Tag Archives: Mila Kunis

Movie Review: Ted 2 (2015)


Seth MacFarlane is a talented guy with a sharp tongue and a crass sense of humour. While he can polarize audiences, his first feature film, Ted, was a smash hit that made nearly US$550 million on a US$51 million budget and earned surprisingly positive reviews from critics.

And so of course a sequel would be inevitable. Ted 2 is, like its predecessor, a mixed bag, with some big hits and a fair share of misses. I saw Ted back in 2012 when it first came out so it’s hard to remember clearly, but I don’t recall laughing as hard during that as when I watched Ted 2, which has a decent handful of explosive belly laughs. Strictly speaking, however, while it’s probably not as “good” as the original, it’s possible that Ted 2 is the funnier film, pound for pound and laugh for laugh.

For those who don’t know, the concept behind Ted is that a kid, John Bennett (who grows up to be Marky Mark Wahlberg) once made a wish that his toy bear (Ted, voiced by Seth MacFarlane) would come to life — and that wish came true. It made world headlines when it first happened, but 30 years later no one gives a shit anymore. John and Ted are still best friends, but they are also a couple of sophomoric stoners who do a lot of stupid and crazy things.

Ted 2 is more or less a continuation of that adventure, though this time it centers on Ted’s struggle to be recognised as a human being in a historic court case that is basically a thinly veiled reference to the civil rights movement and gay marriage. With Mila Kunis unable or unwilling to return for whatever reason, Ted 2 takes on a new direction with a new female lead played by the lovely Amanda Seyfried, a new lawyer with a penchant for weed and personality very much like John, presenting a stark contrast to the ex who kept trying to change him.

I was pleasantly surprised that MacFarlane actually put some effort into piecing together a fresh and coherent new storyline. He honestly could have just phoned it in and collected his cheque, so kudos to him for at least trying to create a premise that offers deeper insights than your typical stupid comedy while also providing a solid platform for more offensive and disgusting humour.

The gags come fast and furious (no pun intended) in Ted 2 and they come in all shapes and sizes (ditto). MacFarlane just keeps throwing them at the audience and eventually something will stick. It’s doesn’t necessarily make for a rounded experience but at least it’s a often a damn funny one. There were moments where I went, “You can do better than this,” but also others where I was in awe of McFarlane’s quick wit and demented mind.

The film is at its best when the jokes are less staged. It’s often the off-the-cuff remarks and actions of the characters that elicit the most laughs, whereas the more elaborate jokes MacFarlane takes time to execute tend to be less funny or fall flat by the time the punchline comes. It helps that Marky Mark and MacFarlane have fantastic chemistry and can engage in rapid-fire exchanges with ease, and that Amanda Seyfried is able to slide in between them seamlessly (again, no pun intended).

The supporting cast also deliver some great gags and lines. Tom Brady is involved in a doozy that took up more screen time than I had expected, while Patrick Warburton is fantastic just popping up randomly and being a dick. My favourite, however, still has to be Giovanni Ribisi, who returns as the psychotic Donny from the first film and is thirsty for revenge. The always welcome Morgan Freeman also has a small role — shockingly, not as God or the narrator — though he doesn’t get down and dirty as much as I would have liked.

There are aspects to Ted 2 that I didn’t like or didn’t find funny, but there are enough jokes that hit the bulls-eye for me to rate it above many smarter, more consistent comedies that don’t quite generate the full on, gut-busting laughs. I recommend it to anyone who doesn’t get offended or grossed-out too easily.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Jupiter Ascending (2015)


I wanted to be the guy to tell everyone that Jupiter Ascending is actually pretty good and completely unworthy of the 25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Unfortunately, I can’t be that guy. While typically ambitious and visually eye-popping, the whole thing was just too bonkers and incoherent to be appreciated, especially as a once-off viewing experience. I could like it more if I watched it again, but it’s just not good enough to warrant another go.

