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Saturday, 8 August 2015

TRAILER TALK - SUICIDE SQUAD (2016)

Directed by: David Ayer
Written by: David Ayer
Starring: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie
Release date: August 5, 2016


This trailer's sudden appearance online was quite unexpected. Shortly before the Batman v Superman trailer was shown at this year's San Diego Comic-Con, there was a surprise (and by "surprise" I mean it hadn't been officially announced but everybody knew it was coming) appearance by director David Ayer, who briefly showed off a teaser trailer for WB/DC's upcoming supervillain team-up, Suicide Squad. This teaser was intended to be an exclusive look for those who had waited in line for days to eventually heave their heavy bones into Hall H, but just like every other "exclusive" piece of footage in Comic-Con history, some brave soul decided to record it in awful mobile phone quality for the people of the interwebs to see. This led to the release of a reluctant statement from Warner Bros., saying that this material was not intended for the wider audience and that they have no plans to release this footage to the public any time soon.

Then they released it officially the next day and here we are.

Whether it was WB's plan to release this footage officially mere days after the online premiere of their first full-length Batman v Superman trailer we'll never know, but if not then I'd like to thank whoever it was that took it upon themselves to defy the rules and get it out there. Suicide Squad has received an absolutely incredible amount of attention through views and social media -- even slightly more than Batman v Superman at time of writing. Which is a huge surprise, considering that the Suicide Squad is a largely unknown property.


The first thing we see in this trailer  is Academy Award nominee Viola Davis as Amanda Waller. Sure, maybe Davis is a tad thinner than most interpretations, but this is some stellar casting. Waller is usually depicted as a determined, intelligent and utterly ruthless character, and judging from the dialogue she has in this trailer, it looks like that hard-as-nails demeanor is present here. I'd expect nothing less for such a well-respected character.


The first few shots of this trailer are brilliantly filmed and almost immediately make it apparent that Suicide Squad is going to be very different to the majority of comic book movies today - and thank God for that, because I love this genre and I want it to continue for as long as it can, but the "fun", lighthearted popcorn flicks that take up most of the superhero roster today are really starting to get stale. Suicide Squad looks beautifully twisted and judging from the film's tagline and Ayer's comments at Comic-Con ("it's time for bad versus evil"), it may actually be that. The last thing that should happen in this film is for everyone to find the hidden goodness in their hearts and turn over new leaves like so many other projects with this kind of premise have. The Suicide Squad cast is made up of some of the nastiest and deadliest villains from DC Comics - with a few exceptions such as Karen Fukahara's Katana (who, while I'm glad WB are giving some attention to, her appearance here is curious as her usual role is that of a hero). The point is, these are not good people. 


This teaser unsurprisingly doesn't actually reveal much about the plot, other than the fact that it seems to be the usual premise for the Suicide Squad: criminals and convicts are forced to assemble a team, in order to perform covert missions for the government that would be considered too dangerous for most to attempt. If one of them dies it's nobody's problem, seeing as nobody will miss them. Anyone who makes it out alive gets shortened prison sentences. One or two squad members will surely hit the floor within the first hour (Adam Beach's Z-list character Slipknot is almost definitely a dead man walking), and they aren't going to get along one hundred percent of the time. 


Harley Quinn is one of the biggest focuses of this teaser, which comes as no surprise seeing as how the character's popularity has exploded in recent years. I'm personally not a huge fan of the decision to go with a more New 52-inspired look for her here (not that I was expecting a full-blown jester outfit), but Wolf of Wall Street star Margot Robbie is perfect casting and I'd be surprised if she didn't recreate the character in her own image after the release of this film. We also get glimpses of Cara Delevigne as the schizophrenic Enchantress, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (you bet I copy-pasted that) as Batman villain Killer Croc, and Will Smith as leader and deadly assassin Deadshot among others. I'm not one of those "practical is always better than CGI!" kind of people, but I have to say that the prosthetics on Killer Croc look fantastic, and Ayer's usual method of making everything as real as possible has actually translated very well based on this footage. Will Smith seems like he's just playing himself as usual here, which I suppose he can probably get away with due to Deadshot's occasional status as an anti-hero. Hopefully he'll still have a bit of an edge to him, though. Ayer is going to have to find a fine line between making most of these characters as villainous as possible while somehow simultaneously making us actually care for them. Sounds like a bit of a challenge, but after End of Watch and Fury, I'm confident he can pull it off.


Possibly my favourite thing about this teaser is that there are various moments throughout that show us Suicide Squad has great potential to actually have relative amounts of fun along with the moodiness (proving to every fanboy on the internet that you can actually have both). There are lackeys in this trailer that presumably work for the Joker (more on him later), who wear all kinds of crazy stuff like masks resembling eyeballs, goat heads and baby heads. There's also a thug in a Batman mask, and even someone dressed in a panda costume while wielding a machine gun, who I'm fairly sure will be the unsung hero of this film. The Dark Knight himself also makes a brief appearance on top of what leaked set pictures have revealed to be the Joker's car, carrying he and Harley Quinn. It's doubtful that Batman will have a large on-screen presence in the film (hopefully not, at least), but regardless his appearance alone will be enough to put butts in seats and it'll be interesting to see him pop in and out, as it'll be an indication that WB have actually created a real shared universe. Speaking of which, an early line from Amanda Waller suggests that Superman's arrival on Earth in Man of Steel is the catalyst for all these new superpowered beings coming out of hiding, which seems like it could be a pretty solid reason, and if they handle it well it could feel much more natural than what the Marvel Cinematic Universe did.


And of course, that eerie Bee Gees cover comes to an end and they save what everybody wanted to see for last: the first look at Jared Leto's Joker. The reaction to this casting was almost the polar opposite of the late Heath Ledger's, with pretty much everyone seemingly on board from the start. Then the first official image of Leto in full make-up dropped, and the new take on the character's traditional design garnered a mixed reception. I personally still think that Ayer and co are gonna have to come up with something really good to justify that "damaged" forehead tattoo (thankfully it's out-of-shot most of the time here), but the general consensus is that Leto looks fantastic in motion and I have to agree. There isn't much of him here but based on this footage, this is the one live-action incarnation of the Joker that actually unnerves me a little. Leto certainly has the craziest eyes out of any big-screen Joker so far.

The comparisons between Heath Ledger and Jared Leto began the day the latter was cast and will continue after Suicide Squad's release, and nobody is ever going to be able to stop them. But these comparisons are completely pointless. No future actor to ever play the Joker is ever going to "beat" Heath Ledger. Audiences aren't going to walk out of Suicide Squad next year and unanimously agree that the guy in that movie was much better than the one before him. Jared Leto (hot off his Oscar win for Dallas Buyers' Club) is probably one of the best possible choices out there with the potential to give Ledger a run for his money, but whether that potential will be utilized remains to be seen. The best case scenario is that Leto knocks this out of the park and people debate who was better out of the two until the end of time. Neither is going to irrefutably surpass the other.


