Mud (2013)

Mud (2013)

I like it when an actor blindsides you with a performance you really weren’t expecting. Especially when they’ve been somewhat typecast in previous movies. Sure, you might be able to identify the odd movie they had that was a break from the norm, before they reverted back to their “type”. And actors sure do love playing up to their “type”! I don’t think we’ll be seeing Dwayne Johnson playing a hopeless romantic any time soon… unless his romance is between him and a free weights section at the gym. Conversely, you’ve got someone like Channing Tatum – a guy that’s willing to experiment with his roles, which has led to some startlingly good performances where he doesn’t just dance around the screen… But all of this pales in comparison to a performance from 2012 by one Matthew McConaughey. That film was Killer Joe. His new film promised more of the same: a break from “type”, but did Mud deliver?

Hey Joe!

Hey Joe!

I must say that Mud came at me from under the radar. I had no hype for it and it honestly wasn’t even pushed very hard in the UK. If I’m honest, I only became aware of it thanks to Keith over at Keith & The Movies putting it as his “most anticipated” movie of 2013. This guaranteed I had to go out and see it when it hit the UK… and it’s now hit. In an extremely limited release! Coming off the back of a disappointing The Place Beyond The Pines, I was eager to see a movie that lived up to my expectations from its protagonists. Well, Mud did at least achieve that… but just didn’t hit all the high notes I was expecting.

Mud is the tale of two boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who are growing up in the river communities of Alabama. Life’s pretty boring, but they love to explore, so they think all their dreams have come true when they find a boat lodged in a tree following a flood – their own private hangout. But the boat’s not entirely unoccupied. It’s here that they encounter the eponymous Mud (Matthew McConaughey) – he’s homeless, but don’t call him a hobo. What unfolds is Mud’s tale of why he is where he is – he’s murdered someone for treating his girlfriend (Reese Witherspoon) in a terrible manner. He’s on the run, and not just from the police, but from the dead guy’s family too… And our two young leads become embroiled in proceedings.

Mud (2013)

Let’s start off with what I really enjoyed about the movie, and that’s the acting. I felt that every actor was really pulling their weight here. A lot of credit has to go to Tye Sheridan for carrying the movie so well on his young shoulders. He really had to run the gamut of emotions in this movie and really captured the frustrations of being at that age – dealing with the confusing Mud situation and dealing with those pesky “love” emotions. Similarly, Jacob Lofland was ably suited to his role too; providing much of the comic relief in the movie. Not that there were laughs galore to be had, but he broke the tension well. But this is Matthew McConaughey‘s movie, yet again. His character, Mud, is a mysterious one. And thankfully it’s one that doesn’t rely on getting his top off (all the time… it does happen though), or smiling at the camera as McConaughey is so accustomed to. I’d argue that his performance here isn’t as startling as that of Killer Joe, or indeed A Time To Kill, but it’s still resoundingly strong. And before I leave this little “acting love-in”… Reese Witherspoon? Who’d have expected her to be doing some genuine acting too!?

The other thing I loved about the movie is it all just “fit” into place. It didn’t seem like a movie – it was like the cameras turned up and just captured the everyday lives of its inhabitants as they were. It’s hard to put this into words to accurately convey the feeling I had here, but the cinematography and direction by Jeff Nichols was suitably apt.

Mud (2013)

However, the film isn’t without its problems – crucially in pacing. The movie does drag its heels at several occasions and the film doesn’t need to be over two hours long. Not by any stretch of the imagination. It seems like the constant “fetch quests” that the boys went on carried on for far too long. This gave the impression that the film was somewhat directionless, as you couldn’t really see any plot progression aside from the fact that you wondered what was going to happen to McConaughey‘s character… at some point. All of this changed dramatically in the final 30 minutes, which was choc-full of action and drama. But for me, it was a case of “too little, too late”. The plotting was there, the script was there and the acting was definitely there. It’s just a shame the film became a little too enraptured with itself to really steam along at a brisk enough pace. Don’t get me wrong, I can do slow and lingering, but there’s a limit on this. Unfortunately, Mud went past that point.

