I bet Seth MacFarlane is one of those guys who has multiple groups of friends who don’t know eachother, i.e. “the movie friends,” “the neighborhood friends,” “my smart friends,” “my slob friends,” etc. It’s somewhat common among “self-made” creatives to begin with, and it’d make sense given the way his TV shows, cartoons and films all feel pulled between competing instincts – all of them sincere, but none of them really compatible. By all indications, he appears enormously self-satisfied with his ability to geek-out about Boston sports teams, STAR WARS minutiae, the Golden Age of dance-musicals and Rat Pack ephemera; but creatively the influences have yet to fully coalesce.
TED 2, like TED and FAMILY GUY before it, careens back and forth between gooey sentiment, bro-comedy raunch, “edgy” black-humor, geek-culture reference-drops, Boston neighborhood-scene deep cuts and “ironic” racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. Taken as a set of sketches all framed around the same set of characters, it mostly worked the first time out – but TED 2 makes the Comedy Sequel mistake of assuming that an emphasis on plot and the mechanics of the central joke (re: “How does Ted work, anyway?”) will make a satisfactory replacement for jokes that got used-up in Part I. There are some genuine howlers, and the main back-and-forth between John (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted (MacFarlane) still works, but the law of diminishing returns is firmly in place.
In case you missed it, the original TED had a killer comedy premise: Fashioned as a sequel to a non-existant Disney/Amblin-style “my magical buddy” movie, it took the “Help! My slovenly/immature best pal from my youth is holding back my personal adult development!” buddy-comedy subgenre to its logical extreme: As a child, John wished upon a star and brought his Christmas teddy bear to life… and now both boy and bear are 30-something Bostonian layabouts obsessed with weed, beer, bad movies/TV and avoiding adulthood at all costs.
As TED 2 opens, Ted has married his girlfriend Tami-Lynn not long after a down-in-the-dumps John has permanently split with his love-interest (Mila Kunis) from the original… which basically makes most of the plot of Part I meaningless, but it’s a comedy sequel so that comes with the territory. The plot-proper gets going when Ted and Tami-Lynn’s unsuccessful attempt(s) to have a baby inadvertently trigger various engines of government to realize that, though it has been treating the living stuffed-animal like a person all this time (John revealed Ted to the world back in the day, and by now the world is no longer impressed by his existance)… legally, he isn’t. This leads to everything from Ted’s job to his credit to his marriage to be nullified, and sets the duo on a quest to challenge the law with the aid of a neophyte Civil Rights attorney (Amanda Seyfried.) “Where do you even get a lawyer? Everyone we know makes sandwiches,” observes Ted in one of the more winning lines.
There’s not much structure to be had here, since everything is in service of setting up “bits.” The baby-making misadventures, which find Ted and John re-enacting an ancient FAMILY GUY routine and attempting to manually steal sperm from Tom Brady, goes on too long while the court case (which you’d think would be the focus) breezes by en-route to a road-trip sequence so Ted can do jokes outside of the Boston milieu. Act 3, just like last time, droops for an obligatory villain scheme (now that Ted is legally “property” again, Hasbro wants to abduct him for an experiment in mass-marketing) and maudlin sentiment.
That last part, the sentiment, is what’s more weirdly prominent this time: as Ted and others namecheck Dred Scott, Slavery, gay-marriage and so forth as precedent/parallel for his personhood quest; it at first seems like MacFarlane is aiming high for a send-up of the “fantastical metaphor” message-movie genre, but nope – it becomes clear that we’re supposed to take it as straight (righteous, even) when Ted angrily stands up in court and protests: “Ah, dammit! Y’see? This exactly what you’re doin’ to the f*gs!!!” It’s a bizarre miscalculation, to say the least.
Still, it at least has a higher laff-to-dud ratio than McaFarlane’s previous project, A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST, but it also suffers from the same set of issues: The pattern beginning to emerge with MacFarlane’s live-action work is that the elaborate” setpiece” gags (with the exceptional of the exceptional “Flash Gordon Scene” from the firs TED) either land soft or not at all, while the small observational material stands up a lot better. A gonzo exchange between Ted and a certain celebrity guest about Trix is a riot, there’s a repeat-gag about office candy-dishes that feels swiped from peak-period Woody Allen and a pitch-dark bit about heckling an improv comedy troupe with sad suggestions has no right being as funny as it is. But meanwhile, a massive slapstick sequence involving a brawl in a comic-book covention (“Ha ha! Character X is beating up Character Y! Get it!!??”)sounds like a terrible Kevin Smith joke from the 90s and plays like an even worse Kevin Smith joke from now. On the other hand, I did laugh when a pair of cult-TV luminaries from the supporting cast showed up cosplaying their “actual” famous characters.
Problematic or not, MacFarlane is a substantial talent (how he’s resisted just making a full-on musical yet I have no idea) and I do think he’s got a classic comedy in him yet – but TED 2 isn’t it.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is an actor the film press loves to cover, but not only because he generates clicks and is a good interview: He’s also one of the savviest businessmen in terms of managing a personal brand in the business right now, so watching his moves is a great way to read the tea leaves of the film industry.
Case in point: In case you were wondering – for some reason – whether The Rock (or “his people”) had seen and/or had any opinion on PIXELS (the Adam Sandler oldschool-video-game-invasion action/comedy)? The answer(s) would appear to be “Yes” and “They think it’s going to be a huge hit” – Johnson has signed on for an adaptation of the arcade classic RAMPAGE. I’d like to get excited about this. If we’re to have video-game movies, I’d much rather see conceptually-interesting material like this (RAMPAGE was “about” a trio of people who mutate into Kaiju-scale gorilla, dinosaur and wolfman monsters and destroy cities) than, say, ASSASSIN’S CREED which – spoiler! – is probably just going to look/feel like a pretty okay (if we’re lucky) action movie once you take the interactivity away. But the problem with The Rock as a driving force behind any project is that he’s looking for big hits – period; which means you’re usually going to get the safest, most test-market-approved version of the premise possible as opposed to the kind of mischievous weirdness that permeated the original game.
Project already has a screenplay, the plot of which is being kept secret for some reason. The game “starred” humans who turned into the monsters, but given that Johnson (and the studio) probably don’t want to hide the marketable big-star under makeup or CGI you can almost-certainly bet that won’t be The Rock’s part. More likely, George, Lizzie and Ralph will be downgraded to villains/co-stars in their own movie, with Johnson as the guy trying to stop/manage the titular rampage. Or not, who can really say?
Not that anyone cares, but if I was pitching a RAMPAGE movie? Broad, bad-taste genre-comedy (think TED but scaled down to a REN & STIMPY-ish PG-13). Cast a “name” male/female comic pairing (think maybe Seth Rogan/Sarah-Silverman) as George and Lizzie, unwittingly turned into giant monsters who then go on the run. They bicker, they get over it, they work together, ultimately they have to fight bad-monster Ralph (the giant wolfman) and maybe somehow turn back (or not.) Save money by leaning on the obvious Godzilla parallels re: pop-culture’s collective knowledge that Godzilla = guys fighting in monster costumes and using just-cheezy-enough kaiju suits and miniatures (or maybe the suits are suit-looking but the backgrounds are real/realistic would be a more interesting look?) instead of blowing the FX budget. Mandatory: Keep the naughty/scatalogical sense of humor from the games, including a “money shot” of a skyscraper being “taken out” by asteroid-sized flung gorilla poop.
Marvel’s official blog has announced that Tom Holland is the new, Marvel Cinematic Universe official SPIDER-MAN. The young British actor (he’s 19 but looks like he’s barely out of grade school) will likely (read: definately, but we’re supposed to pretend everyone doesn’t already know this) be hitting the Atlanta, Georgia set of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR in the near future before embarking on his own franchise-starter solo feature; which the same blog post also reveals will be directed by Jon Watts, who helmed CLOWN for Eli Roth and whose COP CAR (the producers of which are popping champagne right now) turned heads at Sundance.
