Seth MacFarlane at his best.
Ted (2012): As the result of a childhood wish, John Bennett's teddy bear, Ted, came to life and has been by John's side ever since - a friendship that's tested when Lori, John's girlfriend of four years, wants more from their relationship.
I. Love. Seth. MacFarlane. I can quote way more Family Guy than any one individual should be capable of, and I wear this like a badge of honor. So, to say I had extremely high expectations for this film was something of an understatement. However, it not only met my expectations; it surpassed them. Yup. Despite a horrendous third act, Ted was one of my favorite comedies of 2012. The chemistry between Mark Wahlberg and Ted was incredible, Mila Kuns is charming and actually acts, Giovanni Ribisi once again delivers, the score from Walter Murphy is exceptional, and the cameos are AMAZING. So let's begin, shall we?
Let's talk about positives first. The jokes are great. They feel like old school Family Guy, and regardless of how you feel about Family Guy now, you cannot deny that that's a good thing. Old school Family Guy was hilarious. Yes, there are some Hollywood references here that even I didn't get, but I think that's kind of the point with them. And Mark Wahlberg! His chemistry is great, and there's even a fight scene between him and Ted that was exceptional to watch. After all, think about it: he was fighting nothing. That's not easy. Ted really was an exceptional bit of cinema in and of himself, and Seth MacFarlane brings him to life with charm and charisma. As I said before, the score is also exceptional. Walter Murphy is easily the most underrated composer in Hollywood. I wish he did more films. Every time I see his name as the composer I smile, because I know I'm going to get a phenomenal, Sinatra-esque score. And, of course, the cameos. There are several, and they are hysterical. One cameo is a recognizable actor showing up for literally one, non-speaking joke. So they probably showed up on set for about 15 minutes and got a big paycheck for one joke, but it may just be the best joke of the whole film. There are several actors in here from the Family Guy series, as a superfan like myself recognized them instantly. Oh, and Sam Jones is freaking hysterical. That is how you do an '80's reference!
So, let's talk about the third act. So my rule with comedies, very similar to horror, has always been if it makes me laugh, the story doesn't really matter. Well, most of the laughs all but stop in the third act. MacFarlane and company felt the need to force in a rescue mission, which was completely unnecessary, and devoid of any laughs. This, similar to Inside Out from the other week, is the result of a filmmaker not being 100% confident with the premise that is established in their film. I would've had no problem whatseover with a 106 minute story just about Ted and Wahlberg's day-to-day lives and how Mila Kunis fits in to all of it. But instead, we need a very generic, poorly executed rescue story to bring everyone together. Cli. Che. Honestly, this film is 106 minutes long, and it didn't need to be. It would've been just that much better had it been a 90 minute film.
There really isn't much else to say about this film. There isn't a lot of visual humor, which is always unfortunate, but MacFarlane's humor is just so amazing that it doesn't really matter. If you like comedies, you absolutely owe it to yourself to check this one out. It was easily one of the best comedies of 2012, and a recent high point in the wonderful career of Seth MacFarlane.
The Critique: Despite an overly cliche third act, Ted brings vintage Family Guy humor and great acting to the silver screen. One of 2012's best comedies.
The Recommendation: if you like Seth MacFarlane and you haven't seen this film yet..... well, you're wrong.
The Verdict: 8/10 Great
The most original Pixar Film in Years
Inside Out (2015): After young Riley is uprooted from her Midwest life and moved to San Francisco, her emotions - Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness - conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house and school.
Thank you Pixar. Thank you for once again reminding us that you are spectacular storytellers. Look. It's impossible to deny that Pixar has been on a, well, less-than-stellar tear recently. Cars 2 is pretty much universally proclaimed as the worst film in their history, with Brave and Monsters University better, but still not up to par with what we expect from the revered studio. However, this all changes with Inside Out. Easily the best film Pixar has made since 2010's Toy Story 3, Inside Out is original, funny, creative, and....well....a blast! The film is certainly not perfect, with the first act of the film far outpacing the overused two-main-characters-with-opposing-viewpoints-become-lost-and-most-unite-to-return-to-the-rest-of-the-main-characters storyline we get in the second and third acts, but this film is still an incredibly enjoyable ride. And definitely fun for the whole family.
