Hot Pursuit (2015)

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What could have been a good platform to highlight the power of women in film and utilise on an odd couple pair up, this film kicks that to the curb and instead uses slapstick, predictability and general minimal laughs to stitch a half-arsed film together.

Cooper (Reese Witherspoon) grows up adoring her cop father and getting acclimatized to police activity, so it’s no surprise she becomes a member of the force though little more than a glorified secretary Cooper lands her big chance when escorting a witness’ wife to Dallas. Danielle Riva (Sofia Vergara) is a challenge for Cooper though and getting her safely to the courthouse becomes fraught with hurdles.

Let’s just put it out there from the get go, this film isn’t awful, stinking or rotten. It’s watchable and that’s perhaps as good as it can get. It never made me laugh out loud or even chuckle that much, perhaps apart from the running gag of their ages/height or the women’s problems scenario in the back of a cop car but these are hardly genius breakthroughs in comedy. It’s a weak script to start with, all these sort of testifying/police/criminal chase movies are obvious and the ‘twists’ in the film don’t really feel as such.

Anne Fletcher directs as most buddy road trip movies look, it’s not stylish but generic. So it might not stand out but it at least looks like the genre of film it is. It could have had more flair, the action moments could have been stepped up and that seriously may have helped the film out a tad. I think I’m let down with Fletcher because I’ve found out she’s on course to direct ‘Enchanted 2′ and after this and her other films I’m worried because I do love the first ‘Enchanted’!

There aren’t many ballsy moments or engaging sequences, a love interest is thrown into the mix about two thirds of the way in and a final stand off is as for from being tense as Mickey Mouse jollily whistling on his steamboat. Unless you find that old cartoon tense then please forgive me. I never saw ‘The Heat’ but from friends and reviews it seemed that it was a film that got the female dynamics right, got action and comedy in perfect unison and now I want to watch it just to see how a good police odd couple style movie should be.

Reese Witherspoon bombs from brave and broken in ‘Wild’ to this slack jawed yokel routine as obsessive police woman Cooper. From quoting police codes to failing hard at her job she plays the role well with that Texas twang aiding some resemblance of humour but it’s a poor character with nothing to get her talented teeth into. Sofia Vergara is a genuinely funny lady but is shafted with more of her expected screechy materialistic fodder becoming Gloria 2.0 in this story. Even where her arc goes cannot save Vergara from the pigeonhole she’s become wedged in.

It’s not truly an odd couple movie because Cooper and Danielle don’t hold any chemistry, it appears blandly right at the end of the movie and can’t save the flatness we’ve already witnessed. A quick pace is what keeps the film ticking along nicely but sadly it’s maybe a film that shouldn’t be ticking along at all.

3.5/10

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (2015)

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When you go in to see a Mission: Impossible film you can always guarantee action, fun and a well constructed story, try and forgot the second one, and this outing is no exception, really taking action packed to the limits we see badass Cruise globe-hopping in a darker tale as a twisted version of the spy force become the ones to find.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is under investigation with the rest of IMF – Impossible Mission Force, he uses his time to focus on his theory that an operative titled The Syndicate is to blame for a series of accidents. Pulling back together tech whizz Benji (Simon Pegg) Hunt tries to track down the leader of this evil group to prove IMF is a worthy organisation. Though mysterious newbie Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) may prove to be a help and hindrance as all actions shoot towards the finale.

Just to put it out there, I do love Mission: Impossible movies, there’s something so entertaining about them that even if the plot sometimes weakens I don’t really notice or care. Yet this fifth installment has an interesting arc, with a darker take on an IMF set up being one step ahead of Ethan’s usual one step ahead routine. The story is engaging and it pulls together more than a couple of impossible mission scenarios while still balancing that undercurrent of finding a shadow organisation. At times you can tell where things may go, as in it being a tale of them being shut down and scrutinised, this ‘in hiding’ situation comes with certain expectations but it’s done well.

Now to the action, where Cruise clearly has no insurance policy or one so high that I fear for the people behind the camera yanking at the collar as he runs about the place like a mini rocket. When a film begins with a sequence so barmy and yet brilliant as Tom Cruise jumping onto a moving plane and then hanging on as it takes off, you know you’re in for a ride and a half. That moment is no less cool even if you’ve seen the trailers and adverts multiple times. Then car and motorbike chases, fist fights and an underwater task pile in to add more fun to the mix as the movie progresses its 130 minute run time.

