July 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

Seth MacFarlane is currently the King of Comedy with successful shows like “Family Guy” and the spin-off “The Cleveland Show”. I don’t really understand it, but he’s become the new Mike Judge; and as such, has grown into the world of movies with his directorial debut “Ted”, which he also co-wrote and serves as the voice of the co-star, a talking teddy bear.

The other star is Mark Wahlberg, who does a fine duty as an actor by playing John, a guy who for 75% of the film, is basically talking to himself (until the magic of post production added the ‘Ted’ effects). I always give actors a lot more credit when they share the screen with special effects: Bob Hoskins in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and anyone talking to Smeagol in the “Lord of the Rings” films to name a few examples. Wahlberg is very good here, and very believable, as a character who just can’t grow up because he’s lived his entire life since 7 years old clinging to his teddy bear as his best friend.

But there’s a snag in his relationship because he’s in love with a woman whom he’s been with for 4 years, Lori (played by Mila Kunis), and she’s tired of Teddy’s antics and wants John to grow up and move on. Now, I’d like to pause here to stress that these two have been together for 4 years, and live together with this talking teddy bear. How any woman would want to stay with a guy that long, and live with him in this situation, is beyond me. And I really couldn’t buy their relationship because it was too distracting to keep thinking that on a daily basis, John is with this teddy bear, talking to it, playing with it, and smoking weed with it. Now, if this movie wasn’t based in reality and had more of a John Waters feel to it, I could buy it. I always have room for surreality. And I was trying my hardest to believe this story. But because MacFarlane chose to make Teddy real, and a small celebrity for a few years, we are to believe that this is the real world (specifically, Boston), and Teddy’s as real as any living character. It’s also uncomfortably cutesy at times, and strangely unromantic.

The only relationship that does work is Teddy and John, and as I said, I heavily credit Wahlberg for this. He has this unassuming genuine demeanor that instantly works when he does characters like this. Much like his enthusiastic weirdo in “I Heart Huckabees” or his infectious charismatic Dirk Diggler in “Boogie Nights”, he’s right at home with this character of John, the manchild who just can’t grow up. Teddy also works because MacFarlane commands the voice, and rings true. When Teddy talks, most of the time, we laugh. Not because we can’t believe he’s a talking teddy bear–but he does have a lot of funny things to say. Probably the best scene is the “name” scene between the two of them, when John rattles off white trash women names, and finally realizes that there may be a “Lynne” attached.

Another relationship that I was actually very intrigued by, but disappointed with, was a promising character named Donny (Giovanni Ribisi, who devours this role with utmost psychotic joy). Donny has had an unhealthy obsession with Teddy since learning about him when he was younger, and Teddy was a national phenomenon, appearing on shows like Johnny Carson. Donny now also has a son, and wants to steal Teddy to give to his son, because he wants his son to experience the friendship he never had with Teddy. Going back briefly to John Waters, this probably would have been the central narrative if it were directed by him.

But it is directed by MacFarlane, who insists on cramming his stories with as many 80’s references as he possibly can, to prove I guess that he really knows his 80’s, and while some of it’s cute (the “Airplane!” reference made me smile), it does get a little tiresome after a while. The one that worked the best, that also fit with the story’s plot, was “Flash Gordon”. That probably brought the biggest laughs of the whole movie. But then there were jokes that were far too explained, jokes that were obvious references that fell flat, and then jokes that just didn’t work at all. In a comedy that overall works, you can always forgive that. The brothers Zucker and brothers Farrelly are great examples of guys who made enough big laughs that you could forgive the groan-induced jokes. But i don’t think MacFarlane has mastered comedy the way that those guys did. I think he’s still searching for his true voice. He hides behind a lot of jokey material, and sometimes almost seems unsure of how to approach a joke, so he just throws a reference out to make people appreciate his knowledge. I wish he’d just go for it, rather than play down to his crowd and fans, and truly push the envelope.

