If you’re a fan of “Family Guy” like I am, then you were probably counting the days until TED hit theaters. A live action movie from Seth MacFarlane? Freakin’ Awesome! (read that in a Southie accent). My only fear was being let down. Nothing to be afraid of here. TED has the same pop culture/gross out/politicially incorrect humor as Family Guy and American Dad, just with a lot of four letter words thrown in. The surprising thing is the movie’s heart. The characters really care about each other. Even TED, who has no real beating heart, loves his friends (when he’s not getting baked, drunk or carousing with hookers). The jokes won’t make you wet your pants, but the more touching moments may wet your cheeks. Mark Wahlberg plays straight man to TED really well. The timing between him and MacFarlane(Ted’s voice) is spot on. Mila Kunis is good, but merely a vehicle for Wahlberg and Ted. That’s a bit disappointing, but not a big deal. Giovanni Ribisi plays the creepy bad guy too well. Lots of cameos from Ted Danson to Ryan Reynolds to Sam Jones (look up who that is.. it’s key to the plot). In a world of gross out comedy and Adam Sandler unfunniness, TED is a breath of fresh air. A comedy that’s funny, with heart, that isn’t a cliche. I want to hug the stuffing out of this movie! — Alan Yudman

TED is a fraud. While undeniably funny in spots, it promises an
acerbic rejection of romcom cliches, then lacks the courage to follow
through. What results is an audience feel-good movie that can’t even
deliver the mature message of the superior (and similarly themed) TOY
STORY 3. In the latter Disney film, Andy relinquishes his toys with
respect (ultimately) and the knowledge that it’s time to move on. In
TED, Mila Kunis tries to convince Mark Wahlberg to do the same, for
the same reason. But the filmmakers opt for a pointless happy ending
in which everyone gets everything they want in what seems like a
marketing ploy to send audiences back out into the world smiling. Does
it work? At the packed theater where I saw the movie, long stretches
of talky inaction felt deflating. Nor was there applause or excited
chatter at the end. Most of the laugh-out-loud moments can be found in
the (red band) trailer, creating an expectation that the entire movie
will be a crackup. It isn’t. Yes, the CGI work is quite effective in
giving a plush toy with extremely simple features the ability to covey
human emotions. (The eyes seem to be the key, with the use of shading
or “cloudiness” giving the bear remarkable nuance.) There are also
scenes of physical comedy (on a dance floor, in a motel room) that
punch out some laughs. And director Seth MacFarlane has found the
perfect voice for his titular hero. But I have to say, i was
disappointed. — Jeff Schultz


If you could go back in time and change something big, would you do it? And even if you did, would it make any difference. As I see it, that’s the premise of SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED. But how this sweet comedy goes about exploring those questions is what makes it great. Aubrey Plaza is a twenty-something who still lives at home with her dad. Her mom died years ago and it was the event that formed her life. Mark Duplass is a seemingly crazy scientist/grocery store clerk/fugitive who talks like a complete whack job and believes he is building a time machine. Aubrey and two of her co-workers at Seattle Magazine decide to answer Duplass’ ad for a time travel companion. Bring your own weapons, safety not guaranteed. How Plaza and Duplass grow to trust each other and train for their journey is sweet and funny. Jake Johnson is writer to Plaza’s intern. He is in search of something, but even he doesn’t know what it is until he finds it in a love from his teen years. The subtle sweetness, laugh out loud comedy and great performances are what make this a really good movie. Duplass plays the crazy guy with a heart of gold just perfectly. Plaza is a star in the making. Her social outcast/weird girl is sweet without being too odd. At times, she seems like the only honest adult person in the movie. The ending is wonderful and surprising and I won’t say anymore so as not to give it away. Plus Duplass’ song “Big Machine” is just fantastic. This is one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. — Alan Yudman


If you were expecting a fun, good time movie about Abe hunting vampires, well leave out the fun and the good time. But that’s not unexpected since ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is directed by Timur Bekmambetov. His movies Daywatchg, Nightwatch and Wanted have little to do with fun and lots to do with killing, vengeance and style. His movies are easy to spot with their slow motion action sequences and lots of dead bodies. AL: VH is no different. It’s completely mirthless. But the look and style kept me interested for the whole movie. Probably good because Benjamin Walker is just so-so as Honest Abe. He looks the part but alas, Walker is duller than an unsharpened ax. Good thing his ax is dipped in silver and he wields it with rare expertise, because the physical part of his performance is all we have to latch onto. Lincoln wasn’t close to being Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan personality-wise, but I certainly hope he wasn’t this dull. So, is this worth seeing? Fans of Bekmambetov will probably like it. Everyone else, not so much. — Alan Yudman


