Tag Archives: explosions

COWBOYS & ALIENS: AN INVASION ALMOST INCONSEQUENTIAL

Like every Thursday night, I went out last night to catch a midnight movie.  Unlike most weekends though, I had three choices: Crazy, Stupid, Love, The Smurfs, or Cowboys & Aliens.  While the first didn’t seem a bad choice, my companion didn’t feel like watching a Steve Carell picture.  The second, however, seemed terrible from the first trailer I viewed.  So, I’ll be boycotting the annoying film and its atrocious use of 3D graphics.  Ergo, my friend and I went to see Cowboys & Aliens last night.  (This seems like an awkward case of the game Clue.  It was Tom and his friend, at the AMC, with the Sci-Fi Western.)

THE GOOD

To start, this is an action film.  So we should expect a fair number of explosions, guns and knives aplenty, and enough jaw punches to pulp Jay Leno’s epic mandible.  In these respects, Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and the aliens certainly deliver.  From the opening scene in which Craig kills three riding bandits/bounty hunters, to the first invasion sequence as the town explodes and its citizens are captured, and finally with the concluding battle against the invading aliens as the town’s forces war with the entire invasionary force in a canyon, the action scenes stand up to today’s standards.

As a fan of westerns, I enjoyed the historic elements present in this film.  I enjoyed the costuming, seeing that the characters were well dressed without coming off as pretentious, up until the end when everybody’s living off the new gold market.  Aside from the costumes, I also enjoyed the set design.  Classic western town elements were present, from the local saloon, to the town jail.  While I felt that a bit too little time was spent in these areas so as to recognize the detailing, it seemed well put together at first glance.

THE BAD

Like I said before, this is an action film.  So, while we’re expecting gratuitous violence and accompanying one-liners, we should not expect impressive character growth or any real depth to this film.  Like before, the film delivers here as well.  

Craig plays the stereotypical western badass.  He is Jake Lonergan, an ex-bandit amnesiac who begins the film working only to repair his memories but eventually sides with the townsfolk to return their abducted kin.  Ford portrays the crotchety, old bastard bigot and corrupted cattle owner, Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde.  Like all main cast seemingly misanthropes, he eventually comes to forget his racism and show compassion for his ignored son. 

On the other side of these awfully shallow or predictable characters, we have the confusing and unpredictable.  Most notably, Olivia Wilde portrays a young woman, Ella Swenson, who follows Craig throughout the first seventy-five percent of the film.  Her reasoning is that the aliens had abducted her people long before the film began and she believes that he can locate them.  Then she’s struck by one of the aliens, dies, is cremated, and then comes out of the fire.  She then informs everybody that she’s an alien who has taken a human form so as to work alongside Lonergan and the town to destroy the aliens that have no sanctity for life (caring only for the local gold).  She ends up sacrificing herself to destroy the alien ship in a large explosion before it can return to the alien home-world.

THE UGLY

The biggest issue of this film, aside from Wilde’s phoenix return and subsequent trans-species romance with Lonergan, was that deaths were almost completely ignored in this film.  The preacher’s death seemed to be the one to which the characters showed the most emotion for, but that took place in the first half of the film.  Wilde’s death was a brief, “He’s dead, Jim”, but she comes back, and then proceeds to die again, with the latter death being unspoken as all the characters simply disburse.  Lonergan’s wife/lady-friend from before the film’s beginning, who we later discover was disintegrated upon the alien ship, similarly was left without feeling.  Craig walks into their old house, sets down some flowers, sees a hummingbird, and then walks out smiling.  Even in the final moments of the film, when the quiet town is seen to be growing and changing because of the new gold, everyone is grinning without any lamentation over their fallen comrades and lovers.

FINAL THOUGHTS

At this point, I’ve said it several times: this is an action film.  Therefore, it will be viewed by an audience who want action.  They’ll not be looking for character development or historical accuracy or any real emotion.  They’ll be looking for gun shots, haymakers, and explosions.  For that reason, this film will definitely satisfy them.  It does the western genre justice while simultaneously developing a new type of alien (large, green, neck-less beast things with superior technology and multiple sets of arms) for the general public to mull over. 

So, while I doubt that this movie will be a huge success (though I could be wrong with their advertising pushes), I’m sure it will be enjoyed by many.  And, if you ever wanted to see Daniel Craig ride off into the sunset atop a horse, this movie will not leave you disappointed.

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THE FIRST AVENGER (CAPTAIN AMERICA FILM REVIEW)

I have to say, I really love midnight film showings.  Almost invariably, you’ll view the film in a theatre packed with the titular character’s greatest fans.  The amassment of viewers will undoubtedly cheer at every punched jaw, gasp when our protagonist is about to be executed, and cheer some more when they escape their doomed fate.  Somehow, however, I did not experience this last night.  Rather, I viewed Captain America: The First Avenger in a near empty theatre, no more than twenty-five people in attendance. 

