* * * Cowboys & Aliens
Directed by Jon Favreau. Written by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman & Damon Lindelof and Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby, based on the graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg. With Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde. (PG-13)
Ours is the age of the mash-up, and if next summer brings Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is slated for 2013), this summer we get Cowboys & Aliens, which at the very least is truth in advertising. You have your cowboys and you have your aliens, and you have your bandits and Apaches who join the search party to rescue their abducted kin, and it's James Bond and Indiana Jones (or is that Han Solo?) leading the searchers, which just mashes up the mash-up even more. At least it's not another superhero movie, right?
So settle back as Iron Man director Jon Favreau offers a surprisingly smooth facsimile of an old-fashioned western, with a Man with No Name (Daniel Craig), a woman (Olivia Wilde) trying to enlist that man on a mission, a crotchety rancher (Harrison Ford) with a spoiled young'un (Paul Dano), and a bespectacled barkeep (Sam Rockwell) who will learn, before it's over, how to shoot straight. The amnesiac who has awoken in the desert with a futuristic weapon on his wrist will soon learn that his name is Jake Lonergan and he was a rascally varmint indeed, but he will atone for his sins in the town of Absolution, New Mexico, first by giving Young Dano a long-deserved whack in the gut. It's a James Bond whack, barely a muscle flinched, Craig's steely blues set forward as if he's just slapped down a gnat, and we need his cool since Ford is off the rails entirely.
The aliens, for their part, are hulking reptilian giants whose mucoid torsos conceal extra hands. They are steampunk aliens, as if imagined by 19th-century cowboys, flying planes with five pairs of wings and conducting their unexpectedly nightmarish experiments under distinctly unhygienic conditions. It's only on the vivisection table where, briefly, Cowboys & Aliens transcends its high concept, and then it's back to genre winks and nods, in a movie content to coast on the friction between its mashed-up parts.
* * * Crazy, Stupid, Love
Directed by Glenn Ficarra & John Requa. Written by Dan Fogelman. With Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. (PG-13)
There's a billboard for Crazy, Stupid, Love showing Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Kevin Bacon tackling each other behind the words “This is stupid.” It's an actual, if atypical, shot from the movie but Crazy, Stupid, Love is no stupid, gross-out comedy. It's a comedy of remarriage, to borrow Stanley Cavell's classification for comedies like The Awful Truth in which a separated couple learn that they were meant for each other after all. The comedy of remarriage provided a way to get around the Production Code's prohibition against adultery; today it offers comforting wish-fulfillment against the ubiquity of divorce, a promise that there is a one-and-only for each and every one of us.
Carell's latest sweet sadsack finds himself stranded in the singles scene after his wife (Julianne Moore), who has been having an affair with her boss (Kevin Bacon), asks for a divorce. A pick-up artist named Jacob (Ryan Gosling) takes pity on Cal and makes him over, tossing his New Balance sneakers over a shopping mall balcony. Soon Cal becomes expert at what he calls Jacob's “creepy little game,” even as he creeps into his garden late at night, hoping for a glimpse of his wife. But there's one gal who won't fall for Jacob's lines, a law student (Emma Stone) expecting a ring from a lawyer (Josh Groban) at the firm she's been clerking for.
Bad Santa screenwriters Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who made their directorial debut with I Love You Phillip Morris, are still learning on the job, but the performances, including Marisa Tomei as another one of her desperate 40-something singles, are outstanding.
* * 1/2 Another Earth
Directed by Mike Cahill. Written by Mike Cahill & Brit Marling. With Brit Marling and William Mapother. (PG-13)
In truth Another Earth is an “Outer Limits” episode padded out to 92 minutes, mostly through co-writer-director-cinematographer-editor (and New Haven native) Mike Cahill's contemplation of Brit Marling's pretty face. She plays a young woman whose obsession with outer space has been sidelined by a four-year jail stint for drunk driving. Newly released from prison, Rhoda moves back in with her parents, takes a job scrubbing toilets at West Haven High and determines to make amends with the man (William Mapother) whose family she killed. John is a Yale music professor-turned-hermit living in a rundown house in Stamford, she poses as a cleaning lady, and there are a lot of back-and-forths on Metro-North until they predictably fall into bed.
Meanwhile, Rhoda has won an essay contest that has gotten her a ticket on the first flight to Earth 2, a mirror planet. There's some fanciful speculation about how Earth 2's discovery caused a rupture in the synchronicity between the two planets, introducing the possibility that Rhoda 2 and John 2 might be leading very different lives. This multiverse business is really about taking a good, hard look at oneself. But what would it be like to meet yourself? Another Earth is all setup, cutting away before that question can be answered.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times