Mud is another star turn for Matthew McConaughey, who’s picked up something of a habit of taking roles you wouldn’t have assigned to him half a decade ago. Whilst I wasn’t as blown away by Mud as I was by Joe in Killer Joe, this can still be classified as a success for him. Similarly, I want to see more from Tye Sheridan in the future. The kid’s got talent and I’m keen to see where he goes next. Unfortunately, the film trips itself up with its rather slow pacing, which makes the second act drag to an alarming degree. So, ultimately, Mud‘s a solid movie, but isn’t one I’d rush out to see again any time soon.

Why don’t more actors follow Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum? Take some of those wild and whacky roles. Take a risk! I want to see Megan Fox in a cerebral thriller about feminism, I want to see Tommy Lee Jones doing some slapstick comedy opposite Rob Schneider and I want to see Samuel L. Jackson… erm… what genre hasn’t this guy done!? OK, perhaps everyone should follow Jackson‘s lead and not the others’. Then they can all star in such fabulous movies as Snakes on a Plane, The Spirit and Deep Blue Sea… oh, wait…

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star

The 2012 Phagee Awards

Phagee Awards 2012

The years… they come and go faster than Lindsay Lohan‘s court appearances. But 2012 was special. It was the year that Film Phage entered the universe, kicking and squealing at the bright lights… once again, just like Lindsay Lohan. And as is traditional at this time of year, I think it’s apt to take a retrospective look at the year that was and hand out the coveted Phagees [pronounced fay-jeez]. In this, the First Annual Phagee Awards, there are a number of categories and prizes up for grabs – none of which are worth the paper they’re printed on, or indeed, the pixels they’re displayed on.

Loyal readers who’ve been with us from the start will know that our birth was only in the middle of the summer, so the films released in the first half of the year were in the months BP (Before Phage) and as such, have no reviews. We’ve been thinking long and hard whether it’s right to include these “unreviewed” films in our awards, and we came to the conclusion that yes… yes it is right. If you disagree, then please write to the Awards Committee at thisaddress@doesntexist.com and make your voice heard!

In each category, we have up to 5 nominees from all the films released this year. But there can be only one winner in each! Also, we’re running with the UK release schedule – we got some 2011 films in 2012 and won’t sadly be getting the likes of Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln and Django Unchained until 2013! Regardless, let’s get this show on the road!

Best Animated Film

FrankenweenieParaNormanBraveIce Age: Continental DriftRise of the Guardians

Winner:

Phagee Frankenweenie

Yes, like you, we also don’t think Tim Burton is the Messiah, nor do we rate many of his newer movies, but we really felt Frankenweenie was a cut above the rest of this year’s nominations. It looked gorgeous and had a deliciously macabre sense of kooky humour to it. Its innumerable nods to horror films of yesteryear was also really nice to see and easily merits repeat viewings. Plus, it’s Burton… you never know how he’ll end a film. He’s not afraid embrace the darkness. All this being said… had Disney decided 2012 was an appropriate year to release Wreck-It Ralph in the UK, the winner’s podium may not look exactly like this…

Best Male Actor:

Matthew McConaughey (Killer Joe) / Tom Hardy (Lawless) / Pierce Gagnon (Looper) / Ben Affleck (Argo) / Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)

Winner:

Phagee Tom Hardy

Now, as my loyal Phagelings know all too well, I’d be more than happy if they cast Tom Hardy in every movie until the end of time and 2012 really has marked his arrival with the mainstream audiences courtesy of his roles in The Dark Knight Rises and Lawless. I think the guy is a sheer force of nature, which is why we’ve awarded him the 2012 Best Male Actor Award. Not just for his subdued and stunning performance in Lawless, but also for his sheer presence and abilities as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. I do however have to give much credit to the young Pierce Gagnon. I’d be very tempted to give him the prize owing to his skills in Looper, but I think there’s more to come from this little guy. I want to see what his next move is.

Best Female Actor:

Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) / Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man) / Juno Temple (Killer Joe) / Kate Winslet (Carnage)

Winner:

Phagee Jennifer Lawrence

Having looked through all the releases that have dropped in the UK this year, I’ve got to say that it’s something of a paltry selection for Best Female Actor this year. In the US, you have Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln and Les Miserables already released. But here? No such luck. That being said, Jennifer Lawrence has really come into her own thanks to that performance in Silver Linings Playbook and is totally deserving of the Phagee here. I really enjoyed her performance here and the chemistry and back-and-forths between Bradley Cooper and Lawrence made for a sleeper hit for the year. Glad to see she’s being recognised in the “real” Awards Ceremonies in the world too.

