Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Last Stop

While 2011 might not be a remarkable year for cinema in general, there are a few things that stand out as minor landmarks in the great picture. First and foremost, it will be the first full year in which Hello, Mr. Anderson has posted movie reviews for an entire calendar year, which is crazy since it feels like even longer ago that I instituted the thrice-weekly schedule I now adhere to. In reality that was only last September, but my experience with the medium has exploded a hundred times since then. I've seen a lot of firsts in the cinema and on rental, though few would be considered great achievements. For instance, Final Destination 5 is both the first in horror franchise that I have seen in the theater, and the first not only that I've experienced in 3D but the first in the series to be shot in RealD 3D, filmed in that particular aspect instead of being converted to appear 3D in post production. This is an important fact because just about every movie turned 3D after filming that is not an animated title has been criticized for lackluster visuals on top of their other foibles. Sure, not every problem stemmed from the 3D as a whole, but any title opting to take the post production shortcut to 3D has suffered to some extent because of it. RealD 3D, however, is different. First introduced with 2009's Avatar, RealD can be held responsible for the explosion of 3D in cinema today, and those using the same Avatar technology have soared higher than their poorer cousins, and mostly fared better at the box office. The predecessor to this particular title, The Final Destination, suffered the slings and arrows of critics for their use of lesser 3D in their film release. Despite the fact that it made enough bank to warrant yet another sequel, the filmmakers thankfully learned their lesson and took James Cameron's teachings to heart. Love or hate his latest films, Cameron has certainly made his biggest mark on the world of technology, and those films that use his RealD technology have an edge in sheer visual amazement.

That's right. Guess who's next?
While on a business retreat with the sales staff of the factory plant that is his employment, Sam (Nick D'Agostino) has a vision of the suspension bridge they are crossing collapsing, killing him and his friends and coworkers in particularly gruesome fashions. When he awakes from this dream, he convinces his girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell) and several others to get off the bus and escape the bridge, mere moments before his premonition comes true and a combination of bridge construction and high winds causes the bridge to be destroyed. At first it seems as if they are just lucky survivors, with their whole lives ahead of them. But Death doesn't like being cheated, and one by one the people who should have died on that bridge become victims of gory and sudden accidents that leave Sam and Molly searching for a way to avoid their seemingly inevitable demises.

Sure, it's a big budget movie, but going from :Law & Order to this just seems wrong
While at first it wouldn't seem that there was anything new to the Final Destination franchise than the manner of and complexity to character deaths, my first question is what else do you need? Yes, the story in Final Destination 5 is carbon copy similar to every one of every film in the series to date. With the exception of the previous entry, all the titles in the franchise had shown an amazing propensity for not only cleverly offing their cannon fodder, but doing so in a way that lays all the clues in front of you while still completely catching you off guard as to how someone will die. The Final Destination got lazy in that department, and in ways that was far worse than their lackluster 3D presentation. Final Destination 5 however is a true return to form, making every death feel earned and felt by the audience. Standouts include a balance beam act that will leave you cringing long before the death knell and laser eye surgery gone terribly wrong. The strength of these early moments sadly don't translate to the story's final act, but even these scenes are far better than any presented in the last film.

After 10 years, the victims in Final Destination films don't get any older.
The acting is also a step up from the mediocrity that populated the last feature film to share this franchise's name. Nick D'Agostino plays a much more balanced, deep, and sympathetic lead than we've seen from this series in some time, and the actor himself is not too shabby given this challenge. He might not be an everyday Hollywood star, but this role has the potential to carry his talents the way a similar part did for rising television star Ali Larter back in 2000. Emma Bell is less impressive, playing a morose and otherwise uninteresting romantic/horror lead with little to do or say that others couldn't do as well if not better. Miles Fisher has talent but it is mostly wasted as Sam's friend who ends up being more smarmy than charming and doesn't elicit sympathy from the audience when he cracks. Arlen Escarpeta plays the token black guy. That's practically all I have to say about him. Jacqueline MacInnes Wood looks like a Megan Fox wannabe but proves to carry much more talent than the Transformers hottie who thinks she's a real actress. Nice additions to the cast are Courtney B. Vance as a detective investigating the strange deaths, and David Koechner as Sam's insensitive and empty-headed boss. Both add their own elements to the film that might go unnoticed at first but really help the story move along. And Tony Todd returns as William Bludworth, the coroner who understands Death's plans. Todd is a hallmark of the series, and brings back an atmosphere and old-school scare to the franchise that hasn't been present since his presence in Final Destination 2.

Well, that's ONE way to guarantee a captive audience...
Since I made such a fuss over it earlier, I might as well mention it: the 3D effects for Final Destination 5 are leaps and bounds over the heads of most 3D films out there, especially over The Final Destination's unappetizing offerings. Being shot in 3D instead of getting converted after the fact really does make all the difference, as objects leaping off the screen feel far more natural and integrated than they would otherwise. That means that you actually forget that you're watching a 3D film until you're shocked back into reality, a better use of the technology than constantly trying to wow us with computer generated imagery. True, you don't NEED to see any movie in 3D, but here is an example where doing so is not to the detriment of the finished product.

Would that face lie?
I really enjoyed myself in seeing Final Destination 5. The finale especially is impressive and shocking enough to almost cause me to rank this much higher, but don't worry; it's not making its way onto any Top 10 lists in the near future. Is it a great movie? Oh goodness, no. Most non-horror fans won't like it, and the gore may be too much for your average adult, not to mention the four-year-old child you might have brought with you, thinking it a good idea (yes, I'm talking to you; you know who you are). But for those who loved the original eleven years ago, there's very little reason not to embrace this title. Suspenseful when it needs to be, funny when it wants, and never lacking for entertainment, you won't regret picking this title for an evening fix when you want some new-fashioned gore mixed with old-fashioned terror.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Helping Hand

Getting ready for the changes every September 1'st brings has been a challenge this year; that's why you haven't seen Hello, Mr. Anderson following its usual Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule these past few weeks. Between helping people move and preparing for my own new housemates, not to mention the stresses and cracks in everyday life, it's been difficult to put out a product consistently for you my readers. Now that things have settled down a bit, I'll be trying to get back onto that road that worked well for me for so long. Maybe I need to bring some help in getting this together. Oh, look, a segue! (Note to self: work on trimming down the segues)

