Playing Catch Up: First Daughter, Ice Girls, Raising The Bar, Walk Like A Man


So, this year I am making a sincere effort to review every film that I see.  I know I say that every year but this time, I really mean it.  Unfortunately, over the past two weeks, real life has interfered with my movie reviewing, if not my move watching.

So, in an effort to catch up, here are four quick reviews of some of the movies that I watched over the past two weeks!

  • First Daughter
  • Released: 2004
  • Directed by Forest Whitaker
  • Starring Katie Holmes, Marc Blucas, Amerie, Michael Keaton, Margaret Colin, Lela Rochon

Michael Keaton as the President of the United States!?  Now, that’s a great idea.  Michael Keaton plays President Mackenzie.  First Daughter was made long before Birdman so Michael Keaton doesn’t really have a huge part but, whenever he does appear, he is totally believable as a world leader.  You buy the idea that this guy could win an election and that he’d probably be a good (if not necessarily a great) President.  Someone really needs to make another movie where Michael Keaton plays the President.  Maybe President Birdman.  Just don’t give it to Inarritu to direct because he’ll make it too political…

Anyway, the majority of the film is about Katie Holmes as the President’s daughter, Samantha.  Samantha has been accepted to a college in California.  She’s excited because it means that she’ll finally be able to have a life outside of the White House.  The President is concerned because he loves his daughter and he knows that, if she makes any mistakes in California, his political opponents will try to use her against him.  Samantha goes off to college and tries to have a good (but rather chaste) time.  Making that somewhat difficult is her secret service entourage.  Fortunately, Samantha meets a guy (Marc Blucas) who loves her for who she is and not because her father is the President.

It’s all pretty silly and shallow but I have to admit that I get nostalgic whenever I see this movie.  Much like From Justin To Kelly, it’s definitely a film from a more innocent and less angry time.  To date, it’s also the last film to be directed by actor Forest Whitaker.

  • Ice Girls
  • Released in 2016
  • Directed by Damian Lee
  • Starring Michaela du Toit, Lara Daans, Arcadia Kendal, Sheila McCarthy, Taylor Hunsley, Shane Harte, Elvis Stojko

Struggling financially, Kelly (Lara Daans) is forced to move back to her hometown and move in with her sister (Sheila McCarthy).  Until she got married and gave up that part of her life, Kelly was once an up-and-coming figure skater.  Fortunately, her daughter, Mattie (Michaela du Toit), has inherited her mother’s talent.  However, a serious injury shook Mattie’s confidence.  Now, she says she doesn’t want to skate anymore.  Still, she’s willing to accept a job from Mercury (Elvis Stojko) at the local rink and it’s not too long before, under Mercury’s guidance, Mattie is skating once again.  Mattie also befriends another skater, Heather (Taylor Hunsley).  Heather happens to be the daughter of Rose (Natasha Henstridge), who was once in love with Kelly’s father…

It sounds like the set-up of a melodramatic Lifetime movie but actually, Ice Girls is a sweet-natured film about two ice skaters, one who has a mother who is too protective and the other who has a mother who is too driven.  In the end, both of them end up skating for themselves and not their mothers and that’s a good message for the film’s target audience of young skate fans.  The majority of the cast is made up of actual ice skaters, so the skating footage is pretty impressive.  It’s a predictable movie but I enjoyed it when I watched it on Netflix.

  • Raising the Bar
  • Released in 2016
  • Directed by Clay Glen
  • Starring Kelli Berglund, Lili Karamalikis, Tess Fowler, Emily Morris, Peta Shannon

I also watched this one on Netflix, a day after I watched Ice Girls.  (I was in an Olympics sort of mood, even though neither film took place at the Olympics.)  Raising the Bar feels a lot like Ice Girls, except that the ice skaters were now gymnasts and instead of relocating to Toronto, the family in Raising the Bar relocates all the way to Australia.  Once in Australia, Kelly (Kelly Johnson) finds the courage to re-enter gymnastics and ends up competing against her former teammates.

Kelly Johnson gives a good performance in the lead role.  Though it may be predictable, Raising the Bar is an effective and sweet-natured family film.  Perhaps the most interesting thing about watching the film was that I quickly found myself rooting against the American team.  Australia all the way!

