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Friday, June 26, 2015

Ted 2

Well, I like it...

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

When Ted (the talking teddy bear voiced by Seth MacFarlane, for those of you just tuning in) and his new wife, Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth), try to adopt a child, he quickly learns that he is considered not a living, sentient being but property by the state. Enlisting the help of his best friend John (Mark Wahlberg) and a wet-behind-the-ears young lawyer, Samantha (Amanda Seyfried), Ted takes the matter to court to reinstate his rights as a person – an act that is complicated both by Ted and John's habit of making tremendous messes of their lives and the re-emergence of an old nemesis.

What we thought

Ted 2 has already been met with a certain amount of hostility, by professional critics and “regular” cinema goers (an impressive feat considering it only opens today worldwide) alike, so I'm apparently going against the grain here but it has to be said: I loved Ted 2. Yes, it's crude, rude, silly and more than a little flawed but I like this cast, I like these characters and I really, really like that it made me laugh pretty much non-stop for very nearly two-hours.

It seems like every second review I write for this site boils down to my bemoaning the sorry state of modern, big-screen American comedy. And in that rough, oh so very rough, two weeks a couple of months back when I had to sit through Paul Blart 2, Get Hard and Unfinished Business, one after the other, I literally did nothing but bitch and moan about just how far comedy movies have fallen in recent years, as there was, if I recall correctly, not a single real laugh to be had between all three of those films. And, sadly, it was becoming more and more the case that these abominations were becoming the rule, rather than the exception.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Insidious Chapter 3

More like Insidious Chapter 0... 

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

Set before the events of the first two films, Insidious Chapter 3 sees our psychic, Elise Rainier reluctantly coming out of retirement to help a young woman, Quinn Brenner, exorcise a demon from her house that she mistakenly believes to be her recently departed mother.

What we thought

Effectively Insidious: Origins, the third film in this overly familiar horror franchise actually sets itself apart from most prequels in that it may well actually be the best in the series. At the very least it's a tremendous step up from the frankly terrible second film. And yet, for all that, it still barely manages to scrape past “not bad”, which may genuinely be “not bad” for a modern American horror film but it's still a far cry from the genre at its best.

On the positive side, the actual plot in this third instalment is probably the best yet, as it gets to delve deeper into the series' solidly if derivatively conceived mythology and though it's absolutely never remotely surprising, it is, pleasingly enough, actually pretty compelling. The film's decision to focus on Elise Rainier this time though, is truly its ace in the hole.

Perennial comedic supporting actress Lin Shaye (see just about any Farrelly Brothers movie ever) is pretty fantastic as the film's reluctant heroine, whose character arc of damaged old woman becoming, what is basically, an older and more ghost-centric version of Buffy Summers. She even gets some lame but fun quips to dole out while kicking demonic butt. Most importantly, she just comes across as a sympathetic, well-drawn character that the audience can actually root for – an increasing rarity in modern mainstream horror – and that she is a heroine well into the latter half of her life is the sadly all too rare but definitely welcome cherry on top.

Inside Out

Pixar returns with a vengeance.

It's been five years since the once faultless animation studio last truly wowed us with the glorious Toy Story 3 but Pixar, having taken an unprecedented year off, picked themselves up after a couple of relative misfires (the weak Cars 2 and the enjoyable but slight Monsters University) with a film that reminds us exactly why we fell in love with their movies in the first place.

Inside Out, in fact, not only recalls the highs of Toy Story 3 but is actually something of a thematic followup. In particular, if Toy Story 3 was punctuated by a poignant final act about leaving "childish" things behind, Inside Out is all about that often quite painful transition from childhood to adulthood. Like those heartbreaking scenes in Toy Story 3, Up and Wall E, Inside Out will undoubtedly speak profoundly to adults in a way that it won't to kids but, this being Pixar at its best, it still has tons to offer the younger members of its audience.

The story this time is about Riley, a joyfully optimistic eleven-year old girl, and the emotions who literally live inside her head - starting with the blue-haired girl in the middle of that poster and moving clockwise:: Joy, Disgust, Sadness, Anger and Fear - who are faced with brand new and often frightening challenges as Riley and her family move from their comfortable life in Minnesota to the big city life of San Francisco.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Jurassic World

Buuuuuuum... Bum bum buuuuuum

After untold years in development hell, we finally have a new Jurassic Park movie. It's a fun, occasionally thrilling and unquestionably enjoyable trip back to the 1993 original and it is, most probably, the best of the sequels (it's been a while since I've seen the Lost World). Does it add anything new to the franchise, though? Of that, at least, I'm resolutely unconvinced.

