Saturday, June 27, 2015

Ted 2: The Sequel To A Movie About A Vulgar Pot Smoking Teddy Bear Is Surprisingly Better Than The Original Movie About A Vulgar Pot Smoking Teddy Bear

I thought Ted was... okay.  Just okay.  Nothing great.  Nothing memorable.  But, if you're high and flipping through HBO and it was halfway over... you probably stopped and watched it.  There were probably a few lines here and there that you'd forgotten about that made you chuckle and as soon as it was over you'd move on and forget all about it again.  It was okay.  I was mostly disappointed because it was such a brilliant high concept comedy idea-- vulgar, pot-smoking teddy bear comes alive, talks, and hangs out with Mark Wahlberg.  That's awesome.  Seth MacFarlane, known for the outlandish and obscene Family Guy was sure to bring his sense of oddball, albeit sometimes a little bit too offensive for some, humor to the mix.  However, I thought that in the first film he kinda... wimped out a little bit.  There's so much to do with a profanity-spewing, horndog, stoner teddy bear like Ted that it just felt a little bit... blah to me.  MacFarlane makes his living off of Family Guy shock comedy that never misses a beat to offend someone enough to make someone else laugh.  But, when it came to Ted, it felt like he went just a little bit too light.  The same thing happened with A Million Ways To Die In The West... with a title like that and MacFarlane's name attached I was expecting hilariously gruesome deaths left and right... but it just didn't happen.  He played it safe.  So, I was expecting the same routine here with Ted 2 and, finally, I wasn't disappointed. Ted 2 is everything I was hoping the original to be and is one of those rare instances (especially in the comedy genre) where the sequel is better than the original.

This time around we find Ted a few years after the events of the first film married to Tammy-Lynn.  The two are having marital trouble and realize it's because they don't have a child in their lives.  In an attempt to strengthen their marriage they go to adopt a child only to find out that Ted legally can't because in the eyes of the law, he's not considered human.  So, Ted and his thunder buddy John hire Samantha Jackson (Amanda Seyfried) to take on the government and get Ted declared legally human. This proves to be a harder task than normal.  Along the way, terrible, offensive, off the wall, lowbrow, bodily, and hilarious humor is found. Everything you would expect from your typical MacFarlane film.

I have to publicly address one thing before I continue... I do not like Family Guy.  I grew up watching The Simpsons and have come to love and understand that it is the greatest television show (not just cartoon) to be on television.  True, the last few years have been quite terrible, but it's been on longer than I've been alive and that's just saying something.  Family Guy took The Simpsons' formula, spun it in a much more obscene direction filled with flashback non-sequitors and essentially bastardized The Simpsons.  Now, that being said, I have the utmost respect for Seth MacFarlane.  I've come to realize that while Family Guy isn't my cup of tea... it's not dumb.  It's a particular brand of humor that most people can enjoy.  I listened to an interview with MacFarlane when he said that there's no continuity or characterization because all they literally do when making the episodes is try and make the audience laugh as many times as they can through any means necessary.  MacFarlane has the privilaged ability to be able to make fun of anyone or anything he likes. This is a Hollywood rarity these days with this country as sensitive and apologetic as it has become.  In fact, other than Trey Parker and Matt Stone, MacFarlane is really the only other comedian who is able to poke fun at anything, no matter how sensitive that subject may be, and illicit laughs instead of anger. That's what I respect.  And he's finally able to unleash his load of insults and comedy and no-holds-barred comedy unto the live action world with Ted 2.

The comedy in Ted 2 is a lot more ballsy than the first one.  There are some topics joked about that are much too soon to be talked about and trudge across that boundary much further than it should... but because it is MacFarlane... it's okay.  I found myself laughing heartily, feeling bad about what I was laughing at, then laughing again at the balls he's got and the absurdity of the situations.  Ted 2 is much more frequent with the laughs, unlike the first film which felt a lot more sporadic.  And the chemistry between both John and Ted and John and Samantha are better than the first film.  Mila Kunis... and Mark Wahlberg was a terrible idea and her character was so unlikable.  Amanda Seyfriend brings that chemistry back to the two of them together and we like them much more.

