We Want Action: Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

Holy crap, you guys. I kind of loved Cowboys & Aliens and I didn’t really want to. First off, I have a problem with some of the shady dealings that went on in the making and “selling” of the original graphic novel of the same name. As such, I’ve never read it, so I have zero idea how much this film follows the source material, though I believe it’s more of an anthology kind of thing.

Anyway, I don’t remember hearing much of anything about this movie when it finally came out which was kind of surprising because it was Jon Favreau’s follow up to Iron Man 2, was written by Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman along with three others and has a cast that includes Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Clancy Brown, Keith Carradine and Olivia Wilde. What’s not to like?

Actually, I have no idea because I walked away really liking this movie. First off, it looks gorgeous. Favreau and his cinematographer really did a bang up job making this movie look fantastic. That actually includes the aliens too, when we finally do see them. The design is interesting and I thought they looked as good as CGI aliens actually could with a weird design that was both kind of gross and kind of familiar.

I also liked the plot which finds Craig waking up with almost complete memory loss. He wanders into a western town that’s basically run by the cattle guy played by Ford. As a war starts to erupt between Ford’s guys and the town, these aliens roll in and attack. This being a crisis, strange bedfellows are made, so the main characters join forces and go after the aliens. A lot more happens and I actually worried that the film would feel too long, especially when they joined up with the Native American tribe, but I wound up really liking those parts which also turned out to be important for the story, so it was a worthwhile tangent.

Cowboys & Aliens reminded me of a lot of Favreau’s other work where he does a great job of mixing the big, special effects heavy action stuff with personal moments that round the film out. I just looked and this movie opened two weeks after the last Harry Potter movie and one week after Captain America, so I’m wondering if people were just not feeling like seeing a movie. I also remember my wife’s friends being confused about what the movie actually was about so maybe the ad campaign didn’t really do such a great job. Whatever the reason, I think folks should check this one, it’s a pretty fun outing.

Revisiting Scream 3 (2000) & Iron Man 2 (2010)

Sequels are funny things. Like a lot of people who think about movies way too much, I tend to judge them pretty harshly. Do they hold up to the original? Are they better? Does this story make sense? Is it necessary? The real question should simply be, is it any good? Was it entertaining? Did I like it? Upon re-watching a pair of sequels recently, I feel like I’m either becoming a nicer viewer or (hopefully) less judgmental. I think there’s also something to be said for experience with a story making it easier to digest even if there are elements that you find bothersome. You know they’re they, you see them coming and you adjust your viewing as necessary.

That actually wasn’t the case with Scream 3, which I watched towards the end of last week. The first and only other time I saw this movie was in the theaters when it came out in 2000. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Scream series (you can read my review of the first one here), but they were gigantic to the horror community that I was just getting into as they came out. I remember liking the third installment, thinking that the filmmakers were really playing with the genre and having fun with it. I mean, it’s not a flat out comedy by any means, but I remember feeling a sense of winking towards the audience, especially in the scene where the killer throws a knife at Dewey and the handle smacks him in the head. That bit still made me laugh.

But, I wasn’t seeing or noticing the humor as much this time around. Yes, I was working and it was kind of on in the background while I was doing other things, but it just wasn’t as prevalent. I still liked the movie and think it’s pretty good, but there were two aspects that got on my nerves. First off, and I know I liked this at the time, but the Jay and Silent Bob cameos are just super weird and kind of pointless. I’m saying this as someone who loves those characters, those movies and Smith in general, but they really took me out of the movie. But, they weren’t nearly as bad as that ridiculous voice modulator thing that so much of the movie depends on. Does that kind of thing even exist? I feel like if it did, there would be an app. Anyway, I get the idea that it makes everyone you’re not seeing directly in front of you suspect, but it gets to the point where you as a viewer can’t trust anyone and just become more and more disconnected. It also made me far more aware of off-screen dialog which took me out of the store even more. Without that aspect, the movie would actually be pretty damn solid. I don’t even mind the retconning stuff because I think it fits in pretty well and all makes sense. Plus, it’s another not to old horror movies, though this one far more unsettling. With that, I’ve watched the first and third movies in the past few years and just need to rewatch 2 and see 4 for the first time. I’ve heard good things.

After writing up a piece about Iron Man 3 for Spinoff, I remembered that 2 was on Netflix Instant and gave it another watch. I honestly didn’t remember many of my opinions about the movie from the first time I saw it other than a deep desire to punch Justin Hammer in the face. After going back and re-reading my original review of the film, it turns out that that same elements spoke to me both times. I liked it, it’s a big fun action movie. The performances are great. I didn’t like Sam Jackson that time around, but none of that stuff bothered me this time. And, while I still despise Justin Hammer as a character and think he came off kind of cartoony, I don’t think Sam Rockwell’s portrayal of him is all that far from people like him in the real world.

