Archive for July, 2011

29
Jul
11

Cowboys And Aliens Review

At first glance, seeing “Cowboys” and “Aliens” together in the same sentence is a little odd. Make the title of a film “Cowboys & Aliens” and it seems to be a downright awkward joke, especially when describing the western/sci-fi mashup that is due to hit theaters this week. If you’ve watched my interviews from the Cowboys & Aliens red carpet/world premiere event, in particularly the screenwriters (Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman) interview, you’ve heard the cast and crew describe it as such, at least initially. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that Cowboys & Aliens is a western that just happens to have an encounter of the fourth kind smack dab in the middle of it.

The premise is straightforward. Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) finds himself in the middle of the desert without any memory of how he got there, who he is, who shot him, or what the odd device strapped to his wrist is. During his quest to discover his past he runs into a cast of characters, including Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) and Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde), who help to piece things together… That is until an alien invasion crashes the party and begins snatching up the townspeople, at times quite violently. Comic fan zealots be warned – Although inspired by the “Cowboys & Aliens” graphic novel, creator Scott Mitchell Rosenberg (you can see my interview with him here) was more than happy to hand over the reins to Favreau and let him run with the story.

Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are magnificent, especially when they appear onscreen together. This is one duo that I’m hoping to see more of in future films. Craig nails the “stranger with no name” from classic western films, and brings the grit that he’s famous for in his previous James Bond films. His fights are brutal, bloody, and to be honest, I loved every minute of them… Some of them actually brought back memories of The Patriot with Mel Gibson…

Harrison Ford may not get as much screen time as Craig, but his character “Woodrow Dolarhyde” is definitely just as memorable as Craig’s “Lonergan”, if not more so. Two particular scenes, one in which Ford shares with Noah Ringer, who plays “Emmett Taggart” in the film, may be one of Ford’s most memorable scenes ever. His scene towards the end of the film with Adam Beach’s character “Nat Colorado” is touching as well. Whether these two scenes in particular caught my attention because of great acting, or because I have four boys of my own, is an entirely different topic. Rest assured that Ford really delivers whenever he’s on screen and the shared scenes between Craig and Ford are not to be missed.

The supporting cast does well in their various roles. Olivia Wilde’s character Ella Swenson is the tough as nails, gun-toting chick with a cowboy hat that you can’t help but want to learn more about (not to mention watch on the big screen). Doc (Sam Rockwell) adds some very well timed humor to the film, which helps to keep it from becoming too serious. Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano), is great as the snotty-nosed brat of Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). Some of the best moments in the earlier parts of the film are when Dano shares the screen with Craig. You can just imagine what happens when the tough-as-nails Lonergan runs into the drunken and spoiled Percy Dolarhyde. Emmett Taggart (Noah Ringer) has a fairly small part, but does very well, especially later in the film. Black Knife (Raoul Trujillo) does well as the leader of the Apaches, but isn’t developed as much as I would have liked.

Although the film has a large ensemble cast, which is handled VERY well by Favreau, Orci, and Kurtzman, I have to mention the beautiful Abigail Spencer who plays “Alice”, Craig’s love interest in the film. If you’ve watched my Cowboys & Aliens red carpet interview with Abigail Spencer, you’ll notice she’s fairly reluctant to speak about her character much. You’ll find out why about halfway through the film, and I have to say I would have loved to see more screen time devoted to her character.

The film’s visual effects are topnotch. As odd as it may seem, they appear perfectly believable in the setting of the Wild West. They don’t overwhelm or dominate the film, as you might expect. Although you don’t see a lot of the aliens until the end of the film, they are superbly done and add the right amount of terror and suspense to the film. Initially they seem to be somewhat flat emotionally, until Jake Lonergan runs into one towards the end that “seems” to know him…

The cinematography by Matthew Libatique captures the grand and gorgeous landscapes you would expect to find in a western, as does the score by Harry Gregson-Williams. Both of which could be, arguably, the best that we’ve seen this summer

The plot is somewhat predictable, but I think that this is because the film is, as many of the cast and crew have stated, a western first. There are just certain things that go along with a western, and most moviegoers are familiar with them (tough and gritty gunslinger, a damsel in distress, etc.). Are there holes in the plot? Yes, one in particular involves the heroes discovering something in the middle of the desert that shouldn’t be there (you’ll know it when you see it). How this “thing” got there, and why, is an absolute mystery… Does any of this mean that the movie isn’t entertaining? Absolutely not! The interaction between the characters, the superbly choreographed fight sequences, and the special effects make this film more than what I could have hoped for as I entered the theater.