Best Comic Book Adaptation:

The Amazing Spider-Man / Dredd / Avengers Assemble / The Dark Knight Rises

Winner:

Phagee Avengers

What a year for the comic book fan! Ultimately though, this came down to a two horse race between Marvel’s Avengers Assemble / The Avengers and DC’s The Dark Knight Rises. Although I found the dark tone and Tom Hardy‘s portrayal of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises to both be particularly appealing, you’ve got to hand it to Marvel Studios for pulling off the film that many thought would be too big and too grandiose in scope. But Joss Whedon scripted and directed one hell of a film. I must confess, I’m a Marvel fan boy, but who didn’t laugh at Hulk’s squabbles with Thor and Loki? Or feel the “ooo, this is awesome” sensation upon seeing the trailer for the first time. Be honest! And with the quick glimpse of Thanos in the closing credits… well… I can’t wait for Joss‘ next script and instalment in 2015.

Best Comedy Film:

21 Jump Street / American Reunion / Seven Psychopaths / Silver Linings Playbook / Goon

Winner:

Phagee 21 Jump Street

2012 was a great year for comedy and we thoroughly enjoyed all of the selections in this category, especially the underrated Goon, with Sean William Scott acting his chops off in a role that wasn’t Stifler. Having said that, the runaway hit of the year for me was 21 Jump Street. Who’d have thought that Channing Tatum, the dancing fiend, would have such comedic timing? It was also great to see Jonah Hill in a funny comedy once again. We all know that he was great in Moneyball, but it’s good to see him back at home getting some laughs. And who doesn’t love it when Ice Cube shouts at people? Roll on the sequel…

Most Searched For Term on Film Phage:

Is Kevin Dillon (Johnny Drama) in Sinister? / Sofia Vergara’s boobs / Ron Perlman as an ape / Pierce Gagnon / Merida in Brave

Winner:

Phagee Pierce Gagnon

We’ve had some truly bizarre search terms bringing people to Film Phage this year. Some of you are rather odd. Let’s just say there’s been some extremely peculiar terms entered into Google! Whilst lots of people were searching for a glimpse of Sofia Vergara‘s cleavage, courtesy of The Three Stooges, she didn’t bring us the most traffic. No, that honour went to the young Pierce Gagnon thanks to his sterling turn in Looper. However, it was nice to see that some of my odd comparisons this year also brought in the traffic. Hundreds of people still want to know if Kevin Dillon aka Johnny Drama from HBO’s Entourage is in Sinister. I’ll again answer this… no, it’s just Ethan Hawke doing his best Drama impression. Similarly, no, Ron Perlman does not voice Gutt the pirate-ape in Ice Age: Continental Drift – that honour goes to Peter Dinklage. So many of you also were trying to hunt down pictures of Ron Perlman shirtless / in his younger years / grinning. You crazy bunch.

Worst Film of the Year:

Piranha 3DD / The Three Stooges / Keith Lemon: The Film / Snow White and the Huntman / The Muppets

Winner:

Phagee Keith Lemon

Wow, there really were some stinkers this year – even before Film Phage launched. And no, I didn’t think The Muppets was fun either. I fell asleep for the first time in a movie since I was about 4 years old. But the dubious honour of “Worst Film of the Year” goes to Keith Lemon: The Film. Never have I been so bored and unentertained in a comedy movie. Even the teenage target audience were walking out of the screening before the 1 hour mark was up. Maybe Kelly Brook should have opted to somehow appear in Piranha 3DD after her turn in the original Piranha 3D, instead of opting to guest in this. Not “bang tidy”.

The 2012 Film of the Year:

Argo / Looper / Avengers Assemble / The Dark Knight Rises / Killer Joe

Winner:

Phagee Looper

And so we arrive at our biggest Phagee: The Film of the Year. It was tough. Real tough. Although Killer Joe was the first film reviewed here on Film Phage, it still remains one of the year’s best for me thanks to McConaughey‘s performance. However, my film of the year rests with Looper. I know… a controversial choice. Although I loved Avengers Assemble and really think it achieved so much, it had a rather basic plot. I understand that this was probably needed as it was essentially an “Avengers Origins” movie, but it still lacked a riveting story. Looper cannot be accused of the same. Yes, it has its plot holes, but it also has Pierce Gagnon. And Bruce Willis back at his best. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt pretending to be Bruce Willis back at his best. We enjoyed every moment of the film and brand it with our Phagee for Film of the Year.

