The feeling you get after watching Ted is the same feeling you get after watching your son’s team get “mercied” at a little league game. You give them credit for finishing it, but it’s best if you never speak of it again. Seth MacFarlane dreamed up an idea with infinite potential, but he did not deliver as a director or as the character of Ted. MacFarlane most likely felt nervous to leave his comfort zone of TV, especially after a decade of “animation domination,” and it shows in Ted. That is probably why his directorial debut looks and feels like a television show. With scene after scene to static shots, voice overs, and corny “Family Guy” style interlude music between scenes, it is hard to allow the “mise en cene” to work its magic. This is a warmed up rewrite of thousands of other comedies where the protagonist man-child waits too long to grow up and suffers the consequences of life. Of course a new gimmick is introduced in the form of a raunchy (but I argue not raunchy enough) talking teddy bear, however that wears off quickly and nothing else fills the void except some very obscure pop culture references.
MacFarlane has been extremely successful at what he does, however his reputation as a unique presence in the field has been overshadowed by South Park and The Simpsons for his entire career, both of which went to the theater with successful versions of their respective shows. Ted marked an opportunity for MacFarlane to prove he definitely as talented as the creators of those shows by formulating something new, but it falls short. On a side note, surpassing Trey Parker and Matt Stone as pioneers will probably never happen.
Mark Wahlberg is adequate and Mila Kunis is basically a prop. Perhaps I’m being too hard on Ted, but the fact remains that as a fan of comedy, I do not want to see the bar being lowered for what passes for acceptable films of this genre. There are some funny moments in Ted, my favorite being in the film’s opening scene where the bear is discovered to be alive by young John’s parents. More episodes like this would have been preferred to formulaic events where characters fall into stereotypical character flaws. Overall, I wish Ted had a little more going for it. Unfortunately, when the final inning was over, I was more than ready to avoid eye contact and head for the door. C-
The Amazing Spiderman does a very good job bringing Spiderman back into the spotlight. Many people have speculated whether a “re-boot” of Spiderman is a good idea so soon after the previous films directed by Sam Raimi. There certainly does not seem to be a waning of interest in superhero movies, but what The Amazing Spiderman further proves, is that these stories are so strong and potentially captivating that, if done well, people will be interested no matter how familiar the source material is. I was prepared to find The Amazing Spiderman stale or uninspired. Mark Webb, however, has created a stylish rendition of Spiderman’s origin that is well paced and feels fresh and fun. I think Webb benefited from Raimi’s original trilogy. While this is not a sequel in any way, Webb does seem to be aware of Raimi’s more wide ranged comedic tone and plays this series closer to the vest including some of the more intricate details from the original Marvel comic books. This is not unlike Christopher Nolan’s re-imagining of the Batman story after its complete meltdown. This Peter Parker is more “real.”. He isn’t a loser he isn’t a “cool kid.” instead he’s a quiet genius and this film holds Parker’s intellect in as high esteem as his anticipated super powers. A Spiderman movie can never achieve a level or morality and realism the Nolan has achieved with his Batman films, but that’s not this story. What Webb does is set up a story that unlocks our childish wonder of heroism and does it with panache. Andrew Garfield fits the role very well. He is charming, awkward, funny, and talented. Emma Stone is given little to work with in this film as Gwen Stacy, but she saves the role in her usual fashion. The supporting cast is top notch as well including a Stan Lee cameo that may be his best yet. Overall, the debate on whether this movie was necessary can be settled, no. I hesitate to call any one movie necessary, but The Amazing Spiderman definitely deserves to exist without any superfluous criticism that wouldn’t be levied on the next Superhero action movie. A-
Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love is the latest in his series of cinematic love letters to his favorite European cities. Allen’s latter portion of his career has seen a renaissance in terms of inspiration and fresh takes on familiar, yet intriguing, themes (Whatever Works excluded). This film comes on the heels of his greatest box office success of his career, Midnight in Paris. Consequently, To Rome with Love becomes a sort of paradox. On one hand, it’s nice to see Woody Allen enjoying some major attention again, but like so many of Allen’s characters, it would be terrible to see that attention affect his outlook or disposition since this film will no doubt be compared to Midnight in Paris. After ‘Midnight’s‘ success, the anticipation level for Allen’s next film was higher than average since it charmed so many people, many of which were not typical Woody Allen fans. This film meets that anticipation with bizarre unease, as it may not satisfy many of Allen’s recent converts, which is exactly what it needs to do.
