Tag Archive for comedy

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World Review (Film, 2012)

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is the cinematic equivalent of freestyling at the club and dropping the mic when the beat drops out. Lorene Scafaria’s debut directorial effort (she previously wrote the charming screen adaptation of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) is a strong, stylish work fully committed to its conceit.

And what is that conceit? Scafaria wanted to write a film about the end of the world where the world actually ends at the end. No final mission to save mankind, no last minute “Look, it’s turning!” moment–just a film about the last days of mankind. It’s a tremendous success.

seekingafriend Seeking a Friend for the End of the World Review (Film, 2012)Dodge (Steve Carell) learns the world will end in three weeks due to a cataclysmic asteroid collision with earth. As soon as the radio story ends, Dodge’s wife flees the car and never comes back home. The world is ending and no one wants to waste their time being with anyone or doing anything they don’t want to except for Dodge. He goes to work, pays his housekeeper, and tries to make the most of the world ending. Then Penny (Keira Knightley) climbs outside of his window on the fire escape and quickly befriends him after years of never talking in their apartment complex.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a very dry comedy. The humor is dark and underplayed at the same time. A party scene sees seemingly reasonable adults cut loose and try out some of the worst illegal drugs available. Riots start just to start riots and restaurant employees hunker down and keep the party going 24/7 because why not? The world is ending. Who cares? Live for once in your life.

Except Penny and Dodge don’t want to live for once. They’ve already spent their entire lives screwing up at every turn and they’re tired of it. They don’t want excess. They want some sense of normalcy. Dodge seeks out the love of his life and Penny tags along because Dodge can get her on a recreational plane straight to England. They’re friends out of convenience, not out of any expectations of anything happening. The world will end in three weeks, so why not go out fighting?

The brilliance of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is the refusal to play into the ridiculous antics you would expect when the world will end. Do people get high and do stupid things? Of course. But Dodge and Penny stand their watching people throw their lives away and they choose to take the high road at every juncture.

That, right there, is the core of this film. You know what should happen in this kind of story, especially since it’s a comedy. Yet Lorene Scafaria refuses to take the predictable route. There is nothing typical about the world of this film, so why should the people that inhabit it play to the cliches you would expect of them? They will live their lives however they need to so they can go peacefully when the world ends.

Rating: 9/10

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Hysteria Review (Film, 2012)

The standard of mental health care in the world has improved tremendously in relatively recent history. Just over a hundred years ago, the go to solution was dropping off troublesome relatives in a sanatorium for an extended or even permanent stay. Bodies were irreparably altered to create more docile patients and this was deemed the right thing to do.

Hysteria is a film all about one of the last mainstays of “why bother learning the truth when we can lie to ourselves for our own comfort?” mental health care. Hysteria, the condition, was at one point viewed to be an epidemic, with upwards of half of the female population unable to control their mood, temperament, or willingness to bow down to men at every turn.

hysteriadoctor Hysteria Review (Film, 2012)

The doctor is in whether he likes it or not

The film deals with a young doctor learning all about the revolutionary private massage technique that can boost a woman’s spirits through purely physiological means. When the nonstop flow of patients eager to be…treated by the handsome young man becomes harmful to his own health, he enlists a friend obsessed with electricity to create an electronic massager for the same purpose.

Hysteria is a surprisingly sweet comedy about breaking through boundaries and the absurdity of treating conditions you have no real knowledge about. The older doctor who teaches the younger doctor the technique has an outspoken daughter who tells him again and again that Hysteria is not a real condition. He, in turn, diagnoses her with one of the most severe cases of Hysteria he’s ever encountered. The push and pull between father and daughter, the old and the new, defines the shape and rhythm of Hysteria.

hysteriaperiod Hysteria Review (Film, 2012)

Oh, sure. Capture that lovely Victorian decadence then throw it all away with American slang.

For all the greatness director Tanya Wexler coaxes out of such a strange subject for a quasi-romantic historical comedy, the screenplay by Stephen Dyer and Jonah Lisa Dyer leaves much to be desired. This is a film set in mid-18th Century England. The characters randomly switch from the imperial system–liters, meters, etc.–to US customs units–inches, pounds, etc.–with no consistency or predictability. The language and grammatical structures are accurate to the period until they are blatantly anachronistic.

All the good will built up time and again by a skilled hand behind the lens is diminished with every abuse of period accuracy. Once you establish full period design–bustles, top hats, cravates, and metal shoe cleaners outside every office building–you have to stick to it. If you want to pull the Baz Luhrmann anachronistic history, you better establish it from the start and stick to it.

