Review: Ted 2

Director: Seth MacFarlane (How to Die in the West, )
Writers: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild
Producers: Jason Clark, John Jacobs, Seth MacFarlane, Scott Stuber
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane, Amanda Seyfried, Jessica Barth, Giovanni Ribisi, Morgan Freeman, Sam J. Jones and a shit-ton of cameos
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 115 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd.

 


When you’re the highest-grossing R-rated original comedy of all-time, there’s no question that you’re going to get a sequel as quick as the studio can get you to push it out, regardless of how little sense it makes to forge a franchise out of your initial product. As a result, here we are now, living in a world where Ted 2 exists. It should come as no surprise to anyone that Seth MacFarlane’s follow-up to his bromance tale of two best friends, one a dim lug played by Mark Wahlberg and the other a magically brought to life teddy bear voiced by MacFarlane, is more of the same and so your mileage for this sequel is entirely dependent on how much you were able to tolerate that first picture, and MacFarlane’s brand in general. While Ted 2 never reaches the turgid lows of A Million Ways to Die in the West, the writer/director’s misguided western spoof from last year, it also demonstrates yet again that his brand of comedy is far more suited for the half-hour television format of his series like Family Guy and American Dad than it is for a two-hour picture that requires more narrative heft and character development.

Those two things are nowhere to be found in Ted 2, despite the oddly topical storyline centered around the concept of Ted (MacFarlane) and John (Wahlberg) fighting for the bear’s civil rights when it turns out that he somehow slipped by the legal system all these years and is now suddenly deemed property in the eyes of the law, as opposed to a human being. Yes, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds and only looks more so whenever MacFarlane actually makes some sort of attempt to play straight this ludicrous premise. Ted 2’s story is filled with holes, but obviously that’s not what’s going to draw anyone to this kind of movie and so MacFarlane wisely makes a concerted effort to up the laugh ratio here from what we saw in the first film. While that earlier effort focused heavily on the flat romance between John and Mila Kunis’ Lori (whose absence here is surprisingly explained with solid reasoning and not at all distracting), Ted 2 is more about MacFarlane’s trademark blend of pop-culture riffs, nonsequiturs and general juvenile humor that is sure to be gobbled up by his key demographic (young men), but won’t convert anyone on the fence.

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Review: Magic Mike XXL

Director: Gregory Jacobs (Windchill, Criminal)
Writer: Reid Carolin
Producers: Reid Carolin, Gregory Jacobs, Channing Tatum, Nick Wechsler
Starring: Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash, Adam Rodriguez, Gabriel Iglesias, Amber Heard, Donald Glover, Andie MacDowell, Elizabeth Banks, Jada Pinkett Smith
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 115 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd.

 


WThree years ago, Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike surprised many viewers (including this one) by not only being a good film, but by taking a dark look into the dangers of the intoxicating lifestyle of the male stripper. Centered as much on the rise and fall of Alex Pettyfer’s ingenue character as it was on Channing Tatum’s eponymous figure, Magic Mike showed viewers the allure of this life before hitting them with the harsh realities that lurked within. This narrative shift was an unexpected turn from a movie that was marketed, and began, as a lurid piece of sensationalism loaded with scantily clad men gyrating on eager women. Some walked away disappointed that the movie didn’t live up to the night of unfiltered debauchery it perceived itself as. Those who were have had their complaints answered and then some with Magic Mike XXL, the unlikely sequel to the surprise hit which more than fills up the quota for intense and highly erotic male dancing that the first eventually veered away from.

Magic Mike XXL opens up with a look at Tatum’s Mike Lane living in his quiet dream of running his own custom furniture business, the one he spent much of the first film dreaming about realizing. Things could be better, as he only has one employee and finances are so pinched he can’t even provide him with health care, but he’s out of the stripper game and away from the seedier aspects that took hold of his protege three years ago. Then, Mike gets a call from old friend and co-stripper Tarzan (Kevin Nash), letting him know that his whole former gang is going to be swinging by his area on their way to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach and it’s not long before he’s on the road ready to bust out some new moves. As the sequel formula tends to go, Magic Mike XXL promises to be bigger and better than ever before and it makes sure to earn every crumpled dollar bill the audience tosses on the stage for it.