  • Walk Like A Man
  • Released 1987
  • Directed by Melvin Frank
  • Starring Howie Mandel, Amy Steel, Cloris Leachman, Christopher Lloyd, Colleen Camp, Stephen Elliott, George DiCenzo, John McLiam, Earl Boen

Oh, what sweet Hell is this?

Okay, I’m going to try to explain what happens in this movie.  You’re not going to believe me.  You’re going to think that I’m just making all of this up.  But I swear to a God … this is an actual movie.

When he was a baby, Boba Shand (Howie Mandel) got separated from his family.  His mother and his father assumed that he was gone forever but what they didn’t know was that Bobo was found and raised by a pack of wild dogs.  For twenty years, Bobo lives as a dog.  Then he’s discovered by Penny (Amy Steel), an animal researcher who tries to teach Bobo how to be a human.  However, as time passes, Penny comes to realize that maybe she’s making a mistake trying to change Bobo.  Bobo is innocent and child-like and obsessed with chasing fire engines.  When he has too much to drink, he runs around on all fours.  And … PENNY’S IN LOVE WITH HIM!

Seriously, she’s in love with a man who thinks he’s a dog.

However, Bobo stands to inherit a fortune and his evil brother (Christopher Lloyd) is planning on having him committed.  Penny has to prove that Bobo is human enough to manage his own affairs while also respecting his desire to continue living like a dog.

I’m serious.  This is a real movie.

Anyway, making things even worse is the performance as Howie Mandel.  Mandel has always been a rather needy performer and the role of a man who thinks he’s a dog only serves to bring out his worst instincts.  Remember when Ben Stiller played Simple Jack in Tropical Thunder?  Well, Mandel’s performance is kinda like that only worse.  At one point, Bobo walks up to a mannequin in a mall and says, “I have to go pee pee.  Come with me,” and I nearly threw a shoe at the TV.  Oh my God, it was so bad.

The main problem with Walk Like A Man is that it wants to have it both ways.  It wants to be a wild comedy about Howie Mandel chasing fire engines but it also makes us want to tear up when Penny explains why Bobo should be allowed to live as a dog.

All in all, it’s a really bad movie.  And yes, it does actually exist.

A Movie A Day #107: The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981, directed by William A. Fraker)


Long before he found fame playing Deputy Hawk on Twin Peaks, Michael Horse made his film debut in one of the most notorious box office flops of all time, The Legend of the Lone Ranger.  

Michael Horse played Tonto, the young Comanche who rescues his childhood friend, John Reid (Klinton Spilsbury), and nurses him back to health after Reid has been attacked and left for dead by the notorious outlaw, Butch Cavendish (Christopher Lloyd).  Reid was a civilian, accompanying a group of Texas Rangers led by his older brother, Dan (John Bennett Perry).  When Cavendish attacked, John was the only survivor.  John wants to avenge his brother’s death but first, Tonto is going to have to teach him how to shoot a six-shooter and how to ride his new horse, Silver.  Finally, John is ready to don the mask and becomes the Lone Ranger.  It’s just in time, because Cavendish has kidnapped President Grant (Jason Robards).

An even bigger flop than the more recent Lone Ranger film starring Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp, The Legend of the Lone Ranger failed for several reasons.  For one thing, the film has a major identity crisis.  The violence is not for kids but most of the dialogue and the performances are.  For another thing, it takes forever for John Reid to actually put on the mask and become the Lone Ranger.  By the time the William Tell Overture is heard, the movie is nearly over.

It was made to capitalize on the same type of nostalgia that previously made Superman a hit and, just as Superman introduced the world to Christopher Reeve, The Legend of the Lone Ranger introduced the world to a football player turned actor, named Klinton Spilsbury.  Unfortunately, the world did not want to meet Klinton Spilsbury, whose blank-faced performance was so bad that James Keach was brought in to dub over all of his dialogue.   Spilsbury did not help himself by reportedly acting like a diva during the shooting, demanding constant rewrites, and getting into bar brawls offset.  Of the two actors who made their screen debuts in The Legend of the Lone Ranger, Michael Horse has worked again.  Klinton Spilsbury has not.

