Three New Films

The Green InfernoWelcome to Leith and Zoolander 2

BY Bert Rebhandl in Culture Digest | 11 FEB 16

Ben Stiller, Zoolander 2, 2016

Zoolander 2
dir. Ben Stiller

When Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson walked the runway at Valentino’s Paris show last March it was a huge publicity stunt. Derek Zoolander and his compadre, the ‘ridiculously good-looking’ male model Hansel, were finally due to return to the big screen in a sequel to the 2001 movie which has gradually emerged into a cult phenomenon since its release. The Valentino walk went viral, as it was supposed to, and it created enough buzz for fans and critics to sustain a year of anticipation. As it happens, Zoolander 2 goes straight to the core of the business of fashion, being about that nemesis of nemesi in the fashion world: age. Fifteen years have passed since the first film, and even if Ben Stiller seems almost ageless in his superfit quirkiness, he turned 50 a few months ago. When could be a better time to compete with Tom Cruise for best aging super agent? Well, maybe there will be another installment of Zoolander in 2032 to compete with Mission: Impossible 27 (in 4D), or even Top Gun 2 ½.

Zoolander 2 goes all the way back to the origins of history to address age as the ultimate moment of youth (and truth): From Adam’s rib came not only Eve, but also as it turns out, Steve. Steve was airbrushed from the genesis story, only to be revealed in Zoolander 2 to be the deity of a secret blood-drinking fountain-of-youth cult (which includes Tommy Hilfiger and Marc Jacobs, both ridiculously leather-faced from their gladiatorial fight against human biology). Zoolander 2 may be too much of a spoof to be a good comedy proper, but it has enough brillant ideas (more so on the margins, and some almost too quick to be detected) and cameos, to add a few laugh lines to our wrinkles.

Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker, Welcome to Leith, 2016

Welcome to Leith
dir. Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker

The ageing community of Leith, North Dakota, population 24, was slowly dying out, when a few years ago a man by the name of Craig Cobb moved in and started to purchase real estate. He had a plan: he wanted to make Leith the North American capital of Aryan supremacy – even big schemes have to start small. But he soon faced resistance. Anti rascist activists found out about him and his scheme and the mayor of Leith, who had apparently never heard about such a thing as racism, had to deal with the resulting fallout. In their documentary Welcome to Leith co-directors Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker chart all the stages of a minor civil war, in a tell-all story which reveals a lot about the current condition of the not-so-United States of America. ‘It is our legal right’, is a recurring claim in Leith. The legal right to hold any position, even the most spiteful or idiotic, is in fact substantial for any democracy. Yet, still, if claimed without any hint of common sense, legal rights are political wrongs. Welcome to Leith is a calm documentary about upheaval, full of interesting observations about the inner life of an insecure super power. Sometimes the supremacists behave in such a way, that merely documenting them seems strangely inappropiate. Leith actually appears like quintessential Nick Broomfield territory. But Nichols and Walker also do a good job with this cautionary tale that sometimes seems just too outlandish to be really taken seriously.

Eli Roth, The Green Inferno, 2016

The Green Inferno
dir. Eli Roth

Horror movies are as much about primeval instincts as about the secondary pleasures of homage and reference. That the genre constantly feeds on itself can be seen in Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno, a take on tree-hugging and cannibalism, two extremes of civilization more adjacent than normally suspected. A group of social activists from New York University travel to the Amazon rainforest to put their bodies between loggers and an endangered tribe. As it turns out, the tribe is also endangering. One of the funniest scenes in The Green Inferno is about a piece of skin. Usually the skin of white people warrants no comparison with, say, a good piece of pork crackling (beware, this movie is not for vegans, even if it maybe about some). But then cannibals really know how to do skin, especially if it is tattooed, like their own. They are also very good at staking.

Eli Roth, the creator of the Hostel franchise, pays tribute to the Mondo Cane movies from the ’70s, when Italian exploitation filmmakers such as Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi grievously did away with romantic notions of primitivism. (Mel Gibson then finished the job by rendering the Meso-American civilizations apocalyptico.) A title in the Mondo tradition like Ruggero Deodanto’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is difficult to beat in terms of abjectivism and Eli Roth makes no such attempt – he puts the fun back into the ordeal. The young student idealists are mostly born with a silver spoon in their mouth. The cannibals in The Green Inferno make them eat the plate, too.

Bert Rebhandl is a journalist, writer and translator who lives in Berlin. He co-founded and co-edits Cargo magazine.