Tag Archives: Ben Stiller

The Watch (2012, Akiva Schaffer)

The Watch deals in caricature and stereotype. Ben Stiller’s the anal-retentive, Vince Vaughn (can anyone even remember when he tried acting) is the aging bro, Jonah Hill’s the kid in his early twenties who lives with his mom (and hordes guns, which dates the film) and Richard Ayoade’s the deadpan, socially awkward British guy. If anything, hopefully The Watch at least got one person to see Ayoade’s good work.

Oh, and Rosemarie DeWitt’s the sturdy, but doesn’t have enough to do wife (to Stiller). Actually, more than anyone else in the cast, Will Forte has the most to do as the dumb local cop. He at least gets to emote. Vaughn should get to emote because he has a whole (lame) subplot with daughter Erin Moriarty (who, like DeWitt, Forte and Ayoade, acts instead of apes), but it’s Vaughn and he doesn’t. Obnoxious charm is supposed to carry him, just like awkward charm is supposed to carry Hill and persnickety charm is supposed to carry Stiller.

Watching The Watch, I couldn’t help but think of it as ephemera. None of the jokes are smart enough on their own– Jared Stern’s script, with a credited revision from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, has no aspirations. Not even to be appreciated multiple times. The Watch is designed to amuse once and never too much. Thanks to Akiva Shaffer’s mediocre direction, comes off like an unambitious episode of “Home Improvement.” One with a lot of product placement.

But, thanks to the cast, it’s amusing enough. They’re good at their schticks and the movie does move rather well. It’s a little too forced with its attempts at edgy humor, but the whole thing is too forced. Shaffer’s doing an alien invasion movie without, apparently, any knowledge of any alien invasion film ever made.

Really bland photography from Barry Peterson doesn’t help anything and Christophe Beck’s music (which starts all right) doesn’t either.

In trying too hard to be dumb, The Watch occasionally succeeds. Though the pointlessness of Billy Crudup’s (uncredited) supporting role sort of sums up the entire misdirection of the film.

Everyone should watch “The IT Crowd” instead.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Akiva Schaffer; written by Jared Stern, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg; director of photography, Barry Peterson; edited by Dean Zimmerman; music by Christophe Beck; production designer, Doug J. Meerdink; produced by Shawn Levy; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ben Stiller (Evan), Vince Vaughn (Bob), Jonah Hill (Franklin), Richard Ayoade (Jamarcus), Rosemarie DeWitt (Abby), Erin Moriarty (Chelsea), Will Forte (Sgt. Bressman), R. Lee Ermey (Manfred) and Billy Crudup (Paul).


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Meet the Parents (2000, Jay Roach)

Meet the Parents requires an extraordinary suspension of disbelief. It’s an absurdist comedy, but the presence of Robert De Niro and–maybe even more so–Blythe Danner imply Parents is based in some kind of reality.

So the simplest thing–believing Teri Polo could be a well-adjusted adult after growing up with De Niro as a father–becomes Parents’s first hurdle. She and Ben Stiller have only the mildest chemistry and it only goes downhill as the film gets more absurd (and more funny).

Director Roach isn’t capable enough to make that romance, which should be the primary focus of Parents narratively, work, so he concentrates on De Niro and Stiller being funny together. It works. Stiller and De Niro are very funny together. While Stiller actually gives a good performance, De Niro’s is problematic. His best moments are either with Danner or Stiller. When De Niro has to play off Owen Wilson, it feels wrong, like De Niro’s doing a “Saturday Night Live” sketch mocking the film.

Roach’s inabilities carry over into the technical aspects as well. He can’t decide how realistic he wants Parents to play–the film opens with a series of home video shots and there’s some Steadicam later on, but it’s mostly static. It doesn’t necessarily need to choose, but it’s clear Roach is simply incapable of making the decision.

Towards the end, Parents gets very long. It can’t handle with the return to sensibly behaving characters. The acting helps get it through.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jay Roach; screenplay by Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg, based on a story by Greg Glienna and Mary Ruth Clarke; director of photography, Peter James; edited by Greg Hayden and Jon Poll; music by Randy Newman; production designer, Rusty Smith; produced by Robert De Niro, Roach, Jane Rosenthal and Nancy Tenenbaum; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Robert De Niro (Jack Byrnes), Ben Stiller (Greg Focker), Teri Polo (Pam Byrnes), Blythe Danner (Dina Byrnes), James Rebhorn (Dr. Larry Banks), Jon Abrahams (Denny Byrnes), Phyllis George (Linda Banks), Kali Rocha (Atlantic American Flight Attendant), Thomas McCarthy (Dr. Bob Banks), Nicole DeHuff (Deborah Byrnes) and Owen Wilson (Kevin Rawley).


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Blades of Glory (2007, Will Speck and Josh Gordon)

A couple things are immediately interesting about Blades of Glory. First is Will Ferrell. While Ferrell’s top-billed, it’s really Jon Heder’s movie. It isn’t a question of likability–Ferrell, being funnier, is more likable–but of the script’s focus. It’s Heder’s story, with Ferrell along to make things a little more interesting.

