“Ted” and “Moonrise”: Belly laughs and chuckles

Two comedies currently in theaters show the range of hilarity — from
belly laughs in response to raunchy humor to more subtle ticklers
that reflect on the quirkiness and absurdities of life.

Director Wes Anderson, with offbeat films like “The Royal
Tenenbaums,” “Rushmore” and “The Darjeeling Limited,” presents the
type of comedies that will not pack houses, but like Woody Allen
draws faithful fans. His latest, “Moonrise Kingdom,” when shown in
previews, left some people baffled, with its illustrated children’s
book feel about it along with hints of what might be interpreted as
pre-teen love gone way out of control. Throw in Edward Norton as a
Khaki Scoutmaster, complete with shorts, knee socks and neckerchief,
and you’ll have people thinking: No thanks.

It is their loss. “Moonrise” is at its core a tender story of two
social outcasts and kindred spirits who find each and fall in love.
Trouble is, they are youngsters.

Anderson, who co-wrote the script with Roman Coppola (yes, those
Coppolas — he is the son of Francis Ford and brother of Sofia),
weaves together a bittersweet story of first love, and a major plus
was casting two wonderful young actors in the lead roles.

Sam (Jared Gilman) is a nerdy guy who wears glasses, is probably
above average in intelligence but socially inept. An orphan, he lives
in a foster home and the extent of his interaction with others is
with his Khaki Scouts troop. But even there he is unpopular, cruelly
dismissed by his peers for being even more weird than they. Sam is
another version of the late Corey Haim’s character in the 1986 film
“Lucas.”

During a play at a church on an island community off New England,
Sam meets Suzy (Kara Hayward), the only daughter among four siblings
of two very quirky lawyers, Walt and Laura Bishop (Bill Murray, who
in later life has mastered a hilariously stoic demeanor in such
contrast to his antics of the late 1970s and early 1980s; and Frances
McDormand, who uses a bullhorn to summon her family to dinner). Suzy,
like Sam, has social issues, is prone to violence and prefers to view
life through a pair of binoculars.

For a year, Suzy and Sam are pen pals, exchanging letters, and
decide to run off together. Sam seizes the opportunity to ditch the
summer camp he is attending while Suzy slips away from her home. The
two meet in a secluded field and go off together in the woods.
The authorities, such as they are, mobilize to muster a kid hunt. In
charge is Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), who happens to be having an
affair with Laura Bishop, a secret Suzy discovered before running
away.

Anderson does an excellent job of balancing innocence of young love
with the normal yearnings of physical awakenings. Suzy and Sam do
engage in rudimentary physical exploration, but most of their time
together is spent enjoying the outdoors or listening to music — Suzy
has borrowed a portable record turntable from one of her younger
brothers. At night she reads aloud to Sam fantasy adventure novels
she has stolen from the library.

Casting is unusual. Willis plays against type as a lonely police
officer in over his head in trying to locate the two wayward children
but with an understanding of the alienation he knows the two
youngsters are experiencing. Norton also breaks from his usual
dramatic roles as the Khaki Scout leader named Ward, a man dedicated
to instilling skills and responsibility in the Scouts under his wing.
He even maintains a tape-recorded journal of his Khaki Scout
activities.

Kudos also to Tilda Swinton as a by-the-book social worker and
Harvey Keitel as a Gen. Patton-like higher level Khaki Scout leader,
jumping into roles that had to be fun departures from their usual
work.

Sam and Suzy cannot be expected to survive in the real world, and
here Anderson and Coppola throw in a Keystone Cops inspired chase
that adds a bizarre and visually humorous texture to the film.

The adult actors are superb, but the movie belongs to the young
stars, Gilman and Hayward, two talented people who portray people
who for all of their social issues are very real characters,
highlighting the painful experiences of being out the fringes but
finding somebody out there who understands.

At the other end of the comedic spectrum is “Ted,” the first
movie-directing adventure for Seth MacFarlane, the driving force
behind the successful animated series “Family Guy.” Co-writing the
script with “Family Guy” collaborators Alec Sulkin and Wellesley
Wild, MacFarlane and company push the boundaries of taste and
political correctness.