This trailer has left some wondering whether or not Suicide Squad is going to have an R rating. It's a fair question to ask, considering the grimy and doom-laden nature of the trailer, and that we have scenes showcasing characters bathing in dark liquid/possibly blood beneath a large red pentagram and the Joker torturing a seemingly innocent Harleen Quinzel (pre-Harley, it seems), which is almost definitely going to stir up some kind of controversy online depending on how far they go with it. But there's one thing that makes all of that irrelevant: Batman. As long as Batman rears his pointy head, which he's probably going to be doing in a lot of these films, it's very, very unlikely that we're going to be seeing any R-rated versions of said films, plus you'd think that WB would want to capitalize on all the buzz this trailer has recieved. Besides, you can get away with so much under a PG-13 rating nowadays. Let's not forget that The Dark Knight, in all its insanely grim, damn near depressing glory, was somehow granted one.

Seeing these two trailers together is really starting to put into perspective just how different the "DC Extended Universe" (that's what we're going to have to call it now) is going to be from Marvel's, and it seems as if it's coming together quite well. Judging from the trailers alone these two films already feel naturally connected. In what's set to be an absolutely packed year for this genre, let's hope Suicide Squad is one of the films that delivers. If there's any comicbook movie of 2016 that I'd hate to see fail (other than Batman v Superman), it'd be the one that looks to be a breath of fresh air.

Suicide Squad hits theatres August 5, 2016 worldwide.




Wednesday, 15 July 2015

TRAILER TALK - BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016)

Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: Chris Terrio
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg
Music by: Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL
Release date: March 25, 2016


Well, it's finally here. The first (full) trailer for Warner Bros. and Zack Snyder's nerd dream event - and undoubtedly my most anticipated movie in history at this point - Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, arrived to an overwhelmingly positive reception a few days ago, mere minutes after it was broadcast live in Hall H at San Diego Comic-Con. Because it premiered at said event, this trailer is three-and-a-half minutes long, and gives us our first real glimpse into what Dawn of Justice is really about. There's a lot to dissect here, but one thing's for sure: this looks like it has the potential to really be something special.


The first thing that Batman v Superman makes abundantly clear is that the events of Man of Steel have not gone unnoticed. In fact, the repercussions of that film's climax seem to be laying the foundations for everything that occurs here. Superman's appearance on Earth and the aftermath of his destructive battle with Zod have seemingly shook the world into a state of panic, with people being divided as to whether his arrival is a blessing or a curse. It's actually quite fascinating to see that, for the first time in one of these movies, there are actually going to be real-world consequences for the arrival of an otherworldly hero. It's a strong concept that's never really been delved into this heavily and should at least come to an interesting conclusion, as well as provide potentially great themes and dramatic material regarding whether or not Superman is the hero we truly deserve. With that being said, I hope they don't run it into the ground. Whether it was WB and Snyder's plan all along to get all meta and mirror the real-life reactions to Man of Steel or not, the fact of the matter is that Superman is a hero and we all know that. The moral ambiguity and soul-searching as Clark tries to find his place in the world is fine, but hopefully this will be no more than a stepping stone before he becomes the man that enjoys being a hero instead of wondering whether or not he deserves to be one.


I've been a firm supporter of Ben Affleck's decision to take up the mantle of The Dark Knight since day 1, and judging by the reactions, his critics have finally been silenced by this trailer. For good reason, too: he looks the part more than any of his predecessors (both in and out of the suit), his reasons for going head-to-head with Superman are surprisingly convincing, and the scene featuring him running right into the battlefield of Man of Steel while everybody else makes a run for it is a Batman moment if there ever was one. There are multiple elements in this trailer that further accentuate this "hardened and weary" angle for Snyder's Dark Knight: from the more obvious visual cues such as prosthetic wrinkles and grey hair, to the ones that may slip past more casual viewers, such as the defaced Robin suit alluding to the classic story in which the Joker murdered former Robin Jason Todd by beating him to death with a crowbar. 


In fact, it seems as if this Batman even brands his defeated criminals, judging from the imprinted Bat-symbol on the thug's chest. If this is anything to go by - along with the fact that this interpretation takes some heavy inspiration from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns - I'd be surprised if this Batman wasn't the type to break every bone in your body and let you live with it instead of killing you. The type that's just tired of everyone's sh*t, with no mercy for anyone attempting to get in the way of sweet, sweet justice. 


We also get our first look at Israeli actress and model Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, in the character's LONG overdue live-action debut role. Gadot's casting has been just as controversial as Affleck's if not more, with rabid fanboys constantly questioning her acting ability, while becoming fitness experts and demanding she attain the build of an MMA fighter. My stance on Gadot has been somewhat of a rollercoaster, but regardless I don't think it's fair to judge her on her current film work. The few parts that she has had so far have been far too insignificant to allow me to form a real opinion, however I've started to warm up to her casting more overtime and this trailer has only added to that. Granted, we still haven't heard her utter a word in this part and we only have three quick shots of her in costume here, but she looks fantastic and considering that WB know how much is riding on her and are making it clear that this character is a top priority for them, I'm feeling relatively confident that she'll be the first female superhero to really make an impression in a cinematic format.


I'm not gonna lie, when I first heard Jesse Eisenberg had been cast as Lex Luthor I thought April Fools had come early. That geeky guy from The Social Network? As Lex Luthor, "greatest criminal mastermind of our time"? As far as I'm concerned it's a crime against humanity that Kevin Spacey will never get to reprise the role, but I'm actually really liking what I'm seeing here. Just like in the teaser he has some of the best dialogue on display ("devils don't come from hell beneath us... they come from the sky"), and despite this obviously being a different take on the character, Eisenberg still shows some very clear signs of Lex-ism here. His mocking delivery of the Paul Revere-inspired "the red capes are coming" makes it clear that that god complex and feeling of superiority over anything with a cape is still prevalent, and he seems to be revelling in the conflict between Batman and Superman, delivering a grandiose commentary as they bring each other closer to their own destruction ("God versus man, day versus night!"). My favourite part of this entire trailer may even be the short scene where Lex has Superman on his knees, and the Man of Steel looks up at his arch-nemesis like he just wants to bash his face in, but knows he can't. My one true worry when it comes to this casting is that I strongly believe Eisenberg shouldn't be playing his usual self here - as in, the smart, quirky, stuttering kid who runs his mouth like he lives on Pepsi. There's no sign of that here, but we only have a couple of lines to go by so we'll see how things turn out. However, while I understand those who are still weary of this casting, considering Eisenberg's caliber and attitude as an actor, plus the fact that this will be a fresh and potentially more interesting rendition of the character, I think he could actually surprise people. We also know he'll lose the hair eventually, so fans have no need to fret in that regard.