Regardless, those who were present enjoyed the film.

THE GOOD

Where should a film revolving around World War II do it’s best?  In the war scenes.  Allow me the assuage your fears for another superhero film by saying that the cinematographers did an excellent job with the large-scale fight scenes.  Watching Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America) invade enemy bases, punch out Hydra guards, and release four hundred prisoners from rows of jail cells was immensely satisfying.  The further Michael Bay-esque explosions in the background appropriately added to the atmosphere.

But beyond the action (in an action film), what did I like?  Well, I was appreciative of the film’s casting director whom I believe did an excellent job in this film.  All of the characters seemed appropriate for their roles from Chris Evans to Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter) to Hugo Weaving (Johann Schmidt/Red Skull).  My favorite cast member however, was Tommy Lee Jones.  I’m regularly enamored with his characters so this is nothing new and, like he does in virtually every film, he added comedic relief to this film with his gruff sarcasm. 

Though not out of place for a comic book hero, I was not expecting much from the dialogue in this film.  Unlike the stereotypical monologues found in the pulp pages, the dialogue in this film seemed balanced and logical, while still coming from virtually one-dimensional characters.  What I found the best was Evans final dialogue with Atwell just before he crashes the plane.  It wasn’t overly dramatic or a depressing goodbye, it was the emotionally fulfilling avoidance of saying goodbye that alluded to the underlying romance in the film while not allowing the traditional action film to be dragged down by it. 

Finally, like all of the Avenger hero films thus far, Captain America has a scene that shows after the credits.  Unlike the previous films that only alluded to the next hero in the series, this scene is essentially a full trailer for the Avengers film.  While I’ll, in turn, write a review on that trailer soon, all I have to say here is that the trailer is excellent and certainly worth waiting through the credits for.

THE BAD

While I greatly enjoyed this film (I suppose I’m a bit of a superhero geek at heart), it wasn’t perfect.  In fact, it made a fair number of mistakes with the first being that it suffers from some truly dreadful montage scenes. 

The first of these is when Steve Rogers is only Captain America on stage, selling war bonds to upper class Americans back at home.  It’s about five minutes of dancing girls, Evans selling bonds, and watching him poorly stage-punch a vaudevillian Hitler.  While it’s not particularly upsetting, it grows old as soon as Captain America learns his lines (in the beginning, he’s reading them off of his shield).

The other, considerably more dreadful montage takes place after Captain America becomes a battlefield hero.  Just after releasing the four hundred prisoners and returning to base, we have a two-to-three minute montage of Captain America kicking butt with his team, blowing up elephant-sized tanks, and having Red Skull show up after the slaughter and shaking his fist ruefully.  Scenes like these are what scare people about superhero films.  Moreso than completely one-dimensional characters, it’s the cheesy lines and illogical behavior of the villains.  Watching Red Skull shake his fist at the thought of Captain America makes the film’s villain seem almost comical which is completely destructive for the horrifying mystical Nazi. 

Beyond the montage scenes, I found the pacing of the film to be lacking.  My brother kept saying that the film could have been broken into three films and, while completely wrong (though they may have been three comic books), I understand what he was trying to get at.  The film has three major points of action: the initial invasion and prison break, a train-heist of sorts, and the final battle.  The issue is that, from the point when Steve Rogers is irradiated into Captain America, there’s little to no downtime.  It’s action, Action, ACTION!  It seems as if each of these action scenes is broken by a few minutes of dialogue about whatever just happened and a one-liner. 

Finally, I felt the defeat of Red Skull lacked the fulfillment of being beaten by Captain America.  Instead, Red Skull essentially destroys himself in a manner strangely reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  He’s destroyed by holding a Cosmic Cube (Marvel universe construct thingie) and transported into space or something.  The scene just looked as if it was channeling other films with the Indiana Jones death and alluding awfully heavily to Thor and Norse mythos. 

THE UGLY

There’s little else to say negative about this film aside from the external references it kept making.  After some reflection, I can accept the Thor references as they’ll be teaming up together in The Avengers

However, I cannot accept the Raiders of the Lost Ark death and a few others.  The first of these is a short series of Evel Knievel stunts that Captain America takes on a motorbike.  While I’ve nothing against the motorbike, feeling that it’s thoroughly American and a fitting means of transportation for a human superhero, this film messed it up. 

