Archive for July, 2014

I wasn’t a fan of the first “Expendables” film. The action scenes were boring, it didn’t make good use of a unique compilation of cast members, and when a monologue by Mickey Rourke is your best scene, well, you’re not up to snuff on action. Plus, you can’t call your heroes “The Expendables” and then not kill any of them off.

The second film, however, was delightfully fun, with Arnold and Bruce Willis firing guns from a Smart Car (or Mini Cooper or whatever), and douchebag Chuck Norris smiling and being a good sport about the “Chuck Norris” rules that made his untalented ass popular again (even though he sued the creators of it…and apparently argued for part 2 to be PG-13…asshole).

Now we have a third film, which adds some welcome cast members: Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Mel Gibson, and Harrison Ford. Snipes, no longer in jail from tax evasion, gets some good wisecracking in as a former Expendables member who has been held in black site prisons until he’s broken out in the film’s opening sequence wherein a helicopter attacks a train. After that sequence, the plot kicks in. Stallone (because who cares what their character names are, he’s Stallone) and his group head to Somalia to break up an arms deal, when one member is shot and almost dies, and we meet our villain, Mel Gibson of course. Gibson and Stallone’s characters go way back, so there’s a score to settle here. Gibson pretty much plays the same villain he played in “Machete Kills”, and seems to enjoy hamming it up quite a bit. His real life issues have necessitated that he play villains now, instead of the heroes he playing in “Lethal Weapon” and “Mad Max”, but Gibson seems to relish it, and he does the job well.

Ford replaces Bruce Willis (who supposedly wanted too much money to reprise his role) as the CIA contact for Stallone and his men, but he mostly just gets to deliver dialogue and fly a helicopter, but Ford does seem the least grumpy I’ve seen him in recent history, so it looks like he had fun with what amounts to something just a bit larger than a cameo. Banderas, who worked well with Stallone in “Assassins” way back in 1995, plays a chatty cathy who wants on Stallone’s team, and he adds comic relief to a film that has plenty of that. “The Expendables” films are comedies with explosions more than straight ahead action films. Sure, they’re not parodies of the genre, like Arnold’s famous bomb “Last Action Hero” (which I’ve always thought was underrated, but oh well), but they come pretty close.

The main problem with this film is the problem I had with the first one: the action sequences are boring. Aside from a moment when a motorcycle drives up a helicopter into the air to land a couple of stories up a building, which I don’t remember seeing before in a film, the sequences are pretty perfunctory, unmemorable, and are sometimes hampered with shoddy CGI. The most enjoyable parts of the film are really just watching the actors try to out-wisecrack one another. The late film critic Gene Siskel used to ask the question “Is this film more entertaining than a documentary of these same actors having lunch together?” I think for this film, the answer is no. In fact, the film is somewhat hampered BY having so many characters in the film. It’s also hampered by the same thing “The Avengers” and other team-up films get hampered by: A group of very dynamic heroes overshadows a single, solitary villain. Sure, Loki was popular in “Avengers”, but you weren’t afraid of him, or particularly impressed by him. Then the disposable alien villains attacking New York City was a boring bit of CGI nonsense, and we just wanted to watch Tony Stark and Bruce Banner outwit each other verbally. While Gibson is a fine villain, he’s not enough. If there’s another film in the series, I hope they make a team of evil “Expendables”. Surely there’s enough washed-up WWE wrestlers to populate that team.

Aside from those quibbles, and a wasted Kelsey Grammar, whose character feels superfluous and an excuse for a montage of different locales to open the film up, the film is not without its enjoyability factor. I love seeing Arnold say “Get to da choppah!” as much as anyone. That’s not enough, though. if you’re going to make a straight-ahead 80s-style action film, I need action that wows me, or these characters need to be more interesting than just “Hey! It’s that actor on screen with that other actor!” Plus, while the second film retained its R rating, this third one is PG-13, and the pulled punches do show. Little-to-no blood in an action movie doesn’t work when your villains shoot bullets and not lasers or something sci-fi.

