Cowboys & Aliens

Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) enters the town of Absolution in 1873 as a man with no name.  In fact, he’s a man without an identity.  He doesn’t know his own ‘who,’ ‘where,’ or why.  What he does know is that he can speak English, he’s wounded, he can easily disarm and maim a group of men singlehandedly, and he has a permanent shiny bracelet on his wrist.  Soon enough he is made aware that he is a wanted murderer and thief—what he did exactly he can’t recall.  Luckily for him he angered the wrong fellow, Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), a wealthy rancher trying to industrialize Absolution.  Dolarhyde’s son Percy (Paul Dano) is a wreckless and cowardly twit.  The town has had about enough of him and Lonergan fails to last even minutes in his presence without putting him in his place.  When both Jake and Percy finds themselves under arrest, Dolarhyde comes to rip them both from the hands of the law.  Things aren’t boding well for our antihero until bright lights peer in from above.  The bracelet on his wrist starts blinking.  Enemy alien spaceships zoom in overhead and begin snatching people up from the street, including Dolaryde’s boy and the town sheriff.  The cowboys are forced to chase after their loves ones that were abducted by ‘demons.’  Lonergan is coerced into joining Dolarhyde and his posse as he searches for answers to his past.

While part of me feels that Director Jon Favreau could have just as easily skipped the whole ‘aliens invade’ plot and delivered the best straight-up western of the last decade or so, I would be lying if I said I didn’t still enjoy the heck out of Cowboys & Aliens.  Favreau could’ve turned this into a gooey camp fest, but instead he’s taking things dead on serious.  The threat is immense.  The violence is gritty.  Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig are bent on saving the Old West and they deliver top-dollar performances.  Even with such silliness in the plot (and there are a few howlers and head-scratchers—some of them hybrids), the movie plays like it’s a full-out invasion assault.  I rather appreciated that even if it seems other viewers wanted a more self-aware picture.  Sorry folks, there’s no snakes on this plane.

Favreau improves on Iron Man 2.  He feels much more like a competent action director.  Cowboys & Aliens has several impressive gunfights and aerial battles, giant special effects, and it moves at great speed.  In between the lightning and thunder, we get actors doing something great—called acting.  Ford, Craig, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, and others have interesting dialogue and several moments of humor.  I really felt like Favreau and his team put together the ideal summer popcorn film.  Cowboys, aliens, guns, pow and laughs—what more can you want?

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Iron Man 2 (Take-Two)

Guess what? Summer begins early, as it does with the year’s major blockbuster movies.  Robert Downey, Jr. is back in action shooting to thrill, and let me just say, “Iron Man 2,” while not coming out blazing, still knocks last year’s hideous kick-start “Wolverine” out of the park.

Director Jon Favreau and his star Downey hit the jackpot two years ago with the release of “Iron Man.” Not only did it manage to be the year’s second biggest domestic hit, bested solely by “The Dark Knight,” but it inched past Spielberg’s return to “Indiana Jones,” and even managed to become one of the year’s best-reviewed films.  Audiences loved it even more.  With the release of Marvel’s second installment, the winning streak continues, but not nearly to the same effect.

“Iron Man” did the impossible.  It blended moderately abundant action sequences into an impressive character study of Tony Stark, a weapons creator so self-absorbed and ignorant to the reality of the business he deals in.  Upon a rude awakening, Stark changed his vision for developing the ultimate weapon, eliminating multiple trigger-fingers, and standing alone as the sole necessary weapon of the United States.  “Iron Man 2” picks up where we last found Tony, only this time out, returning director Jon Favreau seems to be less interested in the thrills so predominant in the first outing.

In “Iron Man 2,” Stark has to take on the U.S. government, demanding that the Iron Man weapon be turned over to the military, as well as face off against multiple foes (Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke) trying to end his career and his life.  His friendship with Rhodes (Don Cheadle) is tested, as is the sexual tension between him and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).  On top of that, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) starts hanging around to try and encourage Stark to stop fooling around and join the Avenger initiative.  Add in the fact that his new secretary (Scarlett Johansson) seems to have a secret looming and the reality that Tony’s power source that keeps him alive also has potentially fatal side effects on his body–it seems the man sure has his work cut out for him.  So much going on and so little intensity… But where’s all the kaboom??

