The story at the center of A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (AMWTDITW, henceforth) is a tried and true theme of dozens of westerns. The meek hero has to screw up his courage to save the town or win the girl. So, in this case it is not necessarily about the uniqueness of the story, but rather the effectiveness of the execution. On that score, AMWTDITW is a winner. If you are looking for subtle humor or sly wit, look elsewhere. Seth MacFarlane’s style is to bludgeon you over the head with a joke (or a block of ice in one scene). Just because the humor is obvious or filthy doesn’t make it less funny. Anyone expecting different has obviously never seen Family Guy or American Dad. The film is two hours long and I think I at least chuckled most of the time, but a lot of the time it was loud belly laughs. MacFarlane knows the meaning of “going for it”. He doesn’t pull any punches or “tone it down” to appeal to a wider audience. Why should he? He knows what his audiences expect and that’s exactly what he delivers. And judging by the loud laughter at the theater where I saw it, his audience agrees. There are several Family Guy style cutaways and a few hysterical cameos. And the way MacFarlane’s character Albert Stark brings modern sensibility to old west issues was sly and made me chuckle every time. Where the film kind of falls flat is in its quieter moments. MacFarlane is a great writer, pretty good director and does great character voices. As an actor, meh. Sorry Seth, you’re just not as good as the other members of your cast. So, those tender scenes between Seth and Charlize Theron don’t always work. But the comedy always works. And isn’t that why we’re going to see this movie anyhow? There may be A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (and the film tries to hit each one of them), but there are nearly as many ways to laugh at it all, and largely this film nails each one. — Alan Yudman
Norman Mailer said of J.D. Salinger that he had the “greatest mind ever to stay in prep school”. Seth MacFarlane may be having trouble leaving seventh grade. There are so many gags that work in his western spoof, you have to wonder how someone so sharp can’t understand why just saying “fuck” and “shit” should automatically get a laugh (including the very, very first joke). Now that I come to think of it, there’s an episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” where Debra scores Ray for telling poems to the kids that go “Little Jack Horner sat in a corner, something something poop and pee.” To which Ray replies, “You gotta give the public what it wants.” Maybe it’s the LCD/bottom line factor. But the language and visual jokes like the hatful of feces (wasn’t the Neil Patrick Harris pantomime enough?) are juvenile. Even the better gags are telegraphed and with the same setup-knockdown rhythm. The performers, however, are better than the material. This is the warmest I’ve seen Charlize Theron, sexy and accessible. And Giovanni Ribisi is such a likable dork it makes you (once again) pray for him to renounce Scientology. If you’re looking for a truly offbeat (and even funnier) satire of the Western, stream Will Ferrell’s CASA DE MI PADRE. (Or even THE THREE AMIGOS). This is just ok. — Jeff Schultz
The first half of Million is as funny as the trailer but midway through West goes south because it makes the ultimate comedy mistake: it becomes serious. We don’t need a half hour of Charlize Theron telling Seth MacFarlane what a great guy he is, or Seth realizing he loves her, blah blah blah. The pacing also slows to a deadly crawl and that’s when I started checking my watch. It finishes up kinda strong but by then the buzz from the beginning has worn off and the hangover has already begun. An okay comedy that could have been great. — Stormy Curry
While some comic book franchises struggle to be good (Spider Man reboot) or maintain the quality of the original (Iron Man), X Men has for the most part been consistently entertaining. But this latest sequel takes the entire franchise to a whole new Avengers type level. A clever, suspenseful, emotional, and often funny ride that does everything right. Keeps what could have been a complex time travel storyline simple. Brings out some stellar performances from its cast of actors…not just stars. And it seamlessly reboots the whole franchise in a way that rids the XMen world of the much despised Brett Ratner era. Credit goes to the last movie “First Class” for laying the essential groundwork and Bryan Singer for breathing new life into a series that was becoming played out. — Stormy Curry