One of the reasons why this trailer succeeds is because it gives us enough so that we know the basic plot (which is basically that Batman, along with half of the public, sees Superman as a threat and wants to take him out), but it never goes all Sony on us and shows far too much before the film is even out. There are little moments of intrigue sprinkled throughout this trailer, such as the aforementioned Robin costume, a destroyed Wayne Manor and a surprise appearance by Zod's corpse, no doubt in the possession of Lex Luthor for some DNA replicating or something of the sort. But one of my favourite things that this trailer has proudly on display is the return of cinematographer Larry Fong. No matter what one may think of Snyder as a director, one of the things that almost everybody can agree on is that the visuals in most of his films are spectacular. A large part of this is due to Fong's input, and I couldn't help but be a little disappointed when it was absent for Man of Steel. Batman v Superman however, brings the "Watchmen style" back by the bucketsful, giving it that distinct visual style that I have not only missed, but I think benefits the film more, helping it blur the lines between comic book and reality (there are even little nuggets of fan-service here, with one shot of Batman almost perfectly replicating the cover art of The Dark Knight Returns). It's also clear that Batman v Superman is favouring more smooth and stylised camera movements, as opposed to the shaky-cam and somewhat documentary-esque camerawork from Man of Steel that some took issue with. While I personally didn't mind the previous decision, when it comes to these kinds of movies I can't deny that a more traditional approach is much more appealing. 


If there's one legitimate worry that I currently have about Batman v Superman, it's that I can't help but be slightly concerned about all the world-building set-up material that will inevitably be here (and is already evident due to Wonder Woman's inclusion in the film, along with the film's subtitle alluding to the Justice League). The way they're going about this in story terms seems like it could work quite well, but this cannot be another Amazing Spider-Man 2. Yes WB, we know you're thoroughly upset that Marvel beat you to the punch with the idea of a shared cinematic universe, but this stuff has to feel natural. For a film that boasts an Oscar-winning screenwriter, some fantastic concepts and is surprisingly looking to be a bit more intellectual than 99% of most "vs" movies (and superhero movies in general), it would be a huge shame for it to be boggled down by having the script shout "JUSTICE LEAGUE, BITCH!" in your ear every ten minutes. 


As someone whose hype levels for this movie are at astronomical proportions, thankfully this trailer made that hype and getting up at 5 in the morning to watch social media explode immediately after its release worth it. I'm just glad that more people are starting to realise this film actually has the potential to be truly great, and not just because Batman and Superman are going to punch each other in live-action for the first time. There's actually one hell of a team working on this film, all things considered. The pressure is on for Warner Bros. to deliver here. If they screw up Batman vs Superman? That's it. Done. Throw away the public's trust and the thought of getting that shared universe together, guys. This movie has to succeed. 

But honestly? I feel like it can.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hits theatres 25 March, 2016 worldwide.



Wednesday, 29 April 2015

REVIEW - AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015)

Directed by: Joss Whedon
Written by: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, James Spader
Music by: Brian Tyler, Danny Elfman
Release date: April 23, 2015 (New Zealand)


Has it really been three years since the first Avengers came out already? Considering the legacy its built for itself, it certainly doesn't feel like it. Ever since that teaser trailer dropped online featuring a creepy new rendition of Pinnochio's "I've Got No Strings", expectations for this film have been rather high. For those who've been living under a rock for the past few months, Avengers: Age of Ultron is the immensely-anticipated sequel to 2012's The Avengers, the eleventh instalment of Marvel's Cinematic Universe and the penultimate entry into their "Phase Two" of films. It's also the first big comicbook film of 2015, in what's set to be a fairly quiet year for the genre in comparison to the ones it sits between. The first Avengers may not have been particularly intricate or profound, but it could get away with its paper-thin plot and carefree nature because it was about payoff. It was a celebration. But now that the party's over, this film doesn't have the same excuses to fall back on. What can Age of Ultron do to warrant our attention? Considering that this will probably be the biggest film of 2015, let's hope the answer is something positive.

The Battle of New York has passed, and years later the Avengers are still fighting the good fight. While on a mission in the (fictional) European country of Sovokia, they retrieve the scepter of Thor's brother Loki, which contains a gem with supernatural powers. Shortly after returning to their headquarters, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner/the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) discover an artificial intelligence within the gem. What starts out as just an unexpected discovery turns to great peril as the intelligence becomes sentient and takes over Stark's new global defence program, "Ultron". With a legion of robotic drones and the aid of the superhuman siblings Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), Ultron (James Spader) takes it upon himself to bring peace to the human race through the only path he believes in: their extinction.


One of the biggest things I can commend Whedon and co. for is for not following the usual Marvel route of making something that's nothing more than just a good time. While this is far from a dark movie by definition, this is Marvel's darkest outing yet. Some of the visions Wanda creates and puts our heroes into are downright chilling. It never crosses the line, but considering the usual bright, family-friendly nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's slightly surprising to see some of the things you do here. But even if some of it doesn't quite work, that same Whedon flavour of humour is very present (even if the laughs are never as big as they were three years ago), and while it's not quite as exciting the second time around, it's just great seeing the Avengers kick arse together again. Make no mistake, this is still generally a "fun" outing, but unlike a few other Marvel offerings, it doesn't feel like harmless filler to tide you over for two hours. The actions that take place here could affect the Marvel Cinematic Universe for years to come.

Between the more complex narrative, weightier themes, old and new characters and set-up for various future Marvel films, there is a lot going on in Age of Ultron. This means that the pace is quite rapid and the story tends to get muddled, but it's also somewhat of a miracle that it actually comes out feeling fairly coherent considering the massive amount of things being juggled here. It also thrusts quite a bit at the viewer that expects you to have seen most of the previous Marvel instalments, but you can still quickly grasp a basic understanding of these characters without having seen them all.

The action isn't exactly Man of Steel/Avengers 1 levels of awesome, but it's still as great as you would expect. The much-anticipated Hulkbuster fight is without a doubt one of the best action scenes we'll be seeing this year, and there's a slight emphasis on more teamwork this time around. For example, Captain America chucks his shield into the air, Thor slams it with his hammer, it goes flying into a horde of bad guys and nerds squeal. However, it's decidedly underwhelming to see the climax be made up of two overly-familiar Marvel tropes: endless waves of nameless enemies and yet another airborne threat to a city - for the fifth time, if my memory serves me correctly. Age of Ultron is also somehow even more action-heavy than its predecessor (guess Whedon's plans to go smaller and more personal didn't exactly work out. Studio pressure, maybe?). The climax we have here is one big, long and action setpiece that gets a just a tiny bit wearisome after a while, although it's rounded off fantasically. It also looks expensive. Really, really expensive. Seriously, look at the budget on this thing.

