Cowboys and Aliens

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Cowboys and Aliens

Run time 118 minutes. OK for children.

From l, Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig in “Cowboys and Aliens.”

The less you know about this movie, the better you will enjoy it. It starts with Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) lying on the ground, wounded, with a strange bracelet on his wrist that he can’t get off. He ends up in the unfriendly frontier town of Absolution, which is dominated by brutal cattleman Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). The story of Dolarhyde and Lonergan is soon completely overwhelmed by forces beyond their comprehension.

The story doesn’t stretch credulity so much that it’s ridiculous, but that’s due to the terrific performances by Craig, Ford and Abigail Spencer as the mysterious Alice, Keith Carradine as Sheriff Don Taggart — who wants to arrest Craig — and Sam Rockwell as Doc.

They are directed by Jon Favreau, who has already proven his ability with the Iron Man series. This can only add to his growing reputation as a director of great talent.

There is at least one thing I don’t understand about these movies about alien invaders from space. The aliens, who have conquered space and can travel from far away to visit our planet, and generally lay it waste with such advanced technology that the good guys are severely disadvantaged, are always pictured as giant lizards who grunt and howl and can’t even communicate with each other. I posit that anyone who can get here from millions of light years away and do the things these creatures can do, would probably be able to clothe themselves and communicate with one another. If they ever do visit our planet, they won’t be the grotesque, prehistoric monsters filmmakers foist on us.

There are nine, count them, nine credits for the screenplay and story. Clearly, the powers that be didn’t like what they were seeing and kept thrashing around for something they thought might work. Whatever, what they ended up with works very well.

Fortunately, the special effects — and they are very good — take a back seat to the acting. My advice is avoid most reviews, which only tell you the story, and see it as I did — not knowing anything about it.

Friends with Benefits

Run time 109 minutes. Not for children.

Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake in “Friends with Benefits.”

When I was in Las Vegas recently I had dinner with a friend who works there. She told me that the nightclub XS at the Encore was the hottest night club in the world. She said that they pay people like Justin Timberlake $100,000 just to show up for one night.

Having just seen Justin in Friends with Benefits, he would be well-advised to keep that Vegas night job.

The movie is a trifle about two people, Dylan (Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis) who, after a short first meeting, decide to have a purely sexual relationship with no emotional involvement. Part of that is believable because neither conveys even the slightest ability to create any kind of romantic involvement with the other. They take “lack of chemistry” to another level. The problem is that neither conveys even an iota of sex appeal. One will rarely see more boring bedroom scenes, most of which seem to concentrate on each giving the other oral sex under the sheets.

Another problem with the film is that it’s a film about sex, but it’s unable to deal with the fact that today a movie about sex should contain some nudity. Both stars are almost completely covered up when they are apparently naked in bed, and there are lots of shots of them naked in bed. As was said in a classic Seinfeld episode, sex starts occurring when the nipple makes an appearance. There are no visible nipples in this.

There are lots of reasons this doesn’t work. The first is that there were so many writers that they are too many to mention. That’s always trouble and the script reflects it. The second is that the lead actors just aren’t ready for prime time. Neither Timberlake nor Kunis is ready to make people forget Rock Hudson and Doris Day as actors who can portray romance in a romantic comedy when there is clearly no actual physical chemistry between the two (how could there have been considering Hudson’s sexual preference?). That takes acting talent, and Timberlake and Kunis fall far short. Kunis is especially ineffective. Her phony ebullience was so grating after the first couple of minutes that I was ready to dash for the exit.

The supporting cast isn’t much help except for Richard Jenkins who gives his usual sterling performance and the beautiful and talented Emma Stone, whose appearance barely qualifies as a cameo.

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