The Help is probably the first genuine awards contender I've seen in 2011. While most of the likely nominees and critical darlings are released in the winter months leading up to award season, there are always a few that come out during the summer, hidden among the explosive action films and kooky comedies. There are some every year, with Inception, The Hurt Locker and Little Miss Sunshine perhaps the best examples from the past few years. I've actually been surprised not to have come upon a similar contender earlier in 2011, a year not lacking in good films but in stellar ones. Before the release of this review, my Top 10 list had only one title from the entire year (J.J. Abram's Super 8) with realistic potential for a Best Picture nomination, while several great films (Hanna, Win Win, Midnight in Paris) will likely go unrecognized. The Help won't. It's got all the trappings - I mean strengths - that make it an ideal contender: an all-star cast playing strong characters; an easily recognizable and culturally important dichotomy of racism in the Old South; and most importantly, the story is based on the bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett and directed by the author's childhood friend. At the very least, it wants to be the audience darling of 2011, and my trusty cinema sidekick Anne and I caught this latest piece before I would move back to the more typical summer fare of Conan the Barbarian, Fright Night and Final Destination V.

Move over, Skeeter; there can be only one Mr. Anderson!
When Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (Emma Stone) returns to her hometown of Jackson after graduating from the University of Mississippi, she wants to change things. An aspiring journalist and author, she desires to write a story from the vantage point of the "help", the poor black women who serve as housemaids, cooks, and surrogate parents to the spoiled upper-class white women who effectively run the small town. She is inspired by her own experiences growing up, as well as by a new initiative by the "Alpha" housewife Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) to legally require every house to have a separate outhouse for the required use of the help, due to the "diseases" they supposedly carry. Skeeter is determined for the disenfranchised to be better respected by the local community, and teams up with local maids Abileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer) to get their story, good and bad, be told.

Oh, my, is that a Best Supporting Actress nomination you see?
Okay, it's not all about the white women. My description above doesn't quite lend evidence to the fact that the film is equally told from the twin perspectives of Skeeter and Abileen. One is a downtrodden servant hoping things don't get worse, while the other is a privileged young woman pushing for things to get better. The two find unlikely allies in one another, and it's a common tale of two mismatched individuals teaming up against a common enemy. That enemy may be a seemingly simple combination of intolerance and cruelty, but The Help threads an entire spectrum of entertainment for the audience to gather in. The last movie I can remember that could have you crying one minute and roaring with laughter the next was last year's The King's Speech, the eventual Oscar winner for Best Picture. Director Tate Taylor does a surprisingly strong turn here, as you would never expect this level of artistic sophistication from a mere rookie to the silver screen. It's not perfect, as some things are a little too neatly wrapped by the film's conclusion, but as a title its cohesion was far more secure than it had any right to be.

Bargain hunting is a much more dangerous sport in Jackson
Possibly the most important story here is the number of impressive female actors and characters that fill this film's roster. The Help is a title where men have little impact on the story as a whole or are not seen at all, and one very effective bit of evidence of this is when one character's abusive husband is never actually shown on the screen, despite his obvious presence in the household. It's obvious from the get-go that the women rule the roost, and with this collection of talent it can never be accused that this would be a bad thing. Emma Stone continues to impress as she uses 2011 as a major stepping stone to perhaps bigger and better things. Playing an ugly duckling is difficult enough for Stone, doing so believably while being a hero to root for comes so naturally that it's hard to connect her previous comedic roles to this very elegant dramatic performance. Viola Davis meanwhile plays a role much closer to her usual fare, but since that is the same level that got her nominated for awards in films like Doubt, that is hardly folly. She manages to be the heart and soul of The Help, no easy task with the cast around her. One that nearly steals the show is Octavia Spencer, an underrated character actress who enjoys some of the film's best sequences as a sass-mouthing, trouble-making maid. Bryce Dallas Howard also defies all my expectations in the Cruella deVille role in which she is presented. I've never been a fan of her work, but this particular film exemplifies her best traits and lets her be as saucy as she wants. These four are surrounded by a strong core of talented women, each with something special to bring to their roles. Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek and Cicely Tyson all put on amazing work, some surpassing even their own high water marks. Sure, there are some men visible in the foreground (most notably Private Practice's Chris Lowell) but these men have little to do with how the story is told and for the most part are simply unimportant.

Sissy Spacek is still good! Who knew?
I knew going in that The Help would be an entertaining film, one that would evoke several emotions and many at once. What I wasn't expecting was the best movie I've seen all year. For the first time since April, I have a new #1 for 2011. It may have taken forever for a legitimate Academy Award nominee to rear its head, but this one was well worth the wait. I simply cannot recommend it enough, especially considering the lackluster fare that currently clogs the majority of cinemas this summer. With this especially stellar cast, a talented storyteller at the helm, and laughs and tears a plenty, The Help is definitely a title you should be making plans to see even as you finish reading this review.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Massive Entertainment

Okay, I'm ready for March 6, 2012. On that date, video game company BioWare has tentatively stated that the final entry in their sci-fi role-playing game trilogy, Mass Effect 3, will be made available to the public. It will be the end to a saga begun in 2007 with Mass Effect's release on Microsoft's X-Box 360 gaming system and later re-launched in May 2008 to Microsoft Windows, so that anyone with a computer might enjoy. BioWare was then and still is the master of strong-storied role playing video games, from their 1995 inception going forward. Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic were among their excellent early titles, using the intellectual properties of Wizards of the Coast and Lucasarts to create beautiful stories and strong characters that made them stand out from the majority of the video game community. Later, they began to develop their own brands, with the results being the excellent sword-and-sorcery RPG series Dragon Age, and Mass Effect, a space odyssey that put you in the shoes of Commander Shepard, a human military officer who finds himself in the middle of a galaxy-wide event that includes violent sentient machines, intergalactic conspiracies, and an endless succession of widespread extinctions perpetrated by a race so ancient they defy universal history, set against the backdrop of humans finding their place in a society where they are the new kids on the block. The story had you and your dedicated crew racing from planet to planet discovering clues and more than a few side quests, but it never delved into schlocky sci-fi cliches that we're all used to from the genre. You were allowed to fight the way you wanted, and it was your decisions that led to you being considered a hero of the people or a scourge of the cosmos. With its success, a sequel was inevitable, and Mass Effect 2 was released in January of 2010. Lauded as better than the original, it unfortunately took me a long time to get around to playing this new title, with an inferior PC mucking up the works. Recently, however, I invested in new hardware that got me up and running, and my playthrough with Mass Effect 2 was finally realized.