Christopher McQuarrie follows up Brad Bird’s glorious Ghost Protocol with a film that packs a lot in but it looks good too. It appears like it should, establishing shots of worldwide locations, fast crazed close ups for the fighting and slow builds for the Impossible moments, like Benji taking the nervous trip through a Moroccan power station. It might not be stylish or have some kind of poetic handle but McQuarrie gifts the film that necessary summer blockbuster vibe and focuses on presenting these action scenes in an exhilarating way.

Highlight of the film for me, in terms of directing, music and action is the Austrian Opera scene which is a fantastically grand series of events that looks breathtaking even if it’s taking in the backstage of an opera. The theatrical way it keeps on building, rigging keeps on moving and characters add to Hunt’s confusion of who to trust which we join, is masterful. It’s a beautiful sequence aided by a fantastic score and stands out as intriguing, classy and gripping.

The music scored by Joe Kraemer is orchestral and swelling to do its best in raising the hairs on the back of your neck. He utilises the theme by Lalo Schifrin, adding country flavour to the famous sounds, in London it becomes classic and regal and it Morocco it comes across exotic. The score in between is just as neat in adding to the visuals and building that sense of urgency in the battles Ethan must face. Cleverly as well, from the beginning using a record shop to discuss classical music, the film takes it further by blending sections of ‘Nessun Dorma’ underneath scenes which comes to fruition in that opera sequence in Vienna.

Tom Cruise is the man when it comes to doing stunts. He’s always reliable for action and this film makes that statement no less true. Gladly you’re not watching a double or CGI, you know that the man up there on screen is none other than Cruise. His determination is what makes him likable and he pretty much is Ethan Hunt. Rebecca Ferguson is an enigmatic arrival in the franchise, balancing that shadowy ambiguity really well. Step aside critics as well as she’s a kick ass female character that can hold her own, provides a challenge for the male lead and isn’t there for a romantic entanglement. Simon Pegg, once more comes back for that ingredient of light relief though his role is amped up more as he’s put on the field in a bigger way and could face the consequences. Jeremy Renner is slightly sidelined to a suit and politics role as he hangs back traversing Hunley’s orders. Alec Baldwin who I can no longer see as anyone but Jack Donaghy is there as the role Baldwin can do in his sleep but therefore it sells. Ving Rhames exudes cool in a glare though he too is on the outskirts with Renner as it becomes the Ethan & Benji show. Then there’s Sean Harris as the most chilling villain yet, his costuming adding to the slender figure of Harris’ precise acting, creepily calm voice and cold stare.

It isn’t the best in the series but it ticks all the boxes required for a fun and entertaining watch with enough action to please the senses. It’s a cool summer blast of mystery, thrills and spills to make way for more I’m sure.

7.5/10

Self/less (2015)

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Looks very good and in a few places it has a cool sense of substance but it begins ‘shedding’ brains and tense thrills as a more twisting Hollywood series of action sequences taint what could have been a better movie.

Billionaire Damian Hayes (Ben Kingsley) is seriously ill but hears of a new process that can give him chance to continue his work in a younger vessel. Damian meets Professor Albright (Matthew Goode) who lets him know about how moving his consciousness into a grown body works. Soon Hayes wakes up as a younger and fitter man given the new name Edward (Ryan Reynolds). All isn’t as it seems as Edward hallucinates and finds out more is behind this body swap.

Tarsem Singh directs the film with an undeniable flair, the way troubling past lives warp into existence is brilliant for creating that mysterious unease. It is a film that builds and builds in sense of urgency for Edward’s character. Unfortunately Singh’s quite intelligent vision for this movie is lost as he places in more car chases, gun fights and comes to a rather soppy ending. It starts off really well and Singh can direct greatly with inter-cuts of future moments playing out while present narration continues, it does help the film in style but sadly the script isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Alex and David Pastor are the screenplay duo and though it’s a neat concept it doesn’t work to completion when watching. I admit, it’s a stretched sci-fi idea in the first place but when I saw the trailer it enticed me and it seemed like a dark yet fun look at the identity crisis of this scientific breakthrough. Though the more you journey on this film you start questioning why they picked action over intelligence. The script is one that has so much potential in being edge, creepy and smart but apart from a couple of clever qualities this plot crashes into entertaining fodder with little under the surface.

