Ted


Ted

When W.C. Fields said never act with children or animals, he couldn’t possibly have had Ted in mind.

(2012) Comedy (Universal) Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Giovanni Ribisi, Seth MacFarlane (voice), Patrick Warburton, Jessica Barth, Laura Vandervoort, Sam J. Jones, Joel McHale, Matt Walsh, Norah Jones, Bill Smitrovich, Patrick Stewart (narrator), Tom Skerritt. Directed by Seth MacFarlane

 

Wishes can be tricky things. We may think we want something, but we rarely think through the consequences of actually getting it. We are so rarely prepared to get exactly what we want.

Young John Bennett is a lonely, outcast little boy in the suburbs of Boston. He’s so despised by the kids of his neighborhood that even the Jewish kids undergoing a beating from the other kids in the neighborhood don’t want him to join in. One Christmas he gets a Teddy Bear the size of a toddler, one who says “I love you” whenever you press the right button; well, the only button. John is enchanted. He loves his new friend – he just wishes that his new friend were real and would be his friend forever. Lo and behold, he gets his wish.

Of course, that takes the world by surprise. After all, who the hell gets their wishes to come true? Ted (MacFarlane) becomes a minor celebrity, appearing on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (and cracking him up). But much like all celebrity, it fades – ask Corey Feldman and soon life turns back to normal for the kid and his living teddy bear.

Flash forward to 2012. John (Wahlberg) is 35 now, still living with Ted but also living with Lori Collins (Kunis), his super-hottie of a girlfriend. She’s a VP at a marketing firm; he works the counter at a rental car agency (I’d love to find out the story of how the two hooked up, but it’s not in this movie). They’ve been going together for four years and she’s ready to move on to the next step but John is in no hurry. Besides, he’s still spending as much time doing weed and drinking beer with Ted.

This doesn’t sit well with Lori who wants more of a boyfriend than an ambition-challenged slacker with a teddy bear. She’s had to fend off the advances of her boss (McHale) and defend him to all and sundry and at last it’s time for Ted to go. Reluctantly, John tells his bear to go and although Ted isn’t happy about it, he makes the best of it, getting a job at the local grocery store and banging the attractive check-out clerk Tami-Lynn (Barth) on the produce pile in the back for kickers.

Still, even that doesn’t seem to motivate John to grow up, blowing off an important event for Lori to go party with their idol Sam J. Jones – Flash Gordon himself, playing himself – at Ted’s new apartment. That night goes terribly wrong and Lori and John split up. John realizes how much he loves Lori and Ted realizes he’s gone too far. They’ll both do whatever it takes to save the relationship, but there’s a creepy dad named Donnie (Ribisi) trying to get Ted for his son – and he’ll do anything it takes to get the living teddy bear all to himself.

MacFarlane is best-known for creating “Family Guy,” “American Dad” and “The Cleveland Show” among others. His humor tends to push the boundaries of television and given the lack of broadcast standards here, he goes whole hog for some of the most disgusting humor imaginable. If you ever wondered what “Family Guy” would look like on HBO, ponder no more. He even pulls out references to characters from the show – Ted’s go at a posh British accent sounds uncannily like Stewie and he snorts at one point “What do I sound like, Peter Griffith?” Well, as a matter of fact, no.

Wahlberg is a master at portraying a basically nice guy at heart with rough edges. John isn’t a bad guy, really – he’s just immature. The trouble is, he’s 35 and his girlfriend has no desire to be with an adolescent. She, understandably wants a man – and if you look like Mila Kunis as Lori does, you pretty much get what you want. And Lori does, sorta.

And that’s the beauty of the movie. Yeah, the plot is kinda generic but MacFarlane goes about it in a pretty roundabout way. He pushes the humor way way way over the line without missing a beat, and throws in a ton of pop culture references. He throws in some characters that are kind of outside of the box, a good deal of affectionate ribbing in the general direction of Boston and voila! A summer movie that may cure the summer comedy doldrums. For those who are really missing a Judd Apatow film or one of the Hangover movies, here is the movie to go see.

REASONS TO GO: One of the funniest comedies thus far this year. MacFarlane milks every joke for all its worth.

REASONS TO STAY: May make some feel like they’ve spent two hours in the gutter.

FAMILY VALUES: There is quite a bit of crude content (albeit very funny) as well as plenty of foul language, not to mention a fair amount of drug use and plenty of smoking.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While a variety of teddy bears were used for stand-ins on-set, Ted’s movements were performed by MacFarlane as motion capture.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/9/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 69% positive reviews. Metacritic: 62/100. The reviews are kinda mixed but more towards the positive side.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Harvey

TRASH TALK LOVERS: Few cities produce as many great trash talkers as Boston does and we get to see – and hear – some gems.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Big Stan

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The Virginity Hit


The Virginity Hit

Nothing like the awkwardness of teen sex to draw an audience into the theaters.

