Love The Coopers

Every family is dysfunctional to a degree, some more than others. The Coopers, Sam (John Goodman) and Charlotte (Diane Keaton), a couple whose 40-year marriage has lost its energy, have a family with issues galore. Charlotte wants one more happy family Christmas celebration before they split.

Love, The Coopers is like an edgier Hallmark Christmas movie, with cast members who are better known. Like a Hallmark movie, things generally work out. Like a Hallmark movie, there are few non-white faces. Unlike a Hallmark movie, a few impolite phrases are uttered and bodily functions draw attention. But don’t worry: LTC is safely PG-13.

Cooper offspring include Hank (Ed Helms) and Eleanor (Olivia Wilde). Hank’s marriage to Angie (Alex Borstein, best known as the voice of Lois Griffin on Family Guy) is breaking up. Among their three kids is son Charlie (Timothee Chalet) who is at that awkward age and is especially awkward at kissing.

Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) is a flirty type who picks up cute serviceman Joe (Jack Lacy) at the airport and drags him to the family’s Christmas Eve dinner as her pretend boyfriend. Their verbal jousting (over political and religious differences) provides some of the film’s highlights.

Emma (Marisa Tomei) is Charlotte’s younger sister with whom a sibling rivalry persists. She is busted for shoplifting at the mall. She does some amateur counseling from the back seat of the patrol car for the quiet cop (Anthony Mackie), who opens up about his sexuality.

Guests at the Christmas dinner table also include Charlotte and Emma’s dad Bucky (Alan Arkin) and his favorite diner waitress Ruby (Amanda Seyfried). Also, an addled aunt played by June Squibb is more cute than funny. Narration for the story is by Steve Martin.

Love, The Coopers—I added the comma to indicate that it refers to a Christmas card signature, not a command—is a not unpleasant holiday film. But it’s not as touching as The Family Stone (which also starred Keaton) or It’s A Wonderful Life, not as funny as Christmas Vacation or the Santa Clause movies. I’d put it right around Christmas With The Kranks level in the Christmas movie rankings.

Ted 2

 

Seth MacFarlane, you genius! The man is a quadruple threat as producer/co-writer/director of Ted 2, as well as providing the voice of the title character. He scores well in each of those jobs and delivers a worthy sequel to 2012’s Ted.

I am happy to report that Ted 2 is just as funny as the original. Ted’s campaign for personhood is totally ridiculous, as is the whole concept of this teddy bear who came to life in the 80s and is now a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking smartass. As before, Ted looks and acts just as real as his best friend John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), which helps make the film work.

The story begins with Ted’s wedding to Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth). When they argue as young couples do, they decide to cement their relationship by becoming parents. So begins a search for a sperm donor, which ends with a hilarious visit to a fertility clinic.

After their effort to adopt is squelched, Ted’s legal status is challenged. He and John retain rookie lawyer Samantha Jackson (Amanda Seyfried) to defend him in court. Ted and John are skeptical of her inexperience but take an instant liking when she whips out a bong and lights up to help calm her “migraines.”

After a Boston jury deems Ted to be “property” and not a person, the trio drive to New York to meet civil rights attorney Patrick Meighan (Morgan Freeman). The journey becomes perilous when Ted drives. An overnight stop allows Samantha to serenade John as their flirty relationship begins to simmer.

When Meighan says no to representing Ted, our furry friend heads to the NYC Comic Con where he is kidnapped by nemesis from the earlier film, Donnie (Giovanni Ribisi), and rescued by John and Samantha. Which leads to the film’s final resolution.

The laughs come quickly and frequently in Ted 2. And, as expected, the jokes are rude and crude, earning the film its R rating. Targets of MacFarlane’s jests include Google searches, improv comics, the Law and Order theme song and joggers, among many others. (Not to mention a suddenly timely dig at the guy who wrote the Constitution.)

Ted 2 opens with a spectacular dance number which outdoes the opening bit on MacFarlane’s Family Guy—mainly because this one uses real people. And Ted.

Even though Seth MacFarlane never appears on screen, it’s easy to imagine him with his smirking grin, just about to burst out in laughter, which is the appropriate response to Ted 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Million Ways To Die In The West

A Million Ways To Die In The West is filled with moments of pure delight! Those moments are hilariously funny. Some moments are clever and inventive. Other moments are crude and cheap.

Unfortunately, AMWTDITW lacks cohesiveness as a movie. The plot is passable and provides a useful framework for Seth McFarlane to hang his moments on. But the script fails to get the rhythm necessary to keep the comedy moving at a good pace.

The problem is McFarlane. The man is mega-talented. He stars as sheep farmer Albert. He directs. And he is a co-writer of the film. But although he possesses arguably the best smirk in the business, he lacks the presence to prosper as a lead character on the big screen. (He may find ways to embellish that presence.)

As a director, he knows how to bring visual and verbal humor to a film while also telling a story. His 2012 film Ted works. A Million Ways delivers laughs and a story, but could have benefited from more judicious editing.