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Terracotta Classic Kung Fu Collection

Being a martial arts movie fan in the UK is tough. When I first really got into the genre at the turn of the millennium, when I was at uni, a DVD label called Hong Kong Legends appeared and it was like mana from heaven. They released 101 classic martial arts films in total, largely from the Golden Harvest vaults. Through their beautifully remastered DVD’s, usually packed with features, I was able to work my way through the early films of Jackie Chan, discover the joy of Sammo Hung’s master works and uncover a wealth of classic action movies from Hong Kong. Unfortunately, as the decade moved on, key members of the Hong Kong Legends team left to work for Dragon Dynasty in the US and the label’s output dwindled and eventually it folded completely. The Cine Asia label formed during this time, bringing out a number of modern Asian action films and even eventually re-releasing most of the big name Hong Kong Legends releases. They never delved deeper into the wealth of old school kung fu available in East Asia though and eventually they too fell by the wayside.

The biggest martial arts gap in UK home entertainment is the lack of Shaw Brothers films. Momentum Pictures started bringing out a few, but gave up before they really got going. Momentum have disappeared now too (although they were bought up by eOne), so these days fans of old school kung-fu are left with that one bunch of Hong Kong Legends releases, floating around in various formats, and little else to quench their hunger for retro kung-fu violence.

Praise the high-kicking Lord then for Terracotta distribution. Just when all hope was lost, they have introduced their very own ‘Classic Kung Fu Collection’. Since the end of last year, Terracotta have been gradually treating UK fans to some rare old school kung fu classics. They’ve only got four out so far, but as my brief reviews of them all below will attest, they’re well worth a watch and, fingers crossed, hopefully we’ll be seeing more in the future.

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Review: Orson Welles Centenary Releases

To celebrate what would have been Orson Welles’ 100th birthday, Mr Bongo Films are releasing a collection of much sought after and rare films from the acclaimed director, including a brand new restored 50th Anniversary Edition of Falstaff: Chimes at Midnight. I was lucky enough to get my hands on screeners for three of the films in their lineup. I must admit I’d only actually seen three of Welles’ films prior to this week; Citizen Kane (of course), The Lady From Shanghai and Touch of Evil. I love all three (Shanghai to a lesser extent), so I was keen to dig further into his filmography. Below are my thoughts on the films I was sent.

Too Much Johnson

Director: Orson Welles
Screenplay: Orson Welles
Based on a Play by: William Gillette
Starring: Joseph Cotten, Virginia Nicolson, Edgar Barrier
Country: USA
Running Time: 66 min
Year: 1938
BBFC Certification: U


I was always under the impression that Citizen Kane was Orson Welles’ debut feature, but three years earlier back in 1938 he’d directed Too Much Johnson. This was meant to be integrated with Welles’ stage production of the play of the same name, by William Gillette. The venue didn’t have any projection facilities though, so the film was never screened. It was believed to be lost for decades after a fire in Welles’ home in 1971, but a work print was rediscovered back in 2008 and has now reached British homes through this DVD release.

Too Much Johnson is a silent comedy in which Augustus Billings (Joseph Cotten) is caught in bed with another man’s wife. He escapes out the window before the husband Leon Dathis (Edgar Barrier) gets his hands on him, but this sets the scene for an epic chase across the city and eventually all the way to Cuba.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Happiness of the Katakuris

Director: Takashi Miike
Screenplay: Kikumi Yamagishi
Based on a Film by: Kim Jee-woon
Starring: Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda
Country: Japan
Running Time: 113 min
Year: 2001
BBFC Certificate: 18


There was a wave of fairly successful Asian films which reached the West in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. One of the directors that rose to prominence during this time was Takashi Miike. The title of his that caught the world’s attention, after churning out largely direct to video fare, was Audition. A slow drama that suddenly turns into gut churning horror in the final act, the film was a critical success and it helped boost the popularity of J-horror, which had reached Western shores with Ringu (a.k.a. The Ring). Miike didn’t sit back and rest on his laurels though. One of the most prolific recent directors I’ve ever come across, he continued (and continues) to churn out film after film. He’ll be 55 this year and he has 98 directing credits to his name from his debut in 1991 (that’s an average of around 4 films a year!) according to the IMDB.