So, let's first talk about my one big complaint. I wish Pixar would have been comfortable with the premise they initially established in the first act. I definitely could have watched an entire 94 minute film about Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust all in one room and trying to get along in the day-to-day life of an young girl. We could've watched the girl grow up and develop her likes and dislikes as she becomes older. For example, maybe as a child she thinks boys have cooties and avoids them, but suddenly right around her 15th birthday she takes a liking to boys and the emotion of Love is introduced and the other characters have to incorporate that emotion into their group. Maybe her parents divorce and Anger manages to take over her brain for a while and Joy has to figure out how to calm that emotion down. These stories sound vastly more interesting to me than the one we got, which was Joy and Sadness exploring her brain figuring out how to return to "central HQ." This stems from an, oddly enough, lack of confidence from Pixar to believe in the premise they created. We've seen it before from them. They probably weren't sure if they could pull off such a radical and crazy idea as this and thus took the safe route of putting a standard rescue story with two characters who are opposites together for the majority of the film. That said, I'm basically splitting hairs, as even this overused premise is executed faaaaaar better than 99% of the other times this premise has been used.
So, what does this story get right? Well, basically everything else. First off, the animation is, as usual, beautiful. Pixar's style has been adopted by most because it seems easy, but it's not. Even in the trailers before this film I noticed several films adopting Pixar's style and looking TERRIBLE in the process. But Pixar is still, in my opinion, the best animation studio in the world, and I base this statement on the beauty of films like this. Joy? Joy's character design is insane. The amount of pixels on her must be astronomical to make her look beautiful as she does, especially when you're watching this film on the big screen. Her character in and of itself is a tremendous achievement for animation, not to mention the attention-to-detail on the other character models as well. The hair of Sadness in particular is spectacular. Though, a friend of mine brought up the valid complaint that every woman in Pixar's animation looks the same, which is kind of true. Look at the picture at the top and you'll see very similar facial animation models for Joy, Sadness, and Disgust, but hugely different facial animation models for Anger and Fear. Sadly, this is not a coincidence. Anyway, the score? Outstanding. Michael Giacchino, essentially Disney's go-to at this point, once again delivers a beautiful score for this film. And of course the voice acting. Everyone in this film is great. Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith have great chemistry as Joy and Sadness, and Bill Hader, (Fear) Lewis Black, (Anger) Mindy Kaling, (Disgust) Diane Lane, (Mom) and Kyle MacLachlan (Dad) all bring their A-game for these performances. Finally, there's Riley. Voiced by newcomer Kaitlyn Dias, pulling off a main character who barely speaks and yet has so many emotions is one of the biggest accomplishments Pixar has had in its rich history. You find yourself coming to care about this character immensely through her emotions, and it leads to one heck of an ugly cry towards the end of the film. Well done, Pixar. Well done.
The Critique: An original and captivating premise, Inside Out is easily the most creative and well-executed idea to come out of Pixar in years.
The Recommendation: Yes. A must-see for kids, parents, and fans of Pixar alike.
The Verdict: 9/10 Awesome
Image Credit: http://www.fatmovieguy.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Inside-Out-Movie-Review-Image-1.jpg
A Mindless Popcorn Flick that Thinks it's more
Jurassic World (2015): Twenty-two years after the events of Jurassic Park, Isla Nublar now features a fully functioning dinosaur theme park, Jurassic World, as originally envisioned by John Hammond. After 10 years of operation and visitor rates declining, in order to fulfill a corporate mandate, a new attraction is created to re-spark visitor's interest, which backfires horribly.