But surprisingly, some of the moments that shine the most in Age of Ultron are the quieter ones. Some character relationships take some fairly unexpected turns and an interval at a safehouse allows for certain ideologies to be explored and gives our heroes a stronger emotional centre than there ever was in the first film. Those who felt that Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) barely existed in the first entry will also find much to love here. As a character who's been largely restricted to these films as opposed to having his own solo outings, the progression he experiences as a character is great to see. 


Speaking of characters, the cast of this film is enormous. There's an abundance of cameos/extended cameos from other sides of the Marvel Universe that are nice to see, even if they do slightly contribute to the film's aforementioned crowded nature. There are also quite a few newcomers, including the aforementioned Pietro and Wanda Maximoff. Considering their usual heritage as heroes Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch respectively, it's no spoiler to say that they don't remain on the bad side for long. Quicksilver barely has a presence here, quite possibly due to Marvel unwilling to give him the spotlight when a rights issue has allowed the character to be utilised simultaneously in Fox's X-Men films. Scarlet Witch on the other hand is a very welcome new addition, as she arguably has the most appealing set of powers on the team, and goes through a fairly unexpected character arc that leads to one of the best scenes in the movie.

The third most significant newcomer to the team is Paul Bettanny as The Vision, who is fantastic, but the less said about him, the better. Just know that you won't be forgetting about him any time soon, and it's not because he has the colour scheme of a watermelon. I'd even argue that Scarlet Witch and The Vision are the coolest members on the team right now, at least until Spider-Man comes along and takes his rightful place. 

But Ultron is the big cheese here. Since it's no secret that Marvel's cinematic villains have generally been quite lacking, and Ultron is a character largely unknown to the public, we cannot be allowed to say the same about this character. Thankfully, Ultron is one of Marvel's biggest successes in this regard (even if that isn't saying much). He's surprisingly human and James Spader's incredible voicework gives him more presence and character than any Marvel villain before him. But he's also never 100 percent convincing as a CGI creation, his relationship with Tony doesn't have any kind of payoff, and most importantly, the logic and motivations behind his plan are barely ever explored. He clearly has a deep hatred of the Avengers - particularly Stark - but why? What makes him feel so strongly about this when he seemingly gained consciousness and deemed them all scum of the earth in a matter of seconds? Was this cut and saved for the upcoming extended edition on Blu-Ray? If so, such a basic and essential aspect shouldn't have been left on the cutting room floor regardless. Without it, Ultron is a solid villain, but it's all due to his style and not his substance.


It has to be said that Age of Ultron is quite a flawed film. Continuity is apparently immaterial here: Tony's apparent retirement during the resolution of Iron Man 3 is literally never brought up. Sure, it was a stupid move to make in the first place but that's no excuse to ignore it completely. There was also certain content shown to us through trailers that made me wonder if Age of Ultron would be repeating certain elements from its predecessor, and it certainly does. There's the aforementioned familiar climax against an army of disposable enemies, the dull convenience of mind control is once again used to move things along when it should never have been in the first film, and our villain resorts to those "tear them apart from the inside" tactics that we know so well. In fact, Age of Ultron as a whole is a bit overfamiliar. It feels slightly more ambitious than the first but at the end of the day it's all the same song and dance, really. If that's what you're looking for, you're set, but those looking for something a tad more profound will only find that in fairly small doses here.

With that being said, Age of Ultron is far from a bad film. I'm sure others will be harder on it than I was, and it may not meet the skyhigh expectations some fanboys undoubtedly have. But there's some truly great stuff in here, and definitely enough to warrant its price tag even if its negatives are a little more complicated than its positives. But now that this behemoth is finally out of the way, what will Marvel do next? What brave, valiant hero will be next to step up after this massive juggernaut of a blockbuster? 

What's that? "Ant-Man"? 

...Oh.


FINAL SCORE: 

8/10


Thursday, 26 February 2015

REVIEW - BURIED (2010)

Directed by: Rodrigo Cortes
Written by: Chris Sparling
Starring: Ryan Reynolds
Music by: Victor Reyes
Release date: September 24, 2010


The more claustrophobic among you may want to turn away now. Buried is a little indie thriller/horror film made with a measly sum of $2 million, and was released at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival to much acclaim. And rightfully so, because this isn't one you'll be forgetting any time soon. Buckle up, kids... this is a heavy one.

An American truck driver known as Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is ambushed, captured and buried alive in Iraq while delivering kitchen equipment on the job. Trapped underground, he has nothing but a cellphone with its language setting in Arabic, and a lighter. If Paul is to have any chance of survival, he'll have to persuade the U.S. Embassy to pay his capturer a ransom of $5 million. But the odds aren't in his favour and he'll have to act quickly, because if the ransom isn't paid by 9pm Baghdad time, then he'll run out of phone battery, and oxygen.


The first thirty seconds of this film are nothing but pitch-black darkness, as Paul wakes up, scrambles around and panics. That really tells you all you need to know about Buried, because this is not light viewing. This is an emotionally draining and genuinely distressing experience. Everything that could possibly go wrong for Paul, goes wrong. His phone is quickly running out of battery, and so often he calls and nobody picks up, or he gets through and still receives very little to no help. Buried throws everything it possibly can at both its audience and its very human central character with sadistic glee. Things can get immensley frustrating, but it (almost) always feels genuine. It's not all doom and gloom - there are some brief moments of comic relief that Reynolds delivers perfectly, but the fact that there's never an attempt to shy away from the terrifying concept of being buried alive means that this is an absolute rollercoaster of nightmarish proportions, and - considering its tiny budget and the fact that it was filmed entirely in a small wooden box - it must've been a real filmmaking challenge for its cast and crew.

There are two things that make Buried. The other we'll talk about later, but the first is the stellar direction from Rodrigo Cortes. There are some very clear Hitchcock homages and some of the shots here are simultaneously unusual and extremely impressive. There's a 360 degree pan that looks damn near impossible to pull off, and the claustrophobic nature of the coffin is utilised to an almost stifling degree. Camera trickery is fairly prevalent and, even though there is only one single setting in this entire film, the lighting is varied and dynamic enough to ensure that things never get visually dull.


Ryan Reynolds is one of the many examples of the prized good-looking white boy that Hollywood cherishes so much. As a result of this, along with far too many missteps in his career, many write him off or believe that he's simply the unluckiest man in Hollywood. Reynolds has been given far too many bad scripts - among other things - but even in potential-wasters such as Green Lantern, I had a hunch that he had more to offer than what his agent kept getting him.

Buried has proven exactly that.