Holland previously appeared in THE IMPOSSIBLE, a terrible movie you don’t need to pretend you saw, remember or have even heard of. Already onboard the project is co-producer Amy Pascal, who’ll be in charge of pretending that Sony has any actual creative function on the film apart from following dictates from Marvel boss Kevin Feige. All of this lines up pretty well with the buzz surrounding the project for a long time now, in terms of the solo feature looking for a new director with action chops and that Marvel very much wanted a child (or child-looking) actor for the part – both to set Spider-Man apart from the predominantly middle-aged AVENGERS stars and also to let them/Sony ground the initial wave of solo features firmly in Peter Parker’s High School (maybe also College) years, which also happen to encompass the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko/Jon Romita eras generally seen as the character’s Golden Age in the comics.
It’s easy to be cynical about this, since so much of it is being dictated by business needs and (previously) mine-is-bigger-than-yours jockeying by Marvel and Sony: Another reboot (though not, apparently, another full-length origin story) coming right on the heels of the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN disaster(s) and the built-in promise of a lot of “Oh, hey! It’s Spider-Man!” stuff popping up in the other Marvel movies (it’s assumed that he’ll appear in CIVIL WAR and at least one of the INFINITY WAR movies) for however long it takes Marvel to re-assimilate ownership fully – or to just acquire the whole of Sony’s struggling film division, which I’m hearing is among Marvel/Disney’s ultimate goals down the line.
But I like the casting. Anyone would’ve been an improvement over Andrew Garfield’s mush-mouthed mugging, but the idea of re-framing Spidey as the Marvel hero where the “man” part is a put-on (the best Spider-Man moment ever filmed to date involved the line “He’s just a kid…”) is getting back to the core original appeal of the character in a way even the Sam Raimi movies didn’t: This is the hero who lives in the same world, age and experience-wise, as the target-audience of the Marvel movies. That’s an interesting idea on its face.
No one really knows (or is saying) what the setup of the solo movie is, though early rumors included a supporting role for Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man and “SPIDER-MAN: THE NEW AVENGER” as a possible title, with the premise concerning an already-established Spider-Man bugging Tony Stark about joining the team – which, if true, means we already know who wins the CIVIL WAR.
James Horner, probably the most well-known (by cumulative work and by reputation) Hollywood music composer of the last several decades not named John Williams, is reported dead in a plane crash earlier tonight.
He leaves behind a legacy of work that includes such iconic film scores as STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, ALIENS, FIELD OF DREAMS, TITANIC, BRAVEHEART, APOLLO 13, GLORY and AVATAR; along with less well-known but highly-regarded scores for KRULL, THE ROCKETEER, WILLOW and dozens of others.
Horner was also credited as co-songwriter of several massively-popular songs tied to feature-scores, including “Somewhere Out There” from AN AN AMERICAN TAIL and the Celine Dion megahit “My Heart Will Go On” from TITANIC. Horner was 62.
Followers of my Twitter are no doubt aware that I’ve begun a little side-project/hobby in collection every issue of NINTENDO POWER Magazine. It’s more of a “spiritual fulfillment” thing than anything, I guess – begun while cleaning old stuff out of my parents’ house and realizing that more of my original collection had survived than I’d thought. At this point I’ve done pretty well, nudging myself just over the halfway mark. Helpfully, I decided early on that I’m not interested in grabbing up “mint” copies of anything – like I said, quasi-spiritual thing, not an “investment.” I see it more or less as “re-homing” copies that fans loved like I loved mine and aren’t comfortable throwing out.
Thus far, collector shops and eBay have been doing the job well enough. But now that I’m at the point where bulk-buying big collections of random issues will almost-certainly land me more duplicates than “needs,” I figured it can’t hurt to also reach out to see if there are any fellow fans/collectors among my friends and readership who are looking to unload such items.
