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    Derrick Ferguson

    Movie Review: A Million Ways To Die In The West


    I’ll give Seth MacFarlane credit for his ambition in making a western comedy. Mel Brooks pretty much had the last word in that genre with his side-splitting “Blazing Saddles” a film that to this day I still consider the funniest movie ever made. And Mel Brooks is safe as A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST comes nowhere near the level of hilarity that “Blazing Saddles” does. Oh, it tries hard and there are some touches here and there that are homages to “Blazing Saddles”: the overblown theme music that sounds as if it were scored for a straight-up Western Saga. The townspeople who act as a Greek chorus commenting on the antics of the main characters. The gleeful politically incorrect jokes.

    But where Seth MacFarlane goes off course that there are long stretches of the movie where I think he forgot he was supposed to be making a comedy. I appreciate his efforts to give us an honest love story in there but he had no idea how to smoothly integrate the two. So we get a comedy that stops dead in its tracks for the love story which in turn has to be put on hold when MacFarlane realizes he hasn’t given us a joke in the last five minutes.

    It’s Arizona, 1882 and as failing sheep farmer Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) puts it; “Out here everything that isn’t you is trying to kill you.” People in the town of Old Stump die in horrible, sudden ways and Albert is miserable. The only light in his life is his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) who dumps him for Foy (Neil Patrick Harris) a foppish dandy with a wicked mustache.


    During a bar brawl, Albert saves the life of Amanda (Charlize Theron) who has come to Old Stump with her brother. The two of them work on a friendship and Amanda encourages Albert to challenge Foy to a duel for Amanda’s hand in a week. Unfortunately, Albert is the worst shot in the West but luckily, Amanda just happens to be a markswoman of near supernatural skill who assures Albert she can teach him to shoot by then. Albert will need to be able to shoot but not for the reason he thinks. Amanda is the wife of Clinch Leatherwood, the most notorious gunfighter in the territory and when word gets back to him via Amanda’s brother (who really isn’t her brother but a member of Clinch’s gang assigned to keep an eye on her) that Amanda and Albert are getting way too close for comfort, Clinch comes to town intending to kill him.


    This actually is a pretty good Western story and if you took the comedy out of the movie entirely you still would have a solid Western, especially when the situation gets complicated with Albert and Amanda actually falling in love and Albert having to sort out exactly which woman and which life he wants. But where the problem comes in is that first of all the movie is simply too long to support such a slim story. Clocking in at 116 minutes there just aren’t enough jokes to justify that running time and as a result we have long stretches devoted to the love story which is actually kinda sweet and charming.

    There’s been a lot of criticism of Seth MacFarlane’s performance but I myself didn’t have a problem with it. No, he’s no great actor but he has a sincerity and unpretentiousness about him that I like. He knows he’s no Marlon Brando and doesn’t try to be. He does the best with what he’s capable of doing and for me that was good enough. Liam Neeson is terrific as always but I think somebody must have slipped him an alternate version of the screenplay as he acts as if he’s in a serious Western. It’s Charlize Theron who walks away with the acting honors in this one. She looks like she’s having a ton of fun being in a Western and glides back and forth between the comedic and the dramatic without a hitch or a bump.


    Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman provided a lot of the laughs for me as a Christian couple who have a truly unique relationship. She’s the town’s favorite whore who insists that she and her fiancé (Ribisi) wait until they’re married to have sex. The highlight of the movie is the many cameos sprinkled here and there. Some of them you’ll get right away. Some you won’t. I had no idea Ryan Reynolds and Ewan McGregor were in the movie until I read the credits at the end and there’s one cameo that had the audience we saw the movie with cheering and applauding.


