‘Cowboys & Aliens’ vs. ‘Attack the Block’: Mashup Smackdown!
Bruce Fretts: The aliens are coming, the aliens are coming! To the Old West and inner-city London, that is, in Cowboys & Aliens and Attack the Block. The question is, Bret: Did these movies leave us feeling alienated?
Bret Watson: Excitement! Anxiety! Fear! Sorrow! Delight! These were just a few of the emotions that never skipped across my brain as I nearly flatlined watching these movies.
Bruce: I thought these movies were an object lesson in the power of imagination over special effects. Cowboys & Aliens had a huge budget and big-name stars like Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, but it took itself so damn seriously that it was no fun. Attack the Block had no budget and no stars, but it had a lighthearted spirit that made it a joy to watch, albeit a schlocky one.
Bret: You would expect a movie with the title Cowboys & Aliens to have a sense of humor about itself, but not this one. If you’re looking for even a chuckle, you’re more likely to find a Jamba Juice in the dusty mesas.
Bruce: What’s really depressing is it was directed by Jon Favreau, who started out making plucky indie comedies like Swingers and Made. After two Iron Man movies, he’s turned into a robot—clanking and emotionless.
Bret: It’s just a mashup of cowboy movie and alien monster movie clichés, with a dose of amnesia movie thrown in. What was that great movie about the guy who couldn’t remember who he was?
Bruce: Memento? Funny that you don’t remember. C&A doesn’t work as a Western or a sci-fi movie. Part of the problem is the casting. Craig makes a great James Bond, but he doesn’t scream “cowboy.” He spends most of the movie rassling with his American accent. And Harrison Ford starts out as a villain, although of course we learn he has a heart. Why does every movie these days have to be about a father reconnecting with his kids? A lot of screenwriters must have parental guilt issues.
Bret: They should have “I can’t write” guilt issues. Also, in the Hug It Out School of Modern Cinema, Ford’s ornery cattle rancher practically hugs the enemy Indian chief in the end. Maybe that’s what Congress needs to reach a compromise on the debt ceiling: a common enemy. Should we pray for an alien attack?
Bruce: I was praying for one halfway through this movie. It took six people to write it, which may be why it has no personality. And one of them was Lost cocreator Damon Lindelof, so of course there have to be confusing flashbacks to Craig’s earlier life with his ill-fated wife.
Bret: And then there’s Olivia Wilde, whose character withholds valuable information for no reason other than half-assed scriptwriting, and who maintains impeccable eye-liner in the Old West, even after being submerged in a river.
Bruce: Near the end of the movie, she’s suddenly like, “Oh, by the way, I know how to defeat the aliens who’ve been killing and kidnapping our friends and neighbors.” You might have mentioned it sooner, honey!
Bret: Here are two more examples of lazy, dumbass screenwriting: These aliens have the ability to invent amazing spaceships and powerful weapons, yet when they want to lasso some earthlings, they need to deploy massive firepower against a puny cowtown. That’s like a naturalist using dynamite to collect ant specimens. And then at the climax, it turns out the aliens weren’t clever enough to arm their fort with any weaponry whatsoever, so when attacked, they have to rush out into the open to fight the humans. They couldn’t even invent cannons? Even the British at Yorktown weren’t that inept or suicidal.
Bruce: Also, the aliens look like every alien we’ve seen since, well, Alien. They’re all ripoffs of H.R. Giger’s Oscar-winning original creations. I need a Giger counter to keep track of them.
Bret: I was trying not to give away why Wilde keeps tagging along, but I guess you’re banking on no one wanting to see this movie after they read this.
Bruce: No one wanted to see it before they read this—it’s trailing The Smurfs at the weekend box office. They’re a different kind of alien invader.
Bret: I wondered why the studio held back this movie till so late in the summer. Isn’t the rule of thumb the closer you get to September, the worse the crap they dump?