Grunt is a strong ally... when he wants to be
You are Commander Shepard, an officer in the Alliance fleet (Earth's extrasolar military force). During the events of the first game you became the first human to join the Citadel Spectres, hand-picked covert operatives that answer only to the Council, the joint government that oversees the hundreds of alien species with whom we share the galaxy. You hunted down a rogue Spectre, Saren, who attacked a human colony. You discovered the existence of the "Reapers", an ancient alien race who make a habit of causing civilizations to go extinct with barely any trace of their existence. You were instrumental in stopping a Reaper invasion that would have wiped out the galaxy, doing so by destroying their flagship Sovereign and eliminating their agent Saren. You helped humanity gain a position of power among the strongest known races; the intelligent and deceptive Salarians, the mono-gendered and wise Asari, and the crude and militaristic Turians. You became the galaxy's most famous Spectre, a hero to any who would recognize your name.

Not her biggest gun, but okay
You've also been dead for the past two years. After a new alien species destroys your ship, killing you in the process, a human-first organization calling itself Cerberus (a minor villain from the first game) has brought you back to life with a purpose: a mysterious race known as The Collectors has been attacking human colonies throughout the Traverse, abducting every man, woman and child for purposes unknown. The Citadel won't assist as the Traverse is outside their jurisdiction, and now downplays your information on the Reaper threat as misinformation at the best and fear-mongering at the worst, refusing to listen to your warnings. With Cerberus and its enigmatic leader The Illusive Man as your only allies, you must put together a new team, discover the meaning behind these abductions, and put a stop to it once and for all.

Garrus Vakarian might pack an ugly mug, but he's really a good guy.
The Mass Effect series from the beginning has been all about choice. If you've played the original game, your decisions in just about every situation will carry over into the future, in the form of ported saved games. Alternatively, you can jump right into Mass Effect 2 without playing the original, but arbitrarily making those judgment calls is far more fun in playing the game than in filling out a spreadsheet at the beginning of ME2. If you are starting a new character, you can choose a history and specialization for Shepard, even gender for those wanting a female-centric experience. Every character you can create has specific attributes that make the gaming experience slightly different, though the overall story remains the same. The different classes available to you are similar to those found in your basic Dungeons and Dragons game, updated to futuristic standards. Soldiers are basically warriors who deal in rifles instead of broadswords; Adepts are the new mages, throwing powerful energy at your enemies; Engineers are similar to rogues in that they break locks and can snipe from a distance. There are also mixes of those three for a total of six potential classes, each with unique play styles and abilities. No matter what you choose, the story continues thanks to your decisions, with only a few ending the game before its time.

You'll find yourself fighting out of impossible odds on a regular basis
The original Mass Effect was graphically innovative in its use of digital cinematography to make playing the game feel more like watching a film, especially during dialogue and more than a few action sequences. Continuing and expanding that in this sequel, this implementation really makes you feel ingrained with the exceptionally strong narrative, exquisitely captured by the top-shelf visuals. Combat flows, with every shot screaming through the air almost imperceptibly, and enemies react realistically when hit. But it's not just the environments or the action that look great. Alien characters appear simply alive and realistic, while even the humans more often than not look better than many you would see in modern day 3D animated films. I could never take my eyes from the screen while this game was being played, so compelling was the subject before my eyes.

The Illusive Man might be your biggest supporter. Don't trust him.
Best about this title, however, is a BioWare staple. A rich assortment of characters, big and small, power the tale, and many of these people you wouldn't have considered allies back in the first game. The team you have with you for this go around is much more morally questionable than the generally good guys manning your Mass Effect crew. Some of them are genuinely good people, from Cerberus operative Jacob Taylor to the returning Tali'Zorah Vas Normandy, whose people were exiled to a ragtag commercial fleet by the machines they created. Many of your team are jerks and thugs, from Grunt, a tube-bred Krogan (a diseased but strong warrior race) without a clan to call his own and "Jack", a psychotic near-naked adept with murder on the mind. Even more are shades of gray, most notably Thane Krios, a pious assassin, and Samara, a female warrior monk who answers injustices with summary execution. Not only must you successfully recruit these people, but you must gain their loyalty by undergoing unique missions designed to let them focus on the main mission in front of them. This amazing cast of characters is supplemented by professional voice acting, with many recognizable voices filling major roles. Seth Green, Adam Baldwin, Keith David, Michael Dorn, Tricia Helfer, Michael Hogan and Carrie-Ann Moss may not all play big parts, but each adds distinctive tone that really sets the standard for professional voice acting. The best of the batch however has to be former West Wing star Martin Sheen as the mysterious Illusive Man, who commands every scene in which he appears. He's the major reason the game has such a cinematic tone, and he obviously takes his job here very seriously.

In space, no one can hear you be an ass.
The game does have a few flaws. If anything, Mass Effect 2 doesn't quite feel as "epic" as the original. In Mass Effect, it was possible to engage in dozens of mini-side missions that felt like full meals and allowed you to explore the galaxy at will. While you can still do that now, most of these small asides now feel insincere, with far too many ending quickly and without any real reward behind them. Ammunition was no factor in the original Mass Effect, with only weapon overheating preventing your enemies from a constant field of fire in their general direction. Mass Effect 2's introduction of thermal clips means you actually have to "reload" your weapons now, but as a feature it doesn't take long to get used to, and is the only downside to the updated combat that includes an improved cover system to protect your own character from bloodshed. Also present are new mini games. Whenever you have to hack a door, crack a code or scan a planet, you must pass a mini-game that uses your logic-solving skills to pass certain obstacles. Cracking a door or code works just fine (if anything, the puzzle if often too easy), but scanning a planet for mineral resources is a dull, lifeless existence made worse by the fact that you will need those resources to research new technologies and improve your team, essential for surviving the game's end.