Before the release of X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, Hugh Jackman said he may finish the X-Men films he’s committed to, then hang up his adamantium claws. Jackman has more recently backed off a bit, which is good news because it would be a shame not to see him as Wolverine just as the franchise is moving from the realm of decent comic book movie to the arena of good cinema. The latest incarnation is simply a very good film. The combination of Bryan Singer and a cast of very fine actors is what elevates this beyond the genre movie. In the future, Sentinels have been tasked with destroying mutants. But as usual with a government plan, it goes way too far and the Sentinels target anyone who either helps mutants or may have a tendency to produce offspring that could be mutants. So, pretty much everyone. There are only a few left, Professor X and Magneto (Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan teaming up once again) are the leaders and they have a plan. Send someone back in time to stop the Sentinel program before it gets off the ground. Wolverine is selected because of his ability to survive. It is several years after the Cuban Missile Crisis portrayed in the First Class. Professor Xavier is living mostly alone (except for Beast) in his mansion. He is dependent on a serum Beast invented that allows him to get out of his wheelchair and walk, but also has sapped him of his mutant abilities. He is a broken man in mind and body. Wolverine must re-unite him with Magneto who is being held under the Pentagon because he is suspected of having a hand in the Kennedy assassination. Meantime, Mystique has her own plan to stop the Sentinels– kill their inventor (Peter Dinklage). But that will set off the chain of events that dooms the mutants. Time travel stories can be challenging and confusing. Not here. They keep it simple and use it as a device for the larger issues of forgiveness and resurrection. There are tons of Easter eggs in the film and each is a joy rather than an eye roll. There isn’t a weak performance in the film, probably because these are among the best actors working. Here’s to more X-Men films featuring this ensemble because this has the potential to be as good, if not better than The Avengers (yeah, blasphemy). — Alan Yudman
Kevin Hart is a star. In this remake of the 80’s flick, he plays the “best friend” of the lead character yet steals the show. It’s supposedly about 2 couples but by the final scene, we see that it’s really all about Hart. He and his girlfriend are more of a real couple than the one we are supposed to be rooting for and the director knows this…giving them the real happy ending. The other two? Much more ambiguous and realistic. I was pleasantly surprised by what I thought would be a so so Friday night rental. It ended up being a fresh and funny ride that kept me laughing long after the credits rolled.
Jon Favreau first drilled his way into our consciousness with the great indie movie, “Swingers”. He followed that up with the fantastic “Made” and along the way got big studio breaks with “Elf” and “Iron Man”. Despite the big budgets and big box office his heart always seemed to be “indie”. That is obvious in the smallness and greatness exhibited in CHEF. Favreau is in complete control here. He wrote it, directed it and produced it. Any failings are on him. But, don’t worry Jon, it’s all good. Matter of fact it’s great! Favreau also stars as the Chef, Carl Casper. He aspires to fulfill the promise bestowed on him by a restaurant critic(Oliver Platt) when he was just starting out. Unfortunately, that was a while ago. A marriage and divorce (Sofia Vergara) and a child(the adorable Emjay Anthony) have forced him to become executive chef at a restaurant owned by Dustin Hoffman. Favreau wants to experiment and explore creativity, but he’s being tied down by Hoffman, who’s desire to keep his restaurant full, forces the Chef to cook the same good, yet uninspiring food. Platt’s reviewer shows up and Favreau wants to impress, but bows to Hoffman’s will and cooks boring. Platt writes a less than kind review which sends the Chef over the edge. His epic meltdown in the restaurant in front of the reviewer finds its way onto YouTube and the Chef is forced to quit. (The meltdown includes a rant against the culture of criticism that cannot be entirely coincidental). Favreau is also navigating his personal life with no greater success. He has an amicable, even friendly relationship with his ex-wife. But his relationship to his son is strained. He doesn’t seem to know what to do with the kid other than disappoint him. Since he is suddenly jobless, Favreau flies to Miami to be “nanny” to his son while Vergara works. While there, he acquires a food truck, kind of as a last desperate measure to save himself and his career. All that happens and what is kind of unexpected is that he saves his relationship with his son at the same time during a cross country odyssey with the food truck (and the hilarious John Leguizamo as his line cook). CHEF is sweet and funny and perfectly paced. Favreau really knows how to wring every emotion our of a script and it doesn’t hurt that his Iron Man buddies Robert Downey, Jr. and Scarlett Johansson have small, but important roles. It’s probably no accident the restaurant reviewer calls the Chef’s food “cloying”. The movie could have been the same, but Favreau is good enough to not let that happen. CHEF is wonderfully prepared and a treat for the movie going palate. Satisfying without feeling like you are gorging on emotion. It’s a treat for everyone. — Alan Yudman