Hysteria is a period film that magically time travels every five minutes or so with something so outrageously modern it throws you out of it. A charming little story with excellent acting and a sharp wit is brought down by lax screenwriting.

Rating: 6/10

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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Review (Film, 2012)

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is the story of seven British pensioners taking a chance on a new resort in India for seniors to retire in. These include a recent widow (Judi Dench), a man pursuing the love he never dared to as a teenager (Tom Wilkinson), and a retired housekeeper who doesn’t trust her Indian doctors to perform a hip replacement surgery on her (Maggie Smith). The hotel is run by Sonny (Dev Patel), a young man trying to set up a strong future for himself so he can gain the approval of his mother (Lilette Dubey) to marry his girlfriend (Tena Desae).

thebestexoticmarigoldhotel The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Review (Film, 2012)

On a comparatively low budget, John Madden pulls out all the stops to make the sweet story of pensioners trying to reclaim their place in the world into a masterful large ensemble comedy. The film has this strong sense of cohesion even though the individual stories are connected by setting and circumstance alone. The pensioners rarely interact with each other in a large group once they arrive at the hotel. Yet, all the different threads come together nicely to create a lovely portrait of new beginnings and the pursuit of happiness.

thebestexoticmarigoldhoteldench The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Review (Film, 2012)Judi Dench is the central figure of the film and she makes the most of it. Her character, Evelyn, is in such dire straights that she actually has to find a job when she moves to India. She teachers herself to use a computer so she can blog about her experience in India. She becomes the voice of the shared experience of the pensioners through voice over narration. Dench effortlessly sinks into a role that could be quite morose in a less skilled actor’s hands.

Tom Wilkinson has a showier role that is used to really explore the setting of the story. As Graham, the retired judge seeking out his former love, he experiences the beauty and poverty of the setting in equal measure. His lover’s home was leveled years ago, but now it’s a wide open street for children to play in. The information office is cluttered and blocked with red tape, but the employees do everything they can to help him. Wilkinson probably has the most shared screen time with the core ensemble as he politely turns down the romantic advances of his fellow travelers.

Maggie Smith has the broadest, flashiest role as a racist pensioner. There’s really no other way to describe the character. She refuses an office visit to discuss her hip in her first scene because the doctor assigned to her case isn’t white. She refuses surgery in India because her doctor isn’t white. She refuses food at the hotel because it’s not proper British food. Even when people bend over backwards to help her, she pushes them away if they aren’t the right kind of people. Since it’s a comedy, you know from the start that she will turn over a new leaf. It’s just a miserable slog until then.

The reason the part draws your eye so much is because Maggie Smith makes a caricature actually come alive as a real human being–with emotions, thoughts, and a real sense of humanity. Her interpretation of the character is ignorant and set in her ways, not hateful and stuck up, and this performance adds a great deal of tension to the film.

Shot in a bright palette of colors with a broad range of comedic styles, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has something for everyone. All the jokes might not land as well as they could, but the overwhelming sense of humanity and grounded realism make this a sweet gem of a film.

Rating: 8/10

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The Sessions Review (Film, 2012)

Mark O’Brien is a professional poet and freelance writer who has spent most of his life in an iron lung. Stricken by polio at a young age, O’Brien developed a sharp wit and a philosophy that everything is funny. Mark decides that he wants to lose his virginity but fails in his attempts until he is offered a job writing an article on sex and the disabled. This leads him on a winding path to Cheryl, a professional sex surrogate who can offer him six sessions to teach him all about sexual contact and intercourse.

thesessionsmark The Sessions Review (Film, 2012)The Sessions is a strange little jewel of a film. Ben Lewin directs and adapts the film from Mark O’Brien’s essay “On Seeing a Sex Surrogate.” It is a wry story, pairing up a Catholic priest and the man in the iron lung against the rest of the world that seems free to have sex whenever and wherever they want. The conflict between a very conservative faith and the wild nature of the greater world is only the start of the tension in the film.

John Hawkes’ portrayal of Mark O’Brien is a portrait in self defense mechanisms. He will cut you down with words if he doesn’t want to deal with you. He is blunt to a fault but only when he chooses to be. His O’Brien is also a kind, thoughtful man obsessed with the beauty of irony in the modern world and fearful of his own mortality.

