Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Ted 2

WRITTEN BY: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild
DIRECTED BY: Seth MacFarlane
STARRING: Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane, Amanda Seyfried, Jessica Barth
RATING: 3 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Newlyweds Ted (Seth MacFarlane) and Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) realise their marriage is on the rocks after just one year, so they decide to save their relationship by having a baby. When the sperm donor idea fails, they decide to adopt a child but are blocked from becoming parents because the government does not consider Ted to be a person. So, Ted and his thunder buddy John (Mark Wahlberg) enlist the help of young lawyer Samantha (Amanda Seyfried) to help them prove in court that Ted deserves human rights. Meanwhile, old foe Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) catches wind of the court case and concocts his own plan to kidnap Ted.

There are a handful of brilliantly crafted jokes in this film that are sure to be repeated by fans for a long time. Unfortunately, there are lengthy breaks between those memorable gags. Ted 2 runs for close to two hours, which is far too long for a film that is essentially full of one-liners about sex and drugs. It seems director and co-writer Seth MacFarlane has tried to add some substance to the plot by slipping in a deeper message about equality, and perhaps if the story had stuck to being a funny court tale it might have been more effective. Instead, it takes too long to get going and, as much as I like Ribisi, his sub-plot is totally unnecessary. Wahlberg and MacFarlane clearly love working together but this film just seems like an easy way to make some money for the pair. Wahlberg also lacks chemistry with the much younger Seyfried. Morgan Freeman is the most welcome addition to the film in a minor but pivotal role, while Liam Neeson appears in one very odd scene. There are a few other cameos, some of which are better than others. Ted 2 will likely be a box office success, but that does not mean it is particularly good. 


Thursday, 18 June 2015

Love and Mercy

WRITTEN BY: Oren Moverman, Michael Alan Lerner
DIRECTED BY: Bill Pohlad
STARRING: John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti
RATING: 4 stars

SYNOPSIS:
The film jumps back and forth between the 1960s and 1980s. In the 60's, Beach Boys musical genius Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) struggles with what appears to be emerging psychosis as he attempts to deal with fame while satisfying his creativity. In the 80's, Wilson (John Cusack) has overcome a breakdown and is now under the guardianship of shady psychologist Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), who monitors his medication and diet until he meets Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) at a Cadillac showroom and she starts to question Landy's heavy influence on Wilson's life.

Love and Mercy is not a typical biopic. It really only focuses on two eras of Wilson's life and merely alludes to other parts of his past, including his traumatic childhood and those mysterious years in the 1970s when he barely got out of bed. The 60's chapter focusses on the music and LSD lifestyle, while the 80's feels like a psychological thriller, with parts of the story almost hard to fathom as fact. Most biopics follow a linear plot, chronicling a musician's humble beginnings followed by success, a hurdle such as drug abuse, and then a mighty comeback. While Love and Mercy has some of those ingredients, it offers so much more, including details of the time spent in the studio where Wilson honed his craft, which eventually led to his progressive masterpiece album Pet Sounds.

The performances from the principle cast are exceptional. Dano, in particular, is so believable in the way he presents Wilson's artistry and paranoia, while Cusack is also impressive, depicting a more reserved and cautious man. Meanwhile, Giamatti is appropriately creepy and sinister, especially when he smiles. It is great to see Banks excel in a serious role, strutting around in some great fashion from the decade and being a strong, independent woman.

Love and Mercy drags in some parts but it is a heartfelt tribute to one of the world's most beloved bands and a fascinating insight into the creative genius of Wilson's mind. 


Monday, 15 June 2015

Inside Out

WRITTEN BY: Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley
DIRECTED BY: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen
STARRING: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Diane Lane, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, Lewis Black
RATING: 4 stars

SYNOPSIS:
The film is set mostly inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias). She has just experienced a life-changing move from Minnesota to San Francisco with her parents (Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Lane). Riley's psyche is operated by five emotions – Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader) and Anger (Lewis Black). The idea is that the right balance of all these emotions makes her a normal, happy child. Most importantly, Joy does her best to make sure Riley is an upbeat child and tries to stop Sadness from tarnishing Riley's “core memories”. When an accident sees the duo sucked out of the headquarters of Riley's mind into another part of her brain, they must work together to get back and
save Riley from falling into a bleak world without any happiness at all.

Inside Out is sure to appeal equally to children and adults. Younger audiences will not understand a lot of the plot because the concept of emotions in your head dictating your outlook on life is far beyond their comprehension, but they can still enjoy the adventure, cute characters and bright colours of the animation. Older children will especially enjoy the film and likely feel more of a connection to the story. Meanwhile, adults will appreciate the depth of the message. There are so many layers to this film and it will likely make some people cry. I was on the verge of shedding a few tears during a storyline involving a forgotten imaginary friend in the back of Riley's mind. The performances are all very good, especially Poehler, Smith and Kaling.

In some ways, the film seems to deal with mental health issues, but does so in such a clever way. Riley is almost going through a form of depression when Joy leaves the headquarters of her mind, although it is not described as such. Ultimately, at its heart, the film has a great moral lesson about general mental wellbeing. Despite the fanfare, the message is simple – it is ok to be sad sometimes. We do not have to be happy all the time and that is the great thing about being human – we can experience a gamut of emotions and they are all worthwhile. It is an important message for everyone.


Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Jurassic World

WRITTEN BY: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly
DIRECTED BY: Colin Trevorrow
STARRING: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Vincent D'Onofrio, BD Wong, Irrfan Khan, Jake Johnson
RATING: 4.5 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Taking place 22 years after the events of Jurassic Park, Isla Nublar now features a fully functioning dinosaur theme park called Jurassic World, which follows the vision of John Hammond. But after several years of operation, owner Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) wants more from the park because the novelty of dinosaurs has worn thin and people look at the animals like zoo creatures. So, geneticist Henry Wu (B.D Wong) creates a hybrid dinosaur that is more intelligent and fierce than any other species. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) manages the park but her life becomes more complicated when her two nephews Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) arrive for a visit. Meanwhile, former naval officer Owen (Chris Pratt) works on training the velociraptors, but head of security Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) wants to use them for military purposes. When the hybrid goes missing, Claire seeks Owen's help to rescue her nephews while the others work on keeping the park running.

Jurassic Park is about as close to a perfect film as Hollywood has ever produced. The 1993 film was innovative, visually spectacular and still holds well today. With such a high bar set, it was always going to be a challenge for Jurassic World to reach those heights – but it almost gets there. It was perhaps a risky move to enlist small-time director Colin Trevorrow to lead the film, but it pays off. He also worked on the script and it was clear from the start of Jurassic World that the main people working on this film were fans of the franchise and wanted to do it justice. The film remains true to the original, and without ignoring the other two sequels, it specifically follows on from the first film because it is set on Isla Nublar where there is now a fully functioning facility very similar to United States theme parks such as Sea World.

Pratt is unsurprisingly perfect for the role, which allows him to be smart, brave and funny. He also has some good banter with Howard who, despite running around in high heels for the entire film, is never really a damsel in distress. Simpkins and Robinson are also convincing, particularly in their awe of the park and fear of the dinosaurs. D'Onofrio nails the slimy bad guy role too. There are a few minor players who are also used to great effect, especially Jake Johnson whose character works in the control room providing laughs and insight. Some characters face predictable endings but that is acceptable for the genre. There are also some lame moments but all is easily forgiven when the audience leaves the cinema reflecting on the more nail-biting moments. The final battle is also thrilling. Jurassic World is everything audiences want and expect in a blockbuster. It is worth seeing in 3D too.


Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Entourage

WRITTEN BY: Doug Ellin
DIRECTED BY: Doug Ellin
STARRING: Kevin Connelly, Jeremy Piven, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara
RATING: 4 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Picking up days after the television series ended, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) is now a studio boss and agrees to let Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) direct and star in a film adaptation of Jekyll and Hyde with a massive budget exceeding $100 million. He even has a role for his brother Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon). The only problem is that their Texan financier Larsen McCredle (Billy Bob Thornton) and his son Travis (Haley Joel Osment) do not want to fork out any more money until they have seen what has been filmed so far, amid fears that it will bomb at the box office. Meanwhile, Eric (Kevin Connelly) is dealing with his pregnant ex-girlfriend Sloane (Emmanuelle Chriqui) and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) is trying to get a date with Ronda Rousey.

For most people, this film is probably a pretty average comedy. But it is everything fans of the show wanted. It is like binge watching several episodes with dozens of fun cameos and references to the television series. The appeal of the show was that it gave a rare insight into the inner workings of Hollywood as a business as well as the wild parties, and the film is a continuation of that, despite of course, being fictitious. Piven is still the stand-out performer with some very memorable lines and violent outbursts. The rest of the main crew are also as reliable as ever and still have great chemistry together. Rex Lee is also fantastic but under-used as Lloyd. Producer Mark Wahlberg, whose own life inspired the original story, has publicly said that if this film is a success, they will make a sequel. Entourage has always been a bit like Sex and the City with men instead of women and that show spawned a series of films that lost the plot a bit but still did very well at the box office. I can see the same happening with Entourage. We do not need another film, but we might get one anyway. 


Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Aloha

WRITTEN BY: Cameron Crowe
DIRECTED BY: Cameron Crowe
STARRING: Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, John Krasinski
RATING: 1.5 stars

SYNOPSIS:
Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is a contractor working with eccentric billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray) when he is sent to Hawaii to oversee the launch of a satellite into space. The Air Force appoint pilot Allison Ng (Emma Stone) as his chaperone and the pair set off to secure the blessing of the island chiefs before the launch. While he is in town, Brian also bumps into his first love Tracy (Rachel McAdams) who is now married to the weirdly quiet Woody (John Krasinski).

A lot of films set in Hawaii make you want to travel there. Aloha totally fails to inspire in that respect and fumbles its way through about 105 minutes of pointlessness. The technical aspects of the plot barely made sense and the romantic part of the story was unfulfilling. The resolution was also overly sentimental. The plot aside, there is also the very big problem of being set in Hawaii but then having very few Hawaiians actually in the film. In fact, Stone plays a woman who is part Hawaiian, which is shockingly unbelievable. Character motivations were also questionable such as why Brian and Tracy broke up, and why Woody is so quiet. It seems like he has always been this way and yet it only seems to bother Tracy more than a decade into their marriage. Allison is so annoying and pathetically lusts after Brian like a teenager obsessed with a member of a boy band. Their relationship arc is unconvincing. To make it worse, Cooper lacks chemistry with Stone, but is a little stronger with McAdams. None of them are particularly good individually. Not even Billy Murray and Alec Baldwin could save the film with their minor roles. Perhaps the only positive aspect of the film was the soundtrack. Such a shame.