24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Cowboys & Aliens

Harrison Ford decapitates a Smurf [Video]

August 2, 2011 |  9:06 am

Audiences still love "Cowboys & Aliens" star Harrison Ford, as evidenced by this clip from "Conan" on Monday night. And they still love to hate on family films, as the laughter also suggests. So why can't Ford come up with a hit? And why do animation-driven family films routinely beat films with movie stars? This video raises those questions.

Or maybe it just suggests that Conan has a really good warm-up act.


Cowboys & Aliens: Five lessons to take away

What happened to Harrison Ford?

In a surprise, Smurfs rivals Cowboys & Aliens

--Steven Zeitchik


'Cowboys & Aliens': Five lessons to take away

August 1, 2011 |  9:55 am

Cowboys & Aliens Daniel Craig

This post has been corrected. Please see the note at the bottom for details.

There haven't been many film experiments in recent months more interesting than "Cowboys & Aliens." A genre mash-up not based on a widely known property, Jon Favreau's expensive new movie also rode in with several high-profile personalities, including an A-list actor from this generation (Daniel Craig) and an equally big name from a previous generation (Harrison Ford).

Yet the science-fiction western could pull off only $36.2 million in box office receipts this last weekend. That's barely more than the other big summer action movie that wasn't part of a known franchise, "Super 8," which opened to $35.5 million without the help of A-list stars. "Cowboys" didn't even win the weekend, at least not yet, finishing in a rare tie with the less promoted (and expensive) "Smurfs" reboot.

So what does the "Cowboys" performance tell us? A quick synopsis.

Hybrid hiccups. Genre mash-ups can go one of two ways: They can unite disparate audiences or they can alienate them. "Cowboys" seems to have done the latter, with younger fanboys in particular unsure of what to make of the western element (nearly two-thirds of the audience was older than 30, writes my colleague Amy Kaufman). That seems to be the larger trend. Last year's "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" -- which combined martial arts, video games, comic books and romance -- was a miss. We'll see how "Attack the Block," which combines horror with science fiction and comedy fares. The movie performed only decently in limited release this weekend.

Favreau's foibles? Jon Favreau is the rare Hollywood personality who regularly toggles between studio acting and big-ticket directing. How's he doing on the latter front? After "Iron Man" gave his career a jolt in 2008, things have been a bit choppy. "Iron Man 2" made a boatload of money but got lukewarm reviews from many critics. (Shortly after, he left the franchise.) And now despite an all out-Favreau blitz, his new film has opened to a disappointing sum. Sure, it was better than 2005's "Zathura" -- but that isn't saying much.

The Craig effect. Perhaps the most intriguing of all the object lessons. Daniel Craig is undeniably a movie star, having helped resurrect the James Bond franchise with "Casino Royale" five years ago. But do we only want to see him inhabiting an icon? We didn't really care much about him in "Munich" (which came out a year before "Royale"). And we didn't necessarily warm to him here. Troubling news for those behind the upcoming thriller-horror film "Dream House." And it raises the inevitable question about the extent to which we'll embrace him in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."

Publicity pushiness. It's impossible to quantify how much promotion "Cowboys" actually received. But the film was certainly hard to avoid. A stream of TV spots in the last few weeks, plenty of actor talk-show appearances and a big Comic-Con premiere last weekend still couldn't will the film to a decisive weekend win. It all suggests that publicity can offer diminished returns if a movie's concept doesn't go down well with potential audiences. Consider this: "Battle: Los Angeles," a film that was promoted far less but that had an easily digestible concept and trailer, opened to just about the same amount.

A dinged model Ford. Harrison Ford's career has been in the doldrums for a while. A return to the kind of fanciful action that made him a movie star could have ushered in a larger comeback, at least  more than a dramatic vehicle like last year's "Morning Glory." But it turns out we may not want much to see Ford chasing bad guys across exotic landscapes much anymore either.

For the record, 12:44 p.m. Aug. 1: An earlier version of this post referred to "Cowboys & Aliens" as a 3-D movie. It was released only in 2-D.


What happened to Harrison Ford?

