Ted, Seth MacFarlane, 106 mins (15)
The Flowers of War, Zhang Yimou, 146 mins (15)
A Simple Life, Ann Hui, 119 mins (PG)

If you go down to the flicks today ... you'll see a man and his teddy struggling for laughs in a tale suffering arrested development

Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy and various other post-Simpsons cartoons, has hit upon a corker of a premise for his debut film, Ted. It starts with a lonely boy wishing that his teddy bear would come to life. Twenty-seven years later, the boy has grown up to be a man (Mark Wahlberg) with a job and a girlfriend and a serious marijuana habit – but he's still living with a talking stuffed animal, now computer-generated and voiced by MacFarlane.

It takes about 10 minutes to get to this point in the film, and already it doesn't make sense. Why, for instance, would an eight-year-old boy wish for a magical teddy bear rather than a magical Optimus Prime? And how does a drug-addled couch potato manage to maintain Wahlberg's movie-star biceps? Even in a comedy about a sentient soft toy, that's stretching credibility. But to ask any of these questions is to put more thought into the film than MacFarlane has. Having dreamt up his excellent premise, it's criminal how little he does with it.

Ted is basically a very familiar comedy (see also Shaun of the Dead, Knocked Up, etc) about a man-child who has to clean up his act to win back his insanely patient girlfriend, Mila Kunis. In this instance, cleaning up his act means installing his foul-mouthed, dope-smoking flatmate in a place of his own, a task so insignificant that no one even pretends that it generates any tension. Making the foul-mouthed, dope-smoking flatmate a teddy bear is funny at times – although last year's Simon Pegg comedy, Paul, did much the same thing. What's really perplexing, though, is that up until the chase sequence that finishes the film, it's almost irrelevant that Wahlberg's best buddy is made of polyester. In just one of the screenplay's impossible-to-accept propositions, everyone in Boston is so used to seeing an enchanted bear that they don't give him a second glance.

And if the story is lazy, the jokes are even lazier. MacFarlane's humour marries the worst tendencies of Ricky Gervais and Judd Apatow, in that half of his punchlines rely on irony-veiled racism, sexism and homophobia, while the other half are pop culture references, as if mentioning James Bond or TJ Hooker were hilarious in itself. Wahlberg and Kunis make an agreeable couple, but it's hard to understand why no one ripped the stuffing out of the teddy bear a long time ago.

The release of The Flowers Of War is doubly well timed. First of all, it stars Christian Bale, so that anyone who felt that The Dark Knight Rises wasn't quite long enough can watch him for another two and a half hours. And second, it's directed by Zhang Yimou, who, as well as directing Hero and House of Flying Daggers, masterminded the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

Like that ceremony, it's not exactly subtle. It's one of several recent films to be set during "the rape of Nanking" in 1937, when Japanese soldiers reduced much of China's then capital city to rubble, butchering and torturing the populace as they went. One of the few Westerners there is a hard-drinking American opportunist (Bale) in an Indiana Jones fedora, who ends up in a Christian cathedral compound, mainly because he thinks it might contain something worth stealing. But when Japanese troops burst in, he has an incredibly sudden change of heart, disguising himself as a priest in order to shield a dozen convent girls, as well as the dozen courtesans hidden in the basement.

The Flowers of War is the Chinese equivalent of a Steven Spielberg film, horrific in its graphic depictions of death and devastation, but also a sentimental, awards-friendly love story and rousing boys' adventure movie: one sequence has a sharp-shooting Chinese soldier despatching a Japanese platoon singlehandedly. But like most Spielberg films, and that opening ceremony, it's an undeniably effective, skilfully assembled spectacle. And it's always a relief to see the cavalier Bale of Rescue Dawn and The Fighter, rather than the clenched Bale of the Batman films. The two Bales have one thing in common, though: they both shave off their shaggy beards to signal that they're ready for action.

Andy Lau, who starred in House of Flying Daggers, appears in A Simple Life, a film which could hardly be more different from a Zhang epic. It's a quiet, naturalistic drama about a film producer (Lau) and the maid (Deanie Ip) who has served his family in Hong Kong for decades. Most of the family has now emigrated, so Ip is left cleaning Lau's bachelor flat until a stroke puts an end to her working life. Determined not to be a burden on her former employer, she insists on moving into a nursing home – and she insists on staying there, despite its resemblance to the asylum in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. But Lau keeps visiting her, and a heartwarming mother-son intimacy grows between them. Ann Hui's film is a searing account of the indignities of old age, and a moving paean to the companionship that can render those indignities bearable.

Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor