Monthly Archives: November 2022

Cape Fear (1962)

*. If you want to buy a copy of John D. MacDonald’s The Executioners today I don’t think you can, at least under that title. Since the release of this film it’s always been reprinted as Cape Fear, despite the fact that Cape Fear (the place) is never even mentioned in the book. Gregory Peck named the movie Cape Fear on a whim, because he found The Executioners “a turn-off.” He then figured that movies named after places (his example: Casablanca) usually did well. So he looked in an atlas for a catchy title and picked out Cape Fear. Cape Fear, the movie, didn’t do well, and put an end to Peck’s production company.
*. MacDonald deserves a great deal of the credit for Cape Fear though. A prolific author of popular semi-pulp fiction, in The Executioners he introduced what would become an archetypal plot: the civilized, law-abiding, suburban family that has to descend to some primitive state in order to defend itself from a mortal threat. Think of how many movies you’ve seen since that have taken the premise of “what would you do to protect your family?” and run with it. Wes Craven, to take just one example, found such a primal message irresistible, and made it the foundation for such early films as The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes. Since then, it’s been a horror staple running from home invasion to rape-revenge and beyond.
*. That progeny is worth taking note of, as Cape Fear strikes me as being not so much a crime drama or noir as a horror flick. Max Cady isn’t a noir bad guy but a psycho killer. Look at the way he slithers into the river like an alligator. And the way the suspense builds throughout is pure slasher cinema.
*. Did that all start here? I’m not sure, but MacDonald must have been one of the first to popularize such a story since the book was published in 1957 and it takes as its launchpad an idyll of 1950s American suburbia that Cady, a ghost from the war, has no place in.

*. To please the censors Cady is no longer an ex-soldier. I would have thought that the least of the things that would have bothered them. But apparently they were quite exercised by the film, and made a number of cuts. I’m surprised how much was left in. The way Cady rubs that egg onto Peggy (Polly Bergen) is almost pornographic. And of course, the scene where he stares at the 15-year-old Nancy (Lori Martin, who actually was 15) in her short shorts. “Getting to be almost as juicy as your wife,” he remarks to Sam. How did a line like that stay in? Censors complained that “there was a continuous threat of sexual assault on a child.” Well, yeah.
*. One reason may have been that so much is only implied, and Cady isn’t actually doing anything wrong. Which is, curiously, the same defence Cady uses to stay out of trouble with the law. And so the movie, like Cady himself, proceeds indirectly, with lots of sexual innuendo. Look at how Nancy runs away from that looming crotch in the school. Or that nasty-looking pole with a screw sticking out of it that Cady is wielding at the end.

*. On reading the book Peck immediately recognized that Cady was the stronger part if not the lead. Whoever played Cady would steal the picture from white bread, predictable Sam Bowden. Fun fact: To Kill a Mockingbird came out the same year as this film. And is Sam so different from Atticus Finch?
*. There are some changes to the book that work. The bowling alley scene is new. The houseboat at the end is invented, presumably to tie in with the title that Peck picked out of an atlas. In the book the climax takes place at the Bowden home, with Peggy being used as bait. Nancy is being kept safe somewhere else. Cady’s lust for the jailbait daughter is something played up far more in the movie, and developed even further in Scorsese’s remake.
*. Two other scenes that are added to the movie and not found in the book are worth mentioning. In the book Cady roughs up a prostitute who won’t testify against him, but this character is made into something more complex on screen. Diane says to him at one point: “Max Cady. What I like about you is that you’re rock bottom. It’s a great comfort for a girl to know she could not possibly sink any lower.” This is an odd speech, and comes out of nowhere.

