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So… has there been some Star Wars news this week…?

Well, let me just say this, which I’m sure I’ll be repeating over and over again ad nauseam between now and Dec 18, 2015.  I would love nothing more than to see a great new Star Wars movie in a theatre at some point during the rest of my life.  I would be delighted and thrilled for Episode VII to be that movie.  I am rooting for it.

Although there are a billion ways for it to go wrong and turn our embarrassing, I like the idea of the original trio of Luke, Han, and Leia (Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher) being involved in the movie.

I am cautiously optimistic that J.J. Abrams is the right director for the film.  I think J.J. understand how to balance nostalgia with telling a fresh story; I think he has a good cinematic eye; and I think he has the muscle in Hollywood to make the movie he wants to make.  On the other hand, his last film was the execrable Star Trek Into Darkness.  So that’s a problem.

There are some really exciting names in the new cast just announced.  John Boyega was phenomenal in Attack the Block.  Oscar Isaac was phenomenal in Inside Llewyn Davis.  Domhnall Gleeson was phenomenal in About Time.  Andy Serkis is the new god of 21st century big-budget fantasy film-making.  (I assume he’ll be playing a mo-cap creature, but I’d be equally happy if he’s performing as himself in the film.)  Max Von Sydow was absolutely BORN to be in a Star Wars movie.  Adam Driver is a surprising choice — I think he’s a terrific actor, but he has a very “modern” feel that I have a hard time imagining translating into a Star Wars movie, but I can hold my judgment for now.  (Interestingly enough, he shared a scene — a GREAT scene — with Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis!)  Like the rest of America, I have no idea who Daisy Ridley is (just that she has a cool name), but I look forward to finding out.

So, so far, I am cautiously optimistic about Star Wars: Episode VII.  This is not a film I think needs to be made.  But since they’re making it, I hope to hell it’ll be great.  Right now, I have plenty of reasons to worry (none of us have to imagine what a terrible Star Wars movie looks like — we’ve all already seen it), but also plenty of reasons to hope.  We’ll all know for sure in just a year and a half.

In other news…

This is a fantastic [continued]

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Josh Reviews Ted

Ted is the live-action, feature-film directorial debut of Seth MacFarlane, the man behind Family Guy and it’s various spin-offs.  It’s a triumphant debut film, confidently made.

Ted takes a fairy tale premise, that a lonely young boy makes a wish that his teddy bear will come to life to be a real friend for him, only to find that his wish is magically granted, and asks: what happens when the boy grows up?  Thus we get John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), a 35-year-old stoner who is barely able to hold onto his low-paying job at a car-rental joint in Boston.  His best friend is still Ted, his now somewhat raggedy and far-from-innocent talking teddy bear.  He’s in a great relationship with a wonderful girl named Lori (Mila Kunis), but she’s beginning to grow tired of John’s arrested development.  Has Ted become an anchor keeping him trapped in an unending childhood?

Ted manages to take the best qualities of Family Guy — it’s uproariously raunchy humor, and bizarre pop-culture asides and digressions — and weave them into a film that has a surprisingly big heart.  There’s a gloriously gleeful, anarchic feel to the film, a bold we’ll-do-anything-that-is-funny feel that I love.  But I have often written on this site that, for me, the best comedies are ones that are ridiculously funny while also telling a real story, with real characters and real stakes.  Ted manages to do that shockingly well.  I found myself really caring about the characters and, in particular, really caring about the walking, talking, somewhat foul-mouthed little teddy bear in the title role.

The combination of incredible visual effects (I assume mostly CGI, though I don’t know that for certain) and Mr. MacFarlane’s voice acting bring Ted completely to life.  At no point in the film did I ever stop to question the character’s existence.  Ted feels totally real.  You’re not focusing on the effects, you’re just enjoying the character.  It’s an astonishing achievement, really incredible.  (I’m very much reminded of the effects in Paulclick here for my review — that brought another foul-mouthed short little fantasy character to totally believable life.)

The movie is hysterically funny.  There are some classic Family Guy style digressions and pop-culture references (John’s Airplane! fantasy memory of his first date with Lori is one of the funniest things I have seen in a movie in years) but the film thankfully doesn’t ladle them on TOO thick so as to overwhelm the story.

Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis are very enjoyable in the lead role, and their work really helps to sell the fantasy idea of a talking teddy bear being a factor in their lives.  Joel McHale is a riot as … [continued]