Down the Ballot

Friday, June 13, 2014

GSY: A Million Ways To Die In The West

Headed out to Regal 11 the other night to take in a film. Being a weeknight there were not too many people around. I bought a ticket for A Million Ways To Die In The West. This movie has been out for a few weeks and I had generally heard mixed to negative reviews. As I was going through many of the reviews I saw a lot of comparisons to Blazing Saddles. Which seems odd and unfair to compare current Western comedies to Mel Brooks classic Western satire-parody classic comedy. Not every comedy is intended to be a parody or satire, sometimes they are just meant to be a comedy film. A Million Ways is just a comedy film set in a Western.

When Blazing Saddles was made American culture had been buried in Western films, television shows and radio shows for decades. The stories of the frontier life still had incredible appeal. They were ripe for parody and satire. The moviegoers of this second decade of the 21st Century did not grow up in the 50s, 60s and early 70s when theaters were overflowing with Westerns. In the last decade, I think I went to only one Western. The remake of True Grit in 2010. In an age when the Western is mostly been relegated to 'B-Movie' status, it is a tough genre to make it in. I applaud Seth MacFarlane for giving it a go at the big screen.

***(spoilers from this point onward)***

image from Seth MacFarlane's twitter account
One of the best parts of the film is the direct homage or nod MacFarlane and company pay to a Western comedy that seemed to have a big impact on someone coming of age in late 80s and early 90s; Back to the Future III is shown a little love with a brief cameo by Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown. He even has the time machine and gives his classic 'weather experiment' when a curious Albert (MacFarlane) opens up the barn door. It makes sense that this is in his film. He would have been 16 or 17 years old in 1990. He's referenced and made nods to BTTF in all of his television work on FOX.

I thought the cast was healthy mix of veterans of the modern Western and newcomers. Liam Neeson continues to amaze me with his range. He's been playing the good guy far too much and needed a chance to play the villain. He's only done one other Western that I am familiar with and that was Seraphim Falls. Neil Patrick Harris also played the part of the refined, civilized 'future of the West' character. The idea that a mustache was a sign of power and wealth is pretty interesting one. Not sure I would agree with it, but for comedic purposes it was good. This movie also proves that NPH can do anything, even poop jokes. This is the second time I have seen a mustache shop. The first one was in Blackadder's Christmas Carol parody. Though, Blackadder's shop seemed to be a place where you purchase a mustache as opposed to taking care of your own.

Charlize Theron pulls off the role of 'The Mysterious Stranger" in town. If you've seen 'A Fistfull of Datas'  you know what I mean. There has been a lot of discussion about her role and looking at it through what it means for feminism. That there are too many penis and vagina jokes. Both Theron and MacFarlane in my view play the realists of the film. They recognize the West for what it is. Theron on the other hand plays the optimist as opposed to MacFarlane who plays a pessimist for most of the film. She thinks life can be good if you give it the chance. Away from her out of whack, abusive relationship with her husband she gets to live a better life for a while and discovers that she likes it enough to risk her life ending her marriage.

The B-story of the film, centered around Ruth and Edward (a cobbler in love with a prostitute) has some moments but could have been developed a little more. There were plenty of cameos made by all sorts of people. The Dennis Haskins from Saved By the Bell is a flim-flam artist and snake oil salesman. Ewan McGregor plays a cowboy. Yes, that means both Obi-wan and Qui-Gon Jinn appear in this film. Jamie Foxx has a cameo right before the credits role.

Matt Clark, who played the prospector, has done many Westerns during his fifty year film career. If you enjoyed Doc Brown making an appearance, you might recognize Clark as the bartender in Hill Valley 1885. Wes Studi has also done a fair number of Westerns and seemed like a good fit for the film.
Matt Clark with the 'Wake Up Juice'

The movie was in my view a romantic western comedy. Albert's love life and socio-political status in the West is the heart of the film. Several times he mentions the wish to move to San Francisco.  Sheep farmers were historically not respected in the West. They called them Cowboys for a reason. Cattle were king. His lack of confidence and self doubt get a little irritating, but enough action takes place between to give it a pass. I sorta wish they would have explored the humor of being a sheep farmer a little more.

The one musical number was very well done. The mustache song was great. It allowed the cast, and especially Neil Patrick Harris to show their strengths on film. This film is not Blazing Saddles and I still think it wrong to compare the two as if Million Ways is trying to recreate that feeling.  This was a good film, not a great film. Funny, but not something I would go back to the theater to see. This is only the second film from Seth. I'm sure we'll see a few more from him. My sister would call it a 'renter'. If you could still rent films. If Seth does more stuff like COSMOS, I'll go support his films if it allows him more opportunities to do other neat stuff.

Go Screen It Yourself when you get the chance.

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