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National
Review: 'A Million Ways to Die in the West'
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Review: 'A Million Ways to Die in the West'

Review: 'A Million Ways to Die in the West'
This image released by Universal Pictures shows Seth MacFarlane in a scene from "A Million Ways to Die in the West." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)

Review: 'A Million Ways to Die in the West'

"A Million Ways to Die in the West" is a grim vanity project for, by and about its creator, "Family Guy" guru Seth MacFarlane, determined here to prove himself capable of carrying his own movie in a romantic-comic leading role. He hits his marks; he's just not funny or interesting. Don Knotts made "The Shakiest Gun in the West"; MacFarlane is the smuggest.

Plenty of comedies aren't funny, but this one is more than that. It's wholeheartedly narcissistic in its portrait of male petulance and self-pity, and it arrives in theaters at a time when we're actually talking about the free-floating hostility and implications of various R-rated comedies, good or bad, expressing a casually (or overtly) misogynist view of the world. If MacFarlane's latest succeeds with the public, as did his feature film directorial debut, "Ted," then honestly: The public deserves more of it.

The director, producer, co-writer and star appears to be working through some relational trust issues in "A Million Ways to Die in the West," in which MacFarlane plays an inept sheep farmer in 1882 Arizona. A fast-talking coward in the Bob Hope "Paleface" vein, Albert has a sour streak he pins on all the times a devious, hurtful female has "disappointed" him, destroyed his trust, eroded his self-worth. (Seriously: This film has a strange odor.)

When his flighty, shallow steady (Amanda Seyfried; character name irrelevant) dumps him for a sniveling fancy man with money (Neil Patrick Harris), Albert suffers a crisis of confidence cured by the new gal in town, the hottest, tallest, coolest, warmest female within several states and territories. She's played by Charlize Theron; her character, as we realize but Albert does not, is the much-abused wife of the notorious outlaw and gunman played by Liam Neeson. The story comes down to a duel between the nervous sheep farmer and the snake with the Irish brogue, who keeps one hand in a leather glove (the old "Of Mice and Men" bit). Sarah Silverman plays the local prostitute, engaged to her loyal, virginal boyfriend, portrayed as a lovelorn twitch by Giovanni Ribisi.

The film features the most violent and least amusing barroom brawl in memory. The jokes are heavily dependent on "Family Guy"-type hit-and-run references ("Back to the Future," et al.) and pointless cameos (Ryan Reynolds?) and misjudged, outlandishly gory violence. I suppose that stuff's easier to take if it's animated. Here it's stiff, stilted, poorly paced live action. It's no fun watching a guy's head pulverized, bloodily, by a huge block of ice, or someone gored by a runaway steer, simply so that MacFarlane the director can cut away to MacFarlane the actor, looking appalled.

"A Million Ways to Die in the West" is too lazy to concoct real jokes, so its characters, most of them 21st-century anachronisms heckling the conventions and tropes of the Western genre, resort to saying the word "fudge" a lot. A lot. A lot. A shooting-gallery scene in which contestants fire away at little tin images of caricatured runaway slaves is enough to cast a pall on the entire picture; typical of MacFarlane's two-faced acumen as a popular entertainer, his own character makes note of the offensiveness, yet the scene grinds on.

In "Ted," Mark Wahlberg's character couldn't get off the couch and out of adolescence thanks to the temptations afforded by his walking, talking, carousing teddy bear. Mila Kunis' character found it all quite charming, because she was the lead female and that's what women do in movies like that. They tolerate and smile, adoringly. "A Million Ways to Die in the West" does the same to Theron, who is confined to chuckling every time MacFarlane gets off another ad-libby aside.

What we have here is a failure of craft. He can't direct action, or even handle scenery well. He can't set up a visual joke properly without resorting to head-butting and bone-crunching, and he doesn't know how, or when, to move his camera. He's not good enough as a romantic lead to anchor a picture. The throwaway comments often involve wacky condescension toward Jews, Muslims, African-Americans and, most of all, women, who are either decorative and pliable or losers.

I didn't mind the mustache song, though, showcased in a barn-dance sequence. "Family Guy" proved that MacFarlane can write all sorts of crafty musical pastiches. He has talent, and millions. What he does with the latter is his business. The way he's squandering the former, unfortunately, is the culture's.

