Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Ted is this summer's R-rated comedy to see and has the Seth MacFarlane signature all over it.  From top to bottom, the humor and structure is similar to what you would expect from Seth MacFarlane with cultural references, crude humor where nothing is off limits, and cutaway gags.  Even the music has that weird happy-go-lucky "Family Guy" twist to it.  The film is a mash-up of a magical fairytale, a love story, and a stoner bro-mance.  You can see elements of each of these genres as well as the TV influence with the live-action animation that is reminiscent of "Alf" (1986-1990), but without the puppet and "Paul" without the excessive special effects.

This is a story centered on John Bennet (Mark Wahlberg) and his teddy bear (Seth MacFarlane), who comes to life as the result of a childhood wish.  Now 35, John is in a 4 year relationship with Lori (Mila Kunis) who puts up with the fact that her boyfriend has an immature teddy bear for a best friend, and gives an ultimatum that forces John to choose between her and his Thunder Buddy.  Ted, much like Corey Feldman, Frankie Muniz, and Justin Bieber was a childhood star making appearances as a talking teddy bear on the Tonight Show.  However, just like those other childhood stars he is now grown up and no one gives a shit. 

Not surprisingly, Seth MacFarlane stole the show as the voice of Ted sounding enough like Peter Griffin that they even worked in a joke about it.  Ted is an anti-semitic version of "Alf" that enjoys giving women the Dirty Fozzie and when going for a job interview looks like Snuggles Accountant.  He is also the best friend you will ever have and when you squeeze him will tell you that he loves you. 

Seth MacFarlane brought in some of his best friends for the film that resulted in an all-star cast.  Mila Kunis is coming off a performance in "Friends With Benefits" (2011) where she showed that she is the funny and hot girl next door.  She has proven that she is a lot more than just Meg from "Family Guy" or the ditzy hot girl from "That 70s Show".  With her character in "Ted", she stands out just enough by bringing a level of maturity to the film that would otherwise be lacking as all the guys around her are assholes that either want to get high or get laid.  Mark Wahlberg is generally known for characters that get in fights ("The Fighter") and films that require a lot of running around during action scenes.  In "Ted", his character is the kid that nobody wants to hang out with.  While all the neighborhood kids are playing beat up the Jew, not even the Jewish kid wants to hang out with him.  Much like "The Other Guys" (2010) he is able to show his comic timing and deliver a convincing romantic counterpart to Mila Kunis.  However, his singing and dancing skills are not what you remember from his days with the Funky Bunch and is more reminiscent of someone with Parkinson's, but he is still better than Katy Perry singing the theme song to "Octopussy". 

It was great to see supporting roles from Joel McHale as the creepy boss that won't stop hitting on Lori; Patrick Warburton (he will always be Putty to me) as the dysfunctional co-worker that might be part of some gay beat me up underworld; Matt Walsh as the weird boss; and who knew Giovanni Ribisi could dance like that?  He might be able to give Channing Tatum and "Magic Mike" a run for its money.  Giovanni Ribisi is perfecting the crazy guy recently with his performance in "Rum Diary" and only makes it weirder as a father wanting Teddy for his son.  He is so weird, that he makes SinĂ©ad O'Connor look good.  I am still wondering how they were able to convince Patrick Stewart into narrating the film, but he too provides a maturity to the film.  The cameo from Ryan Reynolds was just the right touch to bring a smaller side story full circle. 

Going into the film, I expected the R-rated jokes and as a fan of "Family Guy" the humor was perfect.  This is a film that I think will surprisingly hold up over the years and for that reason jumps up to a 4 Quack rating.  The only thing cooler than this film would be an Apache Helicopter, because they are awesome.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Seth Grahame-Smith is one of the hottest writers right now having recently completed "Dark Shadows"; he is in line for the rumored reboot of "Beetlejuice"; and depending on how "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" does in the theaters we could be seeing his other novel ("Pride and Prejudice and Zombies") developed for the big screen.  It doesn't hurt that "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" is directed by the brilliant Timur Bekmambetov, who brings a dark edge to the vision of the best-selling novel.  For those that have seen the vampires from Timur Bekmambetov's "Night Watch" (2004) and "Day Watch" (2006), you can expect a lot of the same. 