When The Legend of the Lone Ranger went into production, the film’s producers made the incredibly boneheaded move of getting a court injunction barring Clayton Moore (who had played the role on TV) from wearing his Lone Ranger uniform is public.  Since the semi-retired Moore was living off of the money that he made appearing as the Lone Ranger at country fairs and children’s hospitals, this move was a public relations disaster.  (For his part, Moore filed a counter suit and continued to make appearances, now wearing wrap-around sunglasses instead of his mask.)  Moore refused to appear in a cameo and spent much of 1981 speaking out against the film.

Finally, the main reason that Legend of The Lone Ranger flopped was because it opened on the same Friday as a little film called Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The rest is history.

Back to School Part II #15: Joy of Sex (dir by Martha Coolidge)


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Let’s say one positive thing about the 1984 “comedy” Joy of Sex.

The tag line on the poster: “Somewhere between virginity and senility, lies paradise,” is brilliant.  Whoever came up with it deserves a lot of credit because it sounds a lot better than anything that’s actually heard in the movie.

Let’s say something else good at Joy of Sex.  The two stars of the movie — Cameron Dye and Michelle Meyrink — both gave good and likable performances, even if their characters got a little bit annoying at times.  (Then again, just about everyone in Joy of Sex gets annoying.)  Also, there’s a subplot about an undercover cop (played by Colleen Camp) that predates 21 Jump Street and which occasionally shows off a few hints of genuine wit.

Otherwise, this is probably one of the worst of the 80s teen comedies that I’ll be reviewing for this series of Back to School reviews.  Joy of Sex is officially credited as being an adaptation of a sex manual that was popular back in the 70s.  According to the imdb and Wikipedia, Joy of Sex went through a rather tortured development.  At one point, it was going to be an anthology film, starring John Belushi and co-produced by National Lampoon.  However, Belushi died of a drug overdose, National Lampoon abandoned the project, and the final film turned out to be another high school film.  Imagine Fast Time At Ridgemont High … but really, really bad.

Leslie Hindenberg (Michelle Meyrink) is a student at Richard Nixon High School.  She’s the daughter of the school’s phys ed coach (Christopher Lloyd, playing what was probably meant to be the Belushi role) and, as a result, she is viewed as being untouchable, even by the sex-crazed boys of Nixon High.  The problem is that Leslie has recently discovered a mole on chest and is convinced that she has skin cancer.  Believing that she only has 6 weeks to live, Leslie sets out on a mission to lose his virginity.  However, she wants to lose it to the perfect guy and there aren’t many of those at her school.  (Can you really afford to be picky when you’ve only got 6 weeks to live?)  Add to that, everyone’s terrified of the coach…

Leslie’s lab partner is Alan (Cameron Dye), who is a nice guy.  He not only has a huge crush on Leslie but he’s also desperate to lose his virginity as well!  Problem solved, right?  Well, no.  See, Alan has been led astray by the new girl in school.  Liz (Colleen Camp) is tough, outspoken, and no-nonsense.  As soon as she shows up in school, she lets everyone know that she’s obsessed with two things — sex and drugs.  In fact, she’s especially interested in drugs…

A lot of students, of course, are suspicious of Liz.  She seems to be older than everyone else and speak in out-of-date slang.  “Could she be a narc?” some students wonder.  Well, actually, she is.  She is working undercover at Nixon High and is convinced that Alan knows who is supplying drugs to all of the students.  And, it must be said, that Colleen Camp really throws herself into the role.  As happens with most of the film’s subplots, the undercover narc storyline doesn’t really go anywhere but at least Camp made the effort.

Meanwhile, Leslie’s best friend has been kicked out of school because she’s pregnant.  Leslie approaches a local reporter, hoping to convince him to do a story about what’s happened.  And, while getting her best friend back into school, Leslie starts to wonder if maybe she’s found the right man to take her virginity…

(But wait!  We know she’s meant to be with Alan!  So, surely, the reporter will turn out to be a sleaze, right?)