2001 was a big year for the director. Eight of his films were released that year and four of them made it to the UK that I’m aware of and received a mixture of acclaim and notoriety. This really cemented his reputation as a fearless master of extreme cinema with the unbelievably violent Ichi the Killer, the seriously f*cked up Visitor Q, Yakuza drama The Agitator and the comedy horror musical The Happiness of the Katakuris.

The latter title is being re-released on Blu-Ray & DVD in the UK by the ever dependable Arrow Video label. Although I was rather smitten by the wave of Asian cinema released in the early 2000’s when I was a student, I never got around to watching The Happiness of the Katakuris, so I was keen to see what the fuss was about.

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Review: Chuck Norris vs Communism

Director: Ilinca Calugareanu
Screenplay: Ilinca Calugareanu
Starring: Irina Margareta Nistor, Ana Maria Moldovan, Dan Chiorean
Country: UK, Romania, Germany
Running Time: 78 min
Year: 2015
BBFC Certificate: TBC


Chuck Norris vs Communism is the perfect companion piece to a documentary I reviewed only a few weeks ago, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. Whereas the latter revelled in poking fun at the low budget trashy output of Cannon Films in the 80’s, the documentary I’m reviewing here shows how some of those films and other similar titles from the era helped inspire a revolution.

Romania fell under Communist rule after WWII. In 1965 Nicolae Ceaușescu came to power and remained the party’s leader for almost 25 years, developing an autocratic control over the people. As Romania moved into the 1980’s, its foreign debt hit an incredible $10 billion and Ceaușescu pushed forward extreme austerity measures that shattered the economy and impoverished the population (the Conservatives in the UK should take note of that). In a desperate bid to keep the public on his side, he imposed a nationwide cult of personality – using propaganda and mass media to create an idealised, heroic depiction of himself.

Part of this process, alongside Ceaușescu’s general tight grip on the population, involved extreme censorship. The national television network was stripped down to just one channel, showing only two hours of content a day (all strictly positive towards the country and Ceaușescu). Films were practically banned, particularly those from outside Romania (I believe a few select titles which promoted the right values were allowed to be shown if they passed the strict censors). Whilst the rest of the world was enjoying the VHS boom, video players/recorders couldn’t be purchased in the country and the public were forbidden to enjoy the cascade of blockbusters coming out of Hollywood at the time.

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Blu-Ray Review: Forty Guns

Director: Samuel Fuller
Screenplay: Samuel Fuller
Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Dean Jagger, Gene Barry, Robert Dix, John Ericson
Country: USA
Running Time: 80 min
Year: 1957
BBFC Certificate: PG


As regular readers will know, I’ve been enjoying working my way through the classic westerns over the last couple of years. Eureka added Anthony Mann’s Man of the West (my review can be found here) to their Masters of Cinema lineup not too long ago and I was delighted to hear that they were mining the genre once again by releasing Samuel Fuller’s Forty Guns this month.

Forty Guns stars the great Barbara Stanwyck as Jessica Drummond, a wealthy landowner in Arizona. She’s a powerful woman who has control over the ‘forty guns’ of the title, a band of riders who help her maintain her dominant position over the area alongside her ability to pay off anyone she needs. When ex-hired gun Griff Bonnell (Barry Sullivan) and his two brothers ride into town and put a stop to her brother Brockie’s (John Ericson) drunken bullying, Jessica begins to lose her tight grip. This isn’t helped by the fact that she falls in love with Griff. Brockie isn’t about to let the Bonnells get away with what they did though and Jessica becomes torn between both sides whilst Griff’s life is put in danger.

