Tag Archives: Ben Stiller

The Royal Tenenbaums

Before I say anything else, understand that my mind is busily chewing over a fact that makes me very uncomfortable, namely, the near-uniform whiteness of Wes Anderson’s movies. I love Wes Anderson. I love his movies. But I do not love monochromatic casting. But in thinking on this quite a bit in the past few months, I’ve come to realize that it’s not that he doesn’t hire people of colour, it’s that he doesn’t hire African Americans, rather specifically. In fact, The Royal Tenenbaums may be the only time he’s every hired a black actor for a role of substance (Courtney B. Vance got to narrate Isle of Dogs), and it’s really only to service a racist character, ie, Danny Glover’s only there so that Gene Hackman can call him a long list of slurs. And though Wes Anderson’s worlds are so often populated by the same faces, Glover’s has never reappeared. Hiring someone just to be a target seems particularly cruel. However, Kumar Pallana, an Indian actor, had appeared in 4 of Anderson’s films (he died in 2013 – and was originally a barista in Anderson’s favourite Dallas coffee shop). Waris Ahluwalia, an Indian-born, American Sikh, has been in three. Tony Revolori, the terrific breakout bellboy from The Grand Budapest Hotel, is of Guatemalan descent, though so far he’s appeared in more Spider-man movies than he has in the Wes Anderson universe. There was a smattering of Japanese voice actors in Isle of Dogs, though surprisingly and relatively few considering the whole film takes place in Japan. This isn’t exactly an exhaustive list, but it’s as close as it is short, and between you and I, the minute you start putting together a list of non-white actors, you’ve already lost. That’s 9 terrific, talky, thinky, inventive pieces of cinema with incredible ensemble casts and insane attention to detail and just 1 solitary black man, necessary to the script to be the recipient of a grumpy old man’s careless racist remarks. It’s a terrible tally.

And it’s too bad that Anderson’s movies have this problem because otherwise they’d be 100% my jam.

The Tenenbaums are a fascinatingly dysfuntional family. Matriarch Etheline (Anjelica Huston) raised her 3 children to be exceptional after her lousy husband Royal (Gene Hackman) left. Chas Tenenbaum was a prodigy investor, successfully running businesses out of his childhood bedroom. Now he’s a recent widower and fresh trauma has him raising his own sons in a constant state of terror. Margot Tenenbaum was a prodigy playwright, earning prizes and praise as a child for her mature writing. Today she’s literally soaking in depression as her husband Raleigh (Bill Murray) knocks helplessly on the bathroom door. Richie Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson) was a tennis prodigy hopelessly in love with his sister, Margot. He had a career-ending meltdown when Margot married Raleigh, and he’s spent the time since sailing the world, keeping oceans between himself and his family. Eli (Owen Wilson) is the boy next door who grew up gazing upon the relative privilege of the Tenenbaum family, wishing to belong to them. And of course Henry Sherman (Glover) is Etheline’s new suitor and the family’s disruptor.

Broke, homeless, with hackles raised about the new man prowling about, Royal Tenenbaum decides to home after decades away. They won’t have him of course. He spent years disappointing his family before being completely estranged from them. So his only move is to fake cancer as a ploy to gain sympathy – and even that’s a tough sell. But it gets him back in the family home, and one by one the grown children all return to orbit around him. They’re all fucked up in their own ways, but they’ve also got an extremely fucked up dynamic together. They’re a bunch of fire starters just waiting for a match, and Royal is a goddamned flame thrower. Whoosh.

It’s a movie full of quirks that still manages to be cohesive and sell a cogent story about a family full of tragedies. Betrayal lurks in every closet, disaster through every doorway. And even though it contains perhaps Anderson’s bleakest scene ever (set to Elliott Smith’s Needle in the Hay), it’s not all doom and gloom. There are plenty of laughs, but also some actual heartfelt moments. The movie is an act of forgiveness, a representation of forgiveness being a gift you give yourself, to set yourself free from the past and the pain it causes you. Royal may be irredeemable but his family is not. They’re deeply flawed and chronically eccentric, but the script searches authenticity and finds it in abundance.

Fun Facts:

Though the role of Royal was written with Hackman in mind, it was offered to Gene Wilder, who turned it down.

