While We’re Young

April 10, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver
Directed by: Noah Baumbach (“Frances Ha”)
Written by: Noah Baumbach (“Frances Ha”)

In American culture, there is perhaps no easier target than the modern day hipster. With their bowler hats, neatly groomed mustaches and vintage bikes, it’s easy to poke fun at their transparent sense of irony and mock them in pop culture. Apparently, writer and director Noah Baumbach figured this was enough to base an entire film off of. Unfortunately for him, every single bit of attempted comedy and satire feels way too obvious in “While We’re Young.”

As Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) meander through their dull, but satisfactory lives, they have a chance meeting with Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), a young hipster couple. Josh and Cornelia become fascinated with their easy-going lifestyle and rejuvenated when they are able to spend time with them. But eventually, when Josh and Jamie team up for a mutual work project, things begin to appear different than they initially seemed.

Baumbach is no stranger to caustic, unlikeable characters. With all that kept in mind, nearly every single person in “While We’re Young” is completely annoying. Whether it’s in their complaints about their lives or the behavior they exhibit, there’s a level of obnoxiousness that courses through the veins of every element of “While We’re Young.” From the characterization, to the performances, to the script and beyond, there’s something about the film and the way it runs things into the ground that makes you want to say “We get it. You’re eccentric.”

As previously alluded to, hipster jokes are among the most simple to tell. The screenplay puts a reliance on mining the ironic and inherent weirdness of the culture, juxtaposing it with a generation that need their phones for information or communication every second. It’s a message that lacks any sort of nuance and most importantly, humor, as every joke falls staggeringly flat. Are we supposed to laugh simply because Stiller, a nearly 50-year-old man, has decided to copy his decades younger friend and wear a hat everywhere?

Beyond dialogue issues, there is also a problem with the narrative elements of the script. The turn here is unbelievably obvious, and one that any audience member who has been paying attention will be able to figure out in a heartbeat. There are also scenes that feel completely superfluous, such as a scene where the couples head to a weird ritual where they drink some sort of concoction that makes them vomit and hallucinate. It’s funny cause it’s “weird,” right?

It’s clear that Baumbach was trying to say something about the mid-life crisis. The problem is, there is absolutely no subtlety to anything seen in “While We’re Young.” From laughing at the expense of hipsters, to flipping the roles of the technology-reliant and the old fashioned, nearly every second, plotline or joke is way too on the nose to register as funny, biting, or profound.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

December 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott
Directed by: Ben Stiller (“Tropic Thunder”)
Written by: Steve Conrad (“The Pursuit of Happyness”)

In “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Ben Stiller plays the title character, a man with a menial job working in the photo department of Life Magazine. Walter spends much of his time daydreaming about grandiose and heroic scenarios, mostly involving Cheryl, (Kristen Wiig) a co-worker he has a crush on. When the decision comes down to discontinue the hard-copy version of the magazine in favor of an online format, Walter must go on a journey to places he never expected (including inside his own imagination) to try and save his job and the integrity of the magazine.

One thing that can be said for “Walter Mitty” is that there is not a lack of ambition from a filmmaking aspect. Acting as both star and director, Stiller uses the budget to his advantage and creates a large scope, complete with big set pieces and visual effects. Regardless of the content, the film can at times be extremely beautiful to look at, especially during the portions shot in the Icelandic mountains.

The main issues with “Walter Mitty,” however, lie in the heavy-handed screenplay. The film has a clear message and has no problem whacking you over the head with it, losing any and all subtlety it could have had. One particular message that gets overplayed is the slogan of Life Magazine, which, of course, turns into the film trying to define “the meaning of life.” Not only is this slogan read over and over again, but it is actually visually presented to audiences. In these scenes, text is spread in various ways across the screen in sequences that lacks any sort of restraint. Stiller and screenwriter Steve Conrad (“The Pursuit of Happyness”) toy around with other themes like someone going through an adult midlife crisis and the lack of satisfaction with lifestyles that go along with those moments in someone’s life, but these messages are too obvious and are approached with kid gloves.

