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“Cowboys & Aliens,” reviewed

“Cowboys & Aliens,” reviewed (photo)

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With a title like “Cowboys & Aliens,” you expect something with multiple personalities, but nothing like this movie’s full-blown schizophrenia. No one involved with the making of this picture ever settled on exactly what they were making. A lighthearted summer action film? No way: too violent and grim. A serious Western revenge film? Nope: too soft and bloodless. A mystery? Nah: too many questions are left unanswered at the end. A character study of life on the frontier? Surely you jest. “Cowboys & Aliens” is just this vague, undefined blob of a movie: all of the above, and none of them convincingly.

Befitting the film’s lack of specificity, it’s set not in any particular time or place but in a generic stereotype-laden mining town called Absolution; this is “The Old West,” not the old west. There we meet a man played by Daniel Craig, who wakes in the middle of the desert with no memory of how he got there or who he is, an oozing bloody bruise on his torso, and a mysterious metal cylinder clamped on his wrist. After easily dispatching a trio of thugs and taking their boots, horse, and hat, he makes his way to town where he discovers he is Jake Lonergan, “The Scourge of the Territories” wanted for arson, kidnapping, hijacking, and murder. Lonergan doesn’t remember any of it or any of himself, and he doesn’t much care. He just wants to uncover the identity the woman in the photograph he keeps under his hat.

This is a promising set-up. Unfortunately, Lonergan, played with lots of intensity and no personality by Craig, has little curiosity about where he’s been and what he’s done (or, for that matter, why he seems so much nicer and more heroic now that he’s lost his memory). Before he can dig much deeper into his past, Absolution falls under attack from aliens, who lay waste to the town with their spaceships and steal all the other main characters’ loved ones including Sam Rockwell‘s wife and Harrison Ford‘s obnoxious son. The survivors round up a posse, bring along a young, defenseless child (Noah Ringer) for no reason whatsoever, and set off in search of their kin. And since that thing on Lonergan’s wrist turns out to be an incredibly powerful weapon, he’s brought along as well.

There are a few interesting inversions of classic Western tropes here. The gunslinger figure Craig is playing is usually a guy trying to forget his past, wrestling with the pain he’s caused and the lives he’s taken. The beautiful damsel, played here with exactly one expression (that’s it in the picture above) by Olivia Wilde, usually needs rescuing, but her Ella is just as capable a cowboy as any of the men. And Westerns that have an old man/young boy dynamic like the one here between Ford’s grumpy cattle rancher and Ringer’s innocent kid typically warn that the glorious violence of the West is not as glorious as it’s cracked up to be. Without spoiling much about the ending of this movie, that’s not exactly its moral. All of this is interesting to observe, but of very little consequence to the film, which is far too busy chasing aliens and fetishizing their futuristic technology to fully explore these upended archetypes.

There are so many characters fighting for screentime — sheriffs and bandits, cattle ranchers and rustlers, grandfathers and grandchildren, Native American healers and advanced alien races — that no one gets a chance to develop a full and consistent character. Good luck trying to figure out just what sort of man Ford’s Woodrow Dolarhyde is. He’s introduced brutally torturing a man for information, then intimidates the local Sheriff for arresting his son. A few scenes later, he’s counseling Ringer on how to be a man and later still his adopted son (Adam Beech, a better actor than his part deserves) gives an impassioned speech explaining how he’s a great warrior who avoids battle but never runs from it. He wisely leaves out the part about him also enjoying a little torture from time to time.

There are some extremely impressive special effects on display in the execution of the aliens and their tech (Craig’s wrist-gun is one badass movie doodad). But these creatures exist purely at the screenwriters’ convenience: remarkably smart or hilariously stupid depending on the demands of any given scene. Here is a species that has mastered the secrets of interstellar travel, and on two separate occasions they are incapable of strapping Daniel Craig down to an operating table. These morons screw this up twice! Their characterization is just as inconsistent as Ford’s. We’re told they don’t move during the day because they don’t see well in sunlight. But when the movie threatens to lag and an action scene is demanded, there they are, flying around in their ships in broad daylight.

These goofs would be a lot less distracting if the movie was any fun, or ever got you caught up in this grand and glorious adventure. It doesn’t. “Cowboys & Aliens” is dour, dirty, and dry, a major disappointment and as bland as as plate of frontier beans. Everyone involved — from director Jon Favreau to the impressive but wasted cast — are capable of much better. No wonder Craig’s character suffers from amnesia. In a few weeks, I’ll have completely forgotten all of this too.

“Cowboys & Aliens” is now playing. If you see it, we want to know what you think. Leave us a comment below or send us your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

E.coli-class-

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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via GIPHY

We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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