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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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