Saturday, December 17, 2011

Movie Reviews-Cowboys and Aliens, Supernatural Season Two, Rob Roy

Cowboys and Aliens
I saw a trailer for this while watching another movie. I thought it was just so silly it just might work. Well trailers can be deceiving of course. Don't get me wrong, it's a well crafted film (Spielberg and Ron Howard are among the producers) but there really aren't a whole lot of surprises. It is more or less completely predictable once the big reveal of aliens in the Old West is completed. It has a relatively decent cast-Daniel Craig, Adam Beach, Olivia Wilde, Harrison Ford, Paul Dano, Keith Carradine and Sam Rockwell. It was directed by Jon Favreau. (Iron Man, Swingers) 

Cowboys and Aliens was a little longer than it needed to be and frankly the storyline didn't really appeal enough to me to use the character names so I'll just use generics here. It's not really a character driven movie anyway. The special effects are pedestrian and very video-game like.

Squinty eyed Tough Guy (Craig) wakes up in the Arizona desert with some weird bracelet on his wrist. He has amnesia. We know he's tough because when some would be bounty hunters try to jack him, he easily sends them to the afterworld, despite the fact that he's unarmed. He wanders into town where he is found by Preacherman (Clancy Brown) a kindly but armed to the teeth man who disarms Tough Guy and stitches up some weird wounds he has. Tough Guy wanders out into what passes for the main street and watches Snotty Rich Kid (Paul Dano) humiliate Wimpy Saloon Owner (Sam Rockwell). Snotty Rich Kid tries to do the same with Tough Guy but gets chin checked..hard. Feeling a bit impotent, Snotty Rich Kid takes a shot at Tough Guy but misses and hits a deputy. So Sheriff (Carradine) stops looking the other way and arrests Snotty Rich Kid. Snotty Rich kid offers dire warnings of retribution from his father, who more or less owns most of the town.
Tough Guy sidles into the saloon where both the saloon owner's wife and Mysterious Brunette (Olivia Wilde) make goo-goo eyes at him. Mysterious Brunette keeps asking questions that Tough Guy can't answer because he can't remember who he is. But Sheriff has realized that Tough Guy is a notorious bandit and murderer and arrives at the saloon to arrest him. Tough Guy is not having it and is in the process of showing the sheriff just how far his boot will fit up the Sheriff's fundament when Mysterious Brunette clocks him from behind.

In the meantime Snotty Rich Kid's father, Mean Old White Man (Harrison Ford) has heard about his son's arrest from his employee, Good Indian (Adam Beach) and has gathered up a posse to go free his son-but not before stopping to hurl some insults at Good Indian. Mean Old White Man loves hurling insults. Good Indian looks longingly at Mean Old White Man. He's like a puppy that gets constantly kicked but still loves its master.

The Aliens attack. Tough Guy discovers that his wrist bracelet is a weapon. He also finds he wants to be intimate with Mysterious Brunette, despite the fact that she whomped him upside his head. The cowboys and outlaws and lawmen and Apaches all must put aside their hatreds to fight the aliens. 
Ho hum. It was okay for mindless weekend fun but not something that would be on my must see list. If I see ONE more movie in which a non-white person sacrifices himself to save a racist white person so afterwards the white person can muse thoughtfully, "You know that so-and-so wasn't that bad..for a so-and-so" I just may lose it.

Supernatural-Season Two
Supernatural made a few changes to the formula for Season 2. Season 2 was a much darker set of episodes. It dealt a lot more with loss and sacrifice. There was still some fun of course and the essentials of the two leads remained intact-Sam is emo while Dean is ebullient but Season 2 sets up some serious shifts in later seasons.

The Winchester Brothers , Sam (Jared Padelecki) and older brother Dean (Jensen Ackles) are hunters-they eliminate supernatural threats to humanity. During Season One they were involved in a search for their father John (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). They have found him but in so doing the three men have attracted the attention of the demon Azazel (Fredric Lehne) who killed their mother and for whom John Winchester has been searching. John Winchester has a gun which will kill anything-including Azazel.  Azazel cunningly sets up a car accident in which all three Winchesters are badly wounded but Dean is dying. Desperate to save his son's life John makes a deal with the demon. In exchange for Dean's life John will give up the gun, and his own life and soul. He sacrifices himself for his son.

