Thursday, April 3, 2014
A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST
When Seth MacFarlane was a guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart a few weeks ago, he was plugging A Million Ways to Die in the West, his new movie and the novel - his first - based on that movie. Actor and animator and writer and producer and director and singer MacFarlane was very entertaining and, because of that, I requested Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West: A Novel [Ballantine Books; $23]. I was first in line, so the book arrived quickly.
In the interest of piquing your interest, I’m borrowing some copy from the book’s dust jacket:
Mild-mannered sheep farmer Albert Stark is fed up with the harsh life of the American frontier, where it seems everything and anything can kill you: Duels at high noon. Barroom brawls. Poisonous snakes. Cholera-infected drinking water. Tumbleweed abrasion. Something called “toe-foot.” Even a trip to the outhouse. Yes, there are a million ways to die in the wild, wild West, and Albert plans to avoid them all. Some people think that makes him a coward. Albert calls it common sense. But when his girlfriend dumps him for the most insufferable guy in town, Albert decides to fight back—even though he can’t shoot, ride, or throw a punch. Fortunately, he teams up with a beautiful gunslinger who’s tough enough for the both of them. Unfortunately, she’s married to the biggest, meanest, most jealous badass on the frontier. Turns out Albert has just discovered a million and one ways to die in the West.
My first reaction on receiving the hardcover book was that it was a nice size for light reading: 224 pages, 7.6 x 5.3 x 1.2 inches. My second reaction was being taken just a bit aback by the novel having no chapter breaks. The third and many subsequent reactions were that this was a hilarious book. Rude as all get out, yes, but hilarious. I describe books this funny as “SPUMN funny.” That is, they are so funny that, if I read them why drinking the carbonated beverage of my choice, I risk “Spitting Pepsi Up My Nose.” I remain amazed that expression hasn’t caught on.
Having read this book, I enthusiastically recommend that you read it. Having read this book, I want to see the film the book is based on. The screenplay for that movie was written by MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild. I would like to shake the hand of each of these funny fellows. I’ll even wipe the Pepsi off my hand before I do that.
This week’s borrowed-from-the-library movies were both films I had requested on a whim. Chiller TV airs My Sucky Teen Romance  often and I was curious about it. Here’s the brief summary I found at the Internet Movie Database:
In this witty comedy from teen director Emily Hagins, young Kate visits a local comic convention and falls for good-hearted vampire Paul, but her friends are worried when she suddenly starts displaying eerie, undead qualities of her own.
This is a very low budget and, save for a dream sequence, very low gore movie. It’s set at a comics/horror/SF convention that doesn’t remotely resemble the big event it’s supposed to be. The actors are unknowns and their inexperience shows, but, with the exception of a bit player or two, aren’t too bad. There are a lot of jokes at the expense of fans, some of which struck me as cruel. Overall, I thought the writing and directing were decent. Coming in at just 77 minutes, I don’t regret watching it.
A few additional notes.
The movie has a satisfying ending. That means a lot to me and one of the reasons I would recommend the film to you.
Harry Jay Knowles plays a “vampire expert” on a panel at the con. While I’ve never met Knowles, I’ve read enough of his online work to find him a familiar and friendly presence in the movie.
My Sucky Teen Romance might be worth a bigger budget remake. Just having the convention look like an actual convention would improve the movie quite a bit.
Ms. 45  is a low-budget exploitation film that I read about somewhere. Here’s how the IMDB summarized it:
A shy and mute seamstress goes insane after being attacked and raped twice in one day, in which she takes to the streets of New York after dark and randomly kills men with a .45 caliber gun.
Zoë Tamerlis plays seamstress Thena; her name was inspired by that of Thantos, Greek God of death. She’s a striking presence with her big eyes and becomes even more so when she lays on the bright red lipstick and the dark clothing. Since she does not speak, viewers have to figure out what’s going on in her head on their own. None of the other cast members rise above serviceable performances and some are deplorably bad.
The writing and directing is shaky. Though the movie runs a scant 80 minutes, there are several scenes that go on way too long while the extended violence that ends the movie is seen in slow motion. I didn’t have any problem watching it once, but can’t imagine watching it a second time. On the other hand, the basic plot - if it were updated to express modern concerns like our nation’s insane romance with guns, “stand your ground” laws and excessive force by police officers - while keeping the sense of urban fear and terror - could prove interesting if remade with better acting, directing, writing and, of course, a bigger budget.
Peter Panzerfaust Volume One: The Great Escape [Image, $14.99] is a re-imagining of Peter Pan and his lost boys set in France during World War II. This is my introduction to writer Kurtis Wiebe and it impressed me. I’ll be requesting his other graphic novels from the library.
The artist is Tyler Jenkins. He’s a terrific storyteller, but, like too many artists, all of his characters look as if they’re related to each other. If he can distinguish the characters more, he could be one of the best.
Peter Panzerfaust is definitely recommend.
I’ll be back tomorrow with the first installment of my “July 1963" series. See you then.
© 2014 Tony Isabella