Your enemy may be in a bubble, but I wouldn't count on it staying that way
The culmination of Mass Effect 2 is tantamount to a suicide mission, and depending on how you prepare for it and the decisions you make it is possible to have an ending in which your entire team dies protecting the galaxy, or the entire team survives, with any variation between those two extremes possible. I myself finished losing only one squad mate, but that loss was so shocking that I was practically inconsolable after finally completing the game. As long as Commander Shepard survives, you can carry the character over to Mass Effect 3 when it is released next year, but I was determined that I could avoid the mistakes of my predecessor and come out with all my crew intact, and the galaxy saved. I'm doing that as we speak. But no matter what ending you get, or how big of a jerk or hero you act, Mass Effect 2 is worth the ride, and I can safely say that to this point it is the most engaging, gripping and best RPG from the absolute best maker of RPG's on the planet. I definitely recommend playing the first game before you delve into this sequel to fully understand what you're getting into, but if you haven't joined the legion of fans who wait patiently for the finale to become available, you really should.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Bombs Away

Oh, well. They can't all be Zombieland. The 2009 feature film debut for director Ruben Fleischer was a surprise hit, coming in number one at the box office and going on to become the highest-grossing zombie movie in the United States. It's success was instrumental to the subsequent surge in Woody Harrelson's acting career, as well as the notable rises of fellow stars Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin and Jesse Eisenberg, who went on to earn an Academy Award nomination for his leading role in last year's The Social Network. So it was no small hope that I carried into the latest collaboration between Fleischer and Eisenberg, the buddy comedy 30 Minutes or Less. Besides the obvious Zombieland connection, the trailers managed to convey the same fun atmosphere as in its predecessor, with some legitimately funny bits plus the addition of Parks and Recreations's Aziz Ansari with some particularly witty dialogue and delivery. However, there was still some concern, as the same trailers didn't seem to quite match the veracity of the original (Danny McBride is no Harrelson, after all) and my friend Anne predicted to me that it would be "horribly cheezy and a bit dull", despite the efforts of the trailer. It was certainly something to think about, but there really is only one way to be absolutely sure.

Remember; friends don't let friends rob banks drunk
Things aren't going well for Grand Rapids pizza delivery boy Nick (Eisenberg). The girl he loves is moving far away to Atlanta. Her twin brother Chet (Ansari) is also Nick's best friend, but the two have a spat when it's revealed that Nick has feelings for his twin. He hates his job, and is perpetually miserable there. This all comes to a head when he's kidnapped by two masked goons (McBride and Nick Swardson), who strap a bomb to his chest and demand that Nick rob a bank for them, or else they will remote detonate the explosive device and him with it. Given ten hours to complete the deed, Nick calls upon Chet to help him rob the bank, and the two must put aside their differences and come together as friends to make sure Nick doesn't make an infamous hole in the ground.

I can't put my finger on it, but something makes me like Eisenberg a bit more in this film...
Sadly, 30 Minutes or Less takes an interesting concept (loosely based on a true story) and doesn't go very far with it. Most of the humor is limited to what's shown in the trailers, and the story's complete implausibility doesn't seem to disturb the filmmakers very much, as they are quite happy to present us with an unfinished piece while calling it a work of art. What the film does do well is emphasize the two simultaneous buddy comedies, as Eisenberg and Ansari share scenes of equal importance to those of McBride and Swardson. Sadly, none of it is as funny as the trailers would have led you to believe, with far too much dialogue more vulgar than funny and lacking in any intelligence.

He's seeing that next Oscar nom just fading in the distance...
If either of the buddy groups comes out ahead, it's the pairing of Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari. Eisenberg's monotonous drone is already getting a bit old, and isn't used to its full potential as it had been in Zombieland. Still, he's serviceable enough in a comfortable role that melds his Social Network character with just the right amount of white trash. Ansari bounces off just as many walls as he needs to be entertaining, and easily carries the best lines alongside perfect delivery, almost as if the role had been written for him (it probably was, to be fair). It's really too bad his best bits are exposed in the trailers, though he still manages to carry over a few surprises to the theatrical release. Less entertaining are McBride and Swardson as the bumbling antagonists. McBride is just crude, and while that might appeal to some I can't get behind his character's complete lack of sophistication. One can't help but wonder where Woody Harrelson was as this was going on, as he could have one-handedly jump started this film. I know McBride can act (see his small part in Up in the Air for proof), so the fact that he's reached his pinnacle riding a hump of mediocrity is a bit disheartening. Swardson is slightly better and a bit more redeeming, but he's really not much more than a sounding board for McBride. The real surprise of 30 Minutes or Less is Michael Pena, who doesn't feature in any of the advertising but steals just about every scene starring him as the crazy hitman Chongo, who finds himself between these pairs of would-be leads. With the exception of Ansari he's the best of the bunch, and with respect he probably could have bested his co-star if he'd been allowed a few more opportunities.

Wait, didn't we do the Planet of the Apes film last week?
Earlier this year, I suggested that 30 Minutes or Less could be the funniest film of 2011. Well, that didn't quite pan out. While the laughs do increase towards this movie's conclusion, it's barely enough to even pale in comparison to better, funnier comedies like Horrible Bosses, Crazy Stupid Love, Paul and Bridesmaids. In this case, Anne was spot on: incredibly corny and not a little dull, especially in the first half; it's a huge disappointment for Fleischer and crew, whose bar might have been set a bit too high after Zombieland's success. Still. it's not a bad option for brainless movie fodder, but with so many other choices littering theaters this time of year, it's one for which you can afford to wait on a DVD release.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Change-Up a Screwball

On my most recent day off from work this past week I took the opportunity to make it a "Movie Day.." Doing so meant back-to-back film viewings, usually something you would have to plan out in advance in order to make sure your movie times don't overlap. Sure, you could always so the same thing with DVDs, but when there are so many new films coming out in theaters right now I couldn't justify not taking that chance. I also didn't plan things ahead, purely lucking into a showing of the screwball comedy The Change-Up airing mere minutes after the closing credits for Rise of the Planet of the Apes began rolling. While Rise had been my de facto choice that morning, that had been more due to the film schedule than my actual willingness to see it. The Change-Up was the actual release I'd been waiting for, but fate put Rise in between us, and by that rewarded me with an unexpectedly better than average experience. Afterward in my post-cinema afterglow I decided I hadn't had enough of the theater and that the comedy from Wedding Crashers' director David Dobkin would make a nice foil for the simian-soaked sci-fi drama. I wasn't expecting Shakespeare, but if it was instead the result of monkeys attempting to re-write Freaky Friday, that was all I could have hoped for.

