Ted 2

Posted on June 25, 2015 at 5:22 pm

“Subtle” is not a word that naturally comes to mind for a movie that features a bong in the shape of male genitalia (which is more powerful — the longing for weed or the ew-factor of a straight guy who does not want to appear to be sucking on a dong-shaped bong)?  Or for a movie that shows us a fertility clinic accident drenching a character with an output of said body part, followed by a joke insulting African-American men and those with a genetic ailment.  A trifecta!

The raunch-fest “Ted 2” does indeed rely on gross-out, juvenile, misogynistic, homophobic, racist, marijuana-philic, oh-no-they-didn’t humor, though much of it is more humor-ish, fake-funny, outrageousness pretending to be comedy.  It spends most of its running time, too long at almost two hours, on jokes about bodily parts and functions, drugs, the joys of slackerdom, and pratfalls, which I admit pretty much sums up my least favorite kind of comedy.  So if the two examples above strike you as hilarious, kick my rating up a couple of notches and go enjoy yourself.

The parts I did enjoy were the low-key, random, off-beat moments, especially in the performances of Mark Wahlberg and, briefly Liam Neeson.  The gimmick may be the talking teddy bear, but the star of the film in every way is Wahlberg, who in the midst of a slob comedy gives a performance that is so precise and witty it is close to adorable.

Copyright Universal 2015
Copyright Universal 2015

“Ted” was an amiably crude film about a boy named Johnny who wished that his teddy bear would come alive, like Pinocchio, or the Nutcracker.  Ted does come to life and decades later, John (Wahlberg) and Ted (voiced by writer/director Seth MacFarlane), are happily still best friends, enjoying the pleasures of adulthood (sex, porn, weed, beer) while happily holding on to childhood when it comes to thunderstorms and responsibility.  The happy ending of course has to be unraveled for a sequel, so we begin with John now divorced from the long-time girlfriend who gently suggested he might want to grow up, and Ted getting married to his girlfriend, Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth).  After a great musical production number right out of a Busby Berkeley film, we skip ahead a year, and find Ted and Tami-Lynn bickering to the point of not speaking to one another.  So, of course they decide to have a baby.  This requires the assistance of a fertile male human.  Ted’s first choice is, of course, Tom Brady, so he and John come up with a plan to obtain a sample without Brady’s finding out.

It does not end well, so John volunteers to provide the sample himself, leading to the scene described above.  That does not work out well, either, so they try adoption, which brings Ted’s situation to the attention of the authorities.  Apparently, one has to be human to adopt a child.  Ted is classified as property, and is thus ineligible to adopt, work, or even be married.  This being America, they find a lawyer (Sam L. Jackson — get it? played by a very game Amanda Seyfried) to go to court and have Ted declared human.  This leads to a thoughtful exploration of existential ontology.

Kidding!  It’s just a series of dumb situations and dumb jokes made by dumb characters in various locations, including the aforesaid fertility clinic, courtroom, and very lovely home of Tom Brady, plus a pot farm and New York Comic-Con.  Giovanni Ribisi returns as the demented Donny, who conspires with the head of Hasbro (did they really consent to product placement in this film) to kidnap Ted because, oh, who cares.  Certainly not MacFarlane, who makes no attempt at any kind of storyline or character.  He just throws in a gross joke, pop culture shout-out, or surprise cameo (the cast of SNL!  Some “Star Trek” actors!  Liam Neeson, who clearly did not learn anything from his appearance in “A Million Ways to Die in the West!”  Patrick Warburton in a Tick costume!) instead.  Neeson is wonderful.  Wahlberg is terrific. But not enough to overcome the movie’s limp, puerile, vapidity.

NOTE: Stay all the way to the end of the credits for an extra scene.

Parents should know that this film has constant very strong language with crude and explicit sexual references, sexual situations, drinking, extensive drug use, comic peril, and violence.  Some of the humor is intentionally offensive. Some is is just offensive. See the thoughtful discussion of the racist themes and jokes by Wesley Morris in Grantland.

Family discussion: Is Ted human?  Who should decide?

If you like this, try: “Ted” and “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle”

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Comedy Scene After the Credits Series/Sequel

A Million Ways to Die in the West

Posted on May 29, 2014 at 5:58 pm

A_Million_Ways_to_Die_in_the_West_posterWhen Seth MacFarlane tops his unprecedented success on television with three animated series (“Family Guy,” “The Cleveland Show,” “American Dad”) and his first feature film was a blockbuster — the talking teddy bear movie Ted is the highest grossing R comedy of all time, in both senses of the word, with a sequel in the works.  He also found time to put out an album of American songbook standards that received widespread if somewhat grudging critical acclaim (Music Is Better Than Words) and produce a popular reboot of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” series.  His only real flop to day was his disappointing hosting job at the Oscars (the song “We Saw Your Boobs” and sexist jokes did not go over well).  So, he can write his own ticket in Hollywood.  And that is what he has done with “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” a silly comedy that reflects the excessive deference given to someone with that track record.  You want to do a western?  Fine!  You want to not just write and direct but also cast yourself as the lead opposite top-ranked actors?  With lots of fart jokes?  Where do we sign?

And that is how “A Million Ways to Die in the West” got made.  It is too long, too dumb, and too gross.  But sometimes funny.

