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: :?

The Goonies – 25 Years Later

June 7, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog, Entertainment

“Ye…intruders beware…crushing death and grief…soaked with blood…of the trespassing thief.”

How many times have you said this, in that totally awesome Fakey British Accent just like Corey Feldman as “Mouth” in “The Goonies”? If you grew up between the years 1985-1990, you know these words by heart. You probably know half the movie, if not all of it, by heart. It was a defining “kids” movie of the mid 80’s that still lives on as one of my favorites of all time.

What sets it apart for me as a great film compared to a lot of other “kid gang adventure” movies is that this one has a lot of heart; and not only doesn’t spend its running time showing off kids talking in their lingo and being against their parents but the whole plot revolves around a group of foul-mouthed kids who want nothing more than to help their parents. They want to save the Goon Docks, a little neighborhood tucked away in the rainy, gray skies of coastal Astoria, Oregon.

My friends and I wanted to be The Goonies. Of course, we didn’t have to save our neighborhood. None of us had a Spanish speaking cleaning lady who had to beware of cockroaches and live without food or water if she didn’t comply with orders. Also, none of us, unfortunately, lived near a legendary pirate ship carrying thousands of “rich stuff”.

This was the kind of adventure every boy dreams of, hopefully before they get to 16. In the wide-eyed days of 1985, when we were younger, it was still possible to dream that something like this could happen. This movie was incredibly fun, even with the lame typical mafia-is-after-us subplot. I mean, I guess kids movies always have to have a bumbling group of darkly dressed “burglars” or whatever chasing them. At least this one had a young Joey Pants, and the fight over Pepperoni Pizza was funny. And of course, no one can forget Ma Fratelli who utters the famous line, “Kids suck”. But still, I don’t think there’s a kid’s story out there like this one that doesn’t involve some bumbling mafia guys or some lame government plot that only kids can bust wide open.

I like that the Fratellis never steal the spotlight from the Goonies themselves. Their story is even amusing sometimes, and endearing because of Ma’s deformed progeny, named “Sloth”. Plus, the Fratellis are actually dangerous, unlike most other bumbling villains in kids’ movies. We’re introduced to them breaking out of a prison and murdering someone, stuffing the corpse in a freezer at a seasonal restaurant that’s closed. Well, that’s not totally true–the restaurant is somewhat open. But all they serve is pinkish colored water and tongue.

The Goonies realize that what’s important about the restaurant is that underneath is a cave that does, indeed, lead to the pirate’s treasure. The infamous One-Eyed Willie. But along the way, Sloth joins the group, the Fratellis follow them through the tunnels and the booty traps (that’s Booby traps!), and of course there’s a climax where they’re all on the pirate ship itself.



I was first introduced to this movie through a family friend who was talking to my twin sister about it when we were visiting them down in Slidell, Louisiana. She told us about this movie about a pirate and a bunch of kids, and the pirate was named One-Eyed Willie and he had a patch over his eye. It sounded scary to me, and I didn’t really hear much more about it after that. That was because at the time my family and I were living in one of the most remote towns in the country…Lyon’s Falls in Upstate New York. I was surprised that in my second grade class, the student body was invited to a screening of “The Karate Kid”. But nothing about “The Goonies”.

It wasn’t until 1986, a year after it being released, that I finally got to see the movie. Living in Atlanta, Georgia, and surrounded by neighbors who all had kids me and my sister’s age whom had all seen the movie, it was only a matter of time before I finally got to myself. My next door neighbor, whose hobbies including setting fire to things and copying movies he rented onto blank VHS tapes, let me borrow a copy of it. I was hooked from the first viewing. I identified with its main protagonist, Mikey, and some of my friends around the neighborhood resembled the kids in the movie. I wasn’t nearly as brave or cunning as Mikey, and I didn’t have asthma or braces; but I had a bowl hair cut and I was about his height, I think. I liked quoting Mikey.

“Down here it’s our time… it’s our time down here.”

My friends and I had little adventures of our own. There was an abandoned barn down at the end of a street in our neighborhood that was spooky and old. Naturally, we explored it. There was also a field and a forest behind it. I always wanted to imagine what was beyond…I found out later that it was a Seven Eleven. But at age 8, that’s still pretty cool.

Pizza...? Shhh! Pepperoni...? Shhh!

Pizza…? Shhh! Pepperoni…? Shhh!

The movie shaped my childhood, along with other adventure movies like “Explorers”, “The NeverEnding Story”, “The Dark Crystal”, “Labyrinth”, and “The Goonies” famous rip-off, “The Monster Squad”. Throughout my teenage years I didn’t watch it much. I was over all of that, and I had to give it a break. I think I had watched it 20-30 times during the years of ‘86 and ‘91.

But probably about 8 years ago, around the time when it started to be “cool” to think back on the 80’s (VH1 really went to town with all of that…they sure Loved the 80’s…), I really missed this movie. I still had a clamshell VHS tape (those always made me feel weird, because it just seemed baby proofed or something) and I popped it in and watched it. It really made me ache for my childhood again. I couldn’t watch it for years after that.

