Box Office Preview: Breaking Up with a Teddy Bear Roommate, Male Strippers, and Tyler Perry

Ted

This one isn’t going to win any most original premise of all time awards, but those who claim originality equals greatness are kidding themselves. After all, there have only been seven basic plots in storytelling over the history of all mankind. “Ted” falls fairly clearly into number five on that list, the comedy: “Hero and Heroine are destined to get together, but a dark force is preventing them from doing so; the story conspires to make the dark force repent, and suddenly the Hero and Heroine are free to get together. This is part of a cascade of effects that shows everyone for who they really are, and allows two or more other relationships to correctly form.”

When you think about it like that, it almost seems like you’ve seen this movie before. The dark force is a roommate who needs to grow up and move out, so the straight-faced main character, in this case Mark Wahlberg as John Bennett, and his lady love (played by Mila Kunis) can live happily ever after. Along the way the relationship with the roommate matures as well, and he grows to be mature and “straight-faced” in his own right. This is where “Ted” plays with the trope, as the roommate character is not in fact a person, but a stuffed teddy bear (I wonder how they thought of the title) magically brought to life.

But these days, when everything’s been done a thousand times over, originality is useless, especially when the chosen genre is comedy. People aren’t there for story, but to laugh, any dramatic twists and turns are an added bonus. When you think about it that way “Ted” actually offers more than your standard comedy fare.

It really doesn’t matter that we’ve heard this story before, that Ted sounds exactly like Peter Griffin, or that Seth McFarlane is voicing another talking animal (of sorts). What does matter is that in his debut in both film and live-action, Seth McFarlane has been able to make a funny movie that doesn’t rely (too much) on his trademark cutaway gags and pop culture riffs. Furthermore, he deftly handles the few dramatic sequences the film does employ, and manages to justify Mila Kunis’ character’s demands rather than making her seem like an uppity bitch doing a Yoko Ono impression.

“Ted” currently sits at a 69 percent on the Tomatometer. Although it may seem like a live-action version of “Family Guy” at times, it’s well worth the price of admission for fans of McFarlane’s or anyone looking to have a laugh.

Magic Mike

The official synopsis reads: “Set in the world of male strippers, Magic Mike is directed by Steven Soderbergh and stars Channing Tatum in a story inspired by his real life. The film follows Mike (Tatum) as he takes a young dancer called The Kid (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing and schools him in the fine arts of partying, picking up women, and making easy money.”

But director Steven Soderbergh’s newest production just might be better than you’d expect, even if you do have XY chromosomes. “Magic Mike” has been certified fresh and currently sits at a 79 percent on the Tomatometer. Film.com’s Eric D. Snider says it “does a better job of mixing Chippendales-style guilty pleasures with reality-based cautionary tales than you might expect.” But Bullz-eye’s David Medsker wrote, “There are lots of things to like about ‘Magic Mike,’ but a few key ingredients, mostly story-related, prevent the film from hitting its mark. You can almost see director Steven Soderbergh at odds with himself, torn between making a mainstream film or a gritty indie, and ultimately doing neither.”

A film starring Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, and a bunch of other are tanned and ripped young fellas loosely based on the former’s real life beginnings as a Chippendale’s “employee” who made it big. It’s hard to say whether or not this film’s for you. But what with all the dancing and the Tatum, I’d say this one’s probably going to skew female in all the ways “Boogie Nights” didn’t. And that’s more or less what “Magic Mike” is, “Boogie Nights” with male strippers.

Madea’s Witness Protection

I can’t even talk about this one. I really can’t. Tyler Perry, Madea, and something about a ponzi scheme. This movie isn’t for anyone. Even if you’re a huge (and I mean huge) fan of Tyler Perry, and I can’t imagine why you would be, “Madea’s Witness Protection” is currently sitting at a 29 percent on the Tomatometer. As Peter Howell of the Toronto Star put it: this is “less a movie than it is an exercise in product branding.”

  

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Family Guy: Partial Terms of Endearment

Between the piecemeal volume sets and the “Star Wars” parody episodes, Fox has made a mint screwing over the fans of “Family Guy.” You know, the ones that helped bring it back from cancellation? And apparently, they’re not afraid to admit it, because it takes pretty big balls to release a 23-minute episode on DVD just because it never aired on TV. The episode in question, “Partial Terms of Endearment,” was supposedly deemed too controversial by Fox and pulled from their schedule. But after watching the episode – which finds Lois agreeing to be a surrogate mother for a couple, only to consider abortion after they’re killed in a car accident days after conception – it’s really not as bad as you’d think. In fact, I wouldn’t put it past Fox to have created the media frenzy themselves just so they could put out a DVD.