(2010) Sex Comedy (Columbia) Matt Bennett, Zach Pearlman, Jacob Davich, Justin Kline, Krysta Rodriguez, Nicole Weaver, Harry Zittel, Savannah Welch, Seth Barrish, Tina Parker, Sunny Leone, Daniel Weber, John McLeaish, Ramona Tyler. Directed by Andrew Gurland and Huck Botko

 

When you’re a teenager, sex isn’t just a compulsion, it’s an obsession. Getting laid is one of the major rites of passage, particularly for young boys who yearn to be men. The hormonal nature of teen-ness has of late run head-on into the modern generation’s desire to document every aspect of their lives on Twitter and YouTube. You know something had to give.

Matt (Bennett) is the last of four friends to lose his virginity and that event will soon be taking place as he and his girlfriend Nicole (Weaver) intend to do the deed on their second anniversary. This will be marked with a hit on a special bong purchased for just that purpose – one which has been already used by the other three mates.

Things go horribly wrong when Matt discovers that Nicole cheated on him with a college frat boy. When confronted, Harry (Zittel) neither confirms nor denies that any sex took place. Matt’s adopted brother Zack (Pearlman) advises Matt to go through with the de-flowering, and then break up with Nicole. However when Nicole discovers she’s being filmed, she freaks out and angrily admits to having allowed Harry to suckle her breast but  only that. The two break up and Nicole’s father shows up to fetch his daughter, shoving Matt into the underbrush in the process. Matt’s fall becomes a YouTube sensation.

A beautiful young woman named Becca (Welch) sees the video and takes pity on Matt. Not only is she willing to be the one to take Matt’s virginity, she is experienced enough to make it memorable. She however makes the condition that Matt must purchase a nice suit. Matt, not able to afford such threads, goes to his biological father (Barrish) for the funds and finds out that the college trust that Matt’s mom left him had been emptied by his dad to buy drugs.

The guys – including the other members of the quartet Jacob (Davich) and Justin (Kline) – help Matt steal an Armani suit and when Matt turns up for the big night, Becca further stipulates that Matt must shave his pubic regions. Matt finally shows up for the gig and Becca tells Zack that the actual event cannot be filmed, but that Matt can practice on a blow-up doll in order to get started. Becca then leaves. Matt waits three hours before leaving himself.

It turns out that Becca isn’t her real name and that she’s a graduate student studying male behavior. The tape of Matt practicing on the blow-up doll becomes a viral sensation and Matt locks himself in his room for two weeks, completely humiliated. His friends try to get his favorite porn star Sunny Leone (herself) to help out a fan and she agrees to – for a price. The quartet and their friends raise the funds and it looks finally as if Matt is going to lose his cherry to a porn star. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, everything. This is kind of a mess, the conceit being that it is recorded by the cast (mostly playing themselves) on iPhones, video cameras and other recording devices. Given that the movie was produced by Funny or Die impresarios Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (of Step Brothers and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby fame) should touch a nerve with the Internet-savvy, at whom this is clearly aimed.

The problem is that for one thing, it isn’t very funny. Yes, it certainly has an authenticity about how this generation of teens feels the need to capture every aspect of their lives and share it via social networking and videos but there is a caveat there – most of our lives, teens and adults alike – are too damn boring to warrant much an hour and a half in the theaters let alone streaming video. The ad libs here are not what you’d call catchphrase-worthy.

The acting, pretty much by unknowns exclusively, is nearly uniform in its stiffness. None of the performers really capture my attention and create characters that I want to spend time with. I found my attention wandering throughout the movie, glancing at my iPhone and playing mah-jongg when I got bored which was frequently.

The teen sex comedy has been done to death with the American Pie and Porky’s movies, and the found footage phenomenon that started pretty much in the horror genre with The Blair Witch Project has also been overused of late. While the melding of the two seems like a good idea on paper, to be honest the execution lacks wit or cleverness enough to capture my attention for more than a few minutes. In that sense, it brought me back to my teen years perfectly.

WHY RENT THIS: Captures the connection between the Internet generation and their obsession with documenting everything in a very authentic way.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The jokes aren’t particularly funny and watching teenagers awkwardly try to get laid isn’t my idea of a fun 90 minutes.

FAMILY VALUES:  As you might imagine, there’s a good deal of sexual content and nudity, a little bit of drinking and drug use and a whole lot of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Almost all of the dialogue is ad-libbed.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s some audition footage, as well as a focus on Nicole Weaver, who worked at a popular theme restaurant in New Jersey at the time this was filmed and continued to work there after the movie was released.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $636,706 on a $2M production budget; even with no budget at all it lost money.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: End of Days

Going the Distance


 

Going the Distance

Getting typecast in romantic comedies can make any actress a little catty.

(New Line) Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Christina Applegate, Ron Livingston, Jim Gaffigan, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Natalie Morales, Kelli Garner, June Diane Raphael, Rob Riggle, Terry Beaver, Matt Servitto, Sarah Burns, Taylor Schwenke.  Directed by Nanette Burstein

Long distance romances are a fact of modern life. People meet online, or find jobs halfway across the country; in other words, things happen. Modern technology makes these kinds of relationships much easier than they were a decade ago, but it is still a very difficult proposition.