It’s actually kind of funny that I remembered most of the scenes of the movie, but couldn’t remember how I felt about them. There were bits I forgot, like Tony Stark’s dad as a kind of Walt Disney character. I’m actually listening to a book about Pixar right now that got into some of the “I’ve got these ideas, but haven’t developed the technology just yet, maybe they will n the future” ideas that were directly stated in this film. It’s interesting how the things you’re reading/watching/listening to can inadvertently segue into one another.

Anyway, I’ve found that repeated viewings of the first Iron Man tend to leave me a little flat. I still like all the character stuff they did and Robert Downey Jr. makes an awesome Tony Stark, but the ending definitely has diminishing returns. I understand that they wanted to show that Tony Stark could perservere over a larger, more powerful oponent, but that battle is just boring the third or fourth time around. Similarly, the one between Iron Man, War Machine and Mickey Rourke at the end of this one’s a bit lame. You get that awesome sequence with them taking on the drones and then you finish up with Tony and Rhodey aiming blasters at the Ruskie and he explodes? Eh. These things are great the first time around, but don’t always make for the best repeated viewings which is what I want from my movies. Still, it’s a movie packed with fun and shows just one small aspect of how cool an Avengers movie can and hopefully will be.

I Watch A Lot Of Movies: The Beach, Glory Daze, House II & Take Me Home Tonight

The Beach (2000) is one of those movies that I remember coming out, but don’t remember hearing much about. For some reason I thought it had a sci-fi element to it, but instead it’s about a secret island split between a bunch of hippie pot farmers and some bad ass dudes with guns. Leonardo DiCaprio finds out about the island and sneaks his way in where he soon becomes part of the gang. It’s kind of an interesting idea that gets really weird towards the end.

See, Leo left a map with someone and that’s a problem because the guys with guns don’t want anymore people to join the hippies. The boss lady finds out about this and stations Leo on a ledge so he can watch for newcomers. While doing this, Leo loses his damn mind.

The problem isn’t so much in the story or the turn it takes at the end, but in how long the movie goes in one direction showing how life on the island is and THEN switches to this descent into madness kind of thing. The meandering part is kind of fun to look at as you get interested in how life on the island works, but then the tone and mood shift and it’s almost like you’re watching another movie set in the same world as the first. At the end of the day, the performances are solid and Leo does well with an uneven script, but I’m not sure if I’d recommend checking The Beach out if you haven’t already seen it.

We’ve all got types of movies and stories that we’re suckers for and Glory Daze (1995) fits like three of my preferred subgenres. First off it’s got Ben Affleck, an actor I seem to like no matter what he’s in. Second, it’s an “end of college” movie which I’ve been a sucker for since I saw PCU and Animal House. And finally, it’s a 90s movie about the kind of existential crises Gen Xers had when looking at their future in the real world.

Affleck plays a tormented art student who lives with a group of his friends that include Sam Rockwell and French Stewart in a party house. Most of them are on the verge of graduation, but Affleck doesn’t know what he wants to do with the rest of his life and tries convincing his friends to stay on for one more year in the house to party and put off joining the real world.

Like I said, I’m a sucker for these kinds of movies, but I think it’s actually pretty good. Affleck hits a lot of the same notes that he would go on to hit in Chasing Amy (the movies actually shares some similar themes and beats at times) and the movie is funny, but there is a heart in it that I found appealing. It’s about fear of the unknown, discovering the truth of the world and trying to make the best of a bad situation. Sure, it’s formulaic at times, but it reminds me of a lot of the movies I liked in my high school days.

As I said in today’s Ad It Up, I know I saw and enjoyed the first House movie, but I don’t actually remember much about it. I think it had a dude fighting monsters in another dimension after opening a door in his house. House II: The Second Story (1986) one is about a guy moving into his treasure hunting great grandfather’s house that’s decked out in Incan stuff, finding his undead grandfather and trying to keep a crystal skull out of the hands of some demons. Or something.

The poster, which is awesome, might make the movie seem like a creepy horror movie, but it really feels like a campy family friendly romp. The main guy and his friend just kind of run around with a zombie as different rooms in their house turn into crazy locales.

The film also has a pretty fantastic cameo by John Ratzenberger as a repairman who doesn’t bat an eye when an Incan warrior tries to kill him and also fights it off like a boss. Also, there’s a tiny green dog-bug thing that I wish was my pet.

It’s so, so goofy, but if you like that kind of thing, do yourself a favor and check out House II on Netflix Instant.

When I saw trailers for the 80s-set Take Me Home Tonight (2011), I figured it would be your average throwback with lots jokes that are only funny if you’re living in 2011 and the kind of attitude that pokes more fun than pays homage. Thankfully that’s not the case. There are only a few of those anachronistic-style jokes, but for the most part, it’s a coming-of-age, finding-yourself story that just so happens to be set in the late 80s. They don’t even seem to look down on the decade that gave us big hair, strange clothes and rolled up jacket sleeves. Those things are in the movie, but they’re not the focus. It’d be dishonest if they weren’t there.

I was also happy with how some of the usual tropes of this kind of “telling my high school sweetheart I like her story” were handled. You’ve got Topher Grace telling a lie after meeting the girl of his dreams that comes back to bite him in the ass. But, he actually has a really good argument for why he lied. It’s an honest conversation that you rarely see handled so well in this kind of thing.