Danny Glover’s look in the film was modeled after U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, which is possibly my favourite sentence in the world.

There is no such thing as Dalmatian mice; the spots were drawn on with Sharpies.

Anjelica Huston wears Wes Anderson’s mother’s glasses in the film.

The hand that is seen with the BB lodged between its knuckles is not Ben Stiller’s, it’s Andrew Wilson’s (yes, brother to Luke and Owen). It’s no trick, he really has a BB stuck in there and has since childhood. Can you guess which one of his brothers shot him?

I turned to Sean at one point to say that there were a lot of Beatles songs in the film. In fact, Ruby Tuesday was playing at the moment, which is by the Stones, as I’m sure you’re aware, and as I myself am normally aware, though my brain was clearly existing in some alternate reality at the time. There is a Beatles song, and a John Lennon one, and four from the Stones. Brain fart.

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The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

The Meyerowitz family is fractured. Danny (Adam Sandler) is a self-described ‘extremely good parker’ with little else on the horizon. A loving dad and devoted house husband, his life is in transition now that he and his wife are separating and his only daughter is off to college. Moving in with his estranged father Harold (Dustin Hoffman) seems like an opportunity to get to know him, except it turns out that feeling’s not mutual.

Harold abandoned Danny and daughter Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) in favour of a new family when they were quite young. He’s never acted as a real father to them and even now he’s mostly only interested in what they can do for him. Not to mention the complicating factor of his alcoholic wife Maureen (Emma Thompson) who MV5BN2M5YzA2ODAtOTNmMi00MGYyLWIxYWYtY2M2NmE4ZGE1ODQ1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjAwODA4Mw@@._V1_inserts herself into cramped dynamics like she’s determined to put the Wicked back into Step Mother. Both throw out the red carpet when favoured son Matthew (Ben Stiller) makes a reluctant appearance. Harold has fostered a competitive streak between his children by different mothers but they otherwise aren’t close. So when their father’s life and career necessitate them pulling together, it’s a little awkward. Actually, it’s extremely awkward and kind of heart breaking. Because they aren’t bad people, they’ve just been starved of their father’s love and have no idea how to act like a family now that there’s no real chance that things will ever be different.

This being a Noah Baumbach work, the comedy isn’t broad, but it is damn funny. When I finished it (a Netflix original) I immediately wanted to restart it, just to catch all the amazing little asides and offhand jokes that are so casually but expertly tossed out.

Although Harold is a self-absorbed contrarian, he’s not quite despicable in the hands of Dustin Hoffman and his grizzled white beard. Adam Sandler gives a nuanced performance that’ll make you believe in him as an actor once again – and it’s been a good long while since that’s been true. Actually, there are loads of big names, some in pretty small roles, but everyone is kind of spectacular in this. Having recently had no patience for Golden Exits at the New Hampshire Film Festival, I wondered if the our film lexicon was finally full to bursting with movies about privileged white people whining about their lives. But the family dysfunction in The Meyerowitz Stories feels relatable and authentic and the characters are trying too hard to be decent people in the face of it all: I kind of loved it. It’s amazing how many years later childhood resentments and jealousies can bubble to the surface, but this is the kind of movie that makes us all feel “Same” in one way or another, and it just feels good and cathartic that we aren’t alone.

 

 

TIFF: Brad’s Status

Save yourself $12 and some heart burn. Brad’s Status is midlife crisis. Anyone who calls a Millennial whiny, entitled, or self-indulgent has cleary never met Brad (Ben Stiller) or his ilk. He seemingly has everything a Millennial may never get: a great house, a job he’s passionate about, a family who adores him. And yet.

And yet his son’s success has led him to do some deep introspection. His son Troy  (Austin Abrams) is applying to college and his good grades and musicianship mean he’s a shoo-in wherever he might apply – including Harvard, which is the school they’re going to check maxresdefaultout over the weekend. Brad is surprised his son is so high-achieving, proud of course – but maybe also a little jealous. And he’s reminded of his own youth, when life was still before him and anything was possible. His best mates in college have all gone on to stunning success – Craig (Michael Sheen) is a best-selling politico, Billy (Jemaine Clement) is enjoying early retirement in paradise after selling his company, Jason (Luke Wilson) is a hedge fund guy with his own private jet, and Nick (Mike White) is a Hollywood director with a palatial home. Brad gets unforgivably mopey about the fact that his sweet wife (Jenna Fisher) didn’t encourage him to sell out, and his job helping people connect with charitable giving is peanuts compared to just being a rich guy with money to give.

