Ted 2 ***


Thunder buddies John and Ted are back on the big screen, complete with bongs, attractive ladies and bodily functions/parts. There are still the puerile jokes to be appalled-sniggered at, but lots more pop culture references, often very US-centric (do you know who Tom Brady is?) that they may have UK audiences scratching their heads or missing them completely – unless you are a Family Guy fan. Creator Seth MacFarlane is determined to shoe-horn in support for his successful cartoon TV series, along with other personal points of interest, but this time he’s injected a more ‘serious’ aspect to the plotline too.

John (Mark Wahlberg) is still not over his split with ex Lori (Mila Kunis from Ted), but he dutifully watches as furry best friend Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) gets hitched to grocery store hottie Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth). Fast forward a couple of years, and Ted and Tami-Lynn’s marriage is in trouble. The solution is having a baby, they’re told. The hiccup is Ted’s lacking anatomy then the fact that he is considered ‘property’ not a ‘person’ under the eyes of the law, after inquiring at an adoption agency.

John helps Ted win his right to be considered a person through the courts, enrolling the services of stoner human rights law grad ‘Sam L Jackson’ (Amanda Seyfried). Meanwhile, sinister Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) returns, trying one last time to get his hands on Ted as he’s considered property.

The film’s serious note is Ted’s character’s right to be considered a person with human rights – echoing the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement in the US and other human rights atrocities currently going on, globally. MacFarlane drums this home while having fun going about it. However, this does take the insanity element away that the first film had, coupled with the fact that we no longer get the shock value of a cute, cuddly-looking teddy with a potty mouth. This is removed because we know what to expect from Ted. Sometimes, it feels like you are laughing because you are in frat-like company and are expected to go along with the joke, rather than actually finding some gags funny.

Still, the running joke at Sam/Seyfried’s expense is a physical reference to LOTR’s Gollum, which is as childish as it is amusing, added to which Sam just doesn’t get the pop culture references either, including sharing her full name with a Hollywood star. It’s hard to say whether this kind of humour is genuinely clever in the film, but it does get a little tiresome.

There are some genuinely funny moments in there, such as when the childhood buddies visit an improv comedy club to cheer themselves up. The pair heckles the ‘talent’ on stage to use ‘9/11’, ‘Robin Williams on 9/11’ to ‘Charlie Hebdo’ as suggestions for the improv piece. It’s exactly the kind of MacFarlane comedy gold we expect from his Family Guy heyday.

The jury’s still out as to whether the return of Donny is really necessary as a subplot to merely highlight Ted’s ‘property’ label  – and just how MacFarlane got Hasbro to agree to its shady dealings in this, is anyone’s guess, but it’s quite a coup. “No publicity is bad publicity” as they say…

Ted 2 feeds more of the same to a more clued-up audience. While this might kill the buzz the first film brilliantly created, it’s not necessarily without its entertainment value or merit either. However, if you are looking for more Ted shockers, you may feel short-changed. Still, seeing the infantile pranksters back on screen will delight on the whole.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Follow on Twitter

The Reunion ***


Those who struggled with popularity at school take note: The Reunion is Swedish writer-director-actor Anna Odell’s way of dealing with that dreaded ‘school reunion’, where everyone is meant to be grown up and bygones are bygones, conveniently forgotten to give an air of adult confidence and sophistication on one ‘you will have fun’ night.

The Reunion is a fictitious account of Anna the famous artist who doesn’t get an invite to her class reunion, then makes a film about what would have happened had she gone along. Consequently, she tries contacting her former classmates to confront them with her film and document their reactions.

Beginning with ‘the film’ of what happens and the harsh truth that Anna wants to get out on the dining table with certain ex-classmates who made her early life hell, The Reunion is a slow burner on an obvious collision course. It’s very cathartic in nature, a very honest piece of filmmaking to blow the fake adult encounters out of the water. How easily we forget past foibles, hey?

It also throws up a number of interesting (and poignant) questions, such as how one was ultimately treated early on by one’s peers, does impact the psyche later in life. The whole idea of being the underdog or bullied making you stronger is true to an extent, but not without fallout – just how different would Anna’s existence have been if she had been greater accepted?

Odell is quite captivating as the primary subject matter with her intriguing elf-like looks and air of control – it’s hard to imagine anyone taking offence at her. Such composure allows the others’ personalities to be better reflected against her cool exterior, to watch them deal with their impending predicament.

Odell’s film is like an addicts anonymous meeting, filmed with you very much present in the room, witnessing every squirm, retort and sideways glance. The film’s end result is shocking, so much so that you cannot wait for it to be shown to the real classmates. And it’s here that not all react in quite the satisfying way that you might expect them to. In fact, that’s part of the surprise for the viewer who might expect more drama. The finale of the overall film is a very diluted one, in fact, and seems to end with more of a fizzle, like an old firework, than a big bang of contentment. Odell seems to struggle to know how to deliver a conclusive strike against her tormentors.