I KNEW they forgot something! It's called "humor".
Best friends since pretty much forever, Dave (Jason Bateman) and Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) have grown apart over the years. Dave, a responsible husband, father and hard-working corporate lawyer, represents everything orderly and intelligent, and has been hard at work trying to make Partner at his firm. Mitch is an aspiring actor and resident slacker, a swinging bachelor who doesn't care who he sleeps with. He represents chaos and pretty much every sin you can imagine. Still, the two are good friends who meet every once in a while for drinks. It is under the influence of these drinks that duo decide it is a good idea to urinate in a public pool while discussing the insecurities of their lives and inadvertently wishing for the live of each other. The next morning, Dave and Mitch find themselves inside the bodies of their best friend, and now everything they've prepared for will come crashing down unless they can switch back in time

Trying to charm his way into a decent movie
Yes, the whole plot has been done before, albeit in more family-friendly settings. Sure, it's a foul-mouthed, R-rated Freaky Friday, but at least the story is told in a somewhat decent manner. The two men are switched because one is overworked and feels he has missed out on his bachelor days, while the other needs to learn responsibility and the reward of an honest day's work. That doesn't quite explain how two such disparate people could have remained friends their entire lives, at least not without seemingly rubbing off on one another a bit more. The lack of logic is only overshadowed by jokes that aren't very funny, or at the very least appeal mainly to the worst of the Jackass fans. Gross-out humor CAN be funny, but in most cases for The Change-Up that doesn't fly, especially when it comes to humor surrounding Dave's twin babies. Sure, you might groan when those jokes hit, but you likely won't be remembering them fondly when you leave the theater.

...I'm sorry, I seem to have suddenly forgotten my snarky comment
The actors do try their best to overcome the weaknesses they are expected to run with. Jason Bateman is probably the best, though if you've seen Paul or Horrible Bosses then you've already seen better Bateman films, though this is the only one where he gets to play against type. The same can be said for Ryan Reynolds, as for much of the film he plays well despite appearing to be more conservative than he would in similar films like Van Wilder. Still, it's hardly the best for either actor, who have had much better material in the past. Olivia Wilde actually puts together some great scenes as Dave's beautiful legal assistant, even if she's sabotaged by a mediocre script. As Dave's wife, Leslie Mann isn't as good as Wilde but also has some good scenes, especially with Reynolds. And Alan Arkin chews through a few scenes as Mitch's emotionally-distant father. There is some definite talent here, but despite some good chemistry they can't quite overcome the mediocrity that is set out for them like a Las Vegas buffet table.

The cast trying to convince each other that this was a good idea
As I said before, gross-out humor can on occasion be funny, but it's the really SMART humor that will get me rolling in laughter every time. While The Change-Up does have a few smart scenes among its crudity, the vast majority of it is only barely watchable and will leave you rolling your eyes in humor frustration. If you HAVE to see something like this, I wouldn't recommend this particular title to whet your appetite. Instead you should check out the much funnier, much smarter Horrible Bosses if you can still find it in theaters. At least that one gives you a good enough reason to spend your hard earned money.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rising Tides

There is a moment at about the three-quarters mark of Rise of the Planet of the Apes in which you will be so shocked and moved that you might think you're witnessing one of 2011's best cinema creations, if not Hollywood history's. This is a fleeting moment at best, and while most of this title is indeed an impressive production (and definitely much better than one would expect) this is one of a very few aspects of the film that match that feeling of wonder. As you can imagine, I was among those unimpressed by the idea of yet another Apes film, with the franchise seemingly gone completely overboard with Tim Burton's critically panned remake of the iconic original just ten years ago. A prequel that takes place during the modern day, everything was in place for me to hate this latest entry to the franchise: obvious computer digital effects, a cliched "good science gone bad" plot, and starring roles held by mediocre performers. These things usually add up to mediocre summer fare, but one thing I hadn't counted on was the talent of greenhorn director Rupert Wyatt. The English native made his directorial debut in the 2008 Sundance entry The Escapist, and while not many people actually saw that film (its box office gross tallies around $13,000) it was enough to catch the eyes of producers, who put him in charge of what can only be described as a major opportunity for one so inexperienced.

How many times have I told you NOT to leave the biological hazards within reach of the chimpanzees!?
Will Rodman (James Franco) is a dedicated man, scientist and son. With the intent of curing his father's Alzheimer's and restoring him to his former brilliance, Will has been working for years on a cure to this most confounding disease, only to endure a recent crop of animal testing that carries particularly tragic results. Long story short, Will's reputation is ruined, and he finds himself in possession of a baby chimpanzee whom he calls Caesar. Caesar was the son of one of Will's lab apes, and surprisingly takes on the characteristics of Will's experimental cure, beginning to display signs of increased intelligence, beginning with advanced puzzle-solving and sign language. Any fan of science fiction can tell you exactly where this is going, but the fun part is seeing how Caesar goes from domesticated chimp to battling ape leader.

He's wishing he hadn't waited the extra day to call the exterminator
While the human side of the story is rather lackluster and without an original thought, where the film really stands out is when the story is told from Caesar's point of view. While of course most of the main ape characters are computer generated, this does not turn out to be the problem it had seemed to be in previews. For one, the computer generated models actually allow you to easily identify a major character from the bulk of the ape horde. While these images look less than stellar on paper or still photos, the realistic movement makes more than enough amends for that slight flaw. The motion-capture work done to render the chimps is also amazing, thanks especially to Andy Serkis. Serkis' great work on films like King Kong and the Lord of the Rings trilogy will likely become the definition of his career, and his motion-capture work here is amongst the best I've seen since his rendition of Gollum. It's thanks to him that the ape storyline does so exceptionally well, and that's a good thing because without it, Rise wouldn't be much of the experience it turns out to be.

I seem to remember having more hair in my baby pictures...
If only that pesky human element didn't get in the way so much. James Franco is among my least favorite actors, having shown no inclination to live up those early James Dean comparisons. Here he once again squanders opportunity, with his rat-like appearance leading far too much of the film with his shoddy performance and complete lack of character. He's just the everyman who you're supposed to root for because he's familiar, rather than actually doing anything worth cheering. Slightly better is Freida Pinto as Will's beautiful and brilliant girlfriend who also happens to be a veterinarian. Essentially, her character has no depth beyond being the film's conscience, and she doesn't even do that particularly well. Better are some of the supporting characters played by David Oyelowo, Brian Cox and John Lithgow, but none of them are really used to their full potential. Perhaps it was meant that the animals are the heroes of this film, but those pesky humans couldn't have been worse off than the way this story left them.

