Friday, 31 August 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Ted

Directed by: Seth MacFarlane

Produced by: Scott Stuber
Seth MacFarlane
John Jacobs
Jason Clark

Screenplay by: Seth MacFarlane
Alec Sulkin
Wellesley Wild

Story by: Seth MacFarlane

Narrated by: Patrick Stewart

Starring: Mark Wahlberg
Mila Kunis
Seth MacFarlane
Joel McHale
Giovanni Ribisi
Music by: Walter Murphy

Cinematography by: Michael Barrett

Editing by: Jeff Freeman

Studio(s): Media Rights Capital
Fuzzy Door Productions
Bluegrass Films
Smart Entertainment

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Release date(s): June 29, 2012 (United States)
August 1, 2012 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 106 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $50 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $370, 868, 222

Hey hey, folks, I've celebrated my birthday and done a nice big shop, primarily spent on piles of comic and DVDs, so I've picked up a few things. Keeping Up Appearances Series 3 and 4, WWE's Bret Hart DVD and Chungking Express have been the flavour of the moment right now, but it hasn't stopped from seeing new movies. Expect reviews for The Expendables 2, Shadow Dancer, The Bourne Legacy and This Must Be The Place, so, as ever, keep your eyes posted!

Ted is the feature-length debut of Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy and American Dad!. I was put on to this movie by (no surprises!) my good friend at Danland Movies who, being a massive fan of the former Marky Mark and things of the comedically retarded, was salivating about this film. I liked the look of it, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't trepidatious as to whether or not the 'concept' could be stretched out to a whole film. Mark Wahlberg plays John Bennett, who as a child was lonely, and wished for his Christmas gift, a stuffed bear that he named Teddy (later Ted), to come to life. In the present day, John is in a long-term relationship with Lori (Mila Kunis). Complications arise when upon their four-year anniversary she feels that in order for them to move forward as a couple, Ted (Seth MacFarlane), who has become, in Wikipedia's words (this got a nice belly laugh), "a dirty, vulgar, obnoxious wastrel," must move out of their apartment.

As I've mentioned, I had trepidation as to whether or not this concept could be pulled off, but within the first few minutes my worries were allayed. The screenplay is for the most part tight, with some excellent dialogue that is both humorous and natural, so none of the funny stuff feels forced. Also, there are a number of key laugh-out-loud (I refuse to use acronyms) moments which rank among the funniest things I have seen in a movie in the past few years. I talk about a good screenplay, but it is thanks to Mark Wahlberg that it is also able to walk the walk. He completely sells this movie, with his casual likability and charisma coming in handy here. I mean, don't forget he is performing against a bear that is non-existent, and that he is able to more or less mime a highly animated and fast-paced dialogue exchange in such a conversational manner is a commendation of his talent. Furthermore, it is through him we are able to get the emotional connection between John and Ted to feel genuine. A superb lead performance! Also on the human front, Mila Kunis is as ever charming. In virtually every movie I see that she's in, she has this natural sassiness and wit. though I think Lori is better written and treated with more respect than most women in frat-boy comedies (the primary purpose of women in these films is usually interchangeable between sex object and party-pooper), Kunis is the real reason this part works. Also, I thought that Seth MacFarlane's vocal delivery as Ted was spot on. He had a bit of a Peter Griffin voice going on, but it never got annoying once, and remaining consistently funny, understandable and natural throughout. The sound synchronisation between John and Ted is a feat in itself, and it was a smart move on the part of MacFarlane to record his dialogue live on-set. To do it in post-production would be to take away the liveliness and improvisational feeling it has, although the post-production tinkering has ensured an equalisation in volume and pitch levels, so everything is crisp and clear. Finally, as a feature directorial debut goes, MacFarlane doesn't stray too far from his comfort zone, but I'm not bothered about that when he's making a film this funny. This a raucous laugh of a film that I am glad to see has become like last year's Horrible Bosses a bit of a sleeper hit, and can only be a sign of greater things to come from MacFarlane. 