Then, after watching the Captain jump of ramps as things explode behind him, we’re forced to watch a chase scene with our protagonist and team of leather-garbed Hydra agents riding their choppers through a forest and fighting with laser weapons.  It screamed Mad Max and left me puzzled over why the film needed this thirty second scene.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Though my negative thoughts are often greater in number than the positive things I’ll say about a film, that’s simply the routine here.  Altogether, I greatly enjoyed watching this film.  It’s refreshing to have such a stereotypically “good” superhero take to the silver screen after every other studio has aimed for the antihero in the last decade.  While I would quickly lose favor with this if it became the standard, it was fun to watch and I greatly recommend this film to anybody who enjoys superhero or action films.  Also, with minimal graphic violence (save for one Hydra agent being instantly chopped up by a plane propeller towards the end of the film) it’s an excellent one for children.

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (FILM REVIEW)

Writing in a mild state of delirium with the image still fresh in my mind, I have to say that the movie was good.  It did a lot of things I liked, a few things I didn’t like, and then just made me feel like I’d watched a previous Transformers’ film with a slightly different plotline.

THE GOOD

This movie follows the previous movie in terms of story and characters.  The only continuity break that was truly noticeable was the departure of Megan Fox (see THE BAD for more).

As expected with any Michael Bay film, and doubly so for his opus, the Transformers franchise, we’re treated to two hours of explosions and car porn.  Now, if you take a quick look at IMDB (it’s okay, I’ll wait) … (not), you’ll see that the movie runs just over two and a half hours.   So, why did I say two?  Well, this follows the Transformers’ model of providing a semblance of background story in the first twenty to thirty minutes to enable the film to revolve around a central concept or event.  This is then followed by the fire effects everybody bought tickets for.

THE BAD

Remember that little note after the departure of Megan Fox above?  This is where it comes back.  Now, I remained completely ignorant of the growing feud between Fox and Bay, only understanding that she would not be in Transformers 3.  I understand that and naturally assumed, for continuity’s sake, that the film would briefly allude to her absence and then proceed with the story.  In fact, I’d previously spoken to some friends about the exact situation.  I assumed the characters would bring her up (not by name) and say something about her dumping him.  That would have solved the problem completely.  And the scene began just so.  But then something a bit unprofessional happened.  Two of the autobots made comments about her, one saying that he didn’t like her, and the other calling her mean.  Perhaps this was prompted by history I missed, or written for comedy’s sake.  However, if it wasn’t, it seems more than just a little bit petty.

THE UGLY

After that obnoxiously long rant, what more could I possibly have to say?  Well, there were a few final details that stood out. 

First, this movie seemed to be making a lot of references that were funny to notice, but then immediately diminished the quality of the film.  For instance:

  • The “Boomsticks” (one of Wheeljack’s weapons),
  • “There can only be one” (uttered by either Sentinel or Megatron during the final battle),
  • and Optimus’s “Fight for Freedom” speech (not sure if this is original or not, but it has an Independence Day feel to it).

Second, the racism equilibrium.  If I remember right, a group of people claimed two characters from the previous Transformers film were derogatory towards African-Americans.  Well, this time the tables were turned with what my friend pointed out as being a few Nascar Transformers known as The Wreckers.  Sadly, I thought they’d been Scotsmen.  Not sure just how bad that is for my North-Western European heritage, but whatever.  Upon further investigation, it seems one of the three voice actors was British.  I feel slightly less wrong.  (God save my ignorant American soul…)

Third, this movie vaguely held a plotline similar to the previous films, but made the characters considerably more static.  In fact, the characters, having been caricatures in the past, became caricatures of caricatures.  The parents were painfully, disgustingly unaware of any impending danger or what matters of their son’s life should be left alone.  The new girlfriend was a standard damsel in distress for the entire film, not the tough-girl we’d come to expect from Megan Fox.  The human villain was evil to his own death, just progressing from casual jerk to harbinger of destruction.  Worst of all though, was Shia LaBeouf’s character, whose most consistent emotion was a temper tantrum involving screaming and poor displays of violence. 

Finally, this film seemed darker than the previous two, even when accounting for the death of Optimus and Sam in the last one.  Instead, this one goes over the top with betrayals and the utter destruction of Chicago.  It also makes use of guns similar to the weapons employed by the tripods of War of the Worlds.  Furthermore, the story doesn’t try to reconcile the thousands, or perhaps millions dead at the end of the film.  The loss of life isn’t even recognized after the final battle.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Well, looking at what I’ve written here, it seems that I felt negatively about the film more than anything else.  But that’s not really true.  The movie is not a cinematic classic and has plotholes that must’ve made the script look like swiss cheese.  That said, this film does exactly what it promised to do:  It gave you transforming robot-cars and explosions to satisfy even the most deranged of pyromaniacs. 

I would recommend this film for teenagers (probably not the best film for children under 8 ) and anybody else looking for an explosive action film that doesn’t require great thought.

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