What were your most enjoyed films this year? I’m sure many of you have opinions and your own favourites. I’m also sure many of you disagree with me on my big Phagee winner of the year: Looper. I’ve yet to see it figure anywhere else in any other poll of the year. Controversial? Probably. But I bloody enjoyed it… and that’s what matters.

Cockneys vs. Zombies (2012)

Zombies. If there’s one undead creature that’s as popular as vampires on television and cinema, it’s zombies. I’d also argue that they’re done rather better too. Zombies don’t have volatile love affairs. Zombies don’t even have true emotions. Zombies also don’t sprinkle glitter on their chest and fall for women that can barely crack a smile. Zombies are just all around better creatures and the better basis for a story. Then you have to factor in the fact that zombies can arise from all manner of origins and have different traits: from the speedy, enraged fiends of 28 Days Later to the classic shambling living dead from Dawn of the Dead. In summary, zombies are pretty damn cool, and in-vogue again thanks to The Walking Dead. So, why not pit them against something? We all love a good versus movie (apparently) – just see Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, Alien vs. Predator and Cowboys vs. Aliens. But who do we pit our zombies against to have a great slice of fan fiction… Wait… What?… Cockneys?!

Yes, the clue to Cockneys vs. Zombies is very much in the title. It’s a group of Londoners versus those shambling abominations. This time, the zombies emerge when one is disturbed in an underground crypt that’s unearthed on a building site. The infection spreads and the zombies infest the Earth. Did I mention this is a comedy too? I bet I can predict your thoughts now: “a comedy? Involving zombies? In England? Oh wow, is it as good as Shaun of the Dead then?”… well, the answer is unfortunately not. It’s not even in the same ballpark.

There are many things that made Shaun of the Dead the best zom-com in recent memory. It not only had a great script, and an assortment of the best comedic actors that Britain has produced, but it also featured zombies that were compelling and really looked the part. They didn’t skimp on the effects – it truly looked like a horror movie, but was funny. Cockneys vs. Zombies falls down on every one of those points, for the most part.

The film stars Michelle Ryan, Georgia King, Harry Treadaway and Rasmus Hardiker as the characters of the “main” plot (good hearted bank robbers that find the horde), which is countered by the more elderly cast of Alan Ford, Honor Blackman, Richard Blackman and others, who serve in the secondary story: the pensioners that are trapped in their home by the zombies. How was all this acting? Well, “not bad” is my verdict, but nor is it anything to write home about. The younger cast are serviceable, but it’s Alan Ford that shines. Mainly because I feel that the director’s instructions were “be yourself”, or “act like you did in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch“. He’s “cockney” personified… not an “‘orrible ****” like in his previous films (his words, not mine).

Geriatrics, guns and cockney geezers – this film has it all! If that’s what you’re looking for…

Let me also include another name in the actors list… The Phage. Yes, I’m actually in this movie. My (real) name’s in the cast list. You’d think this’d make me think the movie was magical wouldn’t you? But I’m pretty objective. Even when I was on the set I felt the humour was a bit juvenile and not really funny. I thought this would be different when I saw it on-screen, but wow – it still wasn’t funny. I laughed a couple of times (twice more than Keith Lemon: The Film if you’re counting), but overall it wasn’t to my tastes. The movie kept my attention, but didn’t truly entertain me.

So I’ve dealt with a) actors, and b) the lack of humour, but have yet to address c) the aesthetics – the three ingredients that made Shaun of the Dead so good. Now, as I was on-set I already knew that the zombies were never going to challenge The Walking Dead for truly amazing prosthetics and make-up. But what I wasn’t expecting was such shocking continuity with these zombies. In 28 Days Later you knew what to expect: red eyes, in The Walking Dead: torn flesh and gaping, jutting jaws. But here? A mix of everything. The zombies’ eyes change from normal to red to yellow, depending on which zombie you’re seeing, and the “effects” on the zombies are extremely weak. Oddly, some have full blown sunken eyes like in The Walking Dead, but the majority look like they’ve had talcum powder sprinkled on them and that was it. As I was there, I can say that that’s not far off the truth. Sure, we all have budget constraints, but the producers should have had ALL with full-blown make-up or NONE with make-up. Not the mish-mash you see on-screen.

