A Million Ways to Die in the West

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I don’t know Seth MacFarlane. I’ve never seen Family Guy, or Ted, or his apparently squirmy presentation at the Oscars. I’ve never seen him interviewed or read an opinion piece on him. So I came to A Million Ways to Die in the West with no expectations whatsoever. Which was a good thing, I think. The movie’s basically a 90 minute running gag about the sheer awfulness of life in the Wild West where life is nasty, brutish and short (who said that?)

MacFarlane plays a cowardly sheep farmer who runs up against Liam Neeson, the nastiest man on the frontier. Charlize Theron is Anna who has to teach him to shoot. Charlize – who’s got a bit of a reputation for ill-humour, this side of the pond – is the biggest surprise here; her good-natured banter is perfectly timed, and the growing friendship with Seth is totally winning – their chemistry is actually delightful. Aside from that, the humour is expectedly coarse and smutty, and the western movie sets in and around Santa Fe look like studio sets, but whatever. It’s not Jane Austen, but if you can set aside your preconceived prejudices about moon faced Seth, it’s a fun way to pass an evening.

Transcendence

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Transcendence had a big budget. You can tell because everything is slick and glossy and high-definition-real-film-awesome-fx marvellous. Everything except for the script, which, though it is packed with zooty ideas and concepts, rolls out like it was drafted by one of those Internet Name Generators, one stilted, wooden cliche at a time. Also: Rebecca Hall has morphed into Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Depp is literally one-dimensional, and ultimately, not one of the long list of seriously impressive all star cast members can save it. Belen, New Mexico is the location, if you’re interested? No, I didn’t think so.

Lone Survivor

Director Peter Berg (the excellent, under-rated The Kingdom, the daft but hugely enjoyable, under-rated Battleship) here turns his hand to the story of four special forces operatives stuck faaaaaaaar behind enemy lines in Afghanistan. Pinned down by hostile Taliban, and out of radio contact with base, injured and isolated, the four guys – Wahlberg, Kitsch, Foster, Hirsch – are forced on the run under heavy fire across gruelling terrain….

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I don’t much like war films – I can’t get beyond the futility of it all, nor indeed the apparent ineptitude of the well-oiled military machine. Lone Survivor though is exceptionally well made. It’s beautifully, beautifully shot (with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico performing admirable stand-in for the Hindu Kush), the action scenes are visceral and brutal, the stunt performances should be Oscar nominated, and the performances are great. Taylor Kitsch should be the next great movie star, I think (though he’s old-school understated classy star, not the McConnaughey-Jackman shirtless preening buffoon-type)

So: not something I’d watch again, but interesting for what it is. A true story too.

 

The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger is everything you’ve heard about it, and more. Or less, depending on how you look at it. It’s certainly richly gorgeous to look at, and the scenes of the Wild West town and the construction of the railway look fantastic. But. But. Oh where do I even begin with the buts?

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The Lone Ranger is jump-the-shark literally from start to finish. The western stuff is all fine but – and I don’t mean to give anything away – it’s got all this ridiculous supernatural stuff, spirit walking and carnivorous bunnies and resurrection from the dead and a self-aware fire-jumping horse, that it’s like two completely different movies. Johnny Depp both underacts and overacts at the same time, and Armie Hammer is basically Prince Andrew Alcott from Mirror Mirror, stumbled in from that other, more charming movie. If you want to know what it’s like, think Pirates of New Mexico, all hubris and bombast and stunts and overblown score. Oh, whatever. One of these days I’ll come down off the fence and tell you what I really thought about it.

The Host

One of the joys of the school holidays is a constant rotation of teen movies on the tv. The Host was last up. And O – M – G it was ridiculous. Now, I’ve never read any Stephanie Meyer, but I understand her books are incredibly badly written, with turgid and stilted dialogue between the unhappy participants of moody teenage love triangles. There’s a supernatural bent too. The Host is similar. Decent enough premise; Earth has been conquered by aliens that insert themselves into your spinal column and make you nice. But one human, Melanie, refuses to be subsumed by her thousand year old Parasite-called-Wanda, which causes a few problems with her boyfriend, and another kid who falls for the alien.

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The Host is truly a beautiful looking movie; the New Mexico locations are absolutely jaw dropping. But it’s sunk by the source material; the dialogue just never quite rises above clunky, and all the lines are portentously spoken as if they’re always saying goodbye. The Child, for what it’s worth, railed against the inconsistencies with the book.

Cowboys and Aliens

In Cowboys and Aliens, it’s 1873 and a skinny, craggy Daniel Craig awakes in the Arizona desert with no recollection of who he is nor how he got there, and with a strange, beeping, modern metal bangle strapped to his wrist. When he arrives at the nearest town, it’s attacked by aliens with vastly superior fire power, and Daniel joins a posse alongside a surly rancher (Harrison Ford) to track them down and rescue the girl.

That’s it in a nutshell. It’s not a deep plot, all things considered. The Western part of the mash-up is very well done though – everything from the horses to the dust to the costumes feels stylish and authentic. (It also filmed in Plaza Bianca just outside Santa Fe in New Mexico, where we hosted Cineposium a few years back). The aliens bit of the mash-up is less well done however, which is a bit disappointing really. The best thing about Cowboys and Aliens – apart from Daniel Craig in chaps, of course – is that the movie is played completely straight. Not a witty quip from a mouthy African-American side-kick in sight.

True Grit

The Cohen Brothers’ remake of True Grit, starring Matt Damon and an incomprehensible Jeff Bridges, filmed in New Mexico – I’m guessing because of the incentives as much as for the pristine Old West landscapes. You all know the story of the prissy teenage girl who hires a bounty hunter to track her father’s killer and then goes along for the ride.

To be honest, I don’t have much to report from the film. I preferred the original? Matt Damon’s good? It’s not the best Cohen Brothers work I’ve ever seen? I liked it, just not massively, and it failed to move me in any way, positively or negatively. Sad but true.

Paul

Oh I so so so nearly loved Paul. Nearly, but not quite. It’s about two harmless British sci-fi geeks who’re attending Comic Con in San Diego (actually Albuquerque Convention Center) and then heading off on a road trip to some of the American South-West’s most iconic sci-fi sights and sites. Heading towards Roswell, New Mexico in a camper van, they inadvertently rescue a lippy alien called Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) from some bad guys and set in motion a ridiculous, silly but smile-worthy cross country.

So Paul’s got Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who are sweet and nerdy and sympathetic and likeable. Current it-girl Kirsten Wiig is in it too, as an odd-ball Creationist who kind of has to have a re-think, faced with the short, green body of evidence before her. Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, David Koechner, Jane Lynch are in it too and of course Seth Rogen; all it needed was Paul Rudd, Will Ferrell and Catherine Tate and it’d be a real self-congratulatory Who’s Who of trans-atlantic funny folk.

New Mexico obviously features strongly as a location; the scene where Paul goes shopping in disguise was shot on Bridge Street in Las Vegas, NM – not Las Vegas NV. I’m guessing in Las Vegas NV, Paul would’ve fit right in.