Hawkes’ performance is all the more remarkable for his inability to move onscreen. O’Brien’s polio left him with minimal mobility in his face and neck. His spine is twisted and his body totally emaciated. Hawkes, through some phenomenal practical makeup work from Natalie Wood and her team, manages to bring out a large, believable persona that–through narration–refuses to cast anyone, no matter how cruel and thoughtless, as a bad person.

thesessionscheryl The Sessions Review (Film, 2012)Helen Hunt also shines as the sex surrogate. Her portrayal of Cheryl is a brilliantly nuanced take on the role. There are so many layers going on internally that ride throughout her entire body like the waves on the ocean. You never know how she is going to react beyond a quick return to some guise of professionalism. This is a woman extremely conflicted over her professional role as a therapist. She struggles to process the charm of a man who wants nothing more than to make her–or any other woman–happy.

The Sessions is very funny and heartfelt the entire way through the film. The big question mark is the ending. This is not a film that deals in melodrama or schmaltz until its final lingering moments. It’s an ending that is at odds with everything else that came before it in the feature. The film could have ended a scene before and been a brave, bold exploration of sexual freedom from the perspective of a sheltered Catholic. Instead, the final scene overplays its hand in trying to turn Mark O’Brien into an inspiring figure. He was already inspiring. He didn’t need any outside help to prove that from the first scene of the film.

Rating: 7/10

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Pitch Perfect Review (Film, 2012)

If you’ve never been involved in a cappella music, the first 20 or so minutes of Pitch Perfect might be rough chop to to sail through. There are a lot of jokes in a faux-Diablo Cody wins the Oscar for Juno style about a lesser-known aspect of the college music experience. The cast is camping it up beyond anything to get such a wide release in recent memory. And everyone is a music-obsessed nerd who doesn’t even need to define the rules of music arrangement, music competition, or musician culture on a college campus.

Pitch Perfect is loosely adapted from the non-fiction book of the same name by Mickey Rapkin. Rapkin followed the 2006-07 a cappella competition season of Tufts’ The Beelzebubs, University of Virginia’s Hullabahoos, and University of Oregon’s Divisi. The focus of the book is trying to decode the minor rock star status of these groups on campuses. The students who know you exist and know what you do tend to be as fanatical about college a cappella as teenagers are for the latest pop stars.

pitchperfectprecision Pitch Perfect Review (Film, 2012)

Screenwriter Kay Cannon pulls from the general archetypes of these three groups to create two rival a cappella groups for the Pitch Perfect film. The Barden Bellas, the first all-female group to make the national finals, become the laughing stock of collegiate a cappella after an unfortunate accident onstage. They compete directly at every level with national champions The Treble Makers, an all-male group with a fantastic reputation on campus. The Bellas recruit wannabe music producer Beca to sing with them, but struggle over who really controls the group puts their championship ambitions on shaky ground.

Pitch Perfect is almost overwritten. It gives the fantastic ensemble cast a whole lot of room to play, but perhaps tries too hard to please everyone. The first 20 minutes are symptomatic of the greater problem with the film. This is a film that knows its target audience (a cappella fans) are going to find the film, so it doesn’t really try to open up that element of the story to a wider audience. Instead, they layer on tons of jokes and over the top characters to draw people in despite the niche subject matter.

For the most part, it’s successful. Standouts Anna Kendrick (as Beca), Anna Camp (as Aubrey, the Bellas’ leader), Brittany Snow (as Chloe, second in command), and Rebel Wilson (as Fat Amy, the best singer in Tasmania) slay every scene they’re in. The quartet almost act as a less outrageous version of Bridesmaids within the greater hybrid sports/dance team movie.

pitchperfectcast Pitch Perfect Review (Film, 2012)

Don’t get it twisted. There is nothing innovative about the structure of the film. Pitch Perfect firmly falls in the same territory as Bring It On, The Bad News Bears, and the Step Up series. A group of underdogs find a few secret weapons that bring them up to the level of their competition after a major setback.

The difference is the use of music. For all the “this is one doodle that can’t be undid, Homeskillet” of the dialogue (a ca-stop-with-the-terrible a cappella puns, for God’s sake), the real draw is the music. The arrangements in Pitch Perfect are very strong. They define the character of the groups and the progression of The Bellas as they fight for the national title.

If something seems awkward or off, it’s intentional. If something seems really sad, it’s intentional. The use of music does more to define the arcs of these characters than the over the top eye-rolls and pratfalls of the willing cast. The vocal performances also sound organic, with mixing that adds just the right level of reverb to shower stalls, alleys, and the different auditorium styles the singers compete in.