Wow. That is a long IMDB description. You know what? I think that just about sums up the problems with this film. It's trying to do too much. At the end of the day, this film is just a mindless popcorn flick. Great visuals and great dino-battles, but absolutely nothing more. However, the problem is the film is trying to be so much more. It's trying to have these great tales of morality, similar to that of the original, (which is what made that film so great) but the dialogue. The dialogue is just TERRIBLE. On IMDB, there are seven people who have a writing credit for this film. SEVEN! And the tales of morality can be summed up like this: "Bro, trying to control the dinosaurs is a bad idea. We've seen it not work before, it won't work now." What's the appropriate response? "IT'S PROGRESS, BIYATCH." Of course. Brilliance. Ok maybe the guy didn't say the later part, but at one point the explanation of why someone wants to do something that obviously won't work, his response is simply and quite literally "It's progress." I mean, that's the same as someone answering a scientific question by saying "It's science." YOU SAY THAT AS A JOKE. NO ONE IS OK WITH YOU JUST SAYING SCIENCE TO RESPOND TO A SCIENTIFIC QUESTION. Why should we be ok with it here? Look. If this film wasn't trying to be anything more than popcorn fun, I'd be more than willing to accept the ridiculousness of the premise. But....but it's not. It wants to walk in the footsteps of Jurassic Park. And it fails. It fails.
"You were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should." Fans of the series will know that is a quote from original film, and it was stuck in my head all throughout this film. There's no doubt the original film, Jurassic Park, is a revolutionary film in the history of cinema. But one of the reasons why it's extraordinary is the incredible and relevant discussion of scientific morality throughout the film. This element of fantastic writing has been long lost in this franchise. After all, the very foundation of the tale of morality in this franchise is completely lost when it acknowledges the other dinosaur parks that have come before it. Hell, here not only do we get references to the previous parks, not only is this park built on the original Jurassic Park, but there's even a ridiculous statement that dinosaurs no longer thrills people. Seriously? You really want to say that? That's going to be the foundation on which you build the entire explanation for making a genetically perfect super-dinosaur? C'mon. We might as well have freaking xenomorphs invade Earth. That would definitely be a better explanation as to why we have to create super-dinosaurs. And yet this film tries so hard to stand for something. If this film embraced the mindless premise that it has become, it would've been so much better.
Maybe I'm being too hard on this film. Let's talk about what it does well: being a summer blockbuster. It is dinosaur porn, after all. So how are the dinosaurs? Great. Absolutely great. While the initial awe of watching the CGI is long gone, time and care clearly went into making these dinosaurs. And the final battle is spectacular to watch. Even though there's sooooo much noise at that moment! Seriously. This film goes for the "bigger is better" approach, and refuses to have silence at any point. Well, except when it's setting itself up for a pop scare. But the final fight was SO LOUD. Ummmm Chris Pratt is in this film! Yay for that. Even though he's extremely one-dimensional. While this is easily the worst performance of his career, his mere presence just makes everything better. Bryce Dallas Howard is pretty good, and, well, that's just about it. And she's obviously a boss, even though she's a damsel in distress type mostly, but hey! She managed to outrun a T. rex in high heels so she's awesome! Cause that could happen, right? Ummmm the kids, Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson are not very good, but they are also not helped by their script. But this film does accomplish its primary objective: make fun dinosaur porn. And that's important because I did have fun watching this film. I did enjoy myself. But I found myself laughing at the film whenever it tried to be more than a mindless popcorn flick. And when Bryce Dallas Howard outruns a T. rex in high heels. So, that aside, you have a fun, mindless sci-fi film. Nothing more. And at this point it's safe to say we'll never see a sequel out of this franchise that's even in the same ballpark as Jurassic Park. Sad face.
The Critique: A fun, mindless popcorn flick that fails miserably at being anything more.
The Recommendation: DO NOT TAKE KIDS TO SEE THIS MOVIE. WHY WOULD YOU EVER DO THIS? WHY ARE THESE FILMS TARGETED TO KIDS IN THE FIRST PLACE? This franchise as a whole is not meant for children under the age of 10. Don't do it! Fans of the franchise though, go see it. You have the best sequel in the franchise. Not that that's saying much....
Rewatchability: Moderately High
The Verdict: 4.5/10 Slightly Below Average.
A great, shallow comedy
Spy (2015): A desk-bound CIA analyst volunteers to go undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer, and prevent diabolical global disaster.
Spy is the perfect summary of what the comedy genre has become today. Is it bad? No. Quite the opposite. This is a great film. It's dialogue is hilarious, it is shot wonderfully, and holds up extraordinarily well as an action film too. The homages to James Bond in this film are great. Melissa McCarthy returns to form with style in what may be her best film yet. She has an undeniable chemistry with director Paul Feig, and can work brilliantly with any actor or actress he puts on the screen with her. Feig and McCarthy have gotten better with each film, and then when you throw in a phenomenal supporting cast? Featuring Rose Byrne (again) and Jason Statham who completely steal the show? This film is easily the best comedy of 2015 thus far. By a country mile.