Where did all that really marginal hair metal music from the ’80’s go? You can still find it on SiriusXM’s Hair Nation channel. Or in the used CD bins at Amoeba. But maybe it’s best heard in ROCK OF AGES. This was the music of my college years. Poison, Warrant, Twisted Sister, Journey, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon. Yeah, I had those albums (yes, real vinyl albums). But as I grew older, my tastes became more refined and I ditched that “trash”. Well someone, namely Adam Shankman, dug the songs up and included them in this musical. The plot is typical Broadway musical hokum. Small town girl takes a bus to Hollywood to fulfill her dreams. Julianne Hough is adorable, fairly talented and seems born to play Sherrie. Diego Boneta works at The Bourbon (Whisky) with all his “cuteness” and dreams. They meet cute as he runs to her rescue and gets her a job in the club and fall in love. Alec Baldwin runs The Bourbon with Russell Brand as his number two. Subplots are everywhere. Tom Cruise is Stacee Jaxx, aging frontman for Arsenal who is about to go solo and they play Baldwin’s club as their farewell. Paul Giamatti is his oily agent. Malin Akerman is a writer for Rolling Stone assigned to do a piece on Stacee. Catherine Zeta-Jones is the crusading mayor’s wife trying to shut down The Strip and save our kids from Rock and Roll. Baldwin is trying to save his club from the tax man. The movie opens with Hough on a bus traveling to Hollywood and singing Night Ranger’s Sister Christian. My eyes started a slow roll anticipating two hours of unbearable schlock. Then something surprising happened. I got into it. The nostalgia of the music. The goofy, predictable story. The hilarious performances by Baldwin and Brand. The shockingly good performance of Cruise (yes he sings and pulls it off quite well). I found myself laughing, singing along(in my head) and thoroughly enjoying it all. The songs have found a home here. They fit the story perfectly. None are an uncomfortable stretch. Best movie ever? No. Best musical ever? Sorry, that’s West Side Story. But this was entertaining and kept me interested for two hours. Isn’t that what a movie is supposed to do? Watch for some great cameos near the end of the movie featuring some period appropriate musicians. And full disclosure, I raced home and found the original versions of all the songs in the movie and created a Spotify playlist which I am listening to as I write this. I’m a dork. What can I say, but if this was the music of your youth, you need to see Rock of Ages. NOW! — Alan Yudman


Wes Anderson is odd. But that is a great thing when it comes to the art of filmmaking. Anderson doesn’t do cookie cutter. Have you seen “Rushmore”, “The Royal Tenenbaums” or “Bottle Rocket”? ‘Nuff said. So when he seems to make a romantic comedy, you won’t get Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Ryan Reynolds or Sandra Bullock. No in MOONRISE KINGDOM you get two young, unknown actors who play 12 year old chaste lovers. Jared Gilman as Sam and Kara Hayward as Suzy are outcasts. He’s an orphan. She’s a “problem child”. They meet and it is love at first sight. So they plan to run away together. And that’s where this story of love, adventure and family takes off. Anderson’s quirky choices and slightly askew humor are perfect in this movie. The young infatuaters (they can’t be lovers at that age) do all they can to stay together, despite the adults trying to pull them apart. I don’t want to spoil anything but the climax involves a storm, Bruce Willis and a church steeple. Edward Norton is funny as an inept scout leader. Willis is the island’s slightly slow police chief. They are the adults that get the most time outside of the kids. Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand and Harvey Keitel are good, but they don’t have huge parts to play (but they are all key). Jason Schwartzman has about 10 minutes of screen time and he steals every second. This is Wes Anderson at his best. And that means a little more than 90 minutes of pure enjoyment for the audience! — Alan Yudman

Perfection. It’s a little like a young adult BOTTLE ROCKET and a lot
like Wes Anderson’s brother Eric’s novel-with-maps CHUCK DUGAN IS AWOL
(reviewed here February, 2009), With a dash of bitters to keep it from
being precious, MK is whimsical and humorous and so spot-on artless
about that brief window between puppy and physical love, it leaves you
utterly delighted. Shot in the late summer golden glow of memory, the
sheer happiness that infuses this movie turns tough guys Bruce Willis
and Ed Norton and Harvey Keitel into sweet innocents — and introduces
us to a pair of actual innocents, tweener leads Jared Gilman and Kara
Hayward (first films for both!) who, together and apart, hold the
screen with their ill-starred, then blessed romance. Add in side
players including Kara’s triplet-ish little brothers, mean old Tilda
Swinton and a Greek chorus of “Khaki Scouts” plus Anderson’s
theatrical flair in the service of a deeply felt humanity — and
you’ve got one terrific movie. — Jeff Schultz


