Monthly Archives: June 2015

Trashy Teddy

Seth MacFarlane and his foul-mouth furball strike again

5708_090_RT0150_COMP_V0060_1005R_1006_COMP.JPG_cmyk

Ted 2

Starring Mark Wahlberg & Amanda Seyfried

Directed by Seth MacFarlane

R

The bawdy little talking furball is back. Writer-director Seth MacFarlane’s raunchy teddy bear returns in all his crass, computer-generated comedic glory for another round of surrealist stoner silliness with his Bostonian best friend, John (Mark Wahlberg), in this sequel to the $550-million-grossing 2012 hit.

It begins, as many movies do, with a wedding, as Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) ties the knot with his gum-smacking bride, Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth). Soon, however, there’s trouble in paradise: Ted and Tami-Lynn discover they can’t have a baby, for a couple of reasons—including that Ted, a teddy bear, lacks the necessary anatomical equipment. And trying to adopt creates another problem, which comes to loom large: The legal question of whether Ted is a person or a piece of property.

5708_FP2_00111RV2.jpg_cmykHow you feel about the humor in Ted 2 will likely align with how you feel in general about the work of MacFarlane, whose TV show Family Guy established and enshrined him as a golden boy of rollicking, ribald politically incorrect hilarity. For some, he’s a brilliant, envelope-pushing social satirist. Others lean to the opposite, more “offended” side of the critical spectrum, noting his penchant for crude jokes, scatological humor and the sharp, scathing edges on the blades of his irreverent, “insensitive” lampoonery.

There’s plenty of all of that, however you feel about it, in Ted 2, from the dazzling Busby Berkeley-inspired musical opening credits sequence to the almost nonstop parade of bawdy jokes, celebrity cameos and gurgling bong hits that follow.

I won’t say it’s not funny, and some of it is flat-out hilarious. MacFarlane runs his characters (which include Amanda Seyfried as a newbie attorney who takes on Ted’s “personhood” case) through a gamut of R-rated punch lines and crazily comical setups. A Liam Neeson walk-on, as a grocery-store customer overly concerned about the age-appropriateness of his breakfast cereal, is a total hoot. (Stay for all the credits for the full payoff.) Jay Leno gamely goes along with a joke about gay sex.

5708_AC0003_COMP_V013_1006R.JPG_cmykCharacters come to expect the same (obscene) search suggestion for any Google query. Ted’s bachelor party—remember, he’s a bear—features a unique kind of porn. There a profanely inspired moment of speculative banter about what the F. in author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s name really stands for.

But some things seem unnecessarily drawn-out and repetitive, with gags and ploys from the first movie simply recycled or repeated—like a subplot with the creepy stalker Donny (Giovanni Ribisi), who wants to slice into Ted to see what makes him tick. At one point, John yells “Déjà vu!” I hear you, sir!

The Kardashians, rocker Steven Tyler and Harrison Ford all but assuredly won’t like the jokes made at their expense, but quarterback Tom Brady was clearly aboard for his scene, in which Ted and John infiltrate his bedroom for an ill-fated artificial-insemination scheme.

If some of that sounds like the bottom of comedy barrel, perhaps you’ll be a bit more uplifted by Ted 2’s underlying civics lesson about gay rights, the struggle of blacks in America and the inherent dignity of all living things.

Who says tubby, trash-talking teddy bears are all huff, puff and fluff?

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Head Trip

Latest Pixar gem gets plenty of laughs but also goes deep

Disney•Pixar's

Inside Out

Starring Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling & Phyllis Smith

Directed by Pete Doctor and Ronaldo Del Carmen

PG

At some point or another, every parent has wondered what—if not what in the world—his or her kids were thinking.

Pixar offers an answer—or at least some exuberantly fanciful, wonderfully imaginative, wildly creative, richly emotional speculation—with Inside Out, which takes place mostly inside the head of an 11-year-old girl, Riley.

Since Riley’s birth, the five emotions in the command center of her noggin have been working together as she interacts with the world, sending the proper signals down her neural pathways, keeping her safe and trying to make her happy—and storing away her memories at the end of every day in a vast memory bank. The emotions are all “characters” themselves, with their own (literally) colorful personalities: Perky, effervescent yellow-glowing Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), the leader of the cranial crew, is joined by the geeky, purple all-phobic Fear (Bill Hader); blue, depressed Sadness (Phyllis Smith); prissy green young maiden Disgust (Mindy Kaling); and blustery red hothead Anger (Lewis Black).