His performance may not be a complete transformation ala Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler, but Reynolds carries this movie entirely on his own. For ninety minutes, he does very little other than scream, sigh and cry as he fights for his life. There are no cheap flashbacks, and no presences from any other actors other than a few voices from his cell phone. Nobody else. Just him. And it's still gripping. It's a brave move and one that has paid off immensely, so much so that a fair amount of people believe that Reynolds was snubbed at the 2010 Academy Awards (that would've been a sight). But everything changes, and here's hoping that next year's practically-guaranteed hit, Deadpool, will give Reynolds his well-overdue big break.

Our one-man-show Paul isn't exactly a saint - as aforementioned, he feels like a real human being - and we never know whether it's his anxiety or quick temper that causes him to snap at those on the other line, but the way his "situation" unfolds here plays a large part in what makes Buried feel so authentic. Look past its somewhat concealed anti-war messsage, and the dehumanisation of our current society is showcased through Paul's frustration with technology: voicemail messages, ineffective helplines and the unwanted bureaucracy all seem to harbour zero sympathy for his condition. Because at the end of the day, he's just an average guy. He's just not important enough to warrant these people's attention. It's harrowing stuff.


Any complaints to be had about Buried are either minor or nitpicks, because Cortes and crew have created a huge something out of nothing. Buried rises far above the limitations of its production values and incredibly simple plot to give us a creative, heartwrenching and nailbiting product carried by an outstanding central performance. Of course, there will be those out there who are unable to appreciate what it sets out to do, but its boldness is absolutely essential in making Buried what it is: a potent, valiant triumph.



Monday, 16 February 2015

REVIEW - KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2015)

Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vauhgn
Starring: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson
Music by: Henry Jackman, Matthew Margeson
Release date: February 5, 2015 (New Zealand)


Matthew Vaughn's filmography isn't particularly lengthy, but he has never put a bad foot forward. The delightfully unhinged director's most familiar works to most are 2010's Kick-Ass and 2011's X-Men: First Class, both of which definitely reside in the higher section of the comicbook movie food chain, with the latter arguably being the best entry in its series. Kingsman: The Secret Service is yet another comicbook adaptation from Vaughn based on content from Kick-Ass creator Mike Millar, but the differences this time are that the source material is unknown to most, and the film takes some liberties with it plus it doesn't have a particularly comicbook-y feel. With a reliable director, a renowned cast and even a few new faces, can Vaughn continue his positive streak?

Gary "Eggsy" Unwin (Taron Egerton) could probably have a bit more going for him. His school grades are admirable, but the South London scallywag dabbles in petty theft, plus he's unemployed, doesn't seem to have much of a goal in life, and is constantly conflicting with his mother's openly abusive boyfriend. Eggsy's father was a Kingsman: an extremely skilled and proficient individual, part of a super-secret organisation of spies that take only the best of British. But his father proved that you don't always live twice after he was killed protecting his fellow Kingsmen during a raid mission in the Middle East. Harry Hart (codenamed "Galahad", played by Colin Firth), ever-grateful for his father's sacrifice, offers to spare Eggsy from some trouble with the local constabularies if he becomes a Kingsman. In order to do this, Eggsy will have to pursue through an extremely demanding selection process if he is to have any chance of achieving his goal. But this is the least of Eggy's problems, because even if he passes the test, he'll have to stop the pimped out multi-billionare entrepreneur Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) from "saving" planet Earth by culling its population.


Kingsman takes heavy influence from the spy movies of old, particularly the somewhat more carefree days of the early James Bonds. It's a mish-mash of various typical spy movie tropes and its plot is simple, but it's also a self-aware love letter to this past time, actively decrying the grittier approach that certain franchises have taken nowadays. Fittingly so, because Kingsman at its heart is a fun little action/comedy. But even though the tones are balanced perfectly, it's a far cry from an innocent romp. One of the things that really gives Kingsman its identity is its 007-infused slickness laced with the violence and vulgarity that Vaughn and Millar are no strangers to. Senseless death is somewhat frequent - this film probably contains one of the highest body counts in recent years - and things can get quite gruesome with all the Walking Dead-style kills that make sure everybody puts their weapons to good use. Which means that if you're Jim Carrey one of those people who found the almost-deliberately offensive violence in Kick-Ass to be a bit distasteful, then this film is not for you. Nevertheless, it's all done with a wink.

While the action scenes in Kingsman that don't involve actual fisticuffs are also fantastic (there's an aerial parachute scene that's packed with tension), the fight scenes here are exceptional. They utilise a quite bit of shaky cam, but those averse to this technique should be fine as the camera still follows the action, which, by the way, is outrageous. The choreography is inventive and every brawl is bold, brutal and stylish. I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out to be controversial, but there is an astonishing scene that takes place in a church that is not only simultaneously shocking and captivating, but it will undoubtedly be a contender for one of the best action scenes of 2015 (and right before it begins you'll hear an utterly hilarious line that is now, hands down, one of my favourite pieces of dialogue in cinematic history). What makes some of these scenes even more impressive in particular is the fact that they're carried by Colin Firth. It's slightly surreal seeing the usually-dapper 54-year-old Oscar-winner completely mop the floor with a room full of people half his age, and there's a distinct lack of a stunt double which makes it all the more admirable. This is not the same man you saw in The King's Speech, and honestly, I'd much rather watch Firth throw down than at least 90% of mainstream action stars today.


The cast in Kingsman is stellar across the board. Mark Strong isn't actually a villain for once in the role of Merlin, and while his character here still has a bit of an edge to him it's nice to see him in a bit of a different light. Samuel L. Jackson is a riot in Kingsman, playing a megalomaniac who speaks with a flamboyant lisp, can't stand the sight of blood and has a different cap on in almost every single shot. While there are still Jackson-isms in Valentine's personality, it's a real treat to see someone who's usually accustomed to being the baddest MF in town behave like a royal priss, and every time he's on screen it's hard not to at least chuckle. Armenian dancer/actress Sofia Boutella plays Valentine's henchwoman Gazelle, and while Boutella hasn't been in much outside of music videos and films, Gazelle is arguably one of the most memorable film villains in recent memory just due to concept alone. She's an undeniably appealing character who gets to do all kinds of crazy stunts with her amputated blade-legs, and who Quentin Tarantino is probably kicking himself for not thinking up sooner.

If there's any weak link in Kingsman's cast it's Sophie Cookson in her first role as Roxy. Cookson's performance is far from bad, but her character is very underdeveloped and is only really there so we can have a female character on the good side. To the writers' credit however, it's refreshing to see her relationship with Eggsy be left up to interpretation, as opposed to decisively romantic.

Speaking of Eggsy, Taron Egerton is a revelation. The 25-year-old British actor also makes his feature-film debut here, and if his performance is anything to go by then he should be skyrocketing to superstardom quite quickly, because he's so likeable and has such a natural star quality that he feels like a proven leading man already. We definitely haven't seen the last of him.

