Steven Spielberg

MOVIE REVIEW: Cowboys and Aliens …and lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

The cast of Cowboys & Aliens at the 2010 San D...
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 What do you get when you mix two popular but completely different movie genres? From my viewpoint it is a bit of a mess like a hot fudge sunday with bananas, strawberries, and pineapple thrown in and a cherry on top. Oh, that’s right, that’s called a banana split.

Cowboys and Aliens is a science fiction/western/action film starring Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig. It goes deep into cowboy country but then takes a sharp turn into Star Wars. It is a bit unsettling to be lulled into the rhythm of a cowboy lullaby accompanied by the clomp, clomp of the horses and then jerked awake by aliens descending to earth in something left over by the star fleet.

If I had not seen a program on the History Channel about unexplained UFOs sighted in the old west in the 1800s, I would have found the premises pretty hard to take; but it seems that the movie is, indeed, based loosely on fact with a lot of fiction thrown in. I guess this earth could have had visitors from the great beyond many times over the centuries but as movie goers we become accustomed to only one genre at a time. We go into the theatre wearing either our cowboy hat, tri-cornered hat, or baseball cap and settle back to be entertained. Combining the two genres is certainly new and something we might expect from the most accomplished producers of our time—Steven Spielberg, and Ron Howard and Brian Glazier. These names are synonymous with great entertainment and it is reassuring they are still trying to push the envelope and not be content to rest on their laurels.

Our main character, Jake Lonergan, played by Daniel Craig awakes in the middle of the desert with no memory of how he got there or why. He finds a strange metal bracelet that won’t come off but comes in handy shooting the bad guys. The protagonist of the story, Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde, played by Harrison Ford rules the town with a mean temper and cold heart. In a typical western, the basic plot would end here with the two main characters fighting to the bitter end; but once these two main characters are established cue the Star Wars music. Once another conflict is added to the story then the two enemies join forces to fight their common enemy. In another plot twist to the traditional western, we also find the cowboys combining forces with their traditional enemy the Indians. One more element is added to the plot in the form of beautiful but mysterious Ella played by former House cast member, Olivia Wilde.  

As a former English teacher I must take a detour here and comment on the obvious symbolism of the names of the two main characters—Lonergan and Dolarhyde. We get the impression that Jake Lonergan has been a loner all his life and would be happy to continue as such if it weren’t for the current circumstances. On the other hand, Col. Dolarhyde owns the town and has bought off every citizen in it.

With all these non-traditional ingredients thrown together, the movie could have become a farce as in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World; however the strength of the main characters keeps the movie on track and propels it towards its climatic conclusion. Craig, formerly known as James Bond, and Ford, formerly known as Indiana Jones and Hans Solo, adapt well to the western genre and I would love to see both of them in similar movies in the future.

Cowboys and Aliens is a fun summer film to watch. Will it become a classic, only time will tell; but it is definitely groundbreaking in combining genres. I give it a B.

MOVIE REVIEW: Spielberg + Abrams + Super 8 = Great Fun

Super 8 staring Kyle Chandler is one super movie. It takes you back to the 70’s and the days of puberty, puppy love, and polyester.

With the name Spielberg attached to it, one can’t help but make comparisons to his big hit of the 80’s, ET. Although both movies are about young people and aliens that is where the similarities stop. This alien isn’t nearly as endearing and lovable as ET. There is one scene where the alien appears to make an emotional connection with the young hero but that moment is only in passing.

It is good to see Kyle Chandler (or Coach Taylor for Friday Night Lights fans) take on a leading role. He is excellent portraying macho gruffness hiding a hurt and vulnerable human being. He is so preoccupied with running the town in the unexplained absence of the sheriff and coping with growing hysteria that he doesn’t notice his son is sneaking out at nights to participate in the making of a home movie about zombies. While filming a night scene for an amateur movie contest, they capture a train wreck by lucky coincidence. The repercussions of the wreck and its mysterious cargo will keep you on the edge of your seat the rest of the movie.

But, the real heroes of the movie are the young teens with little or no acting experience behind them. It is a testament to Abrams and Spielberg’s genius that they are able to build a whole movie around such inexperienced actors. The only one of the young actors with much experience is Elle Fanning (sister of Dakota Fanning) who plays the innocent heroine of the zombie movie.

I usually hate horror and monster movies because I don’t like blood, gore, and slime; and things that jump out at me. This movie does not rely on those cheap tricks but actually has a good story behind it. The alien is only seen as a quick movement on screen leaving more to the imagination until the climax of the movie when we finally see the arachnid species. The two masters of super natural intrigue have teamed up to write and produce what I predict will become a classic. How can you miss with Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams, one of the creators of Lost, behind it? Super 8 is written and directed by Abrams and produced by Spielberg and has all of the sci-fi mystery and nostalgia associated with both men.  

I predict big things for this movie in the future. I give it an A.