Monday, August 29, 2011

The Wire - One Arrest: Baby Steps

The Wire: One Arrest
Season One, Episode Seven
Directed By: Joe Chapelle
Written By: Rafael Alvarez, from a story by David Simon and Ed Burns

Read out “The Wire” Project here. Read about the previous episode here, or click here to see the total coverage. Assume spoilers for the episode.

            Earlier in The Wire, we learned how the drug war is very similar to a chess match, in the way certain pieces can be correlated to the different positions in the drug business. In “One Arrest,” we return to that metaphor, but now instead we see strategy. As a fan of chess (though hardly a master), you learn quickly that there are no small decisions. Every move you do, no matter how small, is serving a grand strategy. If a move looks so simple and so easy, the better—your opponent will read it as nothing, and then be astonished later when the secret is revealed.

            “One Arrest” is all about this the application of this strategy—we see a series of small plot developments, all in order to serve a larger purpose. The episode is written by Rafael Alvarez, the first time either the creator David Simon or his writing partner Ed Burns have not been at the forefront (they do take the story credit however). However, you wouldn’t notice any change unless you read the credits. Mr. Alvarez, who wrote crime for the Baltimore Sun for twenty years and then wrote for Mr. Simon on Homicide: Life on the Streets, is obviously right up the alley with these guys, and as Sidney Lumet would say, works because everyone is making the same show.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mysteries of Lisbon - Land of Stories Upon Stories

Mysteries of Lisbon
Directed By: Raúl Ruiz
Written By: Carlos Saboga, from the novel by Camilo Castelo Branco
Starring: Adriano Luz, Maria Joao Bastos, Ricardo Pererira, Clotilde Hesme, Joao Arrais, and Jose Afonso Pimentel.
Director of Photography: Andre Szankowski, Editors: Carlos Madaleno and Valeria Sarmiento, Art Director: Paula Szabo, Original Music: Jorge Arriagada
Rated: Unrated, but sex, death, love, war, and all the matters of what we called life.

            There was a moment in Raúl Ruiz’s epic drama Mysteries of Lisbon where the audience I was viewing the film with couldn’t help but unintentionally laugh. Father Dinis is meeting with a peripheral character, who has had no impact on the story. The old monk tells him, “I have a long story to tell you. It may seem pointless, but all will reveal itself at the end.” This comes at the two and a half hour mark of this four and a half hour film, and at this point, the audience finally gets it, as almost every character we have run into has a story to tell that seems to diverge wildly from the main narrative. Story defines us, gives us existence, and reveals the inner truth of our lives, with each story filling the details of another.

            And it’s this Russian doll structured narrative, along with Ruiz’s brilliant and fascinating direction, that make Mysteries of Lisbon the type of film you could sit in for hours upon hours. Ruiz, a Chilean exile who passed away just last week after spending most of his life in Paris, made over 100 films in his life (a final film was shot though its current state is unknown), and you can tell this is the type of unique cinematic precision he enjoyed. Mysteries of Lisbon, adapted from Camilo Castelo Branco’s epic Portuguese novel (never translated into English), covers so many themes and ideas, but none are lost in translation. This is a gargantuan film of cinematic proportions that could have been the stuff of shlock and silly melodrama. But Ruiz doesn’t allow such tone to take over, he embraces it with a unique, slightly distanced eye that favors ideas over emotions; this is the thinking man’s Visconti.

            Mysteries of Lisbon runs at a languid pace, which may frustrate people who were able to survive the frenetic energy of the equally long and excellent Carlos from Ruiz’s contemporary Olivier Assayas. But Ruiz has his own style that fits his narrative, which begins with the young João, a young orphan living in a Catholic school under the tutelage of Father Dinis (Adriano Luz). We’re set in the Napoleonic era of Portugal, under France’s rule and set around the aristocracy, whose problems are so silly, yet make for great cinema nonetheless. João wants to discover the truth behind his parents, but Dinis is resistant, as the story is a very long one. But when his mother finally leaves her cruel husband and returns to João, the story is revealed.

Senna: A Search for God on the Raceway

Directed By: Asif Kapadia
Written By: Manish Pandey
Featuring: Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost
Editors: Chris King, Gregers Sall, Original Music: Antonio Pinto
Rated: PG-13 for language and a few, brief, shocking images.