*. The other big change is the addition of the sleazy defence lawyer who represents Cady. There is no corresponding character in the book. His introduction also marks what may be a first. We recognize his type in a number of later movies: the liberal lawyer who enables criminals by manipulating the system and insisting on things like due process and rights. Dirty Harry was always butting heads with these guys. He’s stuck around, even though he disappears entirely from this movie without really serving any necessary purpose. Sam is a good lawyer, and in the end upholds the sanctity of the law. But we know that this degenerate suit is still waiting out there and is someone we have to be on our guard against.
*. Bernard Herrmann’s score comes on strong — too strong, in my opinion, over the opening credits when nothing is happening — and it’s a pity the rest of the production doesn’t live up to it. Scorsese knew what he was doing when he played it up even more and matched it with visual grandiosity. In this movie the biggest drag is J. Lee Thompson’s flat direction. I won’t call it uninspired, because it was quite determinedly inspired by Hitchcock, but it never snaps to life.
*. David Thomson preferred this film to the remake “because it is trash honestly done, whereas the Scorsese version is a tangled mess of violent urges and improving attitudes.” Here I’ll just address the point about trash honestly done. I think this is a nod to MacDonald’s unabashed populism and mythmaking. Peck, unlike Nolte in the remake, really is all that is good about America, while Mitchum is, as Thomson calls him, the Beast: primitive, bestial, elemental. He’s not a complicated man. As Diane says of him: “You’re just an animal: crude, lustful, barbaric.” For whatever reason, it’s a role that Mitchum seems to have enjoyed. He doesn’t often look like he’s enjoying himself on screen, but he is here.
*. Calling it trash is also a nod to the genre. This isn’t just a horror film, but a trashy horror film. A sleazy horror, but also a groundbreaking, seminal film that has left a large footprint. By itself you can see why Scorsese wanted to remake it.
*. It’s a movie that doesn’t entirely live up to that mythic or archetypal conception I’ve been talking about. This isn’t just because it was constrained by censors but because I don’t think Thompson really understood the size of what he was working on. That’s understandable, but Cape Fear is a big little movie, and one that hasn’t stopped growing over the years.

The Winter’s Tale (1910)

*. The Winter’s Tale is usually classified as one of Shakespeare’s late romances or problem plays, a couple of labels that indicate how troublesome it is. I’m not sure how popular it’s been on stage, but the fact that this early version, produced by the short-lived Thanhauser Company, is one of only a couple of films of it that have been made in over a hundred years is another red flag. We’re entering dangerous waters.
*. I’ve never been fond of the play myself. I find it hard to follow, with the only parts that stick in my mind being a brief discussion of the works of art and nature, a moony speech made by Florizel to Perdita, and the two dramatic highlights: Antigonus exiting “pursued by a bear” and the “statue” of Hermione coming to life at the end.
*. Well, obviously we don’t get to hear the discussion of nature’s bastards or Florizel’s speech since this is a silent film. And we don’t get a bear, or even a guy dressed in a bear suit, to chase Antigonus off stage. And finally, we don’t get the big scene of the statue coming to life because apparently that part of the film has been lost.
*. That’s three pretty big strikes against this Winter’s Tale and I’m afraid they pretty much drain if of interest. What we’re left with is mainly just the usual posing in costume.
*. Given how complex a play it is I imagine a twelve (or fifteen, or whatever) minute version must have been baffling. In her helpful commentary, Judith Buchanan addresses this point directly and provides some background: “intelligibility . . . was partly dependent on some foreknowledge of the plot among its audiences, a sort of foreknowledge that actually probably could be depended upon in large swathes of the early twentieth-century American audience” (Thanhouser was an American company).
*. I think it’s fair to assume that those “large swathes” of a sophisticated moviegoing audience have entirely disappeared. I’m certain I don’t know anyone without an English degree who has read The Winter’s Tale. And even if the audience had read it at some point, I still think they’d need some help. So, according to Buchanan, contemporary showings had live narration provided by lecturers, a practice that was “particularly desirable for Shakespeare films”
*. Buchanan is most taken by the clown or fool character who appears in the foreground of some of the court shots. Which is worth noticing because I don’t think there is a clown in the play (just a wandering rogue figure). More curious is Buchanan’s comment that “Thanhouser understandably balked at the bear.” I actually found this not so easy to understand. Sure, however they decided to represent the bear it was going to look silly — this was 1910! — but it’s also one of the play’s signature moments. If I’d been in the audience I would have felt cheated not seeing it. Monsters and trick effects were (and remain) a big part of the moviegoing experience. This is a Winter’s Tale without the magic, which is a diminished thing.

Bullet Train (2022)

*. David Thomson is a big fan of John Wayne’s walk, saying “He moved the way singers sing, with huge confidence and daring.” It was a signature as much as his voice, and as he walks away at the end of The Searchers that’s how it’s supposed to register.
*. In our own time singer sing and dancers dance to a different beat, but you can still recognize a great walk. Brad Pitt has one. I remember first noticing this in the Ocean’s movies. When he saunters into frame here to the tune of a Japanese cover of “Stayin’ Alive” we understand the point being made, especially if we’re familiar with the English lyrics and think of John Travolta strutting down the street at the start of Saturday Night Fever. Well you can tell by the way I use my walk I’m a woman’s man, no time to talk . . .
*. I’m sure Pitt, and director David Leitch, understand all this. Pitt’s walk is an integral part of any of his performances. I don’t know if it has daring, but it has huge confidence and style. And this is a movie that trades in style. Note how impressed Channing Tatum is when he sees the stylish killer Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) stalk down the aisle of the train. What strikes him the most? Tangerine’s walk.