To be clear: I am NOT scrounging about for “donations” here – just to buy/sell/trade in a slightly more flexible/personal/”piecemeal” (if necessary) fashion than eBay is. Basically, if anyone out there reading this has any they’d like to unload, I’m interested in seeing what might be workable cash/tradewise. Of course, if anyone IS just looking to make space and doesn’t think what they’ve got has a lot of collector value, I’ll happily take (some) of it off your hands – though I really would prefer to give/exchange something for them. Let’s talk, in any case 🙂
To give you an idea what I’m working with, the “need” list currently includes Volumes 1 & 2, 4-7, 9-11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 25, 30, 38, 39, 45, 48, 50, 55, 56, 58, 64, 67-69, 76, 86, 87, 96, 98, 101-112, 114, 116, 123, 124, 133, 176, 180, 194-201, 204-207, 210-2113, 215-228, 231, 234-237, 240, 243, 246, 248, 251, 253-256, 258-262, 265-274, 277, 280, 282, 283 and 284; plus any/all NP-branded Strategy Guides excluding Pokemon (there’s just too many.) Folks looking to talk turkey are invited to use comment section here OR my work email at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you look close enough, you start to see that for all the talk of Pixar’s vaunted originality, they’ve been (with rare exception) telling a variation on the same basic story since TOY STORY: A world within a bigger world (Andy’s Room, Nemo’s ocean, Monstropolis, Remy’s sewers, Wall-E’s Earth, Carl’s widower solitude, etc) that seems to be running fine but is in fact quietly-dysfunctional has said dysfunction exposed/further-disrupted by the arrival of a new personality and/or idea (Buzz, Nemo’s growing independence, Boo, Remy’s sense of taste, EVE, Russell, etc). Attempts by a well-intentioned maintainer of the status quo (Woody, Marlin, Mike, Remy’s dad, Otto, Carl, etc) lead to one or more protagonists (usually representing polarized opinions about The Change) being exiled in some way into the bigger world, wherein they quest (usually but not always to return home) and in doing so undergo a mutual shift in perspective that ultimately improves but does not necessarily “upend” the original status quo.
This isn’t to say that Pixar isn’t original, just that it’s all the more remarkable that they’ve been able to be so original while so frequently working from the same basic structure – an indictment of the idea that polish and refinement can’t be as valid, creatively, as re-inventing the narrative wheel all the time. Case in point: INSIDE OUT is probably as close as they’ve come to outright making “TOY STORY but with _____” …and it still manages to land as a new member of the studio’s legendary Top Tier productions – this is a masterpiece.
MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW:
But yes, what we have on our hands here really does feel (if you’ll pardon an initial over-simplification) very much like a gender-reversed TOY STORY, in as much as it involves two (superficially, at least) female characters fighting over influence in the life-direction of a young girl; with the conceit this time being that the Woody/Buzz rivals are personifications of her emotions (Joy and Sadness) rather than avatars of classical masculinity (The Cowboy and The Astronaut) and they’re feuding over inner-development and emotional well-being as opposed to whose merchandise most-primarily covers the bedroom.
The Big Idea: These emotional-beings (Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger) are our main characters, a combination tech-crew/board-of-directors guiding the day-to-day responses of young Riley in a manner that literalizes and mechanizes the concept of emotional development: The crew takes turns dealing out reactions, which create color-coordinated Memories (in the form of crystal balls) which they dispatch down into her broader consciousness for filing – except for a select few Core Memories so important that they serve as the life/energy-source for Islands of Personality that make up Riley’s fundamental “self.”