The Reunion is almost theatrical in nature – staged without the melodramatics. It is, nevertheless, still a curious piece of filmmaking to muse over, not only because its subject is a universal one that many can relate to, but also just trying to decipher what its end message is, is the real head scratcher we are left with by Odell.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Follow on Twitter


Magic Mike XXL ****


Ex-stripper-turned-actor Channing Tatum knows how to thrill the ladies/gays – whether he believes his real-life stripper anecdotes are all but used up after this film, a mere wriggle and a ripple of the actor/dancer’s torso is all it takes to put bottoms on cinema seats. Whereas Magic Mike in 2012 had a little more serious tone to it, charting some of the business’s realities, the 2015 film is pure ‘tongue in cheek’, the premise being to roll out the six-packs to thrill one last time, at one last stripper convention.

Three years on, and Mike (Tatum) currently makes an honest living as a removal man with his own expanding business. But when the boys pass through town and make him one last offer he cannot refuse, he joins the remaining Kings of Tampa on the road to Myrtle Beach to put on one last explosive performance.

The plot is thin and blatantly obvious, but that’s not the appeal. It’s the big, dumb camaraderie of the boys on their road trip, played by Tatum, Joe Manganiello (Big Dick Richie), Kevin Nash (Tarzan), Matt Bomer (Ken), Adam Rodriguez (Tito) and Gabriel Iglesias (MC Tobias) that is infectious. This is coupled with a trace of pity at first at their predicament, as they appear to only be one-trick ponies ready to be retired. All the cast are hilarious as they ‘sex it up’ one last time, and live life as it’s thrown at them.

Ironically, this film is incredibly empowering to watch as a woman too. The people that hold the boys by the ‘proverbial balls’ are all women – Jada Pinkett Smith plays a ballsy MC called Roman with her own successful club, and Elizabeth Banks is the Myrtle Beach convention’s organiser, Paris. Even Andie MacDowell plays a wealthy Southern divorcee called Nancy who gets her pound of flesh, and is a tonic to watch.

There is an almost unrecognisable turn from Amber Heard as ‘feminist’ Zoe, who seems to easily succumb to the frivolity like Anastasia Steele does in Fifty Shades. It just shows that animal instinct will always thrive over reason, and if you allow this, Magic Mike XXL is one big bag of entertainment, doing exactly as it sets out to do, unashamedly, and well worth the ticket price for sheer titillation. Straight males won’t get it – the rest of us will, so bring along ‘the girls’ for a satisfying night out.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Follow on Twitter


Terminator Genisys ***


“Old, but not obsolete”, is returning Terminator legend Arnie Schwarzenegger’s punch line throughout the new reboot, Genisys. Clearly one line couldn’t better sum up the latest instalment: it’s by far not obsolete in concept and has a lot of mileage yet, exploring all kinds of societal impacts when machines start outsmarting us.

However, the execution this time feels ‘old’. That’s nothing to do with the Terminator (1984) and Judgement Day (1991) scene re-runs (re-filmed with the new stars) to jog the memory for this plot – and fill in the gaps for any newcomers, it’s just there is no new technological and hence, special effects that really ‘wow’ you in this one. All are well-worn elements from your average sci-fi action flick. And yes, we’ve seen such a time machine – like the one used by Skynet here to send back numerous individuals – before.

In Genisys, Sgt. Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) is sent back to 1984 by human resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke) to protect his future mother Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) and mankind. A spanner gets thrown into the time-travel works, causing Reese to return to an alternate 1984 (from the one we know in the original film). He must learn who are his allies and to trust his arch enemy, the Terminator, in the shape of the Guardian (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Sarah’s lifelong protector, all with the aim of resetting the future.

The plot this time is incredible convoluted that it gets lost in the modern-day special effects – or we get lost as we hope that enlightenment will happen as a matter of course as to what’s going on when. Without giving the game away, the reference to ‘a spanner’ is what warps the timeline. This is about the only truly exciting bit.

Even though we revel in Arnie’s return – the Terminator joker in this, much to our glee, you cannot help but make unfair comparisons as a fan of the series with his co-stars, between Emilia Clarke and Linda Hamilton and Courtney and Michael Biehn, the latter being the originals. To be honest, Game of Thrones star Clarke is as headstrong as Hamilton was – albeit seems a little too young for the part, while Courtney suits the gun-for-hire military bod role. However, overall, they feel generic, and not as edgy as Hamilton became in Judgement Day, or nervous and gritty as Biehn in the 1984 film. Both new stars do a reasonable job in this – and keeping us up with the plot.

All in all, Genisys gives fans nothing new to chew on, just a little more Terminator action and Arnie worshipping. It certainly sets itself up for the follow-on, with there always being ‘a leftover’ that could threaten mankind, regardless of how many man-made/machine parts get sent through the time machine.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Follow on Twitter