Jon Favreau is lassoing up everything

In a surprise, Smurfs rivals Cowboys & Aliens

--Steven Zeitchik

 Photo: Daniel Craig in "Cowboys & Aliens." Credit: Universal Pictures

Critical Mass: Split decision on 'Cowboys & Aliens'

July 29, 2011 |  2:30 pm

Photo: Daniel Craig and Olivia Wilde star in "Cowboys & Aliens." Credit: Universal Pictures The crowds flocking to see "Cowboys & Aliens" this weekend will likely be split into two camps: those rooting for the cowboys and those rooting for the aliens. The critics have already divided into two camps of roughly even size: those who enjoyed director Jon Favreau's genre mash-up and those who would rather see the movie hogtied and shot.

The Times' Kenneth Turan is in the latter camp. Despite boatloads of talent, he calls the film "a leaden mash-up of western and science-fiction elements that ends up noisy, grotesque and unappealing." He goes on to say, " 'Cowboys & Aliens' displays one thumping cliché after another as if its bankrupt derivativeness was in some way reinventing the wheel."

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'Cowboys & Aliens' Jon Favreau is lassoing up everything

July 27, 2011 |  9:34 am

You may or may not head out to see Jon Favreau's "Cowboys & Aliens" this weekend, but you won't have to go very far to see Jon Favreau. Over the last month, the actor-filmmaker has been more omnipresent than the metallic wrist-device from his mash-up film.

Favreau is going above and beyond many of the promotional stops to tout his new effort. He recently guest-edited an issue of the Hollywood Reporter. On Wednesday night, he's directing an episode of "Jimmy Kimmel Live." He commissioned a "Cowboys & Aliens" spoof video from young filmmakers named Freddie Wong and Brandon Laatsch and starred in it himself (watch it below). And there's always Twitter, where in the last 24 hours Favreau has shot out eight tweets to his more than 1 million followers.

The director-as-celebrity is nothing new, of course. Orson Welles cultivated a certain aura, New Wave directors in the 1960s were sometimes more famous than the stars of their films, and in the 1990s Quentin Tarantino promoted his own celebrity with an up-from-the-video-store mythology. But the platforms are wider and the publicity opportunities greater now than they've ever been, which gives it all an amplified effect. And Favreau, perhaps as the result of his acting background, is certainly an anomaly these days, when many studio directors are hired hands, and those that aren't (eg, Christopher Nolan) tend to keep a lower profile.

Universal no doubt likes the extra push Favreau is giving the film. "Cowboys & Aliens" is not based on a widely known property, and it straddles genres, so every piece of exposure helps. At a certain point, though, it may be fair to ask how much seeing Jon Favreau will have people going out to see his movie and how much will just have them seeing more Jon Favreau.



Why is Jon Favreau moving away from Iron Man?

When a director becomes a Twitter cowboy

Hero Complex: Jon Favreau leads elite Hollywood posse into wild frontier

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Jon Favreau. Credit: Paul Buck / EPA


Around Town: True crime, reel comedy, cowboys, aliens, rock docs and more

July 21, 2011 |  5:30 am


Crime takes over the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Bing Theatre this weekend with an eclectic roster of favorites beginning Thursday with the 1970 drama "The Honeymoon Killers," about the famed Lonely Hearts Killers Raymond Fernandez (Tony LoBianco) and Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler). Humphrey Bogart gives one of his most complex performances in Nicholas Ray's acclaimed 1950 film noir, "In a Lonely Place," screening Friday along with Robert Altman's 1973 version of Raymond Chandler's "The Long Goodbye" with Elliott Gould as gumshoe Philip Marlowe. Saturday's early evening screening is Luis Bunuel's surreal 1962 film, "The Exterminating Angel," with David Lynch's offbeat 2001 mystery thriller, "Mulholland Drive," screening later in the evening.

LACMA's Saturday monster movie matinees continue with the 1959's "Journey to the Center of the Earth," with James Mason and Pat Boone; the Tuesday matinee at LACMA features MGM's all-star 1933 comedy "Dinner At Eight," directed by George Cukor.  http://www.lacma.org

Two comedies starring Steve Martin at his wild and crazy best -- 1979's "The Jerk" and 1986's "Little Shop of Horrors" -- screen Thursday at the American Cinematheque's Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. The laughs continue Friday evening with a series of shorts starring the great silent comedians Laurel & Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

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L.A. Film Festival: Teens take on extraterrestrials in 'Attack the Block'

June 23, 2011 |  1:59 pm

Who'd be better at fending off an alien invasion: cowboys from the Old West or kids from the inner city?

