The Monuments Men (2.75/5):
How much would you pay for a piece of art? Would you pay hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, for a canvas consumed with radiant colors and contorted shapes? Better yet, would your flesh be a worthwhile tradeoff to preserve a culturally significant tapestry? In George Clooney’s The Monuments Men, preserving art, even at the cost of human life, is a worthwhile endeavor. The film recounts the true tale of a dangerous World War II mission focused on recouping some of the world’s most significant pieces of art from the Nazi regime. Lead by Frank Stokes (George Clooney), the Monuments Men was a ragtag group of curators, architects, and historians who scoured the European Theater under one goal: protect the rich history their lives are clearly indebted to. After a small amount of time together, Stokes disperses the group throughout the war-torn terrain in pairs, with each tag team of art enthusiasts focused on one particular assignment. The men encounter real danger, but as Clooney sporadically peppers the film with grim realizations, one such instance finds the men encountering a barrel of gold teeth pulled from the Nazi’s numerous victims, we never really get the sense that the mission is as significant as the war that surrounds it.
Because of this disconnect between message and execution, the Monuments Men’s mission is an amusing anecdote in a tragic, sprawling epic. Clooney’s lack of tonal commitment also undermines the film’s message. Is this a film deeply predicated on the horrors of war, or is it Clooney’s attempt to pay homage to the relatively lighthearted films of the 40’s? The latter makes up most of the film, as it loosely comes across as a collection of goofballs playing around Europe while a war breaks out around them. Limiting the film’s potency further is its episodic structure. We leap from locale to locale with little to no dramatic thrust; failing to feel the hazardous trek these men face. For whatever reason, the script refuses to investigate these men and their selfless acts; leaving much of the character work up to the actors. I’m sure Clooney was truly moved by this mission, especially when it validates his view on art and its cultural impact, but a film this haphazardly put together cheapens the very thing the Monuments Men were trying to protect.
A Million Ways to Die in the West (2.75/5)
Let’s be honest with one another: the level of enjoyment you receive from A Million Ways to Die in the West is largely dependent on your tolerance for Seth MacFarlane. Admittedly, I’m on the fence when it comes to him. In small doses, he is an affably charming man. I don’t particularly care for his stake in needlessly repetitive jokes, but I also know that from time to time his wit is as swift and incisive as anyone in comedy. Unfortunately, the level of vitriol directed towards A Million Ways emanates from a handful of critics more focused on character assassination than reasonable dissections. A lot of critics approach the film as if Million Ways is gunning for Blazing Saddles, Mel Brook’s hilarious western satire. Making the comparison is a pointless endeavor. At no point does Million Ways make a run at Blazing Saddles or satire, rather it’s merely another sandbox for MacFarlane to shit in. As you can likely imagine, the plot is a wafer thin window dressing for MacFarlane and his shenanigans, except now in the Wild West! A oafish, lazy man (MacFarlane) tries to win back his high-strung, demanding ex-girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) by initiating a duel with her new man (Neil Patrick Harris), all while eliciting the help and love from a mysterious woman (Charlize Theron) new in town.
Basically, the name of the game is vulgarity and anachronistic jokes. I wish I could say the film is as entertaining as its title, but it’s far tamer than it suggests. Actually, the title itself is a bit of misnomer, as it never really pans out to anything but a handful of violent sight gags that MacFarlane seemingly abandons halfway through. What we need to realize is that A Million Ways is undoubtedly a showcase for MacFarlane as a comedic lead. And, if I’m being honest, MacFarlane isn’t entirely up to the challenge. There’s something about MacFarlane’s shtick that doesn’t particularly translate to the screen, and part of it resides in his ability to deliver a punchline. MacFarlane relies heavily on the audience being tickled by a curse word being shouted, which wouldn’t be so bad if not for its overbearing presence. There’s no nuance in place, only exasperating repetition. This is not to say MacFarlane doesn’t register a laugh; he certainly elicits some guffaws, but MacFarlane is constantly outshined by his cohorts. None of which are more endearing and hilarious than Giovani Ribisi playing a good-natured Christian man dating a Western whore (Sarah Silverman). Charlize Theron is also comically illuminating, providing the film with a level of confidence it needs, especially for its bloated runtime. In spite of the supporting turns, as well as a few memorable cameos, A Million Ways to Die in the West is a half-baked comedy strapped to the back of a man who simply can’t carry it.