Wednesday, September 26, 2012

REVIEW: The Master

Photo #11
**** stars

With The Master breaking the record for biggest limited release opening of all time (an astonishing $147,262 per screen average and $736,311 overall) while simultaneously receiving monumental critical acclaim, I feel like my raving of it may come off as just another ripple in the pond. If that is the case, I consider it a compliment. The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson's first film in five years (since There Will Be Blood scared the living soul out of all who saw it) is another film that scares, enlightens, and blows our minds.

Upon its initial release, all those creatively involved with the project had to explain to the world that The Master is not a story about Scientology. While many could argue otherwise, the most important aspect of this film is the relationship between the two main characters.

It begins at the end of World War II, a time where many returning soldiers were understandably unable to transition from the horrors of war to a normal life. One of them is Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a soldier turned alcoholic drifter who after hitting his own version of rock-bottom meets a man named Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the leader of a religious movement called "The Cause". His teachings do have similarities to L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, but The Master is not a film about Scientology. It is a story of two men, one trying desperately to find himself, while the other uses that man's desperation as a pawn in his own game. Freddie never seems to have a moment of clarity as his alcoholism skids him down a path of self-suicide while Lancaster never seems to understand the meaning behind his words. He is simply a master at manipulating those who are so desperate that they are willing to turn to his contradicting ideology.

Paul Thomas Anderson's breathtaking vision is within every frame of The Master. This talented filmmaker has the gift of foresight within America's own history, telling us more about the world we live in now at a time where many of us hadn't even existed yet (or at least me anyways). Where There Will Be Blood was a foreshadow of America's downfall through greed, The Master is a foreshadow of the corruption of the American Dream. It seemed for only a moment after World War II, all was supposedly right in our country. But as time progressed and the sugarcoating became thin, many real-life troubled souls like Freddie Quell probably turned to manipulators like Lancaster Dodd. Because of this, the man looking for righteousness gets left behind while the other successfully sells his righteousness to the next troubled soul and uses it to their own advantage.

Joaquin Phoenix is mind-blowing. He is so perfectly cast in every conceivable way it's almost as if his orchestrated downfall shown in Casey Affleck's documentary I'm Still Here was all apart of his preparation for this role. The role calls for a lost soul, becoming horrifyingly skinny and brutally battered emotionally. Phoenix nails this on all fronts. Beside him is Philip Seymour Hoffman, a master at his craft himself. His mannerisms and tone are flawless. The finest piece of acting you will see all year comes down to these two, especially the scene where Lancaster finally is able to crack beneath the surface of Freddie's subconscious. Who knew a lightning fast moment of questions and answers would be so riveting? Keep an eye out for Amy Adams grabbing another best supporting actress nomination for her role as Peggy Dodd, Lancaster's wife. Fearless and dominating, Peggy is either the brains behind the movement or the cause of its downfall. Adams gets the crown for the most terrifying shot in the film. I won't give it away, but lets just say it has something to do with her eyes changing color.

Did I just leave you with a huh? Good, now you have to go see what I'm talking about. The Master, the best film so far this year and for now, the Oscar frontrunner.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Why The Dark Knight Rises (And The Movies) Are Not To Blame

Photo #33

First off, before I say anything at all about how movies were affected by the senseless tragedy in Aurora, Colorado last week, there is nothing more important than giving all the thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families. This was a day felt by all and through these dark times, we hope for the powers of humanity to rise.  

I say that last line with a little bit of a pun because this website is a movie website. It's not meant to be the hub of a debate about the controversy of something as tragic and polarizing as a national tragedy. So feeling the anger and sadness that I do, I thought I would take the time here to discuss why movies like The Dark Knight Rises are not to blame, even while the media has spun this event into what they call "The Dark Knight Rises Massacre". The headline is simply a sick excuse for trying to come up with a catchy title. 

For the first few days following the event, I was glued to the news for one reason: to see just how much the film industry had changed in such little time. Then I turned away because I realized there's only one thing like myself, a film lover thousands of miles away from it all, can do. And that is to continue going to the movies and prove to the world once again that they are meant for the reason why we fell in love with them in the first place: escapism.

Ten years ago, like any other thirteen year old kid, I was searching for a passion that could stick with me for life. At the time I wasn't aware of just how much I loved the movies until I started writing about them. And it was because of the movie theater itself that allowed me to feel free. It created this neutral place where I could go where no one would judge me. What I loved (and still love) is that your fellow moviegoers are there to share the same experience with you, creating a common interest. Why do you think so many people go on dates to the movies? Because there's something there to be shared and experienced together. You wouldn't get that connection by ordering Tower Heist for $60 On Demand. It's a good thing that deal didn't work out last year, but now I fear after the dust settles and changes start to be made around the industry, this idea of direct-to-your-home entertainment may be sold as the "safe alternative" to the movie theater. I hope I'm dead wrong on this one. Seriously.

In terms of expense, it's not that theaters are any cheaper these days. But money aside, the idea of movie theater escapism needs to be reassured to moviegoers by those in charge of how they operate. Warner Brothers has been tackling this tragedy with grace and understanding, realizing that nobody (including myself, one of the biggest fans of box office figures) cares about how much The Dark Knight Rises would have made if it weren't for what happened. Now they simply have to focus on making sure movies like this (an absolute masterpiece) can continue to be made without the industry giving into the fear that every single movie that has violence in it causes real violence in the real world. 

But I fear that may already be happening....

Warner Brothers film Gangster Squad, a surefire Oscar contender until a week ago, has been moved to January 11th due to a climatic scene of gangsters shooting down people in a movie theater. The studio's plan is to reshoot this scene so the shooting takes place somewhere else. At this point, it doesn't even seem to be about the violence, but rather giving into the fear that people may not want to see the movie if it displayed something that really happened. In terms of business (aka making a profit), it's understandable, but in terms of artistry, the studio seems to be taking their worries one step too far.

