Ted: Season 1

STREAMING REVIEW:

Peacock;
Comedy;
Not rated;
Stars Seth MacFarlane, Max Burkholder, Alanna Ubach, Scott Grimes, Giorgia Whigham, Penny Johnson Jerald, Ian McKellen.

Seth MacFarlane’s 2012 film Ted introduced the world to the foul-mouthed teddy bear of the title, a CGI character voiced by MacFarlane himself.

The premise involved a child named John Bennett who is so desperate for a best friend he wishes the toy would come to life, but the film’s story centered mostly on John and Ted’s relationship as adults 30 years later. Their raunchy exploits would continue in a 2015 sequel, but its lackluster box office performance didn’t yield much hope for further adventures.

The seven-episode “Ted” series serves as a prequel to the films, taking place after the 10-minute prologue of the first film that shows Ted coming to life and achieving a bit of instant fame due to being a magical living teddy bear.

Set in 1993, the show features MacFarlane reprising his role as the voice of Ted, with Max Burkholder as 16-year-old John, the character played as an adult by Mark Wahlberg in the films. The series depicts Ted’s life with the Bennett family following his celebrity days, as he’s forced to join John in attending high school.

The show has some fun depicting the origins of some hallmarks of the John/Ted friendship from the movies, such as their introduction to smoking weed. Ted is as foul-mouthed as ever, with the show’s setting providing plenty of fodder for 1990s pop culture references.

However, the presence of Ted is a bit of a red herring for what seems to be MacFarlane’s true intention for the series, which is to make an “All in the Family”-style family sitcom in which John’s conservative parents (who have been reinvented a bit for the show compared to their brief portrayal in the movies), constantly butt heads with John’s politically correct cousin Blaire (Giorgia Whigham). While this formula has served MacFarlane well on “Family Guy” as an equal opportunity offender, the shtick starts to wear thin on “Ted” when the jokes mostly involve John’s blowhard caricature of a father (Scott Grimes) earning sincerely indignant responses from Blaire at every turn, as if in MacFarlane’s world the progressive college student must be correct by default despite the lack of life experience. At least on “Family Guy” all sides would get their comeuppance once in a while.

The other big drawback to the show is that the episodes are unusually long for a comedy series. Rather than the typical 20-30 minute sitcom episode length, most episodes of “Ted” are about twice that, and more is not often merrier. The cinematic pacing doesn’t make for a very tight comedic experience, and some gags take so long to pay off it’s easy to forget you’re still watching the same episode in which they were set up earlier.

Still, the show is quite effective when it manages to focus on the strengths of its premise — Ted’s hilarious conversations with John about random observations and pop culture appreciation — and should satisfy anyone who enjoys MacFarlane’s brand of humor. Some of the best moments involve the real-world and religious implications of Ted being alive to begin with, leading to the show’s best moment conceptually when John’s dad decides to make a little wish of his own.

Oppenheimer

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Universal;
Drama;
Box Office $325.37 million;
$34.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, $49.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for some sexuality, nudity and language.
Stars Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett, Casey Affleck, Rami Malek, Kenneth Branagh, Benny Safdie, Jason Clarke, Dylan Arnold, Tom Conti, James D’Arcy, David Dastmalchian, Dane DeHaan, Alden Ehrenreich, Tony Goldwyn, Jefferson Hall, David Krumholtz, Matthew Modine, Scott Grimes, Jack Quaid, Christopher Denham, Olivia Thirlby, Gary Oldman.

Director Christopher Nolan’s meticulously crafted Oppenheimer is a bit of a throwback to the kinds of epics stocked with all-star casts Hollywood used to pump out in the 1950s and ’60s.

Yet this biopic of J. Robert Oppenheimer, labeled by history as the “father of the atomic bomb,” is also distinctly Nolan, marked by his penchant for nonlinear storytelling and pushing the boundaries of traditional filmmaking. It’s a testament to Nolan’s skill as a director that he’s able to craft a riveting character drama from what is essentially three hours of people just talking to each other.

Based on the book American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, Oppenheimer frames the story of its title subject through the proceedings of two political hearings. One, set in 1954, finds Oppenheimer (longtime Nolan collaborator Cillian Murphy) attempting to restore his security clearance in the face of efforts to silence him from influencing nuclear policy. The other, set in 1959, focuses on the Senate confirmation hearing of Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.), a former member of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission who sheds light on Oppenheimer’s ouster.

Nolan uses similar points of discussion from the testimony given at both events to explore Oppenheimer’s life through flashbacks depicting the young scientist’s study of physics in Europe and his efforts to expand the field of quantum mechanics research in the United States.

Oppenheimer is poised to pioneer the study of black holes when World War II breaks out, and he is recruited by Gen. Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) to head the Manhattan Project to create an atomic bomb before Nazi Germany.

Scenes stemming from Strauss’ point of view are presented in black and white and meant to convey a more objective reality, while scenes in color represent Oppenheimer’s perspective and a more subjective interpretation of events.

The highlight of the three-hour film is obviously the middle section depicting the creation of the atomic bomb, with Oppenheimer and Groves bringing many of America’s top minds to a makeshift town in the New Mexico desert in order to turn theory into reality, culminating in the Trinity test.

Oppenheimer, however, is constantly dogged by earlier associations with left-wing causes, and friendships with a number of Communist Party members and Soviet sympathizers, that will ultimately be used as a sledgehammer against him.

Nolan in the Blu-ray bonus features describes the film’s structure as moving from the beginning of the hero’s journey, to a heist movie (the recruiting of a team for a caper of sorts), to a courtroom drama.

Through Murphy’s transformative performance, Oppenheimer comes to life as a man constantly struggling to balance the accolades of his historic achievements with the moral weight of their implications.

The last hour of the film depicts this sort of tug-of-war between America’s efforts to maintain nuclear superiority in the face of Russia developing the technology, and Oppenheimer’s desire to pursue international policies to contain the genie he helped escape from the bottle.

Nolan famously shot the film using large-format Imax cameras, and the results are evident in a pristine 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray presentation. The 4K and Blu-ray disc versions of the film take advantage of this with a variable aspect ratio that shifts between a letterboxed 2.20:1 image and an immersive 1.78:1 that occupies the entirety of a big-screen TV. The DVD and digital presentations are locked at a consistent 2.20:1 ratio.

Sound is booming but dialogue is easy to understand despite most scenes taking place in a conversational tone.

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The 4K and Blu-ray combo packs include a bonus disc containing nearly three-and-a-half hours of supplemental material, led by the seven-part “The Story of Our Time: The Making of Oppenheimer” behind-the-scenes documentary.

Clocking in at more than 72 minutes, the program offers a comprehensive look at the making of the film and the exquisite level of detail employed by Nolan in re-creating the period settings, for the most part. Of note, the set of Oppenheimer’s office includes the actual clock he had in his real office, and scenes taking place at the Oppenheimers’ home were filmed at their actual house in Los Alamos. Nolan was also keen on using practical in-camera effects as opposed to CGI, which lends to the film’s air of authenticity.

The seven featurettes are also available with digital copies of the film. The remaining extras are exclusive to the Blu-ray.

The eight-minute “Innovations in Film” focuses on the use of 65mm to shoot the picture, delving into the cinematography and editing challenges presented. Of note, the production had to invent black-and-white 65mm film stock to achieve the film’s visual style. There’s also a segment on how the film was prepared for digital projection and home video, with the digital version of the film being carefully rendered to match the look and feel of the 70mm Imax presentation.

For some comparisons of the different presentation styles of the film, there’s a full package of the film’s trailers, including an Imax trailer that displays footage from the film in the square Imax ratio, plus the five-minute promo video that played during the early summer. The footage in these trailers isn’t as refined as the film presentation, which demonstrates how much care went into making the film look the best it can be.

A 35-minute “Meet the Press” episode features a Q&A from July 15, 2023, featuring Nolan, author Bird, physicist and Nolan science advisor Dr. Kip Thorne, current Los Alamos director Dr. Thom Mason, and physicist Dr. Carlo Rovelli. It’s an interesting discussion about the relationship between science and policy, and includes some tidbits about how Nolan the screenwriter went a bit deeper than the book in depicting the Strauss confirmation hearing by digging up the actual transcripts.

Rounding out the extras is the hour-and-a-half To End All War: Oppenheimer & the Atomic Bomb, a great biographical documentary about the real Oppenheimer that gives a better context to the events depicted in the film. Seeing the copious footage of the soft-spoken Oppenheimer — he comes across as a bit of a professorial Mr. Rogers — really crystalizes how much Murphy was able to embody him in his performance. This is the kind of bonus feature more movies about real events should include on home video but just don’t anymore.

The Orville: New Horizons

STREAMING REVIEW:

Hulu/Disney+;
Sci-Fi;
Not rated.
Stars Seth MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, Penny Johnson Jerald, Scott Grimes, Peter Macon, J. Lee, Mark Jackson, Jessica Szohr, Anne Winters.

For its third season, Seth MacFarlane’s sci-fi series ‘The Orville’ moved to Hulu, where it gained a bigger budget and a lot more creative freedom.

However, the series manages to retain its charm despite some flashier visual effects and an expanded scope. That’s because the core of the show continues to be its likable main characters and their camaraderie.

The show takes place in the early 25th century and follows the adventures of the U.S.S. Orville, an exploratory vessel of the Planetary Union.

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With the series’ second season having concluded on Fox in April 2019, fans had to wait more than three years before the new episodes finally arrived in early June under the “New Horizons” banner. Much of the delay was due to the pandemic, but the creative team put the time to good use updating the show’s sets and costumes for a 4K presentation. Even the show’s aspect ratio was slightly adjusted to give it more of a cinematic widescreen feel.

Rest assured, this isn’t a reboot by any means. Ongoing storylines pick up where they left off, with the first episode dealing with the continuing threat of the Kaylon, the race of robots who have vowed to wipe out all biological species in the galaxy, and how the crew continues to resent Isaac (Mark Jackson), the Kaylon crewmember who initially betrayed the Union before turning on his people and being given a chance to continue to serve on the ship for a shot at redemption.

To that end, the show introduces a new character, Ensign Charly Burke (Anne Winters), the ship’s new navigator who hates Isaac because her previous ship was destroyed by the Kaylon.

The series continues to operate out of the “Star Trek” playbook, which is to say mixing space opera with a dose of social commentary that sparks discussion without being preachy (which is more than can be said about “Star Trek” nowadays).

The show’s visual style continues to mesh modern CG effects with an aesthetic that is more-or-less evocative of ’50s sci-fi serials. Perhaps the biggest shift in the switch to Hulu is that the series, often accused of being a “Trek” parody, has toned down its overt humor to shed some of that reputation. The biggest drawback to this approach was that the humor made it easier to overlook some questionable plot points (or outright plot holes) that would seem more egregious if the presentation was meant as serious drama. Still, the emotional authenticity of the character dynamics and tightly constructed season-long story arcs end up making this a minor quibble.

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The transition to streaming also brings with it much longer episodes than a conventional broadcast format. Instead of typical 42-minute episodes, most of “New Horizons” episodes are over an hour each, which a couple that are long enough to be the equivalent of two-parters had they been broadcast. So while the season is nominally 10 episodes long, from the consideration of runtime it’s more like 14 or 15, around what the first two seasons were.

One of the planned episodes ended up not being filmed due to the pandemic, so MacFarlane adapted it into a digital novella, Sympathy for the Devil, that is available through Audible and other online retailers.

Another highlight is the show’s music, where the score is big and cinematic, paying homage to the likes of Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner and John Williams. But the show also finds plenty of excuses to get its cast to sing, particularly Scott Grimes. There’s also a surprise performance by a special guest star whose appearance proves just how outside the box this show can get.

Following the completion of “New Horizons” on Hulu, all three seasons became available to stream on Disney+ as well. Here’s hoping “The Orville” gets renewed for season four.