Pitch Perfect is a fun film. The ambition comes through in the presentation of the music and the performances of the ensemble cast. The story is strictly boilerplate. Everything else is the innovation. You might not come out with a better understanding of how a cappella music competition works, but you will have a lot of respect for the cast of rising stars giving it their all in every scene.

Rating: 7/10

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Wreck-It Ralph Review (Film, 2012)

wreckitralphanniversary Wreck It Ralph Review (Film, 2012)

Nostalgia is a risky thing to build a film around. Are the memories you have indicative of the experience everyone else had with the subject in question? Will the subject translate to a wide enough audience to be accessible?

Wreck-It Ralph hinges itself to the video game industry. Ralph is the bad guy in Fix It Felix Jr. After being shunned at the in-game 30th anniversary party, Ralph leaves his game to prove he deserves to be the hero he thinks he is. He meets with everyone from Q*bert and the bartender in Tapper to Street Fighter‘s Zandief and a large array of original video game characters to prove his worth.

The greatest strength of Wreck-It Ralph is the voice acting. The cast is top notch. John C. Reilly creates a natural, likable wanna-be good guy in Ralph. Jack McBrayer sells the innocence and privilege of Felix, who was coded to be the one and only hero of the game. Jane Lynch pops as Calhoun, the aggressive lead of a high-stakes first person shooter.

wreckitralphvanellope Wreck It Ralph Review (Film, 2012)Sarah Silverman gets to steal the show as Vanellope, a glitch in a wacky cart racing game. Her hyperactive heckling and sarcastic attitude is a real crowd-pleaser. The film puts the weight of comic relief on her shoulders and Silverman exceeds all expectations.

The animation of Wreck-It Ralph is very clever. With the exception of Ralph and Felix, all of the characters in the film are always animated in the style of their game. The citizens of Fix It Felix Jr. move in sharp, 8-bit jerks. The Street Fighter characters have repetitive action cycles and the Pac-man characters float effortlessly across the screen. The varying animation is a lovely homage to the world of video games.

The big issue is one of ambition. Wreck-It Ralph really tries hard to please everyone. It has humor, action, romance, and a clear, almost fable-like, throughline. It’s filled with Easter eggs for video game fans and broad physical comedy in equal measure.

The problem is that the plots that develop to carry such a wide range of material don’t balance each other very well. They tie together in a logical way at the end, but the balance is a little off. Not enough time is spent in Calhoun’s FPS to justify so much weight on her involvement throughout the second act. Vanelope’s story overwhelms Ralph’s own quest and blurs the lines of narrative focus. The balance is just a little off to hit as hard as it should.

Wreck-It Ralph is a really fun film. You’re bound to find something you enjoy in it. Whether it’s the video game nostalgia or the actual narrative thrust is the only gray area.

Rating: 8/10

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Film Review: The Campaign (2012)

How often do you go into a movie knowing it’s supposed to be a mindless [insert genre here] and walk out surprised that it had substance, plot, and character? The Campaign is that movie. I am not here to argue that the Will Ferrell/Zach Galifianakas led ensemble comedy is particularly smart or insightful. I am only pointing out that maybe, just maybe, there’s more going on here than the cast of sketch comedy vets and stand up comedians would lead you to believe.

Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is running unopposed for a congressional seat in North Carolina. His wandering eye and uncontrollable sex drive catch up with him in a way that makes the four term congressman’s shoe-in victory seem ready for a spoiler. Cue the entrance of Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), the eccentric son of a billionaire who is thrown in the race to support the big money interests of a Super PAC looking to change a few labor laws.

The frustrating thing about The Campaign is how close writers Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell come to hitting a strong satire out of the park. The first act of the film is a clever and often times unexpected look at how people can be coached to hit all the patriotic buttons a professional politician needs to master. From there, it goes so far into crude humor and slapstick that it quickly jumps to farce and winds up somewhere around the level of a well-produced web parody.

The real thrill of The Campaign is seeing the rise of Marty Huggins. His transformation from local goofball running a barely there tour business to national media darling of the Republican party is astounding. There’s a training montage, sure, but the how and why of the transformation and how well Zach Galifianakis sells it is impressive. This is the kind of work Galifianakis is capable of. He needs to see more of it come his way rather than always being the unyielding weirdo/comic relief.

thecampaigngalifianakis Film Review: The Campaign (2012)

The reason to see The Campaign is Zach Galifianakis’ fully realized performance as a man thrust into the national spotlight.

Will Ferrell doesn’t come across as well because there’s nothing new to his transformation and character arc. He’s a misguided guy stuck in his obsessions who falls from grace and tries every wacky scheme he can imagine to come back again. He’s not bad at it, it’s just old shtick for Ferrell when the character, as written, didn’t need to go to those Ferrell-notes in every scene.

When the screenplay goes to gross out humor and director Jay Roach starts relying too heavily on characters reacting to video, the saving grace of The Campaign is the ensemble cast. Sarah Baker and Katherine LaNasa score big lives as the wives of the candidates. Their polar opposite characters illustrate more about the creation of media narratives in politics than any sexually explicit gag campaign ad ever could.

So, too, do Jason Sudeikis and Dylan McDermott wring out every moment of absurdity from the role of campaign manager. Sudeikis, paired up with Ferrell, has to make it his job to reign in a man born to seek attention at any cost. McDermott, paired with Galifianakis, has to orchestrate a respectable persona out of a totally unassuming everyman. The bizarre nature of campaign politics is brought out even further when the spouses and families of the candidates are pulling for the opposite strategy as the campaign managers.

For all of the moments that really soar in The Campaign, it ultimately falls flat. It’s a madcap comedy that’s tries to comment on some important modern issues–PACs, how modern news media defines election coverage, character creation from real life stories–but casts so wide a net that they catch nothing. With fewer sex jokes and naughty sight gags, The Campaign could have been a refreshing political comedy. Instead, it’s a future late night cable viewing that you’ll chuckle at between commercial breaks.

Rating: 5/10

Thoughts on The Campaign? What I liked, I really liked. What I hated turned me sour on the whole picture. What about you? Sound off below. Love to hear from you.

Film Review: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

A boy and a girl disappear from their homes–a summer scout camp and a large house, respectively–into the forest of a small island off the coast of New England. Now, everyone on the island is on their trail. These people include the engineering scout troupe, the all star lawyer parents of the girl, the local police officer, the bumbling scout master, and a woman known only as Social Services.

Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom opens mise en scene, allowing the audience the opportunity to experience the surprise discovery of the missing children at the same time as the adults with the knowledge that, yes, the boy and the girl are fine. It’s an effective device that immediately draws you to the two young lovers at the expense of developing any other characters in the story. The supporting cast is comprised entirely of caricatures that do nothing to advance the far more compelling story of Suzy and Sam.

moonrisekingdomquirky Film Review: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Short pants, antiquated navigation tools, and Tang. Wacky!

When Suzy and Sam are given their own scenes, Moonrise Kingdom is fascinating. Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman give very strong debut performances. Most impressive of all is how they are the only two characters to rise above the Anderson quirk to something that feels real. That’s no small feat when both are playing seriously disturbed children with violent streaks and a laundry list of odd behaviors that feel more suited to a basic cable wacky detective show than a feature film.

To describe the movie as quirky is an understatement. The dialogue is affected beyond description and amplified through various devices. For Suzy’s mother Laura (Frances McDormand), that’s a literal description. She actually uses a megaphone to herd her family in the large house. For others, it’s less direct. Social Services (Tilda Swinton) speaks in short clipped sentences as tightly wound as the hat on her head. Scout Master Ward (Ed Norton) constantly criticizes every child he comes across, refusing to acknowledge even a moment of success beyond satisfactory. The aim seems to be to paint the “disturbed” Suzy and Sam as the normal ones for having more depth, but the execution is so wild and wacky that any message beyond love and friendship is lost.

The technical elements of the film are fine. The special effects–and there are a lot of them–come across as realistic as anything else in the picture. The island looks lovely, the houses dull and lifeless (intentionally so), and the characters as confused as the storyline through clear cinematography. The movement of the camera is used to define the differences between characters before they meet for the first time.

moonrisekingdomcostumes Film Review: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Cleanly shot and well-designed, Moonrise Kingdom attempts to expand on wafer thin characters with visual panache.

Perhaps the most noteworthy element of the film is the costume design. Kasia Walicka-Maimone’s work does more to define these characters than any line of dialogue in Moonrise Kingdom. Each scout is given something unique to define them quickly for the audience. It could be as subtle as how a bandanna is knotted to something more recognizable like an eyepatch or a constantly untucked shirt. The adults are defined even better, with color stories that place them at odds with other members of the community and wardrobe choices that define their behavioral age far better than the screenplay. Why yes, the entire scouting organization is supposed to be seen as an over the top joke, the same way the lawyers, constantly seen in ultra-casual attire, are meant to be seen as out of touch and unobservant.

Wes Anderson tries to do too much with what could have been an excellent comedy focusing on a young couple fleeing a town that has declared them both undesirable. Instead, Moonrise Kingdom is a plodding and uneven ensemble comedy filled with characters as full-bodied as cardboard cutouts.

Rating: 5/10

Thoughts on Moonrise Kingdom? I enjoyed myself during the Suzy/Sam scenes and tolerated the rest hoping for some big reveal to justify all the distractions. For me, that never came. What about you? Sound off below. Love to hear from you.

Film Review: Ted (2012)

Seth MacFarlane has a problem. He is incredibly successful and has built a media empire on a certain vision of no holds barred pop culture comedy. Seth’s problem is that he doesn’t necessarily want to only do that.

Ted is probably the closest Seth MacFarlane will ever get to stepping outside of his Family Guy/American Dad!/Cleveland Show mold until all the shows are off the air. At its heart, Ted’s an old-fashioned family-friendly romantic comedy. That’s its true essence. It’s just covered in raunchy and outrageous jokes that could make a practiced cynic blush.

tedultimatum Film Review: Ted (2012)

It’s either the girl or the bear

John is a 35 year old man about to celebrate his four year anniversary with Lori, his younger and much more successful girlfriend. The problem is that John lives with Ted, a lewd living teddy bear who became a national sensation when brought to life by John’s childhood wish. Ted helped John become more confident while growing up. Now he encourages John to skip work, binge drink, and smoke pot all day long. Lori is getting fed up with John’s devotion to Ted and issues an ultimatum: the bear or the girlfriend.

The strength of Ted is hard to lay on one element. The screenplay is one of the tightest to come out since Juno. MacFarlane knows how to pace a story and all the beats, turns, and character revelations ring true and authentic. It’s unfortunately disguised by using Flash Gordon as a major plot device. You’ll zoom in on the love it or hate it references to the 80s’ franchise and probably miss out on how the show within the film functions the same as the long lost relative or friend offscreen for the first act. Replace Flash Gordon with a less absurd reference and the structure would hold up beautifully.

tedromcom Film Review: Ted (2012)

For all the crude humor, Ted has a lot of old-fashioned heart

MacFarlane’s direction is excellent, as well. What he manages to do with a silly fantasy about a living teddy bear is very impressive. His understanding of camera angles, pacing, and use of light is straight out of the 1960s prestige film playbook. Every scene has a music cue, every lighting cue a slightly different filter, and every performance–no matter how small–has weight and substance.

Where Ted will lose viewers is the style of humor. It’s raunchy. It’s very Trey Parker and Matt Stone pre-South Park. The comedy is no holds barred. There are rape jokes, drug jokes, domestic abuse jokes, and addiction jokes. That’s not a complete list, either. Those are just the jokes John makes about himself as a running self-deprecation gag. The humor is broad, shocking, and offensive. There is no way it will appeal to everyone and I doubt anyone could laugh at all the jokes in the film.

When the humor’s not raunchy, it’s all about pop culture references. The reveal of a Tiffany music video playing in the background is a joke by itself. So is the presence of a few guest actors, a karaoke party, and even a reference to Family Guy. If you don’t know the references, the jokes aren’t funny. There’s a certain level of silliness to these scenes that might elicit a chuckle. However, these jokes land harder if you have seen Flash Gordon or any of the 80s/early 90s pop culture references.

I can say that I thought the film was a hilarious but a bit forced at times. I watch Family Guy and American Dad! and Ted plays somewhere in between. The plot and tone is more the strange but heart warming style of the latter but the humor is firmly in the realm of the former. Seth MacFarlane fans won’t be disappointed even when Ted goes for broke on an emotional climax.

Rating: 7/10

Did you catch Ted yet? What are your thoughts? Sound off below. Love to hear from you.

Film Review: One for the Money (2012)

One for the Money has a big fundamental problem: it’s a lazy film. The studio knew that Janet Evanovich’s loyal fans would show up to see their favorite unintended bounty hunter Stephanie Plum come to life onscreen, so they aimed for the cheapest product they could. From inexperienced screenwriters to a one keyboard score, it feels like no money was put into the film beyond securing a recognizable cast of film and TV actors.

All of that is a shame. Say what you will about Evanovich’s writing. The story of Stephanie Plum should have made a fun popcorn mystery/thriller without much struggle. Stephanie Plum loses her job as a lingerie manager in Newark, NJ. After being unemployed for six months, her car is towed and her eviction notice is served. She is forced to take on the only job available to her: working as a bond recovery agent for her cousin. Stephanie stumbles into a big bounty by accident. Her ex-boyfriend skipped out on a $500,000 bond on charges of murder. She becomes obsessed with taking in the highly trained police officer who manipulates her into investigating the actual circumstances of his arrest.

oneforthemoneyfilm Film Review: One for the Money (2012)

Stephanie Plum is after bond jumper Morelli in One for the Money

Now tell me how, in a series of books where all non-A-plot detours can be skipped over without losing the story, the screenwriting team of Stacy Sherman, Karen Ray, and Liz Brixius managed to skip over any character development or logical thought process in solving a crime? The scenes where the writers actually put the story of One for the Money into the hands of the actors work. From Stephanie Plum getting intelligence from a pair of hookers to wanted murderer Morelli breaking into Plum’s apartment to push her in the right direction, these narrative scenes actually come alive.

The problem is that these scenes seem to pop up randomly with no rhythm or purpose. Moments of character growth and development–such as Plum learning how to pick a lock for the first time–are glossed over in favor of lingering glances at a hamster in a cage and long stretches of Plum sinking down in her car seat as a suspect slowly walks by.

There is no excitement in the early phases of the investigation as Plum is never in danger. By the time you learn that she really is in over her head, it’s hard to believe anything bad can happen to her. The previous bad encounters were total non-events. Why should you care when people suddenly wind up dead and cars start exploding?

Director Julie Ann Robinson does a poor job of bringing any life into One for the Money. You can’t just blame the screenwriters for big gun/chase sequences falling totally flat in a mystery/thriller film. It takes a special kind of director to decide that a tense confrontation between two characters–professional fighter Ramirez has Stephanie Plum in a choke-hold in a cage-fighting ring–needs to be interrupted as soon as contact occurs by close-ups of mirrors exploding under gunfire. The focus is not on the gunfire itself, nor Plum’s escape, but a ring of mirrors blowing up one by one.

oneforthemoneyposter Film Review: One for the Money (2012)

One for the Money Poster

Robinson’s experience is mostly in television, which shines through whenever One for the Money focuses on two characters talking. Those quiet dialogue scenes have a natural rhythm to them that is appealing even in the consistent overuse of camera cuts to separate lines. As soon as the characters start moving and talking, it falls apart.

Unfortunately, One for the Money is a film that has to travel all over Trenton, NJ to get its point across. For every scene where two characters interact in believable way, there are at least two scenes involving cars, guns, or other props that are totally fumbled. It’s frustrating to watch the film focus on inconsequential traveling when it does the one-on-one investigation elements much better.

No matter what you can say about the writing and direction, you cannot fault the ensemble cast of actors for the failings of One for the Money. Katherine Heigl is an engaging Stephanie Plum. It’s easily one of her best onscreen performances to date and you can’t help but like her character in spite of her, shall we say, prickly exterior. You find me another movie where you cheer on the psycho ex-girlfriend who hopped a curve to run over her ex-boyfriend’s leg for taking her virginity.

The film was obviously cast with the seventeen (soon to be eighteen) possible sequels in mind. They cast Sherri Shepherd as wise-cracking hooker with a big heart Lula, Debbie Reynold’s as Plum’s death-obsessed gun-crazy grandmother, Jason O’Mara as hard-edged ex-boyfriend/bond jumper Morelli, and Daniel Sunjata as overly-protective private security agent Ranger. Throughout the series, these characters play bigger and bigger roles in Plum’s bounty hunting and the four actors are perfectly cast. Shepherd and O’Mara have the most to work with in One for the Money and they both shine.

The problem with One for the Money is greed. The studio wanted an origin film in what is essentially an anthology mystery/thriller series with a comedic edge. However, they introduced the main cast for later films at the expense of not telling a solid story in the first film.

Had the production and creative team trusted the source novel as a guide, One for the Money could have been a fun and fast-paced mystery film for adults. Instead, it’s a limp, inconsistent, lazy 106 minute introduction to a franchise that might never be continued if audiences don’t show up for the poor first entry.

Rating: 3/10

Thoughts? love to hear them.

