3 posts categorized "Western"


Yep, 'Cowboys & Aliens;' Git over it

Whoa, hold on a minute Western movie purists.

Before you get a burr under your saddle because Old West gunslingers take on high-tech aliens from outer-space in the sci-fi Western "Cowboys & Aliens," you should know that uneasy genre saddle bag-fellows have gotten into dust-ups before.

It's been a while, but left-handed outlaw Billy the Kid took on none other than Dracula himself in 1966 in a horror-Western titled "Billy the Kid vs. Dracula."  That same year, the West got a little wilder with another odd pairing.  How many of you remember "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter"?

I didn't think so.

"Cowboys & Aliens" is a genre hybrid.  Granted, it's a far-fetched one, or at least it appears to be until you realize that in fiction there are no real boundaries except the limit of one's imagination.

Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, who concocted the comic book this film is based on in 1997, obviously can go off the usual grid when it comes to storytelling.

And so can director Jon Favreau (The "Iron Man" franchise) and, for that matter, co-stars  Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig, who draws top billing.  In today's ruthless Hollywood, James Bond trumps Han Solo apparently.

Set in New Mexico Territory circa 1875, "Cowboys & Aliens" begins with a jolt.  A camera pan across the dust and scraggly brush soon reveals a startled former outlaw named Jake Lonergan (Craig).  Jake awakes from some sort of unexplained trauma that has rendered him with no memory, but with some sort of newfangled bracelet that, to say the least, "ain't from around here."

Jake staggers into the saloon in the former boom town of Absolution (gotta love those town names in Westerns).  Before he can enjoy a few shots of whiskey, he's flirted with by a mysterious alluring lady named Ella (Olivia Wilde of "The Change-Up"), arrested and thrown in the pokey.

But not for long.  As the title clearly states, the Wild West is about to get a little wilder.  Strange lights illuminate the night sky, and before the citizens -- good and bad hombres alike -- know what's hitting them, several of the townsfolk are lassoed from flying machines and carried off into the darkness.

In traditional  Westerns, this would be the moment when a posse is formed.  Heck, that even happens when things get down and dirty (and thirsty) in "Rango."

In this one, though, the supposedly good guys, led by ruthless rancher Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford), form an alliance with the mysterious stranger (Craig) and some equally ravaged Indians to square off against the otherworldly marauders from up yonder somewhere.

A gaggle of screenwriters throw every cliché in the book into this thing.  Dolarhyde, the toughest guy in these here parts, has a bully/wimp for a son (Paul Dano).  Nat (Adam Beach), the rancher's No. 1 hand, of course displays all the traits the old man would want in a son.

As weird as all this is, however, the production value is top notch.  The special effects live up to their title, director Favreau stirs the off-kilter genre melting pot with gusto and the acting gets the job done in all areas.  I do wish Ford had backed off just a little from his over-gruffness a little earlier than he did, though.

Think of "Cowboys & Aliens" as that odd looking, but bright and shiny dangerous ride way back at the edge of the carnival.

Then strap yourself in for a wild ride and go kick some serious alien hiney.


CGI Critterville visits 'Chinatown' in 'Rango'

In the ever-increasing deluge of animated films, there are soaring adventures for kids like "How to Train Your Dragon," somber thought pieces for adults like "The Illusionist" and those that aspire to appeal to several generations, such as "Up."

"Rango" is a wild card, even using the aforementioned parameters.

"Rango," my friends, is for movie lovers.  While it might appeal to kids to some extent, director Gore Verbinski aims this amazing critter Western not only at adults, but at adults with such diverse movie-viewing experience as "Chinatown" and, dare I say, "The Terror of Tiny Town."

"Chinatown," of course, was Roman Polanski's sleaze-oozing potboiler of 1974 starring Jack Nicholson and late, great director John Huston as a power broker with a tight grip on the L.A. water supply.  All you need to know about "The Terror of Tiny Town" (1938), an awful movie, by the way, is that it spoofed traditional Westerns by inserting little people into all the traditional roles.

"Rango" does the same, but with critters small and smaller.

Johnny Depp, who has "Arrrrrrrrrrrded" his way through a trio of Verbinski-directed "Pirates of the Caribbean" adventures, injects a ton of personality into the title character.  Rango, or at least the violently displaced family pet that will become Rango, is a chameleon.

He gets lost in the desert near Las Vegas, then, by chance, winds up in the dusty Western town aptly called Dirt.  The water supply has gone bone dry and the mayor, a devious turtle voiced by Ned Beatty (looking a little and sounding a lot like Huston), seems to always be sipping some.

