There are different kinds of magic. Everyday occurrences, for example, are full of mysterious moments that may be beyond reasoning: coincidences, fate, déjà vu. Like falling in love with a stranger, only to find out that he lives next door. Of course, there’s the flat-out supernatural, the kind that only happens to a select few, and the Harry Potter/Gandalf variety too. Talking, walking, pothead teddy bears and fantastical creatures rising from melted ice caps would fall into that latter category. However you see it, there’s magic waiting for you in the cinemas this weekend. Double, double toil and trouble. Abracadabra. Lumos!
Seth MacFarlane fulfills every kid’s (and maybe a few adults’) fantasy in his feature film debut, “Ted.” A young John Bennett, lacking many friends, wishes for his teddy bear to come to life. And he does! Fast-forward a few decades, and John (Mark Wahlberg) is a thirtysomething rental car salesman without direction or ambition, preferring to party with Ted, now a profane, immoral, weed-smoking man-child. (Or, rather, bear-child. Or perhaps man-cub? Lots of possibilities there.) Anyway, John’s girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis) is understandably annoyed at his immaturity and lack of drive, and asks him to choose: her or the teddy. Our review says, “the promising ‘Ted,’ which could have landed as something funny and emotional (ala Apatow, Brooks et al) simply ends up being sitcom-y, episodic and rather cheap. While this doesn’t take away from the film’s comedic prowess – which is admittedly fantastic and impressive – it simply allows it to be filed under Amusing And Mostly Entertaining, but this won’t go down in history as one of the more memorable laff fests of the year.” Rotten Tomatoes: 66% Metacritic: 58
Channing Tatum shows off his spectacularly muscled body, some kick-ass dance moves, and (not least of all) his penchant for pelvic thrusts in Steven Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike,” the semi-biographical story of Tatum’s early career. The film is a sort-of primer on the world of male stripping, using Mike’s education of a young protégé, Adam (Alex Pettyfer), to introduce its audience to the sexy, sordid, splendidly campy lifestyle. Only, Mike might want out of it. Here, the film sets up an interesting conflict between having dreams and making money, while dance routines and ripped abs abound, and Matthew McConaughey emcees the whole thing in Southern Twanglish. Cody Horn, Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash, Matt Bomer, and Adam Rodriguez round out the cast. Our review says, “Soderbergh has delivered an entertaining and expertly paced film about male stripping that is about more than just stripping, dealing with some universal issues like work and age and money and sex…it’s full of heart, and it seems likely that audiences will fall under Mike’s spell too.” RT: 81% MC: 71
Alex Kurtzman’s first effort at feature direction, “People Like Us,” is a twisted take on a rom-com, featuring protagonists that are siblings rather than lovers. Following obscure instructions from his father’s will, Sam (Chris Pine) discovers a startling secret: his father had another child, Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), that Sam never knew existed. As he begins a relationship with his half-sister and her son, Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario), Sam decides it’s best if he doesn’t reveal to them who he really is. Because familial relationships are always strongest when built on lies. Michelle Pfeiffer and Olivia Wilde co-star. Our review hails the use of “supreme sound and visual techniques to create subjectivity,” but adds, “though certainly an incredibly strong film on a technical level, ‘People Like Us’ falls short in its story and character development, and, by its conclusion, has failed to illustrate how these people are alike at all.” RT: 61% MC: 53
Behn Zeitlin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a magical tale, full of monsters and hidden voices, and a portrait of social realism, capturing the squalor and destitution of this country’s poorest people. Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) lives with her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), in a part of Louisiana called the Bathtub, known as such because it is the first to fill with water when the levees break. Only these floods unleash scores of ancient, dangerous creatures, sending Hushpuppy’s world running for cover into a non-magical world. Our review says, “‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ is as stirring and striking a film as you could wish for,” that “trembles with the energy, bravura and passion of director Zeitlin, his cast and his crew, like some rough animal snorting and stamping with horrible wonder and the possibility of both loss and understanding.” RT: 88% MC: 86
Sex, love, and human selfishness are examined in protracted, painful detail in “Take This Waltz,” the sophomore feature from Canadian director Sarah Polley. Margo (Michelle Williams) meets Daniel (Luke Kirby) on a business trip, and there’s an instant connection between them. However, on returning home to Toronto, she discovers that he actually lives next door to her and her husband, Lou (Seth Rogen). Despite never having met on paths that were already so close to touching, Margo and Daniel are now inextricably linked, but also unable to be together. A once peaceful domesticity is foregone in the face of Margo’s adulterous attraction and her refusal to act on it. Our review calls the film “so good, and so strong,” lauding the lead performances and Polley’s direction in this “nearly flawless creation.” RT: 80% MC: 68
“Neil Young Journeys” is the third rock doc collaboration between the titular musician and director Jonathan Demme, the cap on a trilogy that has proven Young to be very much the same rock star he was in his younger days, none of his wit or introspection faded with time. Featuring a structure that is half concert footage, half reminiscences from Young as he drives through his hometown, the film captures the evolution of a man through his music and his stories. The fact that he’s performing at Toronto’s Massey Hall Theater – a venue he famously rocked in 1971 – further serves to illustrate the significance of his lifelong journey. Our review says, “Demme has found a successful balance of concert and interview, and sewn the two elements together in an inspired interplay of the spoken and sung word. ‘Neil Young Journeys’ champions the songs and the character of the famous musician, celebrating 50 years of writing and recording beautiful music.” RT: n/a MC: n/a