But that’s not all!  Someone is running around the school and using superglue to play pranks.  Who could it be?  Will the crazy principle (Ernie Hudson) be able to maintain order until the big dance?  And will the portrayal of the school’s frequently confused foreign exchange student manage to get any more racist?

And what about Tom Pittman (Robert Prescott)?  Pittman is the most popular guy in school.  Pittman doesn’t really do a lot.  To make an undeserved comparison to Animal House, he’s kind of the Bluto character, just not as interesting.  Whereas Bluto smashed guitars and beer cans and gave inspiration speeches, Pittman tries to light his farts on fire and is something of a bully.  (There is a kinda funny scene where he’s suddenly nice to Leslie and everyone’s shocked.)  The most memorable thing about Pittman is that he wears thick black glasses which are held together by tape.  So, if nothing else, Joy of Sex is important chapter in the history of myopia in film.

Anyway, Joy of Sex has remarkably little joy and next to no sex.  I imagine that were riots in the theaters after this movie came out, as thousands of angry teenagers chanted, “We want joy!  We want sex!  When do we want them!?  NOW!”

There were a lot of great teen films released in the 80s.  Joy of Sex is not one of them.

The Things You Find On Netflix: 88 (dir by April Mullen)


88

If you go over to Netflix right now, you can watch 88, the best film of the year so far.

88 opens with a close-up of Gwen (Katharine Isabelle).  Gwen is sitting in a diner and she has no idea how she got there.  All she knows is that her boyfriend Aster (Kyle Schmid) is dead and that she believes that her former employer, Cyrus (Christopher Lloyd) is responsible.  Oh, and Gwen’s hand is also covered in a bloody bandage, largely because she’s missing a finger.  When Gwen tries to leave the diner, several gumballs and a gun fall out of her bag.  The cops eating breakfast overreact.  A waitress panics.  Gwen accidentally shoots someone as she flees.

Still with no idea where she is exactly or how she got there, Gwen discovers that she has a motel room key on her.  When she goes to the motel room, she discovers that the walls are covered with newspaper clippings.  And, of course, there’s a corpse in the bathtub.  On top of that, there’s also a rather hyperactive man named Ty (Tim Doiron, who also wrote the film’s script).  Gwen claims to have never seen Ty before.  Ty, however, says that they’re friends and they’re planning on killing Cyrus together.

Meanwhile, as we watch Gwen try to figure out what’s going on, we also follow the adventures of Flamingo (again played by Katharine Isabelle).  Flamingo is a tough-talking survivor, the type of girl who, when we first meet her, is busy strangling a random motorist so that she can use his car.  Flamingo goes from motel to motel, always staying in room 88.  She obsessively drinks milk.  When she runs into Cyrus and his gang on the street, they claim to know her.  However, Flamingo has no idea who they are.

Which, of course, does not mean that she’s not willing to kill them…

88 is a masterpiece of the grindhouse imagination, an over-the-top film that not only embraces its pulpy origins but practically revels in them as well.  The film is full of wonderfully strange and crazy moments, like when Gwen and Ty visit a flamboyant gun dealer or when Flamingo casually trashes a convenience store for no reason beyond the fact that she apparently feels like doing so.  There is not a single character in 88 who is not, in some way, memorably odd.  Between Gwen’s amnesia, Flamingo’s psychotic behavior, Ty’s cheerful embrace of violence, and Cyrus’s raspy monologues, 88 presents a world that is familiar and yet uniquely its own.  When Michael Ironside shows up as a strict but good-hearted sheriff, it only makes sense that, in the world of 88, Michael Ironside would be the face of law, order, and decency.

Now, to be honest, you’ll probably figure out just how exactly Gwen and Flamingo are related long before the film actually makes it explicit.  You probably figured it out just from reading this review.  But it doesn’t matter.  Ultimately, the specifics of the twist really doesn’t matter.  This film is a celebration of pure style and pulp energy.  Katharine Isabelle is brilliant, both as Gwen and as Flamingo.  In the role of Gwen, Isabelle gives a very sympathetic performance.  You want to understand what is happening to Gwen and, even more importantly, you want her to survive.  Meanwhile, as Flamingo, Isabelle is a force of pure, destructive nature.  Finally, in the role of Cyrus, Christopher Lloyd is a sleazy marvel and even manages to bring a hint of humanity to an occasionally demonic character.

88 is one of those films that will probably never get the critical support that it deserves.  However, I think it’s one of the best of the year so far.

Back to School #37: Back to the Future (dir by Robert Zemeckis)


back-to-the-future

Well, this is certainly intimidating.

Earlier today, I was sitting at my day job and I happened to glance down at my to-do list to see what I was scheduled to review next in my Back To School series and there, listed at #37, was a somewhat popular film from 1985.  The name of the film was Back To The Future and…

Oh, you’ve heard of it?  And you already know what the movie’s about because literally everyone on the planet has either seen Back to The Future or knows someone who has seen Back To The Future and loves it so much that they can tell you every little detail about the adventures of Marty McFly, Doc Brown, and that time-traveling DeLorean?

Well, just be quiet and bear with me.  I always like to give a plot synposis in my reviews.  For one thing, it’s a good way to let you know who plays who in the film.

mcfly

So, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is, despite his somewhat embarrassing last name, a perfectly normal American teenager.  He lives in a nice, small town.  He has a pretty girlfriend (Claudia Wells).  He likes to ride his skateboard.  He likes to play guitar (though he’s deemed to be “too loud” by at least one of his teachers).  The high school’s principal (James Tolkan) often gives him a hard time for being late but other than that, Marty seems to be a pretty regular guy…

Except his family has some major issues.  His mother Lorraine (Lea Thompson) is an alcoholic who won’t stop talking about how she first met her husband George (Crispin Glover) after her father hit him with his car. George, meanwhile, is a total wimp who is continually bullied by his boss, Biff (Thomas F. Wilson).  Marty’s older siblings (Marc McClure and Wendie Jo Sperber) are both living directionless lives and Marty has every reason to fear that he might end up following them.

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Fortunately, Marty has a best friend named Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) who has built a time machine inside of a luxury vehicle.  Late one night, Doc recruits Marty to help him test out the machine but what Doc didn’t mention is that in order to power his time machine, he had still plutonium from a group of terrorists.  Those terrorists show up and kill Doc.  Marty flees in the car and soon finds himself trapped in 1955.

Marty manages to track down the younger version of Doc Brown and the two of them start trying to work out how to get Marty back to the future.  (We have a title!)  Marty, of course, wants to warn Doc about what’s going to happen in 1985 but Doc insists that Marty tell him nothing about the future.  Doc also tells Marty that he has to be very careful, while in the past, not to change the future.

McFly!

Too late!  Marty has already met teenage Lorraine.  See, Marty happened to spot George up in a tree, peeping on Lorraine as she undressed.  (“He’s a pervert!” Marty exclaims.)  When George falls out of the tree and lands in the street, Marty pushes him out of the way of an approaching car.  Marty gets hit by the car, which is being driven by his own grandfather.  So now, Marty has essentially prevented his parents from meeting and, as a result, the McFly children are slowly fading from existence.

So, before Marty can go back to 1985, he has to get George and Lorraine back together.  The main problem, of course, is that Lorraine now has a crush on her own son…

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Wow, that’s a lot of plot there.  There’s a lot going on in Back to the Future and there are times when it almost feels like a dozen different films in one.  It’s a science fiction film, with Doc and Marty spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to make a time machine work with 1955 technology and weather.  It’s an action film, with Marty fleeing terrorists in 1985 and Biff in 1955.  It’s a romance, with the always endearingly weird Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson making for an odd but cute couple.  (Thought it’s wrong on so many levels, Thompson and Fox also have a lot of chemistry and are cute together, as long as you ignore the fact that they are playing mother and son!)  It’s a frequently hilarious comedy, with the entire cast giving heartfelt performances.  It’s an anthropological study, comparing the 50s and the 80s.  It’s a satirical look at how teenager’s tend to view their parents, with Marty discovering that everything that he’s assumed at his mom was basically incorrect.  And finally, it’s a surprisingly subversive film, with Marty and Lorraine’s 1955 relationship constantly running the risk of turning into an Oedipal nightmare.