So why am I not higher on this film? Because this film suffers from the same problems other films of the modern comedy genre suffer from: it's merely a surface-level comedy. As my "film connoisseur" has expanded, I've come to expect more from the comedy genre. I want my comedies to humor multiple senses. Directors like Judd Apatow and Paul Feig have allowed the genre to lose its way. Their films, as a whole, are lightly edited improv. That's it! Or, in the case of Spy, an improv'd action film. In the last ten years, the idea of the visual comedy has been all but lost in Hollywood. The one exception is Edgar Wright. If you watch Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Hot Fuzz, or The World's End, you will see a director using every sense, both visually and with dialogue, to create the funniest and most memorable comedies of the last 10 years. I've only seen Hot Fuzz once, a long time ago, and yet I still remember more about that film than I do Neighbors, which I saw far more recently. My favorite joke in the film Anchorman, other than the crazy cameos which don't count, is when Jack Black kicks Baxter off a bridge. It's a visual joke! Monty Python and the Holy Grail has one of the best visual jokes ever by having someone follow our heroes around everywhere with coconuts to simulate horses. This is just as memorable as having Michael Cera be bad-sh*t crazy in This is the End. And yet.....we don't see any visual humor in so many comedies today, and Spy is no exception. Spy, while funny, is just a silly comedy. Three days later I barely remember the film. I don't remember any of the jokes. I just remember that it was pretty funny. So, I couldn't help but feel a little empty leaving this film. Please, Hollywood, bring back visuals in our comedies! It might take a bit of (dare I say it?) ingenuity and creativity, but it'll be so worth it! This lack of memorability has made me struggle to watch This is the End again after the first time I watched it. Or Neighbors. Or The Heat. Despite having some very hilarious dialogue.
But look. It's not worth focusing on just this, especially when this movie does get so much else right. Spy is a great action film, just as good as any of them. I couldn't help but feel like this film was Paul Feig living out his dream of directing a Bond film. And Jude Law couldn't help but live up his role. His character might as well have been named James Bond, and he's clearly having a blast in it. Melissa McCarthy makes her character a badass, as she turns into a freaking boss once she's out in the field. It was awesome! There were no "Ha! You're fat." jokes to be found. Everyone was terrified of McCarthy, and she made quite a few of the characters in this film look like pansies. Jason Statham was hilarious. Who knew this great action star could be this funny? Well, he does this by making fun of himself, which I love. I love actors that recognize what their persona in films is, embraces this persona, and then proceeds to have fun with said persona. Statham does exactly this. Bobby Cannavale is great, and Miranda Hart is hilarious. But then there's Rose Byrne. Freaking Rose Byrne. I've been singing this woman's praises for years, and she once again steals the show as the antagonist. There are very few actors out there who have as diverse an acting portfolio as Rose Byrne does. And every time I see her, she steals the show. She did in Get Him to the Greek. She did in Insidious. She did in Bridesmaids. She did in Neighbors. She even did it in freaking Knowing! Yes, she was the only good thing about that film I know. Once again, she steals the show, creating a hilarious character that actually has a lot of intrigue surrounding her at first and then becomes even funnier as you start to get to know her. Her exchanges with Melissa McCarthy were easily the best part of the film.
So, what else is there to say about this film? Again, it's great, but it's still lacking memorability. I do not see myself watching this film again in the near future, despite its hilarious dialogue. And good action! Props to Feig for shooting an excellent action film. He doesn't do anything special, but the plot here is filled with twists and turns that you don't see coming. Time was clearly spent on creating an excellent script to go along with the improv moments. But it's still shallow. Oh well.
The Critique: a perfect summary of the comedy genre today. Witty dialogue and good action on the surface, but nothing more to it than that.
The Recommendation: if you wanted to see this film you probably already have. Those who are comedy purists, however, will have to wait until 2016 before getting a decent comedy again. Please don't suck Edgar Wright.....
The Verdict: 8/10 Great.
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