Sure, this movie will tick some people’s boxes for a zombie film: lots of gore, guns and shambling wrecks, but I just want so much more nowadays. I’ve been spoiled by films such as Rec and 28 Days Later, as well as the almighty The Walking Dead, that this just doesn’t hit the same notes. Even if those films didn’t exist, this is still a pretty hum-drum film. It has the odd laugh, but is probably worth picking up in a bargain bin, as opposed to venturing out to find a cinema that’s showing it.

Despite the fact that I’m in the film, I just find it hard to love it. I was entertained and definitely wasn’t bored, but nor was I actively engaged with what was going on. The film appeals to a certain crowd with respects to humour – if you like all of Adam Sandler‘s movies for instance, you may enjoy this. But most of it was too basal to really register with me as “funny”. Thankfully Alan Ford really relishes his role and gets “stuck in” – his scenes are consistently the best. The rest? Let’s just say that I hope this film doesn’t rise from the dead for a sequel.

With the film hopefully now buried six feet under, with no chance of resurrection (I removed the head – we’re safe), I’m wondering what’s the next crossover we’ll get. Vampires vs. Zombies? Strippers vs. Zombies? Or maybe John McClane vs. Zombies? My money’s on John. He’ll probably deal with those zombies like he deals with helicopters: by lobbing a car at them. Yippe-ki-yay you undead mother—–s!

Phage Factor:

Dredd 3D (2012)

Dredd’s unimpressed with neutered adaptations.

It happens so often when Hollywood tries to convert a comic book from page to screen: they compromise. The visceral and often violent nature of some of the comic world’s big guns is lost in order to make that 12A / PG-13 rating, so that you can make more money from the kids dragging their parents along. Sure, you might be able to get away with it for Spider-Man or Superman, who are both “nice guys” really. But then take a hero like Wolverine, and the transition isn’t going to be as smooth, as this is a guy that would tear people in half in the comics. Literally. But on-screen he’s thus far been neutered somewhat, and lamentably I doubt 2013’s The Wolverine is going to alter that any time soon. So we now come to Dredd 3D: based on a comic that is never afraid to shy away from ultra-violence. But does the Judge get his due this time around? Well… it’s an 18-rated film isn’t it?

To many people, the mention of Judge Dredd will stir memories of a misfiring vehicle for Sylvester Stallone back in 1995. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t faithful. It was just an excuse to milk the machine that was Stallone‘s popularity. So techinically, yes, this is a reboot of what’s gone before. But you’d be missing out if you dismissed this film out of hand for that alone. It’s got a lot more in common with this year’s excellent The Raid: Redemption than it has with that 1995 hiccup.

It’s a chin off… who’s more authentic to you?

For the uninitiated, Dredd 3D follows the titular Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) as he dispenses justice on the future city of Mega City One. These “Judges” are effectively police who have been granted the powers of judge, jury and executioner should the situation merit it. The film follows Dredd over one day in which he has been charged with taking a rookie with psychic abilities under his wing (Olivia Thirlby) as they investigate a series of homicides at a colossal tower block. However, by doing so they stumble upon something much bigger and invoke the wrath of gang leader Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) who seals them in for extermination.

Now, does this remind you of anything? Anything quite recent? Perhaps a film I mentioned earlier in this review? Yes, The Raid: Redemption is undeniably similar in plot to Dredd 3D. Both involve police being locked in a skyscraper and having to take down a gang-leader at the top of the tower. It’s actually quite alarming when you realise this. If they weren’t both in production simultaneously then you’d swear one was borrowing liberally from the other. However, don’t let this detract you from just how good Dredd 3D is. It’s different in enough ways to appeal in its own unique way. I might even go as far as saying that I preferred this to The Raid: Redemption! I’m just a sucker for a gritty, grimey cyber-punk setting with an arsenal of high-calibre weapons on offer, as opposed to The Raid: Redemption‘s (utterly gob-smacking) hand-to-hand fight scenes.

But let’s go back to a point I raised earlier: how faithful is this to the source material? Whilst you’re never going to please every fan there is, I’m happy with how this turned out. Dredd 3D eschews normal conventions and gets graphic with its violence. People will be skinned, heads caved in and yes, there will be blood. It’s great to see director Pete Travis really embraced the ultra-violence of the comics and ran with it. I wonder if this would have happened had Sony, Universal or Fox had the rights to Judge Dredd. I doubt it.

