Cowboys & Aliens
It wasn't as bad as the reviews would lead you to believe, but it’s also not surprisingly great or anything. I found Cowboys & Aliens to be a fun ride when it wanted to be, and nothing more. Sort of an empty box, wrapped in expensive (exploding) wrapping paper.
However, I loved the first act of this film quite a bit. It starts off with all the western genre establishing of characters and settings. Even has a bit of mystery to it; wondering why Daniel Craig has the alien wristband on his arm and who he is and such. Though, it’s slightly bittersweet when they do such a good job establishing interesting characters, like Paul Dano’s snotty villain, and then they end up barely being in the movie. I was all for this movie in the beginning, pitting the humans against the humans, teaming the humans with the humans when the aliens show up, and ultimately going on an alien tracking mission to get back stolen townsfolk.
But then the middle happens. The second act of this film slightly killed any hope of it being great for me. I won’t ruin any twists here, but the Native American sequence of events just about destroyed any hope of, well, I’m actually feel a little silly saying this next sentence… but it destroyed any potential for a realistic movie about cowboys fighting aliens… I guess what I’m trying to say is that I would have rather just had the normal cowboy folk fighting the aliens without any twists, and without any strange Native American magic (they have memory potions…? c’mon…). The reveal about Olivia Wilde’s character also had me seeing question marks. Seemed rather unnecessary.
And then some logistics about the aliens came into play. Again I won’t say anything specific, but they are basically here to obtain a resource (like almost all alien invasion movies). They don’t really explain why they want the resource, but they do make a funny joke about not understanding why they want it. And I just didn’t understand why they were also collecting humans. Never really fully explained, only partially explained, but then when you see the state of the humans they collected towards the end of the movie, the reasoning doesn’t make sense anymore. And the last annoying flaw from my memory right now, was revealing how Daniel Craig got the bracelet locked on his arm. It was… hmmmm… not that spectacular? And it only compiled on that further when a different species (humans) were able to harness its power for some reason. It appeared to be thought controlled, but how did Daniel Craig know that it would do all the cool things it did? Was he thinking, “Time to shoot some laser rockets!”, because I believe all historical evidence would indicate that cowboys from that era would not have a previous knowledge of what laser rockets were to begin with. And lastly, it was also kind of frustrating to realize that the simple weapon that he obtained also had such a significant impact on the solution to the alien problem. To me, they treated it during the movie as if it were the alien equivalent of a handgun, but then at the end it turns into some sort of god-like super weapon, that they NEED to solve everything. Up until the end, I kind of assumed there were a bunch of those wristbands laying all over the ship. Standard issue. I guess not.
But flaws aside, after a goofy second act, the third act picks up again. I was very entertained by the hand-to-hand combat between the cowboys and aliens during the final battle, it was pretty fun. And it seemed like the whole cast was having fun too. Just about every character was well cast, and they delivered on their performances (short of seeing Olivia Wilde nude… damn you PG-13, I was hoping for AT LEAST a butt shot). But, I never felt like it was ever a full-on western with aliens, or ever a full-on alien movie that takes place in the old west. I guess I’m saying I don’t believe it ever really found what it truly wanted to be. It’s good summer entertainment, for sure, but I’d recommend Captain America over it if you haven’t seen either. Cowboys & Aliens certainly isn’t great, and is actually a slight disappointment, but it’s definitely watchable. You won’t regret spending $8 to see it, but you’ll probably leave the theater wishing it were a little better. I don’t know how many more ways I can say the same thing. It’s alright.
I felt the same. I gave it a B, which it turns out is its Cinemascore as well, so we're not alone.
The Indian thing was a distraction for me, too, and while the people snatching made NO SENSE AT ALL, seeing them lassoed by the fighter ships was far, far cooler in the theater than you'd think from watching the trailers. I was really impressed. Completely persuasive. I was also impressed by the stunts, which were quite spectacular, old-school rough and tumble.
I'd recommend it a shade higher than you maybe, by saying that if it looks entertaining, and you're willing to lower your expectations ever-so-slightly, you'll enjoy it. My final assessment was "not great, but fun." My wife's was, "not even good, but fun." So there you go.
I posted my initial thought's in the Debra Kaufman article thread (though I am not sure these cross-posted articles will become forum threads on their own - maybe there is a way to have the comments on a related article become a thread in a forum without having to read the article..?)
