Tag Archives: Ben Stiller

Fresh Horses (1988, David Anspaugh)

The surprise tragedy of Fresh Horses is Molly Ringwald could’ve been good in it. Even though she’s top-billed, she doesn’t get a scene without Andrew McCarthy until almost halfway through the movie—she’s the white trash object of his working-to-middle class sexual lust—but she’s not good in that scene. Actually, it’s her only scene without McCarthy in the movie, I think. Wow. Anyway. She has this scene where she shocks the three girls McCarthy and best friend Ben Stiller have brought to she and McCarthy’s love nest (a shack alongside the railroad) to party and, if Stiller has his way, orgy. It’s not a great monologue by any stretch but it does show agency, which Ringwald’s without the rest of the film even when it pretends she’s got some.

But that scene… it’s where Fresh Horses, for the first time since the first act, has some potential to go somewhere good. The film’s so far past the point of no return but for a moment, it seems like it might. Maybe because of the awesome rainy sequence at these stairs (the Serpentine Wall in Cincinnati), when it seems like McCarthy and Stiller are going to go for some wholesome bonding as they take McCarthy’s dad’s boat out on the river, which is actually the opening titles.

They don’t. They go to try to get laid, which ends up being the most passively offensive sequence in the film (as opposed to the actively offensive ones like when McCarthy accuses Ringwald of making up sexual assault or, you know, hits her… Fresh Horses is truly fucked up). McCarthy and Stiller on the prowl isn’t just why the sequence—they crash rich girl Molly Hagan’s house, where she’s having a pool party with Welker White and Rachel Jones—is so offensive, but because it turns out the three girls are just waiting for the guys to validate their existence with the gift of McCarthy and Stiller sticks. There’s an actual line of dialogue—from a female character—about how men don’t realize how lucky women feel to get laid.

Now, in a better world, I wouldn’t have given Fresh Horses enough time to get to that point in the film. Director Anspaugh can shoot a mean Serpentine Wall in the rain but it’s not like his direction is good. His instincts are terrible, especially with the actors—like, no one thought we should actually hear McCarthy break up with rich girl fiancée Chiara Peacock or maybe have the scene after McCarthy gets beat up for not pimping out Ringwald where they see each other. The subsequent scene to the sad fade out on beaten McCarthy is Ringwald asking surrogate mom Patti D'Arbanville if she’d ever been the object of working-to-middle class sexual lust and D’Arbanville–Fresh Horses doesn’t just reject Bechdel, it rejects the idea of it—D’Arbanville wistfully tells Ringwald she’d trade one McCarthy for all her experience, which doesn’t so much sound romantic as make all of D’Arbanville’s encounters sound like rape.

But writer Larry Kenton (who adapted his apparently just as fucked up play) doesn’t… have a concept of consent. The film’s a relic of toxic masculinity among the beta males, as Stiller (who’s got a serious girlfriend, Marita Geraghty, but spends most of the movie on the prowl) explains it to McCarthy—it’s hard to make male friends so you have to make sure not to lose the ones you’ve got, even if it means making sure they don’t get to be with the girls they want to be with. See, Stiller’s buds with college scuz bucket Doug Hutchison who gossips about Ringwald actually being sixteen and married, which leads to the first time McCarthy lays hands on Ringwald. Not the hitting scene. That one comes later, after he smuggles her into his house—the film doesn’t establish he lives with his parents until that point, in fact, given Peacock being so ostentatiously wealthy, it seems more like McCarthy’s similarly classed—and she makes too much noise.

Fresh Horses makes you wonder if the men who made it regretted it after they had daughters.

Actually, the first big tell of problems isn’t the strange opening credits where you can never follow the vapid rich folk conversations because no one could be bothered to really write them, it’s when McCarthy’s leaving his class (he’s an engineering student in college who also knows his rules of grammar because he’s going to correct high school dropout Ringwald on occasion, including when she’s telling him about being assaulted)… McCarthy pointlessly says, “Hi, Mr. Berg,” to this guy in the background. The producer. The producer put a cameo in the movie where the movie star lead has to identify him by name and show some deference. So I did learn one thing from Fresh Horses. Avoid movies where stars have to suck up to the producers onscreen.

