Brad’s Status (B-). Hm, Ben Stiller plays a guy facing a midlife crisis. Didn’t he just do this a few years ago in While We’re Young? Well, he’s at it again in this new dramedy, with fair to middling results. Here it’s not just middle age that’s getting to Brad Sloan (Stiller), but also Facebook. Brad, you see, has a perfectly decent middle-class life in Sacramento with a cute, loving wife (Jenna Fischer, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story) and a musically talented teenage son (Austin Abrams, Paper Towns). But his best friends from college (played by guys like Luke Wilson, The Skeleton Twins, and Michael Sheen, Passengers) are all (according to Facebook) wildly successful in various ways, and some 25 years after college they’re starting to leave Brad out of their get-togethers. This eats away at Brad something fierce, and we hear his neurotic thoughts in frequent voiceovers. And his unhappy thoughts provoke some awkward and embarrassing behavior when he and his son go tour some colleges in the northeast. I didn’t think it was bad, and I particularly enjoyed a scene in which a perceptive Harvard student calls Brad out on his very First World problems. Worth a look if Blade Runner 2049 is sold out.
While We’re Young (B). Here’s the newest film from director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale). I was hooked by the premise: a childless married couple about my age starts hanging out with a newly married couple in their 20s, with unpredictable results. Ben Stiller (Night at the Museum) and that cute little buck-toothed Naomi Watts (St. Vincent) star as the older couple, and Adam Driver (Tracks) and Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia!) star as the younger couple. It wasn’t really laugh-out-loud funny, but it was definitely amusing to watch Ben and Naomi try to keep up with the youngsters; not so amusing to watch Ben (playing someone exactly my age) try to come to grips with losing his youth. (An arthritis diagnosis hits him particularly hard.) The plot was so-so, but the characters were fun to watch. I say check it out.
The Farrelly brothers originally released this film in 1998 with Cameron Diaz in the title role. Ben Stiller, Chris Elliott and Matt Dillon play major roles. (Don’t forget that surprise appearance near the end by a famous gridiron guy.) If you saw this movie back in the day, there are a few scenes that are indelibly inked in your memory . . . they are just as funny when you know what’s coming. Ostensibly about Stiller’s character wanting to reconnect with his high school crush, the film tells the tale of a gaggle of Mary’s admirers whose affections range from puppy love to psycho stalker. Virtually every character in the movie is not what he or she appears, which makes for clever hilarity. Not family friendly–but adults will be laughing long after the credits roll.
After hearing a so-so review of this film on PRI’s The Takeaway, I went expecting to have a chuckle or two. I was pleasantly surprised–and am still sore from laughing. Alan Alda (The Aviator) plays Shaw (think Bernie Madoff), who occupies the penthouse of a fancy-smancy NY high rise. As the movie unfolds, we learn that Shaw bilked his investors, and lost the retirement funds of all the employees of the building. Building Manager Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller, Night at the Museum) hatches a plan to steal $20M he thinks is hidden in Shaw’s penthouse. The band of merry men includes Kovacs’ brother-in-law played beautifully by Casey Affleck (Interstellar), Matthew Broderick (Election), Michael Peña (Fury) and petty thief, Slide (Eddie Murphy, The Haunted Mansion). The old, pre-nutty professor Eddie Murphy with his signature laugh is the perfect foil for Stiller–who pretty much seems like himself–but it works well here. Except for Slide, none of the would-be thieves have stolen so much as a glance. Hilarity ensues. Téa Leoni (Jurassic Park III) appears as an FBI agent and love interest for Stiller. Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) rounds out the cast as a sassy Caribbean maid with an integral role in the heist. Affleck and Broderick masterfully underplay their roles with perfect deadpan delivery. Directed by Brett Ratner (Rush Hour), TowerHeist is a very satisfying combination of comedy and action.
Arrested Development (Season 2). (B+) I actually finished watching this season on DVD a few weeks ago, so I’m afraid my memory is already a little hazy. As I recall, I thought the first disc was a little slow — good, but not great — but then the other two discs were better and propelled the show back into the high quality of the first season. Most cast members got their opportunities to shine, although I did think that Lindsay and Maebe (played by Portia de Rossi and Alia Shawkat) got a little shortchanged. One of the most amusing storylines had to do with George Michael (Michael Cera) and his very plain girlfriend Ann Veal (Mae Whitman). At first George Michael’s father Michael (Jason Bateman) can’t remember that Ann exists, then he can’t keep her name straight, and then he just doesn’t like her. Lots of great guest stars, including repeats from the first season like Henry Winkler, Lisa Minelli, and Judy Greer, and new ones like Dick Van Patten, Ione Skye, Ben Stiller, and Zach Braff. We’ll see if the truncated third season can measure up….
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (D). I disliked the first installment in what is looking frighteningly like a franchise, so why did I see the sequel? Well, it seemed to get marginally better reviews, and, well, okay, because Amy Adams (Sunshine Cleaning) just looked so darned cute in the previews as Amelia Earhart. She cutes it up with great vigor, but even her wide-eyed cutesiness isn’t enough to save this bland waste of celluloid. Ben Stiller (Tropic Thunder) returns as Larry Daley, a former museum night watchman who finds himself up to his eyeballs in “adventure” when a magical Egyptian tablet is taken to the Smithsonian Institute and starts bringing all the exhibits to life. One of the exhibits-come-to-life is an evil Egyptian pharoah, played with zero menace but lots of lisp by Hank Azaria (Shattered Glass). He has a plan to take over the world, but if you’re like me, you’ll find it impossible to care. Skip it.
Tropic Thunder (B). I laughed out loud a few times during this movie, but I can see that it would not run to all tastes. A director is trying to film a Vietnam war movie in Vietnam, but his star-studded cast is giving him fits. The grizzled Vietnam vet who wrote the book the movie is based on (Nick Nolte, Another 48 Hours) proposes to take the pampered stars down a few pegs by dropping them deep into the jungle and making them rough it for a while. Unfortunately, they get dropped near a Burmese heroin-processing plant, and it takes the actors a while to realize they aren’t making a movie any more. Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) is particularly funny as an multi-Oscar winning actor who utterly immerses himself in every role, including this one as a black army sergeant. His interaction with a black rapper who’s also in the cast is very entertaining. Ben Stiller (Meet the Parents), whom I usually don’t like, is decent (and directed the movie too!). Jack Black (School of Rock) doesn’t have much to do. As I say, not everyone will be amused. I thought one of the funniest scenes involves somebody getting blown up by a landmine, and Stiller’s character thinking it’s all special effects, but it is undoubtedly a little ghoulish too.