5-Word 365 #305 – The Burrowers

Horror Week comes to a close with today’s Halloween edition. It’s been a bit of a mixed bag really, but we go out on a bang. The bang of a Winchester repeater, that is…

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5-Word 365 #169 – Lust In The Dust

Things are going to be changing slightly here at 5-Word over the next couple of weeks, since tomorrow is the start of the Edinburgh Film Festival. Well, the start of the press screenings at least; the fest proper begins on Wednesday with the UK premiere of William Friedkin’s Killer Joe. I’ll be going to at least two or three screenings each day so there’ll be more (probably shorter) posts appearing here for the duration. But that’s all tomorrow. For today, I bring you…

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5-Word 365 #130 – Four Brothers

I’m running a little late tonight, because I made the mistake of rewatching this flick immediately with the DVD commentary. I also fell into a bit of a YouTube hole when I got home from the office. I would say I need to stop turning on my computer as soon as I get in from work, but these columns won’t write themselves. More’s the pity. Read More

5-Word 365 #051 – Cowboys & Aliens

I made it! I’m back home after the weekend away. It seems the first test of my year-long trial passed mostly without a hitch, and I got to meet my new niece and drink more than I normally would in a fortnight. So that was fun. What with yesterday’s flick and today’s, it looks like this might turn out to be Obviously Descriptive Title Week. I have a couple more in mind to keep me going to the weekend, but if you can think of any yourself, feel free to drop a note on the Suggestions page. And so, let’s get on with it.

Cowboys & Aliens

This Greedo definitely shot first.

James Bond wakes up in the desert with no memory but a weird metal bracelet on his wrist. He goes back to town and meets The Kurgan, then Han Solo shows up and they get attacked by aliens. James Bond’s bracelet turns out to be an alien-killing weapon. Everybody makes friends at the end (except the ones who are dead).

Just to get it out of the way, I love Firefly. That series hinged on the standard tropes and idioms of the Western genre attached to a science fiction setting and it worked gloriously. Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens is the same concept flipped; it’s a Western first with the sci-fi elements grafted to it. The end result is remarkably similar. It’s not wonderful, but it is a very enjoyable flick. It is really not helped by the title though. When I heard that title followed by the phrase “based on the comic” I initially expected something much campier*, more of a typical summer blockbuster with all the gags and quips that come along with that. Not the case. This one is played completely straight. There are no snappy one-liners to be found in the Arizona Territory today. I found it a refreshing change, but as I said, with that presumption it’s no wonder this movie wasn’t quite the financial success it maybe should have been.

I have got to get me one of these! Shit, wrong movie.

The cast are various levels of good to great. Daniel Craig as the amnesiac outlaw Jake Lonergan leads the show, but Harrison Ford rips it right out from under him as the town rich man Colonel Dolarhyde. He’s the surly old bastard of the piece and he gives it his all. Aside from Indy 4, this is clearly the most fun Ford has had in years. He also gets the most in terms of growth. Besides from Jake, he has three key relationships in the movie: one with his son Percy, whose abduction is what spurs (sorry) him on to chase and destroy the extra-terrestrial menace; the other two are with accidental surrogate sons. His scenes with Adam Beach as his native American employee Nate and, to a lesser degree, Noah Ringer as the sheriff’s grandson are when the man really comes alive and you can see who he is beneath all the bluster and money. It’s always a joy to see Clancy Brown in anything, and this movie doesn’t let me down. He’s great as the town preacher and his and Ford’s combined wit is as close to comedy as the film gets. It makes a welcome release from all the dour seriousness of Lonergan. Olivia Wilde I think was let down by all reference to her being “the mysterious woman”. If you can see where the character development is going to end up before you even buy your ticket (or DVD or, you know, whatever) that is not a good thing. I hope you made note of that lesson, Mr Screenwriter.

Although... It is entirely possible that I'm the only one concerned for her character development.

I really love the look of the flick as well. Keen to stay true to the Western traditions, Favreau apparently insisted on shooting on film instead of digital, and going for the full-on anamorphic aspect ratio. Anything else would have been a disservice to the genre all involved were so keen to be a part of. The landscapes are gorgeous, and some of the shots would not look out of place stacked up against such luminary examples as The Searchers and Unforgiven.

I wonder if John Wayne would have been so eager if his niece had been taken by these guys instead.

If you have a film called Cowboys & Aliens, your cowboys are obviously only half the puzzle. How do the aliens come out? Actually pretty good. The design is great, and quite unsettlingly icky too, what with the bulging eyes and the creepy extra arms. They’re sturdy and tough, but not to the point where your suspension of disbelief is called into question when the puny earthlings start fighting back with six-shooters and arrows.

Overall, I’d rate this as an undeserving failure that was hampered by the false preconceptions.

*Not being a fan of the piece, I just read up on the plot of the original comic for comparison. It would be fair to say it seems to have a certain Saturday morning cartoon whiff about it. Also, on an unrelated note, if you Google “Cowboys and Aliens scenery”, this is what you get back:

Me? Pandering?

5-Word 365 #038 – True Grit

There are many types of film I enjoy watching (perhaps you noticed), but one type I adore is the western. Given the freedom of choice, and purely for the pleasure of the experience, I would rather watch a middling western than a good horror film. Up until today my favourite western and thus my favourite film had been Tombstone. I realise that might upset some of you. “What about The Searchers?” I hear you cry. I can already hear Jon Abrams rearing up in defence of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and while I appreciate his opinion and yours, this is a matter of personal taste and I must respectfully stand my ground. Leone’s opus is a wonderful film, that cannot be denied, but Tombstone just always does it for me. Or at least it did…

True Grit

The Dude is The Duke

Actually, I reckon The Dude beats The Duke with one eye closed. The Coen Brothers’ True Grit is the second adaptation of the book by Charles Portis, after the 1969 version starring John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn. Here, Jeff Bridges takes on what some see as the signature role of Wayne’s later years and makes it completely his own.


Mattie Ross is a fourteen year old girl who arrives in the town of Fort Smith, Arkansas to retrieve her father’s body after he was killed by his hired hand, a man named Tom Chaney. Since none of the authorities in Fort Smith seem willing or able to pursue Chaney, Mattie decides to “hire” a U.S. Marshal to go after him. After his repeated refusals fail to put her off, Rooster Cogburn agrees to accept Mattie’s reward for catching Chaney. The two are joined by a dandy of a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf, and they ride out into the Choctaw Nation in pursuit of the varmint. As plots go, it is not the most elaborate you will ever see, but when it is written this well, who will care?


I love this film. I would marry it if I could. This is just a truly gorgeous piece of cinema. Joel and Ethan have done period flicks before of course, but this is their first foray into the western and they have brought all their wit and style and chutzpah with them, but leaving the wickedness their humour often displays at home. That is not to say that this film is without humour, but that it comes from the believable personality clashes of these fully realised people. With his jangling spurs and his self-importance, Matt Damon plays LaBoeuf as a peacock: all puffed up in the chest and averse to criticism. Jeff Bridges is of course a joy to watch, but it is young Hailee Steinfeld in her first feature who owns this film. Her Mattie is a spirited and witty girl, intelligent beyond her years and brave beyond her stature. To see her out-talk every man she comes across is a wonderful sight. Josh Brolin as Tom Chaney and Barry Pepper as the gang leader “Lucky” Ned both take ample advantage of the limited screen time they receive to create indelible impressions, although they are helped by the fact they have been talked about by the others for so much of the piece. This could have gone so very, very wrong had the casting not been this fortuitous.

Roger Deakins won the BAFTA for best cinematography for this film, and it was richly deserved; the camerawork is magnificent throughout. Despite all I have mentioned though, the undisputed highlight in my eyes is the script itself. The Coens have crafted something utterly poetic from Charles Portis’ novel, the story of which this version hews much closer to than its predecessor, particularly with regard to the ending and the framing device of Mattie’s narration. In 1969, John Wayne’s Rooster was the focus, but the Coens have returned the story entirely to Mattie. Every scene is told through her eyes and in her distinctive voice. And what a voice it is.

Had I watched this film before year’s end, there would have been a dramatic shift in my Top 11 of 2011 list. Number one with a bullet: True Grit.