It's a question that could keep one occupied for hours during a night of mind-altering substances. But thanks to the scheduling geniuses in Hollywood, movie fans will actually get to have that question answered on July 29. That's when "Attack the Block," a dry comedy about a south London gang set upon by extraterrestrials, comes out -- on the same day as "Cowboys & Aliens."

Written and directed by Joe Cornish and produced by the guys involved in fan favorites "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz," "Attack" was acquired by Sony Screen Gems after an enthusiastic  SXSW screening this spring. On Wednesday night at the L.A. Film Festival, several hundred Angelenos got a chance to size up the relative merits of the earthly defenders.

One thing's for sure: The British kids in "Attack" are hardly as well-equipped as Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and the other American rough riders of "Cowboys": Aside from a gun or two, the Brit posse's arsenal consists mainly of a samurai sword, kitchen knives, fireworks and a super-soaker.

Then again, their alien visitors seem to come from a much less advanced planet. (No flying saucers with tractor beams here, a la "Cowboys.") One beastie is aptly described as looking like what would happen if a "monkey [had sex with] a fish" while others are extremely furry, ape-like creatures on speed with teeth that glow blue. Actor John Boyega, who plays the 15-year-old crew leader Moses and was present for Wednesday night's screening, said the invaders were on set, not digitally added later.

Unlike the we're-dead-serious, this-is-not-a-comedy "Cowboys," "Attack" thankfully has a sense of humor about itself, if you can keep up with the thick accents. Funnyman Nick Frost appears as Ron, the public housing complex's resident pot farmer, but most of the laughs come from the much younger gang of relatively fresh-faced teens. These are kids who get around on bikes or motor scooters, still have 10 p.m. curfews and face certain challenges in fending off the aliens. One of them runs out of credits on his mobile phone, while another has to convince some local girls that no, he's not playing Xbox -- those really are aliens invading.


SXSW 2011: 'Attack the Block' hits Austin hard

'Cowboys & Aliens'  hosts a genre marriage

'Cowboys & Aliens' to have world premiere at Comic-Con

-- Julie Makinen

Photo: A gang of teens from a south London housing complex are vexed by some alien beasties to comic effect in "Attack the Block." Credit: Screen Gems

'Cowboys & Aliens' hosts a genre marriage [Trailer]

April 15, 2011 |  2:41 pm

There's a quiet, almost soulful moment at the beginning of the new trailer for "Cowboys & Aliens," when an amnesiac Daniel Craig has dropped in from another world, that suggests an intimacy you don't often find in summer-blockbuster filmmaking. It's not long before it gives way to the necessary quick-cut explosions. In-between, at least, we do get glimpses of a story, which apparently has to do with Harrison Ford's character's family being kidnapped by the aliens and Olivia Wilde's character fearing what the interplanetary interlopers will do to her people, challenges Craig's Jake Lonergan is tasked with when he's not trying to remember who he is.

It's still too soon to tell if the mash-up of westerns and science-fiction conventions will come off as interesting  or incongruous.  What does emerge from the trailer is that the movie doesn't skimp on the western atmosphere — something we suspect will play a lot better in a post-"True Grit" world — and that there isn't as much humor in Jon Favreau's July release as there was in the director's "Iron Man" movies. Still, the western cliche of a horse chase is nicely subverted with pursuit from an alien craft, and at the end there's even a nod to Ford's Indiana Jones shoot-the-swordsman moment from "Raiders of the Lost Ark," when Craig one-ups bad guys with a more sophisticated weapon.


