Ben Stiller

Culture Warrior

One of the great misconceptions about Hollywood is that it is a liberal institution. Several false assumptions inform this misconception: thinking of “Hollywood” as a monolithic entity in any way besides its shared corporate infrastructure, confusing public endorsements of celebrity politicians by celebrity movie stars as political activism, thinking that left-leaning consumers of movies see Hollywood as representing their political beliefs in any way, selectively reading a limited number of texts (e.g., Green Zone “proves” Hollywood’s liberalism, but every superhero movie ever isn’t proof of its conservatism), and, most importantly, thinking that the most public figures associated with Hollywood (i.e., stars and filmmakers) are Hollywood. This last point I think is one that has continued to be the least considered when such straw man critiques are drawn, because Hollywood here is equated only with its most visible figures who overshadow its intricate but also not-so-shrouded political economy. It’s no mistake that despite the fluctuating numbers of major and minor Hollywood studios in the past 100 years, the most powerful studios, like the biggest banks in the nation, have been referred to as “The Big Five.” And indeed, to the surprise of no one, both Big Fives have had and are continuing a lucrative relationship with one another. Hollywood’s agenda, of course, has always been profit, and the representatives of this ideology are not George Clooney and Matt Damon, but Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal (Chairman/CEO & Co-Chairman, Sony/Columbia), Stephen Blairson (CEO, 20th Century Fox), Brad Grey (Chairman/CEO, Paramount), Ronald Meyer […]

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This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr grabs a protest sign and a test so he can occupy something. All the big cities are taken, so he decides to Occupy Hollywood, but being one of the 99%, he can’t afford a plane ticket from Ohio to California. So, he occupies his local multiplex, squatting in the front of their biggest screen. There, he has a chance to check out the loosely-related Tower Heist and later drinks some spiked egg nog and wanders into a later screening of A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. At least that’s what he’s telling the authorities.

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When you hear the music for a horror film, you know you’re in for suspenseful strings and make-you-jump percussion while the music in a romance will swell in the moments leading up to that big proclamation. But for a heist film, the musical landscape is a bit more complicated. The music has to walk that line between action and suspense so it helps drive the action on screen while still leaving audiences on the edge of their seats waiting to see what will happen next. The music must lull you into the action as you find out about the heist and then keep your adrenaline pumping as that plan is carried out (or is at least attempted). Whether you are boosting cars in Fast Five or ideas in Inception, the music works to imitate the thieves themselves from the more quiet moments while setting up the plan to the all out action once you break into the necessary getaway. Tower Heist establishes its theme early (read: the opening credits) with subtle tones that sound almost like the buttons on an ATM or safe being pressed. Composer Christophe Beck is no stranger to heist films having also scored The Pink Panther re-boot back in 2006, but where The Pink Panther was a comedy, Tower Heist takes itself more seriously. Naturally a film with Eddie Murphy is not lacking in the joke department (the film’s trailer alone proves that), but when it comes to planning and carrying out the actual plan, Tower […]

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Josh Kovacs is, quite simply, outstanding at his job. Back-breaking early hours don’t faze the manager of the chi-chi Tower apartment building, one of the most glitzed-out residences in Manhattan, as he uses that time to beef up his knowledge of fancy cheeses and impressive wines in order to seamlessly recommend them to his high-end clientele. But Josh (Ben Stiller) isn’t just interested in impressing his residents (particularly penthouse owner Arthur Shaw), he’s also equally involved in the lives of his employees. Josh buys the Tower lifestyle hook, line, and sinker – obsessed with keeping his workers at the top of their game so as to provide the best experience for all Tower residents, an experience that will thus ensure longevity in the careers of all those Tower employees. It’s a machine that works, with Josh manning all the gears with a goofy grin on his face. But toss a wrench in that machine, and everything grinds to a halt. Josh’s life works when everyone does their job and does it well – whether that job be operating one of the Tower’s elevators or being a gracious resident. When money man Shaw (Alan Alda) is accused of bilking his clients out of millions of dollars, it stings Josh enough (after all, isn’t Shaw just a Brooklyn boy like Josh?), but when the deeper deception comes to light, Josh’s work ethic and mental stability both go soaring out the metaphorical skyscraper window. Shaw didn’t just play the old financial cup game […]