Season 2 deals with the aftermath of the guilt and anger Sam and Dean feel as they try to process their father's death, get revenge on the demon who has tormented their family so, deal with other supernatural threats, find out what this demon's long term plans are and of course get laid. 
Much of the folklore which is used in this show is from American mythology-especially African American folklore. A flashback is shown of blues musician Robert Johnson, who gained ungodly skill on the guitar very quickly, was believed to have made a deal with the Devil at the crossroads, died young under mysterious circumstances and actually wrote a song titled Hellhound on my trail. The show's use of unseen hellhounds is pretty doggone effective.
This season was good. It had a satisfying arc and introduced some new characters.

Rob Roy

This is where we fight! This is where they die!
I'm going to take this right foot and whop you on that side of your face. And you wanna know something? There's not a damn thing you're going to be able to do about it.
And when his eyes go dead, the hell I send him to will seem like heaven after what I've done to him.
I can tell you with no ego, this is my finest sword. If on your journey, you should encounter God, God will be cut.
I am the Anti-Christ. You get me in a vendetta-kind-of mood, you tell the angels in heaven you never saw evil so singularly personified as you did in the face of the man who killed you.
I shall think on you as dead until my husband makes it so. And then I will think on you no more.

If these sorts of filmic bada$$ boasts bring a smile to your face, you will probably enjoy watching Rob Roy. And if you like well made epic historical adventure movies that manage to combine convincing action with a pretty realistic and adult love story you will definitely enjoy watching Rob Roy.

Liam Neeson plays the title character, a cattle drover and the leader of Clan MacGregor in 18th century Scotland. Like that other Scots archetype of Honor Before Reason Ned Stark, Neeson is a man whose word is bond. He has a deep fierce love for his wife Mary (Jessica Lange) and their children. Unfortunately cattle driving doesn't pay like it used to so Clan MacGregor is not as powerful as it used to be.
Against his nature (he despises debt) in order to keep his business, family and larger clan safe and financially healthy, Rob is forced to go almost literally hat in hand to the Marquis of Montrose (John Hurt) to request a loan to keep things going. Montrose agrees but reminds Rob that should Rob default or refuse to pay then Rob's lands and cattle will be forfeit.
Rob sends his most trusted loyalist Alan MacDonald (Eric Stolz) to pick up the money and return home. However the Marquis' top assassin and enforcer, one Archibald Cunningham, (Tim Roth in a performance that should have won an Oscar) hears about the deal and hurries off to rob and murder MacDonald soon after he's been given the loan.

Rob is angry at not having received the money and even angrier when Montrose and Cunningham casually suggest that MacDonald stole the money and fled to America. This was all a setup to force Rob-who has an unblemished reputation as a honorable man who does not lie- to falsely testify against a few of Montrose's political opponents.  When Rob indignantly refuses to do so Montrose declares him outlaw and sends Cunningham and soldiers to take vengeance on Rob and all of the MacGregors but especially Mrs. Mary MacGregor.

This movie was shot on location in Scotland which is a place I've always wanted to visit. The sets and backgrounds are truly majestic and are as much a part of the movie as the actors and scripts. Speaking of actors, Neeson, and Roth especially, bring the goods here, climaxing in perhaps the most stunning and yet realistic sword fight ever filmed. This film is worth seeing for that showdown alone. Cunningham is an evil SOB. It is rather strongly implied that he is an illegitimate son of one of the nobles that he serves. Rob is no superhero and makes mistakes throughout the movie. The film does not glamorize Rob's life-he's not a rich man and lives pretty similar to his clan brethren. What keeps him and his wife (who has her own deadly journey to overcome) going is the love they share for each other. This film was somewhat ignored because it came out at the same time as the Mel Gibson film about ANOTHER Scottish hero but this film is worth a look.
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