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!)

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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!

44 Days of Paranoia #16: Wag the Dog (dir by Barry Levinson)


For today’s entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we’re taking a look at Barry Levinson’s 1997 political satire, Wag The Dog.

Wag the Dog opens with a White House in crisis.  With two weeks to go until the Presidential election, it’s been discovered that the incumbent President has had a brief dalliance with a girl scout.  Up until the scandal became public, the President was enjoying at 17 point lead in the polls.  Now, that lead is about to evaporate unless something can be done to keep the American public from thinking about the President’s personal life.

Significantly, the President himself never appears on-screen.  We never learn his position on the issues.  We never hear about anything he’s done during his first term.  We don’t even know what political party he belongs to.  (However, his opponent is played by Craig T. Nelson so I’m going to assume that the President is a Democrat.  Because, seriously, it’s hard for me to imagine Nelson being anything other than a Republican…)  The President remains a shadowy and insubstantial figure who, in the end, represents nothing.

Instead of getting to know the President, we instead spend the film with the aides who have to clean up after his mess.  One of those aides, Winifred Ames (Anne Heche), calls in a legendary (and rather sinister) political PR man, Conrad Bean (Robert De Niro).  Conrad announces that the only way to save the campaign is to distract the American public with a quick and totally fake war with Albania.  Why Albania?  According to Conrad, Albania has a sinister name and nobody knows anything about it.

To help create this fake war, Conrad recruits Hollywood film producer, Stanley Motts (a hilariously manic Dustin Hoffman).  Much as Conrad is a legend in politics, Stanley is a legend in Hollywood.  Stanley enthusiastically jumps into the project of creating a fake war of Albania, manufacturing everything from fake war footage to patriotic songs to anything else necessary to rally the American public.  Denis Leary shows up as a mysterious figure known as the Fad King and schemes how to make war with Albania the latest trend.  Willie Nelson sings a song to stir the spirit of every patriotic American.  A very young Kirsten Dunst is recruited to play a terrified orphan in staged Albanian atrocity footage.  A shell-shocked vet (Woody Harrelson) is cast as the Albanian War’s first hero.  Stanley greets every problem with an enthusiastic exclamation of, “This is nothing!”

Along the way, a rather odd friendship develops between the secretive Conrad and the overly verbose Stanley.  However, when Stanley, who often laments that he’s never won an Oscar, starts to complain about the fact that he’s never going to get any recognition for his “greatest production,” Conrad finds himself forced to reconsider their relationship.

Wag the Dog was first released in 1997 and, thanks to David Mamet’s darkly comedic script and Barry Levinson’s brisk direction, the film feels incredibly prophetic.  Indeed, all the film needs is for someone to mention making the war a trending topic and it would be impossible to tell that it was made 16 years ago.  Wag the Dog accomplishes the best thing that any political satire can hope to accomplish: it makes you question everything.  Whenever one watches a news report triumphantly bragging about the latest done strike, it’s hard not to feel that Stanley Motts would approve.

Other entries in the 44 Days Of Paranoia:

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To