“The Expendables 3” is not without its charm, but charm isn’t enough. C.

**Spoilery post-script**

Best exchange of dialogue in the film:

Villain: What about the Hague?
Stallone: I AM the Hague.
(Shoots him)

Noah (dir. Darren Aronofsky)

Posted: July 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

Darren Aronofsky had never directed a bad film, prior to “Noah”. “Pi”, “Requiem for a Dream”, “The Fountain”, “The Wrestler”, and “Black Swan” were all, to me, excellent films that hit their marks perfectly in terms of being interesting on the levels of story, visuals, and characters, and communicating their respective messages clearly. The most divisive of those films, “The Fountain” was perhaps hampered by the fact that it was originally set to go with a larger budget and different leading man, but eventually the script was adjusted to meet a smaller budget, Hugh Jackman replaced Brad Pitt, and the film bombed at the box office while attaining a cult following that enjoyed its unique visuals and quasi-Eastern Philosophy themes.

“Noah” is the closest to “The Fountain” that Aronofsky has come since making that film. After the stripped-bare, low-fi visual styles of both “The Wrestler” and “Black Swan”, Aronofsky delivered his highest budgeted film thus far, a rather bizarre and often times unintentionally funny interpretation of the biblical account of Noah. While “The Fountain” was thought by some to be a tad cheesy at times, I found that film quite moving and was along for the ride. Not so with “Noah”, which feels like the cross between low-quality Terrance Malick and Pink Floyd’s The Wall type visual acid trip. The film is at times visually stunning, with its scrapbook-like quit cut progression montages depicting events like evolution (go figure), but they don’t make up for how goofy the damn screenplay is.

We all know the basic story. Noah (Russell Crowe) gets a vision from God (called “The Creator” in the film) that a flood is coming to wipe out the wicked, and he builds an ark to save two of every animal. The film expands from that by giving us things like giant rock monsters (really fallen angels trapped in rock form…sure), cannibals, and a Noah that is really misanthropic and comes off as bloodthirsty and way too into letting humans die horribly. Noah being so eager to let people die and *SPOILER* being ever-so-eager to murder two miracle twin babies calls to mind modern day religious fanatics whose surety in their religious faith leads to them caring not for human suffering or the extinguishing of life. You can’t really call Noah our hero in this film. Whether it’s letting girls get trampled to death or cockblocking his son, Noah is a dick.

The other side of things is our antagonist, Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), a descendant of Cain and leader of a large tribe of war-like slave traders and cannibals who wants to survive the flood on the ark. Noah and his family are the last descendants of Seth, the other brother of Cain and Abel. How both Cain and Seth have descendants when Adam and Eve had no daughters, well, the logical assumption of incest is the Bible’s fault, not the film’s, but incest lurks throughout the film. When one character gives birth to **AGAIN SPOILER** twin girls, the only logical way humans could continue to multiply is if the girls are impregnated by either their father or one of their two uncles. Yuck. That’s religion for you!

The film takes us from a quick recap of the creation to its present: creation of the universe, fall of man, and Cain’s descendants “industrializing” the world. An attack on Capitalism wreaking havoc on the world? Seems like it, but mainly in the sense of its destroying the environment. Anyway, we get our recap, we see Noah and his family, the vision, the rock monsters, a battle, the flood, and then some time on the ark contemplating infanticide before waters recede and Noah gets his drink on. That’s our movie in a nutshell.

Oh, and Anthony Hopkins is a shaman who is Noah’s grandfather, can magically heal women’s wombs against God’s will, and really likes berries.

The dialogue in this film is short, inelegant, and utilitarian. This could have easily been a silent film and nothing would be hard to understand. Sometimes the visuals carry things, and sometimes we’re just looking at murky fog and/or rain soaked people looking gravely concerned about things. The music is bombastic but forgettable. The acting is workmanlike. The visual effects are both pretty to look at and shoddy at the same time.