With regards to the acting, you can crack as many skulls as you like, but if the acting is weak it’s going to achieve nothing. I’m happy to report that the acting is solid throughout, with all actors seeming to embrace their roles. Much has been made of Karl Urban‘s chin in the media; owing to the fact that he never removes his helmet. How can an actor act in this way you ask? Well, Tom Hardy did fabulous without half of his face visible, and Urban does a similarly great job. He churns out wry one-liners and like Hardy‘s Bane is an imposing presence. You see him on-screen and accept that he is the Judge – a man to be feared if you’re up to no good. Similarly, the supporting cast of Olivia Thirlby (Juno), Wood Harris (The Wire) and Lena Headey (300, Game of Thrones) are all great at embodying their roles. What I like is that none of these actors are huge Hollywood icons; they’re essentially unknowns in the grand scheme of things. And this works in the film’s favour, as we have no pre-formed opinions.

And I can’t pass judgement without talking about the visuals. Whilst they’re nowhere near the level of eye candy seen in Total Recall, they’re done very well. The film was mostly shot in Cape Town, South Africa, and Mega City One was modelled on the metropolis of Johannesburg (let’s try not to draw any parallels between crime-ridden Mega City One and Johannesburg though!) The film looks grimey, dark and oppressive. This is probably why it doesn’t look as bright and vibrant as Total Recall‘s cityscapes; it’s not meant to. Fans of Zack Snyder‘s penchance for slow motion will also be in luck, as there’s enough of this in the film. Thankfully it’s not overused though and has a legitimate reason for being there: the drug known as “Slo-Mo”, which makes the user feel like time is passing incredibly slowly. A clever idea.

The Phage: I am the law.

Ultimately, if you can look past Dredd 3D‘s similarities to The Raid: Redemption in terms of plot, then I think you’re in for a treat. In fact, I urge you to try not to compare them to one another, as they’re both great pieces of film-making that have unfortunately landed in cinemas in the same year. The film’s take on a dystopian, crime-ridden future is a compelling one that doesn’t relent during its running time. I felt engaged the whole way through, thanks to the gripping portrayal of Judge Dredd by Karl Urban. The film is quite minimalistic and delivers relentlessly. He is the law. All hail.

And if you’re a fan of Judge Dredd, action films, ultra-violence or seeing an accurate portrayal of a comic book, then look no further than this. The current trend with comic book movies is to make them “gritty” and “real”. Despite Dredd 3D‘s futuristic setting, I’d say it achieved this aim better than other films that have aimed squarely for this goal. So, Mr. Jackman, it’s over to you: will we be getting the Wolverine we’re all baying for next year? One that’ll finally use those claws in the way that the comics intended, or are we staring down the barrel of another pale imitation of the one they call Logan? So bub, what’s it gonna be?

Phage Factor:

Ted (2012)

If you’ve seen a poster, a trailer or a bus advertising Ted you’re sure to know that this film is brought to you courtesy of Seth Macfarlane: the man behind the Family Guy, American Dad! and The Cleveland Show franchises. Though I think it’s best for all if we forget the last title on that list, as I’m pretty sure people with an IQ over 39 don’t think The Cleveland Show is “comedy” in any shape or form. Unless you’re a simpleton. For the uninitiated, Family Guy revolves around a Simpsons-esque family and their shenanigans. Most of these episodes are essentially random sketches tied together with some semblance of a plot. American Dad! again focuses on a family, but is much more plot-driven – like any good sitcom. The Cleveland Show… well… let’s just not go there. Why am I explaining all this? Well, everyone has a “favourite” of these three titles whilst some can’t stand Macfarlane‘s brand of humour. Consequently, your enjoyment of this film will rely heavily on which of these four shrines you worship at. See if you can guess where I fall…

It’s a Macfarlane face-off… which camp do you fall into? Moronic, sketch-driven or plot-driven comedy?