The look of the film is near perfect, even with all the action screeching in your face, that’s still presented coolly as well. Brendan Galvin’s cinematography is sleek and designed like a glossy new model akin to the central feature of the film’s story. Each location is mastered with a confident touch and all in all the movie does visually everything you’d hope for. Musically too the film hits the right notes. It’s a score that builds on that bubbling tension of what is going on and feels like a usual yet great thriller sound.

I honestly can’t say I am disappointed with the film, even though it doesn’t hit the clever heights it could have reached, I still walked out entertained. I went in expecting a close cut thriller and exited seeing a glossy action piece, not fabulous but still slick and watchable. It’s just a real shame that the sci-fi thriller it easily could have been is left dangling in a lazy grip of action and summery cinematic ‘Lucy’ fatigue.

Ryan Reynolds is getting better though, I feel recently he’s making strides in his acting, ‘The Voices’ is still hands down his best but in this movie he balances charm and swag with that worried broken sense of who am I. Ben Kingsley basically cameos as the set up for the movie. Matthew Goode truly has that chilling factor to an art form, playing the professor Goode manages to give the film it’s more tense moments in that fine line where it could have continued being a focused brainy thriller. Michelle Dockery as Damian’s daughter Claire doesn’t have much to do and could have been used further if the story took a better turn.

Self/less is less about self and more about guns, cars and killing. It’s like a Bourne trip to find yourself instead of the intellectual questions that could have produced a finer sci-fi thriller. Saying all this, I still liked it for some reason and enjoyed the potential it had even if it’s squandered.

6/10

Maggie (2015)

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Striking to the very core of humanity and a tense turmoil of a zombie-fied dilemma, this post apocalyptic hybrid of horror and drama is near overflowing with believable tension. Awash with commited and unrelenting close up cinematography, ‘Maggie’ is stunning and thoughtful.

After The Turn citizens are trying to deal with people of their community suffering under a zombie Necroambulist virus. Wade (Arnold Schwarzenegger) picks up his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) from quarantine due to her being bitten. As Maggie stays longer at their farmhouse home, Wade has to come to terms with the possible reality of ending his daughter’s life.

I love that this film doesn’t play on the horror angle so many other filmmakers would have jumped upon. It has a horror edge to it from the bubbling suspense of the music or certain small moments but it’s rewarding for being highly emotionally driven. The grit of that unwanted struggle in the wake of a family member’s ‘illness’ is poetic and constant. The film does a grand job in building that clear bond between father and daughter and making this inevitable solution to her virus’ progress that much stronger.

Henry Hobson directs this movie with a collected nerve. It’s not like every other horror/thriller, the look is set apart from what you might expect and it truly plays on this ethereal quality of sound and vision. The grungy look of the city and torn up locations works in initial set up and a lot of the film has a brilliant sepia like brown tinge. Blue also plays a part in the cold aspect of the story developing. It’s a dull looking set of scenes but never a dull feature.

‘Maggie’ feels like an alarming dream, the gentle movements of the camera, the close up shots of people and objects and the still shots of almost nothingness. It’s a bold step to take and gladly they do take it. The film kind of floats along on the verge of building that nightmarish quality but luckily it always pulls back making the worry of Maggie’s condition the biggest focus. Lukas Ettlin needs two big thumbs up for his cinematography skills as he gifts this movie a lingering aura.

I’m seeing some less than positive reviews for this film and most sit under the negative cry of being boring, quiet and a shame but apart from minutely agreeing with them in some degree that it is slightly slow, I love the new take on a zombie genre and found the film effective in being affecting and genuinely moving. It squares on faces or fields a lot but look past the overused melancholia and I hope you’ll see the beauty of heart and tragedy in this low key drama.