    I have to say that the cinematography is absolutely fantastic. MacFarlane shot most of this movie in Monument Valley where so many classic Westerns were filmed and MacFarlane takes full advantage of the location. There are many scenes that are simply beautiful and it goes a long way to making A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST look and feel like a grown-up motion picture instead of like a TV pilot on steroids like “Ted”

    So should you see A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST? I say yes, but if you haven’t seen it yet, try and catch a matinee instead of paying full price or even wait to rent. It’s a funny movie but nowhere near as funny as it could have been. The too-long running time and thinness of the story means that there’s no way to justify the long lag time between the jokes. Still, the cast is fun to watch and what the hell, it’s the summertime. You won’t hear me say this very often but I will in this case; go see A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST and be sure that when you turn off your cell phone before the movie starts, turn off your brain as well.


    Universal Pictures

    Directed by Seth MacFarlane

    Produced by Seth MacFarlane, Scott Stuber and Jason Clark

    Written by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild

    Rated R

    116 Minutes

    The post Movie Review: A Million Ways To Die In The West appeared first on Transmissions From Atlantis.

    Movie Review: Atlantis The Lost Empire

    1356I remember reading a bunch of articles in various movie magazines such as Cinescape and Cinefantasque a couple of months before ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE hit movie theatres.  Most of the articles were gushing on and on about the producers hiring the same linguist who created the Klingon language for Star Trek to create an Atlantean language for the movie. Now, you have to wonder why the producers went to all that trouble since the Atlantean language is heard on screen for maybe 30 seconds and written Atlantean is hardly seen.  And in any case, the main character translates it for the rest of the characters (and thereby for us, the audience as well), so what’s the point of going to all the trouble to invent a new language? After seeing ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE, I figured it out: the producers had to do something to justify the incredibly thin and tired story. After spending all that money on a brand new language and the animation, they probably didn’t have much left over to pay one good writer. Which may explain why there are six credited writers: my guess is that they were so bored with trying to write this story that they just passed the script around in a sort of round robin: whenever someone got tired of writing, they just passed it on to the next poor sucker in line.

    Milo Thatch is the grandson of the great archeologist Thaddeus Thatch and the old man has passed down his dream of finding Atlantis to Milo. However, Milo is stuck working as a janitor, frustrated beyond words because he can’t get anyone to believe his theory and finance an expedition. Maybe the fact that he has absolutely no evidence that Atlantis exists has something to do with it. And one day, outta nowhere, with no forewarning or setup, this crazy old millionaire shows up and drops into Milo’s lap a book that shows him where Atlantis is and has even built a submarine and hired a crew to help Milo find the Lost Empire. Now there are so many things wrong here that I audibly groaned when I saw this scene. But I digress….let’s just simply go on ahead with the rest of the story, okay?

    Atlantis the lost empire inside the subMilo meets Commander Rourke and his second-in-command, the beautiful and calculating Helga and a colorful assortment of multi-national specialists in various fields (doctor, communications expert, demolitionist, etc) that made me sit up and pay attention for a while since I thought that they were going to be a crew of goofy, eccentric but supremely skilled and capable sidekicks like Doc Savage’s Amazing Five or Buckaroo Banzai’s Hong Kong Cavaliers. No such luck. They’re on board mostly for comic relief, except for the black doctor and Latina teenage mechanic who actually have interesting back-stories.

    They get on board this way cool submarine that looks like a 19th Century prototype of The Seaview from Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea and find Atlantis in record time, losing most of the crew and the way cool sub and from there the movie continues on a limp and predictable path as Milo finds that Commander Rourke and his crew are really out to steal the magnificent giant crystal that powers Atlantis. And I’m not giving anything away here because almost right from the first time we meet Rourke he’s whispering in ominous asides to Helga and we’re shown mysterious crates full of oversized guns being loaded on board the sub. And so Milo has to appeal to the better nature of the mercenaries to get them to change sides and help him save Atlantis from Rourke.

    The animation is absolutely spectacular, especially the opening sequences where we see Atlantis sink and the ending, which is a terrific action sequence, but that’s all I can recommend in ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE. At 95 minutes, it zips by in a bewildering daze. Atlantis is found in the first half-hour of the movie and there is absolutely no time to get to know the secondary characters and/or their motivations. In a desperate attempt to give the characters some dimension, the filmmakers stick in a scene where the characters sit around a campfire and actually tell Milo their back-stories. But by then, it’s too late. I wasn’t interested in what happened to any of these characters and was only in it for the eye candy of the outstanding animation work.

