Filmsy Theater-Hopping: Pr1de and 2oolander and Zombi3s
Theater-hopping: the act art of going to the multiplex and sneaking into one or more additional movies for a single ticket, without being caught by the ushers and banned from the theater. Requires stealth, mastery over your own bladder, and the total lack of a social life.
Which makes me the ideal guy for the job.
Zoolander 2 (2016)
Director: Ben Stiller
Starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penélope Cruz, Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen, Will Ferrell.
Quick Summary: Disgraced supermodels must come from retirement to uncover a worldwide conspiracy.
Rating: The worst idea since the piano key necktie.
Out of the roster of characters that Ben Stiller usually plays, the shallow, intellectually challenged male supermodel Derek Zoolander stands out in a sea of average guys which are put in awkward situations while looking uncomfortable until they snap and do something crazy, which is what made 2001's "Zoolander" a modern comedy classic. I recently watched it again in preparation for the sequel and I was afraid that, as it often happens with these things, the actual movie wasn't actually going to be as good as my memories from it. But as it stands, "Zoolander" really holds up, mostly because all the pop culture references in the movie were already dated when it was made, which gave it a status of timelessness I greatly appreciated. In addition to that, there are many other things which make it a perfect blend of biting social commentary and absurdness beyond self-parody, as well as physical comedy, and wonderful unexpected cameos by the likes of David Bowie, Milla Jovovich, and of course Billy Zane in his second ever most famous role on screen.
The first one being "The Phantom", obviously.
(and the third was Biff's goon on "Back to the Future")
So it was only a matter of time that someone would eventually take a look at this great movie and decided that fifteen years later was the perfect time for a sequel. With the latest wave of nostalgia for the recent past, and the ever greedy Hollywood tendency to rehash, reboot, remake and adapt even the most worthless intellectual properties, it seemed (much like the titular character) like a no-brainer.
And on paper, this movie should have worked. For one, everybody from the first one is on board, and I do mean every single character no matter how small, in addition to Penélope Cruz, Kristen Wiig, some annoying kid, and Fred Armisen playing yet another annoying kid. Plus the cameos abound, from Justin Bieber doing parkour and Benedict Cumberbatch as a genderless fashion icon, to Sting, Katy Perry, Skrillex and even Neil deGrasse Tyson. But if the cast feels a bit overcrowded without even going through the list of cameos which has like 50 credits, that's because it's a reflection of the main problem of this movie, which is that it overtly relies on the exploitation of celebrities and other gimmicks of that kind, purely for cheap laughs.
And while the original Zoolander had all of that in spades, there was much more to it than just a parade (get it?) of fashion puns, visual gags and musical cues, and constantly showing us the stupidity of the protagonists. The script was actually clever and original, with every stupid joke adding something which paid out in the end. There was also Christine Taylor's character Matilda, who doubled as love interest and audience proxy as the only sane person in the crazy world of entertainment. She's the only notable absence for the sequel (for reasons I won't spoil because going at all into the plot would be a waste of my time, it's that stupid), instead her character is replaced by Penélope Cruz's Valentina Valencia, who's neither funny nor relatable or closely resembling anyone from the real world.
"Zoolander 2" not only arrives unfashionably late to the party, but it also makes many of the same mistakes of movies like "The Hangover 2", "Ocean's Twelve", and "Meet the Fockers", which is to copy all the little bits from the original that tested well with focus groups and trying to replicate the formula, while ignoring the things that actually made those movies successful in the first place. The acting is very lackluster as well. Except for Stiller and Wilson who are alright, I suppose (and for Billy Zane and Kiefer Sutherland's cameos which are just about the only funny parts of the movie), it seems like everyone else phoned in their performances or showed up right after I stopped caring. Kristen Wiig is unrecognizable, both aesthetically under that makeup, and histrionically with that unimaginative Donatella Versace impression not worthy of an SNL sketch cut before rehearsal. In a similar way, Will Ferrell seems stuck in Funny or Die mood, which works in small doses, but not for a feature... which I guess it's something that could be said as well for the movie as a whole. And the less I speak about Fred Armisen's CGI abortion borrowed from the Wayans Brothers' "Littleman", the better.
aka "Exhibit A of the Wayans' crimes against humanity"
(Exhibit B: "from the guys who brought you White Chicks", because one cinema abomination wasn't enough)
So if you enjoyed the original "Zoolander" and want to preserve that memory in your mind, skip the sequel and watch the first one again. Or go out for a walk, perhaps grab an orange mocha frappuccino, because there are plenty of better things to do than watching "Zoolander 2", such as soaking yourself with gasoline while listening to Wham!.
Ben Stiller is a great comedic actor, though, if a bit repetitive on his roles. And despite this huge misstep, I also consider him a good director. "Tropic Thunder" is perhaps an even bigger mine for comedy gold than "Zoolander" is, and "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is a very sweet and underrated gem, but "Zoolander 2" is probably his most underwhelming work, which is something when you realize he also did "The Cable Guy".
