DID YOU READ

“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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.