The films has many problems, but chief among them is the inability to pull a message out of this mess. Okay Aronofsky, you’ve taken a Bible story and reinterpreted it in this fashion. Why? On the surface it feels like a Greenpeace treatise on Capitalism’s destruction of the environment, with some quasi-Native American or vegan Hippie philosophy about not picking flowers you don’t need and not eating animals. The problem with this message coming through is that it is delivered to us by a bloodthirsty, misanthropic, fanatical lunatic named Noah. Sure, some members of Noah’s family are a bit more sympathetic, but not by much. His wife (a wasted Jennifer Connelly) goes along with things up until the potential baby murder without question. One of his sons (Logan Lerman) seems mainly obsessed with getting laid, to the extent that he falls for the first non-family-member-or-brother’s-girlfriend female he meets. The youngest son has maybe 2 lines in the whole film. The eldest son and his girl (Emma Watson) don’t have much to do until they abruptly fuck in the woods (after magical Anthony Hopkins apparently makes her horny?) and then try to protect their babies from the religious bloodlust of Noah.

If we have no one to root for, we’re pretty much just rooting for God to drown everyone and end the film. If the film’s message is supposed to me Humans Are Scum, fine, but we know this ends with Noah and his family surviving and continuing humanity, after some banal expressions about love and choice that feels tacked on at the end of the third act, following Noah’s bender.

Maybe there is no message, and the film exists simply to piss of Christians by making Noah an asshole, adding montages of evolution and paying lip service to environmentalism, and allow for CGI rock monsters to martyr themselves (also a mixed message. So it’s GOOD to kill yourself in battle for your God? Because the rock monsters are doing that, and the film seems to think, if not well, than certainly better of them than of Noah, our baby-murder-wanting hero).

I have a theory about the film that it’s supposed to take place in our future rather than the past (as biblical literalist do), which explains the film being shot in colors that make it look like the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” from a few years ago. Instead of depicting the “first apocalypse”, it’s just predicting our own. Human intervention will lead to destroying the Earth through the diminishing of resources, there will be a war between the religious and those who practically want the last remaining resources left (oil?), and the human race will perish. Fine. But Aronofsky, you have to make your message clearer. Don’t build Noah up as a nice guy for the first, I dunno, twenty minutes of this film and then have him go bugnuts crazy.

it doesn’t help that the film is laughably bad in the way “Battlefield Earth” can be sometimes. A Rifftrax commentary for this film is sorely needed. This film cannot be taken seriously, precisely because it insists that it is a solemn and important film while Noah is sliding home between a rock monster’s legs. You can either make an impassioned argument for preserving the environment or you can make a lousy Lord of the Rings wannabe, but you can’t do both. Maybe SOMEONE can do both but you, Darren Aronofsky, cannot. C-.

While I’m still in the process of posting old reviews, here’s a link to my video going down my top 10 films of last year: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2gWUqKHAA8

“The Purge: Anarchy” is, at the risk of being accused of hyperbole, the most enthusiastically anti-American film I have seen within recent memory.  Keep in mind that I can remember Lars Von Trier films and Noam Chomsky interviews.  Cynics will accuse the new “Purge” as being unintentionally funny.  The truth is, the film is very intentional with its angry, caustic, satirical humor.  This is hot a horror film, or a thriller, though some sequences in this 100+ minute chase film are admittedly thrilling.  This is a livid comedy; one can imagine this film being written by John Oliver and directed by an early 80s John Carpenter.  In case the first “Purge” film’s ultra blatant messages about gun culture and economic inequality were lost on, the sequel takes it all the way to 11.  Audiences who couldn’t see through the super-obvious left-wing messages of recent sci-fi dystopias like Andrew Niccol’s underrated “In Time” or Blomkamp’s “Elysium” will enjoy the way that the new “Purge” eschews metaphor for a hyper-obvious allegory that repeatedly and cheerfully hits you over the head with its blatant message.  Not since Bret Easton Ellis used a serial murderer as a metaphor for the heartlessness of 80s Reaganite capitalism in “American Psycho” has there been such an in-your-face, rage-filled rant against the upper class.