Comedies usually suffer the most when it comes to sequels.  Most of the time the sequel tries to replicate the magic from the first movie by putting the characters in the same situation they were already in with higher stakes and slight variations of jokes told in the first film, only twisted a bit.  And most comedy sequels usually end up unfunny, unoriginal, and hated (see: The Hangover 2).  However, Ted 2 doesn't feel like a carbon comedy copy of the first film, but rather a continuation of it.  It feels like the next episode rather than the part two.  I think this stems from MacFarlane being in television for so long he's able to continue a story without replicating the same jokes over and over again.

This time around we're given a funnier, fresher, and better version of Ted.  This is the Ted I was hoping to get when I saw the first one.  Yes, it's terribly crude and tasteless and ribald and profane... but if you can let that uppity side of you go and allow yourself to laugh at drug humor, spilled semen, and shit jokes... you will actually have a great time.  And, if you even liked the first movie, you'll love the sequel.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Inside Out: The Pixar Film That Came To Save The Summer

To give you some perspective of the type of Pixar fan I am... my top five Pixar films are, in order: 5. Monsters Inc. 4. Up 3. Finding Nemo 2. Wall-E 1. Toy Story.  These, to me, are the most original, inventive, heartwarming, funny, clever, creative, and beautifully written and told stories not just of Pixar, but of film. Pixar was the company that would churn out a film every single year that seemed to get better and better (minus Cars of course).  Then, they got stuck in the sequel and prequel rut.  I don't know how Hollywood's most original company could succumb to Hollywood.  I mean, Cars 2?? Seriously?? Yes, Toy Story 3 is as close as one can come to replicating the magic of the original, but I missed seeing an original Pixar in the theater every year.  And, unfortunately, beyond Inside Out and the upcoming The Good Dinosaur, it looks like it's going to be awhile before originality reigns supreme at Pixar again (they're currently working on Finding Dory, The Incredibles 2, and Toy Story 4). So, that's why it so great that Inside Out is a brilliant movie.  It's so great that it could probably last me a few years of sequels before I start to long for that Pixar originality magic once more.

Writer/Director Pete Doctor (who is responsible for four of my five favorite Pixar films) has given new life into Pixar.  The film is a beautiful tale about a girl named Riley and all of the emotions going on inside of her head.  There's Joy (Amy Poehler), Saddness (Phyllis Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black) and Fear (Bill Hader), all of whom lend a hand to structuring this little girl and who she is on the outside.  Things are perfect for Riley and her emotions until her family uproots her from her childhood home in Minnesota and winds up in San Francisco.  Her emotions start running haywire unsure of how to control Riley through these strange new circumstances.  It doesn't help that Saddness and Joy are lost from the mind control center and anger, fear, and disgust are left to helm the girl's emotions while the other two try and find a way back.

Any way you look at the film, it's perfect.  The visuals of the emotions (each shaped like what they represent) are great.  They all have perfect personas and play off of each other with perfect comic ease.  The story of what happens to a little girl who not only has to deal with moving away from everything she's ever known, but having to deal with the struggles of just growing up.  And I know that each character is supposed to play an emotion, but there really is true emotion in this film. Not only do you care deeply about little Riley, you care about each individual facet of her mind so much so that there are legitimate tear-jerker moments.  Sure, Pixar probably knew what they were doing in trying to make the audience weep harder than the first five minutes of Up, but it's a different kind of cry.  You're not crying because of something sad, you're crying because you've been there.  You've been a child who, in some way or another, has had their "world" flipped upside down and been expected to just... get through it.  But there are times when you just want to scream in anger, and cry with sadness, and kick happiness out of your life temporarily so that after the turmoil wears off, it can become a learning experience and a great memory.  It's so clever and well-constructed and speaks to literally everyone.  Though we're watching a little girl named Riley, in reality, we are watching our own childhood emotions.  I have yet to see a film in recent memory that can speak to every single person watching the way Inside Out does.