INSIDE OUTWhen Riley’s young life hits some major growing-up turbulence, the emotions spring into overdrive to help her through it. But a snafu separates Joy and Sadness from the rest of the emotions, whooshing them out of Riley’s command center and marooning them in the deeper recesses of her conscious and subconscious—and leaving Fear, Anger and Disgust to call the shots. Soon things begin to fall apart, both inside Riley’s head and outside in the real world.

The magic and wonders of Inside Out, steered by directors Pete Doctor (Up and Monsters, Inc.) and Ronaldo Del Carmen, are wide-ranging as the inventive initial setup expands to become a rollicking adventure for Joy and Sadness, especially after they encounter Riley’s imaginary childhood friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind), who’s part elephant, part cotton-candy, part cat, part dolphin—and all delight.

INSIDE OUT

The brain, science tell us, is one of the most complex things in all of creation, and the movie’s depiction of it is a thing of ingenious splendor, a mix of fantastically cartoonish sight gags and sublime comedic riffs, all of them connected to the emotional rollercoaster ride being experienced by Riley—and, by extension, any of us, at some time or another. (There are some terrific side trips, especially during the credits, into the heads of other characters, where we meet their emotions.)

Pixar’s best films, like Toy Story, Up, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, have always worked on double levels, entertaining kids and moving grownups—often to tears. The exceptionally well-made Inside Out is no exception: Kids and adults will both laugh, and plenty. But the movie’s underlying themes about how Sadness and Joy “work together” in more ways than one, and how some memories—and parts of childhood—fade away forever will resonate on a profound, deeply moving level with adults who can relate in ways that many younger viewers can’t…at least yet.

Settle in early for Lava, a heartwarming, all-musical Pixar short about a Pacific volcano looking for love. Then get ready for another Pixar gem that starts in the head, but ends up settling into somewhere much, much deeper.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Building a Badder Dinosaur

‘Jurassic World’ takes a big new bite out of the classic franchise

2424_FTT_00426AR_CROP.JPG_cmyk

Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Nick Robinson & Ty Simpkins

Jurassic World

Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and Vincent D’Onofrio

Directed by Colin Trevarrow

PG-13

The ingredients to a new dinosaur movie are a lot the ones for a new dinosaur: Bigger, louder and more teeth.

It’s been 22 years since director Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, which broke new ground in computer-generated special effects and left audiences gasping for air with its romping, stomping tale of bio-engineered prehistoric creatures running amok. But after two sequels, the Jurassic franchise lost much of its roar—and its box-office bite. Audiences were no longer gaga for lifelike, big-screen dinosaurs.

In Jurassic World, the owners and operators of a sprawling new “living dinosaur” theme park, re-established after the downfall of the original facility, are faced with the same problem. “No one’s impressed by a dinosaur anymore,” says Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the corporate operations manager. Visitors are still coming—up to 20,000 a day—but teenagers barely look up from their smartphones at a stegosaurus, investors are clamoring for greater return on their dollars, and sponsors want something with more wow and pow.

What to do? Create a bigger, badder dinosaur. Meet Indominus Rex, cooked up in Jurassic World’s lab from a monstrous mixture of dino-DNA super-traits. It’s nastier, angrier and more nightmare-inducing than any other creature, even the park’s venerable T. Rex.

What could possibly go wrong?2424_SB_00075NBR

Steven Spielberg is executive producer this time around, but newcomer director Colin Trevarrow loads his film with clever and nostalgic throwbacks to him and his craft, from specific camera shots to an original Jurassic Park t-shirt (one character’s EBay find) and a holographic depiction of a dinosaur that had a memorable small role back in 1993. When several characters come across a decrepit building that was once part of the old park, it looks like they’re strolling through the franchise’s long-abandoned prop room.

2424_SB_00033R_2

Chris Pratt plays a dinosaur trainer working with wily, lethally dangerous raptors.