            I’m a baseball fan (particularly a Minnesota Twins fan). When asked by others, what exactly I love about baseball though, I’m often at a loss for words. How does one explain either the enjoyment of watching a sport, or even more particularly playing a sport? You just have to do it to really understand, but even then, the subjectivity is impossible to correlate.

            For Ayrton Senna, the most famous Formula One racer of all time (we’ll leave the debate of whether it can be considered a sport for another time), it is impossible to truly understand what motivated him as he raced around sharp corners with a recklessness never seen by any other driver. As he explains after one race, “I felt closer to God at that moment than any other in my life.” Can the secret to the love of sports, or speed in this manner, be a mystical connection of some sort? An ecstasy that is otherwise impossible to find?  That’s part of the mystery surrounding Mr. Senna, who is the profile of a new documentary entitled Senna, exploring the life and times of the famous driver.

The Wire - The Wire: Past Due

The Wire: The Wire
Season One, Episode Six
Directed By: Ed Bianchi
Written By: David Simon, from a story by Simon and Ed Burns

Read out “The Wire” Project here. Read about the previous episode here, or click here to see the total coverage. Assume spoilers for the episode.

            One of the most striking things in “The Wire,” the sixth episode of David Simon’s The Wire, is its ability to emphasize characters who usually have no role in our sympathies. Yes we indetify with former addict Bubbles because he’s in the end a good guy, but what about the street thugs who we don’t even know their names. Well director Ed Bianchi gives us a very curious introduction to Wallace, one of D’Angelo’s thugs. Using a few behind the head tracking shots that are in no doubt influenced by the Dardenne brothers, we see Wallace as he wakes up in his trash home, awakens his five younger siblings, gives them their lunch, and sends them off to school. Why is this kid selling drugs? There’s your answer. However, as patriarchal as Wallace must act as home, he’s not ready to see the image of Brandon, shot, stabbed, burned, strangled, and tortured, a result of his call last night.

            The theme of “The Wire” is not so much the simplistic “actions have consequences,” but a more nuanced idea that every debt has to be paid eventually. D’Angelo, having slept with a stripper, makes chit chat with her in the morning, as she asks about his other girlfriend. “She wants clothes, a credit card with her name on it,” he replies, and then says “Pussy is never free.” D’Angelo is realizing that everything he wants comes with a hidden cost, and all the characters get that tonight.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Wire - The Pager: Out of Sight

The Wire: The Pager
Season One, Episode Five
Directed By: Clark Johnson
Written By: Ed Burns, from a story by David Simon and Burns.

Read out “The Wire” Project here. Read about the previous episode here, or click here to see the total coverage Assume spoilers for the episode.

            I’ve been recently reading Sidney Lumet’s great book Making Movies, all about his pragmatic insight into what a director does. Mr. Lumet was a true artist and a list of his films—12 Angry Men, Serpico, Prince of the City—shows a lot of the precedents in both tone and theme for David Simon and The Wire. But one philosophy stuck with me: Mr. Lumet always believes in coming in under budget, and not just wasting money for the sake of art. He understands his contract to his investors, and part of his creativity comes from such limits.

            The last scene in “The Pager,” directed by Clark Johnson (his third episode) and written by Ed Burns (his first) is a pitch-perfect example of a great scene that may have been limited by budget, but works better because of it. As retaliation for Omar’s rampage on the Barksdale crew, Avon orders a hit on his fellow gang members, and near the end of the episode, a couple of young workers spot Omar’s lover at a pizza joint. Instead of a big chase and murder sequence, all we see are phone calls, being traced through pagers that the police have tapped. All we see are the phone calls and the numbers being written down, but Mr. Johnson knows how to quicken the pace of this, while showing nothing that is inherently cinematic, and not even using music, just the sounds of dial tones, button pressing, and data being processed. When we hear the last phone call, “it’s done,” it’s a brutal end. This sequence—the best in The Wire so far—matches the best of Spielberg and Lumet, and proves you don’t have to show your cards to lay down a cool hand.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Wire - Old Cases: Meditations in an Investigation

The Wire: Old Cases
Season One, Episode Four
Directed By: Clement Virgo
Written By: David Simon, from a story by Simon and Ed Burns

Read out “The Wire” Project here. Read about the previous episode here, or click here to see the total coverage Assume spoilers for the episode.