The character of Eggsy also makes a funny and, at times, heartwarming juxtaposition between he and Harry, because they're both polar opposites: one is about as gentlemany as you can possibly get - minus the highly efficient killing skills - and the other shouts "oh my days" in his snapback and trackies (coming from a Brit, South London accents will never be not funny). And while Firth may be plastered all over the promotional material, this is really Eggsy's story. He goes from practically nothing but a street urchin with a less-than-desirable lifestyle to a hero with (just about) the right amount of skill and class to be deemed fit for a Kingsman. There's a bit of social commentary in this regard (Kingsman isn't exactly mentally stimulating but it's far from mindless), but at the end of the day it's the wit and escapism that makes the film.

Kingsman isn't without its drawbacks: its action-heavy third act suffers from some oddly uneven pacing - although thankfully the wound is greatly softened due to the virtuosity displayed in each scene - and (mild spoilers): Eggsy's temporary dismissal from the Kingsmen turns out to be rather inconsequential as it doesn't take him very long at all to get back in. There's also a vulgar joke during the film's ending that will undoubtedly not sit well with some, and many will be quick to cry out "misogyny!", which is absolute nonsense. It serves as a homage to the hypermasculinity displayed in classic Bond films, which is fine, but its problem is that it slightly goes against previously established character traits. Nonetheless, these issues are mere specks on Kingsman's canvas, because everything else here is so enthralling that its missteps are easy to overlook.


This is probably a long shot, but I pray to the movie Gods that ingenuity prevails and Kingsman annihilates the abominable Fifty Shades of Grey at the box office, because if this film meets the same disappointing grosses that Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class were plagued with then it'll be a travesty. Potential sequel talks have begun for Kingsman already, and if another instalment sees the light of day, here's hoping that Vaughn - who, by choice or by chance, is usually absent from sequels to his films - sticks around this time. Forget about the January dumping ground leftovers and stern-faced Oscar nominees, because right now, you'd be hard-pressed to find a current release that's simply more gratifying than Kingsman.





Thursday, 12 February 2015

REVIEW - THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012)

Directed by: Marc Webb
Written by: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans
Music by: James Horner
Release date: July 3, 2012


Things are a bit backwards seeing as I reviewed The Amazing Spider-Man's sequel first as it was a fairly new release back then, but this review has always been in the works and in light of recent events, it seems there's never been a better time. 

On February 10, 2015, nerd heads exploded, the internet went into meltdown, and I went to bed drained of energy due to sheer excitement as Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures announced that they had come to a truce of some sorts regarding the character of Spider-Man. As of right now the details are still a bit sketchy, but essentially both companies have struck a deal where Spider-Man's rights would technically still belong to Sony, but Marvel would: 1) be able to utilise the webslinger in their own cinematic universe and 2) from the looks of things, give Sony some kind of guidance regarding their solo Spider-Man films that they would also be producing (a joint effort, if you will). It's now looking very likely that Spider-Man will appear in Marvel's Captain America: Civil War next year - which means there's now even more for fans to salivate over in a year already bursting at the seams with comicbook insanity - and then he'll appear in his next solo film slated for June 2017, and almost definitely an Avengers movie or two down the line. For years, the fanboy dream was to have Spidey's rights given back to Marvel Studios completely, and while we're not quite there, this is the next best thing and still undoubtedly a roaring triumph for webheads everywhere. But what this also means is that Andrew Garfield is out, and that the Amazing Spider-Man franchise is effectively dead. 

The Amazing Spider-Man had a troubled production and was born out of corporate greed. A fourth Spider-Man movie by original director Sam Raimi was set to be released on May 5, 2011, starring John Malkovich as the main villain. But Raimi was highly disappointed with the final product of Spider-Man 3, and wanted a year's extension to refine his script for Spider-Man 4 to ensure that he ended the series on a high note. Sony denied him the extension and they ended up going their separate ways. Then, to the chagrin of many including myself, Sony announced that Spider-Man would be rebooted with a new (cheaper) cast and crew, and the next film was slated for a 2012 release, just five years after the release of Raimi's last film (which means that this reboot turned out to be completely unnecessary as it was released during the exact year that Sony were unwilling to release Spider-Man 4 in. Logic, guys. Use it). With Marc Webb in the director's chair - whose prior filmography was comprised only of romantic comedy 500 Days of Summer at the time - The Amazing Spider-Man was originally conceived to be a more low-key and character-driven entry into the franchise. But it eventually became a mess behind-the-scenes due to the script being unfinished during the start of filming leading to certain scenes being improvised, a fairly large number of scenes were cut, and, because Sony seem to be quite fond of giving Spider-Man movies the most enourmous budgets possible, it was made to be larger in scale and more in line with your typical superhero blockbuster. The final product was somewhat overshadowed by its peers as 2012 was a huge year for comicbook films with releases like The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, but The Amazing Spider-Man was met with box office success (although at the time it was the lowest grossing entry in the franchise at $757 million) along with a mixed-to-positive critical response, and ended up being a kind of halfway point between the two conceptual ideas that the film bounced between. Now, after its sequel's disappointing reception and failure to reach the one billion mark that Sony needed, we've seen the last of the Amazing Spider-Man franchise. Let's take a look at what we've lost.


In terms of basic story, The Amazing Spider-Man doesn't deviate much from what you would expect. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is a nerdy and socially awkward high school kid who lives at home with his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), following the sudden departure of his parents. On a science trip Peter is bitten by a (genetically altered this time) spider, and is given the abilities to perform death-defying stunts such as wallcrawling and webslinging, along with super strength and the ability to sense impending danger (sometimes). After the death of his Uncle, Peter must use these newfound abilities to become a hero. He has to put a stop to the plans of his mentor-gone-bad, Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard (Rhys Ifans), win the heart of his classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and (kind of) attempt to solve the mystery of his parents. 

One of the first things that you'll realise about The Amazing Spider-Man is that it's quite different in tone when compared to its predecessors. Gone is the light-heartedness and - at times - cheesy comicbook dialogue. During this film's production, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight had taken audiences by storm and, along with its predecessor, Batman Begins, started a still-ongoing trend of realistic and gritty re-imaginings. The realism here isn't taken to Nolan-levels of extreme, but The Amazing Spider-Man actually shares quite a bit with Begins in terms of aesthetics, and it's grittier (not gritty, grittier), plus most of its memorable scenes are set at night. There's also a bit of an urban feel to it, and at times there are even some horror undertones. This tone probably isn't ideal for Spidey and his universe, and it's very clear that the film is following a trend. But at the same time, our previous exposure to a more colourful tone makes this one feel fairly fresh, and it's a shame that it was completely abandoned in the sequel, if only because its removal was one of the many things that eventually derailed the franchise.