The universe of the film is one where America in the near future has elected some sort of oligarchy known as the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA).  Through a process not thoroughly laid out in either “Purge” film, though explored in an official site linked to the film (http://www.newfoundersamerica.org), a constitutional amendment is passed allowed that, for 12 hours on one night of the year, all crime is deemed legal, especially murder.  The stated reason for this is to allow citizens to experience a catharsis, “release the beast”, thus allowing crime to be confined to this one night and allowing relative peace and prosperity for the rest of the year. Indeed, title cards tell us that unemployment and crime are taken to record lows, and the economy is booming after a fiscal crisis.  Perhaps the unstated reason for this is to eliminate the poor, thus allowing for lesser strain on government programs allocated to help and, also, prosecute them?  How much money would the government save if you could drastically cut any and all programs that exist as a social safety net for the poor, sick, and needy?  How much would you save if you didn’t have to funnel money to law enforcement to arrest, try, and jail poor people who commit crimes associated with the poor (drugs and crimes committed to pay for drugs, gang violence, etc?)

Whereas the first “Purge” film dealt with upper-middle to lower-rich classes, living a nice neighborhood where no one seems to go out and purge (as a verb) themselves (a commentary about how, when the poor riot, they never target rich communities?), the sequel takes us to the middle of the city, where the poor desperately barricade themselves with what little means they can muster, street hustlers offer last minutes sales on guns and protection, and some take the extreme route of selling themselves to be killed by the rich so that their surviving relatives have a chance to get out of squalor (a mixture of “Hostel” and a metaphor for how we all sell out by taking jobs that help make those higher on the economic latter a bit richer even though the harder work is done by the wage-laborer).

The new film gives us five protagonists: Eva (Carmen Ejogo) is a waitress struggling to make ends meet. Cali (Zoe Soul, who cannot act) is her daughter who won’t shut up and whose job in the film is to ask questions which allow for exposition.  Then we meet a couple of the verge of breaking up (Zach Gilford and Kylie Sanchez) who are driving home just before the Purge is about to commence (didn’t feel the need to leave earlier, guys?) when their car breaks down due to sabotage but masked gang members.  Then we meet Leo (Frank Grillo), a man who has chosen to go out on Purge Night armed to the teeth in a souped up Mad Max-Death Race car to get revenge.  Circumstances draw them together and the film mainly functions as a chase film of them running through dark streets and buildings (ala “Escape from New York”) as the city becomes a war zone.

Oh, and lest I forget, there is also a character named Carmelo (Michael K. Williams) who posts internet videos where he explicitly states the things the film is saying: that people need to wake up, realize that the rich are exploiting and killing the poor to line their own pockets, and people need to rise up against them.  This character is dressed up like a Black Panther or Che Guevara and sounds like a cross between Vladimir Lenin and me when I’m drunk or watching Fox news.  This character, and his army of all-Black revolutionaries, brings to mind the jokes Bill Maher often makes about Conservatives being afraid of “Obama’s Negro Army”.

The film’s two main messages are about economic inequality and gun culture.  On the former, it’s saying that the way our modern real-life America society runs, the rich are killing the poor in all but the most literal sense of the word.  The film shows us the literal iteration of what the rich are financially and socially doing to the poor (and also what the poor does to the poor with the tacit endorsement of the rich).  This message is right on the surface of the film and stated explicitly and repeatedly.  It hammers you over the head as much as victims in this film are literally hammered over the head.  Your tolerance for this will depend on how angry you are about economic inequality in the United States.  Since I am a Socialist and very concerned, I watched the film with a gigantic smile on my face the whole way through.