For example, if the scene they are reshooting turns into a violent scene that happens in a parking lot, would they have to reshoot it again if a parking lot shooting happened in real life? Obviously there's more realism in films than parking lots, but my point is this: where's the line? Sure, the images that are in Gangster Squad may not be appropriate right now, but this film is already positioned to be a hard R-rated gangster flick whose runtime will primarily consist of shootings in the same nature as it would have been in the movie theater shooting scene. Since when did it become about the image we get in our head rather than the act of the actual violence itself? Why not go after every movie then, that has movie theater shootings in it? Would they have changed the ending of Inglourious Basterds if it were coming out now instead of three years ago? Maybe not, because the people being killed in that scene were all Nazi's. My point is that there are inconsistencies here, and just because it took place while The Dark Knight Rises was playing rather than say Savages (a far more violent film) doesn't mean that Christopher Nolan, Batman, Bane or Warner Brothers is to blame. Remember, it wasn't long after 9/11 that planes were crashing in movies again. Two 9/11 movies came out five years after it happened too, along with the countless post 9/11 movies that had been glorified for our entertainment.

So the fault is not on The Dark Knight Rises, and it's even more obvious considering he hadn't even seen the movie yet. It too was a victim of this senseless tragedy, because now people will waste their time trying to blame Batman (it's getting to the point where they are now pulling Batman comic books off the shelf for a month) rather than the guy who did it. The more we blame the movie industry, the more we give that pathetic excuse for a man exactly what he wants. 

Note: I apologize for being vague in some spots about the man responsible, but I refuse to say his name or anything about him. He doesn't deserve it.

Monday, May 07, 2012

The Avengers

Photo #74
***1/2 stars

NOTE: Apparently it takes the biggest film of all time to take me back to the film critic side of the industry. For my avid readers, I apologize for the delay. But in the words of Samwise Gamgee, "Well, I'm back".

The Avengers is the creme de la creme of summer movies, the extravaganza of a fan's lifetime. You will not find a film more epic and more fun than The Avengers in 2012.....before July 20th....when The Dark Knight Rises takes this crown. 

For now though, let's dissect The Avengers and all its component parts. Four years ago, a little movie called Iron Man was released and Robert Downey Jr. went straight to the top of the A-list. Then came the paltry The Incredible Hulk, the weakest link and biggest excuse of advertisement for The Avengers. Iron Man 2 came and went in 2010, then Thor & Captain America: The First Avenger followed a year later with enough spice in the tanks to get fans excited for the real reason of these films existence, The Avengers. If this film didn't deliver, we would be seeing a complete overhaul in Hollywood this Monday morning. The movie opened to $200 million and has become a fan's and critic's favorite. Ah, the sweet smell of success.

For all of this, you can thank Joss Whedon (Serenity, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer), a truly inspiring directorial choice for Marvel. If you want to please the fans, join them. Whedon is the go-to-guy for fanboys and mainstream audiences alike. He knows what he has and how to use it. You could not ask for a better-constructed script for this kind of film.

The Avengers takes place just days after the events of Captain America: The First Avenger. Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is still rattled by his 70-year time jump to the future. For him, World War II was just moments ago and he is still grappling from its effects. In the meantime, Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, a fine choice to take over the role) is trying to stay calm by staying out of the way. He is tracked down by Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) in India to be recruited for the Avengers Initiative. Meanwhile, Tony Star/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is kicking it in his Stark Tower in Manhattan while Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is trying to take down his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the ultimate villain, for many reasons. Not only does Loki want his home world destroyed, but Earth too. This in turn, forces Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to unite all the superheroes to protect the world from total destruction.

Despite the fact that Manhattan gets plummeted in this film (and for many people seeing a city destructed over and over again can be nauseating), what Joss Whedon does that makes the film work is his masterful ability to not let things be taken too seriously. We have aliens and superheroes battling against each other so clearly Manhattan is just a fancy backdrop for a fantasy-themed battleground. 

The difference here is that The Avengers was designed for fun where something like Christopher Nolan's Batman franchise is meant to be a statement on society. While The Dark Knight Rises looks for Oscar gold, The Avengers doesn't mind being the escapist entertainment it was meant to be. The best example: Loki is staring down the Hulk and screams something like, "I am a God and I will not be...", then the Hulk interrupts him by picking him up and smashing him to the ground numerous times. In The Avengers, humor goes a long way. Looking for the feelings of summer? Look no further. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012


The 84th Academy Awards
Feb. 26, 2012

In wasting no time, let's get right down to the predictions with one sentence explanations in what could be the most predictable year ever...again.


Because Academy voters are filled with old white men yearning for a film they can relate to and are nostalgic for.

This year the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, so expect Hazanaivius to take home the gold.

If the Academy is ever going to recognize Clooney with a lead acting trophy, this is the film to do it.

Because Meryl Streep already has 2 wins (and 17 nominations) and Viola Davis is going for her first. 

It's either him or Max Von Sydow, but since their is one only on winner, I'm picking Plummer. 

She's won everything already, so why should this be any different?

Because one of the greatest screenwriters who ever lived hasn't won an Oscar in 25 years and it's one of his best films in a long time. 

Alexander Payne delivered one of the best films of the year and this is the category the AMPAS will reward him with. 


















Saturday, February 25, 2012

Top Ten Films of 2011: A Year Worth Celebrating

Finally, the end of a calendar year where I can safely say..."what a great year for movies!"

It really was. It seemed like week after week, there was another gem to behold and another entrance to the Oscar race. I apologize for my lack of posts in 2011, as our production company LaMarcable Productions took up quite a bit of my time. You will see merging with very soon, so keep an eye out for that! For now, here is my top ten films of 2011. Enjoy!

Hugo Poster1.) Hugo
Why #1? Because it has everything. A timeless film for all ages. Martin Scorsese, the greatest filmmaker on the planet, attempts a 3D family adventure for the first time at the age of 69. He lets the newest generation in on a little secret: movies have been around for a while. And when the motion picture was invented (by the Lumiere Brothers in 1895), it was such a shock to audiences that it felt like a magic trick. That's what Hugo is, a magic trick. Because not only is it a beautiful love-letter to the art of film, it's a dazzling spectacle told with elegance and grace from its master storyteller.  