For whatever reason, “The Goonies” is still a little painful for me because it’s such a reminder of a wonderful time in my life that’s long over. Sounds strange, but it’s like revisiting the grave of my youth. I don’t know if kids nowadays are introduced to “The Goonies”, but even if they are, it’s not the same. “The Goonies” came out in the middle of the 80’s, when it started to define itself as a decade and date itself. There are elements of the movie that are incredibly dated. The clothing (Mouth’s Member’s Only jacket), Stef’s insanely large glasses, Chunk’s Hawaiian shirt and plaid pants (when was that ever popular?) and of course…the music. Some of the songs they listen to are just brutally 80’s teen rock ditties I’m sure were sellers back in ‘85. But now, they just sound bad. Fun bad, but bad.

This past weekend marked the 25th Anniversary of “The Goonies”. AMC was showing it throughout the weekend. Twenty-five years. It’s pretty hard to think about that. When I was growing up I still remember thinking the 25th Anniversary of “Psycho” meant “it’s old”. Now “The Goonies” is in that class. It’s old. It’s a by-gone era. The Silver Anniversary. It’s just not fair. It should never be considered an old movie–but it is. I just listed reasons why, too. But I don’t want to accept it! I don’t want to accept that I’m old!

OK, I had to get that out of the way.

The DVD release, while not providing a true widescreen presentation (ahem), was a real treat. The commentary track featuring the cast and director was so nice to watch along with revisiting the movie. It was like catching up with old friends. OK yeah, we weren’t really friends. But I made so many connections with these characters, that’s what they felt like. And apparently, these kids formed friendships on the set as well, so it was a real reunion for them as well. It was cute to see, and it’s a cute movie.

Everything from Data’s Pinches of Power to his father telling him in his native Chinese “You are my greatest invention”; Chunk getting his favorite pizza (Domino’s?!?) from his mom and telling Sloth that he loves him; Mouth and Stef sharing a moment; and, the hottie cheerleader Andy telling Mikey he’s a good kisser.

Ah, the Truffle Shuffle!

Ah, the Truffle Shuffle!

With more viewings of the movie, more things just become so darn cute about it. Data’s rant when he falls down the stairs is really hilarious. Mouth’s “I’m taking them all back” soliloquy moves me. And I just think it’s funny that Jake Fratelli makes up a story (presumably?) about going to the Bronx Zoo; and then tells Sloth a story (most definitely true) that they spent money meant to fix his broken teeth on brother Francis’ toupee. There are a lot of little things that just come out of nowhere that add to how great this movie is.

Sure, there’s vulgarity that caused some tidal waves from parent groups back when it came out; but even Ebert said these kids sounded “like real kids”. Of course that meant to him that he couldn’t follow what they were talking about. But we, of course, followed it perfectly. Even when they contracted themselves. Contra…contradicted themselves. We just didn’t want to dictate…or delude ourselves.

Happy Twenty-Fifth, “The Goonies”. You’re still good enough.

The Wrestler

February 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

Do you ever wonder about what goes on in the lives of professional wrestlers? Ever pondered what it was like behind closed doors for guys like Hulk Hogan, The Rock, or Stone Cold Steve Austin?

Me neither, but this movie made me care just a little bit more. Now that may not be saying much, but for what it’s worth, this is a film that at least deserves a viewing, and perhaps illustrates a profession that isn’t as useless as some of us may think. Then again, maybe not. I guess I’m feeling rather dubious today.

“The Wrestler”, in some ways, reminded me of “Raging Bull”. The opening sequence shows the glory days of Randy “The Ram” Robinson, and then the film opens up with the usual “20 Years Later”, and he’s a broken down man who works at a food mart and still does weekend shows for some extra scratch, just trying to make ends meet, and recapture old glory.

There is nothing we haven’t seen here before with the dark side of an athlete’s life–although I did enjoy some of the credit given to these guys who are trying to make a living, and aren’t the big celebrities such as “The Rock”. They have pretty lame names, and they do actually beat the living daylights out of each other at times. There’s a pretty bloody and gritty match that “The Ram” gets involved with, which leads to his ultimate “life-changing” decision to retire, and that’s when he suffers a heart attack.

At first he doesn’t want to retire, but after trying to reconnect with his daughter thanks to the advice of his regular stripper-friend (played quite well by Marissa Tomei, and quite…nude), he decides to settle down a bit. But as it turns out, his daughter hates him and the one chance he has to redeem himself by taking her out to dinner, he blows it on cheap sex with a slut with a Fireman fetish (probably the funniest sequence in the whole film).

And of course, that’s what this movie is about. It’s all about being too late to change things, and faded dreams that never will be reached again. It’s a fairly predictable film but it’s saved by its quirky approach and the absolutely powerful and commanding performance by Mickey Rourke. He steals the show completely–and he just knows how to make you feel his pain just with a crack of his lips and the croak of his broken voice.

Despite that this is quite a depressing film, there are some funny bits in it. There’s a great scene in a deli that he’s picked up hours for, in which he sort of relives some “charisma” and shows how he “plays to an audience” while slicing up deli meats and sealing up penne pasta and egg salad. There’s also an amusing scene of him playing Nintendo with a kid who makes no bones that playing this wrestling game is “an old game”.

An old game can sum up this movie’s plot and the character development as well, but it’s unfair to put down a film that’s at least earnest and deeply involved with its protagonist, even if what he does for a living can be a cheap and shoddy profession. It’s still something you can actually admire, if you think about it.

My rating: :smile: