August 4th, 2011

Cars 2

On Wednesday, July 24th, we went to see “Cars 2”, primarily to beat the heat and soak up someone else’s air conditioning for a few hours, but were surprised and pleased by how good it was.

The sequel continues the adventures of ace racer Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), supported by tow truck Mater (“Larry the Cable Guy”) as they get caught up in a James-Bond-style conspiracy plot. Mater actually does most of the heavy lifting (so to speak) plotwise, as superspies Finn McMissle (Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) mistake him for an American agent with a really good cover ID. I won’t give away other plot points, since there is one pretty good surprise in it, but suffice to say it’s a very well done homage to the Bond canon. A lot of the extra fun comes of course from the “in” car jokes, and I surprised myself remembering that “Whitworth bolts” were a real thing (perhaps because my dad had a Ford Anglia—a 40’s vintage English Ford—when I was a child, and I remember the “discussion” about them then--), and the “Cars”-translated foreign landscapes where the action takes place. (The end credits are worth sitting through just for that.)

Recommended for all ages, although the action scenes may be intense for the very young.

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Where those “Cars” came from—

The odd things I speculate about as a fan--. Suppose the “Cars” world is one in which the “robot apocalypse” happened, and the robots won? Or, for you “Transformers” fans, the Decepticons took over--? Once having wiped out the humans, the robot society collectively decided that automobiles were the coolest and most aesthetic machines (and roads very convenient for getting around) so settled on the “car” form as a basic design. Then, the “Robot Masters” caused monuments, etc., to be modified into the car-centric shapes we now see, reinforcing the idea that things have always been that way (ala the old “Planet of the Apes” franchise). So, the next movie in this series would be “Escape from the Planet of the Cars”? Interesting thought but rather creepy to consider that Lightning and Mader might be Terminators underneath--.

BTW, we saw a trailer for “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” along with “Green Lantern,” and the premise seems risible. The idea of the original series, that the humans bombed themselves back to the stone age and the apes evolved to take over was halfway acceptable for suspension of disbelief. The new movie—naah--.

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Cowboys and Aliens

We went out to see “Cowboys and Aliens” August 2nd, and found it very good, if not great. While not precisely an original concept, one has to wonder why it hasn’t been done more frequently, but also being thankful that, when they got to it, it was done this well.

Daniel Craig plays the amnestic man who has evidently escaped from an alien abduction, as evinced by the strange artifact clasped around his left wrist. He has no memory, but retains an inherent talent for violence, demonstrated when he is set upon by three nasty bounty hunters. “Jake” (as we eventually learn his name is) makes his way to a nearby town where he clobbers the local cattle baron’s obnoxious son, and gets arrested by the local sheriff (Keith Carradine) on the strength of a wanted poster with his picture on it. Rancher Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) rides into town with his men intending to liberate his son, just in time for the aliens to raid the town, shoot the place up and abduct a selection of citizens, including Dolarhyde’s son, the sheriff himself, the wife of saloon keeper “Doc” (Sam Rockwell) and others enough to allow Jake to overcome his self-interest and join the posse going to get them back.

The adventure includes many of the western clichés, including bandits and Apaches, but generally done in fairly fresh ways. (At least we did not see the toothless crusty prospector, or see the town drunk sober up. We did however, have the peaceable man pick up a gun and learn to use it--.) The aliens have no redeeming features, being brutish, ugly, slimy, and pursuing a nasty plot against humankind, and so exist pretty much only to be defeated, but the defeat is pretty well staged in general. There is some actual character development, although in Jake’s case it consists mostly of discovering the man he had become before the aliens stole his memory. The character who really grows in the film is Ford’s Woodrow Dolarhyde, who undergoes a “Grinch”-like transformation from an angry and cruel man to a pretty decent human being before the movie ends. There is a nice role by Abigail Spencer as the woman who’s also pursuing the aliens, and workmanlike support by the crew of western actors and stunt men. Special effects were OK and sufficient to the purpose. We were interested to see a credit that the Apache war dance and chant were composed by the Mescalero Apache tribe, certainly an improvement from the old days of Western cinema.

Enjoyable escapist cinema.

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