Friday, June 29, 2012

Review: Ted

Seth MacFarlane is a clever bastard. He knows that only way to get away with transferring his Peter Griffin voice to a walking, talking teddy bear in a movie is to acknowledge the party foul with a self-deprecating joke. So he uses one line two-thirds of the way into the movie and he's suddenly excused him from any accusations of laziness.

The animation mastermind behind Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show, MacFarlane has made a career out of that sort of circular humor. He has an ear for the absurd, and flings outrageous references up against the wall. It doesn't matter that only half of them stick, because the ones that do are funny enough to excuse the misfires. Ted may make you groan as much as it will make you laugh, but when it's on, the comedy gets you so giddy it makes you forget the awful stuff and halfway tricks you into thinking it's thoroughly perfect.

Part Child's Play, part Family Guy, part Wilfred and part fart joke marathon, Ted is all MacFarlane, for both better and worse. But mostly better.

MacFarlane voices the title character, a boozing, carousing plush doll who was dreamed into life back in the 1980s by John (Mark Wahlberg). Ted and John have grown into a pair of Flash Gordon reruns-watching, pot-smoking burnouts, much to the chagrin of John's ears-steaming girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis).

Lori drags John by the ear into adulthood, while Ted longs to lure John into suspended adolescence. That leaves Ted in the middle of the tug-of-war, juggling the only fart-joke-filled life he's known against a future of constant sex with a girl who looks like Mila Kunis. Both Wahlberg and Kunis play adequate straight parts, but they're really just the backup dancers for Ted's one-teddy show. The relationship stuff is dull, existing only to post up some framework for Ted's sickening-in-great-ways escapades.

Ted can rock a party like Charlie Sheen. He can hold his bong smoke, drink grown men under the table and is capable of seducing supermarket checkout girls, strippers and jazz singers with equal ease. He's got a knack for ironically racist wisecracks, a mean right hook and an inexplicable confidence in his awful driving ability. And boy, does he hate that Teddy Ruxpin.

Like Family Guy, Ted has its share of awkwardness, both intended and otherwise. Stars make surprise, self-mocking cameos that aren't quite as funny as intended, there are uncomfortably long pauses after punchlines that aren't as great as MacFarlane intended and then there's that Peter Griffin voice, which makes it tough to separate Ted from the character who's spent way too much time in your living room.

But overall, Ted is a ginormous victory for MacFarlane. Proof that his silly, so-stupid-it's-smart shtick can hold up over 106 minutes. Haters beware, because MacFarlane shows he's going to be just as popular a filmmaker as he is at TV animation. Lord help us all.

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane's voice, Giovanni Ribisi and Patrick Warburton. Written by MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, based on a story by MacFarlane. Directed by MacFarlane. 106 minutes. Rated R.

My novel, Stormin' Mormon, is available as a Kindle book for $1.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

5 Pop Stars With Negligible Singing Ability

1. Katy Perry. She knows three notes: Talk, yell and shout.

2. Rihanna. She recognizes that "ella" rhymes with "ella," and can dance, but she's monotone.

3. Ke$ha. I don't even think her "rapping" voice. It sounds computer-manipulated in the vein of Johnny Bravo.

4. Miley Cyrus. She seems to be following the career trajectory of Hilary Duff, meaning she'll be working at Sonic by 2015.

5. Justin Bieber. Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems that Selena Gomez most of the talent in the relationship. And we're not talking about all that much talent to go around.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Review: Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World

It would really suck if we found out a meteor was careening toward earth, set to end all life in a matter of days. But as Seeking a Friend for the End of the World teaches, there would be a silver lining for lonely dudes. Ladies would get crazy desperate, dropping their standards lower than they would at a dive bar on New Year's Eve at 11:59. 

That's great news for Dodge (Steve Carell), a newly-single 50-year-old insurance salesman, who can suddenly get picky when it comes to romance. In the movie's first few scenes, he turns away middle-aged women who throw themselves at him, holding out for 20-something stunner Penny (Keira Knightley), who leaps through his apartment window and into his arms in the first of many scenes that make you go "hmm." 

Never mind that Dodge's facial expression is permanently set to "constipated" or that he's got the personality of a dead dung beetle. Thanks to the meteor, he's a prime hunk of man meat in the eyes of Penny. Dodge is a suitable partner for an end-of-days travelogue, in which the couple wanders aimlessly through a realm of impromptu beach parties, Doritos-munching survivalists, bar-and-grill orgies, suicidal truckers and red-hot sex inside a car. Meteor, you are totally the best wing man ever.

Turns out the coming obliteration of creation not only distorts the judgment of romantic leads, but also filmmakers.

