A week after X-Men: Days of Future Past, otherwise known as the summer movie to beat, we have a western-comedy going against a big studio fairy tale. Seth McFarlane makes his lead role debut in A Million Ways to Die in the West. It goes against the alternative take on Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent. Let’s see how this all shakes out.
A Million Ways to Die in the West
After taking over Sunday night at Fox with Family Guy, American Dad, The Cleveland Show and Cosmos, there is only one format left for Seth McFarlane to conquer – the movies. In 2012, he directed and wrote Ted. It told the story of a man and his sentient stuffed bear, which also happens to be a massive pervert. Ted was one long episode of Family Guy that was able to go beyond the restraints of taste and shame. So, when I heard McFarlane was personally headlining his next movie, you can imagine how thrilled I was.
A Million Ways to Die in the West follows McFarlane playing himself (basically) as a sheep farmer that just gets his heart broken by his girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried). She has moved on to the pompous, mustachioed Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). Meanwhile, the deadly outlaw, Clinch (Liam Neeson), leaves his wife Anna (Charlize Theron) in town while he’s off on a heist. The rest of the movie consists of Charlize Theron teaching McFarlane to be a man and survive duels.
I went into this movie expecting a litany of pop culture references ala Family Guy. I even brought a sheet of paper to mark off every reference. I surprisingly found very few. Then Million Ways started getting repetitive in other ways. After a handful of fart jokes and pratfalls, you start to take notice.
For those taking count (me) here are the results:
Flatulence or Diarrhea: 9
Sheep Anatomy: 2
Somewhere inside of me is the teenager who devoured every joke of the first two Austin Powers movies. However, nearly 20 years later, I’ve grown. Not by much, but it’s happened.
A Million Ways to Die in the West is surprisingly not as vulgar (sexually) as I expected it to be. Without the excessive language it could have easily earned a PG-13 rating. Instead of being a crass comedy, it’s just low-brow humor meant to tickle the funny bone(s) of 14 year olds and stoners. That’s not to say that it’s without humor. If you throw a handful of jokes at the wall, one is bound to stick. Half of the funny lines relate to how naively racist everyone in the Old West is. Somehow, in this nearly two-hour movie, I laughed four times.
The obvious weak link in Million Ways is that McFarlane cast himself as the lead. He has these dark, soulless eyes. Like doll’s eyes… Basically, he sucks the air out of every scene. His character is just “too smart” for the old west. It’s almost as if he traveled back in time just so he could comment at how crappy everything is in the 1880s. The time travel aspect would have made more sense for his character. Instead, we are just given a smug sheep farmer who is clearly better than his situation. This movie would have doubled in quality if McFarlane had cast someone likable. An actor like Jon Krasinski could have salvaged this movie. It’s a shame that McFarlane was such a black hole, because Theron’s performance is enjoyable.
There’s an actual good movie to be found somewhere in A Million Ways to Die in the West. McFarlane shows a knowledge of the Western genre. He knows how to capture the sweeping landscapes and feel of the small town west. It makes me hope that McFarlane gives up comedy for at least one movie and makes an actual film. There’s talent there, but he’s aiming it at the lowest common denominator.
You should only see A Million Ways to Die in the West if you laugh at movies that reveal every joke in the trailer or want to see Neil Patrick Harris have explosive diarrhea in a cowboy hat. As far as quality goes, it’s probably a C-, but I couldn’t recommend this to anyone I considered a friend.
Disney’s animated movies have a great pantheon of classic villains. They have Jafar, Captain Hook, Ursula and their best villain, Maleficent. She makes a great villain because she seemingly has no qualms about her evil nature.
The story of Maleficent is meant to give her character more depth and motivation for what happens in Sleeping Beauty. She started out as a winged fairy-child destined to be the protector of the marsh and forest. She finds a human boy, they develop a lasting friendship into her late adolescence and fall in love. Though, in greedy pursuit of the crown, the man betrays Maleficent (in a pretty gruesome way), which then sets her on the path of evil. Years later, she joins in the festivities of Aurora’s birth and gives her the curse of eternal sleep. Well, you know the rest of the story.
This movie tries to convince you that you don’t know the whole story. It attempts to fill in the gaps and show just how misunderstood Maleficent is. That’s just what I wanted from a villain’s backstory, to see how animated history short-changed their persona and behavior (minor sarcasm).
This uneven movie is essentially a collection of scenes compiled together to form some sort of narrative. It’s never quite clear at what it wants to accomplish. Disney must be saving money by using the same graphics and digital environments as Alice in Wonderland and Oz. Instead of adding beauty, the effects and creatures prove to be more of a background distraction than contributing to the story.
After Aurora is cursed, her father King Stefan sends her to be raised by the red, green and blue fairies to keep her safe for over 16 years. The fairies are meant to provide humor through bumbling physical comedy, but come off as the Three Stooges (and not classic Stooges, the 2012 version). The movie loses all steam as Maleficent is seen (in a montage) prowling outisde the house as Aurora grows up. Don’t worry, she plays pranks on the fairies for the better part of 16 years, so she’s still evil right?
Disney has neutered Maleficent. She is no longer menacing and intimidating, instead she is just a scorned fairy that doesn’t believe in true love anymore.
The side characters have nothing to do. Elle Fanning just walks around smiling the entire movie. She seems to be on heavy medication. Just as one-dimensional is Sharlto Copley’s King Stefan. There may be a reason that Stefan is so mad with power and intent on the destruction of Maleficent, but the script never reveals why.
The role of Maleficent seems tailor-made for Angelina Jolie and she is the best part. She is clearly having fun in the role. It’s too bad there wasn’t better writing giving her anything to do. Sam Riley, playing the raven, is also a highlight. He isn’t given much to do, but his animal form/mannerisms provide the movie’s only smile-worthy moments.
Summer seems like an odd time for this movie to be released. If this had come out in February, it would clean up at the box office. Based on the low quality and being surrounded by better films, it will quickly be forgotten. It’s a sad day when you can’t match the quality of Snow White and the Huntsman.
Maleficent is a missed opportunity. Instead of seeing how good she truly is inside, I wanted to see her dark descent into evil. You may argue that a dark Disney movie wouldn’t sell to kids, but she is only popular because she is a villain. Let her stay that way. I wanted to see the Michael Corleone level of character development, where she would be compelling to watch. Instead, Maleficent is barely watchable. This movie may be worth a dollar when it’s out to rent, but do not see this in the theater.