Seth Grahame-Smith is unapologetic about how fictionalized the story is, which requires you to check your disbelief at the door.  The story includes many of the historical moments in the life of Abraham Lincoln, including the Lincoln-Douglas debates with Stephen A. Douglas (Alan Tudyk), his marriage to Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the battles of the Civil War against his Confederate counterpart Jefferson Davis (John Rothman) and alludes to his assassination by John Wilkes Booth.   However, the film also takes liberties with who Lincoln worked with during the Civil War, such as Harriet Tubman (Jaqueline Fleming).  The story reveals the hidden history behind the Civil War and uncovers the role vampires played in our nation.

Casting a relatively unknown as the part of the 16th President of the United States was a wise decision.  Benjamin Walker is an accomplished stage performer where he was the lead in the Broadway musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.  This allows for the character to grow from a young man into the man that many know from the history books.  As a young boy, Lincoln loses his mother to the vampire Jack Barts (Marton Csokas) and swears lifelong vengeance.  With the assistance of Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), a vampire, Lincoln continues down the path of abolishing slavery as it was the vampires that ran most of the slave trade for their own food.

Dominic Cooper is coming off a big year in 2011 where he was the son of a dictator (The Devil's Double), the father of a super hero (Captain America) and worked with an icon (My Week with Marilyn).  He is brilliant in everything he does and it is no different in how he spins and works the influence of Abraham Lincoln into the man that the history books remember. 

As can be expected there were several omissions in the film as compared to the book.  One that I was hoping would be included was Edgar Allen Poe, who according to the novel was first encountered on the streets of New Orleans and Lincoln kept as a close friend who had knowledge of vampires.  Poe provided a historical account of the vampires that Henry was unwilling to provide (in the film the history is linked early through Jack Barts and his brother Adam, Rufus Sewell, as the main villains).  Perhaps the omission was also for the same reason that Lincoln's drinking in the early part of his life was not mentioned as several of the early vampire encounters take place during drunken moments; and the known drug use of Poe would discount the believability of an already unbelievable story.  Another omission is the final chapter of Abraham Lincoln's life with the assassination by John Wilkes Booth, who was also a vampire.  Wil Johnson (Anthony Mackie) was not in the novel, but Lincoln did have two partners that fought along his side.  The train was not a part of the story either, but helps contribute to making the unimaginable story something plausible.  The tempo of the film was a bit rushed in the middle, so developing these other characters would have detracted from the action in the story.

While many of the special effects worked for me, the make-up was inconsistent.  I enjoyed how they aged Benjamin Walker with more than just giving Lincoln a beard.  However, it was unnoticeable in how the make-up artists aged the young and beautiful Mary Elizabeth Winstead or Anthony Mackie.  If it was more than a wisp of grey hair I couldn't noticed it.    

I had very high hopes for this film and I must say I was still entertained, but as can be expected the book was better.  I could see this film receiving a special effects nomination for the work with the vampires, but even though the acting was well done it shouldn't be expected on any Oscar lists.  The film is over the top, fast paced, bloody, and very well done.  If you want to see vampires getting hacked, slashed, and bashed to death in a wide variety of ways, you'll enjoy this movie.  While I will not embellish with a perfect rating, this is certainly a 3 Quack film. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages is a Hollywood adaptation of the Tony Award nominated musical from director Adam Shankman, who also brought "Hairspray" to the big screen in 2007.  After several re-writes of the screenplay, delays in filming, and casting issues the final product has found its way to the theaters. The film stars an ensemble cast and features the music of Bon Jovi, Guns N' Roses, Def Leppard, Foreigner, Journey, Poison, Whitesnake, Night Ranger, Twisted Sister, and REO Speedwagon. 