*. Bullet Train is also very much a movie of its moment. Leitch had previously helmed Deadpool 2, which had lots of the same sort of wisecracking superhero nonsense. And there’s more to the connection between the two movies than just the appearance of Ryan Reynolds in a cameo here playing Brad Pitt’s younger replacement. This is the kind of role Reynolds has taken over, in such films as The Hitman’s Bodyguard and Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard¬†and Pitt is just a more rumpled version of the same character, with grey in his beard, a Gilligan hat, and some issues he’s trying to work through with therapy.
*. Actors like Pitt and Reynolds are so charming and cool that it’s a kind of superpower. You can’t take anything they do seriously and every action scene is a kind of comic set-piece. There’s a cultural evolution noticeable in all this in how we imagine cool. Pitt and Reynolds aren’t badasses. As violent as these movies are, they don’t even project any toughness. Their whole attitude toward shooting people and beating them up is ironic. It’s all a joke, signed off with a smile and a quip. They’re Bruce Willis’s John McClane, but better looking and more graceful.

*. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, and Bullet Train is a lot of fun. Watching it, I was reminded of Leslie Halliwell’s observation, some fifty years ago, of how movies had become amusement park train rides. Halliwell was disapproving (naturally), but a rollercoaster is exactly what this is. What’s more, seeing as this is 2022 it doesn’t mind letting you know. The hitman Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) is a fan of the children’s television show Thomas the Tank Engine, which he defends by comparing it to contemporary movies: “Hey, you watch something nowadays, what is it, huh? Nothing. Its twists, violence, drama, no message. What’s the point? Huh?” You see? Everyone’s in on the joke.

*. All the usual elements are arranged well. The fast talking. The scrambled, Easter egg narrative that uses the flashiest of flashbacks to show how everything is connected. The retro-with-a-postmodern-twist soundtrack. That’s Engelbert Humperdinck, by the way, singing a revamped version of “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.” The week I saw this movie an acquaintance had been to see Humperdinck in Toronto. I was stunned when I heard she was going, since I had seen Humperdinck in Toronto in the mid ’70s. Anyway, he’s 86 years old and still played a two-hour set. Wow.
*. Bullet Train is silly, goofy, expensive fun (Pitt was reportedly paid $20 million, nearly a quarter of the total budget). It’s twists, drama, violence . . . and despite all the blood and explosions it’s utterly harmless, especially since you know the good guys are all (or mostly all) going to be OK and the bad guys are going to be smashed or blown to pieces.
*. There’s a scene here where Tangerine faces down a train station full of gangsters by saying they look like they’re trying out for an ’80s dance-off. It’s a funny line, but the thing is this whole movie is a 2020’s dance-off. One expects a sequel given its success, and maybe Reynolds and Pitt will get to bust some moves together. Or just go for a walk.

Last Night in Soho (2021)

*. Sometimes you just feel like throwing your hands up.
*. I’ve said before that I think Edgar Wright is an overrated director. Not bad, just overrated. I still think his best movie is Shaun of the Dead. With Last Night in Soho, which he came up with the story for, he is on form. Meaning it’s a great-looking movie, slickly (and expensively) put forward with some astounding technical virtuosity, but without a brain in its head or, for that matter, a whole lot of style.
*. Here’s the plot, which is where I throw my hands up. Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie) is a young woman from somewhere in ye olde rural England who goes to London to study fashion design. She is haunted by visions of her dead mother, who apparently had mental health issues. This makes us think Ellie may be schizophrenic, especially when she doesn’t fit in with the fast crowd of mean girls at school and starts having these very real-feeling fantasies where she’s a glamorous girl called Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) clubbing in ’60s Soho. But Sandy is being hunted by a killer, or maybe she is a killer, and the same goes for Ellie. Or maybe she’s just going crazy.
*. There’s no spoiler for saying that Ellie isn’t crazy (though she does imagine things), because the fact that she isn’t crazy just makes the rest of the story even crazier. It literally makes no sense at all so I won’t bother trying to sort it out. But it’s too bad because I had the sense that Wright was going for something with a giallo vibe and the thing about most gialli is that even the most far-fetched of them still have an inherent logic, however twisted. Last Night in Soho doesn’t.