As it stands, this film really doesn’t push new boundaries. Yes, it’s funny. Yes, it is acceptably predictable. But something is really missing here, and I think it’s just that MacFarlane tries to play it both ways: a stoner comedy and a surrealistic comedy, and heartwarming buddy picture. Only half of it works, and the other half just falls flat.

I also didn’t really care for the narration by Patrick Stewart. Although I thought the choice was excellent, and some of the early narration is funny, he narrates with so much smirk in his voice, that it immediately kills the irony. If he’d played it straight, and given his usual strong but charmingly British execution, it would’ve been hilarious. But that would be too subtle for MacFarlane, I suppose.

I would say overall if you’re looking to get out of the heat for 2 hours and have a few laughs, this will not disappoint. But for me, I just found too many inconsistencies and not enough texture underneath that promising coat of fur.

My rating: :?

Up In The Air

January 7, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

Some people have a fear of flying. Some people just have motion sickness. A lot of people hate flying in general. For Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), he not only likes it–he “loves everything you hate about it”. Where is home? Home is here, he says while on a plane. Bingham has loyalty through his airline. He gets gold cards, member rewards, and lots and lots of flight miles. His goal? To reach a certain number of flight miles. He is unmarried, and has no children. And as for his job? He fires people.

But along the way, he is paired with an ambitious cute young girl named Natalie Keener, who has an idea that Ryan’s boss likes–localizing the job and severing their travel habits. Video conferencing is the proposed new wave of going about firing people (which they call, “giving new opportunities”). It would cut costs and corporate loves it. But Ryan doesn’t. He believes it’s better to fire someone face to face, when you have to look them in the eyes and they’re in the room with you. In order for Keener to more understand Ryan’s position, his boss (played by Jason Bateman) thinks it’s a good idea for her to tagalong with him, and be his apprentice. Of course Ryan doesn’t like this idea–but this doesn’t exactly turn into some kind of buddy picture.

The two want different lifestyles, but both come to appreciate each other’s. Keener wants a married life with kids, a home, someplace to settle down. Ryan wants to live care free and unattached to anyone or anything. Things get complicated when he begins a fling with another traveler, Alex (played by Vera Farmiga). Things develop and he wants to bring her into his life.

But life doesn’t always work out the way we want it to, and Ryan finds that out the hard way.

The film isn’t really about the lifestyles of travelers or about how a man can live with himself by making a living firing others. It’s really about the detachment and the irony of how a man who has a “loyalty” to something so frivolous and wandering as an airline-to-airline lifestyle. His relationships to others are just as empty, and he pays the price for these save a few examples that actually hindered the theme a bit, in my opinion.

The biggest example is his relationships to his sisters. He has to attend his youngest sister’s wedding and save the wedding as well, by talking the groom-to-be out of having cold feet. Bingham is set up to be a motivational speaker–however, his motivational speech revolves around carrying an “empty backpack” (being a loner, going through life alone and appreciating it). So clearly he has to change his pitch a bit. Something about throwing this into the film didn’t work for me. It seemed to complicate things a bit and was unnecessary. We don’t know enough about his family situation to know how much it would mean for him to be there for them. And by this point we already get that he’s in over his head when it comes to intimately helping someone.

For the most part, however, the film works well. I appreciated how it started as a somewhat funny and charming romantic comedy and becomes a bit darker and more honest toward the end. Director Jason Reitman has shown he has a knack for narrative and pace, and he allows his characters to breathe and live in scenes without dragging down the pace of the film.

The performances are also strong, but the strongest is Anna Kendrick’s as Natalie. Clooney delivers another good performance. And the lifestyle he lives in the film just seems so close to his lifestyle in real life, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch for him to slip into this role and completely own it.

Something still seemed to be missing at the end of the film, the way it wrapped up. The theme is there, and there is enough to draw conclusions on what the purpose was and what the filmmakers were trying to say. But there was some fat around the edges that could have been trimmed. It didn’t weigh the film down, per se, but it didn’t make it a completely smooth flight, either.

Sorry. I had to get at least one airplane pun in there. Be glad it was only one.

My rating: :-)