            After three rapid fire episodes of plot from David Simon’s The Wire, “Old Cases” gives us a slower tone and more character-based episode. As the title implies, “Old Cases” is not only about an old case that detective McNulty tracks down, but about the old cases that define many of the characters we’ve already grown to learn about. Everyone has a story to tell, and each of them has their own investigation that needs to happen.

            Unfortunately, this is the first time that I feel that Mr. Simon has started running over the same ground at a few points. Most notably is the very unmemorable opening where Herc (Domenick Lombardozzi) is attempting to get a desk through a jammed doorway. Each cop comes to help with no progress, until they realize Herc isn’t trying to get the desk out, but in. It’s a bang-your-head-against-the-wall metaphor for their police work, except the whole thing is kind of pointless and a silly gag. We’ve gotten the round-a-bout efforts of our heroes in this story numerous times already, and as compared to the other cold opens, the gag is simplistic.

            No worries, though—no baseball player bats 1000, and it’s the character details that really lead this narrative. The case that McNulty and Bunk Moreland hunt down seems like a wild goose chase, a murder of a college student in an upscale part of Baltimore where the killer may have been nicknamed “D,” which might be D’Angelo. I think the scene where they solve the murder is more than a bit self-indulgent (they only say variations on the word “fuck” throughout, cause, well, why not?), but still fun.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Wire - The Buys: Stalemate

The Wire: The Buys
Season One, Episode Three
Directed By: Peter Medak
Written By: David Simon, from a story by Simon and Ed Burns

Read out “The Wire” Project here. Read about the previous episode here, or click here to see the total coverage Assume spoilers for the episode.

            There are two big philosophical discussions at the center of “The Buys,” the third episode of The Wire, and while the chess analogy has become iconic in the series, it was the earlier discussion I found more fascinating. D’Angelo and his workers are waiting for the latest shipment of crack before they can distribute, when one of them chastises an addict for approaching them. D’Angelo asks why this business has to beget violence, why can’t it run just like any other business. He pontificates that if there was no violence, the police would never come to the projects—they wouldn’t care about a bunch of junkies shooting up.

That question goes unanswered till near the end of the episode, when a rival gang led by Omar (Michael K. Williams) smashes in their safe house, steals their stash, and blows one of the workers in the kneecap with a shotgun. Violence is how one controls business. This is a great episode of television—the best in the series so far—because it really shows how drug selling is a business. D’Angelo pays a visit to Stringer Bell (Idris Elba) and gives him the weekly earnings in a backroom of the strip club they run to launder their money. Stringer gives him a bonus, and explains to him how they change their business based on the quality of product they sell. The only thing that truly separates the drug business from any other is that it is these low lives who have gone insane or gone violent.

Many people who I talked to before used the quality “Shakespearian” to describe how The Wire balances its many plot lines. You get a really good sense of that in “The Buys,” as the two major plotlines of the last episode—the article about the witness murder and the riot that led to Prez half-blinding a young boy—are more or less shoved to the side for other narratives. This is in stark contrast to a show like Breaking Bad, where the central plot never changes, but rarely moves forward. I’m not sure one is better than the other, and I think as we’ll see that Mr. Simon loves a grand narrative that really brings elements together.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

30 Minutes or Less: The Right Ingredients in a Rushed Meal

30 Minutes or Less
Directed By: Ruben Fleischer
Written By: Michael Diliberti, from a story by Diliberti and Matthew Sullivan
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, Nick Swarsdon, Fred Ward, and Michael Pena.
Director of Photography: Jess Hall, Editor: Alan Baumgarten, Production Designer: Maher Ahmad, Original Music: Theodore Shapiro
Rated: R for rude language and ruder violence.

             Having a bomb with a timer in a movie is always a great idea. It gives your characters not only a motivation to keep moving, but moving quickly. What? Moments of pathos? Forget that—there’s a bomb in a room and there’s no time for such moments. We gotta take care of this thing before it explores!

            But 30 Minutes or Less, the final R-rated comedy of the summer (one of six!), could take some time to slow down. This is a rare thing to say about comedy as well, as too many comedies these days believe they can run for over two hours, when a lean 90 minutes would suit them better. But not for this flick, which runs just over 80 minutes. Director Ruben Fleischer showed a lot of promise with his debut flick Zombieland, which combined an end of the world apocalypse with a rag tag road movie, squeezing that perfect tone between ridiculous and irreverent blood and guts with genuine character moments.