The second concern is about gun culture, and this message is perhaps a bit mixed.  While the film is very much against redneck gun lovers (numerous gun-toting characters yell about how owning a gun and/or shooting a gun is their God and/or government given right in increasingly hilarious ways) and gun fetishism (one character describes a gun in particularly phallic detail late into the film), and it clearly shows that guns are not adequate protection for a home invasion, and taking the law into your own hands is wrong…the film seemingly has no problem with guns for self-defense as a practical measure (everyone on the street is a potential enemy, so you should be armed to fight back…isn’t that the argument of concealed carry, even though it IS the phenomenon of concealed and open carry that causes people to feel like anyone could be a potential enemy.  Perhaps this is a comment on how, like people wouldn’t need guns to protect themselves if guns were not first a threat, people wouldn’t need guns to protect themselves during the Purge if the Purge itself didn’t exist).  The film also seems okay with violent rebellion against the rich.  While Carmelo the resistance leader is shown to yell and look kind of crazy in the film, the things he says throughout the film are NOT crazy at all, making me view him as the mouthpiece of the writer/director.  “The Purge: Anarchy” is not a film politely arguing for a democratic solution to economic inequality.  After all, the New Founding Fathers of America were voted in democratically.  The film is arguing that the rich be overthrown through revolutionary means.  Not since “Fight Club” have I seen an American film so unapologetically Marxist in its ideology.

Of all the people we see murdered in the film (mostly via gun), the film presents all of the murders as either shocking, horrible, or neutrally as background to set up the world.  That is, except, when it comes to the rich.  In once scene, which also helpfully explains that no one tries to break into banks during the Purge because they move their money, we are treated to the site of a stock broker murdered and hung up over the door of a large bank, holding a sign which is both read aloud to us and shown on screen long enough for us to read ourselves, explaining that he was killed for stealing pensions.  One of our protagonists says “maybe he deserved it” as the camera lingers on the victim before we cut to the next scene.  Later on, we see other rich people, all dressed up in the attire Mitt Romney and his sons were nearly every time they give an interview these days, being shot to pieces in sequences clearly meant for us to cheer that, finally, someone we WANT to die, is.

Some may ask why the messages are so blatant and in your face.  Some will want subtlety, nuance, a more creative metaphor.  I have no such qualms.  Political movies may be all over the place these days, from Michael Moore docs on the left, Dinesh D’Souza propaganda on the right, and stuff like “Dirty Wars” in the middle, but films like those exist an echo chamber where only those who already agree with those films’ views are sitting in the audience for them, and those who aren’t in the choir they’re preaching to are people already firmly against them who are there for an irony orgy.  By putting your message on the surface (for those who are too lazy or stupid to read between the lines) in a genre that is popular across many different demographics (like horror) you reach an audience who otherwise wouldn’t care to listen to your Marxist rant.  While a film like “the Purge: Anarchy” probably won’t sway anyone’s opinions on its own, it may slither upon unsuspecting audiences and at least spark discussions, whereas documentaries would immediately cause people to have their guard up.

Aside from the message of the film, many viewers of the first “Purge” had issues with the mythology of this world.  If ALL crime is legal (except for some heavy explosives and the murder of high government officials) why is everyone so concerned with murder?  While this sequel explains that breaking into banks, and presumably expensive stores, would be futile, couldn’t hackers steal money over the internet?  The sequel, in discussing CCTV traffic cams, indicates that perhaps the internet is too heavily state controlled for this to happen, but it seems like someone would try.  Then there are the questions which lead to ideas for fan fiction: What if you merely assaulted someone you knew but didn’t kill them, then after the Purge ends they have to be all hunky-dory with you for another 364 days?  What about acquaintance rape? A storyline in which someone rapes someone legally during the Purge and then can’t be prosecuted later, leaving the victim scarred and with no recourse, would be an excellent socially commentary on the string of campus rapes making the news.  I’m sure you guys and girls can think of a billion different stories for this universe, which is one quality of it that endears this series to me, and makes me hope for either more sequels or prequels or side-quels, or perhaps a licensed series of novel spin-offs exploring all of the different ways people would exploit 12 hours of carte blanche.

