Tag Archives: Sarah Silverman

Movie Review: A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)

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Seth MacFarlane is an acquired taste, and his latest project, A Million Ways to Die in the West, encapsulates the best and worst of his comedic sensitivities.

It’s also the first time the talented voice actor, who voiced the teddy in Ted and a multitude of characters on Family Guy, fronts the big screen as the leading man of a Hollywood production.

The result is a hit-and-miss farce that showcases some of MacFarlane’s sharp wit but also the low-brow humour he has often criticised for.

MacFarlane plays Albert Stark, a man living in the Wild West who is so self-ware that you suspect he might be from the future (and though this is never explicitly suggested, there are a couple of surprises which might be enough to convince some people).

Albert is a sheep farmer who is dumped by his big-eyed girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried), who thinks little of him as a man and prefers someone a little more macho, like, for example, the mustache-bearing Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). At his lowest point, Albert meets Anna (Charlize Theron), who decides to help him win back Louise. However, what she doesn’t tell him is that she happens to be the wife of the West’s most dangerous man (Liam Neeson).

You can guess the rest of this predictably conventional plot, but let’s be honest — no one cares about the plot. A Million Ways is all about laughs, and MacFarlane never stops trying to deliver them, however he can.

The central gag is essentially MacFarlane pointing out the absurdities of the West, from the boredom of life to its many life-shortening/life-ending dangers, as spelled out in the film’s title. Some of them work, some of them don’t. I giggled at about a handful of his “observations,” but most of the other ones felt either obvious or delivered without sufficient “punch.” There were many more “yeah, that’s a good one” kind of jokes than genuine, laugh-out-loud ones.

MacFarlane is at the top of his game when he is delivering biting satire, and while there is a lot of that in A Million Ways, the “bite” is never as sharp as it ought to be. Perhaps he’s trying to dumb down his comedy for general audiences, or perhaps his jokes are just funnier when they come from cartoon characters or a talking teddy bear rather than himself.

Speaking of dumbing things down, there are waaaay too many fart jokes in the movie. It’s not that such jokes can’t be funny, but they generally aren’t here. I love low-brow jokes as much as the next guy, but I just felt the fart (and shit and vulgar sex) jokes, which are typically very difficult to be effective, make up too high a proportion of the total gags.

MacFarlane is adequate as a leading man. He doesn’t have quite enough charm to pull off the whole thing by himself, though the chemistry he has with his co-stars — in particular Charlize Theron, the “straight man” for him to bounce jokes off — offsets his inadequacies to a some extent.

The four main supporting characters balance out MacFarlane well because they don’t have his level of self-awareness. Giovanni Ribisi plays Albert’s best friend, and his one and only gag is that his girlfriend, played by comedian Sarah Silverman, is a prostitute who won’t sleep with him until they’re married. It’s a gag that works well in principle but gets old quickly in practice.

The more dynamic duo is Amanda Seyfried and NPH, the latter of whom is in scintillating form as a douchebag for the ages. It’s a custom-made role for him and he just runs with it, and in the process nearly steals the show.

At 116 minutes, the film is about 15-20 minutes too long, and you get the sense watching it that MacFarlane struggled to cut it down because he was too in love with his own material.

To sum it up, A Million Ways is a serviceable farce comedy that takes a creative idea but can’t quite live up to its full potential. Joke for joke, I found it less funny and more uneven than Ted. On the other hand, that still makes it smarter and edgier than most comedies you’ll see these days.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

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I’m not usually a fan of animated films and had seen or heard almost nothing about Wreck-It Ralph, the latest cartoon offering from Disney, but was persuaded to see it by good word of mouth.

The concept is brilliant: the titular character, Ralph (John C Reilly), is the villain of a retro Donkey Kong-style arcade game who longs to be a good guy and breaks into other games in the arcade to seek validation.

I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of how Ralph does it, but it’s pretty clever and very cool. As you can imagine, throwing a poorly pixelated arcade game character from 20-30 years ago into the high definition, high-powered games of the present is a fun idea in itself, not to mention all the nostalgia of seeing some of the most iconic characters in gaming history (I won’t spoil the surprise by saying who they are).

That’s the biggest strength of Wreck-It Ralph — its ability to weave together memorable video game characters that will bring back the favourite memories of big kids like myself. And the character mish mash also happens to be what churns out some of the movie’s best jokes and one-liners. You’d have to be a massive geek to get all of the references, but there should be more than enough easy ones for everyone to enjoy.

Unfortunately, Wreck-It Ralph doesn’t quite exploit this concept enough, with the majority of the second half of the film taking place almost entirely in a single fictional game. This was a huge letdown for me because I had longed for more of the nostalgia, but instead the film kind of reversed into more familiar animated film territory as Ralph enters character development mode.

Not to say that this part of the film was bad, because it’s actually still quite good and littered with crafty humour and heart. Perhaps Disney didn’t want to milk the mish mash concept too much, but for me it took away the most appealing part of the movie and the potential for more clever laughs.

John C Reilly is always reliable and the supporting cast is excellent. There’s the sweet, nasally voice of comedian Sarah Silverman as a bratty but adorable little girl, the instantly-recognisable voice of 30 Rock‘s Jack McBrayer as the hero of Ralph’s video game, Fix-It Felix, as well as the equally recognisable voice of Glee‘s Jane Lynch as a first-person shooter squadron leader.

On the whole, Wreck-It Ralph is one of the better animated films I have seen in recent years, though it’s not quite in the same league as say Toy Story (any of them). Absolutely no shame in that though; I’d still recommend it to anyone who has ever spent a chunk of their childhood playing video games.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: Wreck-It Ralph has been nominated for a best animated feature Oscar. I haven’t seen the other nominees but Brave recently took out the award at the Golden Globes, so we’ll see.