Is there anything good about Fresh Horses? Is Viggo Mortensen good as Ringwald’s definitely abusive maybe husband? Umm. He’s not as bad as some people. You feel bad for D'Arbanville; her character runs a rural Tennessee party house where rough men play poker and pool and D’Arbanville serves them liquor and perv on her fifteen year-old daughter. Fresh Horses is basically a White guy’s shitty short story with a romance subplot grafted on. I know because it’s the kind of shitty short story I would’ve written because I grew up on crap like Fresh Horses.

Oh. What are Fresh Horses? They’re women. Once you tire out one horse, you get another. But they also get tired out by other riders so you don’t want those ones either.

Fresh Horses is terrible. You shouldn’t watch it. I shouldn’t have watched it. I feel bad I made my cat sit through it. I’m sorry, Fozzy. I’m very sorry.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Anspaugh; screenplay by Larry Ketron, based on his play; director of photography, Fred Murphy; edited by David Rosenbloom; music by David Foster and Patrick Williams; production designer, Paul Sylbert; costume designer, Colleen Atwood; produced by Richard Berg; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Andrew McCarthy (Matt), Molly Ringwald (Jewel), Ben Stiller (Tipton), Chiara Peacock (Alice), Marita Geraghty (Maureen), Doug Hutchison (Sproles), Molly Hagan (Ellen), Rachel Jones (Bobo), Welker White (Christy), Viggo Mortensen (Green), and Patti D’Arbanville (Jean).


The Watch (2012, Akiva Schaffer)

The Watch deals in caricature and stereotype. Ben Stiller’s the anal-retentive, Vince Vaughn (can anyone even remember when he tried acting) is the aging bro, Jonah Hill’s the kid in his early twenties who lives with his mom (and hordes guns, which dates the film) and Richard Ayoade’s the deadpan, socially awkward British guy. If anything, hopefully The Watch at least got one person to see Ayoade’s good work.

Oh, and Rosemarie DeWitt’s the sturdy, but doesn’t have enough to do wife (to Stiller). Actually, more than anyone else in the cast, Will Forte has the most to do as the dumb local cop. He at least gets to emote. Vaughn should get to emote because he has a whole (lame) subplot with daughter Erin Moriarty (who, like DeWitt, Forte and Ayoade, acts instead of apes), but it’s Vaughn and he doesn’t. Obnoxious charm is supposed to carry him, just like awkward charm is supposed to carry Hill and persnickety charm is supposed to carry Stiller.

Watching The Watch, I couldn’t help but think of it as ephemera. None of the jokes are smart enough on their own– Jared Stern’s script, with a credited revision from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, has no aspirations. Not even to be appreciated multiple times. The Watch is designed to amuse once and never too much. Thanks to Akiva Shaffer’s mediocre direction, comes off like an unambitious episode of “Home Improvement.” One with a lot of product placement.

But, thanks to the cast, it’s amusing enough. They’re good at their schticks and the movie does move rather well. It’s a little too forced with its attempts at edgy humor, but the whole thing is too forced. Shaffer’s doing an alien invasion movie without, apparently, any knowledge of any alien invasion film ever made.

Really bland photography from Barry Peterson doesn’t help anything and Christophe Beck’s music (which starts all right) doesn’t either.

In trying too hard to be dumb, The Watch occasionally succeeds. Though the pointlessness of Billy Crudup’s (uncredited) supporting role sort of sums up the entire misdirection of the film.

Everyone should watch “The IT Crowd” instead.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Akiva Schaffer; written by Jared Stern, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg; director of photography, Barry Peterson; edited by Dean Zimmerman; music by Christophe Beck; production designer, Doug J. Meerdink; produced by Shawn Levy; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ben Stiller (Evan), Vince Vaughn (Bob), Jonah Hill (Franklin), Richard Ayoade (Jamarcus), Rosemarie DeWitt (Abby), Erin Moriarty (Chelsea), Will Forte (Sgt. Bressman), R. Lee Ermey (Manfred) and Billy Crudup (Paul).


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Meet the Parents (2000, Jay Roach)

Meet the Parents requires an extraordinary suspension of disbelief. It’s an absurdist comedy, but the presence of Robert De Niro and–maybe even more so–Blythe Danner imply Parents is based in some kind of reality.