The rest of the film is just as fun, however.  You're not just knee-deep in your own tears the entire time.  There is a lot of fun and a lot of laughs to be had.  The voice actors are perfect for their roles. The journey Joy and Sadness have to take to get back home is pure fun (especially when they meet up with Riley's long lost imaginary friend Bing Bong).  Trying to watch Fear and Anger and Disgust run a little girl without the guidance of Joy is where all of the comedy is created.  It's a wonderfully put together film that anyone can and should see.  In a summer full of busts (Poltergeist) and duds (Tomorrowland) and just plain terrible movies (Jurassic World), it's nice to see a glimmer of hope. And, oh look, it's an ORIGINAL film that is going to be so successful and make a ton of money that people are praising.  Go figure, Hollywood!  Take more chances, maybe?

Anyway, see this movie.  See it.  It's perfect.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Jurassic World: Like Taking A Fat Dump On My Childhood

This one stings, folks.  I mean, it hurts a lot. I was excited for this movie more than any other movie coming out this summer.  I mean, it's the triumphant return to Jurassic Park.  And not only that... it's got probably the most watchable actor, the Harrison Ford of today, Chris Pratt. childhood.  Literally, you'd have to screw up pretty hard for me to hate it.  And guess what... major freaking screw up.  Like on an unfathomable level. Like, Jurassic Park III sucked, but this is on an entirely different level. This one was actually supposed to be good and they had like fifteen years to get it right.  When the third film of a trilogy sucks and they decide to make a fourth, it's supposed to redeem everything that was wrong about the third film, almost as an apology film to fans.  To me, Jurassic World looked like more than an apology... it was to be an awakening of a brand new saga of movies.  But, somehow, along the way, we've regressed.  Jurassic World was so disappointingly bad that I may now have a bleak outlook on my childhood forever.

I don't even know where to begin to explain to you why this movie failed on so many levels.  Let's start with the plot.  Okay, twenty years after the events of the first movie (because I don't think the other two are accounted for here) John Hammond has passed on his legacy to a billionaire who has successfully done what Hammond couldn't-- actually open a theme park with live dinosaurs. So, we've got Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) a workaholic who runs the park watching over the new addition to the park and it's newest guest-- a genetically modified dinosaur they've created in a lab. Then, there's ex-Navy guy Owen (Chris Pratt) on the island, uh, checking on stuff?  I'm not entirely sure why he's there.  To make sure that shit runs right and to train velociraptors... I'll get into that in a bit.  Then, there's two shitty little kids, Claire's nephews, who are at the park because one is a weirdo little autistic dinosaur lover and no idea about the other one. Anyhoo, new dinosaur is smart and escapes his enclosure and the rest of the movie is this dinosaur messing everything up. Oh, but let's not forget the rogue general whose ENTIRE motivation on the island is the train dinosaurs to, get this, fight for the military.  Um, what?!?! Yeah, he's there so Raptors and this new dinosaur can fight for 'Merica against them dirty sand bandits across the sea.  How did ANYONE think this was an okay idea? It's absolutely ridiculous and is the entire character basis for a pretty decently large sub-plot.

My biggest gripes with the movie, other than the terrible plot is that it's not that much fun. They do literally ZERO character development.  None.  And for a summer blockbuster that's usually okay.  But, for an intelligent Spielberg produced film, one that spawns from one of his greatest movies, this is not okay.  Especially with Chris Pratt.  I love the guy.  I could watch him do anything.  He's such a fun person that gives so much life to any character he portrays.  Except Owen.  There is no life to Owen.  At all.  When you hire Chris Pratt to be in your film, give him things to do that keep us interested.  He can be witty and charming and still be a badass.  He doesn't have to go full serious-face and forget that we want to have a good time. Then, there's the CGI.  It's horrendous.  And, people, it's 2015.  We've had Avatar.  We've had Planet of the Apes.  We know amazing CGI exists.  Just not in this film.  The dinosaurs look awfully fake.  You are very aware as you watch them that they're animated and pose literally zero threat to any character they chase.  This took me almost completely out of the movie.  There was no tension whatsoever because I wasn't scared of the dinosaurs.  How does a movie that is twenty-two years older than the original have worse effects than its predecessor? And for that matter, why in the hell would you change the color of the dinosaurs??? Like, they legitimately turned the raptors blue.  Blue raptors aren't scary! I mean, you tell me.  Which is more scary?  This:
Or this:

I'm looking at the one that actually appears realistic and trying to keep myself from having childhood PTSD nightmares from how much the raptors terrified me.  And speaking of raptors... let's talk about how this movie totally RUINED raptors.  One of the most intense scenes in Jurassic Park is the kitchen scene when the kids literally have nowhere to hide and the raptors are searching for them and tapping that menacing claw on the ground.  It's horrifying.  In this new installment... raptors are the good guys.  Pratt's character trains them to be on his side and they listen to him and, dare I say, maybe even love him. The part that lost it for me entirely is when Owen enlists the help of his raptor clan and one of the raptors locks freaking eyes with him and nods.  The raptor nods.  The goddamn blue raptor nods at a human in understanding and brotherhood.

For having five writers attached (which is usually a pretty big red flag) the writing was pretty abysmal. It took all the fun and suspense and terror out of the original and just flopped down basic characters with zero arc, and ran a new CGI dinosaur around an island to kill everything for two hours. The first film gave us two awesome kid characters that were in real danger and we wanted to survive.  This time we get hopelessly annoying brothers, one of which is so borderline autistic it's confusing, and the other one is such a blatant dick you don't care if either survive.

But the movie made over 500 million dollars worldwide in just three days, so there is literally no end in sight.  And I'm not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing.  Good because there's no way it could be as bad as this one was, and, come on, I'm always going to love watching dinosaur movies.  Bad because it's another excuse for Hollywood to go on rejecting original ideas and keep writing the same thing over and over without somehow improving the quality of the effects.

I was so excited about this movie and I was let down so hard. It's not even one of those movies where if you turn your brain off you can just enjoy the roaring and loud noises.  There's so much wrong with this movie. I no longer have any hope for any movie the rest of the summer.  Can we just fast forward to the end of the year when all of the Awards season movies are released? You definitely won't listen, but skip it. Your childhood memories depend on it.


Monday, June 8, 2015

Insidious Chapter 3: An Unfortunate Misfire Of An Otherwise Decent Franchise

Say what you will about the first Insidious... it's legitimately scary.  I've gotten mixed feelings on the series, but the original film was terrifying.  There may be some debate about the third act and whether or not it ventured into stupid... the first two acts of the first film are unbelievably scary.  Go back and watch it.  It's tense.  It's jumpy.  It's frightening.  I personally thought the third act of the first film was very creative and viscerally petrifying. However, I can see those who believe that it may have been a little bit silly.  I've said this before, this year even, that I think Insidious writer and director pair, Leigh Whannell and James Wan, are horror geniuses.  They broke onto the scene with the first Saw which was a LOW budget horror film that was nearly perfect.  Then, the studios gave up more money and a bunch of sequels that sucked.  Thankfully the two creators parted ways after the first one.  Then, they moved on to Dead Silence which, I think if made today, would be much scarier than it ended up being.  It was a misfire.  Then came Insidious.  It was also very low budget, but it was new, and original, and very, very scary.  Unfortunately, the studios made a lot of money, gave the filmmakers more money and sequels were made.  Each one a little bit less scary and little bit less fun than the original.  Then Wan took a break from Insidious and made the amazing The Conjuring, which was the closest to Hitchcock we've seen since, well, probably Hitchcock.  However, I get that a filmmaker doesn't want to just make one movie and because he's shown immense talent, Wan was given director duties of Furious 7.  However, Whannell wanted to try his hand at directing.  So, first his debut, he went with the three-quel of his baby: Insidious Chapter 3.  And I wanted to like it.  I tried so hard.  But, once again, and it will happen to any writer, it was a huge, disastrous misfire.