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The relationship between film studios and movie theaters is an oddly contentious one. You’d think the two would be the best of friends as few entertainment experiences can rival watching a fantastic film in a well run theater, but instead the two parties seem consistently at odds. They’re constantly fighting over the percentage of gross profits each one should get, they’ve recently started bickering about who should foot the bill for the cost of 3D glasses, and now at least one studio is making a bold move sure to anger theater owners even more. Per the LA Times, Universal will be making the upcoming Brett Ratner joint, Tower Heist, available on VOD just three weeks after it opens in theaters. It’s limited to two markets for now, so only movie fans in Atlanta and Portland, Oregon will be able to order the film from the comfort of their living room couch for the totally reasonable price of just $59.99. Sounds high to be sure, but the average movie ticket in theaters is around ten bucks, so if you can find five more people interested in seeing Murphy, Stiller and friends in a Ratner film then you’re golden. You also probably have friends with poor cinematic taste.

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Neighborhood Watch has had a pretty dicey past, but under the eye of director Akiva Schaffer it seems to now be coming together nicely. The film has a new script penned by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg ready to go, and a bunch of casting maybes have become casting confirmations. Ben Stiller is set to star as a city guy who moves out to the suburbs and gets roped into joining a nutty neighborhood watch program. Big time comedic talents Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill have signed on to fill out the watch. Rachel Getting Married actress Rosemarie DeWitt has been tapped to play the Stiller character’s wife. And now another big name is in negotiations to hop on boar as well. Almost Famous actor Billy Crudup is the latest addition, and according to Heat Vision, he’s negotiating to play the character of a creepy and weird neighbor who catches the watch’s attention. Seeing as past synopsis of the film’s plot have pointed to the fact that Stiller and his new buddies find themselves stumbling into an alien plot to overthrow the planet, I think it’s probably a good bet that we’ve just found ourselves our first alien. Seems like a good choice to me. Crudup is just too handsome. It’s… suspicious.

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Standing up for the little guy, righting wrongs, trying to force our opinions on an unsuspecting public, that’s what we do here at Over/Under. This week we look to champion a kid’s movie, a movie that I contend is not just one of those dumb camp films, but an underpraised king of modern comedy; 1995’s Disney production Heavy Weights. Of course, you know how it works here. In order for one movie to be propped up a peg, another has to take a fall. For those purposes we’ll take a look at 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a beloved adaptation of a beloved Ken Kesey novel that happens to have a few major flaws that often get overlooked.

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Things seem to finally be coming together quite nicely for the long troubled comedy Neighborhood Watch. After a period of uncertainty where it was having trouble getting financed, it now has two big name comedic actors signed on to star in Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn. Sure, they may not be the freshest faces in Hollywood, and they might have been even bigger names a few years ago, but they’ve got a couple of in-the-now screenwriters, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, to take a pass at and freshen up the long gestating script they’re working with. Plus, they’ve got an up and coming voice in The Lonely Island’s Akiva Schaffer to direct. After failing as a Will Ferrell vehicle, Neighborhood Watch might be set up to be the most relevant things that Stiller and Vaughn have done in a while. One sign that a film is really going full steam ahead in its production is when it starts filling out its supporting cast, and this one seems to be doing that right now. In the last day or so there have been several stories popping up about new faces being added. The first rumor, and the one that’s most likely, is that according to Heat Vision, Rachel Getting Married actress Rosemarie DeWitt is close to signing on as Stiller’s wife. If you remember the synopsis of this one, Stiller plays a city boy who is forced to move out to the boring suburbs, and DeWitt’s character would be the reason […]

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What is Movie News After Dark? It’s a nightly movie news column and link collector that is tired of explaining itself to you, quite frankly. Drew McWeeney at HitFix got the scoop this evening on a big story, in which Harry Potter director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves will be re-teaming to do a multi-film version of Stephen King’s epic The Stand. The hope here is that Yates can give it that Deathly Hallows scope, something the work of Stephen King has long deserved, but never really received. With The Dark Tower on the ropes, this could become a new fixation for King fans.