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  • Congressional Republicans left Capitol Hill late last week excited about the prospects for sweeping legislation which would deliver tax cuts and tax reform, as with approval of a House tax bill, the focus has shifted to the Senate, and whether GOP leaders can muster the needed votes to approve a slightly different GOP tax measure after Thanksgiving. “This bill gives Americans more take home pay by cutting taxes and preserving deductions for home mortgage interest and charitable contributions,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) – while he’s on board, only a handful of GOP Senators are expected to determine the fate of this legislation. Here’s where things stand on Capitol Hill: 1. Remember, there is more to do than tax reform. Yes, Republicans want to get tax reform done by the end of the year. But there are other measures which will need attention as well after the Thanksgiving break. For example, the Children’s Health Insurance program needs to be reauthorized, and has been in limbo since October 1. A temporary federal budget runs out on December 8, and there still hasn’t been a deal announced on how much Congress will decide to spend on the discretionary budget, which is what funds pretty much everything outside of mandatory spending items like Social Security and Medicare. There had been talk earlier this year of a possible government shutdown showdown, but that seems unlikely right now, because it would really get in the way of GOP efforts on tax reform. House Speaker Paul Ryan still wants all that spending work – a giant omnibus funding bill – done by the end of the year. House Speaker Ryan: Don't intend on stopgap government funding into next year. — DailyFX Team Live (@DailyFXTeam) November 14, 2017 2. A rush of spending seems likely. In order to get a deal on the discretionary budget for 2018, it’s expected there will be a sizeable increase in defense spending in any final spending deal for next year – President Trump had asked for $54 billion in extra military funding, but there’s no sign of any budget cuts to immediately offset the cost of that. Not only is that extra money likely to be approved, but a third hurricane disaster relief bill seems likely to be voted on by Congress in December as well. The latest White House request was for $44 billion, much less than what Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico have asked for in terms of hurricane aid. That would make total aid close to $100 billion just this year. In the latest disaster aid plan, the White House for the first time is seeking offsetting budget cuts to pay for some of that extra spending. The plan unveiled last Friday has $14 billion in cuts now, and another $44 billion in cuts later – later, as in between 2025 and 2027, after President Trump is gone from the Oval Office. White House wants $44 billion in hurricane relief, offers some cuts now, more in 2025-2027 https://t.co/wg7ggSUI0C — Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) November 17, 2017 3. Some Senators to watch on tax reform. When lawmakers return to legislative sessions the week of November 27, the main political game on Capitol Hill will be figuring out where everyone stands on the GOP tax reform bill in the Senate. This is a similar scenario to what went on with Republicans on health care reform, and many of the same players are involved. On the bubble right now would be Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Also, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has said he wants major changes on how small businesses and pass through businesses are dealt with. Don’t count the bill out yet, but there is a lot of work to do. And one thing is for sure – someone will be watching them very closely. Republican Senators are working very hard to get Tax Cuts and Tax Reform approved. Hopefully it will not be long and they do not want to disappoint the American public! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 20, 2017 4. Some items you probably won’t see in 2017. One item that won’t be acted on this year is an infrastructure bill. President Donald Trump has talked about his grand $1 trillion infrastructure program since the 2016 campaign, but at this point, there is still no detailed plan, and there is no bill in the Congress. On immigration, there’s still lots of talk about wheeling and dealing on DACA and border security, but I’m not sure there’s the political will to do that. Don’t look for funding for the border wall, but instead for something that sounds like border security, but isn’t the wall. With tax reform dominating the agenda, don’t look for anything on DACA until 2018. DACA: 3 whole months left to come up w/something. Of course there is also Thanksgiving; Christmas: New Years; etc…..no pressure. — David Gee (@CurtG345) November 18, 2017 5. One issue that has disappeared – the deficit. It used to be that Republicans were all about reigning in spending, and cutting the size of government. Now that they have had control of the House, Senate and White House, they are poised to, to, to, do nothing in 2017 on that front. The budget doesn’t balance for at least ten years (if not more), there were no major spending cuts enacted by the Congress, there was no appetite for savings in mandatory spending programs, either. The cuts included in the President’s budget have pretty much been ignored by lawmakers, and it took the White House three disaster aid bills before any offsetting budget cuts were proposed. Meanwhile, the yearly federal deficit is trending back up, and with the disaster relief bills, and an increase in the federal budget caps, there will be more red ink in 2018. Only a few Republicans have stuck with their familiar call for budget discipline. Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) on adding $1.5 trillion to the deficit: “If this was a Democratic bill we wouldn’t even be voting for it. That’s how hypocritical this place has become.” https://t.co/H5FduNppVH — MainStream Coalition (@ksmainstream) November 17, 2017
  • A national group is speaking out about Norman High School apparently violating the separation of church and state before a football game. The group Freedom From Religion Foundation claims they have received a complaint from a parent stating the football team and coaches prayed before a game. Chris Line is an attorney for the group and says, 'There could be a member on the team who doesn't agree with this Christian prayer that goes on, and they're not going to speak out about it.' School officials tell us they are looking into the complaint. Do you think the school should get in trouble if this is true?
  • We have good news if you have outdoor plans for your Sunday. National Weather Service Meteorologist Robert Darby says it will be a whole lot less windy and the sun will come out to play. “It should be a fairly mild day with sunny skies,” Darby said.  “Temperatures will be near 60.” The low Sunday night will drop to around 37 degrees. Temperatures will continue to rise on Monday.  NWS reports sunny skies and a high around 64 degrees.  