Of course, there are also holes in logic.  For instance, why does no one just leave the country for the Purge?  I assume they don’t because the films makes a point about how the Purge is very Patriotic (people put out a special flower in front of their house to show support for it) and, much like the people who didn’t fly the American flag or express extreme love of country after 9/11, someone who left the country for the Purge would be forever a pariah in their community and labeled un-American or a traitor.  So putting aside questions that could be feasibly explained with the logic the film provides us and a dollop of our own knowledge of America…what happens to people stick in the Hospital during the Purge? Mental hospitals? Prisons? What is someone is killed one minute after the Purge ends?  You can’t pinpoint time of death accurately to within a minute.  What if you fire a gun a second before the Purge ends, but it doesn’t hit the person until the claxon signally the end of the Purge?  Does the beginning of the act or the completion of the act count as when the act is said to have occurred?  How much these holes or unexplained aspects of the film bother you will vary.  Me?  I didn’t mind much.  The film takes place in a heightened satirical universe and seems to play fair based on the rules the film (now films) give us.

Ultimately, I thoroughly enjoyed the film.  Despite the absence of the invaluable Ethan Hawke this time around, this sequel is actually a better film than the original, thanks to eliminating superfluous subplots, focusing more on the poor, trading the trapped-in-one-location horror set-up for a chase set-up (or, in John Carpenter-ese, trading “Assault on Precinct 13” for “Escape from New York” or “Escape from LA”), and expanding on the world created in the first one.  We’re still in b-movie territory here, but for this one, it earns the highest of Bs. B+

If nothing else, “Bad Words” shows that Jason Bateman has a talent for directing, and can play a very effective antihero.  The problem seems to be in the expectations one has coming into the film.  There has been a mini-genre of sorts involving brash, crude adults who piss of people and flaunt the rules, and the precocious children they team up with.  “Bad Santa”, “Bad Teacher”, and the crappy “Bad News Bears” remake are all entries in this, well, not “new” genre, but one that seems to faithfully pump out one new entry a year to varying results.  “Bad Words”, despite the presence of the obligatory “bad” in the title, is less straight-ahead comedy and thus less funny than the audience may think and/or hope for.  It is a rather melancholy film with a handful of easy laughs, but it speaks more to the general inability of man to truly achieve what they have set out to do in life.  If the film has a message, and I’m not entirely sure it truly does, then it would be that old “best laid plans” cliche.  Whether you’re a child who has planned for a spelling bee, a bitter man who wants a mixture of closure and revenge, or an old man who wants to build a legacy for himself in an institution of his creation, nothing will ever turn out quite the way you want it to.  In fact, what you want may change in the journey there.

Look, this is a pretty disposable film about a 40-year-old genius jerk (becoming a rather cliched stock character in the post-“House, MD” era) who exploits a loophole to enter a children’s spelling bee tournament.  It’s not as funny as that concept might allow, but the film’s not really going for hilarity.  It’s one of the few comedies radiating ennui.  Not from Bateman, who seems to have had a connection with this material enough to direct and star in it, but ennui for life.  If i took anything away from the film, it’s misanthropy and a lobster hanging from a man’s testicles. B-

…a link to my old review of “2016: Obama’s America”, the laughably bad “documentary” he previously made. Click here for video

Click here for video

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” can be read one of two ways. Either the Xavier side is meant to represent peacenik Democrats and the Magneto side represent Republicans, and the movie is arguing that both sides must eventually put aside their petty squabbling to defeat a common enemy that threatens to destroy the world (radical Islam, which I suppose the US government in 1973 represents, with Vietnam as a stand-in for Iraq); or, they represent moderate Muslims and radical Muslims who are afraid of the imperialist US, and how they must join together if they are to hope that the west won’t attempt to annihilate them in the future.