It’s hard to imagine anyone paying $10 for a single episode (especially when they could have easily included it in the next volume set as a bonus), which is too bad, because it’s one of the funnier episodes in years, with an awesome Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote gag and lines like “Wow, thanks a lot for 9/11, abortion enthusiasts!” The addition of extras like an audio commentary, a live table read, and “Seth & Alex’s Almost Live Comedy Show” is supposed to make you feel better about the high price tag, but it won’t. Rent it from Netflix or, if you absolutely must, find it online for free.

Click to buy “Family Guy: Partial Terms of Endearment”

  

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Greetings to the New Season: Fox

The network upfronts roll on, this time with the fine folks at Fox trotting out their new fall schedule and revealing which new series have been selected to accompany those series which have survived. As of this writing, there are no clips to accompany the descriptions of the new shows, but I’m led to understand that we’ll be getting those in due course, so…oh, wait, scratch that: they just arrived!

Well, with that being the case, you can read the descriptions and check out the clips of what Fox has for us for the upcoming season. Just be sure to let us know what you think about what they’re offering up! Oh, and before you ask, we didn’t forget to include a clip for the last series. They didn’t offer a clip for the last series…but, hell, I don’t even think they’ve cast it yet, so at least they’ve got a good excuse.

MONDAY

8 – 9 PM: HOUSE

9 – 10 PM: LONESTAR: a provocative soap set against the backdrop of big Texas oil, from Chris Keyser and Amy Lippman, the creators of “Party of Five”; Marc Webb, the director of “(500) Days of Summer”; and creator Kyle Killen. Robert / Bob Allen (newcomer James Wolk) is a charismatic and brilliant schemer who has meticulously constructed two lives in two different parts of Texas. He’s juggling two identities and two women in two very different worlds – all under one mountain of lies. As “Bob,” he lives in Houston and is married to Cat (Adrianne Palicki, “Friday Night Lights”), the beautiful daughter of Clint (Jon Voight, 24, “Midnight Cowboy”), the patriarch of an ultra-wealthy Texas oil family. More than 400 miles away in the suburban west Texas town of Midland, he’s “Robert,” living a second life with his sweet, naïve girlfriend, Lindsay (Eloise Mumford, “Mercy,” “Law & Order: SVU”). In Midland, he plays the perfect boyfriend while secretly bilking local investors of their savings. In Houston, he’s a devoted husband, charming Cat and her family to cement his position in the rich family business he aims to clean out. Bob has lived both lives successfully for years without arousing any suspicions…so far.

While one brother-in-law, Drew (Bryce Johnson, “Popular,” “The Mentalist”), admires Bob, his other brother-in-law, Trammell (Mark Deklin, “Nip/Tuck,” “Desperate Housewives”), is suspicious of his motives. Bob begins to fear his secret lives may unravel. With the cons closing in on him, Bob is divided by his love for two women; his loyalty to his father and mentor, John (David Keith, “An Officer and a Gentleman,” “The Class”); and his respect for his father-in-law, Clint. Now as he tries to hold his two lives together, while fending off angry investors and the suspicions of those around him, Bob puts it all on the line hoping he can beat the odds, leave the schemes behind and keep two separate relationships afloat.

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Family Guy: Something Something Something Dark Side

When FOX decided to give “Blue Harvest” – the first of the “Family Guy”-themed “Star Wars” specials – its own DVD release separate from the season sets, fans were a little annoyed. The studio must have made a killing in sales, though, because it’s gone one step further in screwing over its loyal audience by releasing the follow-up, “Something Something Something Dark Side,” direct to DVD. The betrayal wouldn’t burn so much if the 54-minute special lived up to the quality of its predecessor, but despite the reputation of the film it’s spoofing, this is one sequel that falls well short of that. There are a few good jokes about AT-ATs, the shitty accuracy of Stormtroopers, and the looming fate of Luke’s right hand, but a majority of the jokes fall flat. It feels more like a straight retelling of “The Empire Strikes Back” with “Family Guy” characters than a parody, and though guys like Mort Goldstein (as Lando Calrissian), Carter Pewterschmidt (as Emperor Palpatine) and the Giant Chicken (as Boba Fett) finally have a role to play in the story, it’s more out of necessity than because it’s funny. The addition of a snarky pop-up trivia track helps increase the special’s replay value, but it doesn’t change the fact that “Something Something Something Dark Side” is a bit of an unexpected disappointed for fans of “Star Wars” and “Family Guy” alike.

Click to buy “Family Guy: Something Something Something Dark Side”

  

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TV in the 2000s: The Shows that Defined the Decade

A recent issue of Time magazine has the phrase “The Decade from Hell” emblazoned across its front cover. It’s referring to everything America has gone through in the past ten years, and it’s difficult to argue such an assertion: it’s been a shitty decade on a national level. During such times of stress, people inevitably turn to entertainment as a form of release, and although the methods in which we’ve distracted ourselves over the last ten years have unquestionably diversified, television remains the most easily accessible outlet for most Americans.