Bruce: Yes, audiences are suffering from blockbuster fatigue by now, which may explain why they’d rather see little blue people and Neil Patrick Harris than 007 and Indy battle space invaders. Sadly, Steven Spielberg doesn’t seem to be tiring of the same old schlock—the creatures in this movie resemble the ones in Super 8, which he also produced this summer, as well as his TNT summer drama Falling Skies. Maybe it’s time to let the alien thing go, Steve.
Bret: Both Super 8 and Cowboys & Aliens have characters whom the aliens hold hypnotized in subterranean caverns for no apparent reason. Are all aliens like wine collectors, stocking up on homo sapiens in cool caves?
Bruce: And the aliens do the same thing in Falling Skies. At least there’s no wine cellar of hostages in Attack the Block, which is the singular vision of British writer-director Joe Cornish. So of course, now he’s been abducted by Spielberg—he cowrote the director’s awful-looking upcoming movie The Adventures of Tintin.
Bret: In both Cowboys and Attack, the aliens are rather ape-like. In Cowboys, they are Alien-style phlegm machines, with turtle-like heads. In Attack, they are black furballs with DayGlo teeth. Which scared you more?
Bruce: Attack was scarier, but that’s not why I liked it. The inner-city London setting felt fresh, and some of the dialogue was genuinely witty (“it’s raining Gollums!”). We’ve seen sci-fi/Western mash-ups before, in flops like The Wild Wild West and Jonah Hex. But a sci-fi hood movie is something new—”E.T., Phone Homies.”
Bret: Mashups are a sign that a culture’s art is exhausted. Tired of the same old clichés? Throw together clichés from two genres! I must confess that I’m not a good person to review these movies, because I hate the monster/alien genre. Hate it. Hate it. Bores me to anger. We saw the movies hours ago and I’m still angry. But you liked Attack, huh? I didn’t find it funny or scary, except to the extent that it made me think of how my life was ebbing away in wasted hours.
Bruce: I could tell from the way you sat with a scowl on your face and your arms crossed through the movie that you hated it. But I got a kick out of the low-tech f/x—the monsters look like guys in ape suits. And while C&A wasted good actors like Sam Rockwell and Walton Goggins in nothing roles, Attack featured fresher faces like the appealing Jodie Whittaker (Venus) as a nurse who gets mugged by and eventually befriends a gang led by Moses, played by charismatic newcomer John Boyega, who’s like a British 50 Cent—50 Pence, if you will.
Bret: I didn’t like or care about any of the characters, particularly not the young thugs. The aliens couldn’t kill them fast enough as far as I was concerned.
Bruce: Thank you, Dirty Hairy. I found the social commentary a bit heavy-handed at times—the symbolism of Moses’ name, as he leads his people out of potential slavery, for example. But some moments were well-observed, like when one of the kids says it feels like any normal day to him, trying not to get jumped and killed. It’s like Season 4 of The Wire crossed with Predator.
Bret: I just didn’t find the characters interesting. And thanks to their British accents I didn’t understand half of what they said.
Bruce: True, the movie could’ve used subtitles. But it was cheeky. C&A could’ve used a little more cheek. Or a lot more cheek. And no, I’m not talking about Mila Kunis’ ass. I’m putting that in to get us more page views, since so many people have been stumbling across our blog by searching for that term.
Bruce: Don’t forget “suck a bag of dicks.” And “eating tuna from the bottom shelf.”
Bret: How could I forget that? Cowboys was at least more interesting to look at. I prefer sweeping Western landscapes to council flats in West London, or whatever the hell they call that place.
Bruce: I found Olivia Wilde interesting to look at. Olivia drives me Wilde.
Bret: I thought Oscar drives you Wilde.
Bruce: Gene drives you Wilder. Admit it: You’ve got a thing for his Willy Wonka.
Bret: Now I’m feeling alienated.
Did Cowboys & Aliens or Attack the Block blow you away? Post a comment, and Two Cranky Guys will respond!