Arnold Schwarzenegger pulls out a fine performance as the loving and loyal father. It’s a determined display as he goes along showing more acting than I think I’ve ever seen him do before in subtle doses. There’s trickles of emotions amongst his stern anguish and he plays Wade well. Abigail Breslin is a superb young talent to keep watching, from child stardom to mature roles she’s an actress with a perfect grip on how to make an audience get on your side. Maggie is a tormented, vulnerable and yet increasingly dark persona and Breslin encapsulates this decaying soul fantastically.

For a directorial debut this film comes across like someone who’s been making films for a while, it’s gliding with heartfelt family tension but can smack with horror when needed. Great for being so understated and one I would recommend for people happy to see something different.

7/10

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Ant-Man (2015)

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In that expected Marvel way, this last Phase 2 movie is formulaic but it has a welcome change in terms of style. It’s more light and loose with the way it builds the hero origin and the perspectives of Ant-Man’s world give the film a new edge.

Recently released convict Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is scouted out for hire by one time hero and scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to become the new user of his Ant-Man suit. Trying to stop S.H.I.E.L.D and now Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from using the dangerous technology, Hank and his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) help Scott become the necessary hero to stop shrink tech getting into the wrong hands.

After going through small halts in its production phase and then a big piece of news in exciting directing talent Edgar Wright jumping off the deck, this film is slightly evident in not being so smooth as the previous slick efforts from team Marvel. Peyton Reed does direct the film with enough style to showcase the big moments of being small yet mighty and the humour from Wright’s mark is still clear thanks to Rudd and writer Adam McKay aiding the scripts changes. It’s just slightly shaky at times in the way that the film builds to the conclusion.

It’s good that Wright and Joe Cornish still get screenplay credit and Edgar Wright’s fast paced and comedic value is felt throughout a lot of the film even though he wasn’t behind the camera. Obviously we don’t fully know what parts were kept until a possible DVD bonus feature sheds some light but that zanier zippier quirk of humour feels strong in Luis’ accounts and generally how Scott is as a character. Peyton Reed includes an Avenger which works, maybe not part of Wright’s vision to make it stand alone but this hero’s part isn’t forced and becomes right for the story and I liked them being there.

Spectacle wise, this film is a showboat for the microscopic detail of Scott’s journey into insect sized heroism. The initial sequence when he first sees what the suit is capable of is is brilliant, from bath tub dilemmas to night club traversing, the mini him is literally thrown into a terrifying new life. The design of the suit with it’s graphics beaming around it as it shrinks is cool and the jumping back and forth between sizes makes for a pacy film. It’s also a great way to utilise on the comedy of the situation, the Thomas the Tank Engine moments leaping out as perfect examples.

The villain is slightly underwhelming, though he’s bad and doesn’t give a damn, he’s like most wrong ‘uns, charging their way to make money and not stopping until they win. Darren is like Obadiah in ‘Iron Man’, from who is in comparison to the initial hero to their rise to evil. The Yellowjacket suit is super fancy though and does look nasty, those many sharp prongs giving it a creepy wasp vibe even though the Wasp is another creation altogether.

Paul Rudd has everything needed to tackle a Marvel cinematic lead and most of that comes from the charm of him being the incapable hero. It’s no Chris Pratt performance but Rudd is likable and is the strongest element of this film. Evangeline Lilly packs the punches in training Scott, at times put to the sidelines but for purpose that is seen later in the films progress. She has the emotion under the duress of a tough father who won’t let her show her potential. Corey Stoll does more than enough with the smirks and glares as Darren Cross and though the villain is poor, Stoll makes him feel like he’s better. Michael Pena gifts narrations with a funny pang of speed and nonsense and his constant happy unknowing grin about situations is brilliant. Michael Douglas is intelligent yet vulnerable as Hank Pym, the leading knowledge in science is also fractured by a past loss and his desire to protect Hope. Douglas displays both sides of this character very well.

It’s not exactly a truly exciting film like the new additions of Star-Lord, Groot and the gang but Ant-Man has some snappy visuals and enough difference to keep the Marvel Universe chugging along nicely. A fun, pacy summer watch about tiny thrills with a big heart.

6.5/10

The Voices (2015)

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updated review with special features for the DVD release.