The Tree of Life Poster2.) The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick is certainly a perfectionist. You know that because he's been working on The Tree of Life for 30 years. Now that it's out, how does it measure up to the expectations? It surpasses them. Perhaps even shatters them. Not often can a film evoke such poetic imagery it's as if it's teaching you more about the world than what you would get out in the world itself. Think 2001: A Space Odyssey with an aura of human emotion. Brad Pitt (in a career-defining year) is wonderful, Jessica Chastain is luminous, and Malick's direction is nothing short of masterful. The Tree of Life is life-changing experience.

Take Shelter Poster3.) Take Shelter
Michael Shannon gives the performance of the year in Take Shelter, a mesmerizing slow-burning thriller about a man named Curtis who believes an apocalyptic storm is coming and he must build a shelter to protect his family. However, is it really a storm or is our hero suffering from the beginning stages of schizophrenia? It's a truly haunting mystery twisted with the raw emotions of horrible disease. Jessica Chestain has had an unbelievable year and she nails the role of the worried wife watching her husband's mind crumble into bits. What makes Take Shelter a masterpiece is its attention to detail and it's willingness not to compromise on the true nature of Curtis's mind. The final scene in this film will literally blow you away. 

The Artist Poster4.) The Artist
The first legitimate silent movie to be released since the World War II era, you have to wonder, is it really as good as everyone says it is? The answer is yes. The performances, direction, and music are completely spot on. It captures an era of Hollywood that is so long ago that it feels like science-fiction. And how ironic that in 2011 where Hollywood is now all about loud-and-noisy sequels, that the movie that could represent the year, is a silent movie? The Artist is a film to be treasured, appreciated, and loved over and over again.

The Descendants Poster5.) The Descendants
Alexander Payne hasn't made a bad movie. The Descendants is no different. It takes a masterful director to anchor a film around a star who gives the performance of his career while simultaneously creating so many vivid supporting characters. A heartbreaking story that's truthfully funny. Jean Dujardin may deserve the Best Actor Oscar, but I believe that if the Academy is every going to give the lead award to Clooney, it has to be this role.

Drive Poster6.) Drive
Criminally overlooked by the Oscars this year (a mere one nomination for sound editing), Drive is a pulp masterpiece. Ryan Gosling is perfectly cast as a Hollywood stuntman selling himself to bad people by being their driver. The opening sequence to this film is so intense that you'll feel as if you are literally in the car with him. A truly mesmerizing piece of cinema from director Nicholas Winding Refn, who rebounds brilliantly after the horrific disaster that was Valhalla Rising

Moneyball Poster7.) Moneyball
Moneyball is going to be remembered as a truly great American film, capturing the country's past time by telling a story that is more than the sum of its parts. Sure, the 2002 Oakland Athletics season itself was not very memorable, but director Bennett Miller finds poetry in the game itself. Brad Pitt is splendid as the A's General Manager Billy Beane, who attempts to change the game of baseball forever. Sometimes it's not about whether or not you change something, but rather the heart and courage to do so when everyone around you calls you crazy. That is the definition of an American dream. 

Midnight in Paris Poster8.) Midnight in Paris
There's something magical about Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, a deliciously fun and joyful experience that every aspiring or accomplished writer should see. What if you could get your work reviewed by the greatest literary geniuses in history by traveling back in time when they were in their prime? It's a concept the infamous filmmaker was born to write and one we were born to watch and enjoy. Expect Woody Allen to take home his first Oscar since 1987 for a truly fantastic screenplay.

50/50 Poster9.) 50/50
This comedy-drama from the Superbad team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg is the film of the Oscar season that perfectly blends its two genres. In fact, there really isn't anything not to like about this film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues his tremendous success by playing Adam, a mid-20's New Yorker who one day after deciding to see his doctor about his intense back pain finds out he has cancer. The kind that shortens your life extensively. Imagine the cruelness of that day. He wakes up. Everything is normal. He goes to the doctor and his life changes in a matter of seconds. My heart aches for those who must go through this in real life. 50/50 honors this struggle with a story full of heart and humor, delivering trauma when it needs to and laughs when it has a right to. In this case, it's pretty much the entire movie.

Source Code Poster10.) Source Code
In 2009, director Duncan Jones crafted the highly underrated independent film Moon, one of the best science fiction entries in modern cinema. Crossing over to the mainstream with Source Code, Jones is proving to be one of the most refreshing filmmakers of his genre. Breathing new life into a Groundhog Day-esque concept, (how fascinating that the mythology of a 1993 Bill Murray comedy about a groundhog is still a brilliant base for science-fiction movies) this highly entertaining thriller is a blast of exciting relevancy.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Photo #23
***1/2 stars

Leave it to David Fincher to adapt the enormously popular Swedish book and films series by Stieg Larsson and Niels Arden Oplev into an electrifying American thriller. This is a film so well shot and edited your brain will spin for hours after trying to decipher the speed and mastery of an almost three hour film. Rooney Mara is electric as Lisbeth Salander, the dark and mysterious hacker who goes through hell, only later to unleash it. She is need of help from disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) as he is hired to investigate the disappearance (or murder) of a young woman from over 40 years ago. While the mystery begins with her disappearance, there’s plenty more to uncover. The duo becomes entangled in a web of corruption and ruthlessness. The setting is cold and bleak, the locations dark and narrow, with many scenes shot at night or in troubled weather conditions. It only adds to the chaos of the story as David Fincher directs a brutal, yet masterful thriller that is guided with top notch performances from its cast (particularly Rooney Mara, who steals every scene she is in) and the fantastic editing by Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall. The film was marketed as “the feel bad movie of Christmas”. The only way to feel bad about this movie…is to not see it. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Photo #3
***1/2 stars

No recent blockbuster does a better job at creating organic action than Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the best action movie of the year. If you’re going to kick-start a franchise back into high gear and avoid staleness, you better do it right. Many can’t say that. This franchise installment can. 

Tom Cruise is underrated. Yes, the biggest movie star on the planet is underrated. Why? Because no one can do what he does. I dare you to find another actor that would hang from the highest building in the world by one wire and then beg for multiple takes in the process. On screen, the man is a perfectionist. The true action star is still alive. His name is Tom Cruise. And he isn’t going anywhere. 