    PlotAtlantis05And it’s a shame because the voice work is also quite good. There’s a real problem when the bad guy of a movie is more charismatic and appealing than the good guy, but that’s what happens here. James Garner does such a good job as Rourke that I found myself hoping he’d pitch Milo off a cliff and actually get away with stealing the crystal. Michael J. Fox is his usual energetic self as Milo. Leonard Nimoy voices The Atlantean King and there’s other familiar voices such as Cree Summer, Phil Morris, John Mahoney, Claudia Christian, Jim Varney and Don Novello all of who no doubt jumped at the chance to collect a nice voiceover check while waiting for a live action movie or TV show guest spot.

    It’s not that there’s anything really wrong with ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE and I realize that I’m not the target audience for this movie, but I have a hard time believing that even kids would find this material exciting or thrilling.  And let’s face it…you don’t blow up a way cool sub like that in the first 30 minutes of your movie…any kid will tell you that.  And there’s just too much metaphysical New Age mumbo-jumbo involving crystals and mysterious life-force energies and all kinds of mystical double-talk that does nothing but try to make you think that there’s something going on here. ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE could have been a smashing Edgar Rice Burroughs/Jules Verne type of adventure and all the right elements are there. My advice to the producers is: next time, forget about creating new languages and tell a good adventure story.  My advice is to go Netflix George Pal’s “Atlantis: The Lost Continent” if you want to see a really good movie about Atlantis.


    Walt Disney Pictures

    Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
    Produced by Don Hahn
    Associate Producer: Kendra Holland
    Written by Tab Murphy, Gary Trousdale, Joss Whedan, Kirk Wise, Bryce Zabel and Jackie Zabel

    95 minutes

    Rated PG and that’s a stretch. I’d have given it an outright G.

    The post Movie Review: Atlantis The Lost Empire appeared first on Transmissions From Atlantis.

    Movie Review: Mr. Peabody & Sherman

    Mr-Peabody-and-Sherman-wallpaper-3There have been many time travel movies and TV shows I’ve enjoyed. “Doctor Who” “The Time Tunnel” “Voyagers!” “Back To The Future” “The Time Machine” “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” “Seven Days” “Life On Mars” “Time After Time” “Time Bandits” But my favorite time travelers are without a doubt MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN. I loved the “Rocky & Bullwinkle” show as a kid and the “Mr. Peabody’s Improbable History” episodes were a particular favorite of mine. Highly entertaining and educational, each episode would see Mr. Peabody and Sherman going back to some pivotal moment in history via The Wayback Machine, a time travel machine invented by the hyper-intelligent Mr. Peabody. The Wayback would transport Mr. Peabody and Sherman to Washington’s crossing the Delaware or Benjamin Franklin flying a kite attempting to discover electricity or Alexander Graham Bell about to make his first phone call. Something would always go wrong and it was up to Mr. Peabody with the capable assistance of Sherman to make sure that history played out the way it was supposed to. Every episode would always end with Mr. Peabody making some kind horrible pun that always was rewarded with a groan and face palm from Sherman.

    peabody_and_shermanThe full length movie MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN necessarily has to put a lot of meat on the bare bones of those short seven minute cartoons to fill out 92 minutes but thankfully it manages to stay true to the spirit of the characters and the premise. Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) is still a hyper-intelligent talking dog who wears glasses and a red bow tie. Mr. Peabody is a business tycoon, scientific genius, Presidential advisor, Nobel laureate, expert swordsdog, martial artist and gourmet chef. But he’s still lacking something in his life. Despite his accomplishments, he’s lonely. He finds an orphan baby named Sherman (Max Charles) and decided to adopt him, his argument being that if a boy can adopt a dog, why can’t a dog adopt a boy?