Spider-Man himself is also somewhat more grounded in reality - he's slightly more practical and tech-based, with his eyes being lenses from Peter's sunglasses and having the convenience of self-made mechanical webshooters, which can either be destroyed or run out of webbing (this duped fans into singing the film's praises pre-release, as Raimi's interpretation of Spider-Man used organic webbing, which is inaccurate to the source material). Spider-Man's body language has also been refined - he moves and feels like a spider more than ever - and practical effects are used as much as possible. This was also a priority in Raimi's films but The Amazing Spider-Man benefits from updated technology, making sure that practical and visual effects blend seamlessly, as opposed to the sometimes noticeably heavy CGI use and slightly too-fluid movements of the original trilogy. The webhead's new suit also feels fresh and looks beautiful most of the time, especially when it's in motion and glistening in the night sky. In certain shots the mask does look like a cheap red basketball with stuck-on eye lenses soaked in urine, but thankfully these are few and far between, and it looks much better on camera than it does in some promotional images. As far as the Spidey action goes, there's nothing that even comes close to some of the phenomenal sequences that we've seen in previous films, but they're generally solid across the board, and the high school fight with The Lizard is complimented by a particularly rousing piece by James Horner.


The Amazing Spider-Man is the first Spider-Man film that really depicts Peter Parker as a teenager. This has its pros, and it has its cons. Garfield's Peter is fitting for this film's universe and somewhat realistic, as opposed to Maguire's hilariously dorky interpretation who got smacked around and beaten up for lunch money on a daily basis. But the problem with this Peter's character is that he's inconsistent. Sometimes he's your everyday average teenager: he doesn't seem to be particularly awkward with anybody other than Gwen, he sits at the back of the class and keeps to himself, and he merely exists like most high school kids do. But at others he's swinging around on chains and doing skateboarding stunts like he's in a Nike commercial, and what's more jarring is that there are moments where he literally sweeps Gwen off her feet and comes off as a bit too smooth, or "cool", than most would like Peter Parker to be.

Some of his actions are probably more inline with reality here as when he's imbued with his spider-powers, he doesn't immediately start fighting for truth and justice. For a while this Peter operates in a kind of grey area, running from the police and humiliating criminals and classmates while loving every second of it (from very early on we see that he has no problem with standing up to bullies). But occasionally Peter's personality traits can make some of his decisions come off as a bit questionable. They're realistic, sure, but they can also make for an unlikable protagonist. Fortunately, just like in the sequel, Andrew Garfield does everything he can to cover up the faults of the screenplay, and is Peter Parker's saving grace. He makes Peter endearing despite his faults, and he proves that he's both a very capable dramatic and comedic actor. His interpretation also addresses the (somewhat unwarranted) complaint from fans that Maguire's Spider-Man never cracked any jokes, which is a usual personality trait of the webslinger as he uses constant wisecracks to disguise his fear as he fights his enemies. None of his quips here are going to make you howl with laughter and he's no better or worse than Maguire's version when you take everything into account, but this Spidey has a more colourful personality and that's definitely a step in the right direction. It has to be said, however, that Andrew Garfield was not only consistently great despite the varying faults of the suits and screenwriters across both Amazing movies, but he had a genuine passion for the character, and should not be punished because those people screwed up. Now the public will have to get used to the third Spider-Man in less than fifteen years, and it's a real shame to see him go.

Back on topic, the more youthful aspect means also means that the romantic side of things is somewhat more prevalent here. "Somewhat" being the operative word, because technically there isn't more romance than there was in the original films. But this is an undeniable improvement over Raimi's attempts with Peter and Mary Jane. Gwen Stacy is likeable and one of the better love interests out there (she also proves to be an important asset to Peter when it comes to saving the day). Compare this to Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane, who was one of the weakest points of the Raimi trilogy. When Mary Jane wasn't being self-centred, she was busy getting kidnapped in all three movies and screaming so much that they had to use stock audio. Unlike that relationship, things between Gwen and Peter never drag on, and despite the fact that they don't really seem to be together for any reason other than to suck face, the chemistry between the two leads makes it feel like there's a basis to their relationship. And while some scenes are so laced with sexual tension that you might start to feel like a third wheel on a date or a wide-eyed creep watching as he hides in a nearby bush, Webb handles their scenes with finesse and many of them feel impactful instead of obligatory. On the subject of Webb's direction, there are some brilliant shots of Spider-Man doing his Spider-Manny things that are shown from a first-person point of view. His style isn't particularly distinctive, but there's some fantastic cinematography, some fairly creative camerawork, and considering that Webb went from one romantic comedy to friggin' Spider-Man, he actually handles the facets of a big-budget blockbuster quite well.


For all the things The Amazing Spider-Man does right, there's a pretty sizeable amount of things that it does wrong. One of the biggest areas where Webb and crew have stumbled is with their main villain, The Lizard. Rhys Ifans is serviceable but the character is a waste. The screenwriters had the opportunity here to tell the audience that The Lizard is the villain, but Curt Connors isn't. Yes, there's already an abundance of sympathetic villains in Spider-Man films but if they were going to use this character, that is the best way you can go about it. Strongly state that Spider-Man needs to take out The Lizard without harming Connors, and give him a son or a wife or some other kind of emotional anchor and it could've not only upped the stakes, but it also could've done wonders in regards to fleshing out the character and given us some potentially great dramatic material. For some bizarre reason, a scene featuring Connors and his son was actually removed from the final cut, that would've helped to make him feel like an actual human being. By how much, we'll never know, but its omission is puzzling to say the least. Instead, from the very beginning you know that Connors is the villain, and not after long he's traded in the white coat for a black one, he gets voices in his head like every other Spider-Man movie villain, and he develops incoherent motivations along with a goofy plan to turn everyone in New York into giant lizards for some reason. There are still some brief attempts to humanise Connors, but they're all ineffective and have no weight to them, therefore he just ends up being a big visually unappealing CGI creation for Spider-Man to fight. An arbitrary villain if there ever was one.

Spider-Man's journey and development into a hero is also missing one crucial aspect: the influence of Uncle Ben. Once again, we see the poor guy's blood cover the pavement, but his death and its build-up are both rushed. Put that together with the fact that we know his days are limited and that we've seen it happen before, and it just ends up feeling so inconsequential, not only for the audience, but from the looks of things, for Spider-Man himself. Uncle Ben is never brought up again until a brief voiceover during the film's final moments, and the supposedly crucial aspect of Peter hunting down his uncle's killer has absolutely no resolution. Spider-Man never truly learns that "with great power comes great responsibility" (although this line is spoken through some kind of odd rewording), and unlike previous entries, you can never feel Uncle Ben's presence throughout the rest of the story. If it wasn't for the aforementioned voiceover, chances are you would forget that he was in the film in the first place, which really shouldn't happen. The death of Uncle Ben should've been the defining moment that moulded Peter into his heroic alter-ego, but his actual reasons for becoming Spider-Man are never delved into and it feels hollow. We're never given a chance to get into his head. 

