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.

 

 

 

 

Gangster Squad

With classic elements galore, Gangster Squad delivers the goods. Sean Penn turns in a killer performance as a boxer turned mob boss in mid-20th century Los Angeles. His character is almost cartoonish, like a Dick Tracy bad guy. Josh Brolin, as leader of the secret Squad, is not unlike Dick Tracy, with a Tess Trueheart type wife.

With a hint of the colors of retouched picture postcards and the requisite armada of late 40’s automobiles, Gangster Squad is drenched in nostalgia. The wardrobes (including men in hats), the red lipstick, the smoking, comments about WW II, the music all do a nice job of capturing the era. Josh Brolin’s opening and closing narrations echo another staple of this genre.

Penn’s character Mickey Cohen controls not only vice but also the majority of police and political leaders in metro LA. Nick Nolte, looking healthier than in his other recent roles, is the LAPD chief (not been bought off by Cohen) who anoints Brolin’s character John O’Mara as leader of a secret gangster squad.

O’Mara recruits a team of cops to shut down Cohen and his operations. Ryan Gosling is a cool LAPD detective named Jerry Wooters who successfully hits on Cohen’s babe, Grace Faraday, played by Emma Stone. He eases his way into the squad and becomes a vital team member.

The squad operates almost like the Mission Impossible teams of prior movies and TV shows. They even have a tech guy, played by the nerdy Giovanni Ribisi, who plants a microphone in Cohen’s digs and listens in from a remote shack.

The Gangster Squad and Cohen’s crooks trade punches throughout the film until the last round, when the knockout blow is finally delivered.

Gangster Squad is an entertainingly violent movie that’s not quite a classic, but has all the LA period piece cops and robbers stuff. One quibble is the casting of Emma Stone as the babe. A more mature, less innocent looking actress may have been more effective in the role.

Word is that the movie was originally slated for a September, 2012, release. But because of its violent content (and one particular sequence) was retooled and held back after the Aurora, Colorado shootings. Nonetheless, Gangster Squad is action-packed with great characters, a strong cast and a good story. I’m already looking forward to seeing it again.