The Wire - The Detail: Fast Food Philosophy

The Wire: The Detail
Season One, Episode Two
Directed By: Clark Johnson
Written By: David Simon, from a story by Simon and Ed Burns

Read out “The Wire” Project here. Read about the last episode here. Assume spoilers for the episode.

            The key moment in “The Detail,” the second episode of the HBO produced crime drama The Wire, is a discussion of Chicken McNuggets. D’Angelo and his two colleagues enjoy the fast food morsels, and one states the inventor must be rich. But D’Angelo is smarter than that—he tells the boys the inventor made nothing, and McDonalds reaped the profits. “He’s probably still in a basement making minimum wage,” he remarks. And in “The Detail,” we see the difference between those who make a difference and those who do not, and the treatment they get. The big moment we see this is when McNulty and Greggs (Sonja Sohn) bring in a heroin addict named Bubbles to help indentify key players. Bubbles asks for some money, and McNulty complies, while Greggs, the one who asked for Bubbles’ help refuses. Bubbles is the key player, the one doing the real work, but at the end of the day, he is still at the bottom of a chain of an abusive and destructive system.

            The basement metaphor is literalized in the episode, when the narcotics team gets their new office in the basement of Baltimore’s Police Squadron. The squad gets some new members, all novice, idiotic, or close to retirement, most notably a new kid named Roland ‘Prez’ Pryzbylewski (Jim True-Frost), who accidentally shoots his gun in their new office. The message is clear—nobody wants them to “solve” anything, just smile and get a pat on the head. Although much of the focus remains on McNulty, we get much more of his new boss, Lieutenant Cedric Daniels, played by Lance Reddick. Mr. Reddick is perfect for this role—he’s lean, tall, and has a no-shit attitude about him. When McNulty is about to make a mistake, Daniels comes up to talk to him, and the camera pushes right into Daniels, almost shoving everyone else out of the way. It’s a really notable shot by director Clark Johnson, who otherwise plays the rest of the episode straight.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Angry Monkeys

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Directed By:  Rupert Wyatt
Written By: Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, as suggested by the novel “Planet of the Apes”  by Pierre Boulle.
Starring: James Franco, Frieda Pinto, Andy Serkis, John Ligthow, Brian Cox, and Tom Felton.
Director of Photography: Andrew Lesnie, Editors: Conrad Buff IV and Mark Goldblatt, Production Designer: Claude Pare, Original Music: Patrick Doyle
Rated: PG-13 for some violent monkey business.

            Frank Schaffer’s 1968 Planet of the Apes is at its core, a pretty silly movie. The Charlton Heston sci-fi adventure pulled together the right wing concerns of the civil rights movement into an obvious allegory, creating a campy classic, but not certainly memorable save for a few select scenes. How else would you explain that the film’s most iconic sequence—a twist ending so well known that it appears on the DVD box—is the only part basically unrelated to the rest of the story? But it spawned numerous sequels, which vastly vary in quality, as well as a hokey Tim Burton remake only a decade ago. So why return to this planet?

            Well for starters, we no longer have to stare at those amusingly awful make-up designs, which are replaced here by the CGI work of WETA Digital, famed for both The Lord of the Rings and Avatar. And secondly, director Rupert Wyatt, a newcomer off everyone’s radar, knows that this prequel story is inherently campy, but requires a touch of serious depth to be enjoyable. And Mr. Wyatt, as well as the work of WETA, is the reason that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is easily the best blockbuster of the summer.

The Interrupters: Between a Gun and a Hard Place

The Interrupters
Directed By: Steve James
Produced By: Alex Kotlowitz and Steve James
Featuring: Ameena Matthews, Tio Hardiman, Eddie Bocanegra, and Ricardo Williams
Director of Photography: Steve James
Rated: Unrated, but it features language and a scene of shocking gang violence.

            What does it mean to be a violence interrupter? This group, the focus of a new documentary called The Interrupters, has one focus: stop people from killing each other. They don’t try to break up gangs, or set up curfews, or teach drug awareness. They instead set themselves up as the last line of defense between two men and a gun. And if you’ve been looking for a real superhero this summer, forget Steve Rodgers and Hal Jordan; the real superhero of the summer is Ameena Matthews and the other subjects of this sublime work of real life caught on film.