First-time writer/director Lauren Scafaria really wants you to root for her doomed lovebirds as she sends them through a gauntlet of tired screenwriting tropes, but the most sympathetic character ends up being the meteor, whom you wish will hurry the heck up and squash all these idiots. Dodge and Penny's plan seems to be to bore the meteor to death.

The movie is the type that gives think-piece indies a bad name. The parade of quirky characters are meant to be cute and unpredictable, but turn out as irritating and nonsensical. The script calls for Carell to spend too much time staring into the abyss, his craggy, vacant eyes revealing not only his character's regret for having wasted his time, but the actor's decision to sign up for this mess. 

Knightley shows a little more life, and she deserves credit for resisting the urge to wince whenever she leans in to smooch Carell, but there's not much for her to do other than whining about wanting to fly to England to visit her parents.

Scafaria could have had a some more fun showing how urban areas would shut down if there was no tomorrow, but she keeps her characters out in the country, fleeing the riots and looting.

The concept would have had a better chance of success if it let Carell flex his comedic muscles, seeking out gallows humor in the end of existence, rather than sticking with its slow, somber vibe. With the talent onhand, the world could have ended with a bang, not a whimper.

Starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria. Rated R. 104 minutes.

My novel, Stormin' Mormon, is available as a Kindle book for $1.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The 5 Greatest Things About 108 Degree Weather

1. Pants pocket sweat destroys your old, outdated phone, giving you an excuse to get a new one.

2. The inside temperature of your car matches that of a kiln, making it easy and convenient to complete ceramics projects.

3. Air conditioning bills surpass your paycheck, which is great because Jesus said it's tough for rich people to get into heaven.

4. You get the tan of your dreams in just four seconds of sun exposure. Although five will give you both a third-degree sunburn and heat stroke, while six will incinerate you on the spot.

5. The feared Yeti decides not to terrorize your populace, being that he prefers snow.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Review: That's My Boy

Way back in the olden days, Adam Sandler was the funniest man alive. He was so talented that he actually made Saturday Night Live a show that you looked forward to each week. Then he went and made Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, Bulletproof, The Wedding Singer and Big Daddy, which were all phenomenal enough to leave audiences with cracked ribs and damp pants.

Back then, 20 million or so fans, including me, vowed to watch anything this guy was in throughout the rest of time, no matter how awful things got. We would stick around through hell, high water and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, holding a vigil in hopes that the master would awake from his sleepwalk. One day, we prayed into our popcorn, Sandler would stop with the terrible The Longest Yard Remakes, the Just Go With Its, the Grown Ups and the Bedtime Stories and find the seat cushion that he accidentally lost his genius underneath.

By the time Sandler starred in a movie called Funny People, it seemed ironically titled. It just wasn't gonna happen for us. But the dumber of us 20 million still stuck around, and with That's My Boy, we've finally been rewarded for our ignorance, stubbornness and general stupidity.

The movie is a hurricane of disgustingly wrong sight gags, so-dated-they're-fresh references and dialogue that's must have been copied out of the teacher's edition of the Cruelly Funny One-Liners 101 textbook.

Sandler plays Donny, who impregnated his middle school teacher when he was a teenager and became a celebrity who wasted all his money, hung with the likes of Vanilla Ice and the two Coreys and ended up falling from grace just like those guys. Facing prison unless he can come up with back taxes, he wants to reconnect with his estranged son, Todd (Andy Samberg), whom he figures he can coax into a big-money reality shoe reunion with him and his mom.

Todd, who is about to get married to bossy bridezilla Jamie (Leighton Meester), is so embarrassed of Donny that he makes him pretend to be an old friend. Donny tries to re-forge the father-son bond while trying not to alienate Jamie's family and destroy the wedding. Which means, of course, that Donny will alienate the family and destroy the wedding as much as possible before eventually setting everything right, or not.

It's a blueprint for disaster, but Sandler -- armed with an anything-goes R rating and a sicker-than-usual mind -- is back in 1990s form, when he wasn't interested in trying to please everyone. He's made a vulgar, disgusting movie that joyfully tries to make the stodiger viewers file out of the theater, leaving more room for everyone who gets it to roll in the aisles. It seems as though he and his filmmaking team came up with a ton of great jokes that the money guys would deem unacceptable and cut out, leaving only the bland stuff. Then he took everything that had been cut and made that into the movie, trashing all the bland junk.

