Friday, April 18, 2014



I'm not sure how much more of this Celebrity Survivor filming I can take. It's nice to have a few all expense paid weeks in the tropics but I really didn't count on sharing my sleeping quarters with the millipedes or the cockroaches the size of Madagascar. Ginger Grant, who has been so handy as hut mate, did concoct some sort of bug bomb out of dried sea salt, fish oil and powdered freesia blossoms but all she managed to do was burn the back wall off our little palm frond domicile. It wasn't a complete loss; Eve Harrington threw all the left over albacore strips into the hut and we had some nice smoked fish for breakfast.

The latest wrinkle from the producers is some sort of variation on musical chairs. Occasionally we all gather in a lovely little glade amongst the palms and vote off the weakest link. There's a little ceremony as that person's tiki torch is snuffed out with a bottle of Cristal and they get to return to civilization on the next chopper flight out. I have survived so far. The first victim was Linda Granger, star of VIP Lounge; she apparently found fermented guavas just a little too much to her liking and was completely blotto by nightfall. I don't think she'd even woken up by the time they carried her off to the waiting transport. She left behind a very fashionable tapa cloth sarong which I immediately expropriated as my kimono was becoming a bit soiled. It's lovely with the puka shell jewelry I've been fashioning in my spare time.

As I am looking positively radiant in my new outfit, I thought I would celebrate with a film dedicated to the world of high fashion. A world with which I am, of course, intimately familiar. Poking through my collection of desert island DVDs, I came across Ben Stiller's opus from 2001, Zoolander, in which he plays a famous male model who becomes involved in hijinks behind the scenes at New York's fashion week - A hallowed annual tradition sort of like fleet week, only everyone wears different outfits rather than navy whites. I had not seen this film in its original theatrical run, so I decided to catch up with it as I sat basking in the rays of too much tropical sun.

Ben Stiller, the writer/director/producer/star of the film, plays the title character, Derek Zoolander, a top male model known for his trademark 'Blue Steel' look. After a few years on top, his career is on the wane, the spotlight shifting to the newcomer Hansel (Owen Wilson). Zoolander soon demonstrates that he has the brains of a tsetse fly in a number of clumsily set up jokes and we learn that international fashion is actually a notorious criminal cartel dominated by comic character actors such as Nora Dunn and Jennifer Coolidge. A new prime minister in Malaysia is reforming child labor laws costing the fashionistas millions and they decide to take the prime minister out in an assassination, staged during fashion week at the show of sensational designer Mugatu (Will Ferrell).

After an idiotic accident takes the lives of Zoolander's pals, he goes into a tailspin convincing the cartel that he would be the perfect assassin (apparently, according to a mysterious informant (David Duchovny), all the major assassins of the 20th century have been male models). A reporter for Time (Christine Taylor) stumbles across the plot and she, Zoolander, and Hansel team up to try and prevent the prime minister from being killed. Will Zoolander be a hero? Will the plot be foiled? Will the villains get their comeuppance? Will Zoolander be able to turn left off the runway without falling down? All of these questions should have obvious answers.

The film is supposed, I believe, to be a comedy, and it is full of gratuitously silly moments and details. Unfortunately, it's so busy preening and winking and trying to say 'look how clever we are' that it really isn't funny. Good comedy comes from character and situation. There are no characters in the film, simply caricatures and, unfortunately, the actors aren't talented enough to bring caricatures to life. The biggest offender is Will Ferrell - his villain, with his ridiculous Beethoven reverse Mohawk and yards of trailing satin and damask, should be an over the top comic delight. Unfortunately, Ferrell underplays badly and seems absolutely lost at even the most basic of line readings. The result is the movie dies every time he comes on screen. One wonders what might have happened if a good actor, say Alan Rickman who knows how to play a camp villain, had been in the part.

Once one gets past the initial conceit of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson as famous models, they aren't bad. (Stiller's pudginess is poorly disguised with bad make up trying to create zygomatic arches and Owen's pugilistic nose is risible in context). The problem is the length of time we have to spend with them. The character of Zoolander was originally created for a sketch on an award show and, at a few minutes, was a riot. Stretched out to feature length, he quickly wears out his welcome. Once you get past the initial set up, there's nowhere for Stiller to go. Wilson's Hansel is his trademark laconic guy - he does it well and it works, but it's not much of a foil for Stiller to play off of.

In some ways, the film comes off as Stiller and buddies horsing around with a camera and a studio. Dad Jerry plays his manager. Mom Anne Meara has a brief cameo. Wife Christine Taylor is the romantic lead (and is a pretty generic blonde ingénue). Famous faces come and go acting like it's old home week. The film is stuffed with cameos, mainly celebrities playing themselves and it's sort of amusing playing spot the famous face; a few, such as Winona Ryder and Billy Zane, go so far as to spoof themselves somewhat affectionately with their on camera moments.

For me, the only part of the film that consistently worked was the take on the look of the world of high fashion. The faux billboards, commercials, and runway shows are pretty spot on parodies and probably the only reason for sitting through the film. The climactic showdown, at the unveiling of Mugatu's Derelicte collection, highlights all of the excesses of the fashion world and gets in some pretty nasty jabs at heroin chic and other trends with some clever costumes and visual designs. For a good comedy about the world of high fashion, skip this and look for Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, and Kay Thompson in Stanley Donen's Funny Face instead.

Gasoline fight. Gratuitous coal miner jokes. Sucked in cheeks. Gratuitous The Manchurian Candidate sequence. Smashed architectural model. Smashed Apple computer. Smashed homemade hyperbaric chamber. Gratuitous 80s soundtrack featuring Wham and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Finnish midget sex.

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