The movie picks up with Ethan Hunt in prison, only to be immediately broken out of in the first scene. But things are just getting started. Hunt and his team must track down a terrorist named Hendricks, who may be on his way to launching nuclear weapons towards American soil. In one captivating scene, the IMF team breaks into the Kremlin and attempts to take him down. Not only does it end with the Kremlin being blown into pieces, but Ethan Hunt and company are blamed for it. IMF has been disavowed. Now they must stop Hendricks to avoid a nuclear war and to prove their innocence. 

With great stakes and stunning set pieces, Ghost Protocol delivers. I’d like to discuss the one scene everyone is talking about. You know, that scene. The one where Tom Cruise climbs, runs, hangs, and flies around the highest floors of the tallest building in the world (the Burj Khalifa in Dubai) and creates such an outstanding scene because of it. No CGI. No bullshit. This is real, scary filmmaking. It will leave you breathless. The rest of the movie manages to be about the same. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Artist

**** stars

This is one of those films that’s so entertaining and educational on every single level that it’s a shame it’s not being widely released. The Artist has been one of the most talked about films of the year. For people who haven’t seen it, you’re probably sick of hearing about it. Why? Not because you don’t want to see it, it’s because you can’t. Sure, it’s expanding to more theaters every week, but when you have a movie that’s an Oscar frontrunner, that won the crowd over at Cannes, and that it’s the first legitimate silent movie to be released since the World War II era, you wonder if it it's really as good as everyone says it is. The answer is yes. The performances, direction, and music are completely spot on. It captures an era of Hollywood that is so long ago it feels like science-fiction. And how ironic that in 2011 where Hollywood is now all about loud-and-noisy sequels that the movie that could represent the year is a silent movie? Expect Oscar nominations around the board for best picture, director Michel Hazanavicius, lead actor Jean Dujardin, and supporting actress Berenice Bejo. Dujardin and Bejo, who evoke so much emotion without saying a single word, deserve to be heard regardless. The Artist is a film to be treasured, appreciated, and loved over and over again.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

My Week with Marilyn

Photo #2
*** stars

There is something innocently fascinating about watching a modern day star portray a star from the past. It’s always a great role for the modern day actor as it captures their range and fundamentals as a figure people have already come to have a perception about. Plus, the Academy Awards pay close attention to you. Robert Downey picked up his first Oscar nomination portraying Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin and Cate Blanchett won an Oscar playing Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator (there’s plenty more to choose from here). Here, Michelle Williams plays Marilyn Monroe and she absolutely nails it. As does Kenneth Branagh as Sir Lawrence Olivier. In the film, Monroe is on set for the famous director’s The Prince and the Showgirl. However, My Week with Marilyn is not through the point-of-view of the prolific stars, but rather of a third assistant director who just landed his first real job in the business. Apparently for a week, young Colin Clark’s intrigue for Marilyn grows into more than just an attraction. She invites him into her life and the two become close for a short period of time. About a week I'd say (no pun intended). While it was probably the highlight of Colin's life, for Marilyn it feels like she's just passing time considering how much she had gone through in her lifetime. However, Michelle Williams is an odyssey to behold as the legendary actress, one in which if she continues with performances like this, she will be well on her way to becoming one herself. 

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Descendants

Photo #21
**** stars

There’s a reason why George Clooney is the frontrunner in this year’s Oscar race for best actor. He’s superb. And not just in that consistent George Clooney way. Here he seems to be putting his whole career into this performance. A funny, touching, and heartbreaking performance. With these three components mixed in with director Alexander Payne’s masterful blend of comedy and drama, you have an American masterpiece. Clooney plays Matt King, a successful lawyer who for too many years spent most of his time at the office than at home. When his wife suffers a boating accident and falls into a coma, things obviously start to change. He’s never had to be a full-time parent before. Now he does. His two daughters, Alex, age 17 (played wonderfully by Shailene Woodley) & Scottie, age 10 (Amara Miller) are good kids, but there’s clear signs of disconnect between them and their father. The beautiful conflict here is that for the first time since they all can remember, just the three of them are forced to spend time together. At the same time, Matt is on the verge of selling off his Hawaiian land for a huge chunk of change. Oh, and one more thing. His comatose wife was cheating on him. So where does this guy start? How can he get his life back together? Alexander Payne paints a portrait of Hawaiian paradise mixed in with the trials and tribulations of a family’s tragedy. A surefire Oscar contender and a homerun for all involved. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


**** stars

So it seems Martin Scorsese can do just about anything. When I say this, I mean that the man behind some of the greatest films of all time (along with some of the most violent) has now mastered the 3D family-adventure genre on his first try at the age of 69. Not only a beautiful love-letter to the art of film, Hugo is a dazzling spectacle told with elegance and grace from its master storyteller. 

The film opens with an astonishing shot. Scorsese sweeps the camera down into the streets of 1930's Paris, crossing into a train station and through the station's large mechanical clock. Inside the clock is a young orphaned boy, staring into the commotion of human travel. His name is Hugo (played by Asa Butterfield) and he runs the clock. He also fixes other gadgets as he learned to from his father and uncle. After his father's tragic death, Hugo has nothing left of him but an automaton that doesn't work. He tries desperately to fix it, but struggles to find its heart-shaped key. 

You could say on paper that the film is about Hugo trying to fix the automaton to discover the mystery he's been searching for since his father's death, but there's way more to it than that. On his adventure, he meets a cranky old man named Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley) and his god-daughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz). Hugo and Isabelle bond over their fascination into discovering the automaton's mystery, while Georges is a sad creature, who bosses Hugo around after he accuses him of stealing from his shop at the train station. As the story progresses, we learn that they all have a connection to Hugo's father and the automaton, which unlocks Georges memory of his importance to cinema's history.

How ironic that a tale about the significance of film preservation is also a film worthy of its very subject? Hugo startles the emotions and dazzles the senses. The 3D is so well executed and the performances are so rich that when we see Ben Kingsley give the film's climatic speech, it's as though he is only speaking to you and no one else. Scorsese, working once again with his editor Thelma Shoonmaker, creates a world so vivid and warm-hearted, I dare you not to fall for its charm.