Definitely to be found in the darker spectrum of black comedies, this warped foray into the mind of someone with an unstable mind is presented with brilliant flicks of upbeat comedy, a quirky sunshine outlook and sinister flavours. It also succeeds in gifting it’s lead a bloody and barmy movie to prove himself in and boy does he ever.

Jerry Hickfang (Ryan Reynolds) works at a toilet/bath factory and tries to present himself as normal, though in his own home his instability leads him to hear voices, manifesting through his pets; a psycho cat and a caring dog. Jerry gets a chance to be more normal when his attraction develops with Fiona from accounting (Gemma Arterton) but that goes wrong and a new opportunity with Lisa (Anna Kendrick) could make him go one of two ways.

Marjane Satrapi knocks it out of the park directing this dark humourous tale. The look of the film is careful and works in highlighting the dangerous two sided coin of Jerry’s psyche. She delivers the dark, dingy terrors of Jerry in gross ‘Seven’ like detail and she can also portray the sunnier Disney-esque view Jerry walks about blissfully in without any problems. When we first see the true life it’s shocking and hits hard making you realise just how dark this film can be. Satrapi really shows she has an eye for the presentation and every scene and shot adds to the unbalanced narrative.

Michael R. Perry can also take a bow, his screenplay is magnificent. The strokes of unsettling laughs with genuinely clever humour is genius. The scripting of the pets is perfect, loyalty in the dog being lovingly crafted as dumb yet adorable and the cynic, arrogant mind of a cat being a spot on representation of how felines behave. Perry manages to give each character something to deepen them and he makes the twisted Jerry a likable threat which could be hard to do for others.

The music throughout is wonderfully spirited, songs stride along with the events of the scene in harmony and joyful songs echo the ignorant manner Jerry lives his life in. The song at the end more than makes you realise what a surreal movie this is, I won’t say more than religion and a pink fork lift truck may make for one of the best credit sequences in a long time. Olivier Bernet’s score itself is bubbling away like a troubling cauldron of menace and death, the quick flashes of sound in amongst the quieter moments reflecting the topsy-turvy nature of Jerry as a human being.

It might be a film that could focus more on the serious side of mental patients and the devastating path hearing voices could lead to, it does sort of lighten the topic somewhat, giving the condition laughs more than it should but it’s a film at the end of the day so take it with a pinch of salt and don’t lose your head about it! It does also drift off into a more of a horror tone which doesn’t exactly work, the first half is much better.

Ryan Reynolds stands out as a weirdly sweet individual, his glazed look and near permanent grin speaking volumes when he isn’t speaking. The emotion he can deliver is nice and he can punch out with the scarier shouty side too. It’s assuredly one of his best roles, maybe apart from ‘Buried’ which is amazing. Reynolds also gives voice to the cat and dog with brilliant differing vocals to make them stand out as excellent characters in their own right. Anna Kendrick is not much more than Anna Kendrick but that works for her and her fans so why break tradition? Gemma Arterton plays the UK Reading gal with Brit stiffness in her hot and I know it routine and she’s a meatier character to stick in the fridge and enjoy watching.

A gristly and unusual look at how a human mind can work, laughs and gore fill the plot constantly and it’ll survive the year as one of the weirder more rewarding films to watch.

7.5/10

DVD Special Features:

THE SCAREPRANK – A short but sweet joke about a lady in a fridge scaring the general public. It mirrors the candy fun yet scary side of the main feature but it’s so minimal in time that it hardly warrants the time setting up the prank to place it on the special features.

3/10

PET VOICE RECORDING – Seeing Ryan Reynolds providing the actual voices for ‘The Voices’ is a nice eye opener to watch him do lines multiple times to try and nail the right tone for the sweary cat and the dopey dog. It’s great to know that Reynolds wanted the animals to be his own voice reflecting the mental state of Jerry. His characterisation is enunciated even more through his facial expressions, especially when being Bosco.

6/10

INTERVIEWS – Reynolds leads us into the backstage chats and his talk about the pets are great, the way he wanted the dog to be like a dumb Southern gentlemen and both are like the angel/devil scenario. It’s clear to see that the actor really knew what Jerry was meant to be and how to bring him to life, both sides of his nature…warts and all. Ryan Reynolds is bang on for saying you do feel for Jerry and you can expect the unexpected with this movie.