I don’t even know where to start with the plot synopsis. Mila Kunis plays a domestic cleaner by the name of Jupiter, and it turns out she’s really important to a bunch of powerful aliens in space. Some want to kill her, some want to save her. Falling in the latter category is Channing Tatum and his blonde eyebrows. Tatum is a human spliced with wolf DNA and he has super anti-gravity rocket boots and a projected force-field shield. They fight off aliens and fly to distant galaxies and blow lots of shit up while flying through the air.

That’s an ultra simplistic description of the premise of Jupiter Ascending. In reality there is a plethora of discoveries and plot twists that I couldn’t really keep track of and gave up trying after a while. To be honest I may not have been paying my fullest attention to the conversations.

The problem with the film is that it’s just completely all over the place. The first few minutes or so, which detail Jupiter’s birth and her grown-up life, were quite interesting. But once the first alien appears on screen, all hell breaks loose. People just start bouncing off the walls, shooting blasters, smashing through buildings, falling out of the sky, kicking each other in the face, going invisible — you name it, they did it.

To make matters worse, they also tried to fit in all this convoluted exposition in between, so you’d end up going from crazy action one minute to boring explanations the next. With so many characters to keep track of — there’s a trio of alien “royalty” played by Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth and Tuppence Middleton, as well as a bunch of bounty hunters, Sean Bean, his daughter, and many other aliens and Jupiter’s extended family members — I was constantly lost trying to keep track of who’s who, which side they’re on and what motivations they have. It didn’t help that some characters were duplicitous, telling lies one second and the truth another, and people were being duped by secret schemes and nasty plans and so forth.

I also had trouble understanding what some of them were saying, including these crazy winged kimodo dragon-type aliens and Eddie Redmayne, who delivers a so-bad-he’s-good pussy villain with a permanently husky whisper. It’s hard to fathom that this is the same guy who just won an Oscar for portraying Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.

I’ve been a fan of the Wachowskis when they were still the Wachowski Brothers (before Larry became Lana), even though their directorial efforts have arguably been sliding in the wrong direction since The Matrix. I like that they push the boundaries and challenge themselves with home-run projects– as evidenced by the polarising Cloud Atlas in 2012 — but this time I believe they bit off far more than they can chew.

There’s simply too much stuff to swallow in Jupiter Rising. The characters, their complex relationships, the unnecessarily convoluted plot, the twists, the gadgets, the weapons, the technology, and all the different alien races. Remember, much of this is sci-fi world building, so audiences have to take some time to accept and digest it. When it comes so fast and furious you’re just left wondering WTF is going on. In the end, the only thing I cared about was whether Sean Bean’s character was going to die. It’s like squeezing four Game of Thrones seasons worth of characters, backstory and world-building stuff into just a little over two hours. It’s too much. That’s why I think Jupiter Rising would have worked better as a TV series, where the concepts and characters could be introduced at a slower pace.

Mila Kunis is as good as Jupiter, though despite the praises of feminists her character is only marginally better than your typical damsel in distress in love with the hunky Channing Tatum. Speaking of which, Tatum’s physical performance is decent, but his acting is still not the greatest. He’s not the best actor in the world, and acting primarily against a green screen doesn’t help his wooden expressions. As for Eddie Redmayne, I don’t think it’s a horrible performance. It’s just that you can’t take his character seriously because of the voice and the eyeliner.

In fact, it’s impossible to take the entire film seriously. If you can forget about everything wrong with the movie, ignore the incoherent script and the WTF moments, and just go along for the insane, CGI-fuelled, action-packed ride, Jupiter Ascending could possibly pass as an entertaining experience. The bigger the screen, the higher the odds.

2.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Friends With Benefits (2011)

You know what?  I am quite certain that at some point I vowed to never see Friends With Benefits (you might even be able to find it on this blog).  But as Estelle Costanza once asked her son George, ‘Why, George?  Why?’, I have the same answer: ‘Because it’s there!’

At the end of the day, Friends With Benefits is a movie, and one that has had surprisingly decent reviews — so I watched it.  Had I seen it before the inescapable comparison film No Strings Attached (with Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher), I might have liked it better than its predecessor.  But how is that possible when the two films have virtually the same premise and I like Portman and Kutcher a lot more than Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis?  I know the two films were in production simultaneously, but the fact is one came out before the other.