One finally note: for the first time since Avatar, I can safely say that 3D makes a movie better. See Hugo in 3D, and let Scorsese take care of the rest.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Five for Five: A Rare Run of Great Movies

I apologize for the two month hiatus. LaMarcable Productions is stringing me up by my pull strings. With Oscar season alive and well, I promise to come back from the dead. What a way to do it with my recent cinematic experiences. For the first time in many moons, I went to the movies five times in a row and saw five of the best movies of the year.

Drive - ****
Photo #1
An excellent American-crime drama about a Hollywood stuntman appropriately unnamed as just "Driver" (Ryan Gosling) who after performing his day-time job duties, uses his skills in a much darker sense. His motto is that he's a driver. You have five minutes with him. Anything before or after that five minutes, you're on your own. But for five minutes, he's yours. That's pretty much the underlying factor in the entire film. His boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston) borrows $300,000 from mobster Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) who wants the driver to race for him after displaying his extraordinary skills. But things start spiraling out of control when the Driver's neighbor Irene (Carrey Mulligan) sees her husband come home from prison only to be in debt to someone that is threatening to kill him. The Driver helps him out because he cares for the family, but things turn for the worse after trying to pay off the debt. Everything becomes tangled in a web, as the movie (beautifully executed by Cannes Best Director winner Nicholas Winding Refn) becomes a violent poem of tragic action. Gosling is superb in the role, fully embodying the cold-soul of a man who is almost a mute voluntarily. When you simultaneously live your life along the edge, something in you must be bursting to come out. Drive takes that rush and turns into overdrive. An unpredictable and mind-blowing thriller.

Moneyball - **** stars
Photo #4
Sport dramas seem to be extinct. Hell, if it weren't for the masterful TV series Friday Night Lights, I'd say the genre has become irrelevant. But here comes Moneyball, a wonderful drama about the ups-and-downs of America's past time, the thrill of discovery something new about a century long tradition, and the integrity it takes to change the game forever. Brad Pitt is electric as Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane, who after a disappointing loss in the American League Divisional Series against the New York Yankees and with the help of his young partner in-crime Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), decides to try something new in the game of baseball. Even while coming off a 100 win season, he's not going to go the traditional route of going after all-stars. Instead, he is going to balance the budget by employing computer-generated analysis to draft his players. More specifically, Beane thinks that players like Scott Hattenberg, an average baseball player coming off injuries, have a better statistical chance of helping the team win games than an all-star would. It's a fascinating concept, one that eventually gave the team a 20-game win streak (the most in history), but collapses when things just don't work out. However, the Boston Red Sox took this strategy the following year and won the World Series for the first time in 86 years. So as a Red Sox fan, it looks like we must give thanks to Billy Beane for helping to break the Bambino curse. Director Bennett Miller (Capote) makes it look easy as Moneyball, with its all-star cast (also including Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Wright) and scrappy energy, makes one satisfying trip to the movies.

Take Shelter - **** stars
Photo #5
Michael Shannon gives the performance of the year (so far) in this Shyamalan-esque thriller that delivers the thrills and chills about a rural-town construction worker who starts having visions that a horrible storm is coming and it's up to him to build a shelter to protect his family. Even if that means spending money he doesn't have and making everyone in the town believe he's gone insane. His wife, played flawlessly by this year's breakout actress Jessica Chastain, loves his husband dearly, but even she believes this the sign of something much worse to come. Is it his family's history of schizophrenia that's causing his madness? Is it a mental breakdown? Or is a storm actually coming and he is trying to save the people he loves the most? This is the best film so far this year, a stunning tour-de-force that has the patience and execution of a master. The final scene in this film is so mind-blowing it was as though I could feel the weather inside the theater. That's how much this film gets into your head. It's almost impossible to get out.

50/50 - **** stars
Photo #4
This comedy-drama from the Superbad team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg is the film of the Oscar season that perfectly blends its two genres. In fact, there really isn't anything not to like about this film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues his tremendous success by playing Adam, a mid-20's New Yorker who one day after deciding to see his doctor about his intense back pain finds out he has cancer. The kind that shortens your life extensively. Imagine the cruelness of that day. He wakes up. Everything is normal. He goes to the doctor and his life changes in a matter of seconds. My heart aches for those who must go through this in real life. 50/50 honors this struggle with a story full of heart and humor, delivering trauma when it needs to and laughs when it has a right to. In this case, it's pretty much the entire movie.

The Ides of March - ***1/2 stars
Photo #4
It may not be perfect, but The Ides of March is a rocket-fueled thriller about the temptations of power and the realities of its inhibitors. Ryan Gosling plays Stephen Meyers, the man behind the next possible President of the United States, Governor Mike Norris (George Clooney, who also directed the feature). Meyers gets a crash course in dirty politics as he must learn how to balance the morals of his beliefs and the realities he must face in order to get his candidate elected. What we get is a fast-paced drama that reaps the benefits of its star-studded cast (the right kind, featuring Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, and Evan Rachel Wood) and creates tension through intimate conversations that eventually decide the fate of a nation. A great film to watch considering the relevance of the 2012 Presidential Election and the fragile tone of the people's trust in its process.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Photo #61
** stars
Just because a threat in a movie feels real doesn't mean you have the authority to supersede tension. For the first hour, Contagion is a finely crafted thriller, but every scene loses tension as it progresses. I actually can't see this film making the light of day without its star-studded cast (including Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, Bryan Cranston, John Hawkes, Demetri Martin, and Elliot Gould).

Steven Soderbergh knows how to tempt an actor into working with him. He's an Oscar-winning director, his movies usually make money so your paycheck tends to be hefty, and most of the time you're only in a small amount of scenes. Easy work. Good money. Perfect fit, right?