Ted follows the life of 35 year old John (Mark Wahlberg) and girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis)… and of course Ted (Seth Macfarlane), the toy that came to life when John was 8 years old. At a core level, the film deals with the dilemma of being one of the boys vs settling down. Add in a truck load of 1980’s TV references, a sprinkling of drug paraphernalia and a sometimes obvious plot and you have Ted. Firstly, I want to say that in recent years I’ve become a big fan of Wahlberg, especially his contributions to HBO’s Entourage both on and off-screen, and in 2010’s spectacular The Fighter. His performance in Ted is what you’ve come to expect of the guy – professional, comic and charming. Similarly Kunis, who works with Macfarlane on Family Guy, acts admirably; although her role as the “straight guy” limits her ability to flex any comedic muscles on screen. The supporting cast is also brilliantly put together, surely thanks to Macfarlane‘s rich address book accrued from the numerous cameos that Family Guy and American Dad! have had over the years. I won’t ruin any of these for you, but appearances from a 1980’s film star and a famous Hollywood A-lister who doesn’t utter a single word are simply sublime. The only negative I can draw from the cast is the fact that Macfarlane didn’t write anything comedic for Lori’s boss Rex, who is played by the awesome Joel McHale from one of my favourite ever series: Community. An opportunity missed.

This brings us to Macfarlane himself who voiced Ted and wrote the script. Ted as a character is solid and beautifully rendered by the animation team. I just feel that we’ve seen this character before if you’re familiar with Macfarlane‘s TV series. He’s a slacker, a “bro” and less than politically correct – all things which you could pin to numerous other characters. But overall, I can look past this as it’s clearly Macfarlane‘s sense of humour and that’s fine. The character worked well. What felt a bit more hackneyed was the script, which came across as a number of hit-and-miss sketches loosely woven into a plot. Ringing any bells yet?

The trailers showed off some of the big hitting comedic moments, and there are more to be found in there, but there was also a lot of humour that fell flat for me. For instance, an elongated fight scene erupts that reminded me of Pineapple Express. I didn’t like Pineapple Express. I didn’t like this either. It just wasn’t funny. Luckily these duds were outweighed for me by Macfarlane‘s pop culture references (when they sit inside the plot) and sometimes sinister sniping at other popular celebrities. He does this in his animated shows and doesn’t pull any punches on the big screen too. This, for me, is funny. It’s a shame that more of the film wasn’t as guffaw-inducing as the prologue and epilogue by Sir Patrick Stewart (who also voices characters for American Dad!).

Bart Simpson by way of South Park: not a Family Guy fan!

But then again, many people in the screening I was attending laughed at literally everything. For some their humour level was any reference to drugs. I call these “The Cleveland Show fans” (or young teenagers… or adults with the brains of young teenagers… or morons – it’s ok, they won’t get offended; often they can’t read) – replete with honking laughs that made me think I was about to be attacked by a flock of geese. Next you had the people with a humour level resulting in them laughing at jokes that were in the trailer that surely every film-goer has seen? I call these “Family Guy fans“, as the jokes are funny but you’ve seen them before – just as with many jokes on Family Guy. Then finally you have people that enjoy the humour thrown up as part of the plot: the “American Dad! fans“.

If you’re playing along at home and guessed that I am c) an American Dad! fan, then kudos to you. Go get yourself a cookie. If you guessed a) then I strongly suggest you watch The Cleveland Show – it’s probably right up your alley.

Ultimately, Ted earns the title of “funniest film of the summer”, but more by default as it’s not had strong competition. Had 21 Jump Street landed at the same time, it’d have easily lost the title. It has its great moments, but much like Macfarlane’s Family Guy it has an uneven hit-to-miss ratio in term of gags.

If you didn’t like Macfarlane before, then seeing a non-animated form of his comedy won’t change your mind. If you believe the man can do no wrong then you’re delusional you’ll get a lot of kicks out of this film. If you fall somewhere in between and think that his shows have their moments, then there’s fair reason to see this. Macfarlane‘s humour has made the jump to the big screen far better than Matt Groening‘s The Simpsons Movie… but nowhere near as well as Matt Stone and Trey Parker‘s South Park or Team America: World Police. That’s what you get for letting manatees write your comedy Seth!