I think we all know what comes next...
Most remarkable is the film's ability to feel like an allegory to human slavery, with chimpanzees kidnapped from their native jungles via violent means, transported across oceans for the whims of the white man, oppressed and caged against their will and disposed of when they prove troublesome. Caesar undergoes another familiar theme as he is at one point transferred from the "kind" solitude of living with Will and his father to the more ruthless animal sanctuary where he is abused by his gaolers and fellow apes. As I watch this, I'm reminded of Alex Haley's Roots and that book's remarkable story of slaves in the American South. It would be easy to compare the stories in Roots to what is presented here, and the fact that I can do so comprehensively is difficult to fathom when you consider how the work presented is from such a young director. I'm not certain where Wyatt got his inspiration, but he manages to let us perfectly follow entire scenes and sections of film where no dialogue is included and not be remotely confused by what we witness.

James... he's already a bigger star than you'll ever be
That directorial talent is what lands Rise of the Planet of the Apes at #9 for 2011. While the human characters could have been all but ignored without detriment to the plot, it is the story involving Caesar and his apes that makes this title the near-masterpiece it is. It's far better than you could have ever expected, and may qualify as 2011's biggest surprise. No, it's not perfect and will likely finish up the year outside the Top 10, yet this is probably the best Apes film since the 1968 original, and possibly even better than that Charleton Heston classic. No, I can't believe I'm recommending this title to you either, but the fact that I am means hat any inclination you might have had to see this in the theater must be followed. You'll never really appreciate what comes around three-fourths of the way in otherwise.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Clever, Smart, Love

I'm still finishing up the last of the July film releases as we finish the first week of August. Now that I'm back on track with the new films, and this month has some of the less anticipated titles for the summer, I considered this an opportune time to catch up on one of my must-sees. In this case, it was the romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love starring Steve Carell alongside an ensemble cast that simply oozes talent and charisma. The film was also directed by Glenn Ficara and John Requea, whose debut 2010 Jim Carrey project I Love You Phillip Morris was an under-appreciated gem. These contributing factors, not to mention a hip and fun trailer (about divorce, no less) that ironically inspired love at first sight, made me very excited for this summer release. Sure, I've seen a large number of romantic comedies this year, but most of them have either been bad beyond comprehension or entertaining but with completely derivative plots and storylines. One look at Crazy, Stupid, Love seems to dissolve all those fears, and now that I had time to visit theaters, my friend - the Rom-Com expert Anne - and I checked out a show this past week. Despite the trailers being fairly clear on what story to look forward to, it was the breakdown of said plot that would most determine whether this film would stand atop the year's best or wallow in the mess that has consumed most of Hollywood's 2011.

Carrell shouldn't have told Gosling about his problems with "Little Stevie"
Carl Weaver (Steve Carell) has just gotten a divorce from his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) in response to her cheating on him with a co-worker, David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon). Naturally this throws the pair and their two children into an emotional tailspin, especially Carl, who had become so ingrained to married life that he has no idea how to re-enter the dating scene. While bemoaning his fate at a local bar, Carl meets Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a smooth-talking ladies man who agrees to help with Carl's physical and emotional makeover. Soon, Carl is entering the wild world of modern dating and casual sex, but Jacob finds his own path diverting when he meets Hannah (Emma Stone), who makes him look at his relationship with women in a whole new light. While both are going through their changes, Carl's son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) pines after his babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), who herself has a major crush on Carl.

"If you want them to be President, you have to start them off at an early age"
From what you can see of those intermingled plot points, Crazy, Stupid Love gets very complex very quickly, with a large number of events simultaneously occurring on multiple levels. That said, most of the film focuses on Carl and other characters' actions around him. This makes the most sense, as just about every other character has some sort of connection to him, but it slightly damages the ensemble feel of the cast by focusing so much on Carl and his problems. This is especially true since while he is interesting in his own right, Carl pales in comparison to Jacob, who as a character could easily headline his own film. In fact, the Jacob/Hannah storyline is shunted into the background a bit too much (though there is a reason for this), and Carl gets a little tiring by the time we're not focusing quite as much attention in his direction. These are small missteps and surprising ones considering how strong the storytelling was in I Love You, Phillip Morris, but not so bad as to cause any actual demerits to be dispensed unto this title. The story behind Crazy, Stupid, Love might have been told slightly more in tune, but in the end it's unpredictability works wonders to make up for that offense.

I wasn't kidding. Carell is in every screenshot I could find for this film
Oh, yes, the unpredictability. It would not be uncommon for you (as if was for Anne and me) to place your hand over your eyes and face for much of Crazy, Stupid, Love, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. While I can't (and won't, you'll have to figure it out for yourself) go into too much detail, you will see things go completely out of control, only for it to be compounded by more things going out of control than you had ever anticipated. It's not an entirely comfortable scenario, but one that manages to be a lot of fun nonetheless. The result is you half-hiding your eyes from the screen while witnessing this madness, yet the film never really lets you look away. You're easily compelled to see it through to the end, which is the mark of any good film.