But Blades isn’t a serious attempt at a narrative. The film occasionally attempts to talk about deadlines (for figure skating competitions), but the timeline accelerates to fit the pace. Blades is only ninety minutes and it probably could have shaved some of the love story between Heder and Jenna Fischer. None of the primary cast exactly gives a performance, just embodies a persona, and Fischer doesn’t have one. She’s boring, if mildly appealing.

It’s also a problem since Heder’s better opposite Ferrell than anyone else in the picture. When he’s on his own, Blades flounders a little.

There’s no reality–internal or otherwise–to Blades. But directors Gordon and Speck are careful to curb the absurdism with real figure skaters cameoing. At the beginning, with William Fichtner and William Daniels both showing up, it seems like they’re going to use character actors to amplify Blades‘s absurdism. But both actors disappear, Fichtner way too soon, and Craig T. Nelson–coaching Ferrell and Heder’s male figure skating pair–is sillier than he needs to be.

There are a lot of good jokes and some great ones. It’s a lot of fun, but Ferrell’s easily the best part of it.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon; screenplay by Jeff Cox, Craig Cox, John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, based on a story by Craig Cox, Jeff Cox and Busy Philipps; director of photography, Stefan Czapsky; edited by Richard Pearson; music by Theodore Shapiro; production designer, Stephen J. Lineweaver; produced by Stuart Cornfield, John Jacobs and Ben Stiller; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Will Ferrell (Chazz Michael Michaels), Jon Heder (Jimmy MacElroy), Will Arnett (Stranz Van Waldenberg), Amy Poehler (Fairchild Van Waldenberg), Jenna Fischer (Katie Van Waldenberg), William Fichtner (Darren MacElroy), Craig T. Nelson (Coach), Romany Malco (Jesse), Nick Swardson (Hector), Rob Corddry (Bryce) and William Daniels (Commissioner Ebbers).


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The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Wes Anderson)

The Royal Tenenbaums is a profound examination of the human condition. It’s hard to think about Tenenbaums, which Anderson made as a precious object–he tends to put the actors on the right and fill the left side of the frame with exactly placed sundries, sometimes it’s the carefully placed minutiae, but he usually puts those items on either side of a centrally placed actor–as a character piece. The film tells the story of specific, highly fictional characters (I don’t think I’ve ever used highly to modify fictional before) in a very specific place–it’s New York, but it’s not New York. It’s an otherworldly setting. There are no “normal” people in the film until the end, and even then it’s questionable….

Watching Tenenbaums, the only thing I could think of as a comparison was something a writing professor once told one of my classmates. The student asked–after we just got through reading an interview with Faulkner–if he could write science fiction. The professor said sure, just as long as it was about the things (the human heart in conflict with itself, others and its environment) Faulkner had been talking about. The Royal Tenenbaums, with the meticulous sets, the strict composition and the exclusive characters, is like really good science fiction. The relationship between Luke Wilson and Gwyneth Paltrow (adoptive siblings in love) is not a Hollywood standard. Anderson and Owen Wilson’s script somehow makes such elements moving, but still funny (maybe not so much Luke Wilson and Paltrow, who are sort of the film’s protagonists–definitely the relationship between Gene Hackman and Danny Glover though).

Even Ben Stiller, who has the film’s easiest role (and gets the easiest out, which I always hold against him at the beginning of the film but never by the end), is irreplaceable. Stiller takes a backseat to Grant Rosenmeyer and Jonah Meyerson (as his sons); their interactions with Hackman are a much funnier way to spend running time, but the film still pulls Stiller in by the end, giving him one great moment in the film.

It’s incredible people–critics, the Academy Awards–didn’t recognize Hackman for this performance, because it’s the closest thing he’s ever done to a slapstick role and he’s perfect in it. It’s a magnificent performance, full of life–every time Hackman stops talking, there’s an anticipation for what he’s going to say next… the film’s a wonderful viewing experience, even after the drama takes over.

The way Anderson and Owen Wilson approach the drama is interesting. It isn’t the climax, which is a more comedic moment, it’s a little while before (I wonder if they used the same formula in Bottle Rocket and Rushmore–I know I should remember). Tenenbaums is so good it’s hard to write about, but five or six hundred words also can’t cover it all. I might never get around to mentioning the use of music–like the instrumental “Hey Jude” at the open or the Van Morrison at the close. I can’t remember it all.

Anjelica Huston’s great, Danny Glover’s great (why he doesn’t get more eclectic roles like this one I don’t understand), Paltrow and Luke Wilson are wonderful together–see, they deserve a few hundred words just themselves–and I haven’t even gotten to the narration read by Alec Baldwin.

I remember, going to see The Life Aquatic, wondering if Anderson could top Tenenbaums. He never will./p>

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Anderson and Owen Wilson; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Dylan Tichenor; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Anderson, Barry Mendel and Scott Rudin; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Gene Hackman (Royal Tenenbaum), Anjelica Huston (Etheline Tenenbaum), Ben Stiller (Chas Tenenbaum), Gwyneth Paltrow (Margot Tenenbaum), Luke Wilson (Richie Tenenbaum), Owen Wilson (Eli Cash), Bill Murray (Raleigh St. Clair), Danny Glover (Henry Sherman), Seymour Cassel (Dusty) and Kumar Pallana (Pagoda); narrated by Alec Baldwin.


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