Ted

Will you like “Ted?” Well, do you like “Family Guy?”

“Ted” is a rude, crude and hilarious movie with a heart. Mark Wahlberg is John, a 35-year-old underachiever who has a real, live teddy bear for a best friend. He also has a girlfriend, Lori, played by Mila Kunis, who wants him to ditch the bear and get on with his life.

When he was an 8-year-old, John got a teddy bear for Christmas. He made a wish that the bear could be real and…it happened! The bear became famous. Appeared on the Carson show! Now Ted has grown up with Wahlberg and is a sarcastic, pot-smoking has-been.

Kudos to all involved for making Ted appear so real. A combination of motion-capture and animation has rendered an on-screen Ted that is nearly flawless.

Ted is voiced by Seth MacFarlane, who also directed and co-wrote the movie. MacFarlane is the brains behind “Family Guy”—he’s the voice of Peter and Stewie Griffin and Brian the dog—and two other animated TV shows.

“Family Guy” fans will enjoy cast members Alex Borstein, the voice of Lois Griffin, and Patrick Warburton, who voices Joe Swanson, in their minor roles in “Ted.” (I wonder why Seth Green, who voices Chris Griffin, was not included.)

“Ted” has many cool cameos and a quick tribute to an early 80’s film comedy classic. Speaking of voices, Patrick Stewart provides the film’s opening and closing narration.

Trimming away some excess would’ve resulted in a tighter, better movie. Getting us to a happy ending made the film too long. But the funny lines and scenes are abundant, good taste is lacking and audiences will be howling at “Ted.”

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The Amazing Spider-Man

Is it legit to retell an origin story that was told just ten years ago? Apparently the 2002 version of how Peter Parker got his powers wasn’t quite accurate, because the new movie changes some of the details.

The rebooted story of “The Amazing Spider-Man” stars Andrew Garfield of “The Social Network” fame. Unlike former Spiderman Tobey McGuire, he’s hunky and does not have a high-pitched voice. It’s much harder to buy Garfield as a weak, meek target of high school bullies. McGuire was a better wimp.

Not that Garfield doesn’t do a good job—he does. Garfield’s Spiderman embraces his new powers more readily than did McGuire’s Spidey. His powers first come into play in a memorable scene in a subway car when Parker is not quite yet aware of all he can do. It’s a fun scene.

His love interest is Gwen, played by Emma Stone. Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane in the ’02 movie took some time to figure out that Parker was Spiderman. Gwen gets hip quick. While there’s nothing quite as sexy as the upside down kiss in the ’02 Spidey flick with Kirsten Dunst’s nipples visible under her wet blouse, there is a bit of heat between Peter/Spiderman and Gwen. Emma’s got legs and they are given good screen time.

Gwen’s dad is a police boss, played by Denis Leary. Leary is leery (sorry!) of Spiderman and his intentions. When Gwen has Peter over for dinner, her dad and the unmasked Spidey have a contentious conversation about the Web-Slinger.

The villain is Dr. Curt Connors, played by Rhys Ifans. Parker’s vanished father had been a research partner of Connors. In an effort to check out the possibility of cross-species genetics, Connors injects himself and becomes a rather violent giant lizard. In lizard mode, he wreaks major civic havoc until our hero saves the day.

Martin Sheen and Sally Field are featured as Peter Parker’s aunt and uncle who raise him after his parents make a quick getaway. Cliff Robertson’s role as Parker’s uncle in the ’02 film was more poignant and meaningful than is Sheen’s. As for Parker’s parents, a post-credits coda teases that their fate may be learned in the next Spiderman movie.

It is true that this movie about a SPIDER man is directed by a man named… WEBB! Marc Webb previously directed “500 Days of Summer,” but has never taken on anything as big as this. He does an efficient job of storytelling and bringing freshness to story elements that have been presented on screen before. The effects are good but they do not “drown out” the plot line as happens in some tent pole type franchise movies.

Why so many comparisons to the ’02 movie with McGuire and Dunst in this review? Well, that first “Spiderman” movie is still #12 on the all-time box office list! It has not exactly faded from our collective memory.

Can the new version even come close to the $403.7 million US box office total of Spidey One? With a favorable opening date, just ahead of Independence Day, and eager anticipation from moviegoers, the outlook is good to go big.