There is some plainly surface stuff here, though. The Sentinels are clearly the stand-in here for drone warfare. Having the Peter Dinklage character specifically mention the lack of collateral damage the Sentinels will produce (by homing in on the mutant gene) seals that. The Sentinels then turning on humans who may pass on the gene later is, I suppose, a reference to collateral damage of drone attacks leading once-moderate Muslims to then radicalize out of revenge (if you start by killing mutants/radicals, eventually you will have to go after those carry the gene/those who will become radicalized by the original killings). You could probably read an anti-eugenics message in here as well, but it’s not as surface as the drone thing.

Aside from whatever social message the film is trying to convey, it is quite an enjoyable film. I’d rank it as my second favorite X-Men film, after the terrifically character-driven “First Class”. Watching a bunch of CGI heroes fight CGI villains has gotten really boring to me as I get older, so I don’t become invested unless there’s some good character work involved. While DOFP lacks the true character focus of “First Class”, it still keeps the action centered more on personality and motivation than the lava lampy entertainment of a sound and light show.

Seeing the present-day cast interact with the past cast was pretty cool, even if the present-dayers, save for Wolverine, aren’t given much to do. Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique isn’t given as much meaty material as she was in the last film, but kicking ass in that make-up still steals the show. Speaking of stealing the show, the Quicksilver slow-mo sequence was so fun I almost wish I’d shelled out the extra dough for the 3D showing.

Perhaps the best thing about the film, though, is SPOILER ALERT the way it completely erases X3 from having ever happened. Nobody liked it, Brett Ratner is a hack with only one good movie under his belt (“The Family Man”), and now we can safely ignore it. A well-deserved retcon.

It’s not a masterpiece or anything, but it makes me happy when, in the midst of an orgy of special effects and time travel jargon, a big budget comic films doesn’t forget to keep things focused on the people on screen, and not the animated busyness. B+

Ti West’s “The Sacrament” is about Jonestown. It may take place in present day and be a faux documentary about Vice reporters, but the film otherwise mirrors everything that happened with Jim Jones and his cult’s mass suicide. I’m not entirely sure why West made the film. It doesn’t seem to have a purpose or a message. I think West just wanted to make a horror film about Jonestown. As far as that goes, the film is quite good. The only drawback is, really, if you are at all familiar with Jonestown, the film loses its suspense because you pretty much know everything that is going to happen. The film does have a really good build up, some incredibly tense scenes, and some very disturbing imagery. The Vice quasi-found-footage thing works pretty well, for the most part, in adding an extra layer of cleverness to the proceedings. The film is ultimately very good, but its seeming lack of a reason for existing other than to recreate a horrific event very well holds it back from greatness. B+

“A Million Ways to Die in the West” is a consistently funny film arguing in favor of nerds over tough men, as long as the nerds learn confidence and courage. It’s also an evisceration of misplaced nostalgia for really shitty time periods in American history. It’s always a certain type of person (idiotic Conservatives, mostly) who seem to wax nostalgic about the Old West….or 1776…or the Civil War….or the 1950s when, let’s face it, those periods really would have sucked to live in (maybe not so much the 1950s…unless you weren’t a white male). By mixing middle-brow history jokes with low-brow toilet humor, a handful of legitimately funny pop culture references, and the usual Seth Macfarlane-isms, “A MIllion Ways” doesn’t quite reach the levels of hilarity needed to call it a great comedy, but it is still a very good one. I suppose some feminist film critics will point out that the hero is ultimately fighting for which hot blonde blue-eyed women he’ll end up with, but at least one of them (Charlize Theron) is only partially stereotypical (she’s tough and smart and skilled, but still ends up a damsel in distress towards the end). Oh, and the jokes about Amanda Seyfried’s huge eyes were well appreciated. B+