And yet the entire film flows together so perfectly that you’re never aware of just how busy it all really is.  Between director Robert Zemeckis’s sure-handed direction, the clever script by Zemeckis and Bob Gale, and a uniformly excellent cast, Back to the Future is one of those films that verges on being flawless.

And, for that reason, it can be very intimidating to review.

I just don’t know how I’m going to do it…

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What Lisa and the Snarkalecs Watched Last Night #105: Zodiac: Signs of the Apocalypse (dir by W.D. Hogan)


Last night, my friends, the Snarkalecs, and I watched the latest SyFy original film, Zodiac: Signs of the Apocalypse!  So, was Zodiac as good as Sharknado 2, as underrated as End of the World, as overrated as Invasion Roswell, or as bad as Heebie Jeebies?  Or was it just somewhere in between?  Let’s find out!

Zodiac

Why Was I Watching It?

Why were we watching it?  Because I’m a snarkalec and that’s what we do!  We watch original films on SyFy, we tweet along, and we do our best to try to get things to trend.  My hope was that Zodiac would eventually become a trending topic on California and end up freaking out a lot of people who would naturally assume that the legendary Zodiac Killer had finally been caught.  Unfortunately, last night, we were competing with football and this is America.  Nothing beats football.

What Was It About?

Good question.  It was a SyFy movie so naturally, the world was on the verge of ending.  And somehow, the upcoming apocalypse involved the signs of the zodiac and an ancient stone that was found in a deserted mine.  There was a bad business guy named Woodward (Aaron Douglas) or maybe he was a government guy.  But, for some reason, he wanted to get the stone so he could do evil things with it.  Luckily, there were three scientists (Joel Gretsch, Andrea Brooks, and Emily Holmes) and one scientist’s son (Reilly Dolman) who were attempting to save the world.  And Christopher Lloyd was in it, playing yet another scientist who had apparently invented holograms or something like that.  There was also a guy named Marty (Ben Cotton) who was a survivalist and lived in a really spacious bunker.

And let’s see, what else happened?  Fire rained from the sky.  Raging floods soaked the Earth.  Woodward flew around in a helicopter.  The scientists spent a lot of time driving around in an SUV.  A lot of stuff happened.  How it was all related was not always easy to follow but, then again, we all know that if you’re tying to make logical sense out of a SyFy film, you’re doing it wrong.

What Worked?

You know what?  I always think that when people criticize SyFy films, they’re missing the point.  SyFy films are supposed to be silly, the special effects are supposed to be cheap, and the performances are supposed to be melodramatic.  Occasionally — like with Sharknado 2 for instance — these elements come together perfectly.  And then other times, like with Zodiac, the end results are fun for two hours and quickly forgotten about afterward.  Zodiac was no Sharknado 2 but it gave us everything that we typically want from our SyFy films, it was a fun movie to tweet along with, and it gave the viewers a few laughs.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Zodiac was a Canadian film and Canada certainly looked pretty.

What Did Not Work?

For a film that was sold as being about the signs of the apocalypse destroying the world, the greatest sign of all — Scorpio — was sadly underused.  I kept expecting a scorpion-shaped cloud to form in the sky but it never happened!  Speaking as a Scorpio, I was very let down.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

My favorite character was Sophie (Andrea Brooks), the kickass scientist who survived being buried alive in a mine, not to mention Aquarius, Capricorn, and Sagittarius!  And she did it all while rocking the traditional SyFy scientist outfit of tank top and tight jeans.  She also had great hair!  If I wasn’t already planning on being the Black Widow, I’d be Sophie for Halloween.  She was the best!

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Lessons Learned

Don’t mess with the Zodiac.

Lisa’s Homestate Reviews: New Mexico and A Million Ways To Die In The West


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My family lived in Carlsbad, New Mexico from January of 1991 to July of 1992.  I was only 5 years old when we arrived and 6 when we left so I really can’t say that I remember that much about Carlsbad, beyond the fact that my mom was always worried about rattlesnakes, I was excited about going to kindergarten and that, when my Dad announced that we were moving to Oklahoma, I cried and cried because, even at that age, I knew that meant I’d never get to see my friends again.

