Monday, June 02, 2014

2 Takes On Seth MacFarlane's Newest

I've decided to excuse myself from seeing and reviewing Seth MacFarlane's new comedy Western A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST, simply because, hey, I'm not a fan of the man's brand of comedy. You could probably guess that based on my review of TED

However, I was interested in what a few friends, who are MacFarlane fans, thought of the film, which has gathered mostly negative critical reaction (it's at 34% on Rotten Tomatoes) but is at a respectable #3 placing at the box office.

First up, William Fonvielle, who maintains the fine film blog Filmvielle, posted a review Friday. Here's the first half of it:

Seth MacFarlane specializes in Whitman's Samplers of comedy. Keep digging, and sooner or later you'll find a joke you enjoy. Unfortunately, in the case of A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST, he plays to an audience of mostly diabetics.

Hot off his smash 2012 directorial debut TED, A MILLION WAYS sports all the makings of a passion project for MacFarlane - the sort of sprawling, big budget comedy he can make after earning so much money directly out of the gate. Why else cast himself as the leading man, in addition to directing and co-writing, after a 15 year career spent largely behind the scenes?

Because he can, that's why. Not to knock the guy. That he took this long to step in front of the camera, after spending much of his 30s doing everything else, shows impressive restraint. And he needn't have worried anyway. As a movie star, he brings a completely nonthreatening presence. He doesn't spin gold, but he doesn't embarrass himself either. The same sort of effortless charm you'd expect this deep in a career whose success is rather remarkable considering how many comedy fans fantasize about his head on a stick.

His entire career is really an exercise in conundrums. Does he want to be an old school ENTERTAINER, telling consciously lame one-liners and crooning the standards with utmost sincerity? Does he want to swim in the shallow wading pool of shit and dick jokes? Or possibly be the savior of intellectualism in modern America, blending low and high comedy with aplomb (anyone who's caught him on Real Time With Bill Maher knows he ain't no slouch, brains-wise)?

Such questions extend to A MILLION WAYS. It's a movie that can't decide quite what it wants to be, so it decides to be nothing. As said, MacFarlane stars as Albert, a cowardly sheep farmer in an upstart 1882 Arizona town whose girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried in a nothing role that exists purely to spark conflict) leaves him after he backs out of a duel. 

Soon she's in the arms of another man, local mustachioed gentleman Foy (Neil Patrick Harris, twirling his ‘stache to utmost evil glee), leaving a distraught Albert to wallow in the misery that is the Old West. All until the mysterious and beautiful Anna (Charlize Theron). She's beautiful. She's an expert gunslinger. She also falls for MacFarlane, because MarFarlane made the movie.

Read the rest of William's review, in which he quips that the film boasts all the laser focus of a visually impaired child set loose in the bumper cars for the first time, at Filmvielle.

Secondly, Kevin Brewer, whose podcast postmodcast I've guested on (listen to the latest one here) saw the movie over the weekend and emailed me his thoughts:

“Seth MacFarlane is a divisive pop culture figure, both an undeniable talent and the leading purveyor of fart jokes.

MacFarlane has produced five television series for Fox: one brilliant animated series, two knockoffs of that one, one unwatchable live action sitcom and Cosmos, the critically acclaimed space documentary with Neil deGrasse Tyson. 

His big band album was nominated for a Grammy. He hosted the Oscars. He directed TED and wrote the lyrics for its best song nominee, ‘Everybody Needs a Best Friend.’

A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST, MacFarlane’s new satire of 1960s Westerns and their macho bullshit, is more ambitious than TED and more coherent than Family Guy. It is often hilarious. It mostly works. It is, of course, excessively scatological.

Along with writing (with Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild), directing and producing, MacFarlane also stars as cowardly sheep farmer Albert Stark in Arizona in 1882 - ‘a terrible place in time’ -probably because he can’t help himself. He is the bastard son of Mel Brooks (BLAZING SADDLES), making out with Charlize Theron. He is also quite likeable, probably because he looks like grown-up Peter Brady.

There are fart, piss and cum jokes, because, you know, Seth MacFarlane. There is also a carnival game with runaway slaves as the punchline. In the middle of all of that, there is a dance number and fancy score (by Joel McNeely) that proves MacFarlane is capable of much more.

The fact that MacFarlane talked Theron (laughing at all of his jokes), Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried and Neil Patrick Harris (with graphic diarrhea) into this thing is half the fun. Theron makes fun of Seyfried’s big doe-y eyes, which takes balls, because those peepers are two of the most adorable things in Hollywood.
If it matters, Theron dumps boyfriend Neeson, and Seyfriend dumps boyfriend MacFarlane. Seyfried finds Harris, and MacFarlane finds Theron, which pisses off Neeson. Wes Studi, long-suffering Native American supporting character of Westerns, provides spiritual guidance and a drug-induced trip to MacFarlance’s character. Neither MacFarlane nor Brooks have given Indians any revenge for their genocide. Neither has Tarantino.

Sarah Silverman (who else) provides vaginal humor. She is a prolific prostitute who has never had sex with boyfriend Giovanni Ribisi. She is no Madeline Kahn. There are four winning cameos, including one by an Academy Award winner that avenges the earlier goof on slavery. They might be the smartest bits in the movie.”

Sure looks like Kevin liked the film a lot more than William. Does anyone else out there want to speak up?

More later...

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