Your Smurfing Weekend at the Movies

07/29/2011 8:58 AM |

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Cowboys & Aliens: Unless you count The Smurfs, this is the only big movie coming out this weekend that I haven’t seen. It’s also probably the big July movie I’ve been most looking forward to, for the sheer novelty of combining aliens with cowboys rather than other aliens, plucky kids, or Michael Bay. It is, granted, more than a little sad that summer movies have become so brand-saturated that a movie can appear fresh simply by being based on a comic book far fewer people have heard of that was nonetheless created, as far as anyone can tell, entirely to be capitalized upon and turned into a blockbuster movie. In fact, I’m pretty sure I have a copy of a Cowboys & Aliens graphic novel that its publishers gave away free to comics-store patrons years ago in an attempt to goose their circulation numbers.

But maybe this opportunism can serve as the raw materials for something a bit more spontaneous than a staid adaptation; it certainly has the cast for it, with Harrison Ford rumbling back to life, Daniel Craig taking a side-trip from Bond, and Sam Rockwell dancing (I assume; it will be kind of a ripoff if he’s not [In that case there's always the Golden Globe-winning fan-made YouTube video Sam Rockwell: Dancing Machine -Ed.]). Jon Favreau directs; his Iron Man movies didn’t have much visual pizzazz, but he shows excellent rapport with his actors, which is what ought to count here. Fingers crossed.

Crazy Stupid Love: In terms of generous critical reaction, this movie is sort of like a gentle adult-oriented Thor: a movie that seems to please and surprise way too many people just by not being terrible. Also, it’s not as entertaining as Thor. The new comedy from Glenn Ficarra and John Requa follows interlocked love stories, including Steve Carell as a Steve Carell type on the brink of divorce, learning pick-up moves from young stud Ryan Gosling; Gosling and Emma Stone embarking on an unexpected (which is to say, kind of expected) romance; and Carell’s young son pining for his older babysitter. Some of this material is quite charming, in a synthetic sort of way; the Stone-Gosling relationship even manages to feel natural, too. Their sequence of roundabout seduction, in which sex fumbles its way into romance, belongs on a list of excellent scenes from middling movies. What makes the rest of the movie middling is the way it serves up broad situations and phony-sounding dialogue in the guise of a sensitive, grown-up, observational film. It’s a good-hearted movie, but not a very smart one.

The Future: I approached Miranda July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know with some caution, knowing she was a performance artist making her first feature film; I was bowled over by her weirdness and warmth. Still, I remained a little skeptical when she wrote a collection of short stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You. Another performer/filmmaker who arrives to elbow hard-working fiction writers out of the way! As it turns out, I kinda loved her book, too; Miranda July just might be one of those people who are annoyingly good at whatever she tries. Her new film, The Future, in some ways more resembles her fiction more than her earlier film: it’s stranger, sadder, and more focused than the ensemble of Me and You.

July and Hamish Linklater play a couple in their mid-thirties who decide to adopt a rescued cat who will be ready at the end of the month. They interpret this as a looming thirty-day deadline to get their lives in order; the assumption is less precious, and more touched with genuine dread, than you might expect. From there, Linklater’s Jason attempts to engage with the world while July’s Sophie tries her hand at the art she’s always assumed she could produce, given the chance. Neither of them exactly succeeds, and they go on digressions that bring them to the suburbs, an old man’s house, the ocean, and new points on the space-time continuum. Those of you who remain skeptical may think that this sounds cutesy, and I probably can’t convince you otherwise, especially if I mention the talking cat. But July is tougher and more self-aware than that, and The Future visualizes and dramatizes anxiety about aging and accomplishments better than most. She’s the real deal.

Attack the Block: Of course, there are other people who can encounter aliens apart from cowboys this weekend. If there were any drive-ins in the greater NYC area, and if any drive-ins actually booked a small-scale release like Attack the Block, and if any of those drive-ins had any further sense, they would put together an Attack the Block/Super 8 double feature, also functioning as an 80s-inspired film festival of movies that are better than many of their inspirations, at least those not directed by Spielberg. Or maybe I just mean that both of these movies are way better than The Goonies.

In any case, Attack the Block, about a gaggle of thugs-in-training defending their home from some nasty alien beasts, is more outwardly comic and horror-infused than Super 8, which is kind of a weird thing to say since I found Super 8 hilarious and also pretty scary. But if Super 8 wants to be Spielbergian and/or Zemeckishesque, Attack the Block has its eye more on a cross between Joe Dante and John Carpenter: the violence is bloodier, characters get killed, and the action never really leaves an inner-London apartment complex. Writer-director Joe Cornish is a buddy of Edgar Wright’s, but this isn’t a lower-budget Wright knockoff; it’s more a genre exercise in a sub-genre that happens to be particularly retro, nerdy, and specific. Add in its extreme Britishness (though more of the slangy, gangy, Trainspotting variety than the silly Pegg/Frost/Wright variety), and nerds have lost their collective shit for it—not without good cause. It lacks Super 8‘s grandeur, which came less from its impressive scale than that Spielbergian feeling of perpetual discovery, endless beginnings chased with the overlapping dialogue pleasures of joining teenage friendships in media res. But Attack the Block has a similar mouthiness, funny less for its wisecracks than the way the kids interact with each other, and also like Super 8, its pacing never lets up.

The Guard: What I feel Will McCord’s L Mag review of John Michael McDonagh’s feature debut misses is that while the movie has the shape and plot of a buddy-cop comedy, the cops played by Brendan Gleeson (small town, Irish, mildly corrupt) and Don Cheadle (FBI, American, straight arrow) don’t really team up to become buddies or even co-investigators. Their paths keep crossing, because Cheadle is tracking drug traffickers who have moved through Gleeson’s sleepy town, but they don’t exactly bond. Gleeson needles Cheadle with faux-insensitive remarks of questionable sincerity, while Cheadle tries to get information from the locals. A kinda-sorta grudging respect develops, and the movie morphs into a western-ish showdown. It’s also, as Will notes, a dark comedy. But the genres snake around each other with unhurried pleasure, even if McDonagh is likely to be overshadowed by his brother Martin, who wrote and directed the wonderful (and, admittedly, far superior) In Bruges. It’s also a treat to see the portly, funny Gleeson in another leading role; the McDonagh clan has a well-deserved soft spot for him.

The Smurfs: The ad campaign for The Smurfs is rife with cutesy smurf-ized maybe-swears like “what the smurf?” and “smurf happens,” but I’m a little disappointed they didn’t take it further: See this movie, mothersmurfers! It’s some smurfed up repugnant smurf! Anyway, the bar here, for both the actual movie and a hilariously irritating ad campaign, is Fox’s Alvin and the Chipmunks series. Smurfspeed, Smurfs.