    I though it charming that never once does MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN stop to explain why Mr. Peabody can talk, walk on his hind legs and is apparently the smartest being on the planet but it takes a considerable amount of time to clarify the relationship between him and Sherman and indeed, most of the movie explores their lives in a way that the animated episodes simply didn’t have time for. The plot kicks in when Sherman has to start attending public school. Naturally Sherman’s having been home schooled by Mr. Peabody for seven years and taking numerous trips into the past via The Wayback Machine has given him a distinct advantage over the other students and earns him the wrath of classmate Penny Peterson (Ariel Winter) Penny’s horrendous bullying of Sherman provokes him into biting her and calling into question Mr. Peabody’s fitness to parent a human boy.

    Mr. Peabody invites the Petersons (Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann) over for dinner along with Mrs. Grunion (Allison Janney) of the Children’s Services so that they can all resolve the situation amicably. Sherman is left to entertain Penny and once again he is provoked by her to the point where he takes her for a joyride in The Wayback Machine to impress her. This sets off a chain of increasingly wild and dangerous adventures in Ancient Egypt, The Trojan War and other periods of history that lead up to a disruption in the space time continuum and the possible destruction of time itself unless Mr. Peabody and Sherman can put time back the way it was.

    tumblr_muvahezlpE1rlkswno1_1280There are some minor changes to the original story of how Mr. Peabody and Sherman met but I didn’t mind as I understand where the screenplay was going with this and the movie emphasizes the relationship between dog and boy to go for an emotionally satisfying conclusion to compliment the last ditch effort to save the world ending. And because the final lines spoken by Mr. Peabody and Sherman to each other put a big grin on my face and any movie that does that is okay by me.

    The characterization of Mr. Peabody is tweaked a bit here as he’s not as arrogant and condescending as he is in the cartoons. Sherman is still the same sweet kid he always was, totally devoted to his “dad” and living an incredibly extraordinary life with a level head and unshakable optimism. In fact, there’s only two times in the movie when he’s truly scared and worried and one of those times is when he thinks he’s going to be taken away from Mr. Peabody.

    But the character of Penny Peterson is highly distasteful. A sadistic, severely disturbed brat with a destructive streak as wide as the West Side Highway, she’s one of the creepiest characters I’ve ever seen in an animated movie. To give the screenplay credit, it doesn’t cop out by making Penny just another misunderstood kid who would change her ways if somebody just gave her a hug. Nah, this kid is The Bad Seed, trust me.

    So should you see MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN? If you’re a fan of the original cartoons you should definitely enjoy it. And if you’ve never seen those cartoons, don’t let that stop you. The biggest change here is that The Wayback Machine is now an actual time machine Mr. Peabody & Sherman travel in instead of a doorway they simply step through but again, I understand why it was done and as I said earlier, as long as the spirit of the original is maintained, I’m along for the ride. And what a fun ride it is. Highly Recommended.

    XXX MPS_sq1300_s7_f278_4k_final_w2_0.jpg


    DreamWorks Animation/Pacific Data Images/Bullwinkle Studios/20th Century Fox

    Directed by Rob Minkoff

    Produced by Alex Schwartz and Denise Nolan Cascino

    Screenplay by Craig Wright

    Based on “Peabody’s Improbable History” by Ted Key

    Rated PG

    92 Minutes












    The post Movie Review: Mr. Peabody & Sherman appeared first on Transmissions From Atlantis.

    Movie Review: 300: Rise Of An Empire

    300-Rise-Of-An-Empire-wallpapers-2The story goes that Warner Brothers executives, delighted with the open weekend box office numbers of “300” immediately wanted a sequel.  Apparently they hadn’t taken the time to watch their own movie. It’s taken them eight years to figure out how to do a sequel to that movie and to give the filmmakers credit, they haven’t simply reshuffled elements around from the first movie. There’s an honest effort here to give us new characters in a new situation but 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE still didn’t give me that same feeling I had when I first saw “300”. I fell so much in love with that movie I wanted to marry it and take it home to meet my mother.

