thrill factor. Admittedly, Murphy seems to resort to stereotype, playing the hard-done-by ghetto dude, a close imitation to his brilliant Trading Places character – all mouth and devious action. With Stiller at the helm, it’s an exciting coupling of two great comedy minds that seem to compliment rather than cancel out each other on screen. That’s not to say that Ratner doesn’t get sloppy and resort to stereotypes, but it’s almost as though he encourages his comic talent to play parodies of their previous roles, with Sidibe the most clichéd of the lot in a big-hearted, opinionated role someone like Queen Latifah may have once considered.

The utter farcical moments come in the action-packed second half that include the movement of a vintage car from the penthouse to a convenient resting place with some gravity defying stunts and elevator moments, designed to enjoy Stiller, Murphy and Broderick at their out-of-control best. This is when Ratner’s trademark nuttiness shines through, although it’s all harmless fun as the bigger goal behind it all far outweighs the logic in what you are watching.

Leoni as Special Agent Denham is the down-to-earth, no-nonsense character to compare the others’ flourishing delirium against, and thankfully stays as tough and appealing a cookie as any bad boy would want to be severely reprimanded by. Matching Kovacs in sharp wit, Denham also provides a few giggles of her own that keep things hugely satisfying.

Ratner’s film is a lively comedy caper with very real personalities to reflect recession-hit times. He has one hell of a great cast to deliver these sentiments, too, making Tower Heist a surprise hit full of more than trifling comic turns, but turning out to be one full of heart and wounded soul. It’s a story you can really get behind without much investment, however flawed or foolhardy, to see a comeuppance dished out to a new global pariah.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Zookeeper **

On first glance at the poster, you’d be forgiven in thinking it was Night At The Museum: Part 3, only starring cuddly comedian Kevin James of Paul Blart: Mall Cop fame, instead of Ben Stiller. Well, you’ve got the animal business right – and the cute/irritating monkey (depending on your stance). James acting the monkey, with the monkey (or gorilla in this case) provides the funniest moments of Frank Coraci’s new family animal comedy, Zookeeper (co-penned by James), that peddles the same old tired format of ‘animals overcoming man’s personal and social problems’.

James is Griffin Keyes, a man who loves his job as a zookeeper but who loses a girlfriend (played by Leslie Bibb) over his lack of ambition to move up the corporate ladder. After a pep talk from his successful car salesman brother and another encounter with his ex, Keyes decides to leave the zoo for pastures new. However, the animals at the zoo are very fond of Keyes and decide to break their code of silence in order to help their lovable zookeeper find love – without opting to leave his current job for something more illustrious.

Zookeeper starts out with some promise, albeit tongue-in-cheek slapstick action, with James as Keyes trying to propose on a beach. The funny man has developed his own brand of ‘pity the big fool’ humour and nothing much changes here: It’s endearing and disarming, which is what makes any of his characters instantly good-natured underdogs that you can get behind. Plus we like to see the big dope get the good-looking gal, as he does here. Rosario Dawson as attractive colleague Kate is fun to watch, too, and gets better exposure as the film goes on. However, she merely makes up the human character ranks, rather than getting the chance to provide any memorable comic gems.

At one point at the start, private prayers were muttered along the lines of, “Oh please Lord, don’t make this a real-action/CG version of the original Madagascar, full of street-wise, wise-cracking, tedious animals who escape their confines”. We know the outcome of the story straightaway from Keyes’s first meet-cute, so there needs to be something else to go along for the ride for. Indeed, as the film goes on, and Coraci sensibly keeps the animals in the compound, Zookeeper ramps up the idiocy and the gags, including a eye-wateringly funny classic TGI Fridays eye-popping moment, some cheesy wedding dancing that sees James defy gravity, and a Candid Camera case of bad driving that’s left to unfold to provide one of the most hilarious scenes of the whole film.

The trouble is, it’s made-to-measure holiday fun, without anything unique to it and rather bland animals – apart from Nick Nolte’s Bernie the Gorilla. But if you’re a big James fan, it’s a feast of silliness to indulge on. At times, there are too many gags placed one after the other and adult references that made the adults snigger (or roll eyes upwards), but begin to bore the youngsters – and vice versa with dumb-down or blatantly obvious/crude humour.

If animals and comedians acting up are your bag, Zookeeper is a big, daft, soppy and beasty love tale that’s tame and inoffensive enough to kill time this summer holiday – the trouble is, the adult soul-mate searching part may tire the kids (and some adults), even with James and the film-makers’ good, clean intentions.

2/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Meet The Parents: Little Fockers – 3*

In-laws or ‘out-laws’, whatever you want to call them, are what make the silly season so interesting – and quite often volatile. So, releasing yet another in the Meet The Parents series seems like ideal pre-Christmas viewing, before spending enforced time with your own. We can all relate to the tight-lipped niceties and time-bomb tension, hence, Little Fockers, the third film in this 10-year saga, should tick all the boxes, right?

Well, to a certain extent, yes, but like an annoying relative who insists on repeating the same old, tired joke that dried up along with last year’s turkey, Little Fockers still (desperately) goes for laughs with its naughty-sounding surname gag. This time it’s taken to new Mafioso-heights with the promise of downtrodden son-in-law Gaylord Focker (Ben Stiller) becoming the ‘Godfocker’ (groan) of controlling patriarch Jack Byrnes’ (Robert De Niro) empire in his demise.

That’s really the plot, the whole plot, and nothing but the plot, give or take a few sub-plots and odd peppering of supporting actors – like a greasy-haired and tattooed Harvey Keitel as a brash foreman for starters (pray, why?). The attractive poster mix of A-Listers that includes De Niro, Owen Wilson, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner, Teri Polo and Jessica Alba never really comes to the boil, and the child puke jokes and early penile discoveries feel as awkward as the actors having to dish them out for the hard-of-seeing.

The real stars of the second film, Hoffman and Streisand, are virtually frittered away, here, making sporadic appearances in this film, and coming in at the last minute to almost ‘save the day’ at the twins’ party. You could have forgiven their lacklustre usage, had the film-makers dared to be different with a promising role-reversal element to Focker and Byrnes at the start, with Focker getting a little power-crazed with his own young family, after getting the call from Byrnes that should change his family dynamic for life.

Sadly, director Paul Weitz and co. revert to two-dimensionality again, with new addition Alba being the worst culprit as incredibly perky and annoyingly enthusiastic drug rep Andi Garcia (another cringeworthy pun that has to be spelt out), but really not letting us get past the fact that it’s just near-naked Alba looking stunning again and showing off her trim figure. Well, at least that’s a thumbs-up for the boys, whilst the girls can all curse at reaching for that last mince pie.

That said, the reason for Little Fockers’ guaranteed interest at the box office is, like Christmas, we may tire of some of its elements, but it’s hard not to get into the spirit of it, in all its panto glory. This time of year is all about pulp-style films with frustratingly amicable characters like Alba as Garcia and Stiller as Focker. We love to watch a fool, especially a fool with flaws; it’s as much of a draw as picking at the leftover turkey. It still brings a smile to the face and a few chuckles, and we know it’s wrong to continue contributing financially to it – especially with the unashamedly obvious hint of a fourth film at the end – but we just can’t help ourselves.

Therefore, Little Fockers offers nothing new, just a bunch of nostalgic old/rehashed that, if being completely honest, isn’t really offensive pre-Christmas viewing, and it may get you through out-law nightmares with a secret smile on the big day.

3/5 stars

By L G-K