Thus far, Joy (Amy Poehler) has always been the defacto leader – after all, Riley is still young and who else would’ve been a baby’s primary original emotion – taking it as her mission to make sure that Riley is happy as much as possible; taking personal pride in having created all of the Core Memories herself and relegating the other four Emotions to secondary situational duties: Anger (Lewis Black) is useful in a “fight,” Fear (Bill Hader) keeps her out of danger, Disgust (Mindy Kaling) is in charge of taste (literally and figuratively) and Sadness… well, she can’t figure out what to do with Sadness (Phyllis Smith), whose very existence Joy sees as an entirely negative influence to be as well-suppressed as possible. Gee, I wonder where this is going?
Unfortunately for Joy, she finds her ability to control the situation flying rapidly out of control when Riley turns 11 and her parents unexpectedly relocate the family from an idyllic Minnesotan suburb to urban San Fransisco; where there’s only so much she can do to find the positives where Riley hates her cramped new home, unfamiliar new school, gross local food and suffers general change-anxiety. Soon enough, overly-curious Sadness has inadvertently(?) created her first Core Memory, and Joy’s frantic attempts to prevent it’s installation backfire spectacularly enough to get her and Sadness blasted out of Headquarters into the maze-like realm of Long Term Memory – leaving Riley’s judgement (and eventually safety) imperiled by having only Fear, Anger and Disgust at the controls
This is a pretty heavy metaphor to be working with in a family movie: What we’re watching is a child going into a defensive-posture (Fear, Anger and Disgust are wholly reactive as Emotions at this point in her life) in response to adversity, and the ticking-clock for Joy and Sadness to get home is the rapid degradation and crumbling of the Islands of Personality – Riley is having a breakdown, and she’s literally losing herself in the process. The visualization of this is as devastating as it sounds – you were expecting something else from Pixar? – but it’s quickly apparent that that’s the whole point: The self-realization journey here is Joy’s, and the realization is that she’s been wrong this whole time – that it’s not healthy or safe to only ever be happy – or, more directly, to deny that Sadness has an important place in the psyche, too.
Poehler is really excellent here, investing Joy with exactly the right level of upbeat perkiness that feels endearing at first but also makes sense as we come to understand that Joy is… well, kind of the villain here in terms of the whole plot turning on how wrongheaded her leadership has been and how much of a jerk she’s been to Sadness. By the same token, Smith brings a stunning level of depth and nuance to Sadness, who seems like an impossible character to realize (by her nature, she has to be a buzzkill and a complainer who we none the less have to like and root for) but somehow works from design to execution. Smith probably isn’t well known to most audiences (she’s possibly best known as Phyllis Lapin-Vance in THE OFFICE) but she turns Sadness into something intriguingly hard to categorize.
I actually feel like there’s an even deeper, more important subtext to this relationship (Joy and Sadness) regarding how to properly relate to someone living with depression (mostly in terms of how deeply unkind Joy’s insistence that Sadness hide herself and tamp-down her “unwanted” expression; but I’m almost certainly unqualified to explore that (looking forward to hearing from those who do, though. There’s a perfect (if wrenching) segment where the questing Emotions encounter Riley’s despondent, mostly-forgotten imaginary friend (a perfectly-cast Richard Kind) that packs the entirety of INSIDE OUT’s philosophy into a single exchange: Joy’s relentless-optimism offers him no solace, but he’s able to soldier on once Sadness talks things out with him, agrees that his situation is sad and empathizes. THE CARE BEARS, this is not – and it’s happening amid a stretch of the film that was already jumping from one metaphoric gut-punch (a “younger” section of Riley’s Imagination is being bulldozed) to another amid the infrequent psychology-pun (a literal “Train of Thought,” the heroes find themselves losing dimensionality as Riley’s mind attempts to deconstruct abstractions.)