There’s a few moments of decent comedy throughout the film. Comedian and actor Patton Oswalt has a particularly humorous small role as a representative of the online dating company e-Harmony (one of the many not so subtle instances of product placement throughout the film). Still, “Walter Mitty” is an underwhelming, yet often picturesque tale of a man looking for more out of his life. Stiller and Kristen Wiig, who both bring in the reigns of their usual over the top performances, are both good here but nothing can save a screenplay lacking grace.

Tower Heist

November 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck
Directed by: Brett Ratner (“Rush Hour 3”)
Written by: Ted Griffin (“Ocean’s 11”) and Jeff Nathanson  (“Rush Hour 3”)

Can anyone remember the last time comedian Eddie Murphy was actually funny? No, voicing an animated donkey with a love for waffles doesn’t count. I’m talking about Murphy debating boxing greats in “Coming toAmerica” or hustling his way into a swanky suite in “Beverly Hills Cop.” Hell, I’d even take him parodying Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood during his “Saturday Night Live” days if it would help me forget “Norbit.” Wherever you were in the 80s, chances are you were laughing at something Murphy was doing on screen or on stage. Nowadays, you’d probably have better luck being entertained by his older brother Charlie.

If you believe the hype, however, Murphy’s return to glory comes at full force with “Tower Heist,” a comedy crime caper that originally started as an idea in 2005 for Murphy to team up with a host of other black comedians including Chris Tucker, Dave Chappelle and Martin Lawrence. When that overly-ambitious idea fell through, “Tower Heist” became a poor man’s version of “Ocean’s 11” and even enlists “Ocean’s” screenwriter Ted Griffin and supporting actor Casey Affleck. But “Ocean’s” this is not. And while it’s true that Murphy provides his best comedy outing since 1996’s remake of “The Nutty Professor” (I still don’t understand the love for “Bowfinger”), he’s not given as much screen time as you’d think for someone who’s billed so high. Honestly, this is a Ben Stiller movie and Murphy is just coming along for the ride.

Still, the ride has its moments with a solid cast who could easy make an impact off the bench in lieu of George Clooney, Brad Pitt or Matt Damon. In fact, the diverse makeup of characters and personalities is what makes the movie casually fun, at least for the first half of the heist. In the film, a group of hotel employees plot to take back the money they lost in a Ponzi scheme orchestrated by Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), a Wall Street billionaire and tenant in the high-rise. With little experience in thievery, the team, which includes Stiller, Affleck, Michael Peña (“The Lincoln Lawyer”), and Gabourey Sidibe (“Precious”), recruit “Slide” Dalphael (Murphy), a common criminal with the know-how to exact revenge. Also joining in is actor Matthew Broderick (“Election”) as a former Wall Street investor who goes bankrupt because of Shaw’s shady business ethics.

With every cog in place, you’d think this comedy machine, even directed by industry tool Brett Ratner (“Rush Hour 3”), would run a little smoother. While the setup works well enough, the heist itself isn’t very creative or executed on the page very well. What’s left is an amusing team of misfits bumbling around aimlessly in search of a disappointing payoff more ridiculous than a humanitarian award named after Bernie Madoff.

To a lesser extent, this might be a comeback for Murphy, but until he can stand front and center as the leading man he once was, it’s still difficult to forgive him for the last 15 years (“Meet Dave,” “The Adventures of Pluto Nash,” “I Spy”). Hosting the Academy Awards this coming February just might be what he needs to prove “Tower Heist” wasn’t a fluke.

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

May 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Owen Wilson
Directed by: Shawn Levy (“Night at the Museum”)
Written by: Robert Ben Garant (“Balls of Fury”) and Thomas Lennon (“Herbie Fully Loaded”)

The entire original cast might be back for a second helping, but rehashing the same old jokes from the first outing is a bit overzealous even for Ben Stiller and his myriad of fictional characters in “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.”