Reality Bites, Ben.
(Actually, not the worst movie ever...and certainly better than Larry the Cable Guy)
What You Should Watch Instead:
Josie and the Pussycats (2001)
Brilliant satire of the MTV generation and prefabricated pop stars. Really funny, and it's got a kickass soundtrack too.
The Dictator (2012)
Sacha Baron Cohen teams up with Larry Charles to deliver a political satire masterpiece. In my opinion, Cohen's best movie to date.
Speaking of craving for brains, and fads that refuse to die, I'd like to talk now about another movie.
Pride, Prejudice and Zombies (2016)
Director: Burr Steers.
Starring: Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth, Charles Dance, Matt Smith, Lena Headey.
Quick Summary: Jane Austen's literature classic gets the zombie treatment.
Rating: Rated Aaaaargh for brrraaaaiiinnssssss.
This is yet another adaptation that arrived late to the party. Had this movie come out 3 or 4 years ago, it likely would have fared better, or at the very least more people would be talking about it instead of letting it rot at the box office. Seth Grahame-Smith's parody mash-up of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice was a literary phenomenon that spawned a new genre, or at least gave it a new life (hell yeah I went there). Combining the traditional themes of Victorian courtship and manners from Austen's novel, "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" injected a plague of "the dreadful" into the plot in a very clever and humorous way, while still keeping most of the conflicts and resolutions from the original, except with less glove slapping and a bit more (get it? bit?) martial arts and decapitation.
The movie version actually follows the source material very closely, and it manages to be visually powerful as well as very compelling storywise. To be clear, this movie is far from perfect, but I chose to focus on the positive aspects because I'm a big fan of rom-zom-coms...and yeah, I know there aren't many of those out there (other than "Shaun of the Dead", "Zombieland", and maybe "Warm Bodies") but that's exactly why I gave it a shot, and you should too.
Aim for the head.
(preferably not with collectible vinyl)
In addition to the great makeup work, beautiful landscapes of English countryside and very well choreographed fight scenes, perhaps the best thing about this movie is its cast. Except for Sam Riley, who looks eternally constipated rather than prideful as Mr. Darcy, and Douglas Booth who is just adequate as the noble but naive Bingley, everyone else is pretty spot on. Lily James as Elizabeth Bennet is not extraordinary, but gives a very solid performance which gets better as the movie progresses. The rest of the Bennet sisters are perfectly cast and very true to their literary counterparts, which goes doubly for Sally Phillips and Charles Dance as their concerned parents. Jack Huston is great as the duplicitous Wickham, and so is Lena Headey as Lady Catherine, who is a seasoned eye-patch wearing demon hunter in this version.
I could go on and on about just about how great choices they made on this casting, such as having two Lannisters defending the honor of their families, or that there's two different versions of beat poet Jack Kerouac pining over Cinderella, but the most inspiring choice they made was by far choosing Matt Smith to play Parson William Collins, because he turns one of the dullest, most odious and sanctimonious clowns in literature into a very lovable and whimsical comedy relief, while remaining as shallow and clueless as ever.
And as useless against the zombies as a Dalek against a flight of stairs.
Overall I think that the strongest selling point of "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" is also what's been criticized the most about it, which is that it doesn't really fit into any pre-established genres. So, while horror enthusiasts might be disappointed that this isn't scary enough, lovers of romantic period pieces might find it too gruesome, and even comedy fans might find the jokes too spread out, if you take it as a whole, everyone can find something to like about it. Director Burr Steers ("Igby Goes Down", "17 Again") brings a lot of sensitivity into a movie which frankly has no right to be good at all. And yet, you get all the drama of a Victorian classic combined with the action of a 70s martial arts movie, plus some very tasteful gore and humor scattered all through, as well as some very good acting, resulting in something you can watch with either friends or perhaps even on a date*. It reminded me of "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter", another genre mash-up based on a novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, also very under-appreciated. And, if it wasn't for Spielberg snatching the lead for his own movie, it would've been the second time Daniel Day Lewis wore a top hat while hacking people with an axe, which needless to say, it's something there should be way more of.
"Four score and seven years ago you killed my father. Prepare to die!"
Also be sure to check out:
Juan of the Dead (Cuba, 2011)
(Juan de los Muertos)
What happens when the zombie apocalypse hits communist Cuba?
Awesomeness, that's what.
Dead Snow (Norway, 2009)
What could be worse than communist zombies?
Why, thawed Nazi zombies, of course.**
* Okay, that's probably a terrible idea, but in the unlikely event that you take a girl to this movie and she likes it, hold on and never let go, cause that's a keeper.
**There was actually a sequel called Dead Snow: Red vs Dead where the Nazi zombies return to fight Soviet zombies. I haven't seen that one yet, but it's probably as epic as it sounds.
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