  • As the House voted along party lines on Thursday to approve a sweeping package of GOP tax reforms, one peculiar part of the floor debate came when a number of Republicans – who voted for the bill – took to the floor to request changes in the their party’s plan, as some highlighted unintended consequences, while others objected to the basics of the measure. Known in parliamentary parlance as a “colloquy,” the scripted exchanges between lawmakers are often done to clarify the legislative intent of a bill, or in this case, to urge action in a specific way in House-Senate negotiations. And for some Republicans in this week’s tax reform debate, it was clear they wanted some provisions altered. Some requests were specific, like Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), who made the case for historic preservation tax credits, which were eradicated by the House GOP tax reform bill. “Without the credit, projects that transform communities in all 50 states, from West Virginia to Texas, to Wisconsin, simply will not happen,” McKinley said on the House floor, as he asked for Brady’s word that he would help reverse the decision. That didn’t happen. “I commit to working with him and continuing to work with him on this issue because I know the importance of it,” Brady responded, making sure not to guarantee anything in some of these floor exchanges. For Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), a staunch advocate of the GOP bill, he asked the Chairman of the House Ways and Means to do more in terms of tax help for the people of Puerto Rico, whose island was devastated by Hurricane Maria. “I look forward to working with you on ideas to best serve the people of this island,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), who thanked fellow GOP lawmakers for their concerns, but made no promises. For Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), the issue was with a new excise tax from Republicans that would be levied on the endowments of private colleges and universities. Barr said that would harm Berea College in his district, a ‘work college’ that uses its endowment money to pay the tuition of all students. It was noted in press stories back home. Barr Fights for Berea College in Tax Reform Bill – https://t.co/YoBgs5CWvp – — BereaOnline.com (@bereaonline) November 16, 2017 “I was pleased to learn that the Senate version of the bill exempts schools with fewer than 500 tuition-paying students from the excise tax,” Barr said, urging Brady to accept that position in any House-Senate negotiation. Brady said he would try. “Mr. Speaker, we will work together for a mutually accepted solution to make sure we exempt work colleges to use their endowments to provide tuition-free education,” the panel chairman responded. For Rep. Don Young (R-AK), the problem he brought to the House floor was under the heading of unintended consequences, as the GOP tax bill would subject native settlement trusts in Alaska to a higher rate of taxation. “This would make it more difficult for Alaska Native Settlement Trusts to provide long-term benefits to Alaska Natives,” Young said on the House floor, asking Brady to include provisions of a bill to remedy that and more. Unlike some of the other requests, Brady acknowledged that the GOP tax bill would “unintentionally” change the tax rate for the Alaskan settlements, agreeing to focus on this in conference as we finalize individual rate structures between the House and the Senate.” Others weren’t so lucky to get a guarantee of action, as they pressed for changes in maybe the most controversial part of the GOP plan, which limits a deduction for state and local taxes. “I am concerned about its impact on some of my constituents in Maryland who pay high state and local income taxes,” said Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), the only Republican member of the House from that state, which would be one of the biggest losers on the SALT issue. That subject also drew two California Republicans to make the same appeal to Brady later in the debate; Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA) and Rep. Steve Knight (R-CA) echoed the concerns of Harris – all of them got a murky assurance of help. “I am happy to commit to working with both of them to ensure we reach a positive outcome for their constituents and families as we reconcile our differences with the Senate,” Brady said, making no promises. Other Republicans brought up education, and a provision in the GOP tax reform bill that would hinder colleges and universities from providing tax free tuition waivers and reimbursements, a matter that has drawn more and more attention in recent days. Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) – whose district includes Dayton University – and Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) – whose district includes the University of Illinois – both appealed to Brady to make a change. “I believe that an unintended consequence of this bill would hinder middle class Americans pursuing a higher education degree in an attempt to better their lives,” Turner said. “I am worried it is going to have an impact on the custodians and the assistants in the Registrar’s Office who are just working at these institutions to be able to send their son or daughter to college,” said Davis. There was no guarantee that the provision would be changed. “I have a keen interest in this issue,” Brady told Turner and Davis. “I will work with you toward a positive solution on tuition assistance in conference with the Senate.” Democrats noted the exchanges on both days of the House tax reform debate, arguing that it showed off the haphazard nature of how the bill was put together. “I also was intrigued by the colloquy where Members came to ask the leadership if they will work with them to take out egregious elements of this tax proposal,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI). “We get this sort of, “Yes, I will work with the gentleman,” answer,” Kildee added, raising his voice on the floor. “Why did you put it in in the first place?” Kildee yelled. “Why are you cutting historic tax credits in the first place? Why did you put it in in the first place? You just wrote the bill. You just wrote it,” he said. GOP lawmakers said this past week that anyone can find a reason to vote against a big bill like this tax reform plan – we’ll see in coming weeks whether these publicly voiced concerns become an issue for the final version of tax reform in the Congress.
  • We have updated information regarding a Tulsa homicide Friday night near East 36th Street and South 137th East Avenue. Police tell us Phazon Scott surrendered to investigators around 9:45 p.m. He will be booked into the Tulsa County Jail for first-degree murder. The unidentified 40-year-old victim was found fatally shot inside a house around 6:37 p.m. “The victim wanted to talk to the grandmother about a situation at the house involving his children,” police said.   “Scott arrived and entered the house and he and the victim had an argument. During the course of the argument Scott pulled a handgun from his waistband and shot the victim.” Scott then left the scene with the gun.  He later returned to the home and surrendered.