Tag Archives: Ben Stiller

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009)

As long as there is an audience, they will keep making Night at the Museum movies. Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, and Owen Wilson all return for the sequel to 2006’s blockbuster family film, with Amy Adams, Hank Azaria, and Bill Hader joining the all-star cast.

Night at the Museum 2 picks up two years after the end of the first film, and we now find our hero Larry (Stiller) as a successful inventor (I think his invention – a glow in the dark flashlight – is some kind of running gag from the first movie, but it’s all a little bit fuzzy to me). He’s left his job as a night-time security guard at New York’s Museum of Natural Science, but catches wind that the museum is re-vamping its exhibits in favour of new high-tech holograms. Larry goes to Washington, D.C. to rescue the old displays of historical figures (which all come alive at night) from the clutches of an evil Egyptian pharaoh, Kahmunrah (Azaria).

If you’ve seen Night at the Museum, you’ll know exactly what to expect from the sequel – a bumbling Ben Stiller caught in the mayhem of warring historical figures. I liked the first film more than I expected to, and while it doesn’t break any new ground, Battle of the Smithsonian is harmless enough. That being said, director Shawn Levy (known for such gems as The Pink Panther and Just Married) could have pushed things much further, rather than just lazily rehashing the first film.

Children are likely to love the mania and humour of this film, and for the rest of us, there are still a few things to like. At one point, Larry fakes his way into the underground storage area of the Smithsonian museum by posing as a security guard, and he runs into a real guard, “Brundon”, played by Jonah Hill. The two have a lengthy exchange, and while the deadpan humour may be lost on some of the younger viewers, it’s actually pretty funny. At another point, as Larry and Amelia Earhart race through the museum, they jump into one of the art gallery’s moving paintings. They find themselves briefly trapped in a war-era black and white painting, followed by their attackers. That segment of the film, though short, is really well done, and it’s so much more original and interesting than anything else in the entire film. It’s one of the moments that saved the film for me.

Another one of Battle of the Smithsonian‘s saving graces is the always delightful Amy Adams, as spunky Amelia Earhart. Her screwball performance feels like a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale franchise. Bill Hader, another new addition to the cast, plays General Custer, and though he has considerably less screen time, Hader makes the best of it, giving a typically charismatic performance. Ben Stiller is also charming, and his performance (as well as his chemistry with Adams) is likely to please both the kids and adults watching.

Though there are things that I like about the Battle of the Museum franchise, one of my major problems with it is that the idea of bringing historical figures into the modern world has been done so many times before. Take a film like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It’s not exactly a masterpiece, but they get a lot of humour from bringing their collection of historical figures back to the present, and watching them try to navigate today’s fast-paced world. Night at the Museum is mostly contained within the museum setting, and while they get interest from the characters reacting to each other, they largely miss out on the opportunity of having them deal with the fact that they’re in a world totally different from their own. I also remember a kid’s TV show (I think it was Canadian) called Mentors, where they brought historical figures to the present-day world. It was played more seriously, but it was both more educational and deeper (I remember one surprisingly stirring episode with Beethoven) than Night at the Museum has ever been.

If you’re looking for a harmless family movie, you can do a lot worse than Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian. But you can also do a lot better. It’s got some charismatic performances and memorable moments, but the filmmakers are obviously half-assing it. We see hints of something better than a typical franchise film, but ultimately, it feels a bit musty.



Greenberg Trailer

This trailer makes me feel nostalgic. Except the thing is, I’m way younger than Ben Stiller, so I have absolutely no idea what I feel nostalgic for.

Rom-Coms: The Genre I Thought I Hated

I’ve never really considered myself much of a fan of romantic comedies. I even turned down an invitation to see The Ugly Truth with some friends tonight in favour of seeing the new Harry Potter movie (and because The Ugly Truth looks fairly terrible). There’s so much mindless crap out there that’s targeted towards women looking for pointless escapism, and these so-called rom-coms usually aren’t very romantic or funny. I knew that there were a few I liked out there, but then I stumbled across Paste magazine’s list of the 17 best romantic comedies of the decade. I realise that their article is six months old, which makes it either obsolete or nostalgic in internet terms, but if you want a testament to how current I am, read the subtitle of this blog. ANYWAYS, the point of this is to say that Paste came up with a pretty good list! You can click here to read the full article. 

As they admit, they use the term “romantic comedy” pretty loosely. Personally, I never really considered Wall-E or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to be comedies, much less romantic comedies (where’s Hugh Grant? And the sappy airport endings?), but I think it was a great choice to include them. Those movies offer an alternative to the usual cheesy fare that always seems to test my gag reflexes. And while movies like Waitress, About a Boy, and High Fidelity are slightly more conventional takes on the genre, they’re also a cut above the rest. They have much better acting, and you can tell that genuine affection went into making these films. I really enjoyed all of the movies on this list that I’ve seen, so what does that say about me? Perhaps I’m not the cold-hearted realist I like to think I am? Perhaps there isn’t anything wrong with me for tearing up during the trailer for The Time Traveller’s Wife for no apparent reason? Perhaps I can enjoy movies where people don’t die and aren’t addicted to drugs and don’t have to deal with real world problems? Maybe all it takes is a good love story.

And speaking of that, here are 10 more “romantic comedies” from this decade that I really enjoyed:

10. Kate and Leopold (Kind of your typical rom-com, but the leads are charming, and the fish-out-of-water story is amusing)

9. 2 Days in Paris (Adam Goldberg is hilarious. The French setting lovely, and it manages to be both incredibly charming and funny.)

8. Meet the Parents (More of a straight comedy, but Ben Stiller goes through it all in the name of love.)

7. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (It balances a film-noir spoof with a romantic side plot, and both are equally strong.)

6. Elf (Don’t even deny it.)

5. Wristcutters: A Love Story (Stories about suicide are not generally good romantic comedy fare, but this one pulls it off. Darkly funny and romantic.)

4. Definitely, Maybe (Ryan Reynold is charming, and this well-constructed, sweet story is what The Proposal wished it could be.)

3. Almost Famous (Great coming-of-age story that happens to involve rock stars.)

2. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (It received mixed reviews, but I thought Michael Cera and Kat Dennings had great chemistry.)

1. Garden State (Okay, this one’s a little sappy – and if I remember correctly, the climax takes place in an airport – but even I could not resist cheering for the perfect hipster couple.)

EDIT: Oh, yeah, and how good does (500) Days of Summer look?! I’m dying to see it, but it’s still in pretty limited release, so it’s not playing near me.