Erin (Barrymore) is a summer intern at a New York newspaper. She’s hoping to parlay the internship into a full-time job, but there aren’t any to be had so it will be back to San Francisco for further graduate work at Stanford in the fall. She loves New York and wants to be in the middle of things there, but she’ll have to check back in a year; hopefully there will be some available jobs then.

Garrett (Long) is a commitment-phobic guy who works for a record company. While he is passionate about music, he hates his job as the label, terrified at the economic enviornment for record labels, is only going for what appear to be safe acts that are going to generate revenue as opposed to making great music.  His personal life is no better; he goes from girlfriend to girlfriend, unable to understand why they leave him and wondering what it is that he’s missing in his personality to make relationships work. His friend Box (Sudeikis) and roommate Dan (Day) think his best bet is going to the bar and tying one on.

At the same bar is Erin. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the two are going to meet. It also isn’t a stretch to figure out they’re going to hit it off and over Erin’s last six weeks, fall in love. And that once the six weeks are over, they’re going to want to continue the relationship from afar.

That much is a given. However, what is really surprising is that the obstacles that the couple faces aren’t manufactured. They are the kind of things long-distance daters deal with every day. Both Erin and Garrett are working in industries that are on the endangered list;  jobs aren’t plentiful so they are pretty much stuck where they are and that is really what separates the two of them.

There’s a good deal of sex here which is also part and parcel of the long-distance experience. On those occasions they do get together it’s hard to keep their hands off of each other (or other body parts). Sometimes that can lead to fairly embarrassing situations involving dining room tables and paper-thin bedroom walls. That also shows in their phone conversations, and in their relationships with other people. In short, they are both sexually frustrated and constantly horny.

Barrymore projects one of the sweetest natures in show biz, much like Meg Ryan did a decade ago, and has quietly become one of the most reliable romantic comedy actresses in the business. She is sweet but with a core of steel; she takes no crap and stands up for what she believes in both onscreen and off. It is also a good bet that whenever you get a movie that Barrymore is in, the soundtrack is going to be rich with great indie rock acts, and this one is no different in that regard.

Erin has a great relationship with her uptight sister (Applegate) and her somewhat pedantic brother-in-law (Gaffigan) and their devil-spawn daughter Maya (Schwenke). But it is Box and Dan that nearly steal the show; every time they are onscreen, something is going on that’s going to at least make you giggle. Most of the comedy that goes on in this romantic comedy is coming from them.

Justin Long has never been one of my favorite actors, but he does what he does very very well. He seems to be mellowing and maturing as time goes by, which is slowly turning my opinion of him. Here he has a natural chemistry with Barrymore that makes the relationship even more believable. He has a hangdog look and some natural comic timing which I’ve seen in other movies as well as in some of his television work; unfortunately the few comic bits he gets to do really are some of the least successful in the film.

It’s no secret that American romantic comedies have been slowly fading in quality over the past several years. Part of the reason for that has to do with most writers following the same formula; boy meets girl, they fall in love, they are separated by misunderstanding or circumstance and they reconnect in the final reel. Studios will allow no departures from the formula, mainly because these kinds of movies tend to do really well at the box office.

This movie more or less follows the same formula, but fortunately does it in an entirely organic way so that it doesn’t feel formula. As I said earlier, most of the obstacles in the relationship evolve out of real world obstacles. There are no comic misunderstandings, no forced breakups; just two people who love each other that is separated by the circumstances of their lives and frustrated by it.

I also admired that Barrymore didn’t try to play a sweet young thing in her mid-20s. Here, she is in her 30s and trying to make up for lost time after a failed relationship. It made sense and contributed to the overall realism of the movie.

I’m not exactly sure why the movie was exiled to the frozen wasteland that is the Labor Day weekend, traditionally a very poor movie-going weekend. This is a solid, charming little film that doesn’t force its charm nor does it rely on its stars to elevate mediocre material. It isn’t going to rewrite the manual for romantic comedies, but it at least delivers on the formula in a way that isn’t the same old thing. I, for one, appreciate that.

REASONS TO GO: Barrymore is perhaps the most reliable rom-com actress in the business today. This is a romantic comedy that has its feet planted in the real world.

REASONS TO STAY: Too many typical rom-com clichés pepper the plot.

FAMILY VALUES: You’ll be seeing far more of Justin Long than perhaps anybody was ever meant to see; there is also a share of bad language and sexual references that is more than average. There’s also one scene of extended marijuana use; if you’re okay with all of that, let your kids have at it. Otherwise, older teens and above would be my recommendation.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Barrymore and Long are a couple in real life.

HOME OR THEATER: This is a good movie to pop up some popcorn in the microwave, grab a couple of sodas from the fridge and cuddle up next to your honey on the couch for.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: My One and Only