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Gavin Grades The Movies



Ted

Fox once saw so much potential in Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy.  But when no one wanted to watch it, Fox pulled the trigger on it and canceled it in 2001.  Then a few years later it was released on DVD and the hardcore fans of the show (like me) bought it and finally had a way to show people what they missed.  The DVD sales were so high for that show that Fox reconsidered its decision to end the show, brought it back and it's been a money-grab ever since.  It took no one seeing it for everyone to love it.  Sadly, I think that's the same fate in store for Ted.

A movie about a little boy who wishes that his favorite teddy bear comes alive and remains his best friend forever is the stuff of the worst kind of children's movies.  It's the kind of plot that is literally the kind of thing you laugh out loud at and then feel bad for Eddie Murphy for starring in it.  But when you mention that it's all from the mind of Seth MacFarlane and it's an R-rated comedy, most people couldn't be back on board faster.

Not only is it painfully obvious from the opening minutes that this is from the mind of the man who made Family Guy, it keeps that same playful, offensive, random tone through the whole film.  If you love the bizarre flashbacks and fantasy scenes that play out in the show, then Ted won't let you down.  It's actually a ton more impressive to me that they did still do that considering how much more expensive it is to pull it off with live action.  And don't think for a second that because this is MacFarlane's first feature film that he kept the references somewhat grounded in popular culture; a bulk of the film centers around Ted and his human bestie, John's, obsession with the 1980 cinematic so-bad-it's-good turd Flash Gordon.  My wife didn't understand a single reference to the film but enjoyed it all the same.

Mark Wahlberg stars as John, a guy who is letting his friendship with Ted come between him and his adulthood and relationship with Mila Kunis.  Wahlberg is a fine actor and able to pull of comedy quite well, but don't expect a lot from any of the humans in the film.  The only actual person that provides enough funny to be note-worthy is Giovanni Ribsi (Avatar, Cold Mountain) who relishes playing creepy, slimey characters and does it so well even in a comedy like this.  

The real star of this film is MacFarlane's script.  The laughs come one-after-another and don't stop and get relentless at times.  You can tell that he is steeped in television expierence where you have to cram as much as you can into 22-minutes.  Here he has two hours to fill but makes you exhausted with how fast the comedy comes at you.  Unfortunately the plot is nothing new and nothing original.  The story is predictable and removed of any soul or emotion (despite what Kunis said in an interview you can hear below).  Because of that, the film offers cheap, cringe-worthy jokes and nothing more...but let's cut the crap, that's all you're looking for and really all you want.
Ted  (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B+





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Tower Heist

Director Brett Ratner is not known for comedy; he’s known more for action films like Red Dragon or X-Men 3.  Granted, the man did the Rush Hour series, but I’m not really sure if you can legally consider those movies comedies since they’re so unfunny.  But Tower Heist is a comedy compiled of a varsity team of laugh makers.  Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck (Oceans 11, Gone Baby Gone), Michael Pena (30 Minutes of Less, Crash), Judd Hirsch (Taxi, Independence Day) and Alan Alda (M*A*S*H, The Aviator) all star in this movie about the 1% stealing money from the 99%.  It’s funnier than Rush Hour but still not the great comedy it should be.

Tower Heist is a very timely plot.  The relevancy of a rich Bernie Madoff type stealing pensions and life savings from the people who work in his luxury Manhattan condo building he lives in is exactly the revenge story this country needs right now.  It’s fun to watch Alda get his vintage, Steve McQueen Ferari smashed by Still with a golf club.  It’s as if each strike is a victory for the Occupy Wall St. protestors.  In that respect, the film is a true success, but might have been better if it was handled as a thriller instead of a comedy.

Spicing up the comedic premises are some very talented actors.  Leading the charge is Murphy, who hasn’t actually appeared in a good movie since he was nominated for an Oscar in 2006’s Dreamgirls.  Him making bank off of the Shrek franchise, allowing him to go away for a while, is a very good thing.  He’s made a lot of very poor movie decisions and he saturated the market with Murphy.  Seeing him in Tower Heist though reminds us all of why he was one of the brightest shining stars in Hollywood once.  He crackles on the screen like Robin Williams did in his prime.  He pumps life into lines that otherwise would go insignificant, simply by being Eddie Murphy.  Of course he’s not breaking new ground or jockeying for accolades, but damnit, he’s really good.

Same can be said for the rest of the cast that do a fine job of supporting Murphy and allowing him to be the star.  Especially Stiller who has proven he can be the funny man but takes a backseat as the straight guy to Murphy’s wild card.  The only actor that gives Murphy a run for his money is Pena, who banks yet another winning comedic performance in his resume.  It’s almost getting to the point where I forget that he started and excelled at drama first.

I appreciate this film for what it is and what it attempted to do.  But sadly it falls short in quite a few ways.  The comedy stops around the beginning of the third act and the rest is allowed to be suspenseful action, albeit still fun.  The climax of the film though ventures into absurd when the entire success of their heist is dependent upon an absolutely impossible and stupid stunt.  I’m not sure if that was Ratner’s idea to show off how well he can use special FX or not, but it’s ineffective except in that it makes me laugh unintentionally.

Tower Heist is a fun movie that does no wrong.  Some of that is because heist films are always fun by default.  But allow Oceans 11 be an example of how it can be fun, funny and downright awesome by stylizing the look and tone and keeping us grounded in the plausible.  Go for the fun of it, stay for the Murphy but expect to get a little robbed of your expectations.
Tower Heist  (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B-

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The Big Year

If you were to ask most comedians who their favorite comedians are, I would guess that Steve Martin would show up in the Top 10 for most of them.  There's no argument over his influence and skills.  But for some reason, he chooses horrible movies to do...at least in the last couple decades.  It doesn't make sense why the man that brought us The Jerk, The Three Amigos, Planes, Trains & Automobiles and Parenthood has also brough us Cheaper By the Dozen 1 and 2, Bringing Down the House, and The Pink Panther remakes.  Now he has The Big Year.  So which pile will this be thrown on?  Can it be on both?  The Big Year has a great premise: it's a pseudo true story about a real event called The Big Year which is competitive bird watching.  Yeah.  Competitive.  Besides Martin, it also stars Owen Wilson and Jack Black...two actors that were also really funny once upon a time and have perhaps run their course.  A film in the vein of Christopher Guest's classic Best in Show would have been amazing!  A comedy lampooning the existence and the people that participate in a bird watching competition sounds awesome!  Quickly it becomes apparent that that is not the direction they took.  I probably should have seen that coming since it was directed by David Frankel, who did Marley & Me and The Devil Wears Prada.  He's very good at giving us comedies  that teeter back and forth between very funny and emotionally appealing.  The Big Year tries as hard as it can to be more like those films but sadly never does.  See, when you enter into a Big Year, you are away from your family, your job, your life for a whole year.  You miss out on an awful lot and the movie partially focuses on that.  It also focuses on the beauty of nature and the birds themselves.  If you're saying so far all that doesn't sound very funny...you're right.  The movie isn't very funny; but that doesn't mean it's not good.  But it doesn't do a quality job at pulling you in any particular direction or making you feel a certain way.  It just kind of exists.  The characters don't make you feel for them completely or even pick a favorite in the contest.  There are moments of great filmmaking but not enough to love the movie. The good news is that none of these usually annoying comedic actors are annoying in the film.  They don't branch out into new territory or take any risks with character choices but you get what you'd expect minus some fark and dick jokes from Jack Black.  In fact, he gives one of the better performances in the movie since the relationship with his dad, played by Brian Dennehy (Romeo + Juliet) is some of the near tear-jerking you expierence in the film.  But overall to use the word "big" in the title of this film is false advertising. The Big Year  (Rated PG) Gavin Grade: C
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