Like I said, I’m a sucker for these kinds of stories and really liked the performances by Grace (who I’ve liked since That 70s Show), Anna Faris who I didn’t even recognize with brown hair at first, Dan Fogler, Teresa Palmer, Chris Pratt and Michael Biehn. Add in a setting that’s not usually handled this way and I’m in. Give it a look.

Iron Mongering: Iron Man 2 (2010)

I hadn’t heard a lot of great things about Iron Man 2. Between friends and the Totally Rad Show guys, the reviews weren’t the greatest. I think those people are crazy. Sure Iron Man 2 had some problems, but overall, it gave me the things I found the original wanting: a really good final battle (the Iron Man vs. the drones was probably cooler than the final battle with Whiplash), a better actor portraying Rhodey and more action in general.

Some people complained that the movie was too long and maybe felt like there were too many characters which took away from the Tony Stark/Robert Downey Jr. goodness, but I disagree. It felt like a very well paced and balanced movie to me.

I’m not going to get too much into the plot because I’m sure some people haven’t seen it yet, but I will talk about a few things that I really, really liked. First off, Don Cheadle annihilates Terrence Howard’s performance. He should have been in the role from the beginning. Second, even though Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow wasn’t the kind of role I expected it to be, I like they worked her in and her fighting style was awesome to watch. I could definitely go for a movie with just her. Third, the comparison between Howard Stark (Tony’s dad, played perfectly by Mad Men’s John Slattery) and Walt Disney is perfect. It obviously wasn’t directly stated, but between Slattery sporting a Walt-like suit and telling the people at home about his idea for the future and Stark Expo aping the World’s Fair (a showcase for many of Disney’s creations that are still in the parks today), it’s on the screen. Plus, the way Howard helped Tony later in life was awesome.

The movie’s not perfect, though. There was one plot hole early on that I actually forgot in all the awesomeness towards the end, but I did think it was odd that Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash would allow Tony and Rhodey to communicate towards the end of the movie. Rourke was fantastic by the way. I however did not like two of the performances in particular that of the Sams Jackson and Rockwell. Jackson seemed to be playing his role as a buddy of Stark’s which just doesn’t wash for me. And for Rockwell, I’m kind of shocked at how much everyone liked his character, or liked to hate him. Yeah, he was annoying and douchey, but it came off as a bad Dana Carvey impression of that character to me. Hopefully if he shows back up in Iron Man 3, he’ll be a little less over-the-top.

All in all, I had a fantastic time watching Iron Man 2 (I love that they called it Iron Man 2, by the way, and not something with a colon). It had everything I wanted and actually topped my medium-sized expectations. Plus, for me at least, the first Iron Man movie seemed amazing at the time, but on repeated viewings I found it wanting. Maybe that will be the case with IM2, or maybe knowing that the sequel picks up on the potential of the first one and continues on will actually make me enjoy the original more.

Quick Movie Review: Galaxy Quest (1999)

Galaxy Quest is another one of those movies that seems like it would have been directly in my wheelehouse. It’s about a bunch of washed up actors from a Star Trek-like sci-fi show who get caught up in real alien hijinks. It stars Tim Allen and Alan Rickman, two stars I really like. And Sigourney Weaver looks hot. So, why didn’t I see it when I was 16? No idea. Could have been working, my friends might not have been interested in going or I just didn’t care because I kind of hated Star Trek at the time (ah to be young and foolish). So, it just never happened.

I had a great time watching this movie, but I think it’s better that I watched it now that I have a deeper understanding of sci-fi fandom and the Star Trek universe in general. Allen’s clearly playing an analog for William Shatner while Rickman could be seen as a much-fictionalized version of Leonard Nimoy with Weaver, Tony Shalloub and others playing caricatures of other cast members. I don’t know much about the Star Trek folks’ real life dealings, so I can’t speak to that, but I’ve been to enough comic book conventions to understand what a washed up loser trying to milk his 15 minutes of fame looks like.

Aside from the jabs at nerdom, I also liked the film as a sci-fi romp. The aliens think the reruns of Galaxy Quest they’ve seen are video histories which have inspired their entire race to, basically, do good and avoid evil (a credo my friend’s dad used to always leave me with whenever he dropped us off at school). When their emotionally primitive but technologically advanced society came under fire, they did the only thing they could think of: get the Galaxy Quest crew to help them against some big bad aliens. Fun stuff!

But it’s not just a comedy either, GC offers great alien effects thanks to Stan Winston. I’m a big fan of the evil alien’s being done practically, they’ve got a great look, and the hero aliens’ octopus-like true forms. How great is it when a sci-fi movie makes aliens look this good? Plus, the action is solid. Galaxy Quest is one of those rare genre movies that I could easily recommend to a wide audience, which means, I would recommend it to my parents. I know my dad would like it, but mom has pretty specific tastes (nothing too violent or dark). I think she’d get a kick out of the movie and you would too if you’re reading this blog and haven’t seen it in a while.