*. The plot also takes a backseat to Wright’s other obsessions. Like the idea of a character whose life has a soundtrack that gradually seems to take over that life. That was Baby Driver, but it’s even more pronounced here. Ellie, like Wright, has a fixation on the 1960s that, like Wright, she picked up from her mom. Wright was born in 1974 so it’s not like he has any other personal connection to the period. But he has a theory that “you’re always obsessed with the decade you just missed.” I wonder if that explains Cruella, a movie that came out the same year, also set in the fashion world of London in the ’60s. Or maybe it’s just coincidence.
*. McKenzie and Taylor-Joy both play well. Matt Smith (a wildly popular actor in the U.K., or so I’m told) plays a sinister weirdo only half as well as Terence Stamp (the “Silver Haired Gentleman), who by this point has the role down pat. Diana Rigg, in her last film appearance, at least goes out on an operatic note.
*. It’s not a movie I enjoyed for a moment, though I was impressed by the care taken to recreate London and all the fancy shots playing with Ellie/Sandie appearing in mirrors. But it’s a failed giallo and a third-rate ghost story, with characters I don’t think are worth sorting out. Are we supposed to see Sandie as a victim of the patriarchy turned angel of vengeance? I would try and draw something out of this if I cared either way, but I don’t.
*. Ellie’s grandmother is a seamstress and she pronounces it seem-stress. I always thought the British said sem-stress, at least in the ’60s. I can remember being corrected for saying seem-stress in Canada in the ’80s.
*. There’s a contradiction I sense between the lurid slasher plot and the lavish production values. A movie this trashy shouldn’t be dressed up for a gala. Apparently Wright was influenced by psycho-art house thrillers like Repulsion and Don’t Look Now, but they were intellectual buffets compared to this confection. Such movies are inaccessible in spirit to filmmakers now, even with a supernatural, schizo time machine and all the money in the world.

The Golem: How He Came into the World (1920)

*. For all its importance, I find there actually isn’t that much discussion of The Golem these days. When you do hear it mentioned it’s usually seen as a precursor to Frankenstein or as an example of early German horror. I think both approaches are a bit misleading.
*. There had actually been a production of Frankentstein in 1910 that still survives. Mary Shelley’s novel is often considered one of the first works of science fiction, with the corpse being reanimated by an electrical charge, but in that 1910 film science is tossed out the window for magical effects. The Monster rises out of a sorcerer’s cauldron that a bunch of chemicals have been thrown into.
*. In The Golem magic is again made to do all the work. Rabbi Loew’s creature is also not a corpse but a clay model, though his book on Necromancy does state that the “life-giving word will awaken any and every thing, whether corpse or man’s creation.” So this is not really a Frankenstein story in that regard. The fantastic lab in the 1931 Frankenstein was something new on film.
*. I think it’s also a stretch to think of The Golem as a horror film. I don’t say that because it’s not a scary movie. I think we can agree that most scary movies from a hundred years ago aren’t very scary today. But I don’t think The Golem even tries to be a scary movie. The Golem isn’t a monster to be revealed like in those shocking jump cuts in Frankenstein. Within the film he’s not a source of fear but a figure to be marveled at, with the children of the ghetto following him around like he’s the friendly giant. The only time he seems scary is when he hunts down the foppish lover, who he is perhaps jealous of (they both like smelling flowers). But even in these scenes he looks to me like the Stay Puft marshmallow man at the end of Ghostbusters.

*. The Ghostbusters reference probably isn’t fair, though I can’t not see it. I also think the people behind Iron Man must have been thinking of this movie when they gave Tony Stark a power source in his chest not unlike the amulet here. And that’s what the Golem really is more than a horror icon: a superhero out of a folk tale (the comic books of yesteryear). His reverse-Samson being the most obvious Superman moment.
*. Is the Golem still a Jewish superhero? It seems more to have been a fixation of Paul Wegener’s, and this was in fact his third Golem film (his appearance being much the same in each). As far as its representation of the ghetto though it strikes me as problematic. I’m not sure what we’re to make of the way that the knight Florian is disposed of. Sure he’s a fool, but is he a bad guy? And is Loew’s assistant, who Miriam is apparently reunited with at the end, any better? What is he asking forgiveness for? What he did to Florian, or for burning a big chunk of the ghetto down? It seems as though there’s some kind of fear of miscegenation driving all this.

