Cowboys and Aliens

Whenever  Hollywood is bereft of inspiration, a cinematic team-up is usually a stand-by.  Films such as Frankenstein vs. Dracula and Freddy vs. Jason have rolled in the cash whenever original ideas have run dry.  Cowboys and Aliens charts this route as it merges the Western and Sci-Fi genre – a tactic occasionally working.  In this instance it doesn’t as gunslingers mix it up with otherworldly beasties with very slow and drawn out hands.


Alone and waking up in the desert with a mysterious laser gun strapped to his wrist, Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) wonders what is going on.  Suffering from amnesia, he makes his way to the nearest town meeting cattle baron Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford).  Loathing each other on sight, the duo’s simmering resentment is put on hold when aliens suddenly attack.  Aghast at this bizarre occurrence, they form a posse intent on eradicating the strange visitors with every might the old West can muster.


With seven screen-writers, produced by expert film-makers Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard, you’d think Cowboys and Aliens would be exciting.  Unfortunately it isn’t due to some poor writing and sluggish direction.  Having directed the Iron Man movies to great heights, Jon Favreau oversees the exciting sounding concept with a heavy-handiness it didn’t need.  Perhaps he misread the graphic novel on which this is based – whatever the case it moves at a glacial speed only enlivening towards the blazing finale.


Cowboys and Aliens looks lush and the special effects and action are suitably eye-catching.  Unfortunately neither aspects of the Western and Sci-fi genre are handled too well – as everyone seems intent on making a high quality Western with a few alien scenes to spice up proceedings.  Ford and Craig give it their all however and the cast do their best to emote amidst an onslaught of guns and CGI.


Unless one is a die-hard fan of Westerns, Cowboys and Aliens never really flies.  Overly long and dull, its confused narrative leads to limited engagement where constant excitement should have been the order of the day.


Rating out of 10:  4


Red Dog

After a glut of worthy but dour local productions Red Dog arrives as a breath of fresh air.  Unashamedly commercial in approach it provides a uniquely Australian spin on companionship and loyalty.  It also proves we can tell stories for all ages and not just for a narrow market.  Hopefully this signals a resurgence as some light is needed to balance the shade of the fine dramas Australia produces.


Arriving at the outback mining town of Dampier, truck driver Tom (Luke Ford) hears an incredible tale.  Chatting with barman Jack (Noah Taylor), he listens to the story of a red dog capturing the community’s hearts.  Providing an audience for their dreams or just company for lonely workers, Red Dog mostly stays with John (Josh Lucas) and Nancy (Rachael Taylor) a couple he unwittingly bought together.  Enraptured by the tale of such a lively animal, Tom learns the true value of personal solidarity.


Based on a book by Louis de Bernieres and inspired by true events, Red Dog is pleasing to watch.  Whilst sharing some clichés and caricatures of the ‘Lassie’ films, setting it apart are the amiable Australian humour and refusal to descend into histrionics. You really care for the characters and their affection for the dog is a story to which any animal lover can relate.  With Red Dog never judging and always around, his presence brings various emotions to the surface.


These elements are expertly woven by Director Kriv Stenders who ensures a good dose of genuine soul is shown.  Much of this is seen in the melting pot of different nationalities making up the community who are forced to bond although having a different perspective on life.  The ‘performance’ from Koko as Red Dog is great and thankfully the film-makers resist the urge to slide into sugary schmaltz.  Coupled with some amazing cinematography of the dazzling landscape Red Dog is an enjoyable film.


One should be grateful Red Dog breaks the cycle of heavy dramas for which Australia has recently become known.  Whilst it is hardly original, it has a spirit all its own and shows a local movie daring to venture into general entertainment is no bad thing.


Rating out of 10:  7