Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Seth MacFarlane, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Nick Kroll, John C. Reilly
Illumination Entertainment prints money. Their three most recent films (“Despicable Me 2,” “Minions” and “The Secret Life of Pets”) have raked in just under $3 billion combined, with an average budget per film of $75 million (which is roughly half what Disney and Pixar spend on their films). As business models go, it’s hard to come up with a better one. On the other hand, those Illumination films range in quality from aggressively mediocre to downright bad, and in 10 years, they’ll all be forgotten. If Pixar films are a blue chip stock, Illumination films are day trader profits; it’s all about the now, hence the emphasis on merchandising over story.
“Sing” appeared to be aiming (slightly) higher than its most recent predecessors in terms of quality, but it falls victim to the same trappings as the others, namely a script that feels as though it wasn’t touched by human hands until the third act. The first hour is a laundry list of overused tropes, including a few that are so outdated that their presence here beggars belief.
Koala bear Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) is a theater owner in desperate need of a hit. He decides that his newest show will be a singing competition, and when the grand prize amount is moved two decimal points to the right thanks to a series of events both gross and absurd, Buster is surprised to see that he has a bevy of talent to choose from at auditions (but doesn’t yet know why). The ones to make the final cut are classically trained mouse Mike (Seth MacFarlane), hausfrau pig Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), German pig Gunter (Nick Kroll), sensitive gorilla Johnny (Taron Egerton) and teen punk porcupine Ash (Scarlett Johansson. Yes, Scarlett Johannson plays a teenager). Meena (Tori Kelly), an elephant with pipes for days, went to audition but is terrified of performing in front of an audience and is bullied off stage by Mike. She goes to audition a second time, and Buster asks her to be his stage hand without ever hearing her sing. This turns out to be a very good thing for all concerned, for obvious reasons.
Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane, Amanda Seyfried, Jessica Barth, Giovanni Ribisi, Morgan Freeman
“Ted 2” is a sweet but profane love letter to Universal Pictures. Writer/director/star Seth MacFarlane references several high-profile Universal properties, with the plot serving as the connective tissue. This naturally makes for a threadbare story, to be sure, but this is Seth MacFarlane we’re talking about. The man has never let story get in the way of a good joke, or even a bad one. To the surprise of no one, “Ted 2” has plenty of each.
The story begins at the wedding of magical, real-life teddy bear Ted (MacFarlane) and Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth). Ted’s best friend John (Mark Wahlberg) is happy for the couple, but still reeling from his recent divorce. Ted and Tami-Lyn have a perfect wedding day, but one year later, they are fighting nonstop. Ted suggests that having a baby might solve their problems (this is a terrible, terrible idea, for the record), but after their attempts to do in vitro or adopt fail, Ted finds his life unraveling as his creditors begin terminating his accounts on the grounds that the government doesn’t recognize him as a real person.
John and Ted retain a top-rate lawyer to fight for Ted’s civil rights, and he assigns it to his niece and junior attorney, Samantha (Amanda Seyfriend), who does the case pro bono. While they’re working on Ted’s defense, Ted stalker Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) conspires with the president of Hasbro to kidnap Ted pending him losing the case (as he will officially be considered property at that point), so they can use his mojo to mass produce “human” Teds.
Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, Giovanni Ribisi, Liam Neeson
There’s a reason why there aren’t many comedy Westerns, and even fewer that are actually any good, and that’s because the subgenre as a whole is very difficult to pull off. So you have to credit Seth MacFarlane for not only having the cojones to follow up “Ted” with such an offbeat genre hybrid film, but actually succeed where so many others have failed. “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is probably his most ambitious project to date, and although that may sound strange for a man who made a movie about a talking teddy bear, it’s nice to see a filmmaker with that kind of confidence. Like most things in MacFarlane’s career, “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is guaranteed to divide audiences, but it’s a really solid comedy with more than enough laughs to offset its minor shortcomings.
MacFarlane stars as Albert, a cowardly sheep farmer who’s astutely aware of just how horrible life is in 1882 Arizona. After weaseling his way out of a gun fight, Albert’s embarrassed girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) dumps him for Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), the arrogant owner of the local moustachery. While contemplating leaving town for a fresh start, Albert saves a beautiful woman named Anna (Charlize Theron) and they immediately bond over their shared hatred of the Wild West. When Albert challenges Foy to a duel in the hope of winning back Louise, Anna agrees to help him become a better gunfighter, falling for the lovable loser in the process. But what Albert doesn’t realize is that Anna is married to a dangerous outlaw named Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), who rides into town upon hearing of Anna’s infidelity to kill the man that stole his woman.
The initial reaction to the idea of a new Three Stooges film for 2012 brought no end of moans and groans from Moe, Larry & Curly purists, but after Bobby and Peter Farrelly’s film hit theaters, many were surprised by the fact that it didn’t completely suck. Indeed, it was actually about as good as anyone could’ve hoped, thanks in no small part to the Farrelly’s devotion to making the best possible tribute to the comedic trio that they possibly could, aided in no small part by the efforts of Chris Diamantopoulos (Moe), Sean Hayes (Larry), and Will Sasso (Curly). Bullz-Eye talked to Peter Farrelly in conjunction with the film hitting DVD, and he spoke about the trials and tribulations of getting the film made, his Zen attitude toward the lengthy casting process, and his continued optimism that the Farrellys’ next film will indeed be “Dumb & Dumber 2.”
Bullz-Eye: Not that you haven’t been asked this more than a few times, but…what’s your very first memory of experiencing the Three Stooges?
Peter Farrelly: You know, the God’s honest truth…? I don’t remember it. Because they were always there. I’ve been watching the Stooges since I could turn on a TV. But I guess the thing I recall the most is, for some reason, I went through a period when I was, like, a freshman in high school where they were on every day from I think 4 – 5 PM, and I just remember it being the highlight of that winter. [Laughs.] Every day, because it was freezing out, you’d just get in the house and turn on the TV. Every kid in my school at that time was watching. For some reason, they were going through some sort of a renaissance. Everybody was watching them that year.
BE: Not that you guys have ever been afraid of testing boundaries, but it would seem to be pretty daunting to update the Three Stooges. I think the last time anyone tried it was with “The Three Robonic Stooges.“
PF: Yeah, we knew it wasn’t gonna be easy, but we love the Stooges and…the God’s honest truth is that we felt like they were going away. I had little kids…well, they’re 11 and 13 years old now, but the last few years, I asked their friends, and two-thirds of them did not know the Three Stooges. Or they had heard of them, but they didn’t really know who they were. And that bothered us, because we’re huge Stooges fans – they’ve given me more laughs than anybody – and we wanted to bring them back. But we knew that…you know, look, anytime you do anything like this… There was a huge, huge opportunity to fall on our faces, but I did believe that it should be done, the movie should be made, and I felt very confident that we could pull it off.
With Seth MacFarlane’s “Ted” in theaters, we decided to take a look back at his hilarious take-down of über douche-bag Donald Trump. Also, check out the excellent Will Harris Bullz-Eye interview with Seth MacFarlane from 2007.