— Steven Zeitchik



When a director becomes a Twitter cowboy

Hero Complex: Jon Favreau's popcorn primary

Comic-con 2010: Harrison Ford gives Cowboys & Aliens an otherworldly feel



When a director becomes a Twitter cowboy

April 7, 2010 |  7:23 pm

This is how entertainment news goes down in the Twitter era. A director (Jon Favreau) tweets that there's casting news coming imminently on a movie of his ("Cowboys & Aliens"). A blog (Latino Review) postulates that the actor about to be cast is Harrison Ford. A few days later, Favreau tweets that it's indeed Ford but tells followers (all 753,000 of them) to keep mum. "Please stop asking if Harrison Ford is in Cowboys & Aliens. Okay? He is. Please don't tell anybody."

Reporters had their heads spinning upon reading this earlier today. Was Favreau indicating his intentions or just pretending to agree to get people off his back? Was it confirmation or a kind of social-media performance art?

In the end, it turns out, it was the truth. Insiders confirm that Ford will star in the movie. He'll have a part that's described as a co-lead role in the adaptation of the science-fiction western that's scheduled to start shooting (with Daniel Craig as the star, replacing Robert Downey Jr. as the man leading an anti-alien insurgency) this summer.

But there's a larger issue here, one that's going to rear itself with increasing regularity. Like everything else it the world that's happening faster and earlier, directors and stars are Twittering more often. And they're moving the locus of their tweets from the set to the audition room. A director trying to lure an actor -- or one simply giddy about one he's landed -- is going to tell people, even if he's going to do in a faux-hush way that makes it seem as if he's not spilling the beans, a la Favreau.

Of course, running up against this are studios, who generally maintain that any casting news is bad news before the ink is dry on a contract (understandably, as it can force a studio's hand in negotiations). They grumble when it's reporters (who are also going earlier and faster) breaking the news. But when it's their own talent, they're in an even tougher spot. Do they try to muzzle their stars and risk alienating them? Or accept that they have even less control than they previously thought?

Expect a lot more tweets from a lot more people in Hollywood in the coming months. There may not be much that anyone -- studios, reporters or anyone else -- can do about it. The only solution that might, just might, work would be to cast older stars, as it's probably safe to say Harrison Ford won't be Twittering the intimate details of his life. For now.

--Steven Zeitchik

Follow me on Twitter (of course).

Photo: Jon Favreau in "Couple's Retreat." Credit: Suzanne Hanover / Universal Studios

Robert Downey Jr. won't be Jon Favreau's 'Cowboy'

January 11, 2010 |  4:14 pm

Don Robert Downey Jr. won't ride into the wild West after all.

The actor, who had been poised to reunite with "Iron Man" director Jon Favreau for the science-fiction western "Cowboys & Aliens," won't star in the film.

The movie, sources say, will still move forward with Favreau. But Downey has fallen off the project, and studio DreamWorks is seeking a new hero to replace him. Production is tentatively set to begin this year for a planned release in summer 2011.

 Originally a serialized graphic novel, "Cowboys & Aliens" focuses on outer-space creatures who land in Arizona circa the mid-19th century intent on enslaving the local population -- until a group of cowboys and Apache Indians fight back. (There was a further Iron Man connection to "Cowboys:" writers Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby wrote an original draft of the script.)

Downey was set to play the gunslinger Zeke Jackson, who leads the anti-alien revolt.Cowb But scheduling issues -- Downey's been one of the busier actors in Hollywood -- forced a re-think. The project would have marked a third potential franchise a resurgent Downey would have been involved with, after "Iron Man" and "Sherlock Holmes," which is expected to spawn a sequel.

While Downey has not committed to anything new (he will star in the Todd Phillips comedy "Due Date" opposite Zach Galifianakis, which has wrapped), his parting with "Cowboys" could re-ignite speculation that a "Sherlock" sequel is on the fast track. Downey is attached to several other development projects as well. (He also has been associated with the "Harvey" remake at DreamWorks, at least before Steven Spielberg opted out.)

Whatever his next role, the actor's falling off "Cowboys" opens up a little breathing room in his relentless schedule -- even if it might make DreamWorks a little short of breath.

-- Steven Zeitchik 

Photo: Robert Downey Jr. Credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images


Robert Downey, Jr.: Sherlock Holmes is no mystery 

Sherlock Holmes cookin' 

Some heroes are made, not born: Iron Man 2 trailer released


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