Well, just because you have great actors doesn't mean it can cover the holes in a lousy screenplay. The film opens on "Day 2" in Hong Kong with a close-up of a sick woman (played by Gweneth Paltrow) waiting to board a flight back to America. She looks sick. Very sick. As if she is a walking plague. She gets home, hugs her kids, wakes up the next morning, and collapses into a terrifying seizure. I think it's safe to say that there's no spoiler here to know that she doesn't make it. It's the start of the movie. The secret here is why she got sick and how contagious she really is. When people start dropping all over the world, I think we found our answer.

What's spreading this horrible virus? It's basically the same scenario that's been seen before, especially in the action TV-series 24, where there is an outbreak of a rare disease that causes fatal symptoms the moment you are touched by someone who is infected. In 24, the story had way more characters to care about with a threat of more than just an outbreak. It was a tangled web of espionage and disaster. Contagion seemed to be written by someone who went out for a bite to eat, got sick later that night, and woke up to write a screenplay about his experience. It's a real fear, sure, but without memorable characters and a clear-cut plot, there's no difference between this and a public service announcement about swine flu.

Soderbergh has a unique visual style that is always present in his movies. His music choices are always eclectic and does a fine job at building tension. Yet Contagion has a hard time deciding between being a full-out disaster movie and a sad drama about the deaths of a certain few. It lands somewhere between mild suspense and stiffness. The Social Network made a movie about facebook more intense than Contagion does with a worldwide epidemic. So clearly it's not the subject matter to blame, but something a bit more internal.

Friday, September 09, 2011

$1 Billion Ain't What It Used To Be

Before this millennium, there was only one film in history (not counting adjustment for inflation) that ever crossed the $1 billion mark. It's name was Titanic. 

Titanic was a movie so massive that Hollywood couldn't find enough things to do with it. For 20th Century Fox, when the $200 million historical-romantic epic opened to a paltry $28.6 million in December of 1997, they were instantly ready to write the film off as a disaster. However, due to epic word-of-mouth and the help of pre-teens drooling over the fantasy of Leonardo Dicaprio, business continued week after week. Titanic stayed at number one for fifteen straight weeks, something you rarely see in this day-and-age. In fact, it's been so rare that the closest film to match that is another James Cameron epic called Avatar, which stayed on top for seven consecutive weeks. Even with the adjustment for inflation and the added fees for 3D & IMAX, nothing could match the staying power of Titanic, which eventually grossed a whopping $1.8 billion worldwide.

Now, we all know that Avatar hit an astonishing $2.7 billion worldwide. But the focus in this column is not about films like Titanic & Avatar, because regardless of how you feel towards these blockbusters, these were still huge movie events. They earned their money respectively, not relying on opening weekend profits but on tremendous buzz and the urge to see it the right way, in theaters. I stand by The Dark Knight because even with the second highest opening weekend of all time at $158 million, it continued steady business to eventually hit the $1 billion mark worldwide.

There have only been ten films in the history of cinema to reach that mark. Three of them were released this year. 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (which is also the highest opening weekend of all time at $169 million) deservedly crossed the $1 billion mark because it was a great end to an already phenomenally successful (and respectable) franchise. It's still in theaters and crushing records, lifting its worldwide total to $1.3 billion and counting. 

Now, here's where the dilemma lies. This year, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Transformers: Dark of the Moon, two horrible movies, both surpassed $1 billion. After this occurrence, I realized that $1 billion ain't what it used to be. 

On Stranger Tides is an unnecessary fourth installment in a franchise that is only surviving because of the unprecedented reliability from Johnny Depp. The studio wanted a moneymaker and it got one. But at what cost? The movie bombed domestically, grossing only $240 million (the movie's budget is approximately $250 million), but made massive amounts overseas, pushing its total to $1.039 billion in revenue. Because of its poor domestic numbers, it's a tainted record, one that lets Jerry Bruckheimer sleep easy, but makes fans crash with fatigue.

Same goes for Dark of the Moon, the incredibly painful experience created by the Steven Spielberg of bad movies, Michael Bay (is it a cruel irony that the film was produced by Spielberg?) It shoved 3D in our faces and the franchise once again used its Fourth of July release date to manipulate Americans into believing that it demands viewing on the anniversary of our country's independence. The film is about robots mercilessly destroying each other over-and-over again with an occasional shot of excessive skin from a hot "actress". What's sad is that many people do find this fitting, because it's now the fifth highest grossing film of all time with a disgusting worldwide total of $1.114 billion.

Considering these movies did make a chunk of change, of course there must be people out there who like these movies. But what ever happened to the truly huge movie events? Avatar was one of those films. Same goes for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King ($1.1 Billion), The Dark Knight ($1.001 billion) and Toy Story 3 (1.1 billion). But now, after seeing mediocre films cross that milestone, I'm beginning to worry that the novelty of box-office records is starting to wear off. Even though Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest wasn't the greatest film in the world, it still felt like an event. It was the return of Jack Sparrow, a beloved movie character. Four films and a character hangover later, if (or should I say when) Jack Sparrow gets a fifth chance to be on the billboards again, it will become another parody within itself and explode into emptiness. Basically, the same fate as another Johnny Depp vessel, Alice in Wonderland (for the record, this column is not intended to insult Johnny Depp, for that would be an act of near treason). What I'm saying is that you got lucky this time around Hollywood, so enjoy the money while you can and run for the hills before you screw everything up again next year.

On the other hand, there is a delightful collection of worthy and potential $1 billion hits in 2012. The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the 23rd James Bond entry (which would be a first for the historic franchise) and The Avengers. While there are bad apples to avoid (Breaking Dawn: Part II, Men in Black III, and Battleship), stay focused on the films that are the true events. In other words, to Christopher Nolan and Peter Jackson, we rely on you once again.

So my unbiased question to leave with you is this: Do you think a film's billion dollar box-office success translates into the quality of the film? Before the debate begins, I will say my piece. I think it depends on the film. For example, The Dark Knight became a huge box-office phenomenon because it was simply one of the best films to ever be released on the big screen. Sure, it's a sequel based off popular source material, but because of the hype around Heath Ledger's last performance and the breathtaking direction by Christopher Nolan, it became more than a Batman movie. It became a once-in-a-generation movie event, which is something we movie buffs tend to live off of. Clearly, this is a matter of taste, but what do you think? Let the debate begin.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Post Labor Day: A Return to Glory?