Cowboys & Aliens was a VERY unexpected surprise. It has a little of everything for everyone. Favreau manages to mash Wild West and Sci-Fi together like peanut butter and chocolate, and if you’re like me, you won’t be able to get enough. The cast and crew not only made the Wild West/Sci-Fi mashup believable, but enjoyable to watch as it unfolded.

All in all, I left the theater more tired than I was before and disappointed in one of the few movies I had hopes for all summer. The slow, sludge-like story, with the absence of great action, and a lack of real character development made for a movie that would be best suited for home viewing so that you wouldn’t feel bad about falling asleep.

Rating B+

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22
Jul
11

Captain America:FUCK YEAH!!!!!!!!!!!

 You are now listening to the song from “Team America:World Police” in your head.

 Captain America: The First Avenger proves to be a pleasant surprise, a “Raiders of The Lost Ark”-style adventure for the Marvel superhero genre.  Its superb performances (namely Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, and Hugo Weaving), witty and well-rounded script, and solid direction from Joe Johnston guide it to the throne of best hero-pic since Iron Man.

Pulling deeply and appropriately from the worn pages of comic books past, the film is charmingly retro, warmly old-fashioned, and endlessly fun.  Its World War II-era portrayal of American propaganda, state nationalism, optimistic futurism, and 1940s social culture is supremely engaging, creatively utilizing numerous methods, including musical theater, to set the delightful, crowd-pleasing tone.  The visual effects are pure magic and utterly believable (especially in the case of the Red Skull’s chilling appearance), along with a fantastic score from Alan Silvestri and visionary art direction from a handful of Hollywood’s most-talented.

This is a huge step up from Thor folks, a Spielberg-coated wonder that will leave you constantly on the edge of your seat, constantly hoping for more even as the credits roll.

It takes quite a show for me to admit I love a Marvel superhero film, but The First Avenger is simply too good to ignore (and uniquely, so is the 3D!).  It’s as good as comic book adaptations get, especially in how faithful it remains to its root material.

There’s never been anything quite like this one to grace the silver screen in live-action format; I think this just might be the popcorn-chomping superhero film with the vision and power we’ve all been waiting for.

Captain America:The First Avenger defines what summer at the movies is all about.

Rating: A

09
Jul
11

Bebop Musings:The Fate of Spike Spiegel

As I watched the last few episodes of Cowboy Bebop I felt a serious dread. Maybe because I would never get to watch this show the same way once I knew the fate of the characters. My favorite character was Spike and from the beginning of The Real Folk Blues sessions I knew this would not end well. In all the other episodes you can say “Spike can’t die, there are blank number of sessions left.” But for every time Spike escaped death you knew his luck would eventually run out. And in the end our anti-hero met his fate.

Or did he?

At first I thought I was just in denial. Spike is dead. His star burned out. The tiger-striped cat story told us exactly what we knew this whole series. The one thing that can hurt the invincible Spike is love. Spike met his fate.

But if he is dead why tell us so many times? Why tell us over and over in just about every scene that Spike is doomed? Would the powers behind this series want to prepare us for the end? Where is the fun of knowing exactly what is going to happen? When Ed and Ein left I was completely caught off guard. If there were hints it would only be seen after re-watching. I’ve never thought off this series as obvious. The subtlety seemed to show a respect to the audience that made me an instant fan.

I’ve read from another submission about the Punch/Alfred scene. The interpretation was a good one implying that the mother is merely stating what Spike was feeling. I would like to view a more positive interpretation. In all the protesting at the end the mother left with Alfred feeling welcomed and finally belonging. I believe that paralleled Faye and Jet’s relationship more than a reference to Spike. No matter how many times Faye left it was Jet who wanted her back.

Another submission reference was the first episode which I agree could have been a sneak peek to the ending of CB but in my opinion mirrored the fate of Julia and Vicious not Julia and Spike. Julia chose to stay behind and become a fugitive much liked Asimov and his girlfriend. Asimov is obsessed much like Vicious which is what leads to his downfall and he takes the one he loves with him.

My rationale says that for all present purposes Spike is dead. But I still feel that the end was open for interpretation. I would never insult the series by implying a soap opera style sequel was a possibility. But the ending in all its finality still left a lot to the imagination. Couldn’t that burnt star belong to Vicious? Could the death of Spike just mean the death of his past? Remember that Spike told Faye that he was not going there to die but to know that he is alive. I have replayed the showdown between Spike and Vicious and never did I see how deep Spike’s wound was.

For now we must accept that our favorite anti-hero is gone. But I’d like to believe that Watanabe Shinichirou left the ending with the possibility that he could bring Spike back. Even if he never does maybe he just likes the thought of knowing that he can. And with that I can finally accept that Spike is gone.




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