*. This point is left up in the air, but I feel that it’s important, as the relationship between the Jews and the other townspeople is a major theme in the film. I don’t know how, or if, it’s resolved.

*. For the most part this seems to me to be a film of mainly historical interest. Cinematographer Karl Freund would go on to shoot Dracula and directed The Mummy and Mad Love, allowing him to play a big role in defining the visual atmosphere of American horror in the 1930s. That said, The Golem doesn’t strike me as a particularly rich film visually. It looks good, but it’s not striking in the way that Caligari or Nosferatu still are, and its eponymous hero never achieved the same iconic status as the vampire or mad doctor. Meanwhile, the story doesn’t hold my interest as much as those films either.
*. Classic American horror films were B pictures, and sometimes not even very good B pictures, that for one reason or another struck a nerve and kept on growing. Despite its production values, The Golem feels like a B picture that still is.

Kiss Me Kate (1953)

*. Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is unique in having an opening Induction that presents the main story as a play-within-a-play. This was something a little more developed than just a chorus or prologue, like you get in Henry V, but Olivier’s Henry V may have provided some inspiration for this production, taking us behind-the-scenes at first and only gradually opening up into the play proper as we leave the theatre behind.
*. There’s nothing like the play’s Induction in this film version of the Cole Porter musical of the same name, but what we have operates in a similar way, beginning with a backstage story about a pair of divorced and now dueling stars — Fred Graham (Howard Keel) and Lilli Vanessi (Kathryn Grayson) — getting ready to put on a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. “Cole Porter” even shows up as a character. It’s all very meta.
*. The rest of it does what a film musical has to do. The songs are first-rate, with “I’ve Come To Wive It Wealthily In Padua,” “Where Is The Life That Late I Led?” and “Always True To You In My Fashion” standing out for me. The last mentioned also gets away with what I thought were some pretty bawdy lyrics. The “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” number performed by a pair of gangsters (Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore) felt flat to me. Neither Wynn nor Whitmore were dancers and by their own admission they didn’t even bother practicing. Which is fine if they were just going for rough charm, but even that takes effort.
*. Keel looks raffish with his Don Juan stage beard. The ladies are musical ladies of the 1950s, and not very memorable. The dancing is terrific. The actual musical-within-the-musical is great, but the back story with the gangsters and Fred and Lilli getting back together flagged for me. Of course it’s frantic and silly, and gets resolved in the end only with a bunch of improbabilities thrown at the screen like the items used to show off the (lame) 3-D effects, but it only underlines how idiotic the whole thing is as anything other than an excuse for the big numbers.
*. Few film genres date as quickly as musicals. Tastes in music change with the seasons, and the whole idea of casts breaking into song and dance every five minutes is a tough sell, as witness the celebrated recent box office bombings of Cats and West Side Story, both of which were established properties. I think if you’re going to enjoy these movies you have to go back to the source and take them for what they were. And if you’re still singing the songs a week later, that’s a win.

This Is Not a Movie (2019)