As I began mentioning earlier, horror seems to be the best when it's low budget.  And most horror should be low budget.  The most terrifying thing a movie can do is make your mind scare you.  If we see the monster, it becomes less scary.  But, if we don't see the monster,  and we're only given hints of the monster or there are multiple semi-seen monsters... that's when horror really shines.  However, when movies are given sequels and money... somehow that just makes the terror fade.  I mean, look at the first Paranormal Activity compared to the rest.  Hell, The Babadook was scarier than all horror movies released last year.  Unfortunately, Insidious Chapter 3 falls into the category of too many sequels, too much money, not enough on the screen to provide a horror-lover (me) with any satisfaction.

For the third entry, it's actually a prequel.  Seventeen year old Quinn Brenner has lost her mother.  She lives with her younger brother and father (played by Dermot Mulroney) trying to stay sane until she can go off to college.  Except weird things begin happening to her that she interprets as her mother trying to get in contact with her.  She goes to visit Elise Rainier (Lin Shayne from the first two films) to try and contact her.  Elise warns her not to contact her mother anymore... that there may be someone else trying to get to her.  This winds up being the case.  Instead of her mother trying to relay a message, it's a demon out to get her soul.  This demon is quite frightening looking.  He's slimy, leaves black inky footprints and wears a breathing mask.  He's continually after Quinn night after night trying to steal her pure soul in order to take her with him to his dark world.  So, Elise steps in to try and save the day. Sounds like your typical Insidous film, right? Well, it starts off that way for sure... but falls very short.

What made Insidious great was that you didn't know who or what was going after them.  The first act is spirits screwing with the family.  One of the scariest scenes is when Patrick Wilson sets the alarm to the house downstairs, goes into his bedroom, hears the doorbell ring, then immediately the alarm goes off and when he goes to look the door is wide open.  He leaves his wife in bed alone and behind her, through the window, you see the shadow of a figure walk by.  In the first film, and even in the second film, evil takes many shapes.  It takes the shape of a shadowy figure behind a curtain, of a little boy running around the house then stopping to stare at the wall, of a red-faced Darth Maul looking demon, of a Leave it to Beaver-type family that has clearly been murdered.  We get a ton of different looks at evil and the creepiness it can provide.  However, in the third chapter all we get is the dude with the breathing mask.  Yes.  He's very scary the first couple of times we see him... but that's all we get.  Once we get used to him, he's not scary anymore.  There are no other ghostly apparitions in this chapter.  Even when Elise goes into "The Further" she runs into a woman standing in the rain, a woman turned around whose face is on the back of her head (Voldemort, anyone?), and a lady sitting on a chair smiling and singing... none of which instills any fear at all in the viewer.

Then there's the biggest issue that not only is Insidious Chapter 3 not scary... it's also kinda boring.  Maybe it was my own expectations based on the writer/director's previous work but I was expecting to be scared like the first one... and sort of like the second one. Yes, I know that the first film was FULL of cheap jump scares (which obviously is the laziest type of scare), however, if it is done right and paired with the right amount of terrifying plotline and visual scares can be very fun and effective. This one almost didn't even try to jump scare you.  I mean, there were a few, but I could probably count them on one hand.  In between the scares, I kept waiting for the "unknown" to start unfolding and a rising climax of terror to build.  Yet, it was just the dude in the breathing mask coming back each time.  It became repetitive and, frankly, boring.   Then, with the extremely anti-climactic ending... I left the theater feeling very unfulfilled.

Like I said, it was a misfire.  It didn't totally ruin the franchise for me entirely.  If these guys decided to make a fourth film, I'm all on board because they KNOW horror.  It just happens that not every film they put out is going to be a masterpiece.  It's funny, a lot of flak recent horror movies get is that there isn't enough character development surrounding the terror happening on screen.  Whannell is such a good writer that he over-wrote character.  He gave us a lot with Quinn and Elise that it seemed he got somewhat distracted in trying to make us care about these characters (which we really do) that he almost forgot to scare us.  The first Insidious gave us horror on a grand scale where as this one remained very small... and failed.

Since it's a prequel, there's really no new information given that the film needs to be seen in order to connect it with the first two.  So, there's really no reason to see it.  It's a boring and mostly unscary film that's sure to let down most horror fans out there.  Don't give up hope on the franchise, but this is one you can definitely skip.