The story is very simple and follows a small town girl, Sherrie (Julianne Hough) living in a lonely world, and a city boy, Drew (Diego Boneta) from south Detroit, who meet on the Sunset Strip outside of the Bourbon Room.  But their Journey isn't the only one as the Bourbon Room is on the edge of bankruptcy and the club owner, Dennis Dupree (Alex Baldwin) is battling with the mayor (Bryan Cranston) and his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who are attempting to clean up the city by closing the Bourbon Room forever.  The hopes of a big payday to save the Bourbon Room fall on a night with Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) who is battling his own inner demons along with his manager Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti) and sees an honest future with Rolling Stone writer Constance Sack (Malin Ackerman).  

There isn't much in the film that you haven't seen, or heard, before.  If you go see this film it should only be for your love of 80s rock, because beyond the songs the story won't keep you interested.  Many of the songs wind up being mash-ups of each other that don't always transition from the dialogue to the song. 
Having never seen the Broadway musical I can only report on what my friends have told me for similarities and differences.  However, one of the more entertaining moments in the film is a deviation from the musical where Russell Brand (Lonny, manager at the Bourbon room) and Alec Baldwin (Dennis Dupree) share a duet and declare their love.  The shining light on the center stage is Tom Cruise who embodies his character beyond expectations.  However, even the celebrity of Tom Cruise is found in the shadow of the monkey "Hey Man" and the cameo appearances from Eli Roth and TJ Miller. 

The two lead performances from Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta did not have much chemistry, which is frustrating when they are the focal point of the film.  Perhaps they were just there for their pretty faces, but not even the rest of the amazing cast could save this.  The singing wasn't much better than the best person you have heard at a karaoke bar, and the only trained singer in the group was Mary J. Blige who is barely in the film and when she is the focal point for her is the various wigs she is wearing. 
There is no reason to rush out and see this film, but if you do go I suggest you go with a large group of friends and don't be ashamed to shout out and sing during the film.  The film will keep you entertained just enough to make this a 2 Quack film. 

One final note... if Stacee Jaxx (or anyone) asks you to open your mouth, immediatley question them.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Your Sister's Sister

The uptight mom from "Safety Not Guaranteed" is the writer/director of "Your Sister's Sister".  This is the third time that Lynn Shelton has worked with Mark Duplass (the others being "Humpday" in 2009 and "Safety Not Guaranteed" in 2012).  This indie film has been making the rounds at the various festivals and receiving positive reviews.  The buzz is that the cast improvised most of the film and created back-stories for their characters.  This approach was necessary to help explain why one sister has a British accent and the other an American accent.  To complicate things, Lynn Shelton challenged the independent film making style with a minimal budget and filmed over 12-days in the beautiful Pacific Northwest (San Juan Islands, Washington).

The film starts off by introducing the emotional back story with a gathering of friends to remember the passing of Tom.  They are together to share memories with the morose brother Jack (Mark Duplass) as well as the beautiful former girlfriend, and Jack's best friend, Iris (Emily Blunt).  After Jack gives a less than flattering eulogy, Iris convinces him to pack his bag and ride his red bike to her family cabin to get his head together.  In a moment that was reminiscent of John Belushi in "Animal House", Jack is creeping around the cabin, where he encounters Iris's sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) who is also at the cabin to get over a seven-year relationship that recently ended.  Jack and Hannah enjoy a drunken night where they get to know each other, which provides for the rest of the drama (and humor) in the film.

Every performance perfectly compliments the other.  Emily Blunt gets to explore more range here than "Salmon Fishing in Yemen" or "the Adjustment Bureau"; and shows a maturity and a more believable relationship with Mark Duplass than she had in the other films.  Mark Duplass is everywhere lately with minor appearances in "People Like Us", "Safety Not Guaranteed", and writing/directing credits for "Jeff Who Lives at Home" and "Cyrus".  All of these credits are in addition to the TV series "The League" on FX.  Rosemarie DeWitt may be better known for her performances on "Mad Men" or "United States of Tara", but she holds her own with Blunt and Duplass. 

Everything from the filming approach to the character preparation works in creating a natural feel to the dialogue and gestures.  The film is very funny and light-hearted enough to handle the emotional aspects of the story.  The common ending for many independent films is something that you will either love (like me) or loathe.  This approach to an ending allows for the audience to answer the question of what they would do in the situation.  I would like to see some nominations for this film in the editing, original screenplay, and finds its way to a 5 Quack rating.  

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