Sunday, January 8, 2012

Cowboys & Aliens and a Small Favor

Cowboys & Aliens

I finally saw Cowboys & Aliens. It was one of those things that, even though everyone says it's bad, I had to try anyway. Everyone was right. But I don't think it was bad for the reasons I heard. Actually, I didn't hear a lot of concrete reasons; people just didn't like it. I get that. But I think there are some very concrete reasons for how bad it is.

First, though, the good:
Harrison Ford. As I said way back in this post, any time he appears in a role that is not completely heroic, there are often bad things said. What I find most curious about that, especially from people that were old enough to have seen Star Wars: A New Hope when only Han shot (none of this "Han shot first crap), is that Harrison Ford made his name playing characters that, sort of, straddled the edge, and his character in Cowboys is exactly that kind of character. I thought he did a great job; although, it was criticisms of his role that I heard most often from people talking about the movie.

Also, Daniel Craig. However, the thing that made Craig good in the role is that he was playing the part of Harrison Ford. And he did a great Ford impersonation. It really felt to me that the producers (or whoever) wanted Ford for the lead role, but Ford is too old, so they put him in as the mentor-ish, quasi-bad guy and got Craig for the lead because Craig could do a good job of being what Ford was 20-30 years ago. They were fun to watch together; although, it was a bit like having chocolate mixed with chocolate instead of, say, chocolate and peanut butter.

The other good: Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, and Walton Goggins.
I love Sam Rockwell. He doesn't get enough credit. Go watch Moon if you really want to see what he's capable of. And, of course, there's always Galaxy Quest. He didn't do much in this one, but it was nice to see him in it.
The same with Clancy Brown. The same in that it was nice to see him in it. He's not around enough.
I hope Walton Goggins is someone that is up and coming. He's SO good in Justified, and he brought that same intensity to his part here, "I always did like you best."

The bad:
Olivia Wilde: Not that she was bad, but she was completely interchangeable. She could have been any of at least a dozen other actresses. And her character was... well, it was one of the things that made the movie bad. The "alien" that chose to look human to blend in in order to kill the other aliens. Oh, and she's the last of her race. Of course, she is. The character was only in the movie to give Craig a love interest, but it would have been better (more believable) if she'd just been human.

The aliens:
Everything to do with  the aliens is bad and wrong. When did the whole trend start with aliens just being ravening monsters? Was it Independence Day (I hate that movie)? Is it because of Alien? Whatever the reason, it doesn't make any sense. The idea that there are aliens that invented technology that give them interstellar flight but they are just beasts (with barely the intelligence to use their tech) is completely ludicrous. I'm more than a bit tired of it, at this point. I think Super 8 is the last movie that gets a pass on this from me (because in that, at least, it made sense).

Oh, and, yeah, they're just here because of... gold. Gold? Really? That's the best they could come up with? But these guys that landed, they're just scouts. If they're just scouts, why have they set up a whole mining operation? That doesn't sound like a scouting trip to me. And they're experimenting on humans to discover their weaknesses, but they view the humans as insects and, therefore, beneath notice. Those two views don't go together. Pick one and go with it, but don't try to sell me both of those.

The bracelet:
Craig's character has this nifty bracelet that he got from the aliens. It does things like shooting down the alien ships. Seemingly on its own. But... well, nothing with the bracelet makes any sense. It only responds to Craig's commands, but it acts all on its own. Okay, which is it? And Craig has this amazing hand-to-hand combat ability that you think comes from the bracelet, but, well, evidently not. So, then, the fighting style is completely out of line with the setting. It doesn't work.

But the worst part? The worst part is that, evidently, there's just one of these bracelets. Craig stole it from the aliens, but none of them have bracelets. Why in the world not? Craig blasts aliens left and right with the thing; you'd think the aliens would want to use them against the humans. Of course, then, the humans would have had no chance at all. So they don't have them or don't use them or... well, it's really just unclear. But it's dumb. DUMB!

