Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens

What do you get when you combine a raucous, old fashioned, shoot ‘em up western with a modern, cool special effects, alien infested science fiction flick?  Sprinkle in a little 007 and a pinch of Han Solo/Indiana Jones and you have the summer’s best and most entertaining movie.

Hollywood has been running on fumes as far as original ideas are concerned for quite a while now.  The summer of 2011 has been filled with super heroes, animated cars, and teen age wizards.  While there is nothing new about westerns or sci-fi fare, the mash up of the two has provided a unique twist on both and it was fun and gritty.

Based on the graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, Cowboys & Aliens is maybe the best of the movies that have been inspired by graphic novels.  The storyline seemed to be of classic western stuff but of course with a futuristic, invading alien twist.  The pace is fast and little time is wasted before quickly jump starting the action and delving into the storyline. 

The cast is superb.  Daniel Craig matches the venerable Harrison Ford steely glance for steely glance.  Ford handles the action just fine and Craig cements his position as a bona fide action star.  The doe-eyed Olivia Wilde holds her own with the big boys.  She’s no Sigourney Weaver (who is?) but she did a fine job.  Veteran actors Clancy Brown, Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Walter Goggins, and Keith Carradine round out the more than solid cast.  I am not the biggest Jon Favreau fan but he did a great job here.  I’m sure it helped to have the checkbooks of Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard backing you up.

The last three westerns I have seen (3:10 to Yuma and True Grit) have all been pretty good.  I wonder if this is a new regeneration of the old venerated genre.  The classic theme of westerns – good guys versus bad guys – transcends genres and generations and remains timeless.  The potential for gritty, hard paced action is limitless.  Many classic westerns were rather poorly written but maybe a revival of the nostalgic western could improve on the writing and acting and combine modern day special effects to give us an alternative to the same old crap Hollywood churns out.  It has been more than 35 years since westerns enjoyed mainstream popularity and a couple of generations of movie goers have come of age without many examples.  If Hollywood could refrain from now having a slew of alien westerns piggy back on this unique movie’s assured success, maybe we could see a few more westerns.

I was thrilled by this movie and it is my favorite of the summer, although the last Harry Potter installment might win out for purely nostalgic reasons.  It was unique, well written, well acted, and beautifully shot.  My family and I had a blast.  I must warn parents, though.  This film easily could have been rated R.  It had some grisly deaths and the aliens were sufficiently ugly and scary.  Be wary of taking younger children because there are some eye-covering moments.  Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie.  A film critic once told me she sometimes judged movies by how often she checked her watch.  Well, I didn’t look at my watch once.  That is a very good thing.

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