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The entire setup for the Tower Heist trailer is solid and pretty damned timely. A staff at an incredibly schmancy apartment building are fleeced out of their pensions by the building’s wealthiest schmuck so they decide to rob him. But they’ll need help. Enter the moment the trailer stops dead in its tracks. You know you’re poison when a perfectly harmless action comedy (even one where Ben Stiller and Matthew Broderick try to keep straight faces while Alan Alda tries to be unlikable), becomes a laughingstock just by inserting your image into the trailer. Guess who, movie fans. It’s your favorite comedian turned least favorite comedian and he ruins everything here:

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If the fictional character of Walter Mitty were to regale us with his exploits in Hollywood, he might tell us about the time he both starred in and directed a big feature film. Seeing as Walter Mitty is a liar, it would have been a bunch of bullpucky, but for multi-talented Renaissance man Ben Stiller, it’s a reality baby. Stiller is no stranger to the director’s chair. We’ve seen him step behind the camera before for films like the highly underrated The Cable Guy, and the much lauded Tropic Thunder, And now it looks like his next directorial gig will be for a film that we’ve already heard he was looking to star in, Fox’s long in development “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” adaptation.

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What is Movie News After Dark? It’s a nightly entertainment news column that doesn’t usually participate in such overt misogyny. However, in a week that has inundated us with more Michael Bayhem than the world was built to handle, it would like to take out its man card, flop it down on the table like a wet fish and display it to the world. Yes, this is about to get sexual. And no, it will not last long. That’s just how any good late-nite movie news linkdump rolls. It’s a slow news night. Allow me to illustrate right off the bat: Tonight’s lead story is about Brooklyn Decker, model-turned-actress and all-around attractive human being who has been cast in What to Expect When You’re Expecting alongside Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Lopez. Chris Rock will also star. The only thing about this story that I find interesting is the image above, which has less to do with a movie based on a pregnancy self-help book and more to do with reasons why anyone would want to make Brooklyn Decker pregnant in the first place. I think we all still win.

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Way back in 2009 there was supposed to be a movie called Neighborhood Watch starring Will Ferrel and directed by Wedding Crashers’ David Dobkin, but talent clashed with studio to the point that it didn’t ever happen. Fox isn’t a studio to just lie down and die however. I guess somebody in charge must really like the project, because a whole new wave of talent has been tossed at the script. Things didn’t work out with Ferrell and Dobkin creatively, but recently Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have written a new draft of the script. You might have heard of them, they did stuff like Superbad and Pineapple Express. Oh yeah, and Rogen has acted in so many movies over the last five years that you’re probably sick of him. But don’t worry, Rogen isn’t the new guy rumored to star. Now that there’s a spiffy new version of the script written by top talent comedy mega-star Ben Stiller is being courted to star in the film. Oh. His character would be a city boy who ends up moving to the suburbs and joining the neighborhood watch. What might seem like a pretty boring gig proves to be nothing of the sort when he finds himself right in the middle of some sort of extraterrestrial cover-up. Sounds goofy, so it’s probably going to need a goofy guy to direct.