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

My older son asked for the book Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter for a present last Christmas. He said he was intrigued by the title. Following a strong beginning, the book failed to maintain his interest and he put it down about halfway through.

I had a similar reaction to the movie “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.” The movie starts strong but begins to bore early on. The vampire killings are marginally entertaining, but they become redundant.

The lengthy battle with vampires on the train to Gettysburg is literal overkill—it goes on much too long. This distraction may explain why Lincoln’s speech at the battlefield, supposedly composed on the train ride, was so short and to the point. Unlike the well-crafted Gettysburg Address, this movie was not so neatly assembled.

My teenage daughter calls “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” “hilarious!” I call it “ludicrous.” Surely you have better ways to waste two hours than with this bad movie.

 

 

 

 

 

Brave

The story in the newest Pixar movie, “Brave,” is, in some ways, like those in the old Disney fairy tale movies. In one major way, though, “Brave” is very different from the Disney of days gone by: the movie’s central character is a girl. And she’s not some helpless princess. She’s a girl who knows what she wants.

What she wants is to go against the traditions of her kingdom which dictate who she’ll marry. This girl, Merida, a Scottish redhead, has spunk. She is a character whose actions will be embraced by young girls (and maybe even some boys) around the world.

But does this movie break new ground? Most of the Pixar movies have given us imaginative characters like talking cars, talking toys, talking dogs, lovable monsters, etc. “Brave” has characters that could’ve starred in a Disney animated movie 50 years ago. No, it does not break new ground—with the exception of Merida’s feistiness.

Most of the characters have strong Scottish accents but, happily, they all can be clearly understood—with one notable comical exception. The voice cast includes Kelly Macdonald (as Merida), Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane and, of course, John Ratzenberger.

If you go to see “Brave,” you’ll want to stay until the house lights come up. First, to see the list of babies born to crew members during the film’s production—well over 60 for this one—which is traditionally included in the end credits of each Pixar movie. And second, for the brief but funny scene that ties up one of the movie’s loose ends.

Until last year’s overstuffed and tedious “Cars 2,” each Pixar release was a “must see.” Sadly, while “Brave” captures the magic of a bygone Disney era, it is not a step forward for Pixar. It’s a good animated movie but not a “must see.”

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

First things first, this “end of the world” movie kicks “Melancholia’s” butt.

What would you do if you found out the world was going to end in three weeks? You might panic, you might riot, you might party, you might share “gallows” humor. Or if, like Steve Carell’s character, Dodge, you’ve just been dumped by your wife, you might be almost totally unemotional.

Dodge offers aid to his neighbor Penny, a free spirit type played by Keira Knightley. They soon leave the dangers of the city to embark on a road trip to see forgotten family members and ex-lovers before the end comes.

SAFFTEOTW has laughs and horrors. It contrasts order and chaos, sadness and joy, heartbreak and love. One hilarious scene on the road trip takes place at a bar/grill called “Friendsy’s” where the staff is just a bit too eager to please. This comes moments after a scene of surprise gruesomeness.

After the stop for food and drink at Friendsy’s, Dodge and Penny get back in the truck and satisfy other appetites. The stoic Dodge enjoys her company, but is intent on finding his old high school girlfriend. Penny, meanwhile, is mainly focused on seeing an old boyfriend and her folks before earth goes kaput.

SAFFTEOTW is a sweet movie. Lead actors who are easy to like, and a script that mixes light moments with heavy, result in successful film. In a situation that is desperate but inevitable, the tension that could overwhelm is tempered. Yes, it is the end of the world, but you won’t have your personal world too badly rocked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s My Boy

Before I saw “That’s My Boy,” I asked a friend: “What was the last decent movie Adam Sandler made, ‘Fifty First Dates?’” That question, I am sad to report, is one that can still be asked.

Not that “That’s My Boy” doesn’t have some funny stuff. It does. But this is a bad movie with too much business going on. Could an editor have made the movie better by cutting out, say, 25% of the movie? Yes. That would make it 25% less painful.

Sandler plays a ne’er-do-well named Donnie who, as a high school kid, fathered a baby with a Mary Kay Letourneau type teacher. The teacher went to prison and Sandler’s character eventually got custody of the baby. He was a horrible father—so bad that the son changed his name when he grew up and cut off all connection.

