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The Bottom Shelf #95

02.15.2007
100%

Once upon a time, things were different. People were in a fluster over what to do about the 2K computer issue. Dakota Fanning was enjoying toddlerhood, unaware of the future turmoil over her acting career. I'm sure there was something significant happening in sports as well, but I'm too lazy to look it up. But most importantly, way back in the grand year of 1998, Ben Stiller was still cool.

PERMANENT MIDNIGHT (1998)
Directed by: David Veloz
Starring: Ben Stiller, Mario Bello

-- click here to buy this DVD at Amazon.com --
-- click here to rent this movie at NetFlix.com --

There's a point in every marketable actor's career when they just start playing only to formula, giving the paying audience what they believe they want to see. Funny thing is, the audience then turns on that actor and starts to hate them for the very same thing. I've noticed that people are beginning to list Ben Stiller as one of their most hated people in films when he once was one of the most enjoyed. Although if you look back far enough, you'll find a time when he was considered to be on the outside. (Or however outside the kid of two famous showbiz parents can get.) Back before MEET THE PARENTS and yet after The Ben Stiller Show, there lies PERMANENT MIDNIGHT.

A true story adapted from the novel of the same name, Stiller plays Jerry Stahl, a Hollywood writer who develops a major heroine habit. The story is much the same as many others detailing people within the business. You take a talented person and watch them spiral completely out of control. There are times when it is stated better by Stahl than anyone else I've seen talk about addiction in tinseltown. So many fingers pointing blame in so many different directions. In this case, one of the most telling statements is when Stahl is asked how he got away with his addiction and people seemingly not knowing. "In Hollywood, everyone is too self absorbed to pay attention to anyone other than themselves..." he says. That's about the clear and concise gist of it.

While the main attraction of this flick is watching Stiller get into the role and get as ugly with it as possible, I rather enjoyed the side story of his romance with Bello. A woman who drives into his rehab life and sets in motion his retelling, there is a chemistry between the two of them in their scenes which radiates enough heat to catch your attention just as much as the needles in the veins make you cover your eyes. While it might be hard to find romance in a movie which is supposed to be detailing the dirty habits of drug habits, there most certainly is that element here. It's part of what grounds the movie and makes it feel more real, rather than just some sleazy memoire expose junk that gets told too often and by way less skilled hands.

Favorite Scene:

When Stiller and Peter Greene are smoking crack and jumping up against the window of an office in a high rise building.

Favorite Line:

"If I were Percodan where would I be?"

Trivia Tidbit:

The movie is based on the autobiography of the same name.

See if you liked:

REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, DRUGSTORE COWBOY, FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS

ZERO EFFECT (1998)
Directed by: Jake Kasdan
Starring: Bill Pullman, Ben Stiller

-- click here to buy this DVD at Amazon.com --
-- click here to rent this movie at NetFlix.com --

I include this movie amongst one of Stiller's best work, regardless of the fact (or perhaps because of it) that he's a supporting player who doesn't get as much screen time. This show really belongs to Pullman, an actor that I first remember popping up as the hilarious idiot boyfriend in RUTHLESS PEOPLE. Pullman developed a type casting of his own much like Stiller, landing in many farcical roles and then transitioning into pointless characters who save the day but do little else other than deliver flimsy speeches in blockbuster affairs.

In ZERO EFFECT, Pullman plays Daryl Zero, the best private investigator in the world. He's a cranked out neurotic too afraid to leave his own home, yet he's developed a sense of detachment that allows him to be at the top of his craft. When hired to find out who's blackmailing one of the richest men in Portland, he takes the case and ends up with more than he bargained for. Murders, suspected crimes, actual crimes and the one thing that Daryl Zero never thought he'd have to deal with: love.

The scenes between Pullman and Kim Dickens, the love interest and criminal suspect, are intense. Much of their interaction is so mellow that you get drawn in simply by the gleam in their eyes. Seeing how a woman can completely change a man who's set in his ways and to see her do it without any hint of force or coercion is the kind of magic that curls the edge of your lips in a knowing smile. More than just a love story, the mystery elements of the case Daryl is working are enough to keep those not moved by the lovey-dovey stuff interested. Stiller is at his best mainly because he plays it understated, which honestly suits him far better than any of his manic neurotic tendencies. Leaving them in the hands of the man better suited for theatrics, Pullman and Stiller make a much better duo than Stiller and Wilson. And I would bet the farm on that.

Favorite Scene:

The telephone conversation in the airport between Stiller and Pullman.

Favorite Line:

"Perhaps the most able blackmailer of her time, she was at once the worthiest opponent and the greatest ally, and the only woman I have ever... the only woman, period."

Trivia Tidbit: This was the debut writing and directing outing for Jake Kasdan, son of Lawrence Kasdan. He later went on to work on one of the greatest canceled television shows ever, FREAKS AND GEEKS. (*swoon*)

See if you liked:

BRICK, THE GRIFTERS, GROSSE POINTE BLANK

Come back to us, Ben. Come be that slick up and comer that you once were. We miss that Ben. And while you're at it, convince the gods that be to bring us back the Owen from BOTTLE ROCKET. We miss that dude too.

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10:32AM on 02/15/2007

Still...er...Ben

I agree with your choices "AwesomeZara." I've always considered Zero Effect to be a cult classic. Quirky, funny characters, interesting story, genuine laughs. "Why are we talking on the phone? I just jumped on a plane" scene is hysterical. I think the "comedy frat pack" could regain their early fire.

Anyone ever see Heat Vision and Jack where Stiller rips up a picture of George Lucas, Owen Wilson voices a motorcycle, and Jack Black is the smartest man in the world, who was exposed to
I agree with your choices "AwesomeZara." I've always considered Zero Effect to be a cult classic. Quirky, funny characters, interesting story, genuine laughs. "Why are we talking on the phone? I just jumped on a plane" scene is hysterical. I think the "comedy frat pack" could regain their early fire.

Anyone ever see Heat Vision and Jack where Stiller rips up a picture of George Lucas, Owen Wilson voices a motorcycle, and Jack Black is the smartest man in the world, who was exposed to inappropriate levels of sunshine? Also featuring Ron Silver as himself. Coolest show-that-almost-was ever!
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