The saucer-eyed MacFarlane plays Albert, a sheep farmer who hates living in the west where “everything that is not you is trying to kill you.”  A motif of the film is the many ways minor characters are killed off, intentionally or by accident.  We meet Albert talking his way out of a shootout on the main street, to the disappointment of the assembled townsfolk and his fiance, Louise (Amanda Seyfried, the local schoolmarm).  Louise dumps him, and Albert is devastated.  His friends Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and his fiancee Ruth (Sarah Silverman) try to comfort him, but he is inconsolable until he meets Anna (Charlize Theron), new in town.  She offers to help him make Louise jealous, but they find themselves attracted to one another.  Unfortunately (as we know early on but Albert does not), Anna is married to the West’s most notorious gunslinger, with the macho name of Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson).

The movie looks and sounds like a classic western, with sun-burnished views of Monument Valley from Director of Photography Michael Barrett and an evocative score by Joel McNeely, both MacFarlane regulars.  Neeson is outstanding, as always, never winking at the camera.  Neil Patrick Harris is a pleasure as Albert’s romantic rival, a mustachioed slicker who can dance up a storm.   Theron manages the more challenging trick of making Anna feel real, even though she is delivering contemporary dialog in buckskin and a bustle.  It is a wonderfully natural, appealing performance that does wonders to give MacFarlane more humanity and make him seem a little less whiny and juvenile.

Unfortunately, the move keeps things pretty whiny and juvenile anyway, with MacFarlane taking full advantage of the MPAA’s notoriously lax standards for a studio comedy to include material that is more tiresome than outrageous.  More unfortunately, it goes on at least 40 minutes too long, with an extended drug trip hallucination sequence that feels as endless as your college roommate’s moment by moment rendition of his dream.  Lame humor includes an extended conversation about people in olden days not smiling in photographs and Ruth’s activities as a prostitute who as a good Christian won’t sleep with her boyfriend until they are married.  There are no set-pieces as funny as Mark Wahlberg’s recitation of trashy girl names in “Ted” and the guest stars feel stunt-ish, not a part of the storyline as Sam Jones and Norah Jones were in that film.  By the time the sheep is peeing on Albert’s face, the audience may feel that in the old west as ever, dying is easy but comedy is hard.

Translation: Constant extremely crude and gross-out humor with very explicit and raunchy sexual references and situations and extensive bodily function humor, nudity, jokes about prostitution and child molestation, racial and sexual orientation humor, western-style violence with shoot-outs and many characters injured and killed, disturbing images, drinking, smoking, drug use, very strong and explicit language including the r-word

Family discussion: What do the “straight” western elements of this film like the cinematography, landscapes, and score contribute to its overall effect? Do you think any of these jokes went too far?

If you like this, try: “Ted” and “Blazing Saddles”

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Comedy Western

My Thoughts on the Oscars — The Good, The Bad, and the Hair!

Posted on February 25, 2013 at 9:08 pm

Did you watch the Oscars?  I did, and here’s what I thought.


1. Best Picture: “Argo.”

2. Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln.”

3. Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook.”4. Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained.”

5. Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, “Les Miserables.”

6. Directing: Ang Lee, “Life of Pi.”

7. Foreign Language Film: “Amour.”

8. Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio, “Argo.”

9. Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, “Django Unchained.”

10. Animated Feature Film: “Brave.”

11. Production Design: “Lincoln.”

12. Cinematography: “Life of Pi.”

13. Sound Mixing: “Les Miserables.”

14. Sound Editing (tie): “Skyfall,” ‘’Zero Dark Thirty.”

15. Original Score: “Life of Pi,” Mychael Danna.

16. Original Song: “Skyfall” from “Skyfall,” Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth.

17. Costume: “Anna Karenina.”

18. Documentary Feature: “Searching for Sugar Man.”

19. Documentary (short subject): “Inocente.”

20. Film Editing: “Argo.”

21. Makeup and Hairstyling: “Les Miserables.”

22. Animated Short Film: “Paperman.”

23. Live Action Short Film: “Curfew.”

24. Visual Effects: “Life of Pi.”

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Seth MacFarlane to Host the Oscars

Posted on October 3, 2012 at 8:32 pm

And next year’s Oscar host is…not a stand-up turned actor like Billy Crystal or Whoopi Goldberg or Steve Martin but a man who has never even attended the Academy Awards before and who did not even appear on screen in his first film, released earlier this year.  Seth MacFarlane is the highest-paid man in the history of television for his three animated series, “Family Guy,” “The Cleveland Show,” and “American Dad!”  He also wrote and directed the raunchy movie comedy “Ted” and provided the voice of the title character, a talking stuffed bear.  He hosted the televised roast of Charlie Sheen and, improbably, received respectful reviews for his smooth singing on Music Is Better Than Words, an album of standards, backed by a full orchestra and using Frank Sinatra’s old microphone, on loan from the Smithsonian.  He appeared as host of the season opener on “Saturday Night Live” last month but has not otherwise had much experience performing live.

The Hollywood Reporter calls him a “relative unknown” to the people who usually attend the Oscars, but his popularity with younger audiences made him appealing to the producers, trying to stay competitive with slicker, hipper, and earlier awards shows.  But they will have to be careful not to alienate the show’s current fans, who may be concerned that he is neither as polished, as experienced, or as respectful as they want.  Perhaps it is just those concerns that will attract a record audience.

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