Like No Strings Attached, Friends With Benefits tells the story of two friends who decide to have a sexual relationship without becoming boyfriend and girlfriend.  Timberlake is Dylan, a Los Angeles native who moves to New York for a job procured for him by headhunter Jamie (Kunis).  The two quickly become friends, decide to become friends with benefits, realise that the arrangement produces problems, and yada yada yada, you know the rest.

To be fair, Friends With Benefits does have its strengths.  It has sharp dialogue, great chemistry between Timberlake and Kunis, a few clever laughs and, as usual, a scene stealing performance from Patricia Clarkson.  The raunchiness and nudity (despite body double involvement) exceeds No Strings Attached, which I suppose is a plus considering it’s a movie about sex.  The film is directed by Will Gluck, who also helmed the surprise comedy hit of last year, Easy A, so you know the quality can’t be too bad.

That said, predictable is predictable.  That wouldn’t have been so bad if Friends With Benefits was super funny, but it’s not.  I’m not sure if it was because they were trying too hard to be witty, but at times it certainly felt that way.  I also had trouble buying the premise that they were genuine ‘friends with benefits’ — to me they were a couple right from the start that just didn’t want to admit they were — or maybe that was the premise?  Maybe I’m nitpicking.

Technically, Friends With Benefits was probably the stronger film, but as a matter of personal preference, I thought No Strings Attached was funnier and had more heart.

2.75 stars out of 5

PS: Is this a continuation of the Black Swan dichotomy involving Portman and Kunis?  After all, No Strings Attached is more naive, slightly dorky but with more heart, whereas Friends With Benefits is naughtier and cooler.

Movie Review: Black Swan (2010)

I find it strange that director Darren Aronofsky calls Black Swan a ‘companion piece’ to his 2008 film The Wrestler (probably my favourite film of that year) because while they are both excellent, they are completely different films.

This one is about a New York ballet production of Swan Lake and the rivalry and obsession between two dancers (played by Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis) that spirals into deadly madness.

I’ve been a fan of Portman since Leon (or The Professional), and this is perhaps her best performance.  It didn’t surprise me that she won the Golden Globe for Best Actress and is the heavy favourite at the Oscars.  The supporting cast was also terrific, in particular Barbara Hershey as the frighteningly overbearing mother.  Vincent Cassel’s sleazy ballet director and Winona Ryder’s ageing dancer were also solid.

Unlike The Wrestler, which is a moving drama, Black Swan is as dark and disturbing a psychological thriller I’ve ever come across.  At times it plays out like a horror film, making the audience squirm in their seats and challenging us not to look away.  It’s a beautiful, atmospheric, chilling, masterfully directed film that kept me at the edge of my seat, even though for much of the 108-minute running time I was struggling to put the pieces together.

As Nate from TheNinthDragonKing said, the movie is at times reminiscent of David Lynch’s wonderful but hugely frustrating Mulholland Drive — except in my opinion Black Swan is less confusing and has an ending that doesn’t disappoint.

4.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Date Night (2010)

I like both Steve Carrell and Tina Fey.  More correctly, I admire their talents, but I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of either comedian.

That’s kind of the way I felt with their collaborative effort, Date Night.  It’s pretty good and I liked the jokes, but it’s not a film I’d really want to see again.  There was nothing wrong with it, but for some reason I just don’t like it as much as I thought I would.

Date Night is directed by Shawn Levy, who was at the helm of one my most hated movies of all time, Just Married, though he did do better with Night at the Museum.

It tells the story of the Fosters, a married couple (Carrell and Fey) with two kids who find their lives becoming too routine, predictable and boring.  But then, on a night out in an attempt to spice up their old romance, the couple become the victims of mistaken identity, which then spirals into a wild and ridiculous ride with hilarious consequences.

It’s one of those films with a decent premise that is more revealing about human nature and real life than we would like to think (with all the stuff about married couples becoming “roommates” over time), but at the same time so many of the jokes are just so outrageous and insane that it’s impossible to take the film seriously.  I won’t ruin the jokes by hinting at what they are, but there were more than a few sequences when I laughed hard and loud.

