Sunday 20 Apr

Holy Ghost People

Holy Ghost People examines two sisters whose bond is torn — but by what? After her sibling has been missing for more than a year, Charlotte (Emma Greenwell, TV's Shameless) intends to find out.
04/15/2014 | Comments 0

No Holds Barred

RLJ Entertainment's new Blu-ray for No Holds Barred begins with what seems like dozens of trailers for movies starring pro wrestlers from the WWE talent pool. Each flick went direct to home video, but once upon a time — aka 1989 — one had to go to the multiplex to catch such a spectacle.
04/15/2014 | Comments 0

Knights of Badassdom

In 2008, the third act of the guy comedy Role Models used LARPing — live-action role-playing, that is — as a backdrop for our protagonists' lessons learned. Today, Knights of Badassdom extends that half-hour into a full feature, to the point where viewers are left not smiling, but exhausted. 
04/02/2014 | Comments 0

Switched on

Not everything on television has to appeal to mass audiences. In fact, with the further fractioning of viewership thanks to alternatives like Netflix and VOD, more series can afford to become more niche. Here are five examples of shows both past and present — and new to DVD and/or Blu-ray — that encompass some of the more outrageous ideas ever to go beyond boardroom discussion.
04/02/2014 | Comments 0

Confession of Murder

Seventeen years after slaying 10 women and getting away with it, the charismatic serial killer Du-sok (Park Si-hoo) comes clean with a Confession of Murder, in this 2012 South Korean crime thriller. He does so by publishing a book that dishes all the grisly details.
04/02/2014 | Comments 0
Home · Articles · Movies · Science Fiction · Cowboys & Aliens
Science Fiction

Cowboys & Aliens

No joke, pardner: ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ is pure popcorn entertainment.

Phil Bacharach August 3rd, 2011

“Cowboys & Aliens” sounds like one of those high-concept flicks for which you might expect the idea went no further than the jokey title. Think “Snakes on a Plane.”

But in one of the pleasant surprises of the summer-movie season, this genre mash-up is lean, handsomely crafted entertainment. It works precisely because it acts as if there’s no joke. You’ve got cowboys, and you’ve got aliens. ’Nuff said.

It certainly starts with a bang. A man (Daniel Craig, “Quantum of Solace”) wakes up in the middle of nowhere. He has a curious-looking metallic cuff shackled on his left wrist, but damned if he knows how he got it. In fact, he can’t remember anything, not even — in a fitting homage to Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti-Western heroes — his own name. But this Man with No Name hasn’t lost his ability to kick ass, 1870s-style, when he is suddenly surrounded by a trio of menacing ZZ Top look-alikes. And we’re off to the camptown races. The manacled cowpoke wanders to the nearby town of Absolution; has a run-in with a spoiled, trigger-happy punk (Paul Dano, “Knight and Day”); and is subsequently arrested after being identified as a stagecoach thief named Jake Lonergan. Our taciturn hero hardly has time to catch his breath before tangling with the punk’s father, feared cattle baron Col. Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford, “Morning Glory”).

But there are bigger threats: Flying saucers are roaming the countryside, blasting buildings to smithereens and stealing off with townsfolk.

This is familiar stuff for Western fans. Loosely based on a graphic novel of the same name, the movie dutifully lets Old West archetypes fill in for character development. The tactic allows the narrative to gallop swiftly to the inevitable genre mash-up.

It’s a minor miracle that a concept so fraught with silliness is treated straightforwardly, and with so much success. Director Jon Favreau (“Iron Man 2”) and a gaggle of screenwriters led by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (“Star Trek”) don’t wink at their audience. The filmmakers understand the mythological power of the Western, and they similarly appreciate its flip side: the deeply rooted fear and xenophobia that gave rise to spaceinvader fantasies. The connective tissue linking the genres might be tenuous — perhaps why Hollywood hasn’t really done it before — but they both deserve reverence, and “Cowboys” is reverent about its B-movie origins.

The actors follow suit. Craig is pitch-perfect as the strong silent type. Ford flirts with self-parody — he glowers so much you half-expect his jaw to dislodge and pop off — but he reveals glimmers of heart beneath the irascible facade. And with actors like Sam Rockwell (“Conviction”) and Olivia Wilde (“TRON: Legacy”) rounding out the cast, it’s tough to go wrong.

Which might be why “Cowboys & Aliens” doesn’t go wrong.

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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