If there was ever any doubt that the circle of awesome that began with Coraline, Paranorman and The Boxtrolls would be broken, breathe relief. First-time director Travis Knight has led the masterful animators at Laika to victory once more with Kubo and the Two Strings. With the precision and delicacy of a samurai, Knight and his roundtable of figurine tinkerers carved out my heart and left it a fluttering mess, crafting a spellbinding adventure that thrums with wistful soul and spirited poignancy. In an age of skepticism and cynicism, Knight and the Laika wizards prove real alchemy exists. Marrying resplendent visual imagination with potent mature themes, they have made gold. Read More
The Huntsman: Winter’s War suffers from colon-movie spina bifida. Its curvy backbone veers near and far to collect the disparate parts necessary in making this part of a larger cinematic universe. In this case, that universe is Universal Picture’s Snow White, a bleak fairy tale retold with undeniable visual style and largely charmless aplomb in 2012 with an aggressively apathetic Kristen Stewart at the forefront and a scenery-smacking, mean-mugging Chris Hemsworth as her side piece. Putting his considerable beef to good use as the movie’s romantic tine/battle-weary whetting stone to slide K-Stew’s frosty edge against, Hemsworth proved a fleeting flash of joy in an otherwise grim and grimly serious saga. His burly Eric however hardly seemed an intriguing (or popular) enough character to stage a spin-off upon but if The Huntsman is proof of anything, it’s that adding a hefty scoop of Jessica Chastain, a dollop of dwarves and a much more tongue-in-cheek approach to this whole fairy tale thing may be just the spoonful of medicine the script doctor called for. Read More
The charge for any movie based upon a popular novel is two-fold. First, they must remain faithful to the source material. You can’t have a writer bandying critical alterations in plot or character, lest they invite the chagrin of a million swarming fanboys, ready with pitchforks and sub-reddit comments. Secondly, they must inject some modicum of vision into the material. To transform a novel into a film without tact or some place of purpose is to present an audience with a run-down of in-book events without much-needed personality or intent. Think James Franco adapting Faulkner or Angelina Jolie taking on “Unbroken”. They failed because they were “adaptations” and nothing more; they changed the medium, but lost the soul. Read More
It has been a long, long time since I’ve put together one of these, but damn is it good to be back. That’s likely what Mad Max: Fury Road director George Miller had on his mind his first day on set for one of the most impressive action films in the past decade. I can only marvel at what Miller has achieved with his latest film, mouth agape and eyes fully dilated. Fury Road was one of the wildest rides I have ever had the honor to take. Read More
Seth McFarlane‘s go-for-broke comic stylings looked to have runs its course when Fox pulled the plug on Family Guy in 2001. But like a zombie on the rise, McFarlane rose from the grave and has gone on to infest America with two spin-offs show (American Dad, The Cleveland Show) and two feature length films, each predicated on crass sight gags, a barrage of cultural references, and poop jokes. Somehow, McFarlane has saved some of his best – and most immature – material for his latest: A Million Ways to Die in the West. It’s a comedy in the crudest sense, a smorgasbord of pee-pee jokes and doo-doo gags. But, damnit, I laughed.
McFarlane’s western comedy – one of the few in a genre that includes Mel Brook‘s love-it-or-hate-it Blazing Saddles and the Chris Farley and Matthew Perry-led Almost Heroes – starts with the most boring credit sequence I can recall in recent history. Skill-less heli-shots of rising Arizona plateaus superimposed with serif-heavy, western-style font declaring a tome of names is almost lifeless enough to snuff out any anticipation for what’s to come. An un-clever throwback to times when “they didn’t know any better,” this out-of-the-gates launch makes for a starting line lull that nearly derails the proceedings before they’ve even begun, and takes a full five minutes to recover from.
With that downtime behind us, we meet Albert (McFarlane) – a man too clever for his own good, cautiously living in the Wild Wild West. He’s quite obviously a man born in the wrong era, a conceit from which McFarlane mines much of his comedy. Albert is far too progressive to thrive in a society that resolves issues with shoot outs, far too sarcastic for a town where bar fights break out over a sour glance, and far too un-moustiacioed to be considered a man in good standing. Plus, he’s a sheep farmer who can’t even keep his sheep in one place so his pockets are more often filled with sand than pennies (or, God forbid, an entire dollar).
Because of his yellow belly ways, lowly social standing, and (presumably) lack of a mustache, his betrothed Louise (the ever-obnoxious Amanda Seyfried) dumps him for the mustache-twirling Foy (a fitfully funny Neil Patrick Harris.) Albert vents to his only friends and loving couple Edward and Ruth (Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman respectively) but realizes his situation might not be so bad considering Ruth is a prominent prostitute and yet has not slept with her long-time boyfriend. After all, they’re both Christians saving themselves for marriage. The comedy of their nontraditional set-up is a well oft drawn from but when it works, it works really well. When it doesn’t, let’s just say someone’s scooping seed off someone else’s face. Ew.
A largely humorless Liam Neeson (who knew he couldn’t be funny?) arrives on the scene as ruthless gun slinger Clinch Leatherwood with wife Anna (Charlize Theron) in tow. When Leatherwood takes off into the sunset (to do lord knows what), Anna befriends down-in-the-dumps Albert and their relationship blossoms into something that resembles a crush, which, you guessed it, causes a bit of an issue when Clinch does ride back into town.
For a movie basically resolving around a single joke – living in the old west sucked – McFarlane is able to mine a good few dozen laughs and reasonably commendable human drama (for what it is at least.) A likable and strangely committed Theron is partly responsible for us feeling any sort of bond with the characters as McFarlane’s Albert is as much a cartoon character as Peter Griffin is. But while Theron grounds us, McFarlane provides comedy in frequent, rapid-fire bursts.
You’d be hard pressed to find anyone arguing that McFarlane’s quality of comedy is anything resembling sophisticated but his quick gag, shotgun style methodology of throwing as much as possible at the wall and seeing what sticks results in an undeniably buffet of giggles. Surely there’s poop jokes mixed in with the more clever one-liners (“Take your hat off boy! Thats a dollar bill!” being the one that made me laugh most) but – as Albert’s shooting skills with attest to – if you fire enough bullets, some of them are bound to hit the target.
That’s not to say however that McFarlane doesn’t occasionally cross the line. His penchant for the occasional racist zinger may land him in a bit of hot water with more liberal-minded audiences but remember this is a movie in which a man fills not one, but two top hats brimming with dookie. Because Seth McFarlane. If you’re not offended, you’re doing something wrong.
As much as I wanted to leave this one with more fodder for my anti-McFarlane campaign, the funnyman titillated my childish side just enough to free the laughs from my hard-worn shell. It’s not necessarily something I’m proud of, but I snickered heartily alongside the (predominantly juvenile) audience members… and fairly often. While A Million Ways to Die in the West may not be a film I actively recommend, it’s one I admit will likely work your funny bone, under the right circumstances.