With “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” Seth MacFarlane blissfully (and frustratingly) stays right in his comfort zone

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Scarcely a scene goes by in Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West without some joke related to the baser functions of the human body. Some are fairly simple—the passing of gas here is, of course, inherently funny—while others are far more elaborate. The most notable may be an extended bit of physical comedy on the part of Neil Patrick Harris, who takes a lowest-common-denominator gag involving the rather dramatic effects of laxatives and sells it harder than Daniel Day-Lewis could ever imagine. As far as gross-out jokes go, it’s an effective one—so much so that many audience members at my screening, myself included, literally gagged at what was being implied—but its impact might have been even greater had MacFarlane showed a bit more tact leading up to this poop de grâce. There’s something admirable and almost charming about a film so unpretentiously determined to live in the gutter, even though its effects can ultimately be numbing. Continue reading

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Viewing Diary (5/26/14)

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This week’s Viewing Diary is a fairly simple one, thanks to the holiday weekend. The only new release discussed is X-Men: Days of Future Past, and as for the old stuff you can find brief reactions to the original Godzilla (or Gojira) from 1954, and the Italian road comedy Il Sorpasso. Stay tuned to the blog this week for a full review of Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West, as well as the first installment of the Summer of Cruise, which will focus on early films such as Risky Business and Top Gun.

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Introducing: The Summer of Cruise

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Those of you who followed my previous blog may recall that I spent two summers writing about the work of two of my favorite directors: Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. (Not to go out on a limb or anything.) The former project didn’t pan out as much as I had hoped, but with the so-called “Summer of Spielberg” I was able to successfully navigate the entirety of his considerable oeuvre. This summer, I have decided to bring it back, only I won’t be talking about a director. I will be discussing one of the biggest movie stars in history: Thomas Cruise Mapother IV. This won’t be a comprehensive project that covers every film he’s done, but instead I will focus on many of the most important movies of his career: both the highs and lows. Continue reading

Viewing Diary (5/19/14)

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Nothing but new releases in the ol’ Viewing Diary this week, as I discuss a busy week featuring Godzilla, The Disney sports film Million Dollar Arm, Jon Favreau’s Chef and an early look at Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West. If you’re aching for older movies, fear not! Next week’s diary will feature not one, but two black and white films! Try to contain your excit– wait, come back! Continue reading

Look upon “Godzilla,” ye mighty, and despair

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One of the great challenges in making a film like Godzilla is what to do with the human characters, and it’s an issue that’s inspired much debate in the last couple weeks. Ultimately, a $160 million film about a giant lizard monster is almost always going to spend far more time killing thousands of CGI humans than it will making us care about the motivations and emotions of our protagonists. As useless and troublesome as they may be, the humans are there to provide audiences with a way in to the action, and the best blockbusters use this concept to their advantage. I would argue this new Godzilla is one such film, and in many ways it approaches its subject matter in a similar fashion to what you see in Spielberg films like Jurassic ParkClose Encounters of the Third Kind and War of the Worlds. Spielberg is a master at making audiences feel as though they are experiencing these extraordinary events right alongside the human characters, thus creating the illusion of shared experience and a genuine sense of wonder. The characters in many of his blockbusters are no more fascinating than those in Godzilla, but he exploits their ability to be the “portal” audiences use to enter the world. Continue reading

How I learned to stop worrying and love Wes Anderson

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The story of my relationship with the films of Wes Anderson begins, more or less, when I first started to seriously get into movies. I had always enjoyed them, of course, but sometime in high school it became more of an obsession. This was when I realized all the things that movies could actually accomplish, and around that time I also got into violent, edgy movies, like your typical horrible teenage male. For a while there, I was all about the dark, gritty stuff, and perhaps as a side effect my brain decided to reject the work of Wes Anderson. I developed an irrational hatred of all things twee, and while it might be extreme to say I hated Wes Anderson, I more or less wrote him off as something I was never going to identify with. Continue reading

“24” returns, still wants to know who you are working for

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For a show that has only been off the air a few years, 24 hasn’t aged particularly well in the minds of television viewers. Somewhat unintentionally, it turned out to be the perfect series for a nation in the midst of a War on Terror, but in the years since its end it seems to have faded into a distant memory. 24 left a considerable impact on the television landscape, and it influenced many of the series that came in its wake, but if you were to ask anyone now their favorite show of the last decade, my bet is very few will answer with this show. However, when it was on the air, 24 was massively popular, and it holds a place in my heart as one of the first so-called “grown up” shows I ever watched religiously. Starting around season four, I would sit down and watch as Jack Bauer and his CTU associates shouted and shot their way through another terrorist plot. At its best, there were few shows as unrelentingly tense as 24. Continue reading

Viewing Diary (5/5/14)

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This week we’ve got a slightly smaller Viewing Diary, with the only two new releases being The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and a third viewing of The Grand Budapest Hotel. Those entries will be shorter than usual, since I wrote about the former yesterday and I plan to post something Wes Anderson related later this week or next. I was able to take a look at two classic films this week, with a second viewing of the Coen brothers’ first film, and my belated introduction to Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde. Continue reading

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is a dumb, unholy mess of a movie, but at least it’s its own mess

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I hated 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man with every ounce of my being, and it’s not necessarily because the movie was all that terrible. It just felt like a waste of time for all involved; a cynical exercise that rehashed an origin story we had seen play out 10 years before, only with a tenth of the personality. There’s nothing wrong with making a Spider-Man movie with a new cast, but rebooting a franchise barely a decade old, and this blandly, was a dumb and dispiriting move all around. With the exception of Casino Royale, the Bond series never felt the need to start over whenever the actor was changed. It just kept on trucking and let each performer make the role their own thing. That’s what The Amazing Spider-Man should have done, and didn’t do. The sequel, at the very least, turns things a bit more in that direction. That doesn’t mean it’s any good, but at the very least it seems to be going for something. Any ambition at all is an improvement over its predecessor. Continue reading