Overall I think it made up for some crappy Harrison Ford vehicles (basically every movie he has made since Air Force One in 1997), but I agree with Scott, upon further reflection, it could have been better.
One - Why cast Daniel Craig as a character in the Old West. For one thing, the guy looks like James Bond. I just saw Layer Cake over the weekend, which came out the year before Casino Royale, and the guy looks like James Bond. His American accent is weird. Yes I know in the Old West we had lots of immigrants too - perhaps they should have had him use an Irish or Scottish accent.
Two - Olivia Wilde's character was somewhat weird. I thought she was an Indian until we learned otherwise.
Three - The alien creatures were odd looking - I know they are aliens - but the whole extra set of arms was just weird and unmotivated.
Four - why were they taking humans? Good question.
Five - Thankfully they didn't cast Shia Labeuf in the Paul Dano role - they could have and gotten the same performance (and we all know Spielberg loves Shia)
Six - Ram Rockwell got the best lines and the best character arc
Seven - Could we have replaced the alien mothership with, say, a giant mechanical spider? You betcha. Was Lorenzo DiBoneventura involved in this?
Eight - Could we have removed the aliens completely and had simply the townsfolk vs the former Lonergan gang, with Lonergan and Dolarhyde teaming up to defend the town? Possibly.
Nine - is it one of my favorite movies of the Summer? Yes, because it is so different than other offerings and we get to see H. Ford being a tough guy again. Won't get too many more of those out of him. Is this Ford's LXG? Hardly, but he'll have one eventually.
Ten - Is it Favreau's best? No, Ironman is his best so far though he may not actually have a "best" movie - they are all watchable, though Ironman 2 had some problems.
Eleven - Should Orci, Kurtzman and Lindelof be writing all these tentpole movies? These three guys certainly have some creativity among them. They can't all be great.
Twelve - Ditch the riverboat. That was straight out of Lost, no doubt Lindelof's contribution. Maybe have them hide out in a cave or an old mine shaft - that would make for a good chase scene.
I agree the memory potion was weak - Lanergan was gradually getting the gist of his past.
The whole gold thing was also confusing. Ford had a good line, "What are they gonna do, buy something?" Maybe they use gold for rocket fuel. If they have spaceships and wrist lasers do they really need gold? They can just take what they want.
Not enough dynamite. I would think in a mining town they would have a surplus. More explosions please.
I could go on.
[Mike Cohen] "One - Why cast Daniel Craig as a character in the Old West."
Agreed, I also felt he was a little too James Bond-esk for the role of a savage wild west gang leader. I didn't think he was necessarily bad, but if he were recast, someone else could have done the job equally as good. And it would never cross my mind to think "Why didn't they get Daniel Craig for this role?"
[Mike Cohen] "Four - why were they taking humans? Good question."
I gathered from some passive dialogue that the aliens collected them because they were testing the human's weaknesses. But then when you see all of the kidnapped people at the end of the movie, it doesn't appear that many of them (or ANY of them?) had been tested on at all. So that didn't make sense, and more or less just seemed like an excuse to get the humans to chase the aliens around.
[Mike Cohen] "Twelve - Ditch the riverboat. That was straight out of Lost, no doubt Lindelof's contribution. Maybe have them hide out in a cave or an old mine shaft - that would make for a good chase scene."
Yeah, I might have completely missed something, but I didn't not understand why the riverboat was there. Maybe I spaced out for a minute while they explained it or something, but... why was it there?
[Mike Cohen] "I agree the memory potion was weak - Lanergan was gradually getting the gist of his past."
Exactly. They basically spent the first hour of Daniel Craig's character development shrouded with the mystery of who he is, and he was picking up pieces here and there. Ya know, solving the mystery. Then he's halfway to recovery and the Indians are like "Don't worry about it bro, we have a potion to get this movie plot to move along quicker... oops, I mean help you regain your memory." This is oddly coupled with the fact that none of the other kidnapped people had much trouble remembering their loved ones. The tribe must have been passing out shots of memory potion as they walked out of the spaceship.
[Mike Cohen] "The whole gold thing was also confusing. Ford had a good line, "What are they gonna do, buy something?""
Funniest line in the movie, good delivery. Then frustratingly glossed over almost immediately after he says it. "Wait, that IS a good question! Don't ignore Harrison Ford!"
