Movie Review: “Zoolander 2″

Starring
Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig
Director
Ben Stiller

Comedy sequels are tough. One of the few good recent examples, “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,” managed to keep the characters fresh, which is the key to a successful comedy sequel. But 15 years after the first “Zoolander,” is there still an appetite for these lovably dumb male models? And are they still even lovably dumb? In this sequel, once again directed by Ben Stiller, they are not.

The original film was a silly comedy that played on the conventions of conspiracy thrillers like “The Manchurian Candidate,” and it earned its status as a cult classic. “Zoolander” has aged well and isn’t going away anytime soon, but it’s unlikely that “Zoolander 2” will grow on audiences in the same way.

The sequel continues to play with the trappings of a conspiracy thriller. In the opening minutes, Justin Bieber is assassinated, setting up a “Da Vinci Code”-esque adventure that forces Derek (Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson) to come out of retirement. The two went through a traumatic experience together shortly after the events of the first film. They haven’t spoken since the accident, but that all changes when they’re invited by incomprehensible fashion god Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig) to participate in one of her shows. Once they get to the show, however, they’re treated like jokes. They are no longer the men they used to be, and all Derek wants is to prove to Child Services that he’s fit to raise his son.

The opening setpiece involving Bieber on the run is well done, and further proof of Stiller’s skills as a director. Few comedic directors make movies as cinematic as Stiller. The laughs aren’t always there, as is the case with “Zoolander 2,” but looking at earlier films like “The Cable Guy” and “Tropic Thunder,” he’s capable of matching the styles of the movies he’s emulating and poking fun at. At times, “Zoolander 2” is as flashy as the glossy mysteries it’s riffing on.

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Movie Review: “How to Be Single”

Starring
Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Alison Brie, Leslie Mann, Anders Holm, Nicholas Braun, Jake Lacy, Damon Wayans Jr., Jason Mantzoukas
Director
Christian Ditter

Don’t let the dirty talk and rampant sex fool you: “How to Be Single” is as safe as kittens. It might be the most harmless raunch-com ever made, a mash-up of several other mediocre relationship films (and one baby film) rolled into one profane package. The four leads sell it as well as they can, but this film was going to be a nonstarter regardless of whom they cast.

Alice (Dakota Johnson) meets cute with Josh (Nicholas Braun) during their freshman year at college. Fast-forward four years, and Alice is moving out of the New York apartment she and Josh share in order to have some ‘me’ time, thinking she will get a feel for being alone, and that will give her a whole new appreciation for being part of a couple. It’s meant to be temporary. It turns into something else.

Alice moves into her sister Meg’s apartment. Meg (Leslie Mann) is a careerist obstetrician who’s never thought of having a baby of her own, until she spends a few minutes alone with one (this after delivering over 3,000 of them); after which, getting pregnant is the only thing that matters to her.

Alice works at a law firm with Robin (Rebel Wilson). Robin is a party girl who has lots of indiscriminate sex. We are supposed to like Robin, even though she will either be dead or in rehab in three years.

Lucy (Alison Brie) doesn’t know Alice, Meg or Robin, but she lives above the bar that Alice and Robin frequent, and spends time in the bar mooching off of their Wi-Fi while she perfects her dating site algorithm to find her man. Bartender Tom (Anders Holm) is a player’s player, but he serves as Lucy’s wingman from time to time as she brings her algorithm contestants to the bar. Lucy, unknowingly, has Tom rethinking his life choices, though not before Tom has had sex with two of the other three leads.

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Movie Review: “Deadpool”

Starring
Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand, Stefan Kapicic
Director
Tim Miller

A Deadpool movie has been bandied about for years – particularly by star Ryan Reynolds, who’s been dying for another shot at playing the so-called Merc with a Mouth after his bastardized appearance in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” – but it wasn’t until the test footage shot by first-time director Tim Miller was leaked in 2014 that Fox decided to move forward with the project. And it’s a good think they did, because although the film deviates slightly from its source material and relies a lot more on the included love story than expected, “Deadpool” is a fresh and entertaining action-comedy that demonstrates why studios should take more risks, especially when it comes to the superhero genre.