Gemma Arterton loved the wonderful originality of the script and it’s interesting to hear what the actress liked about the script when reading it. I’ve always like watching the DVD interviews just because it gives us a chance to hear more from the people actually playing the roles we’ve enjoyed watching. See her interview to hear her state what she thinks about the director.

In Anna Kendrick’s segment, it’s evident that the actress was adamant to take part because of Marjane Satrapi directing. The shocking and unusual is what enticed her further. It’s a running trend that they were keen because of how brilliantly absurd this visually striking movie is.

Marjane Satrapi makes it clear that the biggest challenge was making Jerry the killer lovable from start to finish and that is an engaging prospect because an antihero has to be someone to empathise with and she does this fantastically. Her idea of visuals on the line to whether it’s Jerry’s mind or actual reality is interesting to hear. If she carries on making films like this then she can stride forward as a director to watch.

This is a worthy feature with extra comments from producers and the writer.

8/10

Ted 2 (2015)

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Foul and furry as ever, come to life walking teddy bear Ted is back in a more human capacity as he and thunder buddy John swear, get high and travel to New York. In a way this is a better movie than the 2012, it’s a got a more interesting scope and there are funnier sequences involved in the madness of unsurprising dumb frat boy humour.

John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), now divorced is still best buds with cursing smoking Ted (Seth MacFarlane) who marries Boston lass Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth). Though as they try and adopt Ted realises he’s being followed up as a non human, property and therefore his marriage will be void and his life will change. The thunder buddies and novice lawyer Samantha (Amanda Seyfried) fight the courts to try and prove that Ted is capable of human traits.

The story by MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild could have been dull and though it’s more of the same in terms of certain events, i.e the threat of Donny, they utilise on a grander more emotional pull of court justice and humanity. Amongst the often crap humour the trio of writers bring in that weighty theme of civil rights and apply it to a bear, which actually works. It’s an interesting step up to see where else they could have taken Ted and this was probably the best route.

Fight through the bong bombardment and other kindergarten comedy and you will find some humourous moments. The comedy improv scene is brilliant for just being so black in comedy, the cutaway of lipstick wearing Ted calling out for sexual acts reminds of the typical Family Guy style and John failing to cope with Samantha’s dope is damn funny, I don’t know why but Wahlberg sells the scenes as he clings to walls scared to walk home. On the whole, the film has nothing laugh out loud about it and I probably smiled or chuckled less than ten times, but for that audience of teens it will no doubt suffice.

Classier than the rest of the film, MacFarlane clearly jumps on his passion for swing and jazz to give the sequel an opening title of gloss and black tie pizzazz. Ted dances around showgirls and tux wearing gentlemen in a stylish number accompanied by a swelling orchestra. Generally, the film is fantastic for the music, either by Walter Murphy’s score which gives the movie a better sound or excerpts of tracks from songs and movies that play on comedy. The best of which is John William’s ‘Jurassic Park’ theme over the sight of a huge field of weed.

The film can be quite often predictable and apart from a few ideas that spark comedy of cleverness, it’s a dry repeat of what we’ve seen before just with courtroom drama thrown in. Though I may have to say that Liam Neeson wanting to buy cereal is one of the best scenes I’ve watched in a long time and Ted with John shouting law type lingo from the trailer is great. The New York comic con section is also well done in terms of being the big finisher for the plot to prove Ted’s worth.

Mark Wahlberg is a much better comedic actor than his serious stuff, in my opinion. There’s something about him where you can tell he’s having fun and so you do also. Amanda Seyfried is a funky addition, being a great similarity for John’s behaviour, her thread of not knowing popular culture is well delivered and she’s what helps the court scenes have more punch as she seriously speaks about history of justice. Seth MacFarlane voices Ted with the usual profanity and quick wit. Morgan Freeman on a voice you want to sleep on a bed of, does Morgan Freeman as the way to wrap up the film and sound informed.

Moronic and firing offensive jokes left right and centre can get tiring but if you loved or even liked Ted, than this film will be right up your street. It’s got a better story running through it and with a few well structured comedic moments, this 2015 sequel isn’t actually horrendous, I enjoyed it, laughed and would watch it again.

6.5/10