The other Emotions aren’t afforded quite as much depth, though that feels like both the point and a necessary function: When you’re building an entire movie around a “payoff” that involves characters coming to terms with being sad, some broadly-realized comic relief is nice to have onhand (plus, can an 11 year-old suburbanite’s concepts of Fear and Anger be deep enough to be especially dark?) to brighten up what could be the most relentlessly-downbeat (Western) kid’s movie since THE LAND BEFORE TIME. They also have the effect of reminding us of how Headquarters functions, which is both vital for an extended credits gag imagining what the HQ’s of other secondary characters look like and for a pair of telling glimpses into the HQ’s of Riley’s parents – pay close attention to which (non-Joy) Emotion is sitting in the Captain’s Chair in each instance.
Meanwhile, I was surprised at how realistic and, well, ordinary Riley, her parents and the human world in general are allowed to be. It’s the correct stylistic and narrative choice (the mind-world has to remain consistently more interesting so that we’ll stay invested in the otherwise nebulously-defined “survival” of the Emotions), but one could easily imagine a lesser studio sending back pages of notes asking “Aren’t these people a little boring?” or “Can we add some kind of external crisis other than basic universal growing-pains?” But the bold decision works – at one point, an otherwise humdrum conversation between Riley and a back-home friend takes a turn for “devastating to an 11 year-old” land, and the juxtaposition with the panicking Emotions sells the hell out of it.
I won’t lie: INSIDE OUT destroyed me, even as it ultimately built me back up, and I’m given to wonder if it’s brave commitment to “Sometimes you just NEED to feel bad” as a moral is going to lead to some decidedly unhappy parents come the weekend: There’s a Bambi’s Mom-level character-exit in Act 3 that’s going to annihilate kids of a certain disposition, however poignant and meaningful its presence in the narrative is (it would’ve sent Disney-age me scrambling to escape the theater, no two ways about it) and while there are comedic/action-oriented diversions to scenarios like a “Dream Production” studio layed-out like a Hollywood backlot or a prison for nightmares, there’s a surprising lack of songs or extended gag-sequences to break up the recurring “loss of memories” sequences that get every bit as emotionally-harrowing as the similar scenes in ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND.
Still, I can’t fault a movie for doing what it sets out to do, and in terms of being an existentially-uplifting movie about the need to be sad, INSIDE OUT is as close to a masterpiece as Pixar has produced since WALL-E. Yes, it’s probably going to reduce kids and parents alike into exhausted, sobbing puddles; but it also wants to send you home feeling okay about that. It’s a movie that wants to prove that a good cry can be exilihrating and ultimately therapeutic, and spends it’s runtime doing exactly that. This will almost-certainly end up being one of the year’s best films, and you owe yourself a viewing. Preferably with discreet seating and tissues.
Details are still coming in, but this much is clear: Sir Christopher Lee, one of our greatest actors, has died at age 93 from respiratory issues in hospital.
Lee was best known for much of his life as an actor, and for much of that career as the main performer of Count Dracula for Hammer Films and as a sought-after character actor with a devout cult following thereafter; but his notoriety experienced a late-in-life explosion into the mainstream as Sarumon in the LORD OF THE RINGS films and Count Dooku in the STAR WARS Prequel Trilogy. In the mid-2000s, he embarked on yet another career as a heavy metal vocalist. His professional filmography is, frankly, too vast to even begin to recount here.
But the fact is, even in the 25 years of life prior to becoming an actor, Lee lived more life than most men could ever aspire to: An adventurer, scholar, philanthropist, activist, veteran of the theater and decorated (to say nothing of still highly-classified) veteran of the British SAS in World War II. His two autobiographies, “Tall, Dark & Gruesome” and “The Lord of Misrule” are must-reads for fans of Teddy Roosevelt-style “how could this man have actually existed?” tales.
Lee leaves behind a body of work that would be the envy of any actor in any era: As Dracula he reimagined the most iconic monster in horror cinema. As Scaramanga he gave James Bond one of his greatest foes. In LOTR he lived out a personal dream of bringing Tolkien’s work to life. Between that was an epic run of character roles, lead performances, villains and even comedy, but he famously said (later in life) that his best role was in the little-scene (in the West) Pakistani film JINNAH – a biography of the founder of modern Pakistan.