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Review: Inside Out

How do you measure happiness?

The latest Pixar movie makes a convincing argument, pitched at wavelengths that should be easily received to both to children and adults, that periods of sadness, be it mundane or profound, are crucial to living a full, exuberant existence on this remote little ball of mud spinning through the void of space. Inside Out offers a specific, universal, and staggeringly emotional journey that is the rares of birds, a bonafide family movie. There is no light without shadow, and all that philosophical, spiritual paraphernalia is packaged into the easy to digest tale of moving to a new place and struggling to acclimatize to new surroundings.

Riley is on the verge of turning 12, a single child with affluent, doting parents (at this moment I am certain there is a queue online to chew on white privilege, but I will not be one of them). Her inner-self, represented by anthropomorphic emotional avatars of Fear, Disgust, Anger, Sadness and Joy dwell in the construct of her developing brain. The latter rules the roost in a chirpy, but passive-aggressive, dominant manner, wanting everything to be happy all the time for Riley. There is even a way for these emotion characters to quantify their success: Every memory Riley makes is represented as a coloured crystal ball, a single-shot 360 degree video unit shaded in the hue of the emotion attached to it. Her memories are almost entirely hued yellow. Presumably Riley’s parents want also this perpetual happiness for their daughter as well. It’s a fools errand and we all race on this treadmill!

The bulk of the memories, at the end of each day, are pneumatically delivered to her brain’s storage archives and compartmentalized via a Brazil-like bureaucracy. A detail that I love about this representation are the various departments working at odds each other, be it clock-watching transport engineers, an over enthusiastic disposal crew (“She won’t need these phone numbers anymore, they’re stored in her phone.”) or the fact that there are simply memory spheres lying between shelves and in the nooks and crannies all willy-nilly. In this bright Pixar world, a way was found to make biology look messy and kudos for that.

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Blu-Ray Review: Milano Calibro 9 (a.k.a. Caliber 9)

Director: Fernando Di Leo
Screenplay: Fernando Di Leo
Based on a Novel by: Giorgio Scerbanenco
Starring: Gastone Moschin, Barbara Bouchet, Mario Adorf, Philippe Leroy
Country: Italy
Running Time: 102 min
Year: 1972
BBFC Certificate: 18


The Italians spawned a number of subgenres that have remained popular amongst lovers of cult and genre cinema. I love a good spaghetti western myself and I’ve been starting to work my way through more giallos recently. One Italian subgenre I wasn’t particularly aware of until watching Arrow’s new release of Fernando Di Leo’s Milano Calibro 9 (a.k.a. Caliber 9) though is the poliziotteschi. This is a form of crime and action film that came from Italy in the late 60’s and 70’s, cashing in on the success of tough American cop thrillers like Bullitt, Dirty Harry and The French Connection. Although Di Leo’s film wasn’t the first in the subgenre, it was a critical and commercial success and helped boost the popularity of the poliziotteschi and the director. I’d heard of Milano Calibro 9 through a podcast and I’ve been keen to see it ever since, so I was very happy to hear Arrow Video got their hands on the title.

The film opens with a classic money/drugs exchange which goes wrong, resulting in some gangsters being out of pocket by $300,000. They quickly take their anger out on all those who could have done it, in a spectacularly violent fashion. They find nothing, although they didn’t quite get to everyone. Ugo Piazza (Gastone Moschin) was sent to prison shortly after the deal. Mobster nutcase Rocco (Mario Adorf) is waiting for him as soon as he sets foot outside the prison gates, and harasses him for the money. Ugo claims he doesn’t have it, but Rocco tells him that he has to pay the money back to his boss The Americano (Lionel Stander) or there will be devastating consequences. The police believe Ugo has the money too and also give him a hard time. Ugo does his best to keep both sides at bay, enlisting the help of his former gangster ‘family’ Chino (Philippe Leroy) and his Don. As expected, things don’t quite go to plan though and the bodies begin to pile up.

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