Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Review: Cowboys and Aliens

First off, I have to say, I think the movie poster is fantastic. Such a classic Western pose of the "stranger" coming to town and it is a pretty nice view of Daniel Craig's "arse" ...( I apologies to my children if they ever read this.)

Being a Western and Sci Fi nut, I thought " How ingenious! Aliens could come to our planet at any time in history- what a brilliant idea to have a "mash up" of two such opposite genre!" Then when I found out two of my favorite actors, Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford would be in it, it even sound better!

So I waited, with everyone else, through the huge hype Universal Picture and Dreamworks taunted us with for months, studying the trailer-okay maybe I was a little bit more obsessive than most...

Maybe the attention was out of desperation. Has there been such an unbelievable dry summer of no fun, blockbuster movies? I am just waiting for something different than a comic book hero remake?

Yes, there was the last of the Harry Potter movies, which I will be reviewing next, so don't want to go down a different rabbit hole right now. But please, Hollywood, give us a new idea!!

But right now I am reviewing Cowboys and Aliens....

which by the way, does actually stem from a graphic novel written by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, which in turn stems from a Farside comic strip. Thus continues my rant on Hollywood's source material as of late!!

Watching the movie, I had a sense I had been in the scenery they were riding through so checked the location shoots on IMDB.

The movie was filmed in my "neck of the woods", well desert...
near Abiquiu ,New Mexico...

 which is Georgia O'Keeffe country.

There is a wonderful retreat center there called Ghost Ranch, that use to be a dude ranch, where O'Keeffe rented a cabin and painted many of her infamous paintings of the black and white cliffs. She later restored a house in the Pueblo town of Abiquiu.

I always am snapping photos when I drive through Abiquiu and the Rio Grande River valley on my way to Santa Fe....

Did I mention I was sooooooo ready for this movie to come out!!

And then July 29th came, finally, like a promise of an oasis of water in the desolate desert of a "no interesting movie summer," and amazingly, everybody in the house was available, including a boyfriend, to go over to Durango for an afternoon of good eating and a movie......

But alas, the promise of a refreshing movie that would quench my thirsting for good cinema was in reality more like the "water holes" one does actually find in the desert of the Southwest. Muddy, a little stinky, with gnats buzzing around it. But yes, being parched, one would take their chances to drink from it to sustain them until they reached the next water hole. But no thirst could be truly quenched from such a water hole like that, and I hate to say I was still very, very......very thirsty after watching Cowboys and Aliens.I hate it when actors, good actors, are not given enough to work with, you can see them on the screen, trying to squeeze as much out of their scenes and dialogue.

I always like to watch movies at least twice before I review them. If once is enough it was a really,really bad movie!! I got a second opportunity to see Cowboys and Aliens in LA, here for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators publishing conference.

I had to send my kids a text message of me eating sushi in LA, we don't get much of it here in the Southwest.

Like I said before, Cowboys and Aliens has a great premise. The setting, old West costumes and props are great, the actors are great, the action and special effects are great and there is even Olivia Wilde, naked.......

But, the screenplay is bare bones and more of a treatment, than a plump, fleshed out script.

Warning: if you haven't seen this movie- I am about to tell you the entire plot in a paragraph!!

Stranger ( Craig) wakes up in the desert with a odd metal bracelet on his wrist and no memory of who he is.

Stranger comes to town, controlled by a wealthy rancher ( Ford) with an out of control son.

Stranger apparently isn't a stranger and but an outlaw and just stole Rancher's gold.

Stranger and the Rancher's son are arrested, and local infighting starts, but is interrupted when Aliens, not a word known in the old West, so identified as Demons, descend down from the sky in spaceship and adducts several town folk.

Stranger, Rancher put issues aside and go to get their kin back, joined by the town folk, outlaws and a nearby band of Apaches.

Stranger gets his memory back and takes the "posse" to the mother ship and twenty plus minutes of cowboys, town folk, Apaches and outlaws battling the aliens ensues. Ending with most of the "kin" being saved and the aliens tucking their tails between their lizard like legs and heading for home.

Olivia Wilde who actually is an alien herself, though there is no hint of that, no set up, until late in Act two- is killed and thrown in a fire by the Apaches and rises from it....naked, like a phoenix, at the end of the movie sacrifices herself and blows the ship up.

That is the whole story!

Okay, first, did the screenwriters even "google" Apache burial customs-

 I did because being from the area the film takes place I know that all the other tribes of the Southwest- Ute, Navajo and the Pueblo Indian would never, ever bring a body back to the camp and throw it in a fire, turning it to ash.

Most Native American tribes are very "Kosher" when it come to the dead- they abhor dead bodies, often unceremonially burying them where they die, in the dark of the night and those who have to touch the body are considering unclean.

Writers have to know the rules of the universe genre restricts and follow them!

Which leads me to being gut shot, stabbed, or falling off your horse in the Old West. Physic does apply! Especially since these are cowboys, not super heroes and there should be some accurate residual effect to physical injury, instead of one or two winces of pain, before hopping back on that horse!

These guys of late are tougher than the "Duke"!

Injured, Craig makes his way to the desolate town, with a nasty stab in his side, though he doesn't seem to suffer from it much, though later we find he was impaled with a foot long alien probe.

Than this is just confusing...the preacher of the town stitches Craig up, though he doesn't seem to reside in a church, but then there is a character "Doc" who is the bartender of the saloon.

"Doc" the bartender actually has the most developed character arc of any of the characters, a mouse of a man in the beginning ,there are many "set ups" of his character changing, learning to handle a rifle and a classic Western "payoff" of him finding his manhood at the end.

Did I mention Olivia Wilde is naked? Probably that fact with the special effects and action enough for some, but for the rest of us, her lack of a character arc was disappointing and such a missed opportunity.

What a great thing to hint out through the first act, the stranger getting an inkling there is something different about this beautiful girl wearing a six shooter on her curvaceous hips.

The writers did think of a brilliant idea, unfortunately in the second act, a humming bird, interacts with Craig, as if it is a spirit of someone else.....hummmm?, but apparently the humming bird was busy elsewhere when Craig woke up in the desert in the opening scene of the movie.

Now how cool would that of been to open the movie by seeing the desert sky, the tips of the red rock formations near Abiquiu, the sage brush and then watch a hummingbird buzz around the screen before waking Craig up, who was passed out in the red dirt. But they didn't hire me to write the script!

I did read a little about the production and think the answer lies in a little story I found on Wikipedia. Apparently Steven Spielberg was one of the films executive producer and provided the director, Jon Favreau with a collection of Westerns to watch. I conclude that Spielberg, a professed lover of the Western genre and someone who actually knows who John Ford is, ( a test of Western genre lovers) should of directed this or at least found another director who already loved Westerns.

I have to give kudos to Craig, a.k.a James Bond and as British as they come...

on his depiction of Jake Lonergan. I loved his twangy accent and he can were a western hat and ride a horse, though a few times he "posted" in the English style. Cowboys don't move a muscle in the saddle, becoming one with the movement of the horse.

Harrison Ford is always fun to see in a Western. One of my family favorites and a real hoot to watch is The Frisco Kid (1979) with Gene Wilder. "Shi-et!" and "Tuckis".

Though it is hard to see one of my movie idols age! Here is a post on that...It's An Odd Thing....

Ahhhh, but alas, I am still thirsty and unsatisfied and trying to think of a distant hope of a movie coming up in the early Fall that might quench my thirst.... one can only hope there is water out there on the horizon!