    But that rush of adrenaline I got when I saw “300” came mainly from the visuals which were unlike anything I had seen before in movies. That’s because back in 2007 when”300” was released, the digital backlot technology/method of filming movies was still fresh and eye-popping. The only other movies I had seen using that technology were “Sin City” and “Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow”. Since then we’ve had  “Speed Racer” “The Spirit” “Avatar” “Immortals” and half a dozen other movies utilizing digital backlot techniques. So my eyes have become accustomed to the look over the years. That’s not to say there aren’t some incredible visuals in 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE. There are. It’s the story that doesn’t match the visuals.

    300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE did intrigue me at the start in that this isn’t your ordinary sequel or prequel. It tells a story that tells of events taking place before, during and after “300” It starts off with Gorgo, Queen of Sparta (Lena Headey) narrating to an army of Spartan warriors the story of how the war between Persia and Greece began, throwing in the origin of the Persian god king Xerxes I (Rodrigo Santoro) as a bonus. We’re also introduced to Artemisia (Eva Green) who is quite literally the woman that made Xerxes the god king he is now. She’s also the commander of his 1000 ship fleet and the best thing about the movie. More on that later.

    300-A-Ascensao-de-Um-Imperio-24Nov2013-15Themistocles of Athens (Sullivan Stapleton) is attempting to unite Greece’s squabbling city states in order to present a unified nation to fight Persia but has no luck. The politics of all this is murky at best and really just gets in the way of what the movie wants to do: get to the numerous blood-saturated CGI sea battles that are the real heart of the movie. And when I say blood-saturated, I mean it. When somebody gets slashed with a sword, that worthy just doesn’t bleed. A geyser of blood throws a sheet of blood all over the screen. There’s a nice scene where Themistocles goes to ask Queen Gorgo for Sparta’s help which from the dialog I guess takes place right after Leonidas (Gerard Butler in footage from “300 is seen here and there during the movie) has gone with his 300 to hold the Persians at The Hot Gates. Rebuffed by Queen Gorgo (which is a pretty mild way of putting it.) Themistocles determines to take his 200 ships and handful of desperate warriors and go meet the Persians at sea.

    300-Rise-of-an-Empire-03jan2013-03And that’s about all the set-up you need in order to watch the movie. Everything after that is bloody carnage. Halfway through the movie it seems to have forgotten that Queen Gorgo is supposed to be telling the story as we’re seeing events and hearing dialog that she couldn’t possibly know about. And you should be warned that the violence in 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE is not the stylized, balletic action of “300” In this one it’s much more brutal and savage and I can’t remember the last movie where I’ve seen so many heads and limbs chopped off. In one scene Artemisia is carrying bunches of severed heads by the hair as if they were Pathmark shopping bags.

    And this brings me to the best thing about the movie: Eva Green. Whenever she’s not on screen you’ll be eagerly waiting for her to come back because Artemisia is the best character in the movie. She’s far more intelligent, formidable, skilled and ambitious than anybody else and I’m willing to bet that like me, by the time you get to the halfway point you’ll be wondering why the whole movie wasn’t about her. She’s the kind of bad guy you secretly root for; the one that you hope ends up winning in the end. In fact, if 300: RISE ON AN EMPIRE had Artemisia and Queen Gorgo going at it, it would have been an immensely more interesting clash of characters as Sullivan Stapleton’s Themistocles is such a block of wood it’s excruciating. He spends most of the movie making speeches about honor and loyalty and loving your family and land that sound uncomfortably similar to the ones Leonidas made but Stapleton doesn’t even come close to the white hot energy Gerard Butler had. In fact, the only scene where Stapleton’s character comes alive is in a sex scene with Artemisia that turns into an attempted rape but we’re not really sure who’s raping who here.

    300-rise-of-an-empire-2So should you see 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE? If you saw and liked “300” this is pretty much more of the same, only at sea and far bloodier and violent. I’d say try and catch a matinee if you can so this way you won’t feel robbed. It’s got spectacular visuals and that equally spectacular Eva Green performance going for it in its favor so enjoy.


