Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review: "Cowboys & Aliens"

That's Daniel Craig's rather magnificent ass on the poster for director Jon Favreau's latest movie Cowboys & Aliens. Based on the graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, Cowboys & Aliens is one of the summer's most anticipated movies.

In 1873 Arizona, Jake Lonergan (Craig) awakes in the desert, shoeless and memory-less, with a strange metal cuff on his left wrist and a bloody wound in his right side. After a quick and violent encounter with a trio of ne'er-do-wells, Jake makes his way to the dying mining town of Absolution, where he's patched up by the local preacher (Clancy Brown) in time for him to save the local innkeeper, Doc (Sam Rockwell) from a dustup with the drunken son (Paul Dano) of the only man in town with any money. When the sheriff (Keith Carradine) arrives, he recognizes Jake from a wanted poster and promptly arrests him, but not before a mysterious young woman (Olivia Wilde) approaches Jake asking about the "bracelet" he's wearing. Learning his son is on the way to prison, rancher Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) and his hands ride into town demanding his release. But the brewing showdown is not to be; Jake's cuff starts to beep and light up and the town is suddenly attacked by flying machines that seem to rope people (including Doc's wife and Dolarhyde's son) around their chests and carry them off into the night. Jake also discovers the cuff is a weapon and brings one of the fliers down, releasing a wounded monster into the night. Deciding they need his weapon, Dolrahyde forces Jake to join them in tracking the beast in hopes of recovering the kidnapped townsfolk and the party sets off.

Not being familiar with Rosenberg's original, I had no idea what to expect, though I am a fan of Favreau's. His Iron Man films and the Jumanji follow-up, Zathura were terrific fun, and I hoped that C&A would be, as well. And I am pleased to note that I was not disappointed. Though I was a bit surprised at how much of a Western the movie is, filled with very specific archetypal characters forced by circumstance to work together against forces beyond their comprehension. Happily, Favreau doesn't keep us wondering and gives us a full-on view the aliens early on. The amphibious/insectoid beasties with googly eyes and surprise limbs are creepy and dangerous-looking - not something you want to run into in dark (or even well-lit) alley.

The performances are terrific, across the board and Craig's American accent is dead-on. As a former bad man given the chance for redemption, Jake is almost an anti-hero, driven by revenge more than anything. And before you ask, yes, we get a good look at Craig's well-defined torso, though it's a bit dirty and banged up. Ford's Dolarhyde is also not the most likable of fellows; a man made bitter by his experiences in the Civil War and a disappointing son. Wilde is fine as the tough gal with a big secret and Rockwell is excellent, as always as a former doctor who only wants to run his saloon with his wife in peace. The rest of the supporting cast are on the money and you'll certainly recognize many of them.

Cowboys & Aliens' plot may be a bit preposterous but this a summer Sci-Fi action flick, not The Cherry Orchard. And as a summer Sci-Fi action flick, Cowboys & Aliens succeeds quite nicely. A thoroughly entertaining movie loaded with action, suspense and humor, Cowboys & Aliens was actually better than I had anticipated and I and my companions all left the theater happy. What more can one ask from a summer popcorn movie? *** (Three Out of Four Stars).

Wow! An amazing long weekend in Chicago with two wonderful friends and two terrifically fun movies in one week! The week after my birthday has proven to be even better that the week of. I may have to go back to the real world on Monday, but I had one hell of a vacation! I hope your week was as good as mine!

More, anon.

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