Sunday, June 28, 2015

Ted 2


Despite the plush cuddliness of its eponymous star, Seth MacFarlane's Ted 2 is not warm and fuzzy, though occasionally it seems to want to be. Once again MacFarlane (creator of Family Guy and American Dad and perpetrator of an epic fail of a hosting job at the 2013 Oscars) visits Beantown bad boy John (Mark Wahlberg) and his boorish buddy, the animated teddy bear, Ted. Ted, unaccountably, has fallen in love and married a trash-talking bombshell named Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) and gotten a a job as a cashier at a local supermarket -- all despite having no penis or fingers. Soon Ted finds his marital bliss derailed by, er, married life, and John recommends Ted and Tami-Lynn have a baby to give them something to love while they work through their disdain. Because of the missing appendage mentioned before, Ted and Tami-Lynn must get a sperm donor or adopt. All of this leads to the discovery that Ted is not human and so he is stripped of everything that ties him to the human race -- marriage, jobs, parenthood. Outrage at the injustice of it all, John and Ted seek the services of newby lawyer Samantha Jackson (Amanda Seyfried) and they're off. Depending on your taste, the movie is either weighted down or buoyed by the flood of pop culture references, profanity and vulgarity, endless pot smoking and beer drinking and general mayhem and juvenile misbehavior. Enough of it is hilarious, though, to recommend it.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Jaws


Steven Spielberg's Jaws was released 40 years ago, back when I read books before they became movies -- Jaws, The Exorcist, The Godfather, among them. Peter Benchley wrote a bestseller about a stone-cold killer that  keeps moving and eating because if it stops it will die. Into his film, Spielberg, a television director turned to motion pictures, poured what would become staple ingredients for his movies -- threatened families, kids in peril, an amoral bureaucrat, a flawed hero who guts it out in the last reel, and, on occasion, some gore. Jaws has its share of blood but is amazingly restrained as compared to the descriptions in the book. And, of course, John Williams' ominous score crawls up and down the spine. It is not a perfect film -- though it was nominated for Best Picture. The townspeople are a tinge more cartoonish than they need to be, even for the Gerald Ford Years. And yet, the movie features three terrific performances  -- Roy Scheider as the frustrated, newly hired resort town police chief Brody, Richard Dreyfuss as cocky oceanographer Hooper and, especially, Robert Shaw as a modern day Ahab Quint, who Brody hires to deliver the man-eating Great White on a plate. The best part of the film, as one might expect, is the chase, which takes up more than half of its running time. Watching these three disparate individuals get fused by heat and danger into a semi-fuctioning unit is much of the joy in watching this picture. Recommended.

Dope

Nigerian-American writer-director Rick Famuyiwa's Dope is a fresh coming of age tale that stars a young black computer geek / garage musician Malcolm (Shameik Moore), who with his posse, 1/14th-black bassist Jib (Tony Revolori) and no-nonsense lesbian drummer Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), navigate the rocky shoals of senior year in high school while avoiding beat downs from hallway bullies, neighborhood drug dealers and warring gangs, studying for SAT's and making spiky, bouncy music (supplied by Happy hitmaker Pharrell Williams). And, yes, this is a comedy, narrated by Hollywood A-lister Forest Whitaker. After narrowly escaping a schoolyard thug, the trio peddle their bikes past the operation of drug slinger Dom (rap artist A$AP Rocky), who enlists Malcolm as message-bearer to fabulous b-girl Nakia (Zoe Kravitz). As luck or fate or Hollywood plotlines would have it, Nakia is drawn to Malcolm's handsome, unassuming charms and invites him to a nightspot where the dope (several bricks of MDMA) comes into play. Famuyiwa's cagey tale of crosses and double-crosses also explores thorny issues of race and class and their intersection with youthful aspirations. A hilarious treatment of the proper use of the n-word by non-blacks is for the ages. Like Famuyiwa's earlier films The Wood (1999) and Brown Sugar (2002), Dope probably contains more than a few autobiographical references, and if his selection of featured actresses is any indication, Famuyiwa definitely has a type. Highly Recommended.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Inside Out


Animated feature Inside Out, directed by Pete Docter and Ronaldo del Carmen, is beautiful -- actually and conceptually -- and the smartest film I've seen so far this year. The film stars the voices of Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith and Lewis Black, among others, and tells the story of the emotional upheaval a high-energy 12-year-old girl (Kaitlyn Dias) goes through after she and her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) move from Minnesota to San Francisco. Most of the storyline focuses of the girl's feelings -- joy (Poehler), sadness (Smith), anger (Black), disgust (Mindy Kaling), fear (Bill Hader) -- as she negotiates her new world and her relationship with her parents. Docter and del Carmen have done something pretty amazing in putting on the screen a story that is rooted solidly in the intangible and successfully anthropomorphizing emotions (light years beyond emoticons, I must say) so brilliantly that both children and adults are captivated. While the entire film is marvelous, a trip through the world of abstract thoughts with the young girl's imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind) and joy's escape from the land of forgotten memories are truly superb as visual representations of sophisticated notions. They will have you laughing and crying. Highly recommended.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Jurassic World

Colin Trevorrow's Jurassic World is amazingly unimaginative and frustratingly trite. It has producer Steven Spielberg's requisite family in crisis, children in peril, perfidious quasi-governmental baddies, a ballsy great white hunter / good guy and an ice princess in dire need of defrosting in the leads. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard star in the latter two roles. It all feels so done.

Love & Mercy

Bill Pohlad's Brian Wilson biopic, Love & Mercy, is unsettling and uneven but not because of Paul Dano (a keen, protean actor) and John Cusack (an often inscrutable performer). Dano owns this dark and fairly humorless recounting of the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds period and a later time when Wilson (Cusack) was under the care and control of a shrink named Landy (a villainous Paul Giamatti). Elizabeth Banks also stars.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Heaven Adores You


Nicholas Dylan Rossi's indie doc about indie darling the late Elliott Smith is a loving, mysterious and not wholly satisfying film about the singer / songwriter who died from "apparently" self-inflicted stab wounds to the chest in 2003 after rocketing to fame as a prolific and insightful poet and musician. Docs about artists, particularly those who die young and tragically, frequently try to piece together the subject's past and pain by talking to family, friends and fans and examining the subject's work. Rossi tags each of these bases but the spaces between the recollections and Smith's own musings (often captured during the media interviews he deplored) do not contain answers to Smith's deep and inconsolable disconnection from life. Questions rise, are acknowledged but not always addressed. If Smith did in fact leave his Dallas home for Portland, Oregon, as a teenage what was it about his home that was so toxic? If his relationship with his father was a lingering painful part of his childhood, what made it so. Why such a rapid decline after his celebrated Oscar night appearance in 1998 when he played his nominated song Miss Misery from Good Will Hunting and after two subsequent, well-crafted and moody releases and moves first to New York and then to Los Angeles. What demon was chasing him? It's never clear. No, documentaries are not journalism and they're not history (strictly speaking). The world presented to the film goer has been filtered through the camera's lens and through the memories, passions and prejudices of those who agree to be interviewed. And these make this film wonderfully intimate. But I left it feeling that the decidedly enigmatic Smith was less so but still so. Much of this by turns joyful and disconcerting film is quite lovely and, of course, Smith's music is evocative and beautiful. Recommended.

Spy


New rules for spy comedies: Leads not only have to know how to take a punch but how to drop kick their egos into next week -- all while laying waste to propriety and skewering their opponents -- and the audience -- with deliciously delirious doses of profanity. Paul Feig's secret weapon in his latest film Spy is the irresistible Melissa McCarthy, who, as the film's poster suggests, is Hollywood gold. Feig directed McCarthy in two solid gold bonanzas -- Bridesmaids and The Heat. Spy is far better than those movies, classier and crasser and another guaranteed pay day for all involved -- Feig, McCarthy, costars Jason Statham, Rose Byrne and Jude Law and 50 Cent, who makes an odd and less-than-inspired cameo appearance near the film's end. In this dense (in all senses of the word), globetrotting movie, McCarthy plays a CIA in-office agent, the full-figured and underappreciated Susan Cooper, who is brains to Law's field agent Bradley Fine's charming brawn. When maniacal fashionista Bulgarian brat Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne of Neighbors) gets her hands on a nuke retrieved from her murdered arms-dealer daddy, Cooper is dispatched to track her because all of the top-tier field agents have been made. Therein lies the core of this grizzled and grisly fish out of water tale -- Cooper tries to break bad and earn the cred she needs to win the respect of her ballsy unit chief (Allison Janney) and avenge Fine's untimely off-camera death. The road leads not only to Rome but to Paris and Budapest and each stop involves a hilarious change in identity and a bloody encounter with another bungling agent. The body count is high but the corpses are overshadowed by the gags and eclipsed by McCarthy's outrageous charm. Recommended.

Yesterday

  Director Danny Boyle's hummably insightful morality tale, Yesterday, is a sure starmaker for amiable Hamish Patel, who plays ...