Saturday, June 6, 2015

Spy: The Anti-Paul Blart

Let's begin.  Spy is a very funny movie.  While I don't doubt that Melissa McCarthy will become a novelty like most comedic actors do, I'm glad that we have her now because she's changing the comedy game right now.  In her third collaboration with writer/director Paul Feig (the first two being Bridesmaids and The Heat) we're given a James Bond-esque secret agent spy parody film with an actress who may be the funniest actress of my generation.  I know some people are put off by McCarthy because it's kind of known that she gets her laughs from falling down and being fat.  However, if you recall most of her other roles, this isn't the case at all.  You're thinking of Kevin James.  You're thinking of Paul Blart. Melissa McCarthy is actually a comedic genius and if you don't believe me watch the outtakes to This Is 40.

McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, the seemingly mild-mannered "secret agent" who spends all of her time behind a desk and in the ear of field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law).  However, when a mission for Fine goes awry, and all of the identities of the CIA's agents are revealed, she must go undercover in order to track down a stolen nuclear weapon that's going to be sold to terrorists by Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne).  But, here's the greatest part-- she's great at it.  She's always been great at it.  She just lacked the confidence to be able to do it.  Like most humans, she got stuck in a rut of comfortability, and found herself behind a desk for a decade. This movie was never supposed to be fat chick accidentally becomes a spy and things just happen to work out because she's so stupid and bumbly that it just works.  No.  It's a person who knew what she wanted-- to be a secret agent-- but wound up getting comfortable with the stability of helping her counterpart, Fine.  After a decade of zero field work, her confidence went down and she lost faith that she would ever be as good as she thought she could.  However, she is.  She's better than she thought.  She's the best.  She knows how to beat an ass and she knows how to adapt to situations.  She's the ideal spy.  Unlike spy Rick Ford (played by the comedic scene stealing movie stealing Jason Statham) who KNOWS he is the best most competent spy, but winds up blowing most parts of a mission.

This is why the McCarthy/Feig team is so pefect: they're not out to make a fat person fall down is funny movie... they're out to make a funny movie.  What I have the utmost respect for in this film particularly is that there isn't a single fat joke.  Not one.  There isn't even a reference to her being fat and unable to complete a mission because of her weight.  It's ignored completely because it's useless fodder for comedy.  Instead, they use her appearance to garner laughs in a more creative way.  Because she lacks confidence, her CIA director (Alison Janney) keeps giving her the most ridiculous and non-flattering disguises possible (old, cat lady).  I mean the closest anyone comes to ridiculing her appearance is Statham calls her "lunch lady".  That's it.  The movie isn't out to be mean-spirited in the slightest-- it's out to make you laugh.  And, my God, does it ever.

What's also great is that Spy isn't always laugh out loud until you cry funny (although there are plenty of scenes like that), but it's also a very clever film.  Jason Statham is the perfect parody of himself and foil for McCarthy's Susan.  Statham, in practically every film he's ever been in has been an ass-kicking machine.  In this film it's like he's seen all of his previous films and understands that he's an invincible machine... yet actually really isn't.  I never knew he had such great comedic chops, but I hope this isn't the last comedy he decides to do (I also hope he doesn't completely switch to comedy, either... I mean, come on.  I can't lose badass Statham, either.).  The film is also great because it doesn't hold ANYTHING back.  Usually when you've got a female protagonist (like McCarthy) the filmmakers will puss out and keep the violence to a minimum.  Feig knows what he's doing and doesn't care who the audience is... he's out to make a funny film.  So, the violence onscreen is pretty graphic.  Like there are some GOOD deaths with a lot of blood.  However, it's all pretty much played in a comedic way... if that makes any sense.  And, of course, there's still a high level of McCarthy raunch to it.  I could listen to that woman go on a vulgar diatribe about literally anything.

I didn't mind The Heat, but I thought it would be a little funnier and a bit less stupid.  Spy is able to take everything that The Heat lacked and improved upon it.  It's a smart, funny, witty, clever, and apt spoof of the spy genre with a very competent lead and an amazing supporting cast of hilarious characters.  Don't just assume you think you know what this film is going to be like, because I can assure you... you'll be severely impressed.