Cineast Movie Previews: ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West,’ ‘Maleficent,’ ‘Night Moves’

"A Million Ways to Die in the West"
"A Million Ways to Die in the West." Universal Pictures

Before heading to the cinema this weekend, check out our Cineast Movie Previews to help you decide what to see. This week we look at A Million Ways to Die in the West, Maleficent and Night Moves.

A Million Ways to Die in the West
Seth MacFarlane, the comic mind behind TVs Family Guy and Ted steps in front of the camera in his new spoof-western A Million Ways to Die in the West.  If the running joke in Mel Brooks classic spoof-western Blazing Saddles was outrageous racism coupled with unbelievable stupidity, the running joke in A Million Ways to Die in the West is people suffering sudden, violent deaths.  Death by horrific accident, death by medical incompetence, and, of course, death at the hands of gunslingers.  In what promises to a be a pleasing spectacle of rapid-fire, if cheap, jokes based on western movie tropes, MacFarlane plays the wimpy good guy Albert forced to take up arms against villainous Clinch Leatherwood, played by Liam Neeson.  A terrible shot, Albert takes gun instruction from new-to-town Anna (Charlize Theron), and tangles with the elaborately mustached Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), who has taken up with Alberts ex-girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried).  Featuring Sarah Silverman as a diligent prostitute.

A Disney film, rated PG, but Maleficent will certainly frighten the young ones.  Following in the footsteps of other recent fantasy films that seek to provide a backstory for familiar fairy tales, Maleficent is here to fill in the gaps in the story of Sleeping Beauty.  For instance, what makes the wicked fairy Maleficent so…well, wicked?  Behind this urge to explain Maleficents surface nastiness (you know shes good deep down—shes played by Angelina Jolie, after all) rests the basic assumption that children could be scarred by the notion of unexplained evil.  The original cautionary purpose of fairy tales—that idea that children might do well to know that there are bad people around and not to trust strangers—seems to get lost in this urge to rehabilitate the wicked fairies, witches, etc.

Night Moves
Despite a title seemingly lifted from a middle-of-the-road Bob Seger song, the film Night Moves brings us a believable portrayal of the thinking and actions of radical environmentalists.  In the film, a trio of enviros-turned-anarchists named Josh, Harmon, and Dana (played by Jesse Eisenberg, Peter Sarsgaard and Dakota Fanning, repectively), plot to destroy a hydroelectric dam.  By any measure domestic terrorists, each is motivated by different forces: Josh is a hardcore back-to-the-land absolutist, Harmon is a disillusioned ex-marine with an appetite for mayhem, Dana is the radicalized rich girl disgusted by the consumerism of her upbringing.  Night Moves promises a tense exploration of the important line between passionate advocacy for a worthy cause and violent, terroristic actions that bring suffering and devastation—and what causes people to cross that line.

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