    Warner Bros./Legendary Pictures

    Directed by Noam Murro

    Produced by Zack Snyder, Gianni Nunnari, Mark Canton, Deborah Snyder and Bernie Goldmann

    Screenplay by Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad

    Based on “Xerxes” an unpublished graphic novel by Frank Miller

    Rated R

    102 Minutes


    The post Movie Review: 300: Rise Of An Empire appeared first on Transmissions From Atlantis.

    Movie Review: 30 Minutes Or Less

    51-SFHZn4cLThe R-rated comedy has been making a comeback in recent years and some of them have been quite notable such as “Tropic Thunder” “The Hangover” “Next Day Air” “The Wedding Crashers” “Superbad” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” “Pineapple Express” and “Horrible Bosses” All of which I’ve seen and all of which I recommend to you before you waste your time on 30 MINUTES OR LESS.

    Not that it’s really all that bad a movie.  The plot actually is one that provides plenty of material for either comedy or suspense.  Two adult delinquents, Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson) need $100,000 dollars to hire a hit man to kill Dwayne’s dad (Fred Ward) who hit the lottery for $10 million bucks.  Dwayne’s dream is to open up a tanning salon/whorehouse and he’s terrified that his dad is going to burn through the whole $10 mil before he drops dead and thereby depriving Dwayne of the chance to waste the money.

    The two get an idea; get hold of some innocent guy and strap a bomb to his chest and send him to rob a bank.  If he doesn’t do it or gets caught, they’ll blow him up.  The innocent they pick is Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) a pizza delivery guy who just cannot get the hang of the “30 Minutes or Less or It’s Free” policy.  Dwayne and Travis call him up to deliver a pizza to them.  When Nick arrives he’s jumped and knocked out by the gorilla mask wearing duo.  When Nick wakes up he’s wearing a vest rigged with explosives buckled to his torso.  He can’t take it off without it blowing up.  He’s given ten hours to rob a bank or ka-boom.

    Jesse_Eisenberg_30_Minutes_or_Less_imageRight then and there, they lost me.  In ten hours even a moron could figure out a way how to get out of that situation.  And considering that the movie is titled 30 MINUTES OR LESS I figured that in a bit of sadistic cruelty, Dwayne and Travis would give Nick just 30 minutes or less to rob the bank.  That would have made for a tighter, more intensive plot.  But with ten hours to kill, it gives the screenwriters time to bring in unnecessary characters and scenes that have nothing to do with the story and seem inserted into the movie just to get that R rating.

    Jesse Eisenberg is actually quite funny at times and the biggest laugh he got out of me is when his girlfriend asks him a question about Facebook.  He has good chemistry with Aziz Ansari who plays his best friend Chet who helps him rob the bank.  They have some scenes together that are pretty funny and I wouldn’t mind seeing them together in another, better comedy.  There was a couple of moments where they almost had a Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder kinda vibe going back and forth and I think they do have the potential to be a good movie comedy team.  But not if they keep doing movies like this one.

    951020 - 30 Minutes or LessIt’s Danny McBride who sinks this movie for me.  It seemed to me as if he couldn’t make up his mind if he’s in a comedy or a straight-up crime thriller.  Especially in the last 20 minutes or so of the movie where the violence escalates wildly out of control in proportion to what we’ve been watching for the previous 60.  But it’s always good to see Fred Ward again and in the brief scenes he has, especially his showdown with the hit man hired to kill him (Michael Pena) he shows why he’s been around in the business for so long and why he’s so much fun to watch on screen.

    So should you see 30 MINUTES OR LESS?  Well, if you do decide to check it out, it’s only 83 minutes long so it’s not like you’re gonna blow a whole afternoon or evening on it.  I’m not saying it isn’t funny.  It’s just not funny enough for me.  It may be for you.


    Columbia Pictures

    Directed by Ruben Fleischer

    Produced by Stuart Cornfeld and Ben Stiller

    Screenplay by Michael Diliberti

    Based on a story by Michael Diliberti and Matthew Sullivan

    Rated R

    83 minutes


    The post Movie Review: 30 Minutes Or Less appeared first on Transmissions From Atlantis.