Samberg proves to be an able Robin to Sandler's Batman, turning what could have been a thankless straight-man role into a Ben Stiller-like sponge for indignities. Vanilla Ice, who gets a surprising amount of screentime as Donny's partner in crime, is game to mock himself and show some comedic acting chops that eclipse his questionable talent as a rapper. And bless the sweet yet deranged soul of 89-year-old Peggy Stewart, who manages to upstage Sandler, Samberg, Vanilla Ice and everyone else to appear to be Betty White's funnier younger sister.

That's My Boy turns out not only to be the title of the movie, but something Sandler's poor, suffering fans can gleefully say to each other as they acknowledge that their hero is back.

At least until Grown Ups 2 comes out.

Starring Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Vanilla Ice, Leighton Meester and James Caan. Written by David Caspe. Directed by Sean Anders. 114 minutes. Rated R.

My novel, Stormin' Mormon, is available as a Kindle book for $1.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

5 Jobs I Could Never Do

1. Construction. I'm bad with my hands, don't follow directions well, don't like heat or cold and all the bending over and lugging heavy crap around would kill my back.

2. Car salesman. If I worked at a new car dealership, I would tell everyone to go away and buy a used vehicle, because it makes more financial sense. If I worked in used cars, I'd tell people to use Craigslist because the stuff we sell is overpriced.

3. Any job without a computer in front of me. Sure, I could check stuff on my phone, but it runs out of battery too quickly, isn't convenient and I need to stay updated on stuff.

4. Waiter. I would forget what people ordered and not respond well to rude customers. Also, I don't get how they managed to carry food or stacked plates without dropping it all over the floor.

5. Surgeon. My hands aren't steady enough not to unintentionally cut peoples' aortas and whatnot. Best to keep me out of hospitals altogether.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Review: Prometheus

A note to future space explorers: When searching out the galaxy for intelligent life, steer away from planets filled with aliens with mouths inside of mouths who like to pop out of peoples' bellies. Stuff your ship's air ducts with enough insulation to prevent creatures from scurrying around and dropping on your head.

And for heaven's sake, bring your giant flamethrower with you into dark alien caves, even if your shipmates try to discourage you.

These (except for the air duct thing) are just a few of the lessons that come from Prometheus, which is a prequel to all the Alien/Aliens movies. It's set in the late 21st century, long before the aliens got so hard up for roles that they agreed to team up with the Predators for those regrettable AVP movies that were the monster movie equivalents of The Surreal Life.

Director Ridley Scott, who started the series back in 1979, absolutely flips out with crazy-convincing 3D special effects this time out, making the alien belly-busters, exploding heads and crash landings seem like they were shot on location in the brain of a Red Bull-addled 15-year-old. Scott no doubt used so much of the studio's money on effects that there was no cash left over for the costumes budget, which is why Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron must wear spandex rags when they're not frolicking about in their space suits.

The crew is aboard a trillion-dollar expedition, funded by a guy who appears to be the holographic ghost of the decrepit Biff Tannen from 2015. The goal may or may not be to land on a strange planet, get in arguments with each other, then run around like crazy as aliens explode their bellies one by one, but that's certainly what happens.

Although the crew is made up of the super elite in the fields of various ologies such as geology, archaeology and psychology, it's missing an expert in holycrapletsgethehellouttahere-ology. That guy would have been helpful, having seen that the Aliens murdered a bunch of giant humanoid spacemen in the Alien Cave and recommended an immediate evac.

Since he isn't around, what we get is an old-fashioned clash of humans who just ignore you when you yell "DO NOT go into that Alien Cave/contaminated spaceship room/ because there are Aliens in there!" at the screen versus Aliens. As is the case in all previous Aliens movies, daring and gusto are little match for super sharp teeth and belly-burrowing, so the result is as lopsided as this year's Stanley Cup Finals.

The movie works despite its collection of characters that you sort of want to die. Theron is a cold-blooded boss lady who thinks nothing of flame-throwing colleagues who disobey her do-not-board orders. Michael Fassbender is obnoxious as a condescending android who is probably secretly pulling for the Aliens. Even Rapace and Guy Pearce, the core heroes, often act like bickering idiots who deserve to become Alien Alpo.

The grand accomplishment of Prometheus is that it takes all these hateful characters, Aliens, amazing effects and lack of clothing, mashes them together and keeps everything fun, exciting and unpredictable. The movie even does something its forebears never did, halfway trying to explain why Aliens exist and why they don't like us so much. The title refers to the Greek mythology titan who brought fire down to earth, and the movie certainly brings the fire. As well as the thunder, the blood and the spandex.

Starring Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba and Guy Pearce. Written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof. Directed by Ridley Scott. Rated R. 124 minutes.

My novel, Stormin' Mormon, is available as a Kindle book for $1.