“Ted” takes what could be a children’s fantasy and gives it an adult
treatment. In the 1980s, John Bennett, an 8-year-old, is friendless
for whatever reasons and on Christmas receives a stuffed teddy bear.
He wishes the bear could come to life and be his friend, and the
timing of the wish is perfect, for the bear does come to life. Named
Ted, of course, the plush toy becomes John’s best friend for life.

Moving to present day, John is now a man in his mid-thirties, and
one could say he blossomed physically, as he is played by Mark
Wahlberg. Ted — voiced by MacFarlane — also seemed to reach
puberty, his voice going deep. John and Ted live together in Boston
and get high on a regular basis. Ted, briefly a media sensation for
being a live toy — his appearance “The Tonight Show” is reminiscent
of Forrest Gump’s recurring TV exposure — now just sits around,
watching television and consorting with hookers. He is, to say the
least, a bad influence on John.

John is in a dead-end job working at a car rental agency, but his
love life is thriving. He has been in a relationship with Lori (Mila
Kunis) for four years. Lori is amazing. Far more advanced in the
working world than John, she loves him anyway and has accepted John’s
friendship with Ted.

However, it is time for John to grow up and accept responsibility,
but he cannot resist falling under Ted’s unsavory guidance into a
world of parties and decadence. This is a familiar story of two
people who may be loyal to each other but face the challenges that
come from growing apart.

Just seeing a lovable teddy bear behaving like an out-of-control
party animal, with his vile language and candid, squirm-inducing
social commentary, is funny, and of course the pungent humor of the
“Family Guy” creators has the audience laughing abashedly.

Also marvelous in “Ted” are some great cameos by celebrities who
were very good sports. It will not be revealed here who makes these
brief appearances because that would spoil the surprises.

Wahlberg, who has proven to be effective in dramatic (“The
Departed,” “The Fighter”) and action (“Shooter,” “Contraband”) roles,
has also carved out a niche in comedy, playing the straight man in
such romps as “Date Night” and “The Other Guys.” He has a natural
flair of conveying a man who responds to absurdity with naivete and
bemusement.

Kunis also has handled romantic comedy before and is very convincing
in portraying Lori as a woman who can appreciate John’s good
qualities and tolerate the quirks — up to a point.

Much like adult comedies these days, there is an underlying
sweetness. Amid the laughter in the audience were the occasional
“awws” that come with touching scenes. Also, once again, computer
graphics continue to amaze, making Ted look very much alive and
interacting with live actors.

MISCELLANY
On Aug. 14, Blu-ray versions of “Jaws,” “Jaws 2″ and “Jaws 3-D” will
be released. This should be an opportunity to see a classic movie be
followed by increasingly ludicrous sequels. What are the odds that
one family, the Brodys over two generations, would have four separate
encounters with great white sharks? It is interesting that not
included in this release is “Jaws — The Revenge,” which really
bottomed out the series.

Bif Bang Pow! is a company that offers collectibles from various
movies, television series and comic heroes. Of interest here is the
array of products inspired by the classic TV series “The Twilight
Zone.” This month, BBP will be marketing a bobblehead of Henry Bemis,
the Burgess Meredith character from one of the most popular episodes,
“Time Enough At Last.” Broadcast originally on Nov. 20, 1959, Henry
Bemis, an avid reader, is the lone survivor of a nuclear holocaust
who soon stumbles upon a public library with all the books he can
read — until a nasty trip of fate takes this all away.

Also available in bobblehead form is a two-headed product featuring
the ventriloquist Jerry (Cliff Robertson) and Willie the dummy from
the May 4, 1962, episode “The Dummy.”

Other PPB products include a bobblehead of the scary being seen by
Williams Shatner’s emotionally unstable character on the wing of the
passenger plane he is inside from the Oct. 11, 1962, episode of
“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” And for those with interesting culinary
desires, there is the Kamamit Cookbook Journal from the wicked “To
Serve Man.”

Check out more at www.bifbangpow.com.

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