Ted has a lot going for it, but I must say that some of what is good about it does on occasion prove to be a double-edged sword. MacFarlane, as mentioned, does not stray enough from his comfort zone, and while this works for the most part, there are times when it sticks out and reeks of unoriginality. I mean, the whole is clearly of 'The MacFarlane Stable,' with the same soundscape that you get from his various television series, and some of the way things are shot seem to be designed with a sensibility that caters more to animation than live-action. It's this relying on tricks already learnt as opposed to going out into uncharted waters and really digging deep that bothers me. It is annoying to have at least fifteen minutes of filler on what is an otherwise outright hilarious film. It didn't bother me that much, but there are some bothersome moments (yes, Ted, you sound like Peter Griffin, we don't need you reference it also!).

Besides that nitpicking, Ted is a very good comedy, and definitely a real highlight of the summer season of films. The eponymous bear is a believable character, who wins you over within minutes of his showing up, thanks to a (mostly) tight screenplay. This script is completely put over by a stellar lead performance by Mark Wahlberg, who really bust his hump here, and deserves much credit for the overall success of the film. Mila Kunis delivers a strong supporting role, while writer-director MacFarlane succeeds in both these capacities, and his vocal part as Ted. I was also very impressed with the animation and the sound synchronisation in the main characters' dialogue. It is little details like this that mean that, for all it's flaws, Ted can still get away as a very good film and a superior comedy.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.8/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnois - Tired (worked today, be reviewing again en masse, be working tomorrow: me's a busy mothafucka!)

P.S. Patrick Stewart is an awesome narrator!

Monday, 20 August 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Chill

Directed by: Serge Rodnunsky

Produced by: Serge Rodnunsky
Justin W. Hill
David A. Hoffman
Shaun Kurtz

Screenplay by: Serge Rodnunsky

Based on: Cool Air by H.P. Lovecraft

Starring: Thomas Calabro
Ashley Laurence
Shaun Kurtz
James Russo
Victor Grant
Barbard Gruen

Music by: Nigel Holton
Kurt Oldman
Jeffrey Walton

Cinematography by: Serge Rodnunsky

Editing by: Serge Rodnunsky

Studio: Rojak Films

Distributed by: Safecracker Pictures

Release date(s): 2007 (United States: straight-to-video)
May 28, 2012 (United Kingdom: straight-to-video)

Running time: 88 mins

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $850,000

Box office revenue: Not available

Dancing with my dog to Scarface (Push It To The Limit) is a rather unorthodox way to start yourself off on the reviewing front. Hey, it's been near a month, and I'm resorting to these 'techniques' in order to try and concentrate. To each his own, right? Anywho, I've started seeing new movies again, so, expect a review for Ted, This Must Be The Place, The Expendables 2 and more in the coming weeks. As ever, I must insist you keep your eyes posted!

Alrighty then (Hello, Jim!), today's film for review is Chill. To put things in context (more so for the nitpickers than anything), the film was released straight-to-video in 2007 by Serge Rodnunsky, and won a number of festival awards, including a Commendation Award at the 2007 UK Festival Of Fantastic Films. Now, for whatever reason (I haven't been able to find out), distribution for this film from the United States has ensure that the United Kingdom release for this film only came around this year. As such, I'm including this as a newly released film, the same way Gone Baby Gone was delayed over here for a year, in respect to the Madeline McCann kidnapping. Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's short story Cool Air, Chill follows Sam (Thomas Calabro), a struggling writer who finds work at a deli shop so as to make a living. Little does he know that his eccentric employer, Dr. Munoz (Shaun Kurtz), controls a serial killer who preys on prostitutes, for reasons to be later revealed in the film, as he and friend Maria (Ashley Laurence) become entangled in Munoz's activities.

This Is Horror's John Llewellyn Probert states in his review of the film that it "should only be watched by the very kind and forgiving." Now, while that may perhaps sound patronising, Probert highlights a valid point in that this is an ultra low-budget horror film, the implications of which are obvious in the film's production value. Also, the film is written, directed, shot, edited and produced by Serge Rodnunsky, who does, especially given his circumstances, an admirable job as the proverbial one-man film crew. The digital cinematography is well done, and his direction ensures a certain level of efficiency and consistency throughout the proceedings. His editing is a bit patchier at a few points, but for the most part it is kept tightly bound to the horror genre frameworks. Some kind words have to be said about the actors in here as well. Don't be expecting an acting masterclass, because it isn't, but each of the four principals, Calabro, Kurtz, Laurence and James Russo, give solid performances. Calabro is a likeable protagonist, while Laurence is charming as the 'friendly woman in the neighbourhood' trope. At first it bothered me, but Kurtz' Dr. Munoz grew on me as a character, and James Russo is a nasty bugger as the cop who once dated Laurence's Maria and has been assigned to work on the 'missing prostitutes' case. I hope I've got across the fact that I do think this is a decent flick and deserves a chance to be watched.