Before he went by the name Deadpool, Wade Wilson (Reynolds) was a former Special Forces operative turned mercenary just trying to earn a living and help people out along the way. But when he’s diagnosed with terminal cancer shortly after meeting his kindred spirit, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), Wade accepts an offer to take part in an experimental treatment from a shadowy organization run by a deranged mutant named Ajax (Ed Skrein), who takes pleasure in torturing his patients. Miraculously, Wade’s cancer is cured and he gains accelerated healing abilities not unlike those of a certain X-Man, but his entire body is horribly scarred in the process. After he escapes from the facility, Wade decides to wear a disguise and assume a new identity in order to exact revenge on the man responsible for both saving and ruining his life, unwittingly dragging Vanessa into the conflict.

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Movie Review: “Hail, Caesar!”

Starring
Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes
Directors
Joel & Ethan Coen

For the first 20 minutes or so of “Hail, Caesar!,” it feels as though Joel and Ethan Coen are making another “Burn After Reading,” only this time their target is not political thrillers in particular, but ‘50s Hollywood in general. George Clooney’s character’s sword & sandals epic (and the movie’s namesake) is pompous beyond words, and Scarlett Johansson’s pool movie is disturbingly good at pointing out the continuity errors of those films (she’s bone-dry in every shot). Ultimately, though, “Hail, Caesar!” is not about the films at all, and once that becomes clear, the films within the film become a distraction. Amusing distractions, yes, but they’re sometimes hard to watch without thinking of things the movie could be doing instead that would make for a better overall viewing experience.

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a “fixer” for the movie studio Capitol Pictures, where his day-to-day activities include making excuses for the whereabouts of his lothario superstar Baird Whitlock (Clooney), covering up a potential scandal involving his leading lady DeeAnna Morgan (Johansson), playing nice with the press (Tilda Swinton, playing twin reporters at rival publications), and executing the orders of the studio chief (whose last name, no joke, is Skank), no matter how boneheaded they may sound. Eddie soon discovers that Baird isn’t off on a bender, but has in fact been kidnapped, and is being held for $100,000 ransom. This all happens on the same day that Eddie is supposed to make a decision whether to leave Capitol for Lockheed Martin, a job with better hours and much better pay. He has a very short period of time to find a rat in an industry filled with rats.

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Movie Review: “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”

Starring
Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth, Matt Smith, Lena Headey, Sally Phillips
Director
Burr Steers

How do you make “Pride and Prejudice” exciting? Simple: add zombies. That was the secret ingredient in Seth Grahame-Smith’s bestselling mashup novel, which transformed the Jane Austen literary classic into a blood-stained farce. But while Hollywood was quick to snap up the film rights to “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” the project has had a long journey to the big screen, and not without reason. Though the genre hybrid is built around a silly but clever premise, it’s also incredibly niche, which begs the question: who exactly is this movie intended for? Teenage boys will be bored by the Regency-era romance, horror fans will bemoan the lack of gore, and although the feminist subtext is more pronounced, it’s not that different from the original story. In fact, despite the addition of “zombies” to the title, the film works better as an adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” than the action comedy it strives to be.

Set in 19th century England, the movie follows the major beats of Austen’s novel, only this time around, a mysterious plague has swept across the country and turned many of its citizens into flesh-eating zombies, leading others to train in martial arts to protect themselves. The Bennet sisters – Elizabeth, Jane, Kitty, Lydia and Mary – are some of the fiercest warriors in Hertfordshire, but their mother (Emily Phillips) insists that they find a husband and settle down. So when wealthy bachelor Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) arrives in town with his curmudgeonly friend, Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley), Mrs. Bennet is overjoyed to discover that he’s taken a liking to her eldest daughter, Jane (Bella Heathcote). The headstrong Elizabeth (Lily James), meanwhile, refuses to be forced into marriage, but she meets her match in the equally stubborn Mr. Darcy, and together, they must put aside their differences to stop the zombie threat… and perhaps fall in love along the way.

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