So the simplest thing–believing Teri Polo could be a well-adjusted adult after growing up with De Niro as a father–becomes Parents’s first hurdle. She and Ben Stiller have only the mildest chemistry and it only goes downhill as the film gets more absurd (and more funny).

Director Roach isn’t capable enough to make that romance, which should be the primary focus of Parents narratively, work, so he concentrates on De Niro and Stiller being funny together. It works. Stiller and De Niro are very funny together. While Stiller actually gives a good performance, De Niro’s is problematic. His best moments are either with Danner or Stiller. When De Niro has to play off Owen Wilson, it feels wrong, like De Niro’s doing a “Saturday Night Live” sketch mocking the film.

Roach’s inabilities carry over into the technical aspects as well. He can’t decide how realistic he wants Parents to play–the film opens with a series of home video shots and there’s some Steadicam later on, but it’s mostly static. It doesn’t necessarily need to choose, but it’s clear Roach is simply incapable of making the decision.

Towards the end, Parents gets very long. It can’t handle with the return to sensibly behaving characters. The acting helps get it through.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jay Roach; screenplay by Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg, based on a story by Greg Glienna and Mary Ruth Clarke; director of photography, Peter James; edited by Greg Hayden and Jon Poll; music by Randy Newman; production designer, Rusty Smith; produced by Robert De Niro, Roach, Jane Rosenthal and Nancy Tenenbaum; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Robert De Niro (Jack Byrnes), Ben Stiller (Greg Focker), Teri Polo (Pam Byrnes), Blythe Danner (Dina Byrnes), James Rebhorn (Dr. Larry Banks), Jon Abrahams (Denny Byrnes), Phyllis George (Linda Banks), Kali Rocha (Atlantic American Flight Attendant), Thomas McCarthy (Dr. Bob Banks), Nicole DeHuff (Deborah Byrnes) and Owen Wilson (Kevin Rawley).


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Blades of Glory (2007, Will Speck and Josh Gordon)

A couple things are immediately interesting about Blades of Glory. First is Will Ferrell. While Ferrell’s top-billed, it’s really Jon Heder’s movie. It isn’t a question of likability–Ferrell, being funnier, is more likable–but of the script’s focus. It’s Heder’s story, with Ferrell along to make things a little more interesting.

But Blades isn’t a serious attempt at a narrative. The film occasionally attempts to talk about deadlines (for figure skating competitions), but the timeline accelerates to fit the pace. Blades is only ninety minutes and it probably could have shaved some of the love story between Heder and Jenna Fischer. None of the primary cast exactly gives a performance, just embodies a persona, and Fischer doesn’t have one. She’s boring, if mildly appealing.

It’s also a problem since Heder’s better opposite Ferrell than anyone else in the picture. When he’s on his own, Blades flounders a little.

There’s no reality–internal or otherwise–to Blades. But directors Gordon and Speck are careful to curb the absurdism with real figure skaters cameoing. At the beginning, with William Fichtner and William Daniels both showing up, it seems like they’re going to use character actors to amplify Blades‘s absurdism. But both actors disappear, Fichtner way too soon, and Craig T. Nelson–coaching Ferrell and Heder’s male figure skating pair–is sillier than he needs to be.

There are a lot of good jokes and some great ones. It’s a lot of fun, but Ferrell’s easily the best part of it.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon; screenplay by Jeff Cox, Craig Cox, John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, based on a story by Craig Cox, Jeff Cox and Busy Philipps; director of photography, Stefan Czapsky; edited by Richard Pearson; music by Theodore Shapiro; production designer, Stephen J. Lineweaver; produced by Stuart Cornfield, John Jacobs and Ben Stiller; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Will Ferrell (Chazz Michael Michaels), Jon Heder (Jimmy MacElroy), Will Arnett (Stranz Van Waldenberg), Amy Poehler (Fairchild Van Waldenberg), Jenna Fischer (Katie Van Waldenberg), William Fichtner (Darren MacElroy), Craig T. Nelson (Coach), Romany Malco (Jesse), Nick Swardson (Hector), Rob Corddry (Bryce) and William Daniels (Commissioner Ebbers).


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