            The Interrupters is directed by Steve James, best remembered for his 1994 basketball documentary Hoop Dreams. Mr. James has returned to the same part of South Side Chicago, but instead of showing us a glimpse of the American dream, this is the American tragedy. Late in the film, Tio Gardiman, who runs the violence interrupters (a chapter of a group called CeaseFire), discusses the irony of having a black president in office when violence between African Americans, especially in Chicago, has reached staggering rates.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Wire - The Target: Kafka Comes to Baltimore

The Wire: The Target
Season One, Episode One
Directed By: Clark Johnson
Written By: David Simon, from a story by Simon and Ed Burns

Read out “The Wire” Project here. Assume spoilers for the episode.

            Or a series that I assumed about the dark and dangerous world of crime along the streets of one of the most destructive cities in the United States, the first episode of The Wire, “The Target,” opens with a humorous parable. Jimmy McNulty, played by Dominic West, listens to the tale of a kid shot for stealing money from a craps game named Snot. Snot would steal the money every week at the end of the game, but was never shot. When asked why he would be allowed each week despite this, the witness tells him, “[You] got to. This is America, man.”

            On one level, a line like this is a deeply profound parable about the twisted nature of the American dream. But on another, this is a ridiculous and hilarious story not far from the works of Franz Kafka and Joseph Heller. The fact that Jimmy repeats the line to his partner as a joke shows that Simon, acting as writer for this pilot episode, knows that the trap he’s laid for us can also be seen as humorous from the right angle.

            Much of “The Target” is about setting up the dangerous world that the characters of The Wire inhabit—where drugs and weapons are as common as water—but it’s also setting up what I believe will be the Kafkaesque nature of the Baltimore streets. Everything is a circle on end, where the choice is either drown oneself in sorrow, or simply laugh.

     Consider the impetus for the season, a court case that Jimmy sits in on where D’Angelo (Larry Gillard Jr.) is being accused for murder. The two eye witnesses are lined up, but in walks Stringer Bell, an agent for a powerful crime organization, who simply sits in the back with a fine suit and a leather notebook. The eyewitnesses shut up, and Bell is on his merry way. This is a classic set up and payoff, and its only when Jimmy tries to break the system that everything goes to hell.

            Jimmy explains to the judge that this is one of ten unsolved murders related to Avon Barksdale, the leader of the crime organization. Instead of getting a pat on the back, everyone in his unit is furious—Major Rawls chastises him for making this a case, point two middle fingers at him the entire time. Again, we have a scene built on dark pathos—speaking truthfully, even within the Baltimore Homicide squad, is a one way ticket to hell—but played essentially for laughs.

            On the other side of the street, we also get to follow D’Angelo, who has to pay for his crime, but not through jail time (The other maxim established in this episode, every action has a consequence). D’Angelo is moved from working the towers to the low-rise projects. The visual look is one of absurd fear: it is daylight and children play around, but the addicts in the corners and junk thrown around make it a place of uncomfortable tension. Director Clark Johnson (he’ll direct the next episode, and one more this season), seems very much rehearsed in the style of Sidney Lumet. His camera is never flashy, but it captures details about the streets that hit the realism that Simon is aiding for. It’s also interesting to see a show shot in classic Academy ratio (4:3), so most shows now are shot in widescreen (1.68:1). The environments are more claustrophobic, though the shots not as expressive. It'll be curious to see other directors take on this material. For a pilot, you set the standards, and Johnson lays things out plainly, the way you should in a pilot.

            The last thing I want to point out about this pilot episode is its context in the wake of September 11th. Jimmy visits a friend in the FBI, who has installed a live feed camera, along with two audio devices, to record a drug operation. This is the kind of supreme work that Jimmy needs, but as his friend reveals, it’s the last drug case in Baltimore—all the other funds are being diverted toward the new War on Terror. While this is a true statement, Simon frames it in this again ironic way; the best force out there to do the job is sent away on another mission. As one character refers to it later, he says not to call the drug war by the lingo; “Wars end.”

            There are a number of other characters that Simon sets up in this opening 60 minutes—many who I didn’t exactly get the names of other characters, or exactly their positions—and boldly, he doesn’t make lay out the details all at first. This is a show that is built on complex relationships between people, places, and words that will slowly reveal themselves. Not all of it will make exact since. But there was never an explanation to why Gregory woke up as a beetle. Sometimes the most painful things are the funniest too.  