Auditioning for the next "Oceans" movie, are we Ryan?
Of course this movie would have to be populated by interesting characters to be truly good. As you probably gathered from the previews, Ryan Gosling is just amazing as ladies man Jacob, a role that doesn't quite fit with his career thus far. Though he failed to rightfully garner a Best Actor nomination at the last Academy Awards (no offense Jesse Eisenberg, but I would've rather had him over you), Gosling has finally gotten the attention of mainstream Hollywood after building his career on small but well-received films Half Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl, and Blue Valentine. Now that he's getting star treatment, you might think his output would drop right into the deep end like so many others who have made the transition from indie to the big leagues. However, Gosling is a lot of fun and keeps all of his strengths on board while playing Jacob, and never does he do something which isn't completely believable. Carell is the film's star, and he tries his best to give us the same charm he does in just about every Steve Carell movie. Performance-wise, this is probably the closest he's come to his Little Miss Sunshine peak, but still doesn't deviate too far from his usual fare. He's still good, and as a lead he's more than serviceable, but I was hoping for much more from the character we're expected to mainly follow for two hours. Emma Stone is once again a lot of fun, though her character's major decision between sex with the hot bar guy (Jacob) and her boring relationship with boring lawyer Richard (Josh Groban) is hardly the stuff of legends. Her main source of power is her boundless energy, which here she displays in spades. Is Julianne Moore's career going to turn into a revolving door of cheating spouses now? First it was her great work in the widely overrated The Kids are All Right, and now she's doing the same here. Hopefully this is just a glitch in her resume and not full-blown typecasting, but she at least puts on a good show for the audience. She's completely sympathetic, unlike so many similar characters who would be instantly hated by the audience. I will watch Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon in just about anything, but while both do great jobs, neither is used to their full advantage in supporting roles. Analeigh Tipton is surprising on two counts. One, far more of the story is dedicated to her point of view than I had anticipated; and two, the young actress is actually quite good as the Weaver's teenage babysitter. She carries a certain innocence to her that isn't apparent in the trailer, and she's easily better than Jonah Bobo, the young Weaver spawn who eventually becomes the film's most annoying character.

Here's looking at you, kid... seriously, you're young enough to be his daughter
Looking at love from too many angles to count, Crazy, Stupid, Love really goes without sleep to deliver a strong narrative that makes you feel every emotion that the filmmakers want of you. Not the least bit subtle, the film makes up for that fact by presenting everything to you on a silver platter of fun, empathy and wisdom that can't help but charm. It's not the best romantic comedy I've seen this year (that would be Woody Allen's  Midnight in Paris) but it's right up there among the year's smartest and most heartfelt releases. To say it's worth seeing would almost seem like a disservice, but then again I would have to worry about anyone who can't get behind the excess of charm and heart that this film delivers to its audience. So go see it; Ryan Gosling deserves your patronage.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Rom-Com Merry Go Round

Back in January, I reviewed a romantic comedy starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman called No Strings Attached. In the film, two friends decide to cast aside the emotional baggage of relationships and focus on the sexual gratification aspect with one another. No matter what happened, they would keep love out of the equation, and remain friends. Well, guess what? It didn't work then and it doesn't work in Friends with Benefits either, to nobody's surprise. Directed by Easy A's Will Gluck, Friends at least looks better than No Strings Attached on paper. While the earlier-released film has arguably the bigger star power (with the eventual Oscar winner Portman leading the charge), the overall production of Friends came off much more nicely in previews. This was thanks not only to the seemingly natural chemistry between stars Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, but hilarious R-rated scenes featuring Woody Harrelson and Patricia Clarkson. Though their themes would seem to be the same, I was expecting a better total film when I walked into the theaters to check out the newest of the new releases this past week. If at its worst it was still better than No String Attached, it could well be considered a success.

The closest Timberlake will ever be to a real woman?
When young headhunter Jamie (Mila Kunis) successfully convinces indie journalist Dylan (Justin Timberlake) to take a groundbreaking job at GQ, the two fast become good friends. With Dylan adjusting to the pressures of leaving his family behind in Los Angeles to endure the rigors of New York City, Jamie becomes his constant anchor. Both are recovering from major relationship breakups, and while they don't want to become boyfriend/girlfriend with the other, they DO miss sexual intercourse. Like, a LOT. So they decide to make a pact; no emotional attachment, no jealousy, just sex. Oh, and no matter what happens, the two remain friends. That lasts for a while, but as things continue, they begin to grow together, and before you can shout that you saw it coming from the opening credits, the two fall in love. But with their relationship history, is this unlikely pairing even possible in the long-term?

Yup, she's helping!
While the story in Friends with Benefits is at least well told, one major misstep is that it ridicules the romantic comedy genre while at the same time committing all its cardinal acts. Characters shouting that true love is a farce pretty much guarantees that true love is what they'll find, and no amount of attempted diversions will make the audience believe otherwise. This is surprising considering how unique and few retread steps adorned director Gluck's last film, Easy A. Other rote rom-com trends include gay best friends, parent-child relationship issues, and one character suffering from an illness that many of us know about but not too many people have to live with. It's depressing how such an up-front idea (casual sex) might have added to the genre had it not merely been made into a set piece, and a poor one at that. There's already been a better casual sex comedy released, but I won't be getting to Crazy, Stupid, Love until next week.

Let the vigorous humping begin
The acting is quite good, but to be honest I wasn't as enamoured with the leading couple as I'd hoped I would be. My criticism with Timberlake is the same as with most of his film roles: all style, no substance. He's portrayed as being just like most of us, a down-to-earth guy who cares about all the right things. The problem with this is that it's not a person, it's a character, and Timberlake doesn't have the acting chops to make it more than that. Sure, he can trade barbs in a charming manner with Kunis, but that's about the highest peak of his prowess in front of the camera thus far. Kunis is by far the better of the main couple, though it would still be a stretch of imagine her as anything other than a slightly older and more mature Jackie Burhart from That 70's Show. It would be obvious that the role was written for her even if the director hadn't admitted to it anyway, and it's too bad, since I think she has some actual talent and hasn't really had an opportunity to showcase it beyond 2010's Black Swan. The duo have some chemistry, but not enough to make the audience stand up and take notice. That's why it's a relief that the supporting cast is much better than the two leads in terms of stealing the spotlight. Woody Harrelson gets the most laughs as GQ's homosexual sports editor who plays the role of romantic advisor to Dylan. Every like he utters is a hoot; it's just a shame they're all in the trailer. Patricia Clarkson is also a joy to see on screen, though it would be fair to say her role here pales in comparison to her part in Easy A. Playing Jamie's sexually-adventurous mother, Clarkson doesn't get nearly as much attention as perhaps she deserves, but does the best with what she can, which includes some truly hilarious and outrageous settings. And Richard Jenkins once again almost steals the show in his scenes as Dylan's father. Honestly, the film could have focused on these three characters and been so much better, but sadly that was not to be.

