Monthly Archives: July 2011

Review: Cowboys & Aliens

cowboys_and_aliens_one sheetThere’s something timeless about a good Western, even if the genre has generally fallen out of favor with modern filmgoers. Sprinkle in some scary aliens, stunning special effects, and a terrific cast and the mashup film Cowboys & Aliensturns out to be a terrific and highly entertaining summer tentpole adventure.

Set in sparsely populated New Mexico around 1875, the film starts with bad hombre Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) waking up in the middle of nowhere, with no memory of who he is or how he got there. Stuck to his wrist is a strange metal bracelet, one that is built of technology far beyond what he’s ever seen. Three ruffians show up and try to jump him, saying “son, this just ain’t your lucky day” but they’re wrong. It’s their unlucky day and Jake demonstrates he hasn’t forgotten his fighting skills.
Heading into the sleepy, impoverished town of Absolution, he has a scuffle with local bully Percy (Paul Dano) and ends up tossed in jail by Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine). Just as they’re about to leave for the Federal court in Santa Fe, Percy’s Dad Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) shows up and, more dramatically, so do alien spacecraft out of the gloom, intent on lassoing and kidnapping humans.
The juxtaposition of the mythic Old West with the technology and frightening visage of the aliens are at the heart of this movie and Iron Man director Favreau doesn’t disappoint.The creatures are reminiscent of Predator, with some internal plumbing all their own. Westerns are just as much about the sweeping plains and endless skies and Cowboys & Aliens has it’s share of beautiful vistas. In fact, subtract the alien element and it’s a terrific Western with believable personalities, sets and lots of tough hombres on horseback. Fun!
Human vs. alien movies end with the humans winning. It’s the heart of just about every film, that good guys overcome bad guys. Cowboys & Aliens still manages to have an engaging storyline and its aggressive special visual effects notch up the tension quite a bit. We know the cowboys win, but with the Indians on their side? That’s a central theme in the film too: in times of trouble, disparate people can band together to fight the alien invaders.

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Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

captain america one sheet“Uncle Sam Wants You!” the posters insisted on wall after wall during the 1940s, but what if you were just too scrawny, too weak to pass the physical and join the military to fight for your country? That’s the dilemma faced by Brooklyn weakling Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), who has gotten used to being bullied, but is remarkable for his willingness to endure any pummeling so as not to seem a coward. “I can take this all day” he says in one scene early in the movie.

Enter German-American scientist Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who picks Rogers to join a squad of men he plans on turning into enhanced super soldiers for the US Army. Rogers struggles through the training but shows he has tremendous courage and the proverbial heart of gold and when it’s time to test out Erskine’s serum — with a little help from Stark Industries and Iron Man grandfather Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) — it’s Rogers who is picked to go first.
Rogers emerges from the Frankenstein-like machine ripped and ready to defend his country, able to run lightening fast, swim deep into the water and with other terrifically enhanced capabilities. Helpful for fighting Nazis, for sure. Except Erskine’s previous experiment was for the Germans and the result is the insane Johann Schmidt and his alter ego Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). Good guy, meet bad guy.
I really enjoyed Captain America: The First Avenger, actually. It was a fun story with lots of heart and a terrific visual style that helped transport us back to the mid-40s. If you enjoy comic book films, it’s a good weakling-to-hero journey too and while it has its flaws, Cap’s a good guy and I’m glad he’s on our team!

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