The basic structure of the film is basically identical to Jurassic Park and the theme of "you were so busy wondering if you could, you never stopped to consider if you should" (to paraphrase the much missed Dr Ian Malcolm) is as central as ever. And frankly, the latter question can just as easily be applied to the film in general. Jurassic World wisely ignores the original's unquestionably inferior sequels, but at least those sequels felt like actual followups. Or, at least the second one did. The biggest problem with Jurassic World is that it carves a trail so close to the original that you have to wonder what its point was in the first place.

The action once again takes place on a the original Jurassic Park island of Isla Nublar (parts II and III take place at a secondary site) but this time the Park is fully operational and has been for a number of years. In their efforts to make a creature more spectacular than dinosaurs that have been extinct for millions of years, however, the scientists once again overstep their mark and in their arrogance create a creature (the slightly off-looking Indominous Rex) that their park cannot contain. We also have a central character who is, once again, uncomfortable around children (in this case her own niece and nephew) and, like the second film, outsiders who wish to use the research behind the park for their own nefarious ends. And this isn't even taking into account the blatant homages to the original that crop up just as often as the apparently ironic in-your-face product placement.


Reteaming once again with Paul Feig, will Spy be the movie to cement the over-exposure of Melissa McCarthy or will it rejuvenate her once incredibly promising movie career? Yes...

Reuniting for the third time with her Bridesmaids director Paul Feig, Melissa McCarthy once again applies her considerable comedic talents to a major Hollywood comedy: this time tackling the time honoured tradition of the spy comedy. And even if I can't quite give Spy the glowing thumbs up of most reviews, as it is very, very inconsistent, I can say that it's almost definitely the best comedy released this year so far and, though she comes close to being outdone by two of her co-stars, it's also a nice step forward for McCarthy who was very much in danger of being typecast as the profane, often repulsive "trailer trash chick" that already started to grate in her second collaboration with Paul Feig, the Heat.    

McCarthy plays a mousy but sweet CIA desk-worker who works mostly as an assistant and "voice-in-the-ear" of Jude Law's Bond-like superspy, Bradley Fine, who suddenly finds herself thrust into the field when Fine's mission to track down the daughter of a deadly arms dealer goes horribly wrong. As the film goes along, McCarthy's character does become increasingly sweary and the film is certainly unafraid to poke fun at her weight and is even less afraid to indulge in some gross-out gags at her expense but this is probably the closest she's ever come to capturing - on the big screen at least - the sweet, good-natured comedy of her character in the perennially misunderstood and underrated Gilmore Girls. Plus, she also gets to kick a very serious amount of ass as the film goes along.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Very Good Girls

Yet another film that should be several million times better than it is.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

Lilly and Gerri are two very different best friends spending time together in the last summer before they both head off to different colleges. But what starts off as a lot of fun in the sun is soon complicated by family problems, treacherous secrets and a love triangle with an older boy that they both hope will take their virginities before the summer ends.

What we thought

Very Good Girls is the sort of film that you can't help but really, really want to like. Its basic coming-of-age plot is promising enough on its own terms but throw in a top notch cast, led by increasingly impressive young actresses, Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen, and a highly acclaimed screenwriter making her directorial debut, and you have a recipe for something that should be great indeed. Or, at least, very good.

Sadly, Very Good Girls is actually quite bad. Naomi Foner has always taken her sweet time between scripts (busy raising her two kids, Maggie and Jake Gyllehaal, perhaps?) but it's hard to believe that in the eight years between Bee Season and Very Good Girls, she couldn't have come up with a better script than what we get here. It's funny, considering that she has been writing scripts since the '70s and this is only her first time in the directors chair, that its her writing, rather than her direction that disappoints here.

There's nothing spectacular about her direction, to be sure, but it has that competent, unfussy feel to it that brings to mind people like Rob Reiner or even Clint Eastwood: directors who do their best to get out of the way of the stories they're trying to tell. Sadly though, unlike all but the worst of Reiner or Eastwood's oeuvres, the story here is mostly a waste of a perfectly decent premise and a an occasionally odd but largely impressive cast.