Friday, July 29, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens * * * 1/2

Cowboys & Aliens does not break new ground except that it combines two genres that I have never seen combined before:  Western and Alien Invasion.  The story is essentially a western from beginning to end, although in this case the bad guys are aliens from another world.    You could have substituted any classic western villain for the aliens and the movie wouldn't have been much different.  The movie is not the best western I have ever seen, but it is not bad.

The movie does gives us some interesting eye candy to look at with spaceships flying about and high tech gadgets.  The trailer looks cooler than the movie because the trailer places greater emphasis on the alien invaders.

The aliens are fully realized.  They appear like a cross between Predator and Alien.  We don't get much sense of personality except that they are aggressive and like to experiment on humans.  We are told that they came to Earth to mine gold which is "just as precious to them as it is to us."  Somehow the thought of "greedy capitalist" came to mind, which is often a classic western villain.  You would think that any high tech civilization wouldn't need to invade another world just to get gold.  I guess that humans weren't the only ones who participated in the gold rush.  

Daniel Craig's character has a lot of "The Man With No Name" in him except with less style.  On the other hand, Harrison Ford's character is a bit of a pleasant surprise.  He plays a rough hardened rancher with a bit of a mean streak that is a far cry from his usual hero character.  In this movie he looks less like Harrison Ford and more like Geoffrey Lewis.  He has a face that has been around the block a few times.

There are a few goofy moments like the aliens using lassos to capture humans and a man jumping from a horse to a flying craft.  Native Americans use some sort of potion to restore a man's memory, and there is some symbolism of a hummingbird representing the spirit of the man's dead wife. 

I have couple technical complaints:  The scene of a cabin near the end appeared out of focus.  I found my eyes trying to correct for it.  Also, there is one scene that appears to have about 50 riders on horses, or at least that is what I expected from what was described in the movie, but when the scene switched angles it appeared only to be about half as many.

I have been excited about this movie coming out for months.  Although it did not live up to my highest hopes, if you like western and/or science fiction then it is not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Carrie Fisher audition tape for Star Wars

These are interesting.  These screen tests use scripts not used in the movie. ...

Hereafter * * * *

There are some movies that have so much stuff in them that I can watch them five times and enjoy them all five times.  Riverworld (2010), Monsters versus Aliens, Tangled and all the Star Wars movies are films that I enjoyed over and over.  (It is probably no coincidence that those are all sci-fi or fantasy films.)   Hereafter is a movie that seems to subscribe to the theory that "less is more".  The movie effectively uses emotion and relationships more than plot to advance the story.  It is not the kind of film that I would watch repeatedly, but it pulled at the heart strings so well that it felt like a deep emotional experience.  At its core are the fundamental human questions about life and what might come after.  It is the sort of gentle and subtle treatment that you would expect from director Clint Eastwood.  It might be one of his better movies.

Hereafter is the story of a man who believes that he can communicate with the dead, along with the stories of two other people who all come together at the end.

Much of the emotion of the film comes from human response to tragedy.  There is ample tragedy in this movie.  At one point there is a terrorist bombing that I found jarring  even though it was shown at a distance.  The opening sequence involves people caught up in a tsunami, and it is an amazing spectacle to behold.  We are used to seeing special effects in movies, but nevertheless I find myself wondering how they pulled off this sequence.  The opening sequence alone is worth the price of admission.

One might think that the movie is exploitative because it takes advantage of our fears of current events by showing a terrorist bombing and a tsunami.  Maybe it is exploiting our fears, but it does so in a gentle and reassuring way.  I can't imagine any other movie having such a soft touch and pulling it off.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


The opening sequence to this movie is a special effects bonanza that I think is a must see.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Boy and His Dog * * *

A Boy and His Dog is a 1975 low budget post-apocalyptic science fiction movie based upon a novel by Harlan Ellison, who is known for writing edgy science fiction.  It takes place in an alternate timeline where man never went to the moon, but chose to develop other technology instead.  After an apocalypse, a few humans live above ground in a kill-or-be-killed world that has little respect for life or dignity.  The boy is a teenager, played by a young Don Johnson, who knows how to live by these rules.  His dog is the result of a lab experiment, and is smarter than the boy and they communicate telepathically.  The dog acts a mentor to the boy.  Apparently there are other dogs that also have this ability.

The teenager come across a young lady in a state of undress and attempts to rape her.  They don't get very far because they are interrupted by a band of murderous thugs.  When the boy successfully defends the young lady from the gang, she temporarily becomes his lover.  But it turns out that she is bait to lure him into an underground city, which is like a Utopian madhouse (not that different from The Prisoner) ruled by religious zealots, who use a deadly android to enforce their tyranny.  The underground rulers want the boy for their own sinister purposes. 

The boy and the girl escape the underground city, but in a controversial twist ending he has to choose between the life of the girl and the life of his dog.  The fact that she tried to lure him into a deadly trap didn't help her cause.

This movie is not going to appeal to most people.  The 1975 trailer (which is worth a look) refers to the movie as "a rather kinky tale of survival."  The somewhat misogynist ending turned off some critics.  But if you like science fiction, or survival films, or post apocalyptic movies, or Mad Max films, then this movie might appeal to you.  I found the first 30 minutes to be rather slow, but I liked everything after that.  The movie is available on Netflix streaming.