(Leonardo Dicaprio in Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar)

The 2011 summer movie season is over and done with. Water under the bridge. So long Harry. Let's move on.

Maybe 2011 is saving the best for last. For the first time in history, we have a Clint Eastwood film (J. Edgar), a Martin Scorsese picture (Hugo), two Spielberg movies (The Adventures of Tintin & War Horse), and a David Fincher fix to boot (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) all in the same year. Dear Hollywood, maybe it's time we shift our focus back to simply making good movies. No more excessive Twilight coverage and enough with the constant need of re-branding superheroes, for we need to expand our minds and search for the heart and soul of cinema if we ever want it to return to normalcy again.

It's Labor Day weekend. A weekend that could be a tremendous release date for potential Academy Award contenders. If the first weekend in May is the first big movie event of the summer, why can't this weekend be the beginning of Oscar season? People are home from vacations, looking for cheap and local entertainment after school and work.

What better way to spend it than a J. Edgar biopic starring Leonardo Dicaprio directed by Clint Eastwood? Or maybe you want to try something different this Thanksgiving and see if Martin Scorsese can pull of 3D with Hugo. Steven Spielberg returns to the director chair after numerous producing credits that many people are certainly feeling fatigue from. This year, he will be lighting up Christmas with two new features. First up, his motion capture picture with producer Peter Jackson, The Adventures of Tintin. Five days later comes his World War I epic War Horse. In between these two movies is David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, "the feel bad movie of Christmas." Feel good movie of the year if you ask me, judging by the sheer blast adrenaline felt from its teaser trailer.

All in all, there really hasn't been much to live off these days. Producer Guillermo Del Toro's Don't Be Afraid of the Dark was too flat, 30 Minutes or Less was too weak, Cowboys & Aliens lacked energy, and you know times are tough when one of the best blockbusters of the summer is Rise of the Planet of the Apes. But let's keep our heads up here. There are things to look forward to this fall. First potential Oscar buzz? Keep an eye out for George Clooney's The Ides of March, a political thriller that supposedly knocks it out of the park.

To all those listening on The Jordan Rich Show, post your comments and let the debate begin. What movie are you looking forward to the most this coming Oscar season?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Our Idiot Brother

Photo #8
*** stars

Our Idiot Brother tries a lot harder than other films in its genre to have a reason for existing. It's a comedy about a stoner, but it's not a stoner comedy. This is a compliment. The always reliable Paul Rudd is hilariously funny as Ned, an organic farmer who gets busted for selling drugs to a cop. Now, Ned says no at first, but the cop said he wanted the pot because he had a rough week, so Ned feels bad and agrees. This is where the take down occurs. Ned has a couple screws loose, but he is also sweet and concerning. Which is why his sisters put up with him: Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), the urban-esque journalist type, Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), the hip retro-lesbian type, and Liz (Emily Mortimer), the given-up wife who hides behind her husband type. All of them at one point put Ned up at their place. He creates a problem and goes on to the next sister. Or does he? Our Idiot Brother does a great job at making Ned an intricate character, letting the others around him be convinced that he is the one to blame for all of their problems while at the same time never condoning any of them. It's a little weird at times with a rather cheesy ending (I feel the studio had a hand in this one), but in a month where movies have been mediocre at best, Our Idiot Brother provides a fun and harmless time for you and yours.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Another Earth

Photo #1
**** stars

There is something miraculous about a movie that has huge ambitions, is able to surpass those huge ambitions, and land somewhere between transcendent and exuberant. What's even more miraculous? The reported $150,000 it cost to make.

I'd like to take a minute to comment on this $150,000 budget. This idea could have easily been turned into a big-budget explosiathon (my new word of choice for any film resembling a Michael Bay picture), an outcome that would have lost the movie's credibility and directorial edge by Mike Cahill. It is a delight to know that someone out there knows how to tell a story without the fixation of the almighty dollar. I for one am deeply in love with this version of Another Earth, a startling and fascinating story about turning a personal tragedy into potential catharsis.

Imagine you're a high school senior. You've just been accepted into your dream school and everything in your life is going to plan. That's what Rhonda Williams (a stunning performance from Brit Marling) had going for her, until one fateful mistake. On the night of her celebration into getting MIT, Rhonda gets drunk and drives right into another vehicle, killing a mother and child, and emotionally paralyzing the father. But not right before she sees something, something in the sky. Something that's similar to something she's seen a million times before, but never in the sky. It is another earth.

On this earth though, Rhonda spends four years in jail, and upon her release, she lives at home working as a janitor. Losing everything has made her become a sad soul. In order to regain it, she must act like there's nothing to lose. Rhonda seeks out the father, John Burroughs (William Mapother), hoping to confess her crimes, as he does not know who the culprit is that took his whole life away in a matter of seconds. When she approaches his doorstep, she retreats, and instead tells him that she is willing to clean his house for him as a service. He agrees, but with the rough state he and his physical surroundings have become, he doesn't really have a choice.

There is a growth in Rhonda and John's relationship that I do not want to directly give away, but I will say that at first glance is may feel a bit like a soap opera, but it is within the depth of the characters and the performances of its stars that allow us to believe the actions that we see.

So in all this, you're asking yourself, what does this have to do with another earth? As this is all taking place, the talk of this world has been about the discussion of the other in its vision. When NASA decides to send astronauts and a lucky few to explore the new terrain, Rhonda decides that her story is heartbreaking enough that she just may be in deserving of a new start. Then again, doesn't everyone? Another Earth discusses the themes of vulnerability, uncertainty, and hope, all within the confines of a film that dares to be something completely different than the rest.

And all the better for it.