As Owen, a dinosaur trainer working with a group of wily, dangerous raptors, Chris Pratt is quick with a quip—even when faced with serious, life-and-death situations. Vincent D’Onofrio plays a contractor who wants to use the raptors for military purposes. “These guys’ll run straight into the enemy’s teeth and eat them, belt buckle and all,” he says.

To further stir the perfect storm, two young brothers (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson) are visiting the park, sent by their parents for a weekend-adventure getaway. Guess who gets way more adventure than they ever dreamed?

The movie’s underlying theme of modern man’s hubristic drive to control—and commercialize—nature’s ancient, primal power never gets in the way of its full-throttle fun and its cavalcade of chills, thrills, stupendous state-of-the-art special effects and even outright grins and giddy giggles. Jurassic World isn’t quite the revelation that its granddaddy was, some two decades ago. But for pure summer popcorn wow-and-pow dollars, you certainly won’t find much anything bigger, louder or with more teeth.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Boys’ Town

Big, bloated, bro-fest-ic movie picks up where TV series left off

ENTOURAGE

Entourage

Starring Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara & Jeremy Piven

Directed by Doug Ellin

R

Based on the 2005-2011 HBO TV series about a young actor and his posse of best friends in Hollywood, this feature-film treatment is targeted primarily—and blatantly—to the same kind of hedonistic horn dogs who make up the movie’s base of bro-main characters.

Tinseltown satire, super-rich success fantasy and chauvinistic sex comedy rolled into one, the Entourage movie takes up where the TV series left off—and doesn’t go much anywhere else. A-list movie stud Vince (Adrian Grenier), newly freed from a nine-day whirlwind marriage, is ready to return to work and now wants to direct as well as act. As usual, his longtime nitwit buddies are all-aboard: Eric, his manager and best friend from childhood (Kevin Connolly); Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon), his dim-bulb, struggling-actor half-brother; and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), his driver turned tequila mogul.

DSC_5551.tiff

Haley Joel Osment, Emily Ratajkowski & Adrien Grenier

High-strung agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), now running a movie studio, green-lights Vince’s film, a ridiculous, futuristic twist on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which quickly balloons over its $100 budget. The movie’s investor, a rich Texas oilman (Billy Bob Thornton), sends his starstruck son (Hailey Joel Osment) to ride shotgun over the troubled production.

The pencil-thin plot: Will Vince and his crew cash in once again, or will Hollywood finally break the bros?

The Entourage TV show was loosely based, at least originally, on the some of the experiences of actor Mark Wahlberg, who served as executive producer and is now one of the producers of the movie (and has a cameo, with his own tagalong “entourage”). But the movie version plays like such an overblown, oafish wet-dream stream of sexy (often topless) women, caustic one-liners and obscene wealth, it seems adrift in its own alt-universe, like an R-rated, 100-minute Viagra commercial shot inside a VIP strip club operated by light-depraved leprechauns. If you liked Entourage and its freewheeling, high-living characters on TV, you may think they’re even cooler enlarged to cinema-size. Otherwise, you might wonder what anyone ever saw in this pack of boors, mooches, rakes and cads with so few discernable, redeemable skills, talents or virtues or values.

The movie’s attempt at addressing something “deeper”—as Eric confronts his paternity with his pregnant ex-girlfriend (Emmanuelle Chriqui), or Ari seeks peace through spirituality—seems pathetically out of sync with its true, crude flow.

DSC_8682.tiff

“Turtle” (Jerry Ferrara) prepares to spar with Ronda Rousey.

To add to the movie’s sense of disorientation from the world in which most people live, an almost endless parade of real actors, sports figures and other personalities breeze through, blurring the lines by interacting with the fictional characters. There’s a lecherous Bob Saget, a grumpy Kelsey Grammer, a ticked-off Jessica Alba, an incredulous Martin Landau, a loopy Gary Busey, plus rapper T.I., director Jon Favreau, actors Liam Neeson and Armie Hammer, comedian Andrew Dice Clay, Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Emily Ratajkowski, NFL quarterback Tom Brady, TV personality Piers Morgan, zillionaire Warren Buffett, mixed-martial arts fighting champ Ronda Rousey and many, many more. Blink and you’ll miss someone.

It’s almost like everyone inside Hollywood wanted a piece of the action. The bigger question: How many people outside of Hollywood will want a ticket to this smug, bloated, big-screen, bro-fest-ic boy party?

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,