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Entries in seth macfarlane (2)

Friday
May302014

A Million Ways to Die in the West

There’s a moment in Seth MacFarlane’s previous film, “Ted,” where Ted the bear makes a joke, which is then told again by another character in a slightly different way. Ted then remarks in a condescending manner that the character did nothing more but repackage his own joke and deliver it again. It was an ironic moment because MacFarlane, for all of his perceived edginess, has been doing that for years. Despite a setting that, in a more flexible comedian’s hands, should prevent the same old gags from reoccurring, his latest, “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” manages to include more of the redundant, played out humor he’s known for in a shoddy looking movie with a poor story and jokes that are intended to shock or offend rather than amuse. While I’m sure fans will find something to appreciate, I personally found this to be the worst comedy since Adam Sandler’s “Grown Ups 2” and easily one of the worst of the year.

The thin plot follows Albert (MacFarlane), a lowly sheep farmer in 1882 Arizona. His girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried), has just broken up with him and he’s lost without her. In an effort to win her back, he befriends a pretty woman named Anna (Charlize Theron), who agrees to pose as his new girlfriend and teach him the skills he needs to impress her. What Albert doesn’t know is that Anna is actually the wife of the most famous outlaw in the West, Clinch (Liam Neeson), and if he finds out what Albert is doing with Anna, he’s a-gonna be lookin’ for revenge.

“A Million Ways to Die in the West” starts promisingly enough. Similar to a film from the heyday of the Western genre, the credits play before the movie starts, complete with a stylized font, while sweeping shots of the majestic Western lands and a musical composition befitting of the genre set the stage for your senses. Unfortunately, any hopes for intelligent genre parody, or even homage, are dashed shortly after, the bulk of the film’s jokes coming from a mindset that believes merely hearing modern phrases and curse words in the context of the old West is somehow funny. When the first joke is meant to instill giggles in the 13 year olds in the audience who still think merely hearing a curse word is funny, you naturally assume “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is likely to put forth a minimum amount of effort.

And such assumptions aren’t only justified; they’re proven to be correct. As the film goes on, it repeatedly sinks to the lowest common denominator, relying once again on the most puerile jokes imaginable. To put things into perspective, a penis joke, gay joke and racist joke all appear within the first minute of Albert’s introduction, and the rest of the film never rises above it. Take, for instance, the recurring jokes about a Christian prostitute “saving” herself for marriage, which aren’t funny the first two or three times, much less the 14th or 15th times when the film still hasn’t let it go by the end of its overly long and exhausting two hour runtime. At one point, a periphery character makes a lousy joke and Albert turns toward the camera and asks why anyone would think what is being said is funny, the irony being that I had been asking myself the same thing the entire movie, as nothing that comes before it (or after) is any better.

If one relief comes from this film, it’s that there isn’t a 9/11 joke, a strange fixation MacFarlane has, what with it appearing in both “Ted” and countless episodes of “Family Guy.” One could argue the exclusion is due to the time period the film is set in, but such is not the case, particularly when he makes references to other films with non-sequiturs that differentiate themselves from MacFarlane’s television endeavors only in that there are no cutaways; they are instead just stumbled upon.

What it all boils down to is that “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is lazy. Its jokes are obvious, like when it unamusingly points out that a single dollar was a lot of money back then, and many of them are in poor taste, like when Albert and Anna go to the “Runaway Slave” shooting booth at the town fair. There are a handful of deserving chuckles, usually when the film actually makes an attempt to parody the times, but those moments are few and far between and certainly aren’t plentiful enough to justify sitting through this bloated and meandering comedic disaster.

A Million Ways to Die in the West receives 0.5/5

Friday
Jun292012

Ted

I wanted to start this review by saying that expectations were high for Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane’s first feature length film, Ted, but let’s face it. Being a fan of that show (especially after its return from cancellation when it devolved from cheerful subversion into intentional offensiveness) means already having such low expectations, it would be impossible to not exceed them. Ted thankfully manages to build some heart amidst its inanity, which is something Family Guy has never done in its 13 year existence, but its comedy is still well within MacFarlane’s comfort zone. He fails to branch out like he should, making Ted one of the most redundant comedies to come out in quite some time.

The movie begins in Boston in the mid-80’s. A young John Bennett (Bretton Manley) goes about his days friendless and lonely until one Christmas morning his parents give him a stuffed teddy bear. That bear eventually becomes his best friend and one night he wishes that he would come to life so they could be best friends forever. A voice over narration provided by the always wonderful Patrick Stewart explains that there is nothing more powerful than a child’s wish (except for an Apache helicopter, of course) and the next morning, the bear springs to life. He becomes an overnight celebrity, but never forgets his friend John. Now John (Mark Wahlberg) is all grown up and he and his bear, whom he named Ted (MacFarlane), live together with his girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis). Lori is becoming tired of being the third wheel in their bro-mance, however, and things begin to change, much to the chagrin of the two friends.

There’s a joke fairly early on in Ted where Ted makes a joke, then Lori makes essentially the same joke in a different manner. Ted then condescendingly remarks on how Lori basically just took his joke and then repackaged it. It’s an ironic moment because MacFarlane has been doing that for years. The same handful jokes have been played over and over and over again in Family Guy and his lack of comedic flexibility pours over into Ted, to the point where at least one of the characters in the movie is nothing more than a live action version of someone from his show. Aside from the greater freedom provided by the film format in regards to content and the language used, this is simply more of the same from MacFarlane, including copious amounts of out-of-date or obscure pop culture references to things like Diff’rent Strokes, Top Gun, Saturday Night Fever, the Pink Floyd song, “Another Brick in the Wall,” and even Flash Gordon, the latter of which plays from nearly the first frame to the very last.

But it’s not just the pop culture references that are played out. MacFarlane, being the outspoken atheist he is, makes quite a few religious jokes, at least two in the first few minutes, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing had he not already beat us over the head with his beliefs in his television shows. Similarly, the film makes multiple references to 9/11, another strange obsession MacFarlane has joked about far too many times before, and it’s just not funny, not because it’s offensive, but because it’s unnecessary. One must praise him for his political incorrectness in a world that stresses the importance of the opposite, but you can’t help but feel like he says these things solely because he knows they’re controversial, hoping the audience will mistake forced controversy for humor.

It’s such a sad state of affairs because MacFarlane is a gifted voice actor, even if his style of comedy has run its course. He delivers his lines with spot-on comedic timing and an enthusiasm that few match. Put him in an animated movie written by someone who has comedic range beyond controversial topics and bodily function jokes and he’ll amaze like none other.

Because it spends so much time on pop culture references and jokes about defecating on a hardwood floor, Ted barely manages to muster up much of a story and the character relationships are thin, the little bit of its aforementioned heart coming more from childhood memories over the loss of a loved toy than from the movie itself. That’s not to say those references aren’t occasionally amusing (and if there was ever a movie that delivered a poop joke as well as one possibly could, it’s this one), but Ted is hardly breaking new ground. This is the same old same old we’ve grown accustomed to through the many years of Family Guy’s existence. Of course, if you’re still a fan of that show, I imagine you’ll find Ted hilarious. As for me, though, I wanted something more than what I’ve seen nearly 200 times already on television.

Ted receives 2.5/5