Friday Flicks: Is ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ a Better Title Than ‘Bond Meets Indy’?

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Grab some popcorn! NewsFeed’s Glen Levy brings you the movies you should check out (or avoid) this weekend.

Cowboys & Aliens

Tagline: First Contact. Last Stand.

There’s an old Hollywood saying which roughly states that you should be able to pitch a potential movie in 25 words or less. Less? How about a title that runs to three words then? Because if “Cowboys & Aliens” doesn’t sell it to you, then “Bond Meets Indy” just might do the trick.

Daniel Craig plays Jake Lonergan, an amnesiac who comes across the New Mexico town of Absolution, not knowing who he is but bearing a mysterious metal bracelet on his wrist. Harrison Ford is the local cattle baron (Woodrow Dolarhyde, whose surname sounds like a description of what former President Woodrow Wilson would label the current debt crisis) and just as it looks like we’re in traditional territory – Craig crossing Dolarhyde’s cowardly son (Paul Dano) as well as the sheriff (Keith Carradine) and his deputies – a plot twist swoops in. Literally. Space ships descend and start snatching folk from the streets. Thank goodness for Lonergan’s wristband, which begins to play a key part, as the fight begins in earnest (a fight which includes Sam Rockwell and Olivia Wilde).

Director Jon Favreau will be hoping to garner the reviews he received for Iron Man, as opposed to the dreary sequel and he seems more convinced by the Western part of this mash-up, his men of iron, if you will, rather than the sci-fi. He can hardly go wrong with his leads, though, with Ford able to do these parts with his eyes closed (look carefully as they probably are closed). Favreau could also call upon considerable experience from the sidelines as there are 11 producers or executive producers including, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and a certain Steven Spielberg. And what he doesn’t know about cowboys and aliens isn’t worth knowing.

(PHOTOS: Indiana Jones and the Art of the Cliffhanger)

Attack the Block

Tagline: Inner City Vs Outer Space

But Mr. Spielberg may well be unaware that, indirectly, he’s going up against someone who has idolized him for years. Because Joe Cornish, the British writer-director (to say nothing of his stand up or DJing work), is releasing his debut movie, Attack the Block, in the same week as Cowboys & Aliens (it came out to pretty much widespread acclaim in the U.K. a few months ago).

Cornish was brought up in South London, and feasted upon Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. and Gremlins (for which, as with this week’s new release, Spielberg served as executive producer). Cornish’s only gripe? Why didn’t these creature-featured stories ever happen in his neck of the woods? Twenty-five years on, he’s put that right, starting from the neck down.

The horror/(and the slashing is intentional) comedy starts off with white nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker) being mugged by a local gang of mainly black teenagers, led by the imposing Moses (John Boyega, who is freakishly good in his debut and prepared for the role by watching the drug dealers in season four of The Wire). And Favreau’s film isn’t the only one to suddenly introduce aliens into the fray as Sam and the gang must team up to fend off a menacing threat from outer space.

If the pulsating soundtrack (mainly courtesy of British dance act Basement Jaxx) and the at times difficult to discern slang words in the dialog doesn’t put you off (and it really shouldn’t) then you’ll be treated to a genuinely original piece of cinema that a young (or indeed old) Spielberg would have been proud to have put his name to. As for Cornish, he’s just co-written the forthcoming Tintin movie. Who’s directing? That would be Steven Spielberg, who clearly likes to keep his friends and fans close.

(LIST: Top 10 British Invasions)

The Guard

The opening to The Guard puts you in mindset of Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere as an expensive red sports car speeds about, as if it has something to prove. But the similarities (thankfully) end there, for we’re not in dullsville Los Angeles but quaint old Galway in Ireland.

And then Spielberg pops up! (Kidding.) Who is popping up, just about doing enough to get by all these years, is Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson, in quite possibly the role of his career). He treats the good guys and the bad exactly the same: he loathes them in equal measure. But his world (and that of the entire community) is turned upside down by a looming drug crime (which accounts for a fair few victims along the way). FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle, whose signature move is to eat a sugar cube before he drinks his coffee. Sweet.) has been brought over to solve it and, before you’ve even had the chance to sup on a Guinness, we’re in buddy-movie territory.

For once, it’s not a criticism, as The Guard is expertly helmed and written by John Michael McDonagh (the brother of Martin McDonagh, who did so much for Gleeson on In Bruges). And while they won’t come in for as much credit as our heroes,  McDonagh’s dastardly trio of villains – Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham and David Wilmot – make the Quentin Tarantino comparisons fully justified. The only slight niggle is the (pun intended) cop out ending: you wish The Guard had stuck to its unapologetic guns by not relying on them in the final scenes.

NewsFeed’s Flicks Pick: A strong week, but Attack the Block towers slightly above its competition.

(MORE: Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction in TIME’s 100 Best Movies)

Glen Levy is an Executive Producer at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @glenjl. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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