After bragging a little in the saloon following a series of cactus juice shots, Rango is named sheriff.  A posse is formed and the little lizard that could (or maybe not) hits the trail to bring water back to Dirt.

To fully understand the beauty of the CGI animation in "Rango," you just have to experience it.  Say what you will about Verbinski turning an old Disney theme park ride into a cash cow movie franchise, he has done wonders here.

In addition to Depp, who is marvelous, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy and the great Harry Dean Stanton all lend their voices (and are  all tremendous) to a well-imagined character menagerie.

The Western cliches come fast and furious.  But combined with the visual brilliance, "Rango" morphs into an animated comic-adventure that's sure to become a topic of conversation when the next movie awards season heats up.  (No need to worry about that now.  That won't happen for a couple of weeks at least.)

My only minor complaint about this tongue-in-and-out-of-cheek Western spoof is that screenwriter John Logan ("The Aviator," "Sweeney Todd") gets a little too mystical at times.  And, at almost two hours, it definitely runs too long for small children.

I do wish Logan had sneaked in one line, though:
"Forget it Rango, it's Dirt."


The Dude, not The Duke in Coen's 'True Grit'

Saddle up, "True Grit" fans.  Here's some bold talk from a two-eyed fat man.  

I say hold your horses, Joel and Ethan Coen.  If you're taking on John Wayne and remaking "True Grit" (1969), the iconic Western that provided The Duke with his sole Best Actor Academy Award, you could at lest get the eye patch right.

Wayne's U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn sported his eye patch on the left eye.  The current "True Grit" production notes state that the writing/directing Coen siblings let their Rooster Cogburn, Oscar's reigning Best Actor Jeff Bridges ("Crazy Heart"), choose which eye should get the patch.

Bridges got it right, which is wrong.

Isn't that a little like asking newcomer Hailee Steinfeld (who's out-of-this-world sensational as 14-year-old Mattie Ross) if she'd rather wake up snoozing rattlesnakes or hibernating bears when she tumbles into a cave in the final reel?

Some things are sacred. I'm a huge Coen Bros. fan.  But there's no reason to dis The Duke.   Not that it really matters much, I suppose.  There was no eye patch in Charles Portis' "True Grit" novel, originally serialized in "The Saturday Evening Post" in 1968.

So the Coens ("O Brother Where Art Thou"," Oscar winners for "Fargo" and "No Country for Old Men") give us The Dude (Bridges' character in the Coens' "The Big Lebowski") instead of The Duke.

For those unfamiliar with the Western tale, Mattie (Steinfeld) travels to Fort Smith, Ark. in 1878 and hires hard-drinking, coarse-talking Marshal Cogburn (gravelly voiced Bridges) to track down her father's killer, Tom Chaney.  Chaney (Josh Brolin) has fled into Indian Territory.

The forthright young teen, bearing the brassiness of a seasoned adult, forces herself on Cogburn for what will become justice, not to mention the adventure of a lifetime.

There's a third member of the abbreviated posse.  Matt Damon turns in a strong performance as Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, who's after Chaney for reward money for killing a Texas politician.

Let's just say I have no quarrel with Damon's LaBoeuf.  Of course almost any warm thespian body would compare favorably to singer Glen Campbell's stiff turn as the Texas Ranger in the original.

If you've seen any Coen Bros. movie, you know that these guys are no slouches.  Their "True Grit" is visually stunning (Jess Gonchor, production designer) and a wonder to behold on a big screen thanks to Oscar-nominated director of photography Roger Deakins ("O Brother Where Art Thou?").

My problems with the remake -- excuse me, new translation of the original novel -- have to do with things the Coens do they simply can't seem to avoid.  Like the dialog, for instance.  In an attempt to capture the novel's almost poetic cowboy vocal style, what we see in their movie comes off as over stylized and too formal.

There are outstanding elements, of course.  My hat's off to the Coens for finding young teen Steinfeld to play  Mattie.  Steinfeld, a newcomer, was only 13 when she got into costume and character for Mattie in Texas (Granger, just outside of Austin) and New Mexico.

Bridges is very good as Cogburn.  But I couldn't help wondering what Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones (who co-starred in "No Country for Old Men") would have done with Rooster.

I bet if Jones gave Rooster a go, the eye patch would have remained on the right left eye so as not to dishonor The Duke.

Sorry, Dude.