After being notified by his attorney that he needs money to pay back taxes, Donnie sees his son’s photo in the paper. The son, played by Andy Samberg, is now wealthy and about to get married. Donnie crashes back into his son’s life and becomes a big part of the wedding weekend.

The movie is rife with crude, raunchy humor. The most uncouth character, of course, is Sandler’s Donnie.

Among the supporting cast are NY Jets coach Rex Ryan as Donnie’s attorney, sports anchor Dan Patrick as a Jerry Springer type talk show host, Tony Orlando as Samberg’s boss, Vanilla Ice as one of Donnie’s old friends, James Caan as a priest, Susan Sarandon as the modern day version of the teacher and SNL’s Will Forte as one of Samberg’s co-workers. Sandler takes a huge artistic risk with this movie by NOT including his buddy Rob Schneider in the cast.

There are scenes in the movie that are designed to shock and they do. Sadly, there are numerous elements in the movie that are designed to be funny and they are not. Too many misses in a movie that’s too long bring “That’s My Boy” down to D level. That’s “D,” as in, “don’t.”

Rock of Ages

You will walk out of the theater humming this movie’s songs. Because you already know them all!

All musicals are at least a little a bit cheesy. Some are just more flagrant about it. “Rock of Ages” brings on plenty of cheese and has fun with it. The music is better than anticipated and script is funnier than expected.

The story, set in 1987, has all the rock’n’roll cliché themes. Girl meets boy: Julianne Hough plays Sherrie who comes to LA to be a star. She meets Drew, played by Diego Boneta. Rock is the devil’s work: Catherine Zeta-Jones plays a Tipper Gore type who wants to rid the city of rock. Rock is here to stay: Alec Baldwin is a club owner, fighting to keep his place open. You’re never too old to rock’n’roll: Tom Cruise is Stacee Jaxx, an Axl Rose type who may or may not be over the hill.

The big question people are asking: Can Tom Cruise sing? Well, yes. His versions will never replace the originals heard on St. Louis classic rock radio, but they get the job done.

Supporting cast members include Russell Brand as a club employee and Malin Akerman as a Rolling Stone reporter who interviews Stacee Jaxx and gets up close and very personal with him. Singer Mary J. Blige adds authenticity to the cast and, presumably, a bit of African-American audience appeal. Paul Giamatti is particularly sleazy as Stacee Jaxx’s manager.

“Rock of Ages” has a good balance of hard-rockin’ songs (“Pour Some Sugar on Me,” “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”), soft-rockin’ songs (“Waiting For a Girl Like You,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling”) and medium-rockin’ songs (“Don’t Stop Believin’,” “We Built This City”).

This is a fun movie. Music, dancing, laughs, romance, sex—they’re all there. It’ll rock you. Like a hurricane. (Also on the soundtrack!)

Prometheus

“Prometheus” is a big movie with some awesome images. Michael Fassbender’s performance is excellent.

“Prometheus” has things we’ve seen in sci-fi before: a planet (actually a moon) in a distant solar system with a hospitable atmosphere, a computer/robot who may have his own agenda and (of course) ugly creatures coming out of people’s bellies.

But it tells an entertaining story. And it introduces a few new things that may exist in our world 92 or so years from now, like an automated surgery machine—nice to have when you’re far away from Earth and your crew of 17 includes no surgeons.

The movie’s opening title sequence is a series of flyovers of stark, unpopulated landscapes. When viewed in 3-D on a large movie screen, the signal becomes clear: this is a movie with heft.

Noomi Rapace, Sweden’s Dragon Tattoo Girl, stars as a scientist who, with her colleague and lover played by Logan Marshall-Green, constructs the theory that leads to the mission to this faraway place. As they approach their destination, they and others aboard are awakened from suspended animation and informed that the mission has another additional purpose.

Charlize Theron is the boss of the trip. She’s an employee of Weyland Corporation, which is sponsoring the trip. During her “welcoming” speech to the crew, she introduces a hologram of old man Weyland, played by Guy Pearce. His really bad old man makeup job is the film’s worst flaw. (Were there no real old guys available? Kirk Douglas, maybe?)

Upon landing, the crew goes out to explore and look for signs that humans may have first come to Earth from this distant sphere. The monstrous dust storm that chases them back to their craft generates huge amounts of swirling debris that look great in 3-D.