Friday, August 12, 2011

30 Minutes or Less

Photo #8
** stars

In an era where comedy seems almost impossible to replicate, 30 Minutes or Less does nothing to retort this claim. Nothing but a movie dumped at the end of the summer with a few comedic stars attached to it to try and recoup its petite budget. Forgettable and harmless. Yawn. Where's the excitement of Get Him to the Greek? The epicness of The Hangover? The hilarious awkwardness of a nostalgic comedy like Superbad? This buddy comedy starring about a pizza delivery guy (Jesse Eisenberg) who gets a bomb strapped to his chest by a couple wannabe criminals (Danny McBride & Nick Swardson) and receives help from his school teacher best friend (Aziz Ansari) musters a few laughs, but fails to ignite into anything more than an afterthought. Not hard to watch, but just as easy to ignore.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Photo #3
***1/2 stars

Maybe it was the low expectations. Maybe it's because of Andy Serkis and his brilliance with motion captured performances, but Rise of the Planet of the Apes is surprisingly one of the funnest times you'll have at the movies all summer.

Andy Serkis is something else. A brilliant actor, and sometimes it feels like no one even knows how brilliant he really is. I always had this vision that if I ever met him, I would joke around and say, "Oh, so you're the guy who does the voice for Gollum?" Obviously, and deservedly, he would probably punch in the face. But realistically, I would probably tell him that he is changing the movie business for better and for always. First Gollum, then King Kong, and now Caesar, the ape who changes the world for worse and for always.

That doesn't go without saying that Caesar is a tragic soul who has a deep love for his human, Will Rodman (James Franco), a neuroscientist who desperately tries to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease. His father Charles (John Lithgow) has been a long time sufferer from the illness, which roots the story that Will is doing this to save the one he loves. He develops a virus called ALZ-112 and tests it on chimpanzees in a San Francisco lab. Just when he thinks he has found the cure, the side effects cause one of the chimpanzee's to go on a lunatic rampage, causing the destruction of the project.

However, the reason for the chimpanzee's behavior is because she feels her baby, Caesar, is threatened. When Will's boss Steven Jacobs (David Ovelowo) demands that all the apes be put down, Will's collegue Robert Franklin (Tyler Labine) cannot muster the courage to follow through with this order and kill Caesar. Instead, he secretly passes him off to Will, who raises him. Through all this, Caesar has gained his mother's overwhelming intelligence after years of learning and TLC from Will. Caesar is something so rare it's as if he can be the one who changes everything we humans have come to believe.

Years later, Caesar, still living with Will, and who is very close with Will's father, sees Charles suffering from his disease out in public. He accidentally stumbles into a neighbor's car and tries to drive it, causing severe damage to the vehicle. When the owner of the vehicle yells and pushes him around, Caesar, seeing this from the attic window, flies outside and violently injures the man in an attempt to protect Charles. At this point, Animal Control is called in and Caesar is sent to ape prison.

Here comes the revolution. Caesar, feeling betrayed by Will and the world, gathers up the apes in the prison cells around him in what soon becomes the fight for the control of the planet. It's amazing that the interaction between the apes are more compelling than the humans. Again, this is because of the amazing Andy Serkis. It's sad that his performance will never be recognized by the Academy. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, he mentioned that he would be angry if the AMPAS created a motion capture performance category, as he believes performances like this are on par, if not more challenging, than a regular performance by an actor. I don't blame him. It's the same frustration I'm sure Pixar has with the best animated feature category.

Are we naive enough to believe in this day-and-age that these performances aren't real? He's not just doing the voices. He is Caesar, and without him, you may as well use the same animation you see in Curious George.

I wouldn't call Rise of the Planet of the Apes a great film, but it certainly is great fun. More fun than I've had at Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides , Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and Cowboys & Aliens put together. It's a patient blockbuster, one that takes the time to establish the emotions of the characters, the wit of their interactions, and the necessary details to create a satisfying payoff, all of which come together in a third act that will have you banging your chest with excitement. It also accomplishes the rare feet of having me eagerly anticipating a sequel. How often can you say that?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens

Photo #46
**1/2 stars

There is something oddly comforting knowing that a film like Cowboys & Aliens is apart of the summer movie tent-pole. It's a high-concept plot with a great cast and a 2D fix to boot. Yet there is also something oddly discouraging knowing that the actual movie itself is just an entertaining movie instead of a great one.

Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are a dynamite duo. Sure, it's Bond meets Indy, but let's not forget that it's the actors themselves that are the catch. Craig plays a man who wakes up with no memory of who he is in 1873 Arizona. Upon his search for the truth about himself, he discovers a small western town. When he finds out that he's actually a wanted criminal, everyone is after him, including the boss of the town, Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford).

There's a great scene when Daniel Craig's character enters the town for the first time and discovers that Dolarhyde's drunk son Percy (played terrifically by Paul Dano) is causing problems in the town. He carelessly shoots his pistol in all directions. He stumbles up to our hero and demands money. Our hero not only takes him down, but Percy accidentally shoots a deputy in the process. Percy is taken to jail, but not without the threat of his father coming to his aid. When he and our hero are put in the same patty wagon together, I hoped that we were going to witness Daniel Craig and Paul Dano become this generation's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Instead, Dano's talents are wasted and we hardly see him again for the rest of the movie.

The first act of Cowboys & Aliens is a straight-up Cowboy western, the best part of the movie. After the first riveting alien invasion scene by what the humans call demons (how else could they justify what they're physical seeing?), the movie has a hard time trying to figure out what kind of movie it wants to be.
But I still appreciate what this film is trying to be. It's a cool feeling to see such diverse genres being mashed up. Cowboys & Aliens takes off smoothly, but it has a hard time controlling such a high concept, giving it a much harder landing.

Aliens attack. People get taken. Now everyone must come together to get their people back. We meet Indians who send a character on a spiritual journey. We learn that there are other kinds of aliens than just bad ones. Then there's this huge plot-line about gold, and how the aliens value gold just as much as humans do, and the only explanation we get about that huge plot-line where the aliens value gold as much as humans do, is when someone important tells the main characters that the aliens value gold as much as humans do. The fact that it took five screenwriters to write this movie is a clear sign of narrative confusion.

Jon Favreau is a mature director, but he seems to be playing it safe. He takes the time to establish each character, but what's missing is the excitement of the journey. Everything is in place, the pieces are moving, but where is the sense of wonder in this potential franchise starter? Cowboys & Aliens should be the movie that brings every kind of moviegoer together. Instead, it provides the cliff notes to a better movie.