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star

The Lorax (2012)

You know it’s summer when Hollywood unleashes a relentless assault of animated features to enthral the kids and hopefully entertain their accompanying parents during the school holidays, and this year is no exception. Up next in the blitzkrieg is the extravagantly colourful world of The Lorax, based on Dr Seuss’ story of the same name. But does this old yarn-turned-film both bedazzle and amuse, or is it simply a children’s tale set to bewilder and bemuse? Read on dear reader for I shall wage, that the truth is to be found here on Film Phage…

The Lorax (ably voiced by Danny DeVito) for the uninitiated is a story by Dr Seuss essentially telling the tale of the environment vs. corporate greed. I won’t go into the intricacies of the “plot”, but it’s suffice to say that the film tells of how one man (the Once-ler, voiced by Ed Helms from The Hangover) tells a young boy his tale of how his lust for profits rid the world of vegetation and how he didn’t listen to The Lorax: the guardian of the trees. He then entrusts the final seed in existence to this young boy for him to do with as he wishes. If this sounds a bit hokey, then that’s simply because it is. Seuss’ original story is incredibly short and is a bit like a parable; ending on the cliffhanger of “will he or won’t he”. But this is a children’s movie, not the infuriating ending to Inception, so expect no ambiguities… in fact, don’t expect much at all.

What you can expect are modern-day animation staples such as beautiful rendering, celebrity voices and a paper-thin romance. It’s the latter that really undermines the ethos of the film, with Ted (Zac Efron) wanting to find the tree to get in there with his crush Audrey (Taylor Swift). Seuss’ original vision is somewhat bastardised here, as this kid doesn’t really give two Humming-fish about the environment – he’s fulfilling his basic human urges… to get a smooch! C’mon, he’s probably 10, he’s not looking for some hanky panky with a 13 year old girl. Well, that might be the norm in certain districts in a town or city you know, but I’m certain that’s not the case here.

But that’s not all the film does to betray Seuss’ original vision… oh no no… if you live in the US you’ll be fully aware of this advert on your TV, and if you’re not from the US, then watch this bearing in mind that this is a pro-environment, anti-corporation film:

Yes indeedy – the Lorax LOVES a car powered by petrol… made from trees. A confusing message to send out you say? Well that pretty much sums up the entire film: confused. Most of the “extra” material not mentioned in Seuss’ book is simply padding to give context and get to the Lorax part of the tale (and he only sticks around for about 1/2 the entire film). All of these shortcomings just compound how bitter a pill this is to swallow, as it looks beautiful – the animators have rendered Seuss’ world with such loving detail; it’s just a shame that the script has all the charm and charisma of a tin of stale sardines.

The Lorax

Place your bets for a good review… now.

So what about the humour? Surely this film succeeds in that area? Well, I’m afraid not. Whilst I found Ice Age: Continental Drift unexpectedly engaging and genuinely funny in places, I found myself sitting there like the Grinch for this film. And others in the screening reflected this mood. There were muted sniggers from some, and the kids laughed every time a bear or fish made a meaningless squawk, but there was nothing really entertaining about the script. And let’s never speak of those joyless songs. That’s why it’s such a shame to hear that DeVito not only recorded his voiceover in English, but also in Russian, Spanish, German and Italian despite speaking none of these languages: he did it all phonetically. This is a simply mind-blowing approach to voiceover work, which is why it’s so soul destroying to see a film of such lacklustre calibre after all that effort.

I really wanted to like The Lorax, I really did. I always root for an underdog, and after disagreeing with fellow critics’ opinions on Ice Age: Continental Drift, I thought I too might find some green shoots of quality on which to feast, but instead was left with a mouthful of tarmac. If only the Once-ler had obeyed the laws of basic economics and just replenished his supply of trees as he went – he’d have made untold profit and kept the environment going… and also prevented me from needing to sit through 86 minutes of poorly-scripted cinema.

And so dear reader I bring this woeful tale to a close,
as the fable of The Lorax has left The Phage somewhat morose.
Whilst easy on the eye and replete with pure intention,
the story’s dreadfully weak script makes one call one’s sanity into question.
And not even the sublime, multilingual DeVito: the once Oswold Copperpot,
can render this film’s flaws so easily forgot.
For The Lorax is no Horton… Not even a Grinch,
but you can’t help but wonder what next of Seuss’ books Hollywood will pinch.
So lest I end up sounding like old Yoda the Jedi,
I’ll end this little ditty and bid you goodbye.
But I’ll be taking bets on which tale they will next pilfer and pluck…
Or you could be one of those that no longer gives a …

Phage Factor: