Saturday, 28 July 2012

REVIEW - Ted ★ ★ ★ ★

Review by Damon Rickard
Stars Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane
Written by Seth MacFarlane
Certification UK 15 US R
Runtime 106 minutes
Directed by Seth MacFarlane

WARNING - Trailer contains material unsuitable for those under 15

From the mind of the creator of Family Guy comes the story of an unbreakable friendship between a boy and his teddy bear.  Wait, what?!

That's right, our good friend Seth MacFarlane's first foray into feature film has a premise that does require a slight suspension of disbelief.  As a boy John Bennett (Wahlberg) didn't have any friends, even the kids that got beaten up didn't want him around as they got beaten up.  So one magical Christmas he wished his bear would come to life to be his BFF.  And as we have learned through movies over the years, there is nothing more powerful than a child's wish except, as Patrick Stewart's narration informs us, Apache helicopters.

As a living, breathing teddy bear, Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) gains a level of fame over the years but as time passes he, like all celebrities who have no discernible talent, gets forgotten about.  John and Ted while away their adult years smoking dope, watching Flash Gordon and just generally bumming around.  At least that's how John's long time girlfriend, Lori (Kunis) sees it and as she wants their relationship to finally start moving forward and grow, she sees no other option than to ask John to get Ted to move out.

Can John break the bond he created one Christmas night and choose the love of his life over his Thunderbuddy (watch the trailer for that one)?  Or will he always be at Ted's beck and call even if it means jeopardising his relationship with Lori?

The first thing you'll notice is that the humour is very much along the same lines as Family Guy, MacFarlane hasn't strayed from his comfort zone and sensibly so.  If it aint broke and all that.  In remain the pop culture references, the odd cut away (including a spoof of a spoof - think that's the first time I've seen that done), the borderline racist jokes, the crudeness and a voice that is a mix of Peter Griffin and Brian.  He's even surrounded himself with familiar faces and voices including Kunis and Stewart, Patrick Warburton and Alex Borstein alongside genius cameos from Ryan Reynolds and Tom Skerritt.  There is one more that tops the lot but I'm leaving that one as a surprise and it possibly contains one of the funniest moments of the year, behind the Hulk smash Loki scene from The Avengers.

MacFarlane does a fine job of mixing the drama, sentiment and humour, keeping the first two only in use when the story needs it.  He knows that this is all about the funny stuff and uses the conventional movie making parts only to move the story along, recognising that the Family Guy style narratives wouldn't make for a hour and a half movie.  And what Ted really does deliver on is the funny stuff.  This had me letting out full on belly laughs and even when the film finds the odd lull here and there it has enough to be this year's funniest film.  And one of the funniest I've seen in quite some time. 

Yes it's silly, yes it's crude but I didn't care - it did what it meant to do, make me laugh.  The performances are spot on, with Wahlberg proving that perhaps his comedy chops are better than his dramatic ones.  His relationship with Kunis is handled very well, never being over sentimental and just as it threatens to do so someone gets knocked out with a mic stand.  As you do.

The criticisms I would lay at the door of this are potentially the same as the reasons I thought it was great.  It is a bit too Family Guy, even to the point of you actually wonder why the hot chick has spent so much time with the lifeless arse (although the big difference here is Wahlberg isn't exactly lacking in the looks department - and this exact fact is mentioned as MacFarlane obviously recognised this issue).  It also does slow towards the middle whilst we get through the story parts and you just want more gags. 

But overall this is a brilliant debut from MacFarlane, delivering exactly what it intended and by the bucket load.  An hilarious romp through the magical friendship of a boy and his bear, a fairy tale for adults. Us guys probably all wouldn't mind a friend like Ted.


Sunday, 15 July 2012

REVIEW - Brave * * *

Review by Damon Rickard
Stars Kelly MacDonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson
Written by Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews
Certification UK PG US PG
Runtime 100 minutes
Directed by Brenda Chapman & Mark Andrews

Set in the highlands of Scotland and many years ago, Pixar tells us the tail of Princess Merida, a girl who is determined to break free from the shackles of tradition and find her own way in the world.  Beset on all sides by family and other clans, she is forced into a life she doesn't believe in.  One which entails speaking in a certain way, eating in a certain way, walking in a certain way.  Merida is more interested in galloping through the woods on her trusty steed with her beloved bow and arrows, dreaming of adventure and heroism, not spending her time pandering to the whims of a man she hasn't chosen for herself.

When it comes to the day her suitors must compete for her hand, Merida sneaks out of the castle and finds herself led deep into the woods by Will-o'-the-wisps where she comes across a cabin, inhabited by an old lady woodcarver who holds the power to change Merida's fate.  But at what cost?

Once again the Pixar arm of Disney brings us a charming tale of breaking free against the odds and being the person (fish, car, toy) that you're destined to be, not what the world expects of you.  This is a theme that has permeated the Pixar brand through all their films.  Be it Buzz Lightyear realising he is more than just a toy, Lightening McQueen finding more to him than just a race car, Wall-E breaking away from his life as a trash compactor and discovering his dream of companionship, they constantly remind us that we can be all we want to be.  From all the delights Pixar has given us, the closest film in personality to this would be Finding Nemo.  Both are set against a struggle within the family with the child wanting more than the parent would allow. 

Brave starts with all the charm of its predecessors and some genuine laugh out loud moments, combined with a voice cast that is enthralling to listen to.  The build up of the characters and the set up for the story is a joy to watch with absolutely sumptuous animation.  The scenery is stunning, bright and beautiful and doing for Scotland what Lord of the Rings did for New Zealand.  The detail put into this film is beyond anything Pixar have done before and that really is saying something.  The hair on our protagonist is incredibly lifelike as is the fur on animals they have.  This exceptional animation aids to the initial enjoyment of the film.

However it is when the story really kicks in that the film begins to lose the brilliance of it's early promise.  One of the things Pixar have always done well is keep the tone of their films the same throughout and the pacing consistent.  However with John Lassiter moving away from overseeing all the Pixar output, the overall quality seems to have been affected.  The film moves into a typical Disney narrative and loses some of the fun that held its head high through the first half of the film.  Whilst it still retains some of the humour, there is a distinct tonal shift as the story telling brings in the good vs evil moral compass.  A darker voice seems to take over which, even though not overbearing, doesn't quite fit into what was, at some points, practically a slapstick comedy.  It is here that the film just sort of lulls along to the climax rather than building to a crescendo.

Overall it is an entertaining watch and never boring but I just felt it could have been much better and stood up as one of Pixar's best entries. As it is, whilst still better than most current animated films, it sits neatly nestled in with Cars 2 and A Bugs Life on the average Pixar scale.