Allen has blended his new Euro-flare with a picaresque film that feels very much like that of his satirical style of earlier days rather than the more playful mood of recent. To me, this is great. I enjoy Woody Allen’s skewed and informed views on love, celebrity, and fate; it’s a gift to fans. The film is composed of four unrelated stories that do not really intersect or even exist in the same time frame, yet the viewer is challenged to deconstruct them down to their thematic commonalities. When all is said and done, each story presents a separate character study and morality play, each seamlessly jumping back and forth without losing the viewer. Some stories are stronger than others, but all have something to say worth saying, and they all offer at least one good solid laugh. I think Ellen Page’s character Monica stands out as the most intriguing. Monica’s sexually charged wildly independent character is talked about before she appears, and the set up does not lead one to think “Ellen Page.” She is very well written and Page is great delivering Allen’s characteristically faux-intellectual free spirit female artist dialogue. Ironically, over-analysis is not what To Rome With Love deserves, although analysis is a major theme. It should not be compared to Midnight in Paris, but rather it should rest on its own merits which are substantial. B+
While the conversations surrounding Ridley Scott’s new film Prometheus are mostly about its relationship to Scott’s early sci-fi horror masterpiece, Alien (1979), there is an unavoidable comparison to be made to an earlier classic: Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. A scene near the beginning of the film includes a Kubrickian juxtaposition where robot “David” (Michael Fassbender) speaks with a HAL 9000-esque computer to wake up the Prometheus’s 17 man crew from cryo-sleep (a scene reminiscent to Alien, of course). This sets the tone for the film, which has always been one of director Ridley Scott’s strengths. The tone of Prometheus is at first pensive. The film’s momentum is firmly rooted in the mythology of man’s existence. This is not an unusual thematic trapping for sci-fi/horror, but this time it feels fresh. The Alien universe provides curiosity and character development that allows for some unique and clever insights on this idea. Prometheus is also a great looking film. The film opens with beautiful landscapes and Scott’s slow moving, sometimes static, floating camera movements both accentuate the pensive tone and allow the viewer to have time to appreciate and enjoy the film’s look. This is not to say Prometheus is not without its intensity. Plenty of scenes are punctuated by gripping suspense and cringe-worthy extra-terrestrial horror (it is a 17 man crew, or should I say was). The cast is well chosen from the soulless Michael Fassbender to the charismatic and surprisingly effective Noomi Rapace as Dr. Elizabeth Shaw. Charlize Theron’s Meredith Vickers is an intriguingly mysterious character as well. All in all, Prometheus delivers, and as its namesake suggests, not without catastrophic results. A-
Clearly, Dark Shadows will not make any box office records. Iron Man does not make an appearance, so it’s hopeless. However, what Dark Shadows does do is add another solid entry in the impressive Burton/Depp collaborative series. The movie strikes a vibe that is much more serious than the tongue-in-cheek trailer would have you believe. Depp’s turn as Barnibus Collins may feel familiar to Depp fans. He has the appearance of Edward Scissorhands, the mannerisms of Captain Jack Sparrow, and the vocal pattern of Hunter S. Thompson. This is a fun combination, but the story surrounding Collins is one of betrayal and vengeance. Not that the movie doesn’t have its humorous moments, it does. But it should be mentioned that the film firmly belongs in the company of Burron’s films like Sleepy Hollow instead of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In addition, there’s an excellent soundtrack of classic rock, which is rare for Burton who usually relies on Danny Elfman only. The supporting characters do feel a bit under developed and, at times, seemingly unnecessary, and the film does begin to wander as the final 30 minutes roll around, but that does not spoil it as a classic Tim Burton movie in the least. B
I started this blog, mostly, as a format to share and philosophize about the movies that I see. It has always been a passion of mine to view and discuss film, and given the unlikely opportunity that I will be a published reviewer, a blog is an easy way to satiate my passion. I think this blog will veer into other subjects as well, but I have no intention of it being self-important or a “diary.” Rather, I want it to be a collection of polished thoughts on a variety of topics. I hope that it will be read, and I hope that it generates responses.
Sometimes objectivity is impossible. That will nearly always be the case when looking at a Pixar Studios release. The track record Pixar has achieved is astounding. This reputation comes from an ideal combination of dazzling visuals, memorable characters, and a beautifully written story. These characteristics have come to be expected. Brave, Pixar’s thirteenth release, simply does not raise the bar. While it is a “good” movie-given it’s predecessors, I can’t help but feel disappointed in Brave. Like I said, Brave is good. It has some laughs, it has some touching moments, and the one spectacular element is its visual effects. Overall, however, Brave feels more contrived than anything else. It is Pixar’s first effort with a female lead, but nothing feels natural about the conflict between Merida and her mother Elinor (and I understand that part of this unnaturalness comes from a very odd curse). The film bets heavily on this mother-daughter conflict, but its just not strong enough or relevant enough to sustain the work by itself, making Brave feel simple. The thematic idea of fate being a choice is crow barred in there as well, but it is drastically underdeveloped. Of course, from a child’s point of view, this is unnecessary criticism. Brave will be a wonderful experience for kids, especially mothers and young daughters, but once again, subjectively speaking, Pixar films have historically not pandered to only this specific audience level. Brave isn’t bad, but there’s just not as much to love. B-