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: “Get Hard”

Starring
Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Alison Brie, Craig T. Nelson, T.I.
Director
Etan Cohen

“Get Hard” feels like the filmmakers are playing a prank on the audience. It has all of the beats and clichés of an ‘80s-era buddy cop action comedy, right down to the innuendo-laden one-liners, the score (just above porn quality) and the off-color jokes, which are ‘holy shit they did not just say that’ offensive. That seems to be the point – love ‘em or hate ‘em, a lot of the jokes in the ‘80s action films are in very poor taste – but that is also what makes the movie feel like a con. Are they merely trying to cast an unflattering light on the films from that era in order to show how tacky they are, or are they trying to trick modern-day audiences into laughing at a series of tasteless jokes, when deep down the audience knows that it shouldn’t? Either way, the movie isn’t playing fair, and even if it had played fair, it wouldn’t have mattered; there’s a condescension to it all that undercuts every barrier-pushing joke. Had they respected the audience, this could have been a much better movie. But they didn’t, and here we are.

James King (Will Ferrell) is a very successful hedge fund manager, engaged to the smoking hot daughter (Alison Brie) of his boss (Craig T. Nelson). He is living the dream, until he is arrested for a litany of fraud charges (of which James proclaims his innocence), and the judge throws the book at him, sentencing him to 10 years at San Quentin. James knows he’s a dead man walking in a prison like that, so he asks Darnell (Kevin Hart), who runs a small-budget car washing service that James uses, to teach him how to toughen up, to “get hard.” Why does James ask Darnell this? Because Darnell is black, and courtesy of his sabermetric expertise, James concludes that Darnell has spent time in jail. Darnell, of course, has not spent time in jail, but he needs cash to put a down payment on a house in a better neighborhood, so he takes James’ money and fakes it the best way he can. This plan will go horribly wrong for all concerned.

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Movie Review: “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”

Starring
Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, David Koechner, Christina Applegate, Kristen Wiig, Meagan Good, James Marsden
Director
Adam McKay

For years, Will Ferrell has resisted the urge to make a sequel to any of his films, but if there’s one character from his repertoire deserving of a second helping, it’s Ron Burgundy. Though a sequel had been rumored for years after the original attained cult status on DVD, it’s easy to see now why Paramount was so gunshy. The first “Anchorman” was lightning in a bottle; a comedy so goofy and over the top that it took people completely by surprise. And while the sequel aims to match (and exceeds) that level of silliness, it just doesn’t compare. “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” is at times funnier than its predecessor, but it’s also wildly inconsistent, bouncing aimlessly between gut-busting hilarity and entire sequences that miss their mark.

“The Legend Continues” picks up several years after the first film, with Ron (Ferrell) and Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) now living with their son in New York City and co-anchoring on a national news station. But when Veronica is suddenly promoted and Ron is fired, the pair splits up and Ron heads back to San Diego. Six months later, he’s tracked down by producer Freddie Shapp (Dylan Baker) with an opportunity to return to NYC as part of the first-ever 24-hour news channel, GNN. After reassembling his former news team – Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) and Champ Kind (David Koechner) – in time for the official launch, Ron makes fast enemies with star anchorman Jack Lime (James Marsden), who’s been given the primetime slot. But despite getting saddled with the graveyard shift, Ron makes a bet with Jack that he’ll still get bigger ratings, leading him to take a vastly different approach to the news that changes the course of broadcast journalism forever.

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Trailer released for “Anchorman: The Legend Continues”

The trailer is here, so the countdown to the holiday release of “Anchorman: The Legend Continues” begins. Will Ferrell looks as funny as ever as Ron Burgendy, and with the beautiful Meagan Good (check out our slideshow!) as a new love interest, the trailer gives a glimpse of how Ron is totally incapable of handling an interracial relationship. The results predictable but hilarious. Comedy sequels are tough to pull off, so hopefully the amount of time that’s passed since the original “Anchorman” has helped them come up with enough fresh material to make this one work.

  

Weekly Web Series Review: Between Two Ferns

Hosted by Zach Galifianakis at his most awkward, “Between Two Ferns” represents what television talk shows might actually be like in a much more interesting world. Filmed to look like a low-budget public access show, but with big-name celebrity guests, the series mines uncomfortable humor to the fullest. Galifianakis frequently mispronounces the names of his guests and openly insults them, creating an environment of hostility that often feels almost too real. When not blatantly mispronouncing names, he is prone to making intentionally terrible puns out of them, like when he asks Jon Hamm if his middle name is “Honey-Baked,” or if he has considered changing his name to something like “Stewart Turkey-Link.”

The discomfort starts strong right out of the gate in the first episode, in which Galifianakis basically molests Michael Cera. There is a common thread of one-sided sexual tension in many of the episodes, and certainly not just with the female guests, though it may be strongest in the episode featuring Natalie Portman. It is a testament to her skill as an “acteress” that this episode is one of the most authentic, as if she were actually just in the midst of a nightmarish interview set up by the most incompetent agent imaginable. Other episodes are more clearly staged, and perhaps the weakest is the one with Will Ferrell, if only because the two are generally too chummy with each other, at least until the end.

The series is at its best when Galifianakis is openly hostile to his guests, like the episodes featuring Ben Stiller and “Brad Lee Cooper.” Though this hostility is common throughout the series, only “Conan O. Brien” gets an explanation, which is that Galifianakis thought he had a shot at “The Tonight Show.” Another especially convincing episode features Galifianakis’ “twin brother,” Seth, interviewing a wooden-faced Sean Penn, who really seems like he might haul off and punch Galifianakis at any moment. As with Portman, it is Penn’s acting skill that pulls off the joke so well.

A pitch-perfect spoof of bad, desperate public access talk shows, “Between Two Ferns” is easily one of the best offerings from the always enjoyable Funny or Die. Even the opening and closing theme music feels authentic, though it is actually lifted from Bernard Herrmann‘s “Taxi Driver” score, which adds to Galifianakis’ creepy, angry vibe. I’m not sure how well it would work as a full-length show on television, but in the small segments available online, it is hilarious.

  

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