Monday, August 01, 2011

Monday Movies: Cowboys and Dragons

I went with some friends this weekend to see Cowboys and Aliens, and I must say that it was a fun movie that merges two genres. There was room for improvement, but it was the perfect summer Saturday matinee. I would describe it as starting as the classic cowboys and Indians movie, but with aliens instead of Indians (Indians/aliens raid small Western town and kidnap residents, then the townspeople overcome their individual differences to put together a posse and go get their people back). Then it morphs into Independence Day in the Old West, with disparate groups teaming up to kick the aliens off their planet. It hits all the story and character beats you expect in a classic Western. Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford make a great Western duo. I'm just not sure what Olivia Wilde was doing in this movie or why she keeps getting cast in stuff. I would think that an ability to express emotion would be a plus for an actress, but her face and eyes remain totally blank and her voice is flat. I'm not male, so maybe I can't judge, but I don't even think she's that gorgeous. She looks like a store mannequin, but maybe men are into that sort of thing. At any rate, she came across as something of an anachronism, and her perfect eyeliner that remained perfect after being out in the rain and then under water kept distracting me. Fortunately, Daniel Craig's eyes were also on screen, which distracted me from the distraction of Miss Anachronism. I don't actually find him all that attractive as a whole, but some of the parts are rather pleasing to the eye.

I will say that this movie made me miss Firefly. Some of the music even sounded straight out of Serenity. I'd almost bet that they used parts of the Serenity score as a temp track when editing the film.

Then on Saturday night there was a truly epic bad movie on the Channel Formerly Known as Sci Fi. I think the title was something like Age of the Dragons, but it was essentially Moby Dick with dragons (Herman Melville actually got screen credit). They moved the story into a quasi-medieval, quasi-European (but mostly American/Canadian accented) fantasy world, and instead of hunting whales for their oil, they were hunting dragons for their "vitriol," which was used in lamps. Instead of whaling ships on the ocean, they used a vehicle on land that looked like a metal-plated boat on wooden wheels. One thing that kept bugging me was that there was no means of propulsion. There were no sails, there was no mention of magic in this fantasy world, there were no signs of combustion engine or any sort -- no smokestacks, no mention of needing fuel, no gathering fuel or stockpiled fuel. I guess maybe there were a bunch of unseen galley slaves powering the vessel Fred Flintstone style. What was really hilarious was that large portions of the script seemed to involve taking the actual text of the novel and doing a search and replace to change every use of the word "whale" to "dragon." But, of course, they couldn't do a word-for-word adaptation of that novel in two hours, so there were bridging scenes, transitions and the like that were written at about the level of your usual SyFy Saturday-night movie. To make matters even more fun, the actor playing Ishmael was essentially Keanu Reeves-lite, so his delivery of the Melville language was reminiscent of Keanu Reeves being horribly miscast in the Branagh version of Much Ado About Nothing, while his delivery of the non-Melville parts of the script was more like Keanu Reeves in the Bill and Ted movies. I was pretty much collapsing in hysterical laughter through the whole thing, either because of the obvious dragon/whale substitutions, the Keanu delivery of the Melville language and the ridiculous transitions between the Melville language and the very non-Melville parts of the script. Aside from Keanu-lite, we had Danny Glover playing Ahab, and they must have kept him away from the catering truck so he was forced to subsist on an all-scenery diet during the shoot, and then there was the supporting cast that mostly seemed to have been recruited from various Shakespeare festivals because that archaic language just rolled easily off their tongues and they really seemed to embody those characters. In other words, this movie was awesome.

It did bring up one of my pet peeves about this kind of movie. I don't believe that the only strong female character is Rambo in drag and that for a female character to be a kick-ass chick she has to be capable of singlehandedly taking out an entire platoon of armed Marines using only her awesome martial arts skills, but if you're going to write this sort of character, if you introduce her by showing her beating up a group of large, armed men while Our Hero looks on in admiration, you can't turn her into a damsel in distress later in the story. Anyone, male or female, no matter how skilled, may find themselves in a tough situation where they're momentarily at a disadvantage and need a hand, but let her at least participate in the fight once the hero comes to the rescue instead of having her stand on the sidelines looking helpless.

But that movie wasn't my biggest laugh of the day. That came from one of the trailers before Cowboys and Aliens. It was for a movie that looked like it was going to be a Top Gun sort of thing, only in the water instead of in the air -- hot-shot young naval officer who apparently isn't living up to his potential, which is made worse by the fact that he's in love with his commanding officer's daughter. There's all sorts of yelling by commanding officer (Liam Neeson) about young officer needing to prove himself, and then their ship goes out to sea on a mission, where they encounter something mysterious. It was looking all Top Gun meets Independence Day, but very, very serious and portentious, until they finally showed the name of the movie as they zoomed out for an aerial view of the sea battle. The movie was Battleship, and the ships are lined up like on the board game. I totally lost it at that point because it was like something in a comedy spoof trailer, with this over-the-top fake-serious looking movie that turns out to be based on some silly premise, like a board game. Or like those trailers for the upcoming Muppets movie where they spoof trailers for other kinds of movies, playing it totally serious until the Muppets show up. Giving the title of this film was essentially the Muppets showing up. It was the last trailer before the movie started, so I was still shaking helplessly with laughter five minutes into the movie.

Now I want to see Candyland, the movie, which should probably be directed by Tim Burton as some trippy but dark and twisted fantasy (starring Johnny Depp, of course).

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