Film Review: The Artist (2011)

It’s been a good year for nostalgia in cinema. From Woody Allen’s ode to 1920s Parisian artists to Cary Fukunaga finding the beauty in Gothic literature to a frothy retelling of the early days of the Civil Rights Movement through literature, looking back on older art has never been hotter. For some, director/writer Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist is surely the crown jewel of nostalgic cinematic excursions of 2011.

There is a lot of joy to be found onscreen in The Artist. It is a modern silent film in tribute to silent films, the transition to talkies, and the rise and fall of stars. George Valentin is the hottest star in the world until he refuses to transition to talking pictures. A chance meeting with a young fan leads to the rise of Peppy Miller, the first true star of the new film industry. Their respective fall and rise is the focus of the film.

Perhaps the best way to describe Hazanavicius’ intentions is to recount a recurring image throughout the film. We as the audience are watching the film within the silent film. The camera jumps back to the balcony to show the crowd in the film watching the film in the film we were just watching. The Artist is candy-coated voyeurism and celebrity tourism without any of the guilt associated with the alternatives: trashy Made-for-TV movies, bitter memoirs from jealous relatives, and reality TV shows filmed long after the star should be a draw at all.

Film Review: The Muppets (2011)

The Muppets are back. The newest film in the long-standing franchise, The Muppets, is a loving tribute and a logical evolution for the beloved characters. There’s a meta-awareness about the franchise that allows the film to address the shift in entertainment from scripted all-ages shows to questionable reality TV, as well as the ability to play with the visibility of The Muppets as a modern pop culture icon.

Gary, Mary, and new Muppet Walter travel from Smalltown, USA to Los Angeles for a vacation. When visiting The Muppets Studio, now an rundown dirt cheap tourist attraction, Walter discovers that an oil tycoon is going to destroy the studio in two weeks if the Muppets can’t raise ten million dollars to buy it back. Walter, Gary, Mary, and Kermit work together to bring the gang back together, put on a show, and raise the money to save their legacy.

Filled with clever songs, asides to the audience, and celebrity cameos that don’t just draw attention to themselves, The Muppets has everything you would expect from a new Muppet film in the Jim Henson vein. There is no fairy tale being retold, no distracting introduction of a new unlikable Muppet, and nobody is in space. It’s the Muppets acting like the Muppets, complete with recreations of some of the most iconic moments in their history. This is the kind of film that anyone can go to, young or old, and have a great time at without being bombarded by senseless violence or adult situations. It’s family entertainment in the best way possible.

Film Review: The Rum Diary (2011)

If I had no standards, I could just write the following and be done with this review:

This should not be a film. It’s not a particularly cinematic story and no amount of madcap slapstick thrown in will change that.

Fortunately, I have standards. In spite of my initial reaction to The Rum Diary, I found the film to be funny and endearing in a not very film-friendly kind of way. It’s difficult to explain. It comes down to liking the story but not how it was told, enjoying the characters and performers but not how they were used in the film.

Struggling writer Paul Kemp (a bland and inoffensive Johnny Depp) gets a job writing horoscopes and fluff pieces at the San Juan Star in Puerto Rico. Through the magic of office gossip, he gains the attention of Mr. Sanderson, a high-power business man trying to launch series of hotels on a soon to be disbanded military testing island. Sanderson wants Kemp to plant stories in the paper to make the development process easier.

Well, at least that’s the plot that matters. The Rum Diary is more of an episodic cinematic journal rather than a narrative feature. Kemp gets drunk, Kemp gets in trouble, Kemp gets bailed out, Kemp becomes obsessed with something, Kemp gets shut down. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Film Review: Orgazmo (1997)

Trey Parker and Matt Stone have a lot of strange ideas. They’ve written films about a hybrid basketball/baseball game becoming the hottest sport in America, counter-terrorists operatives portrayed by puppets, and even a group of foul-mouthed fourth graders saving the world from the rise of Hell overseen by the soul of Saddam Hussein. None of those compare to the bizarre story of Orgazmo.

Orgazmo is a film within a film/make a picture film about the porn industry. A Mormon missionary gets snared up in a mob/pornography ring after he uses his karate skills in front of the kingpin/producer. The missionary is offered $20000 to star in the porno superhero epic Orgazmo, about a man with a cannon on his arm that instantly gives anyone targeted an orgasm. The missionary’s beliefs are pushed and pushed as the kingpin/producer tries to turn him into the biggest name in pornographic films.

It’s a ridiculous concept that somehow works. The world of Orgazmo is pushed into such oddball territory from the start that anything becomes believable.