"Awww" moments are thankfully few and far between
But these acting performances do not save Friends with Benefits from itself. The funniest and best scenes from the film are covered by the trailers, the story has been done to death a billion times before, we really aren't compelled to root for these two lead characters to defy the expectations and get together. Throw in tons of obvious product placement, unfocused and unnecessary use of pop culture references like Olympic snowboarder Shaun White and flash mobs, and the fact that the film quickly becomes the monster it at first decries, and liking this film should not even be an option. Plenty of charm and some good bits do elevate it slightly higher than No Strings Attached, but not by as much as you would think. If you really want to see a sweet, engaging romantic comedy, do yourself a favor and see Crazy, Stupid, Love. Now THERE'S a film worth your hard-earned money.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Best Pun Ever

How many comic book movies are we up to now? Thanks especially to illustrated paper giant Marvel Comics' rush to get every major hero out into the theaters in record numbers (Thor, X-Men First Class, Captain America), the comic book film has been the definition of cinema in 2011. It hasn't just been the two major comic book labels (along with DC's Green Lantern) that have been releasing screen material either: independent comics have been adapted for the big show in 2011, including Dynamite Entertainment's Green Hornet and the Korean comic Priest. Not all of these films have been worth watching, but the success many of them have garnered is a positive sign for future projects in that vein. The latest to join their ranks is Cowboys & Aliens, based on the graphic novel from Platinum Studios. Combining themes of westerns and alien invasion, the film's trailers boasted of explosions, big-name stars (Daniel "007" Craig and Harrison "Indy" Ford), and the helm under the control of Iron Man director Jon Favreau, fast proving himself a talented action director. The real question going in was whether this particular title would be closer to Favreau's excellent work in the first IM film, or if it would be more akin to the train wreck that was Iron Man 2.

Obviously, the aliens worship Prince concerts...
It's 1873, and Jake Lonergan (Craig) suddenly awakes in the middle of the Arizona desert. He has no idea of who he is, what he does, or how he came to be in his current predicament. He certainly doesn't know how he came to be in possession of the strange metal bracelet stuck to his wrist. Stumbling into the closest town, he is recognized by the local authorities as a wanted felon, and news of his arrival reaches the ears of retired Civil War Colonel Woodrow Dollarhyde (Ford), who wants Lonergan to return the gold our amnesiac apparently stole. As this is going on, strange alien crafts attack the town and kidnap many of the local populace, leading Lonergan (who discovers his bracelet is a kick-ass weapon) and Dollarhyde to put aside their differences and hunt down the monsters who kidnapped their townsfolk, hoping to take them back.

Whew, that must have been a REALLY fun night!
Westerns as a genre haven't been major plusses in cinema in recent years. With forced hybrids like Wild Wild West, Jonah Hex and The Warrior's Way failing at every turn, the genre right now is a far cry from its heyday of Gunsmoke and The Magnificent Seven. The day of legendary western directors like Sam Peckinpah can be chronicled by my friend Brian, but these days success in that area is rare as the past year has featured a couple of major victories in the True Grit remake and the animated Rango. That doesn't make the idea of creating a western film any less hazardous to your financial backers, however. If anything, it will make some people too hopeful for the fading western genre to make a comeback, and disappoint many in the process.

He'd better hope there are no snakes... he hates snakes...
Still, regardless of the status of the western in this day and age, I had a lot of fun in Cowboys & Aliens. While the western angle is somewhat cliched (references to the Civil War, hostile Native Americans, wanted felons, corrupt authority figures, etc.), the sci-fi elements respond aptly by being just as if not more cliched. The result is surprisingly a film that feels fresh and almost original, thanks especially to a story crafted by a small army of screenwriters and expertly told by the ever-expanding Favreau, back on top after last year's IM2 debacle. The film has not a boring moment, and while some parts are so insane as to be unbelievable, my enjoyment at the theater never ebbed, which is more than I can say about most of the films I've witnessed this year. With a well-rounded cast of characters each with their own personal motivations, Favreau does a wonderful job developing them from somewhat-contrived personas to somewhat-contrived people we can root for. The story may be the weakest part of the film, but it considering some of what I've seen this year, here it is but a paltry criticism..

Don't make the mistake of fist-bumping him
It helps that those characters are played by some of the most talented folk in Hollywood. With the future of James Bond in serious question, Daniel Craig was very much in need of a new career direction. I'm not sure how I feel about him doing films like this, but he certainly takes to it naturally. The English actor makes for the most unlikely American desperado, but effective he is. Even though Jake Lonergan doesn't have much that is different from many a western anti-hero, it's still fun seeing his past unfold, and to watch Craig believably learn it alongside us. Harrison Ford is also amazing as the "bad guy" Dollarhyde. Ford has played the Hollywood hero so long it's somewhat strange to see him play such a gruff and cruel character, but when you think about it you can see where the progression of his career naturally pushes him to this point. Perfectly blending rich honcho with concerned parent in a way that makes him even more compelling than Craig, Ford once again proves to us that he still has "it.". The two are easily the best the film has to offer. I wish I could say the same for Olivia Wilde as mysterious traveler Ella. While she starts off interesting as a gun-toting self-capable woman on the frontier, poor development and lousy dialogue sabotage what could have been a very good performance. Sure, Wilde has the looks and a good head for the business, but I'm starting to wonder when that great performance is going to arrive on the screen. The secondary characters in Cowboys & Aliens are a good bunch, manned by talented character actors who take their jobs seriously and know exactly what they have to do to be believable to the audience. Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, Adam Beach, Raul Trujillo, Walton Goggins and Keith Carradine all expertly play their roles, from Rockwell as a mild-mannered saloon owner to Brown's rifle-wielding priest to Goggins' sycophantic bandit. And as my compatriot Paul has often said, "There's no such thing as a bad movie with a Carradine," in this case the local Sheriff. Sure, these roles are anything but original, but this cast really works their chemistry and makes the hard work pay off, creating an authentic western setting to blow up with ray guns and plasma discharge.

Is Craig channeling a little Christian Bale here?
Sure, it's riddled with flaws. The story is comprised of two cliched genres that don't do much to deviate from their set procedures with the notable exception that they coexist in the first place. The special effects are top notch, but it is the stellar core cast and the smart directing from Favreau that separate this film from your average Syfy Original movie. While it's far from the best action film I've seen this year (or am likely to see), it inhabits that same realm of cool that was already kept warm by fun thrill-rides Fast 5, Captain America and Battle: Los Angeles. If you're tired of the typical adventure film and want something very different, Cowboys & Aliens should be right up your alley. At the very least, go see Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford out-act most of Hollywood for a couple of hours.