Harrison Ford tends to appear either grumpy or stoned in his tv appearances. This is about his most lively one yet.
Just got back from watching the movie. The riverboat I guess was carrying gold on board (gambling and maybe payrolls, etc) and so was levitated until the gold was extracted... but dropping that much mass from even a small height would result in a wreck completely unrecognizable as a riverboat.
My wife and I think we spotted a blooper in (spoiler ahead) Olivia Wilde's death scene. Harrison Ford puts his hand on Daniel Craig's shoulder and says: "She's gone, Bill." A couple of seconds later in a separate shot, he says "She's gone, Jake". Who the * was Bill?
Overall impressions: I saw DelToro's name in the credits and I assume he was the mind behind the production design for the aliens, because he does monsters so very well. I though the aliens were very cool and interesting and I wished a shot with them paused long enough to really drink them in.
The wrist gun operation is inconsistent from plot point to plot point: it has a mind of its own, then it can be fully controlled. It only works when aliens are around, then it doesn't. The aliens only had the one, then they have many.
The horses are used as props without much consideration of the logistical baggage that comes with them. I'm not a horse guy, but I'm pretty sure they need to be fed and watered and rested on a regular basis.
Mid-battle in the climactic finish, everything stops cold for a death scene with Ford in it. He even calls down some of his fighters to stand around and be helpless with him in mid-fight just standing around mourning a secondary character, when we've just seen about fifty such guys get killed all around Harrison, and the aliens apparently oblige this indulgent moment by freezing in place or heading off somewhere else when moments before the position was overrun and all the fighting was hand-to-hand, and nobody had a second to spare to stop fighting because the entire plan requires them to keep up the fight as a diversion.... ( Mark takes a breath)....
This kind of scene really takes me out of a movie, at the worst time, because it is sloppy narrative. We're not talking the *effect* of everything seeming to come to a standstill as the character has a *moment*... I mean everything came to fracking lunch break, smoke 'em if you got 'em, and then the next second, we cut to these guys that have all been on the ground hand-to hand, re-mounted and riding around a corner right back into the areas where they were just fighting hand-to-hand without the horses.
I hate this kind of full-stop, out-of-narrative the same as those movies where the guy is driving the car and talking to the passenger and although the car is still in motion, stops looking where he's going for an interminable amount of time, even in the middle of high speed chases. I know if I take my eye off the road for that long, even at 30 MPH on a regular street, I'm likely going to have a bad crash or other accident. I stop listening to the dialog, I'm wanting to scream at the screen (and at home, I do) "EYES ON THE ROAD, IDIOT!"
My wife thought the dialog was clunky, and overall she said the feel of the movie was "too Disney-fied, and Spielberg-like". While there is plenty of violence and some gore, I'd have to agree that none of the violence was really very "edgy", and the mood of the film is not al al "dark", even where that would be justified.
Carradine's sheriff and the preacher played by Clancy Brown did excellent work, and made their parts look effortless. Sam Rockwell should have been better, but came across as a contemporary character, I never felt like he was reacting or speaking like someone from that time period.
There's an early scene where Daniel Craig is in the desert and has no clothes and so he puts together an outfit by taking pieces off of three dead guys, none of whom are his size or build. Of course he looks as tailored and form-fitting in their random borrowed duds as Robert Conrad used to in the TV series "Wild Wild West".
Overall, I had a good time but as with Captain America and Green Lantern, found myself feeling a little let-down from unmet expectations. I'd say this is a no-brainer to see on netflix or DVD, but was it worth a full-price movie ticket, I'd have to say, maybe see something else first.
Upon further thought, I believe one of the problems with the movie is that it is trying to be a lighter kid-oriented adventure and a dark adult picture at the same time. And it winds up being not quite either of them. Look at all the re-writes and all the writers named as contributors, and you can see this thing led a tortured existence thru the development process.
Mark makes numerous additional points about the problems here. Is it Favreau's Folly? A director who so loves action and adventure that he forgets about story logic and directing actors? Reminds me of another director. Can't remember who...
I have to think its in the script, more than the director. I heard it was wild and loose on Iron Man 2 but Downey2 is also, by rep, highly gifted at improv, with a great feel for story, and that may have helped.
That many writers and re-writes, usually means disaster. I wouldn't call C&A a disaster, not nearly that bad, more like a great effort that fell just a little short. Good, but not great. Will make plenty of money but will not make AFI's top 100.