I have never been a fan of the Merchant-Ivory-ish type of British period dramas. They always seemed more like melodramas or period soap operas. So it was with a very jaundiced eye that I decided to give DOWNTON ABBEY a look. Boy am I glad I did. It is definitely one of the best dramas on television. The story of a fictitious estate begins with the sinking of the Titanic and that toll that takes on the heir to Downton Abbey (hint: he was on the Titanic). But it is more than simply a look at an upper crust collection of Lords and Ladies. It seems to reflect and embrace the times. Season One ends with the start of World War I and the war occupies much of Season Two. It is also not afraid to poke fun at the social absurdities of the society on which it is based. There is scheming and conniving, but also love, tenderness and caring. wow, it sounds just like a family. It can get “soapy” at times and a bit melodramatic, but those moments never last long. In addition to the wonderful writing and direction, the acting is top notch. There isn’t a weak sister among the cast. Everyone has an important role to play and does it with style. It’s a collection of talent that is only rivaled by the cast of Mad Men. Season Three is still about a year away (hopeful that it is early 2013), but Season One is on Netflix and Season Two is available on iTunes. Take the time to watch it, you will not be disappointed. — Alan Yudman


Can it be that the season just concluded of television’s most exquisite drama was the one that made the most missteps — and yet ended up the most rewarding? Yes, there were sequences and story arcs that didn’t seem up to what is admittedly a stratospheric bar. Roger Sterling’s acid trip, Don and Harry’s backstage encounters at the Rolling Stone concert, and Pete Campbell’s affair with the doomed depressive didn’t quite work. In the case of the first two, the effort to show how the 60’s were chipping away at the Old Guard certainties seemed strained, trying too hard. And the shock therapy melodrama, while well played, came off as soap opera more than slice of organic life. But a season that also saw Peggy’s resignation (with the strong hint we haven’t seen the last of her), Lane’s suicide, and what promises to be explosive fallout from Megan’s determination to pursue an acting career proved the show vital as ever. When Peggy extends her hand to Don in farewell and he hesitates, then takes it and puts it to his lips in sad acceptance; when Lane tries to kill himself inside a Jaguar that, ever unreliable, won’t start; and in the very last line, when Don is asked by two beautiful women if he’s alone (did we really think his marriage would last?) — these are the moments that make MAD MEN so marvelous and memorable. On to Season Six! — Jeff Schultz

Season five of MAD MEN left me wanting more. Now, that cuts two ways. I love the show and want more of the wonderful episodes. But it was also very uneven episode to episode and I crave more consistency from what is the best drama on TV. The best episode of the season was the “The Other Woman” where Joan prostitutes herself for the price of a partnership and the guarantee of adding Jaguar to their client list. The worst was the strange “Far Away Places” that was told in a bizarre time shift fashion that resembled Roger’s LSD trip (really.. an LSD trip for a 50-something man?). The best moments were Lane’s inept attempt at suicide before finally getting it right. Roger delivering flowers to Joan and asking why he always seems to be delivering them for other men. Don’s speech at the Christmas party committing everything to winning Jaguar. And the weekly moment where Megan challenges Don’s love and commitment that made us wonder if he would every be a normal husband. Peggy giving her notice and Don trying to hold onto her and kissing her hand in a last act of desperation. Oh, how could I forget Pete getting punched, by Lane, by his train friend and by the conductor. Haven’t we all wanted to punch Pete? That brings me to the season finale. It definitely swings toward the more disappointing side of the ledger. It’s saving grace are the final scenes where Don watches Megan’s reel then gets her the TV gig for the shoe company, and Don’s lonely drinking in the bar ending with the ominous question from the beautiful young girl, “are you alone?”. Chilling. It was a perfect final episode for Season 5. It was uneven and had some wonderful moments and left me wanting more and disappointing moments that left me wanting more. The good news is, we will get more in Season 6. — Alan Yudman


I really want to like Kristen Stewart. I think she has the potential to be a good actress. But with material like this, she has made a poor choice and one that won’t do anything to advance her career. At such a young age, she is in danger of becoming Kevin Costner. She takes on an accent to play Snow White (why are all medieval kingdoms British?) and it sometimes slips. She’s also overshadowed by Charlize Theron who is a very evil Queen indeed. Stewart just isn’t very good in this. While SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN is a fairy tale, it asks to suspend just a little too much disbelief. Snow White goes from scared girl to avenging warrior in the blink of an eye. There huge holes in the plot. Things appear out of nowhere with little explanation. At some points I wanted to take a bite of the poison apple myself if only to get it all over with. It’s not a horrible movie, but it could have been so much better with a better script and a more capable director. — Alan Yudman