So yeah, some of my memories of New Mexico are a little traumatic.  But are they as traumatic as watching Seth McFarlane’s A Million Ways To Die In The West, a film that was shot in New Mexico and which is an early front-runner for claiming the title of worst of 2014?

Written by, produced by, directed by, and starring Seth McFarlane, A Million Ways To Die In The West tells the story of a sheep farmer named Albert (played by Seth McFarlane) who basically spends the entire movie whining about how much he hates living in the old west.  His girlfriend leaves him for … well, look, the plot is stupid.  You knew the plot was going to be stupid when you first saw the trailer earlier this year.  You probably even knew the film wasn’t going to be that good.  However, as bad as you might think the film is, it’s nothing compared to how bad the movie actually is.  And the blame pretty much rests with Seth McFarlane.

Seth McFarlane has got cold, dead eyes and a curiously unlined face that, when taken along with his ever-present smirk, tends to make him look like one of those horror movie mannequins that comes to life once the store closes and murders horny teenagers.  I understand that it’s always been a part of McFarlane’s act to present himself as being an asshole with a heart of gold but, for the most part, that works best when you only have to deal with his voice.  The minute that you see his smug face, which is as immobile as his voice is expressive, the heart of gold part disappears.  All your left with is an asshole who insists on telling the same joke over and over again.  As both a comedic writer and director, McFarlane’s technique is to basically beat the audience into submission, dragging jokes out to such an interminable length that you eventually laugh because you simply cannot believe that you’re wasting so much time watching this crap.  Some people have mistaken that technique for genius.  Those people should be forced to watch A Million Ways To Die In The West in much the same way that Malcolm McDowell was forced to watch violent movies in A Clockwork Orange.

(And I write all of that as perhaps the only woman in the world who was not offended by Seth McFarlane singing The Boob Song at the Academy Awards, if just because the joke was clearly meant to be at the expense of McFarlane and the overage frat boys who seem to make up his fan base.)

A Million Ways to Die In The West is full of familiar faces.  Liam Neeson goes totally overboard as the film’s villain.  Neil Patrick Harris, as usual, is fun to watch, or at least he is until he’s forced to take part in one of McFarlane’s trademark endless musical numbers.  Eventually, Harris’s character gets slipped a laxative and it’s just as disgusting as it sounds.  Giovanni Ribisi plays McFarlane’s best friend and his joke is that he’s a Christian (yes, Seth takes on Christianity — what a rebel!) and that his girlfriend (Sarah Silverman, who deserves better) is a prostitute who is willing to have sex with everyone but him.  Amanda Seyfried has the thankless task of playing McFarlane’s girlfriend while Charlize Theron plays the enigmatic woman who teaches Seth how to shoot a gun.  (Theron gives a far better performance than this movie deserves and it was hard not to wish that the entire film had just been about her character.)  There are also several celebrity cameos — Ryan Reynolds, Christopher Lloyd, and even Jamie Foxx show up.

But, ultimately, the entire film is about Seth McFarlane.  He wrote it, he directed it, and he stars in it.  Seth McFarlane dominates this film and that’s the problem.  What might be slightly amusing in a 22-minute cartoon is not going to be funny enough to sustain a nearly two-hour film.  For a rambling and often aimless film like A Million Way To Die In The West to succeed, it needs a star who is both skilled at comedy and likable enough that he’ll be able to anchor the mayhem.  (Seth Rogen, for instance.)  Instead, we’re given a smirking Seth McFarlane and the end result is a film that somehow manages to be both forgettable and a disaster.

Now, you may be wondering how I ended up watching this film.  Well, originally I wasn’t planning on ever seeing it but then I started to read reviews about how terrible it was and I was like, “This is a film that I definitely need to see for myself, so that I can see if the film is actually a misunderstood masterpiece or if it’s a film that I’m going to have to keep in mind when I’m compiling my annual list of the year’s worst films.”  (Plus, when I arrived at the theater, The Fault In Our Stars was sold out.)  But anyway, I sat through it and I forced my sister Erin to watch it with me and I think Erin may be on the verge of finally forgiving me.

Finally, what was more traumatic?  Leaving behind my friends or watching this movie?

Too close to call.

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