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Submarine is the coming-of-age tale of a cold, calculated, and pretentious teen by the name of Oliver Tate. Oliver, like Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate, could easily come off as a downright off-putting and self-absorbed kid. He starts off as an arrogant and creepy kid dealing with what seems to be the weight of the world on his shoulders. Oliver’s romance that comes out of seeking pure lovemaking turns into something genuine. His parents’ love is dying, and he can’t fix it. Through nearly all of this, Oliver stays near-emotionless and blank. His transformation and revelations are shown through writer-director Richard Ayoade‘s unique visual eye, which also never sugarcoats Oliver’s oddness. Ayoade has crafted a young protagonist that while many will love many others will question his sanity… a rare type of lead these days. Here’s what Richard Ayoade had to say about not writing too much style, the moral ambiguity of the film’s characters and, of course, Oliver Tate.

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The last time I reported on Noah Baumbach’s next project, While We’re Young, it was with the unfortunate news that James Franco and Cate Blanchett had been forced to drop out of the film. At the time I held out hopes that Baumbach might be able to easily replace the actors with Jesse Eisenberg and Greta Gerwig, and it’s looking like at least half of my hopes and dreams are probably going to come true. While We’re Young is about a couple in their forties who are feeling alienated by their normal set of friends because they haven’t had any children, so they befriend a younger couple who kind of teaches them to rekindle their youth. Now that I know more about the plot of the film, having Gerwig replace Blanchett’s character wouldn’t make much sense age wise, but they seem to have found a different, equally awesome choice to fill her role that does work.

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There is a new script for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty floating around Hollywood, and Ben Stiller wants to make it his next film. Or maybe that’s just a heroic daydream. A lot of people have been trying to get an adaptation of the James Thurber short story made in recent years, but mostly it’s just been tossed back and forth through development hell. Most of the biggest stars in Hollywood have had looks at this role, including Mike Myers, Jim Carrey, and Will Ferrell. Huge names in the directing world have also almost made this movie before. Steven Spielberg, Gore Verbinski, and Ron Howard have all given it a look. But this time is different. This time Walter Mitty has two big reasons why it’s more likely to actually get made than it did during all those other go-arounds. Firstly, the reason why nobody has been confident enough to really push this thing through before is reportedly that there were problems with the script. This time the script they’re looking at is completely different from all those other drafts. Steve Conrad, writer of The Weather Man and The Pursuit of Happyness, has reportedly started from scratch and written a treatment of the story that works a whole lot better than anything that’s been out there before. Secondly, while all of those other actors that have been involved with the project are big names, Ben Stiller is maybe the hardest working comedic actor in Hollywood. He produces things, he […]

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This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr dresses up in a big red suit and sneaks into people’s houses. The only difference is that he sneaks into the houses of all the naughty girls. But before he can manage that undertaking, he sets his sights on the last wash of movies hitting the multiplexes this season. He travels with Jack Black to the Bermuda Triangle in Gulliver’s Travels then heads out west to catch a killer with True Grit. Finally, he brings his Christmas movie watching to a close by stabbing himself in the face with Little Fockers. Ho ho ho, the humanity!

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Here we are back again in Focker-dom, that wonderful place of crushing comic awkwardness, painful slapstick and the no less excruciating specter of great actors slumming for paychecks. Surely, the world did not need Little Fockers, this second sequel to the somewhat overrated Meet the Parents, but like an obligatory stocking-stuffer it has arrived – to cash in for Christmas – and must be dealt with.

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Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro are at it again. They are once again at odds in the world of family politics polluted by oft poorly timed puns about the name of a male nurse named Greg. And this time, there are Little Fockers involved in the shenanigans. And Harvey Keitel. It’s hard to say what Keitel is doing in that equation, but it’s beyond me to question this franchise. Twice now this franchise has spewed forth films that don’t exactly look right upon first glance, and twice now it’s delivered the funny. I give up trying to fight it.

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The recent cinema of Wes Anderson and his occasional creative collaborator Noah Baumbach have encountered an interesting play with the ever-blurry line that retains an audience’s empathy for an unlikeable protagonist. This week, the Culture Warrior puts those protagonists in focus.

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published: 12.18.2014
C-
published: 12.17.2014
B+
published: 12.15.2014
B
published: 12.12.2014
D+


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