The Indians:
I have nothing against Indians, but they were just tossed in so that they could lend a bit of mysticism to the movie, and that was... unnecessary. You have this movie with cowboys fighting aliens, such a cool idea, why do you need to add in mysticism? Just to complicate the plot a bit more? Or to fluff it up? Whatever the reason, it didn't need to be there.

The plot:
Cluttered and completely predictable. What should have been an interesting story was reduced to the mediocrity of being exactly what you expect. No, wait, it was worse than what you expect. But the story arc was completely what you'd expect. Including the fact that if they kill this scout ship then no more aliens will come. Why? If I was an alien and I sent a scout ship to a planet and it didn't come back, I'd send someone to investigate. But, no, according to the "human" alien, if the scouts are destroyed, they'll just leave the Earth alone.

Overall, it was just a huge disappointment. Mostly, because the idea had such potential. And the lead actors were, actually, really good, but the rest of the movie was a huge train wreck. Unfortunately, not in a spectacular way like the one in Super 8. Maybe, that would have been worth watching. This was the train wreck that's been out rusting for months that wasn't even worth cleaning up. The one that kids poke around in when there is absolutely nothing else to do. And, you know what, it wasn't even bad enough to get worked up over it. You can't hate it. It's sort of too bad for that. You just feel sorry for it. Like the kid that should have won the spelling bee but accidentally spelled "of" incorrectly (true story).

Small Favor

Small Favor is the 10th book in The Dresden Files series and another solid entry. In saying that it's solid, I'm saying that I liked it. All of these books are quite above average and surprisingly good considering the genre and that they are, basically, pulp fiction. As I've said before, the thing I appreciate most about the Dresden books is that they are not static. Most books of this sort resort to returning everything to the status quo at the end of the novel so that each successive novel really starts at the same point. Instead of a series of books, what you really have is what I'll call a wheel of books in which each book starts at the same point and proceeds out along a different spoke.

Not so the Dresden novels. Although you could probably just pick up any book and start reading, you really wouldn't want to. Stuff from previous books come back into play, and, honestly, I think it would just leave you feeling a little lost. Take my advice, start from the beginning.

All of that said, let me talk about where Small Favor fails:
Jim Butcher has always used Dresden as his own voice. Used him to pontificate about various topics that actually have nothing to do with the story (or only loosely) but that Butcher wanted said. Generally, this has happened in small doses and has been (mostly) easily overlooked. However, it seems with Small Favor, he got a little carried away with this or his editor/publisher didn't rein him in enough. For instance, he goes on for three pages in chapter 28 in what he sums up with, "We're ostriches and the whole world is sand." He really didn't need to say more than that, and he certainly didn't need to go on about it for three pages. Especially since he's talked about that same subject in other books. I guess he felt like he needed to remind us more strongly this time. He also goes on at one point about how dolphins are smarter than people. And it's not that I disagree, but I don't need him to quote research at me about it when the dolphins in question barely have anything to do with the story. There are more instances, but these were the worst. I found myself annoyed at these much more than usual with this book.

The other place of failure with this book was in the handling of one of the side characters. Remember how I said that Butcher has been really good at allowing growth and change with Dresden? Well, he's also been really good about it with the side characters. Bad things happen, and he allows them all to suffer the consequences. Or good things happen and they take a step forward. This time, though, he decided to lock one of the side characters into a static condition that seemed (completely) unrealistic. Given the choice to do her job better, she refused. And for the flimsiest of reasons. I see that Butcher wants to keep this character a "normal" so that we "normal" readers will have a character that we can relate to, but this time it felt really forced.

Still, I highly enjoyed the book. Just not as much as I have the ones that have gone before it. After 10 books, though, I guess it would be a little unrealistic to expect that there's not one that takes a slight dip.


  1. Well, the parts you didn't like you can blame on the creator of the graphic novel. I think they should've gone for more cheese and less serious.
    That said, I did enjoy the film. And Olivia Wilde, even though yes, she could've been any actress.
    And Rockwell's roll in Galaxy Quest was priceless!

