Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #16: Zoolander 2 (dir by Ben Stiller)

(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by Wednesday, November 30th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)


On October 14th, I recorded Zoolander 2 off of Epix.

A sequel to the 2001 cult hit, Zoolander 2 came out earlier this year and got absolutely terrible reviews and quickly vanished from theaters.  Watching the film last night, I could understand why it got such terrible reviews.  Zoolander 2 is not only a terrible movie but it’s also a rather bland one.  Somehow, the blandness is even more offensive than the badness.

Zoolander 2 opens with Justin Bieber getting assassinated and Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) being forced to come out of retirement and discover why pop stars are being targeted.  And, of course, Zoolander can’t do it without the help of Hansel (Owen Wilson)!  Penelope Cruz is in the film as well, playing  Zoolander’s handler and essentially being wasted in a role that could have been played by anyone.

Oh!  And Will Ferrell returns as well.  Ferrell gives a performance that essentially shouts out to the world, “Fuck you, I’m Will Ferrell and no one is going to tell Will Ferrell to tone his shit down!”

Actually, I think everyone in the world is in Zoolander 2.  This is one of those films that is full of cameos from people who probably thought a silly comedy would be good for their image.  For instance, there’s a huge number of journalists who show up playing themselves.  Matt Lauer shows up and I get the feeling that we’re supposed to be happy about that.  There was a reason why people cheered when the sharks ate him in Sharknado 3.

You know who else shows up as himself?  Billy Zane!  And Billy Zane has exactly the right type of attitude for a film like this.  He shows up and he mocks the whole enterprise by giving the Billy Zaniest performance of Billy Zane’s career.  For that matter, Kiefer Sutherland also shows up as himself.  I’m not really sure what Kiefer was doing in the film but he makes sure to deliver all of his lines in that sexy growl of his.  Kiefer knows what we want to hear.

You may notice that I’m not talking about the plot of Zoolander 2.  That’s largely because I couldn’t follow the plot.  This is an incredibly complicated film but it’s not complicated in a funny way.  Instead, it’s complicated in a way that suggests that the film was made up on the spot.  It’s as if the cast said, “We’re all funny!  Just turn on the camera and we’ll make it work!”

The problem with Zoolander 2 is obvious.  The first film pretty much exhausted the comic possibilities of making a spy film about shallow and stupid models.  Don’t get me wrong — the first film did a good job but it’s not like it left any material untapped.  But I would ask you to indulge me as I imagine an alternate reality.

Consider this: Terrence Malick was reportedly a huge fun of Zoolander.

Let’s take just a minute to imagine a world in which Ben Stiller asked Terrence Malick to write and direct Zoolander 2.  And let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that Malick agreed!

Just think about it — 4 hours of Zoolander and Hansel staring up at the sky and thinking about nature.  “What is this thing that causes the heart of man to beat?” Zoolander asks.  “Are we nature or has nature become us?” Hansel replies.

That would have been a fun film!

Disconnected From Disconnect

Disconnect, the feature film directing debut of award-winning documentarian Henry-Alex Rubin, has been getting some fairly positive reviews.  According to Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a critical score of 71 while audiences have been even more impressed.  The last time I checked, it had an audience score of 83%.  If you’ve seen any of the commercials for this film then you’ve undoubtedly heard it referred to as being “the best film of the year.”

That’s high praise for a film that’s essentially Crash with better acting.

Much like Crash (which, incidentally, I consider to be the worst film to have ever won the Oscar for Best Picture), Disconnect is an ensemble film that tells several different stories.  For whatever reason, first-time directors seem to have a weakness for movies with ensemble casts and multiple-story lines.  When done well, an ensemble film can say something profound about the way that people in a society relate to one another.  When done poorly (like in Crash or Disconnect), they just feel trendy.  Watching Disconnect, I felt as if the filmmakers couldn’t come up with a way to tell one compelling story from beginning to end so, instead, they just tossed together fragments of three separate stories and then desperately tried to come up with a theme to connect them all.

That theme, by the way, is that our reliance of modern technology has created a society where people are Disconnected from one another.

Gee, you think?

Disconnect tells three separate, inter-connected stories.  In one story, Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgard are a married couple who are struggling to deal with the recent death of their child.  Skarsgard deals with his grief by going on long business trips and getting addicted to online gambling.  Meanwhile, Patton joins an online support group and finds herself tempted to have affair another member (Michael Nyqvist).  Patton’s activities leads to identity theft and bankruptcy.  With the help of a sleazy private investigator (Frank Grillo), Patton and Skarsgard try to track down the man who stole their identity.  This story falls apart once Patton and Skarsgard find the man and both characters suddenly start acting in the most inconsistent ways conceivable.  It really should be impossible t0 make charismatic performers like Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton seem  bland and boring but somehow, Disconnect manages to do it.

In the film’s best storyline, Grillo’s teenage son (Colin Ford) catfishes and cyber-bullies an alienated classmate (Jonah Bobo).  When Bobo hangs himself as a result, Ford is wracked with both guilt and fear.  Ford’s attempts to cover-up his involvement leads to him meeting and briefly befriending Bobo’s father (Jason Bateman), who has no idea what led to his son attempting suicide.  In this story, Bateman proves that he’s as good with drama as he is with comedy and Ford’s complex and multi-layered performance is more than award-worthy.  This was probably the most powerful part of the film and, if the filmmakers had simply concentrated on this story (as opposed to diluting it by making only one part of a multi-part film), Disconnect would fully deserve the high-praise that it’s currently receiving.

In the film’s third (and most flamboyant) storyline, Andrea Riseborough is a cynical and opportunistic reporter who does a story about a cocky teenager (Max Thieriot) who performs on an adults-only site and who recruits other teenagers for a manipulative pimp (played by none other than Marc Jacobs).  Riseborough finds herself charmed by the teenager (and who can blame her because, after all, he’s played by Max Thieriot) and soon she’s having an affair with him.  However, her news story captures the attention of the F.B.I. and soon both Thieriot and Riseborough find themselves in danger.

At first, I thought I was going to enjoy this storyline because I love Max Thieriot.  He’s ideally cast here and he gives a good, sympathetic performance. For that matter, so does Andrea Riseborough and even Marc Jacobs brings a certain reptilian charm to his role.  However, this story falls apart as it quickly becomes obvious that the filmmakers, having set up a potentially interesting situation, have no idea what to do with it.  Instead, much as with the characters played by Skarsgard and Patton, Riseborough ceases to behave with anything resembling logic or consistency.  Both she and Thieriot go from being interesting, well-rounded characters to being mere plot devices.

That, ultimately, is the main reason why Disconnect fails.  With the exception of the characters played by Bateman and Ford, nobody in this film feels real and, again with the notable exception of Bateman and Ford’s storyline, very little that happens feels genuine.  The film is watchable because of the talented cast but, otherwise, it’s a melodramatic and predictable mess that seems to think that it’s a lot smarter than it actually is.

Perhaps that’s why so many people over on the imdb have been praising this film as “the best of the year.”

Some people will always enjoy feeling like they’re thinking without actually having to do it.