Film Review: A Million Ways to Die in the West

A Million Ways to Die in the West

Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West is a fine idea in concept, but disappoints in actuality.

Albert is a timid sheep farmer in the Wild West. Too scared to do what it takes to impress his girlfriend Louise, Albert seems a lost cause until newcomer Anna rides into town…

A Million Ways to Die in the West does entertain its viewers, but not in the satisfying way it should. For a comedy, Seth MacFarlane’s film simply is not funny enough. Humour misses more times than it hits. There are not enough belly laughs in A Million Ways to Die in the West. Jokes are more likely to raise a smirk, but often do not provoke even this much of a  reaction. There is a significant amount of toilet humour in the film, which may not be a surprise to those familiar with MacFarlane’s output. However, this also fails; even those with the basest sense of humour will struggle to raise a laugh consistently.

A Million Ways to Die in the West feels almost as if Seth MacFarlane wished to make a Western, but felt he had to put a humorous spin on it. The humour feels tired, with a noticeable lack of effort. Nevertheless, due to this vein of silliness, it is hard to take other aspects of the film seriously. Without the humour to fall back on, the narrative needed to be strong. The bones of the story is fine, yet it is not fleshed out in an engaging manner. The audience are not given enough in order to care about the protagonist.

Seth MacFarlane’s central performance is lazy. There is a lack of range to his performance that is grating. Others in the cast, such as Charlize Theron and Neil Patrick Harris, shine in comparison. The soundtrack is good, and the cameos are fun.

With a second half that drags, A Million Ways to Die in the West needed to be sharper, funnier and more engaging.

Film Review: The Smurfs

The Smurfs is an adventure film aimed squarely at a young audience. Whilst the film should satisfy its target demographic, it is a shame that there is not more to appeal to older viewers who grew up watching the television cartoon.

Hoping to find the secret location of the Smurfs’ village, evil wizard Gargamel sets his plan in motion. As the Smurfs run to escape, they tumble out of their village and into Manhattan. With Gargamel close on their heels, the Smurfs must find their way back to their home, but they need the help of their new companions…

The Smurfs follows a pretty predictable narrative formula, typical of the family adventure genre. Given its aim at young children, the film lacks any real sense of peril. The film is still very watchable, but it plods along more than it grabs the viewer’s attention.

The film is schmaltzy in places, but this is almost inevitable given its style. The only real problem with the film is the lack of laughs. The Smurfs does features some amusing moments. However, these are simply not as frequent as they should be. Considering the formulaic nature of Raja Gosnell’s film, it really needs more effective jokes. Whilst the mild humour may please young children, parents and other older viewers would be more entertained if the comedy was more consistent and more successful.

The film features a nice nod to Peyo, creator of the Smurfs. Although this is pleasing touch, perhaps more could have been made of the Smurfs as mythical creatures. After some initial disbelief, their presence is readily accepted by the humans they encounter. The film may have worked better if it had been more self-reflexive and played up the Smurfs appearance as fictional media characters.

The scenes set in the Smurfs’ village offer sumptuous visuals. The effects are good overall. They have a cartoon-like quality, but this works well within the context of the film, and given the televisual history of the Smurfs. The 3D is used lightly for the most part; it is inoffensive but perhaps not worth the price of the uplift.

Hank Azaria makes a devilishly good Gargamel. He injects a lot of fun into the movie. Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays are suitably cast as Patrick and Grace. Katy Perry voices Smurfette well, but George Lopez and Alan Cumming can grate rather voicing Grouchy and Gutsy.

The Smurfs answers that age-old question of why there is only one female Smurf. Other than this, adults may be a bit unimpressed with the film, but young kids should be entertained.

Film Review: Beastly

A modern teen update of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, Beastly is uninspired but inoffensive. It is the sort of movie that is watched on television when nothing else is on, rather than a film to be seen (and payed for) on the big screen.

Teenager Kyle is a good-looking and popular high school student. He rates appearance highly, and plays a prank on Kendra, an unpopular girl at his high school. Unbeknownst to Kyle, Kendra is a witch who curses him in revenge. Kyle is made as ugly on the outside as he is on the inside, and has one year to find love and break the curse…

At eighty-six minutes in length, Beastly is thankfully short. The film is not terrible, but it is instantly forgettable. Beastly does nothing particularly interesting with the fairy tale that it is based on. There is no sense of innovation in adapting the story in a modern setting. The film is a standard romance, with little to distinguish itself from the plethora of other contemporary-set fairy tale films.

Beastly is fairly simplistic in its depictions of the handful of characters. The film offers a polarised world, where all the rich people are inherently bad, while the poor characters are honest and good. Housekeeper Zola is unappreciated, yet still has the patience to counsel Kyle. Kyle’s school friends, meanwhile, show little concern for the disappearance of a close friend. There is very little character development, even in the case of the two protagonists. Lindy is too good to be true, while Kyle predictably learns the error of his ways in good time. Perhaps if writer and director Daniel Barnz has spent more time giving his characters depth, the film would have been more compelling.

Make-up in the film is well executed, although Kyle does not look particularly “beastly” after the curse. Unlike earlier renditions of the story, Kyle keeps the same form; his curse is disfigurement rather than a full transformation. As such, he is not as isolated or monstrous as he could have been. The soundtrack is decent, and in keeping with the style of the film.

Alex Pettyfer is adequate as Kyle; the writing stifles any opportunity for a memorable performance. Vanessa Hudgens is less convincing as Lindy. Hudgens struggles to portray a range of emotions as believably as she should. Neil Patrick Harris’ Will is responsible for most of Beastly‘s minimal laughs, and as such should have been given a more integral role.

A film that is unlikely to be an outstanding credit to any of the cast or crew, Beastly struggles to escape its mediocre status. Not a painful watch, but not a hugely enjoyable one either.