The absence of Peter's parents was never addressed in the original trilogy, but the utilisation of this subplot here is the definition of unnecessary. Mary and Richard Parker just swan off during the film's opening scene and it's treated like some big conspiracy that we're supposed to care about, but there's barely anything to it and there are no tangible hints to capture the audience's interest. This is only there to trick audiences into thinking that the advertised "untold story" exists here, when it actuality The Amazing Spider-Man's biggest change is in its tone, and we've seen just about everything else before. In the second half of the film, this subplot completely disappears and is never resolved. When we actually do see the resolution to it in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it's completely baffling as to why it was dragged out across two movies for such an anticlimax. Was there ever a plan to actually go anywhere with this?


It's fairly hard for me to rate The Amazing Spider-Man and I want to give it a slightly better score because there are things about it that I love, but there are just too many ingredients in the mix that stop the film from living up to its title. It's solid nonetheless and it would have been intriguing to see where the franchise would've gone from here if it didn't try to practically reinvent itself, but looking at Spider-Man's cinematic history today, there still hasn't been a truly great Spider-Man film since 2004. For that, we have both studio interference and creative incompetence to thank. However, now that this film's sequel sits in the same category as Batman and Robin and Superman IV as a franchise killer, the future is looking fairly bright for the webhead. As aforementioned, the finer details of the Marvel/Sony deal are unknown at this time, but the former have a lengthy and very solid track record, even if they don't continuously pump out classics like some would have you believe. Obviously we can't look into the future, but it's highly unlikely that a studio as smart as Marvel would let any products involving their flagship character fail. For all the varying levels of pain and suffering that Spidey fans have had to endure over the past few years, that should at least be a bit of consolation.





Saturday, 31 January 2015

REVIEW - TED (2012)

Directed by: Seth MacFarlane
Written by: Seth McFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane
Music by: Walter Murphy
Release date: June 29, 2012


When Ted was released in mid 2012, it proved to be one of the biggest comedy hits of recent times. It become the highest-grossing R-rated film in its genre, raking in an impressive box office gross of $549 million with its modest $50 million budget, and spawning a sequel set to release later this year. It's not really any surprise that it ended up being a hit: it has an appealing and fairly creative central premise, and is the feature directorial debut of Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, who also co-wrote the script and voices the titular character. Ted clearly rode the waves of MacFarlane's popularity in the world of animation, ensuring that it would be very hard for it to fail. But the question is, was Ted's success actually warranted?

John Bennett is a lonely eight-year-old boy, shunned by everyone who isn't related to him by blood. When his parents buy him a new teddy bear for Christmas, he makes a very special wish: that his bear could actually talk to him, so they could be best friends forever. John gets his wish, and by means of a "Christmas miracle", Ted magically comes to life, with the abilities to talk, think and feel. Twenty-seven years later and Ted has become a phenomenon. People love him. John on the other hand (Mark Wahlberg), looks physically different, but inside he is essentially still a child, and is still just as attached to Ted as he was all those years ago. If John has any intention on moving ahead with his life, he'll have to save his talking teddy bear from the clutches of an obsessive super-fan who wants to buy Ted for his son, and simultaneously find a way to move forward with his girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis), which he may not be able to do as long as Ted remains.


Even if you aren't overly familiar with MacFarlane's work, it's very clear to see that his fingerprints are all over this film. A few actors from his shows make appearances, and his distinctive brand of humour is utilised here (except without the rigid, repetitive animation and constant cutaway gags, for the most part). It's no secret that Family Guy and American Dad have proven to be controversial in the past, and in a few instances MacFarlane's content has veered dangerously close to crossing the line, but there's nothing outrageously offensive in Ted. With that being said, it does of course contain jokes centred on race, rape and misogyny, and it's unabashedly idiotic, crude and politically incorrect. Some of it is actually pretty hilarious - a particular cameo comes to mind, among other things - and there's definitely no shortage of quotable lines or memorable moments, but then some are in slightly bad taste, and other jokes misfire (the incessant pop culture references are also driven into the ground a tad). If you've had issues with this kind of risque subject matter in the past, Ted isn't going to do anything to change your mind, but you would have to have no pulse to not at least get a few chuckles out of it.

Performances are serviceable across the board, but Ted is (predictably) the best character of the lot. It's never dull watching him interact with anyone or anything - whether he's going for a job interview or even just doing everyday human-y things like driving a car. He's also extremely convincing as a CG creation, and while the cuddly demeanour may have something to do with it, Ted actually comes off as an endearing and fairly reasonable guy/bear, even if he does have a tendency to get high while watching SpongeBob and has a near-identical voice to Peter Griffin (although that aspect of the character comes off as more curious than bothersome). He's also the one unique thing that makes sure the film isn't merely a formulaic exercise in narrative cliches, and by the end you might start feeling for him more than you probably should.


Ted's plot is not interesting, its third act feels like disjointed padding, and there isn't much to say about the rest of the characters themselves. Its character relationships are a bit more effective: John and Lori are a believable couple who, chances are, you'll find yourself rooting for. Even if it's not by particularly much, you should find yourself actually giving a damn, and coming from someone who normally couldn't care less about these things, that's saying something. MacFarlane's motion capture work as Ted has also proven to be a great asset, ensuring that the relationship between John and his teddy bear comes off as effortlessly natural, and you actually feel it when these childhood friends break apart and eventually get into fisticuffs, which surprisingly (and thankfully) don't last as long as any of the giant chicken fights from Family Guy.

Ted seems to have something to say through its thematic elements regarding friendship, growing up and letting go. These aspects do give the film a fair amount of heart that somewhat balances out the vulgarity, but they're also quite thin, so you're not going to be thinking about any of that by the time you get to the credits. There is nothing profound or particularly imaginative about Ted. But then again, if you're interested in this film, you're probably not looking for anything like that.


You are watching Ted to see Ted. He's the selling point here, and you shouldn't be interested in this film for any other reason than to see a teddy bear do amusing things that it normally wouldn't. At the end of the day, you could easily just sit down and watch a few episodes of Family Guy and laugh just as much - if not more - if you're a fan of the show, that is. Because really, this is little more than an excuse for MacFarlane to deliver his wise-ass remarks on a larger scale. But if that sounds appealing to you, then you're in luck. I'm weary of the sequel due to the fact that this film sometimes struggled to make use of its feature-length runtime (which shows that Ted probably would've worked better as an animated series with a 23-ish minute episodic format like it was originally supposed to be), but nevertheless, it certainly offers a solid amount of laughs, which is all it aims to do, really. Plus it's the only live-action movie out there that has a rebellious anthropomorphic teddy bear as its titular character, so there's that.