*. The title has nothing to do with Magritte. Instead, this is a documentary on the journalistic career and ethos of reporter Robert Fisk, and the title comes from something Fisk says at the end about how real life, which is what he hopes to capture in his writing, isn’t like a movie.
*. Fisk died in 2020. I thought he did a great job covering the Middle East, and his book The Great War for Civilisation is a landmark work on the history of recent conflicts in the region. This film isn’t about the Middle East though, but instead lets Fisk tell his own story, laying out his philosophy on the role of a reporter today.
*. That philosophy involves leaving “a direct and emotional record” as a witness, so that ages hence no one will be able to say they didn’t know or weren’t told about some specific crime or outrage. Journalism is, in other words, a calling, which it pretty much has to be for someone so willing to put himself directly in harm’s way as both a columnist and a street reporter. And if having a calling can make you sound at times a little full of yourself, that also comes with the territory.
*. I didn’t mind this, because I think journalists need a sense of idealism. It serves as an anchor, and antidote not just to the lack of rigour exercised in a lot of Internet reporting but to the nihilism that infects so much of our post-truth dispensation. People often mistake outraged idealists as cynics, but the true cynics are the ones who make such charges because they’re afraid of the idealists, seeing them as whistleblowers.
*. It’s not just the nihilistic spirit of the age Fisk opposes but the digital form it takes. Fisk is presented as the last of a breed, writing with pen into his notepad and with a study at home that’s lined with bales of newspaper cuttings and other physical records. As with other aspects of his belief system, this can come across as a little much. But he does have a point. Where will we find the truth when everything is in the cloud, where it’s far easier to manipulate or be made to disappear entirely?
*. In one conversation with a younger journalist I thought Fisk even came out a bit worse for wear in an argument over the value of digital journalism. Fisk doesn’t condemn the Internet, but he has his doubts, while insisting on the value of his own old-school methods. “If you don’t go to the scene and sniff it and talk to the people and see with your own eyes you cannot get near what the truth is. I more and more feel, especially in the age of the Internet, when so little is proved and so little checked out, that there’s more and more reason to do the old kind of journalism.”
*. But against a deeper form of nihilism, moral rather than epistemological, there is no defense. “It doesn’t matter how much we blame the bad guys, I don’t think it has a lot of effect. It would be nice to believe that the Foreign Correspondent movie was the real thing, he manages to get the bad guys, the German spies, everything works out fine. But the truth is that this is not a movie, and it’s very arrogant of any journalist to think they can change the world or alter the course of a war. You do like to think that sometimes you can switch on the lighthouse and the beam touches something and something that otherwise would happen will not happen. When you try to tell the truth maybe occasionally the torture stops and the condemned’s cell opens. and maybe we helped. Mostly, I fear, what we write doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference. Like constantly having to tell the story of the Palestinians. You will never win over the world to your version of events, however accurate, however truthfully told, however angrily written. You’ll never win. But you will lose unless you keep on fighting.”
*. This seems a “heads you lose, tails they win” sort of thing. Still, like Camus’ Sisyphus we have to believe Fisk was happy fighting his battles. If he suffered from illusions, at least they were of the productive kind.

Zoolander (2001)

*. While I can appreciate that they do have talent, work hard at their craft, and are “really, really ridiculously good looking,” let’s face it: male models are kind of funny. Give “male model” a bit of a push and you don’t even need any jokes. Just have Derek Zoolander doing one of his trademark pouts (Blue Steel, Ferrari, or Le Tigre) at the camera and otherwise have him being dense. That’s all the joke you need. That’s the movie.
*. There is more to Zoolander. Lots more. But even though this movie is only 87 minutes and has an overload of plot (which might have been influenced by Bret Easton Ellis’s Glamorama, a novel I actually liked at the time) involving Derek being brainwashed by a cabal of evil fashion designers into killing the Malaysian prime minister, it’s all just running hysterically in place. Ben Stiller plays Zoolander, and he also co-wrote and directed, but despite the fact that he’s a very funny guy he’s upstaged here throughout by Owen Wilson as his fashion rival/bosom buddy Hansel and Will Ferrell as the mad designer Mugatu. Throw in more, way more, cameos than you can shake a press card at, and Ben/Derek actually disappears a bit from his own movie.
*. Which I think a good thing, on balance, since there’s no there there. That’s on purpose, of course, but it makes it hard to get that interested in whatever Derek’s up to. I’d also add that I found his voice to be really annoying. That might have been deliberate too, in the way that you wish models wouldn’t talk because whenever they do it’s like what legendary porn critic Al Goldstein called spiritual bad breath.

*. Twenty years later, I don’t think the funny stuff holds up that well. Which, given the talent assembled, is disappointing. It’s sketch comedy where only a few of the sketches work. The brainwashing stuff, which I guess was riffing on The Parallax View, was the best. Otherwise, there’s not much going on. Christine Taylor as the straight girl is reduced to just being a cutaway for far too many reaction shots. David Duchovny’s hand model wasn’t interesting. And to be honest, the clips included with the DVD from the VH1 Fashion Awards were just as funny as anything in the movie itself.
*. That final point leads into another thought I had watching the DVD. I was amazed while listening to the commentary track to find out how much of the material here was worked and reworked for years. They had all sorts of ideas, like a climax on Mount Rushmore and stuff about Derek’s father (Jon Voight) having been a model himself, that didn’t make it in. Given all they left out, you’d think that what was included would only be the best stuff, but with comedy I find that’s not always the case.
*. What’s left today are the memes. “Obey my dog!” “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!” The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too. Not much, but enough for some good box office and the catchiness of the name alone pretty much guaranteed a sequel.