With these nice things being said, it is a troublesome beast that fails to overcome it's limitations. Some filmmakers use these limitations to their advantage. Robert Rodriguez always said "Creativity, not money, is used to solve problems." Just look at the example set out by the American independents in the 1970s, with Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, John Carpenter's Halloween and George A. Romero's films on the frontline of low-budget horror movies that matched, and for the most part topped their bigger-budget bedfellows. However, the difference here is that these films embraced their limitations, while the script for this film obviously designed for something bigger. As such, what is for the large part a consistent, solid, middle of the road film, has a completely botched climax that features some of the worst special effects I have seen in years. I could understand it if you do this in low lighting with dark tones, but this is done in full wide shots and close-up, in clear focus, so all the ludicrousness of the effects are openly displayed. Frankly, after Gareth Edwards' Monsters, there is no excuse for effects that look like something a great luddite such as myself might be able to conjure on Powerpoint or Photoshop. 'Hide the negatives, accentuate the positives' obviously wasn't on the agenda at the board meetings here. Also, while I wasn't expecting the script to be chopped liver, some of the dialogues lashes like a whip (in a bad way, I tend to enjoy a bit of BDSM on most occasions!), and certain plot elements, flashbacks and 'this is a reminder/Basil Exposition' moments just don't work and stick out like some thumbs. And finally, the score is pants, EHO strike again!

Chill is a real Jekyll and Hyde of a film, in that while I know fine rightly that it is uniformly pants, I can't help but think that this is a decent film. If I'm to compare to a similar film, such as Rogue River, I'll say that while Rogue River has one genuinely horrible set piece that is well-executed, it doesn't have the consistency of Chill. While it has no stand-out moments (aside from the horrible effects), Chill is a very well made, run of the mill horror film, the credit for which must be bestowed upon Serge Rodnunsky, not just by default on account of his many roles in the production, but because there is a solid level of control throughout the film.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Pumped (having the ultimate male macho/homoerotic day: gym session, Expendables 2 later on! After having watched Summerslam last night of course!)

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Thin White Dude's Movie Of The Month: July 2012 - The Dark Knight Rises

The third part in a film trilogy usually has audiences approach it with a degree of trepidation, but like Toy Story 3, we are quickly assured that we are in for an exception to the rule. Christopher Nolan once again outdoes himself, the film a reflection of his own ascension into the echelon of cinema's great masters. A terrific ensemble cast occupies a Gotham City that plunged into chaos, with an astounding scope and scale that would make D.W. Griffith proud, and one of the most convincing and well-established mise-en-scenes that has graced the screens. Technical wizardry is abound, and the story hits home with a genuine sense of pathos. Everything you could want from a big-budget action blockbuster.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.2/10

Runner-Up: Magic Mike - A film with real personality and wit, held up by an excellent lead performance from a game Channing Tatum

Second-Most Deadly Disease: Cosmopolis - A good film not without it's qualities, but a deeply flawed piece from David Cronenberg

Avoid Like The Plague: Rogue River - Like a slightly better A Serbian Film, there's one grotesque set piece, but apart from that (and good acting), there's not much else to it.

The Thin White Dude's Update Volume 1038578300... yadda, yadda, yadda!

In case you thought I've crawled under a rock, like Zarathustra (and the recently 'missing' Jaz Coleman), I've been spending a few weeks in contemplative solitude, meditating on the horrors of the contemporary world, and how, in my great wisdom, to address these issues. Which is a way of saying I've been on holiday.

Anyway, I've been (and will be) pretty busy, so reviews will probably be erratic in terms of posting regularity, but I'll try and push on anyway. Today, I'll be reviewing Chill (if I can get the security tag off the wretched box: stupid Asda shop assistant!) and I have procured a copy of This Must Be The Place in my travels, so a review for that will be in the works. Also, I'll be getting round to looking at others, but I'm not making any guarantees on what I'll be seeing, I'm just gonna watch what I can.

Finally, I've going to follow this with a post for my movie of the month for July 2012: there's only five movies from last month reviewed, but that's enough for what I'm trying to achieve. Toodles, and, as ever, keep your eyes posted!