(In French, in theatres, December 2016) We’ve all seen Sing before: The animated film featuring a world of anthropomorphized animals. The musical comedy in which misfits gather together to put on a show to save something from destruction and rekindle their self-esteem. The madcap action sequences leading to laughter. Sing is that and not much more, but it does earn points for a breezy execution and an uncanny ability to play a jukebox of pop music to good effect. The French version of the film wisely doesn’t try to translate the songs and while the result may take bilingual fluency to decode (take it from me; bilingual dad got far more from the film than unilingual pre-schooler), it does keep much of the original-language humour intact … and features the original song performers. That’s not inconsequential when talents such as Tori Kelly (easily the best signer, but not the most enjoyable one) or Seth MacFarlane and Scarlett Johansson (not the best singers, but the best characters) are featured in the film. Animated with the big bold colourful style of Illumination Entertainment, Sing doesn’t ask much of its viewers and is built on top of the most basic plot structures available, but it’s friendly, snappy, halfway-clever in the way it moves familiar pieces and a lot of fun for the entire family.
(On Cable TV, March 2015) There’s a lot of potential in the premise and cast assembled by Seth MacFarlane for A Million Ways to Die in the West. As a modern-thinking man somehow stuck in the very dangerous old west, MacFarlane himself has a bit of charm (albeit maybe not enough for the entire role), and being surrounded by Charlize Theron (in the funniest, most relaxed role she’s had in years), Amanda Seyfried and Liam Neeson isn’t a bad deal. At times, some of the comic set-pieces are indeed very funny (none more so than the sequence in which the title is explained), and some of the character work by actors such a Neil Patrick Harris, Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman is pretty nice. Unfortunately, MacFarlane’s worst comic instincts often get the best of his better ones. Often crude, vulgar and tasteless, A Million Ways to Die in the West seems intent on wasting great visuals (it does look like a western) and tons of potential into dumb jokes that are more repellent than daring. It feels long, scattershot and doesn’t even have the superficial thematic depth that MacFarlane’s previous Ted did. Unfortunately, no amount of cameos, slight chuckles, ridiculous situations or blatant anachronisms can quite tie up the film’s lack of direction, inconsistent pacing and distasteful humor.
(On Cable TV, September 2013) After seeing many comedies so grounded in realism that they only qualified for the genre label by virtue of not killing off anyone, it’s almost refreshing to see a comedy so unapologetically dedicated to letting big laughs as Ted. From the high-concept opening (boy wishes for his stuffed bear to become alive; bear obliges), Ted is shameless in trying for the maximum number of laughs in the time it has. Alas, this usually means going for the lowest common denominator, so don’t be surprised at the film’s crass and unsubtle humor: Much of Ted is about seeing a cute teddy bear swear and behave badly, and while that works for a while, it’s a strategy with limited potential. Mark Wahlberg is quite good as an ordinary guy trying to find a way between adult life and the remnants of his childhood, with a good voice performance by writer/director Seth MacFarlane and a fine supporting performance by Mila Kunis. (Nora Jones’ cameo is also pretty funny.) Some of the jokes work well (ie; the hotel room fight), and when they don’t (ie; much of the specific pop-culture references –who else can be so fascinated by Flash Gordon?) there’s usually another mildly-funny gag a few seconds later. Boston also has a nice role playing itself, with enough picturesque checkmarks to make the local tourist board happy. Still, this is a film aimed at blue collar guys, and those with low tolerance for penile jokes (some of them bordering on homophobia and others on misogyny) may want to lower their expectations. While Ted definitely has some thematic potential in the way it literalizes the process letting go of one’s immaturity, it’s not in itself mature enough to commit to a satisfying conclusion: I was actually disappointed at the feel-good no-changes conclusion, mostly because the film demands otherwise (and tries to have it both ways as well.) While Ted is well-made enough, and occasionally charming in its relentless attempt to be funny, it’s not quite the film it could have been with just a bit more wit and depth.