See It Instead: Ted 2
Time once again to dig into the old-movie bin and find three films to stand in for whatever high-priced disaster awaits you at the cinema-plex. Using a highly sophisticated algorithm (read: looking through my video library) we select three movies, some classic…some not so classic, that should scratch your itch and save you a bundle on movie tickets and buttered popcorn. You know that stuff’s no good for you, right?
Ted 2 (2015)
Seth MacFarlane (creator of the non-sequitor gag generator show, I mean The Family Guy) is back to the well with a follow up to his successful 2012 comedy, Ted, starring a foul mouthed Teddy Bear, his hapless human buddy (Mark Wahlberg), and inexplicably, Flash Gordon. This go around, Ted needs the help of his human friends in order to prove that he is a person instead of property. You know, like a fart-joke laden version of 12 Years a Slave…or not.
The first film was a surprising win for MacFarlane, and I’m sure he’s hoping that another plush victory will make us all forget about the disaster that was A Million Ways to Die in the West. Will the heartwarming story of a man and his bear buddy strike gold twice? Let’s pad our lead by suggesting three films you should see instead this weekend.
The Serious Pick: The Jungle Book (1967)
Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book is the original tale of a man-child and his talking bear friend. Mowgli is a “man-cub” abandoned in the lush forests of India where he is rescued by Bagheera the Black Panther and given to a family of wolves to raise as one of their own pups. Mowgli spends ten years learning the ways of the wild and making friends with the animals, but news of the return of Shere Khan, a man-eating tiger, causes his surrogate family to suggest it is time for him to return to human civilization. Mowgli wants none of this and runs off from Bagheera, only to fall in with Baloo, a lazy and fun-loving bear who agrees to keep Mowgli safe without returning him to his people…which fails spectacularly. After a lot of singing and dancing (it is a Disney film, after all) Mowgli confronts Shere Khan and his destiny to leave the forest.
The last film which Walt Disney personally oversaw before his death, The Jungle Book was almost completely reworked after Walt had a falling out with the original director over the dark tone of the film, which followed much more closely to Rudyard Kipling’s original story. The elements came together so well for the film that much of it was borrowed whole cloth for another Disney project, Robin Hood, including recasting comedian and singer Phil Harris (Baloo) as the easy-going bear companion, Little John. A sequel and an animated television spin-off cemeted Baloo’s place as one of Disney’s most beloved characters.
The Light-hearted Pick: Death to Smoochy (2002)
Death to Smoochy is a decidedly dark comedy about a famous television entertainer and his love/hate relationship with a giant pink Rhino named Smoochy. Robin Williams plays Rainbow Randolph, a despicable child-entertainer who is caught taking bribes for his kid’s show. Disgraced, he watches as his spot is replaced by Smoochy (Ed Norton) a squeaky clean and idealistic performer who delights children in his stuffed costume, all while providing wholesome entertainment. At first, Randolph does everything in his power to ruin Smoochy, but when the crooked elements of the notoriously seedy children’s programming racket try to corrupt Smoochy, Rainbow Randolph has to decide which is more important, his ego or the children who adore Smoochy.
If you liked Birdman and its dim view of show biz, Death to Smoochy is going to make your day. Williams is at his manic best, hitting both the silly frenetic notes of his children’s host role and the dark and demented notes of Randolph’s inferiority complex and acknowledged depression. Ed Norton plays Smoochy with unnerving grace…after having seen him curb stomp a man in American History X or pummel another man into hamburger in Fight Club, his performance as all sweetness and light in Death to Smoochy is really head-turning. Danny DeVito is always great as a sleezeball, and he won’t disappoint you here.
The Uncoventional Pick: The Edge (1997)
The Edge tells the story of two men trapped in the Alaskan wilderness, pursued by a Kodiak bear possessed of a mean streak and apparently good memory for faces. What initially appears as chance brings together billionaire Charles (Anthony Hopkins) and his young wife (Elle Macpherson) with a group of photographers shooting an outdoors-man ad in a remote hunting lodge in Alaska. When it is revealed that the head photographer, Bob (Alec Baldwin) is familiar with Charle’s wife, the two men briefly become rivals. Just as the two confront each other during a plane ride to the shoot location, a bird strike causes the small craft to crash land smack dab in the middle of Kodiak country. Lugging around a wounded assistant, the two former enemies must work together to elude the fearsome predator and to discover why circumstance has brought them together in the first place.
Though relatively forgotten, The Edge is a fantastic “man-versus-man-versus-nature” thriller, similiar to Liam Neeson‘s The Grey or Tommy Lee Jones’ The Hunted. The survival elements are all gritty and realistic, and the film paces out the revelations about Charles and Bob with enough red herrings to keep the audience guessing. I would say, that all that red herring is probably what keeps attracting the bear…who appears downright dogged in pursuing the two men instead of snacking on fish (or the dead pilot) which would seem to be much less formidable quarry. This is Anthony Hopkins we’re talking about here. With his snarling appetite for murder, the bear should be running from him!