Within the format itself, the whole concept of reality TV must surely have been the biggest revolution of the decade. It’s really easy to bag on reality TV – mostly because the bulk of it is so damned unreal – but anybody who spends any time in front of the tube has surely had at least a couple of reality series they consider appointment TV. The two concepts that paved the way for everything else are undoubtedly “Survivor” and “American Idol.” The former, of course, opened the floodgates for the genre, and while it’s seen a considerable dip in the ratings department over the years, 12 million viewers isn’t a viewing figure to sneeze at. The latter, despite all the bitching and moaning and cries of “it’s not as good as it used to be” that accompany each new season, remains one of the most watched shows on the tube, likely due to the fact that it’s strictly a talent competition.

On “American Idol,” the only backstabbers are the judges, and since they aren’t part of the competition, their amusing duplicity is championed. The contestants, on the other hand, are innocents, and once the competition is underway, we’re given no peek into any possible backstage drama, which is a good thing, because by the time the audition rounds are over, we’ve had enough drama to last the whole season. Everything that comes after is all about who can best transfix us for three minutes a week via one pop ditty. It actually says something positive about the U.S. that “American Idol” remains our #1 form of reality entertainment, even if the actual reality is that the vast majority of Americans couldn’t care less about buying the winner’s album six months after they’re crowned.

You might think reality TV is a bunch of crap, and in most cases you’d be right, but the whole idea of it, to my mind, led to an important revolution, and that is serialized nighttime television (the classic “soap” formula notwithstanding). Reality shows taught viewers how to become invested in characters, how to be concerned for their eventual fate, and, most importantly, how to pay attention to an ongoing storyline, and the need to tune in every week. It didn’t take long for the networks to figure out that there was an audience for shows that didn’t continually hit the reset button. “24” must have been the first successful show of the decade to embrace the serial formula, and it embraced it whole hog. It required you to tune in for every episode, because each installment was another hour of a single day in the life of Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer. That “24” premiered less than two months after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 was pure happenstance. That it became enormously popular with viewers? Probably not so much. America needed some fictitious reassurance that there were folks on the job who could get shit done, and “24” filled the prescription.

Strangely, “24” didn’t open the network floodgates for more such programming right away. It took a few years, and then “Lost” made its mark. The number of “Lost” episodes I’ve seen could be counted on two hands, but that’s not because I didn’t like it, but because real life got in the way of it being appointment TV. Yet I viewed the pilot for “Lost” several months before its 2004 premiere, and when it ended I was convinced that I’d seen the second best TV pilot ever made. (“Twin Peaks” stills sits at #1.) The fact that a show as intricate as “Lost” still has a hardcore, central audience is perhaps a testament to that pilot. “24” started a new story with each new season; “Lost” required that you tune in for every episode of every season.

Another sci-fi series that did just that was “Battlestar Galactica,” a show that, due it being on a niche network (Syfy), never amassed a huge audience yet snagged boatloads of publicity and awareness nonetheless. It was no small feat to take an utterly laughable short-lived series from the late ‘70s and re-envision it for modern audiences, but Ron Moore and company did just that…and they did it far more successfully that anyone ever guessed possible. Most amazingly, the show taught us a lot about ourselves, by thoroughly defining what it means to be human, and as the damaged ‘00s dragged on, there may not have been a more important lesson to be learned.

On the same day I saw the “Lost” pilot, I saw another pilot for a completely different kind of series. While I didn’t rank it as one of the greats, there was one thing I was sure of: it would be a massive hit…and it was. “Desperate Housewives” was precisely the sort of vapid, soapy fare that had been absent for far too long on American TV. It clued into the seemingly bland suburban construct which surrounds so many Americans, via the Lynchian notion that “all is not what it seems.” Most anyone who lives a suburban life can no doubt relate to that idea, because wherever there are groups of people, there are bound to be some of them that are fucked up. “Housewives” is littered with fucked up suburbanites of all shapes, sizes and types, but they’re kooky and funny and there’s always some twinkly music playing in the background that in the end makes everything OK. It is not great television, but over the years it has, for the most part, been immensely watchable in the most disposable sort of way.

Around the same time period as “Housewives,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” made some major waves. It’s a series I have never watched and never plan to, but I’d be foolish to omit it from discussion since it brought two annoyingly obnoxious terms to the TV table: McDreamy and McSteamy. I haven’t heard either in a few years, but there was a time when they seemed to define everything that was wrong with television. I assume “Grey’s” fans have grown out of it…or maybe the show killed one of those guys off? I’ve no idea and can’t be motivated to investigate. Presently, there’s a brand new version of it going around, through cinema, via Camp Edward and Camp Nimrod. People can be so easily distracted it makes you wonder why some shows actually try harder.

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