My favorite character in A Million Ways is Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), a dandy who runs a store that sells moustache-grooming supplies. He leads a wonderful musical number—written by Stephen Foster—about the importance of a man’s having a moustache. Foy later has a digestive system crisis that features low humor that leads to big laughs.

Anna (Charlize Theron) is the wife of gunslinger Clinch (Liam Neeson). Before Clinch shows up in the town of Old Stump, Anna has a platonic thing going with Albert who is heartbroken after being dumped by Louise (Amanda Seyfried). Louise has moved on the moustache man, Foy, amping up Albert’s dislike for the dandy.

The townsfolk also include Albert’s best friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) whose girlfriend Ruth (Sarah Silverman) refuses to engage in premarital sex, even though she is, by profession, a hooker.

The film has a few cool surprises, including cameo appearances. (There’s one bit that should NEVER have been included in a TV spot, but is. It’s huge spoiler.)

The soundtrack is classic. Joel McNeely brings an Aaron Copeland influence to many of his compositions. And Alan Jackson sings the closing theme song that has a classic feel.

A Million Ways To Die In The West, like Blazing Saddles, is a film that is likely to be enjoyed for decades. See it in the theater now and on TBS and TNT (with a cleaned-up dialogue version) in years to come.

 

 

 

 

The Big Wedding

The Big Wedding is a big mess. First clue: all-star cast. Second clue: gratuitous f-bombs and a few seconds of nudity designed to clinch an R rating. Third clue: a contract required by Lionsgate, insuring that I will reveal nothing about the movie before 9:00 p.m. CDT on April 25 and will share no spoilers ever.

There are some laughs, to be sure, in The Big Wedding, though not as many as one might hope for. The set-up: Robert DeNiro and Diane Keaton are exes. Susan Sarandon is DeNiro’s girlfriend. Adopted son is about to get married. Son’s bio-mom from Colombia is strict Catholic who doesn’t believe in divorce, so son asks DeNiro and Keaton to pretend they’re still wed while bio-mom is visiting. Hey, successful film and TV comedies have been built around flimsier situations.

The bride (Amanda Seyfried), her parents, other extended family and even the priest (Robin Williams) provide additional sub-set-ups. In most cases, you can figure out exactly what’s going to happen.

Apparently Topher Grace is now out of the witness protection program or rehab or wherever he’s been. He plays DeNiro/Keaton’s son who receives a dinner table sexual favor in a scene that was much funnier eight years ago in Wedding Crashers. Katherine Heigl, whose ’09 movie The Ugly Truth similarly ramped up the raunch, rendering an R-rated romcom, plays Topher’s sad sister.

The Big Wedding provides a modest amount of amusement. It runs just 90 minutes which means, with 20 minutes of trailers beforehand, you’ll barely have time to finish that mondo-size box of Raisinets.

The cumulative star power of a movie like The Big Wedding (and various Garry Marshall holiday-related films) actually can, I believe, make such a movie more bearable. On the other hand, if you go because you particularly like one individual star in the cast, you will inevitably be disappointed because your favorite has to share his or her screen time with so many others.

And maybe the R rated content will please many who tire of formulaic PG-13 romantic comedy fare that toes the line. In a world with HBO and Showtime original content dialing up the sex/language quotient, The Big Wedding could be right on the money with its f-bombs and bare butt. But I don’t think so.

(Special note to the Lionsgate legal team vetting this review for spoilers: I’m flattered that you care! Reminder: If you were required to watch this mess, that’s 1.5 billable hours!)

 

 

Les Miserables

Les Misérables has been a beloved musical stage play for over two decades and now it is a musical movie. Let us consider Les Miz, the movie.

It’s good, but not quite great. The musical performances—bravely sung live by the performers during the actual filming—range from top notch to merely passable. Likewise, the songs themselves range from magnificent to tedious. There are magic moments in the music, to be sure. But not every song sparkles.

The cast includes formidable talent, including Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe as Javert, Anne Hathaway as Fantine and Amanda Seyfried as Cossette. Hathaway is the best supporting actress frontrunner for her heart-tugging performance of “I Dreamed a Dream.” Another highlight is the Jackman/Crowe vocal duet/duel on “Confrontation.”

Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter handle the needed comic relief song “Master of the House” nicely. But their respective comic performances in movie musical Sweeney Todd were more effective, partly due to funnier source material.

Special mention must be made of newcomer Samantha Barks as Éponine. She is not only a great vocalist (a winner of a TV talent competition in Britain a few years back), but also has a strong onscreen presence. Look for big things for this woman.

The production of Les Misérables is big with a huge cast (singers and non-singers). Many of the settings are also big, though some are way too obviously computer-generated. The film’s finale is a stirring panoramic scene that closes the film on a strong emotional note.

Expectations have been running high for this movie. Some are met, but not all. Not hardly.