We get treated to so much of Brad’s whiny inner monologue that you’ll want to punch him, repeatedly. Various Millennials have to literally hold his hand and explain to him that he’s being gross: that everything he’s complaining about is white privilege, male privilege garbage. And he still doesn’t get it.

Brad’s life only seems pale when he compares it to the 1%. He burns with first world problems. He seems like a not fantastic guy who doesn’t get an ounce of my sympathy. Of course, Ben Stiller is well-suited to this kind of neurotic self-pity. With anxiety written all over his face, we know 5 minutes into this movie that we hate him and regret having to spend the next 100 minutes listening to him be ungrateful for his charmed life. Thank goodness for his son who sees things a little more clearly. Mike White may have some interesting things to say on the subject, and I pray that he’s just as contemptuous of Brad as we are, but for me, he was just too unlikeable a character to really inspire much empathy from me, and I mostly just wanted to turn him off.

Zoolander 2

Zoolander 2 is really, really, ridiculously dull. There was so little going on all I could really do was wonder why this movie got made and why so many recognizable faces pop up.  The only answer I came up with was that no one involved had anything better to do. Well, I had better things to do – I could have been watching Deadpool!

There really isn’t a good reason to watch Zoolander 2. The “good” moments are rehashes of the original, and the rest seems like stuff they cut from the original (and rightly so). We get it, the fashion industry is vapid and empty, but you can’t satirize it with a movie that’s even more vapid and empty, because then the joke is on the movie. And the joke is definitely on the movie here. Even Justin Bieber should have known better than to be involved with this mess.

I honestly can’t think of one moment in the movie that I liked, and this is coming from a guy who laughed from start to finish during both Daddy’s Home and Dirty Grandpa. The original Zoolander was another movie that consistently made me laugh, but the sequel comes up woefully short. It’s old and tired, and made me feel the same way. Zoolander 2 gets a score of two glasses of prune juice out of ten.

While We’re Young

Alright! Another Noah Baumbach movie!

This is what I thought when i first heard about While We’re Young. It’s only when I IMDBed him that I realized that I had really only seen one of his movies. I missed Greenberg. I don’t know how but I missed Frances Ha. But I saw The Squid and the Whale. Baumbach’s 2005 family drama was funny in the saddest way possible and I guess it left so much of an impression on me that I began to think of myself as a fan. But apparently not enough of one to actually watch his other While We're Youngfilms.

I did manage to catch his latest- While We’re Young- last week though. Like The Squid and the Whale, it’s funny in a sad way but much more laugh-out-loud funny, while TSATW was more cringe out-loud funny. Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play  Josh and Cornelia- a forty-something married couple who are finding less and less in common with their friends that have little to talk about other than all the babies that they’re having. Josh starts worrying that his best days are behind him when he discovers that he has arthritis arthritis but all that changes when he meets Jamie and Darby- a couple of sensation-seeking twenty-somethings played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried. Hungry for new While We're Young 2experiences, Josh and Cornelia spend as much time with these new friends as they can and their relationship moves in some surprising directions.

Adam Driver has a weird presence on screen and I’m not sure how I feel about him yet but he and Seyfried are fun to watch as the young couple with surprisingly old-fashioned tastes. They believe it’s better to build a desk than to buy one. They have an extensive record collection while their older friends keep all their music online.. Baumbach doesn’t understand youngsters today any better than Josh does though and the forty-somethings get all the best moments. He manages to keep Stiller’s While We're Young 3instinct to overplay everything to death mostly under control and Watts, in her fourth film since we started this site six months ago, is better than she’s been in a long time, especiallyl when she’s dancing to Tupac.

While We’re Young works best as a comedy about two people trying to be young again and is smart enough to keep it simple and relatable . It loses its focus by the end with a lot of bizarre turns in the last half hour but still gives us a lot to think about- especially when I realized I, at the age of 33, related to Josh and Cornelia a lot more than I did Jamie and Darby. Guess I’m due for another sacred puking ritual.