Date Night’s biggest strength is the comedic pairing of Carrell and Fey, who are both experienced and charismatic performers with the ability to improvise.  As evident from the credits scenes, these two ad-libbed a lot of their lines and a lot of them were probably better than the scripted dialogue.

The second biggest strength of Date Night is the awesome supporting cast.  I absolutely loved all the names in there, from James Franco and Mila Kunis to Leighton Meester, Mark Ruffalo, Ray Liotta, William Fichtner, JB Smoove, and of course Marky Mark Wahlberg.  Each added a different comedic element to the film and elevated the film several levels above what Carrell and Fey would have been able to do on their own.

Having said all of that, I don’t think Date Night will go down as a particularly memorable film in the annals of comedy cinema.  It is very funny at times, but there’s nothing about it that stands out as especially outstanding.  Maybe it’s because I simply don’t like Carrell and Fey enough, and I don’t know why.

3.5 stars out of 5

In-Flight Movie Reviews (Part II)

(For Part I, click here)

This second part of my in-flight movie reviews rounds up the remaining 3 films I saw during my flights between Australia, Hong Kong and India.  As with the last set, please keep in mind that I was under the influence of prescription medication when I watched these films.

The Ghost Writer

A smart little political thriller directed by Roman Polanski (didn’t know and it gave me a shock when the credits rolled) and starring Ewan McGregor (who once again proves he is one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood), Olivia Williams, Pierce Brosnan and Kim Cattrall.

Brosnan plays a former British Prime Minister who is writing a memoir on his life and McGregor is assigned as his ghost writer to “polish up” the manuscript after the original ghost writer died under strange circumstances.  There is a mystery to be unraveled as the ghost writer is pulled deeper into the life of the PM, who is falling under increased scrutiny for his actions during several recent wars.

It’s a very interesting film, fictionalized, of course, but with touches of reality and topical issues. Apart from the ghost writing side of the publishing world we get to see, the thriller also raises some intriguing issues about civil liberties.
Polanski keeps the film simmering on low heat, allowing the tension and suspense to build while never making it too easy for the audience to figure out what is going to happen next.  My kind of film.

4 stars out of 5

Harry Brown

Comparisons to Gran Torino (one of my favourite films last year) are inevitable with this British drama starring Michael Caine as the titular character, an ex-marine who goes Dirty Harry on the local gangs in England.

However, the films are only similar in that the lead is a lonely old man and their neighbourhood is terrorized by local hoons.   Harry Brown is a totally different film because Caine’s character is entirely different to that of Clint Eastwood’s in Gran Torino.

Gran Torino is more about the relationship the protagonist develops with his “gook” (as he liked to call them) neighbours despite his prejudices, while Harry Brown is a more straightforward, ‘lethal old man pushed to the edge’ kind of violent drama.  Both are effective in their own ways, but Harry Brown isn’t quite as effective because there’s a feel of inevitability about it – you just knew what was going to happen and where the film was heading.

It’s nevertheless a compelling film to watch primarily because of Caine’s performance and the excellent depiction of the horrific world of British teen gangs, but Harry Brown lacks the subtlety and nuance to take the film to the next level.

3.5 stars out of 5

PS: And unless I am grossly mistaken about the advancement of forensic science in the UK, there are some major loopholes in this film.

The Book of Eli

I wanted to see this one since it was released at the cinemas but I never got around to it.  Without giving too much away, the story is set in a post-apocalyptic world (aren’t they all these days?) where a mysterious man called Eli (Washington) is trekking across the barren plains with a special book in his possession.  Gary Oldman plays the bad guy (doesn’t he always?) who wants the book at all costs, and Mila Kunis is a feisty girl who gets caught up in the mess.

The synopsis sounds much worse than the film really is, but it’s just a fun action film that takes itself a little too seriously.  I can understand if some people think the whole thing is a piece of crap, especially after they find out why the book is so special, but it managed to keep my attention all the way until the end, where there are a few unexpected twists and turns.

Look, it’s not a masterpiece and it’s far too uneven to be a great film, but when all is said and done The Book of Eli is not a bad way to spend a couple of hours on a plane.

3.5 stars out of 5