Mick Taylor is back and as bloodthirsty as ever. This is definitely hardcore, with heads blown off by shotgun blasts, fingers crushed and severed by power drills, and a kangaroo massacre. Not to mention the naked dismemberment, the hunting knife beheading, and the old lady whose face is blown away. But besides the gory stuff, the movie takes off when John Jarrett shows his genius for slowly turning “genial” into “sociopath”. There’s an extended scene with his main prey where the torture is psychological — until it turns into screams and bone crushings– with the threat of violence turned up and down for maximum tension. (You’re almost relieved when the bloodletting finally begins.) And the ending seems just right — for WOLF CREEK 3! — Jeff Schultz
The director keeps it moving, the jokes keep on coming, and the sweet moments somehow avoid being precious. It’s the latest product of Apatowian alchemy, that process by which a movie can be filled with more cunt and dick references than you can shake a dildo at (there’s that, too) and still manage to wind up reaffirming family values. Everyone seems to be having a great time— and except for one serious miscasting, the ensemble delivers beautifully. Zac Efron has recently shown signs of aspiring to Serious Acting (PARKLAND, THE PAPER BOY). That’s a shame, because he’s a natural at light comedy and a body like that shouldn’t have to be covered up in grownup clothes. Seth Rogan, on the other hand, is maybe a little too game for taking his shirt (sometimes more) off, but if doing so can skewer as obnoxious a target as Abercrombie & Fitch, I say go for it, Seth! The real revelation here is Dave Franco as Zac’s #1 frat bro Pete. He wins many of his laughs so quietly, you don’t realize for a beat how funny he just was, and when it’s time to get serious, he turns on a dime. This is an actor who is now well out of his more famous brother’s shadow. As for the miscasting, in the Apatow universe, the role of Rogan’s wife would have been a slam dunk for Leslie Mann. Rose Byrne resembles Mann, but for me, her Australian accent gives her a touch of “class” that makes her seem like she’s slumming rather than half of an in-your-face, profanity-spouting couple. But it’s far from a deal breaker: when NEIGHBORS pops up on cable, it’ll always be an excuse to stop surfing. — Jeff Schultz
The problem with the third in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy was that there was just too much there. Too many villains, too many intertwining story lines. Just too much. There has been similar sentiment for THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2. It’s hard to argue the point. There’s Electro (Jamie Foxx), The Green Goblin, The Rhino (sorry, if I don’t have the name correct) and foreshadowing of more to come given what Harry Osborne keeps in his basement at OsCorp. Then there are the myriad stories. Peter and Gwen. Harry and his father. Jamie Foxx and Electro. Peter and Aunt May. Peter and his past. I had trouble seeing how it all fit together. The best of this is the dynamic between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. They sizzle together on screen (probably because they are a couple off it). Their banter is real and adorable and their storyline is most compelling. The rest is just window dressing to give us backstories on the other characters. There’s too much of it. Captain America: The Winter Soldier does it perfectly. It gives you enough meat to know each character’s story without wasting valuable screen time on minor details. Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci could take a lesson from their Marvel brethren. One of the reasons for a superhero movie is to see the main character inhabiting that part of their existence. Peter Parker is clearly having a blast being Spider-Man. He’s a funny, smart aleck. But not in the same way that Tony Stark is with Iron Man. Basically, he’s a nice guy, not a dick. Come on, admit it. Stark can be a real asshole sometimes. The effects are good but not great. The 3D is ok, but seems unnecessary. I’ve heard some say that this would be a better movie without all the set pieces. That would be interesting, but it wouldn’t be a super hero movie. It would be an indie RomCom. Part of the reason these movies exist (and make so much money) is those big set pieces. These could have been executed better, but they are necessary. I went back and read my review of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and was surprised at how much I seemed to love it. I like 2, but it has its flaws and coming just weeks after the outstanding Captain America, it’s hard not to be a little disappointed. — Alan Yudman
The Amazing Spider Man 2,
2 times the weak script. 2 times the weak acting. 2 times the eye rolling story contrivances. You’d get much more enjoyment inhaling a can of Raid.