Here’s where the plot really kicks in. Further exploration reveals answers to some of the movie’s/mission’s questions. This is where robot savant David, played by Michael Fassbender, begins to reveal all he knows. (His is the movie’s most impressive acting performance.) Be ready for terror, violence and creepy creatures.

“Prometheus” is positioned as a prequel to the “Alien” movies. It contains some of the elements of those films, but stands nicely on its own merit. It’s not the best sci-fi film ever, but it’s now on the list of very good, entertaining sci-fi movies.

 

 

 

Moonrise Kingdom

Did you have romantic fantasies when you were 12? Some of us did.

On the brink of puberty, we knew we liked the opposite gender, even if we did not know exactly why. That’s sort of the situation with Sam and Suzy. They run away together and set up camp at a spot they call “Moonrise Kingdom.”

This is a quirky movie from Wes Anderson, a director known for quirky films. But “Moonrise Kingdom,” while quirky, is not so weird that it will put viewers off. In “Moonrise Kingdom,” there is quirkiness, but there is also a great story. And the two main characters, Sam and Suzy (played by unknowns Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, making their movie debuts) are immensely likeable.

The story is set in 1965 on a fictional island off the coast of New England. Suzy leaves her home (and quirky parents, played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) while Sam leaves his Khaki Scout troop (and quirky scoutmaster, played by Edward Norton). The parents and the scouts attempt to track them down, along with help from the island’s police chief, played by Bruce Willis.

Along their journey, we learn about the kids and their backgrounds. We see in a flashback how they met at a church on the island the previous summer and continued their relationship via mail correspondence. Suzy reads her favorite books (all creations of Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola) aloud to Sam.

It’s an idyllic time they spend together, despite the constant overcast conditions, which lead to a big storm at the movie’s climax. These are two kids whose lives so far are generally unhappy, who are now greatly enjoying one another’s company. For anyone who had unfulfilled romantic fantasies at age 12, it’s a joy to see these two together.

Among the many quirks in “Moonrise Kingdom,” one of my favorites is the way Suzy’s mom often communicates with family members—with a bullhorn. Another, as with most Wes Anderson films, is the genre spectrum of the soundtrack. In “Moonrise Kingdom,” it ranges from classical music to Hank Williams, Senior.

Is this a movie for everyone? No, not hardly. But if you are up for a sweet story, with interesting (I’ve used quirky too much in this review already) characters presented in Wes Anderson’s special universe, give “Moonrise Kingdom” a shot. I loved it!

Snow White and The Huntsman

There’s a decent movie in here somewhere. “Snow White and the Huntsman” has a classic story, memorable characters, great special effects, spectacular settings and thrilling scenes. Yep, it has all the stuff we go to movies for.

But it gets off to a very slow start. I honestly found myself writing “Mystery Science Theatre 3000” type lines in my head during the first half of the movie. Some were funny. Trust me.

Also, while watching SWATH, there were numerous scenes and elements that made me think of other movies, from “Da Vinci Code” to “Shawshank Redemption” to “Star Wars” to “Narnia” to “Lord of the Rings” to “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” That’s not a good thing.

Let me add that it’s hard to watch Kristen Stewart (as Snow White) without thinking of her portrayal of Bella in the “Twilight” movies. She has talent and shows stronger acting chops in “Snow White and…” than in those vampire flicks.

One more complaint: the mirror in this movie looks more like a big gong.

Chris Hemsworth plays the Huntsman. While we know him as Thor, he (unlike Bella, um, Kristen Stewart) was more convincing in his performance. He’s a bit of a ruffian redneck, but brings the romantic charm at the key moment. Charlize Theron as the Queen is simmering with wickedness and allows it to boil over in the film’s climax. If you’re a Charlize fan, don’t miss SWATH.

As with “Mirror, Mirror,” the light-hearted Snow White movie that came out two months ago, I LOVED the dwarfs! Very smart to cast top British character actors, all normal sized men, and cinematically shrink them.

SWATH’s director is a rookie, Rupert Sanders, a veteran commercial director. His feature film debut, while far from perfect, is an impressive effort. “Snow White and the Huntsman” has much to offer that will be more greatly appreciated on the big screen than on TV (even if you do have an 80-inch HDTV). If you can tolerate a few shortcomings, there is (as I mentioned at the top) a decent movie in here somewhere.