Tag: Ben Stiller

Review: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Noah Baumbach’s latest picture, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), differentiates itself from most of the past year’s films, in the best way possible. Each of the Meyerowitz kids are introduced by vignettes, giving us the feeling of an assemblage of short stories that are connected, especially with the bracketed “New and Selected”.  It is the story of a dysfunctional Jewish family in New York, portrayed by a refreshingly talented cast including the likes of Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller, Emma Thompson and Elizabeth Marvel to name a few. The script is full of quickfire Jewish New-Yorker wit reminiscent of Woody Allen classics such as Annie Hall or Crimes & Misdemeanours, as are the apartments we see, full of books and art.

The Stories emanate from the “only artist in the family”, Harold Meyerowitz, as he puts it himself. His three children, Danny, Jean and Matt, all have very different relationships with each other and especially their father. Constantly working on his sculpture and aspiring for appropriate recognition led to displacement of time and care that should have been spent on his kids. As a result, they all share a bizarre mixture of respect and hatred towards him, but equally have become extremely self-critical of themselves.

Danny (Adam Sandler) is the eldest, and it’s by focussing on his sense of failure in the Meyerowitz clan that we begin. We’re introduced to him and his daughter as he tries to find a parking space in the East village, a notoriously stressful experience. Through a lot of commotion and a song on the radio, the pair radiate a comfortable, sarcastically-fuelled relationship.

Upon arrival we meet the others, and get a taste of what’s to come. It is a relief to discover Dustin Hoffman’s performance is not embarrassing or forgettable like “Meet the Fockers” (2004). Something that built Harold’s character in the film was his repeating of the same anecdote to each of his children, each time differently, each time searching for a specific reaction, and each time failing to get the reaction he wanted. He has expectations of how people should treat him and when those expectations are not met, Hoffman knows how to conjure up just the right amount of self-entitlement and passive-aggressiveness.

One of the best scenes of the movie occurs at the MoMA, where Harold’s friend L.J. has a new art collection on display. Arriving with Danny, apparently the only two in tuxedos, they are declined entry to the private showing as they are “not on the list” – Harold’s embarrassment starts here. Thankfully L.J. happens to walk by, greats them with a warm embrace and begins introducing him to New York’s social elite. It is clear that Harold can’t help but wonder why his friend and equal has his art exposed in prestigious galleries, but his own art has only gained a small degree of success, most of it still in the garage at home. The night goes on, Harold keeps getting ignored or cut off and soon he must leave.

The script is fluid in its reflection of authentic human behaviour. An example of this is the day Matt (a brilliant performance by Ben Stiller) and his father go to lunch. Dialogue goes back and forth without stopping for breath which the camera mirrors with a singular tracking shot. Matt wants to sell his father’s house and art, his life’s work. Both get increasingly flustered and amidst all the distractions never actually order any food.

Elizabeth Marvel (Jean) gives one of the most vibrant and unusual performances of the film, playing her awkward, deadpan but sensitive character to perfection. Her talent and role left me wanting a longer segment devoted to her, but the way it is is fitting to her part, as Jean is more of a wallflower, content with being on the side-lines.

The Meyerowitz Stories take you on a drawn-out emotional ride that is quite tiring, and it works. Baumbach hits the perfect balance of comedy and tragedy, proving his directorial and screenwriting talents. This is a film about the family you are given and the long-lasting effects of the quality of the relationships one has within that family. It’s about your life’s work, and ultimately how much we let that define our self-worth.

Review: Dodgeball

On the surface, you wouldn’t expect a comedy sports movie about Dodgeball to be a commercial success. But on opening weekend in June 2004 it comfortably beat out the opening weekend of Spielberg-Hanks’ The Terminal, grossing over $11 million more. A true underdog story.

The film centres around Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn), an incompetent gym owner with a don’t try can’t fail outlook on life. After not collecting membership fees for 13 months along with a slew of other blunders, his gym Average Joe’s is at risk of being foreclosed. That is of course if he can’t come up with $50,000 he owes in 30 days.

Across the road in the shrine to insecurity that is Globo Gym, owner, operator and founder White Goodman (Ben Stiller) awaits to demolish Average Joe’s to make way for an auxiliary parking lot. Suffering from a severe case of Napoleon complex, he surrounds himself with massive, muscly men called Laser, and Blazer, and Taser, and all kinds of azer’s.

After a car wash to build up some funds results in them actually losing money, the group of misfits that make up the members share a drink, ready to concede. Suddenly, and in the exact perfect moment, one of the members remembers an advertisement in Obscure Sports Quarterly magazine about a professional Dodgeball tournament. The prize for the winner? $50,000. Following an embarrassing loss turned win by disqualification in their qualifying match they make it to the finals in Las Vegas, picking up dodgeball legend Patches O’Houlihan in the process to be their coach.

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Dodgeball is a film that really should not be as good as it is. Vaughn and  Stiller both give fantastic performances throughout, in particular this was much needed for the latter after his lacklustre leading role in Starsky & Hutch. Stiller plays a parodical role of a self-loving gym addict teetering on the edge of a mental breakdown, and Vaughn is his usual charismatic self, acting as a Captain, steering the ship through a sea of silliness and slapstick.

While the humour was thick and fast and for the most part hit their mark, the jokes coming from Rip Torn’s character Patches were overly crass and was the only blemish on an otherwise spotless film. Thankfully he is killed off in an incredibly ironic way which goes some way to making up for his actions prior.

Contrastingly the funniest character during the film was a barely recognisable Jason Bateman as Pepper Brooks, sitting next to Gary Cole as two dodgeball commentators. Their chemistry and polar opposite personalities lead to some of the most hilarious exchanges with Bateman personally delivering many highly quotable lines.

This movie looks like it was almost as funny to shoot as it was to watch with numerous surprising cameos and a relentless humour that will bring you back again and again. There may not be any deep underlying meaning or character depth, but then again, does a film about throwing rubber balls need all that? It’s a bold strategy, one that I think pays off.

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