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Non-Review Review: Zoolander II (aka 2oolander)

Zoolander II arrives a decade and half after Ben Stiller’s original male model comedy, perhaps tapping into the same rich vein of nostalgia that led to the release of Jurassic World and the relaunched X-Files.

Zoolander is a fascinating (and beloved) film. It is (along with Anchorman) one of the defining comedies of the early twenty-first century, to the point that it (allegedly) counts among Terrence Malick’s favourite films. The film offers one of Ben Stiller’s most iconic performances and is filled with memetic lines and catchphrases. Tellingly, the teaser trailer to Zoolander II offered hints to its identity through visual shout-outs to some of the gags that had soaked into the popular imagination. It is a surprise that the sequel took this long to produce.

Model investigators...

Model investigators…

Zoolander sits awkwardly between the end of the twentieth century and the start of the twenty-first. It was among the more high-profile films to digitally erase the World Trade Centre following the 9/11 attacks. Roger Ebert famously argued that Zoolander was one reason “why the United States is so hated in some parts of the world.” Mirroring its protagonist, the disconnect between the world in which the film was produced and the world in which is was released suggested an engaging innocence.

It is perhaps too much to expect Zoolander II to measure up to the original film, to offer that same surprising (and perhaps unintentional) innocence. Zoolander II is reasonably diverting, if solidly unspectacular. The film lacks the same sparkle that made the original such a hit, falling back a little bit too far on in-jokes and familiar characters without offering much new or exciting of its own.

A familiar ring to it...

A familiar ring to it…

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Non-Review Review: Night at the Museum III – Secret of the Tomb

Night at the Museum III: Secret of the Tomb is fairly inoffensive family fare. It largely sets out to do what it wants to do – providing a sense of closure to the hits series while encouraging its all-star cast to have a bit of family-friendly fun together. The movie is hardly the most compelling adventure; it never manages to generate substantial stakes, it introduces a convenient third-act villain as the plot demands, it is frequently distracted by individual set pieces. At the same time, it feels like the movie largely hits the targets that it sets for itself.

Knight at the Museum...

Knight at the Museum…

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Non-Review Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

Ben Stiller recently explained that he was growing more interested in directing and less interested in acting in front of the camera. Even if he hadn’t confessed that in an interview, it would be hard to shake that feeling while watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It’s beautifully shot and contains a number of impressive sequences and set pieces, but ultimately feels a little hollow – like a beautifully-sketched picture inhabited by two-dimensional characters.

There are moments of splendor and beauty to be found in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, but often in spite Steve Conrad’s script rather than because of it.

Daydream believer...

Daydream believer…

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Non-Review Review: Tower Heist

Hollywood has always had a strange way of reacting to current trends and realities as they exist outside the multiplex. Films tend to take a while to react to shifting cultural phenomena. That said, changes in response to particular incidents can be relatively swift. Gangster Squad was famously re-shot following the Aurora shootings and released less than a year later. Although still in the early stages of its production, Zero Dark Thirty was heavily re-worked after Osama Bin Ladin had been shot and killed. However, it’s the broader changes that Hollywood takes longer to acknowledge.

The Dark Knight was praised by The Washington Times as “the first great post-Sept. 11 film”, but this was in 2008 – almost seven years after the attacks. The 9/11 zeitgeist still lingers over American film and television. However, it’s telling that – only recently – have we seen reactions to the financial crisis creep into contemporary blockbuster cinema, as the studios try to acknowledge the shifting economic reality.

Tower Heist is very clearly an attempt to capitalise on some of the anger and the hurt generated by the failure of banks and official bodies to protect the average citizen from the financial collapse. It’s confused, muddled and a little disjointed, even if the intentions seem noble. It still feels a little disappointing that it took almost half a decade to produce this rather bland reaction.

A crash course in economics...

A crash course in economics…

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Non-Review Review: 21 Jump Street

The review was embargoed until the 5th March 2012.

The obvious point of comparison to Jonah Hill’s big-screen adaptation of 21 Jump Street is the Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson version of Starsky & Hutch. After all, both take classic cult television shows and recycle them for modern audiences, taking dramatic plot devices that seem hilarious and goofy in hindsight and playing them as straight comedy. There is, however, one very crucial difference between that adaptation of a seventies cop show and this adaptation of an eighties cop show: 21 Jump Street works. Mostly.

White knights...

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Non-Review: There’s Something About Mary

There’s Something About Mary is easily one of my favourite comedies of all time. I don’t like to think I’m especially crass or low-brow, and I don’t have much love for the work of the Farrelly Brothers outside this film (though Dumb and Dumber was charming while Kingpinwasn’t all bad). However, there’s just something so wonderfully chaotic and random about the wit on display in the film, which manages to encompass old-fashioned physical slapstick, situation comedy, grossout humour, character-based laughs and all manner of subversive charm. All those elements and styles are at play in the film, under the watchful eye of the Farrelly Brothers conducting: they know it would be too easy to hit a bum note, but instead they manage to keep pretty much everything playing in symphony.

Had me hooked from the start...

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Non-Review Review: Meet the Parents

Meet the Parents is a pleasant little film which works so well because it takes an awkward social experience that most of us have lived through – in this case meeting a partner’s parents – and turns it into a comedy of errors. It’s this smart little premise and the way that it plays off a familiar situation (with judicious application of the philosophy that “anything that can go wrong will“) that makes it so appealing – and perhaps explains the weaknesses of the movie’s sequel. Still, the original is an effective and charming comedy of manners which executes its premise well and, despite some difficulty balancing everything, manages to consistently entertain throughout.

DeNirest and Dearest...

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