In the sequel, Stiller returns as Larry Daley, this time a former museum night watchman who has become a successful CEO of a company that produces a glow-in-the-dark flashlight. When Larry returns to the Museum of Natural History to say a quick hello, however, he learns that all the exhibits that came to life during his first adventure (and ultimately became his friends) are begin replaced with interactive displays and getting shipped off to the Smithsonian Museum for storage.

He also discovers the magic tablet that transforms the exhibits into living, breathing creatures is being pursued by the evil Egyptian pharaoh Kahmunrah played by Hank Azaria (“Along Came Polly”) and his henchmen, which include Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest), Napoleon Bonaparte (Alain Chabat), and Al Capone (Jon Bernthal). New to the fray is also Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) who sticks with Larry during most of the battle and participates in the most interesting scenes of the movie when the two figure out how to jump in and out of famous works of art.

Any clever ideas, however, are easily diluted by lots of bad one-liners, obvious jokes (Yes, Napoleon Bonaparte was short, get over it), and tedious slapstick, which will only appease the youngest viewers. While there are slight highlights like Bill Heder as Gen. Custard, the humor is sketchy at best and gets it wrong most of the time.

Tropic Thunder

August 24, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey  Jr.
Directed by: Ben Stiller (“Reality Bites”)
Written by: Ben Stiller (“Zoolander”), Justin Theroux (debut), and Etan Cohen (TV’s “King of the Hill”)

If you know who director/screenwriter Aaron Seltzer is, then you probably know that his contributions to movie spoofs in the past 12 years have been some of the lamest attempts in the comedy genre. From the superfluous “Scary Movie” sequels to bombs like “Date Movie” and “Epic Movie,” Seltzer has in someway been involved in a major portion of Hollywood’s parody awfulness.

So, when a movie like “Tropic Thunder” comes along and proves that satirical jokes can have a bit more snarky bite behind them, you have to scoop it up and consider it a nice surprise at the end of the summer movie season.

As a director, actor Ben Stiller doesn’t have much proof that he can carry a film like this. Although “Zoolander” had its moments, his only other outings as a filmmaker were with 1996’s “The Cable Guy” and 1994’s “Reality Bites.” Those films, however, didn’t have what Stiller is working with here, namely Robert Downey Jr. Yes, Downey Jr., like he does in his summer blockbuster “Iron Man,” steals the show.

In “Tropic Thunder,” Downey Jr. plays Kirk Lazarus, a multi-Academy Award-winning actor, who undergoes a controversial procedure to darken his skin for a role in a Vietnam War movie. The movie within the movie, “Tropic Thunder,” is having major production problems starting with its novice and frustrated director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) and its pre-Madonna cast.

Along with Kirk, the role players on the set are Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), a drugged-out comedian who relies on his half-wit humor in Hollywood to earn him a paycheck (hope you’re watching Eddie Murphy), and Tugg Speedman (Stiller), an action movie star whose latest role as a mentally retarded man earns him career-damaging criticism.

When Damien is confronted by Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte), the real life war hero portrayed in his film, he decides that the only way he is going to get true performances out of his cast is if he shoots the movie deep in the jungles of southeast Asia, which are overflowing with dangerous drug lords. He’s also getting pressure from film producer Les Grossman (Tom Cruise, who shows his critics that he doesn’t always have to be stone-cold serious; remember “Goldmember?”), who’s demanding the crew finish the big-budget war epic without bankrupting the studio.

When Downey Jr., who is downright entertaining, is on screen, is when “Tropic Thunder” is its best. As a mixed bag of exaggerated comedy and action, I’d recommend “Pineapple Express” before this. Still, everyone involved in “Tropic Thunder” is never afraid to poke fun at all things taboo in Hollywood, and sometimes being that ballsy goes a long way.