Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Comedy for People Who Wish Movies Were More Like TV

(The following post is very biased because two years ago I unhooked my cable at my home and I think that everything on TV since then except for Eastbound & Down and Mildred Pierce (2011, Todd Haynes) sucks.)

When I first began enjoying classic Hollywood films of the 30s, the films of the Marx Brothers struck me as bold, inventive, and even timeless. But, as is my own personal dilemma, I have to test my ideas by looking at them from a completely different angle. A couple of years ago, I changed my long standing perception of the Marx Bros.

Somehow I became frustrated by suddenly seeing the photoplays of the Marxes as nothing more than filmed Vaudeville (still riotously hilarious nonetheless). This matter of opinion arose from a then infatuation with Chaplin's concurrent offerings, which were so much more ambitious--his slapstick schtick exists foremost for the camera because he understood camera angles' relationship to blocking and editing, whereas the Marxes could probably be performing on a stage without losing much of their punch.

I get absorbed into Modern Times (1936, Chaplin) as though I'm visiting another world. However, A Night at the Opera (1935, Sam Wood) doesn't suspend my disbelief; its delight comes from being amazed at how witty and funny the dialogue is, and how well timed and perfectly it's delivered.

In recent years, I've nearly given up on comedy. Representing the two schools as I see them now are the rightful heirs to Chaplin, Being John Malkovich (1999, Spike Jonze) and Adaptation (2002, Jonze); and on the Marxes' side, Woody Allen.

Ted (2012, Seth MacFarlane) is not original or smart.

But, as Hawks said, "As long as you make good scenes you have a good picture--it doesn't matter if it isn't much of a story."

Ted is the creation of Seth MacFarlane: 1 part frat-shock humor/1 part obscure pop culture references/1 part boring bland nauseating musical selections.

I'm bummed out by his taste in music and it's personal. I apologize. Big band, Hootie and the Blowfish, and Norah Jones are some of the moments that made me look at my watch in the theatre.

So I laughed five times at pot jokes (and guiltily at one handicapped joke in poor taste, yeah I suck, I know) and was moved by two Mila Kunis scenes (overly effusive sentiment or pathos is a question of personal aesthetic tastes, but I'm'n'a say pathos). Mila Kunis is doing great work lately.

A lot of the pop culture name dropping just left me puzzled, and probably the rest of the audience too, because there were several instances where no one laughed. I wonder if others and myself just laugh because they get the reference? Is that comedy? I caught myself doing this once.

The gay scenes in Ted are a huge problem.

Okay, there are a few scenes where two men are dating and they stand out, disrupting the film's comedic momentum because there is nothing in the scenes other than the fact that the men are dating. Is that supposed to be funny? Everything else in this movie has some angle that makes them funny except the Patrick Warbuton gay scenes. One of his character's lines of dialogue goes something like, "Yeah we're dating."

There were also a couple of homoerotic moments that baffled me, but maybe I'm just not sophisticated enough to know how to respond to them properly. What starts as hero worship for another character turns quite homoerotic in a fantasy sequence, but I guess that scenes about latent homosexuality with no context or explanation are funny to MacFarlane. I don't know why this is so difficult for me to explain. I still crack up hugely over the progressively ridiculous Matt Stone gaffer scenes in Orgazmo (1997, Trey Parker): "Hey, I don't wanna sound like a queer or nothin', but I think unicorns are kick ass!"

The one sheet is cleverly effective. It advertises something like an experience in the theatre that's as fun as watching TV. People are supposed to see Mark Wahlberg and the bear watching TV and subconsciously desire the same experience for themselves. I'm just glad there weren't commercials.



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