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love.: A Light Tour Through the Not So Serious Tribulations of Romance

Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Directed By: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Written By: Dan Fogelman
Starring: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Kevin Bacon, Marissa Tomei, Analeigh Tipton, Jonah Bobo, and John Carroll Lynch.
Director of Photography: Andrew Dunn, Editor: Lee Haxall, Production Designer: William Arnold, Original Music: Chrsophe Beck and Nick Urata
Rated: PG-13 for some language and some (light) sexual content.

            While most people who see the new romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love. (the anemic inducing punctuation is correct) will discuss the jokes or the actors, the one thing I could not help but notice was the lighting. Few films in more recent memory have employed such soft lighting throughout, with such brightly lit rooms that shine perfectly upon the actors no matter the place or time. Back in the 1940s, such lighting styles were typical for the first close-ups on an actress, as it would make her skin seem more delicate, her hair more glowing, and simply stun the hell out of anyone watching it. So what is a lighting style like that doing in every frame of this movie?

            Well, directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have a story on their hands that is light, frothy, heartwarming, and barely tips into a side of serious issues for maybe a matter of minutes. Working from a script by Dan Fogelman, Mr. Ficarra and Mr. Requa understand that such narratives about the inane and absurd world of relationships is not exactly groundbreaking material, and treat it accordingly so. Thus, Crazy, Stupid, Love. goes down like a frothed butter on warm chocolate cake: it’s sweet, delicious, and never too serious—which works both for and against it.

Attack the Block: Slumdog Alien Killers

Attack the Block
Written and Directed By: Joe Cornish
Starring: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail, Nick Frost, and Luke Treadaway.
Director of Photography: Thomas Townend, Editor: Jonathan Amos, Production Designer: Marcus Rowland, Original Music: Steven Price
Rated: R for the stuff wanna be gangsters do, as well as heavy sci-fi violence.

            In the usual alien invasion movie, we are privileged to see the response of the few and the proud that have the capabilities of taking on the evil invaders: the secret lairs of the Men in Black, the faithless preacher rescuing his family in Signs, or the president in a fighter jet in Independence Day. But what about those who don’t even register on our radar during such an attack? The nobodies living on the fringe of society, who are often the extras being thrown around by explosions?

            That’s the premise for Attack the Block, a British dark satire set around an alien invasion in South London. Our heroes are not the people we usually identify with; they're petty thieves who aspire to be gangsters, and use slang that is more or less incomprehensible. While it’s not the most unique premise in the world, director Joe Cornish treats it with gusto and satire, with more laughs than scares and more thrills than themes. Mr. Cornish weaves his camera through the dark alleys, making for a night of havoc across the streets of London.

Cowboys & Aliens: A Close Encounter Showdown at Sunrise

Cowboys & Aliens
Directed By: Jon Faverau
Written By: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby, from a story by Fergus, Ostby, and Steve Oederkerk. Based on the comic book by Scott Rosenberg.
Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Paul Dano, and Keith Carradine.
Director of Photography: Matthew Libatique, Editors: Dan Lebental and Jim May, Production Designer: Scott Chambliss, Original Music: Harry Gregson-Williams
Rated: PG-13 for cowboy action and alien action, often in the same shot!

            While the West was won over a century ago, and the Western was lost at the end of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, the last decade or so has been sprinkled with films revisiting the lost genre of American can-do-ism and outlaw values. It’s probably the most American of American film types (though recent examples from countries like Australia and even South Korea have challenged that dominance), and yet it is one that is now a place of brooding melancholy in The Assassination of Jesse James, uncontrollable violence in No Country for Old Men, or soulless capitalism in There Will Be Blood. What can we possibly do to revive the great part of the West—the part of lore and myth?

            If you’re a big Hollywood studio with producers like Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard behind you, the only answer could possibly be aliens (perhaps Transformers, though that’ll be another day). And thus here comes Cowboys & Aliens, which is exactly what you would expect, a Western mashed together with a science fiction action flick that unapologetically borrows tropes from the two genres when needed to make for an entertaining flick. This material is hardly groundbreaking, but it’s more or less inoffensive under the care of Iron Man director Jon Faverau. If anything, Cowboys & Aliens is a case of perfected haggling—you get exactly what you paid for.