It might be scary for fanboys to find out that “2” may have significant meaning in regards to the action on display in the film–the movie literally contains two action sequences to devour.  Not to say that burdens Tony Stark’s latest adventure, but it does allow for the content of this installment to be swarmed by multiple subplots and characters that never really advance the story in an exciting way.  Granted, this isn’t the cobbled mess that “Spider-Man 3” was, it just hasn’t the finesse of the film that preceded it.  Since no one could describe this as “an action-packed thrill ride,” Iron Man 2 luckily has brilliant actors and a very solid director in Favreau to save it.

This movie is totally, completely and utterly about Robert Downey, Jr.  Sure, we have all these great supporting actors, but every reason to see this movie rests upon the shoulders of a more-than-capable star portraying the single most interesting superhero character in the history of cinema.  Yes, I said that.  Who needs Bruce Wayne and his whiny-baby, cloak and dagger, angry teenager antics?  Who cares if Peter Parker can’t figure out if he’s more capable as a  human in love, a protector of New York, or an emo break-dancer?  Who wants to waste their time wondering why Wolverine can’t get his claws together and tell his past to go find someone who cares?  Tony Stark doesn’t play those games.  Downey has a fully realized character–top-dollar hilarious and engaging.  The movie goes for long stretches without things blowing up, and Downey manages to capture our attention with his inventiveness and brilliance as actor.

If the movie never reaches the level of the 2008 predecessor, it’s because the movie has a lot more down time and subplots.  The studio seems so bent on bridging “The Avengers” movie two years out, that Stark’s story suffers, and the movie becomes overwhelmed with exposition and witty banter.  At least it doesn’t kill the movie, and the action in the film really does deliver even in its limited doses.  Even Favreau allows himself to have a little game time, upping his role in the film, and kicking some butt in the middle of the big finale.  “Iron Man 2” may not be the film that ups the ante as far as sequels typically go, but the movie still manages to be plenty entertaining for two hours, and it contains a fully-realized hero that consistently breaks all the rules and dares to be wholly memorable.  Even if fanboys are left wanting more explosions, I’m sure they’ll be satisfied with this outing and jazzed about the upcoming showdown.

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Rating: 4.0/5 (2 votes cast)


A year ago I would not have guessed that no less than four science-fiction films would make their way onto my top ten list for 2009.  With District 9, Avatar, and Star Trek making oodles of cash (and all three performing well beyond expectations), “Moon” arrived to showcase sci-fi in its most classic and thought-provoking form.

Written and directed by newcomer Duncan Jones, the story takes place at some near point in the future.  Sam Rockwell (who should be earning a Best Actor nomination for his multi-layered, one-man endeavor of a performance) plays Sam Bell, an astronaut under a 3-year contract for Lunar Industries as a lone worker harvesting helium-3, the dominant fuel source for Earth.  Trapped in his isolated station and nearing the end of his contract, he begins to hallucinate and doubt his sanity.  Further investigation leads him to believe the industry he works for may have dire plans for him, and his only trustworthy companion, the lunar station’s computer system GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey), could be in on the conspiracy.

The amazing thing about “Moon” is how much it isn’t any part of the current Hollywood trend.  You won’t find anything flashy, visually stunning, or action-oriented about the plot.  The film looks authentic, but also minimal, leaving the plot and Rockwell’s performance to generate the suspense.  Much like “2001” and other classic science-fiction films, “Moon” exists as a thought-provoking movie that raises a lot of questions about existence, humanity, morality, the nature of man, and several of the other big question marks.  In doing so, it can come off as small film with greater ambition than it can manifest, but it also makes for one of the year’s boldest films.  “Moon” stands as one of the most refreshing and interesting movies of 2009.

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Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)