There’s something off-putting about Kristen Stewart’s mouth. It has a permanent sneer, whether or not she’s showing disdain, even in repose. She’s a capable actress who has contributed to interesting movies like ADVENTURELAND and WHAT JUST HAPPENED. But (thanks in part to that sneer) purity and innocence are not her strongest suits. That’s why she’s miscast in this inflated fairy tale retelling, which, to be fair, asks her to be as much Joan of Arc as unsullied maiden. This one major flaw aside, SWATH has enough movie magic and sumptuous production design to carry it through most of an overlong two hours-plus, complete with an enchanted forest, seven (initially eight) dwarfs, stoic Chris Hemsworth, and villainous Charlize Theron literally sucking the life from young girls to remain beautiful. Medieval battle scenes by now are so familiar as to be interchangeable, and first-time director Rupert Sanders (who gives a rookie a $170-million project?) brings nothing fresh to the screen in that respect. Sanders also botches two key moments at the end: Theron’s inevitable demise is almost kissed off where we expect a paroxysm of vengeance. And Hemsworth, for all he’s accomplished throughout the film, is dispensed with in a final, ambiguous reaction
shot. Kudos, though, to Universal, for staying true to the dark material. — Jeff Schultz


Huh? I was pretty much with this movie through the first half, although it starts out (slowly) as a mash-up of space movie conventions from 2001 to, of course, ALIEN, to EVENT HORIZON (and many
more). But when it began explaining the mystery, I began losing my grip, sinking ever faster into a fog of incomprehension. The production design is impressive in that dark, Giger-ish way, but the real stars among the effects are the holographic creations, including
one that makes a robot ecstatic. (That a robot would be able to experience joy is just one of the things I didn’t understand.) At the end, the message goes religious with serious, dull talk about belief and the quest for meaning and the hint of a sequel, and a final,
ectoplasmic sop to monster fans that shows us why PROMETHEUS is a prequel. Noomi Rapace gets knocked near-senseless so many times, it almost turns slapstick. After the tenth toss through the air against
something hard and bone-crushing I was making up cartoon WHAM! POW!
sounds in my head and picturing chirping bluebirds over her ragdoll
crumples. Fassbender turns C-3PO into HAL 9000, taking the fey out of
both; Logan Marshall-Green is like a cute Jeremy Piven; and if women
had mustaches, Charlize Theron would have twirled hers; it may have
worked in SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, but she doesn’t sell it here.
— Jeff Schultz

If Ridley Scott knows how to do anything (and obviously knows several more), it’s Sci Fi. So it’s no surprise that PROMETHEUS is a better than average Sci Fi thriller. Is it a prequel to Alien? I won’t give that away. But it’s a worthy comparison to make. From the opening scene accompanied by Marc Streitenfeld’s remarkable score it’s obvious this is not an amateur or pretender’s movie. This belongs to the king. Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall Green are archaeologists who have uncovered a hidden message in the drawings and glyphs of ancient races. So, they set off in the intergalactic vessel Prometheus to find who left the messages. Credit to Scott for getting right into the action. He could have made it about half-hour longer with more story set-up, but it would have made the movie too long. The explorers arrive at their destination but do not find what they were expecting. There are a bunch of aliens and clues to what’s really going on. Rapace is good, but is overshadowed by Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron and Idris Elba (yes, Stringer Bell is captain of the Prometheus). She just doesn’t have the screen presence to completely pull off what Scott is asking of her. The 3D works, adding depth and perspective to the whole look of the film. So, while it’s not perfect, mostly Prometheus is edge of your seat excitement. And you really couldn’t ask for much more. — Alan Yudman


Really well made and really tense with a sharp screenplay and a tenebrous look that amps up the dread. The set-up is swift and plausible, the unlucky tourists get right on their way, and before you know it, they’re trapped. The variety of scares, the naturalistic
acting (including former teen idol Jesse McCartney, sortve grown up) and especially the uncompromised ending (bravo Oren Peli!) keep you watching start to finish. The landscapes and buildings that stand for
the former nuclear workers town Prypiat and the reactor buildings themselves are so convincingly evocative I stayed until the very last credits to see where it was filmed. (In Serbia and Hungary) And aspecial mention for one of the best cameos by a wild animal ever. —
Jeff Schultz