  2. It seems if you want your big budget movie to flop, put Daniel Craig in it. "Cowboys & Aliens," "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," "The Invasion"...pretty much everything except maybe the James Bond movies. The dude is box office kryptonite.

  3. I've seen this, but actually had forgotten the plot until I read your review. I think I just remember feeling 'Meh' about it, when it finished.

  4. I read the graphic novel a few years ago and remember being underwhelmed then. My, admittedly poor, memory seemed to think it followed the comic pretty closely... they really should have changed things around. Your complaints about it are dead on.

    Small Favor - you know, I love the Dresden books. In an interview I once heard with Jim Butcher, he said that he plans the books to more or less follow a year or so after the events of the previous novel. And he likes to think about what the consequences of the actions form the previous books might have on the larger world, then he incorporates that into the plot of the next novel.

    It's a brilliant way of doing things, as it allows the story to build upon previous adventures the character has had.

    I actually don't remember anything about that particular book though, I'm going to reread them all at some point. Maybe when then series is done.

  5. The Hubby and I have yet to watch Cowboys and Aliens, but I think that's more or less for the reasons you indicate in your review, rather than mere lack of time. Because we've watched a dozen others in its place, believe me.

    However, we did watch Super 8 on Friday night and I must say...really liked it. The train wreck was out of this world amazing. Loved the time period, too. Kyle Chandler...he's one of my faves from the Friday Night Lights series. And the kids? That's what made it for me. Great little actors, the lot of 'em.

  6. I am a huge movie fan so I love when you do movie reviews. Thats all I really wanted to say about that......I have not read any of the Dresden books but I did here an interview on Book Radio with Jim Butcher and it made me more interested in reading the books. I am a sucker for a likable author. With your review I now feel that I will definitely give them a whirl.

  7. Alex: I didn't even know that one was a graphic novel. Man! I am so out of touch.

    Grumpy: I went and looked at the movies Craig's been in, and they haven't all done poorly. I mean, he got the bond role because of Layer Cake, which is quite good and a critical success. He was also in Munich.
    Of course, then, there's The Golden Compass. What a horrible movie.
    Maybe he's just one of those actors that just takes any movie that comes along which, unfortunately, includes crap that's trying to attach itself to his name.

    Sarah P: Exactly. Meh. But it -should- have been SO good.

    Rusty: Small favor is the one where the Archive gets kidnapped.

    I have a lot of respect for Butcher and the work he put into getting published. When I first starting reading his stuff, it was kind of weird feeling. I'd already written most of House, but it was almost like reading something written by the same person. Same sort of tone. Same sort of references. Different story, but you can see all the same influences at work.

    Alyssia: Super 8's great. I'm glad you got around to watching it. Really, I only got Cowboys & Aliens because the kids were on break, and I figured they could watch it while I was doing something nearby. I knew I wasn't going to want to dedicate the time to -just- sitting and watching that. Good thing, too.

  8. Jennifer: Storm Front's definitely worth checking out. A few books down the line, vampires come in pretty heavily, so you might be interested in that stuff. His vampire system is pretty sophisticated.
    I'm glad you like my movie reviews :)

  9. I went in expecting to hate C&A, despite having started out so excited for it, but I think the expectation to hate it had the bar set so low that I had no choice but to enjoy it. The plot holes annoyed me, like the bracelet and the gold (seriously, the first thing I said to hubby when I got home was "GOLD!? REALLY!?") They don't need to kidnap and torture people for gold. Back then, it would have been a fairly simple matter to keep digging up the gold, and no one would have been the wiser if they hadn't shot into towns and stolen people. Crikey.

    However, I love Ford (yes, even when playing a crotchety semi-bad guy) and Daniel Craig. Oh, yes, and Rockwell. Plus, I have a secret love of westerns. Can't help it; grew up on them.

    I haven't read Small Favors yet, but am a Jim Butcher fan. I was so disappointed to learn that I missed him at the local conference the first year someone invited me and I didn't go. Sob.

  10. Shannon: You're disappointed! Bah! I'm disappointed!
    Although, he does seem like a huge gamer geek...
    This is from someone that knows...