Skip to main content

Oh, good. We got a Mexican.

The Magnificent Seven
(2016)

(SPOILERS) The Magnificent Seven is exactly what you’d expect from the umpteenth remake of Seventh Samurai, or more specifically the direct offspring of the 56-year-old western of the same title; it’s serviceable, undemanding, features mostly decent performances, but brings absolutely nothing new to the mix to justify itself. At least Battle Beyond the Stars and A Bug’s life wholeheartedly switched genres. At least The Seven Steptoerai… actually, no. It’s probably a better movie than its underwhelmed reception suggests, but the critical reaction is merited simply by virtue of the current glut of remakes greenlit for no other reason than that studios have the rights and money to flush away in a forlorn hope that brand recognition will be enough.


Although, MGM in particular should really know better by now. That is, if they had even a modicum of creative acumen. The semi-studio appears to subsist on a diet of reconstituted back catalogue, with wanton disregard for quality. Hence the forgettable or worse likes of The Pink Panther, Fame, Carrie, Robocop, Poltergeist and Ben-Hur. Antoine Fuqua’s coming on board as director might have been the first warning sign of innate ‘s’alright’-ness; he’s a slick technician who has given us a run of middling properties, from Tears of the Sun through to Olympus Has Fallen and Southpaw. Even his best, Training Day, is somewhat overrated.


He reunites with that movie’s two stars here, with Denzel Washington putting on his dependably sombre-faced face (he’s more interesting when he loosens up a bit; this is almost – but not quite; I wouldn’t be that insulting – in Bruce Willis autopilot mode) as the head of the group, Sam Chisolm, and Ethan Hawke as former Confederate sniper Goodnight Robicheaux. 


At one point, I thought Hawke might actually be intent on breaking out with something here, upending my general antipathy towards his performances with a loquaciously grandiose turn. Unfortunately, he doesn’t take long to give way to the usual pained emoting, culminating in a horribly clichéd return to the fray at a vital moment you can see coming about an hour off (Goodnight appears to be suffering from PTSD, but for all the picture’s fractured sensitivity in other areas, it seems to carry the message that all one needs to get back into the mind-set for some good killing is a pep talk from Denzel; who knows, maybe that’s true, and maybe the armed forces could employ the star gainfully to that end?)


Fuqua’s picture, credited to Nic Pizzlolatta (True Detective) and Richard Wenk (who scribbled the effective but perfunctory big screen The Equalizer for Washington) in the screenplay department, is also a fairly fruitless dotted “i”s and crossed “t”s example of homogenised multi-cultural casting, since it only really succeeds in utilising its actors according to an antiseptic array standard tropes. Given the bloated running time, it would have been relatively easy to flesh out these characters, but Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) is only really defined by his knife-throwing, and Comanche Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) by his arrow slinging. The latter is even laden with the groan-worthy cliché of fighting a bad seed of his tribe (Jonathan Joss; that’s Joss, not Ross, although that would alone have been worth the ticket price), whom he runs through while tutting disapprovingly that “You dishonour us”.


So too the plucky broad role, Hayle Bennett (also in that Equalizer movie) showing Emma Cullen has the requisite fiery stuff in the most tiresomely repetitive fashion (Emma also, quite remarkably given her lack of arms training, manages to take out the villain from the other end of a church with a shotgun, while Chisum is in the way, strangling him). Worse, she is presented with an indigestible coda speech, droning something or other about how this lot were magnificent as we’re treated to a pan across the graves of the fallen warriors.


None of the above performances are bad, but the actors are insufficiently serviced to make much of a mark. In contrast, Chris Pratt absolutely steals the movie in a way he was unable to with Jurassic World, bringing comedy chops throughout to his Dean Martin-esque drunk, card sharp and would-be ladies’ man Joshua Faraday. Less in the limelight, but still effective in that regard are Manuel Garcia-Rulfo’s Mexican member Vasquez and Vincent D’Onofrio’s high-pitched, hilariously frenzied-with-a-blade tracker Jack Horne. Peter Sarsgaard has little to crow about in respect of his pallid villain Bartholomew Bogue, which may explain why he decided to play him as an opium addict.


Fuqua handles the action efficiently during the first half, albeit bringing no particular flourish to bear on his genre take. He establishes Bogue as suitably loathsome in an opening that sees the industrialist burn down the town church and shoot Matt Bomer at point blank range, introduces the seven agreeably enough, and moves right on to the most effective sequence in the picture, as the septet take down Bogue’s hired enforcers with due diligence.


Unfortunately, after this the picture stops dead for what seems like an eternity. Fuqua can instil no tension into what should be a ticking clock, waiting for the arrival of Bogue and his army of reinforcements, and there is nothing in the way of character material to fill the void. This is where it becomes painfully obvious that no one, not Washington, who must coast along on charm alone, has anything to elicit our care for them as characters.


And, when the showdown arrives, it’s full of bombast but lacks the clear staging and cutting of the first encounter, particularly once the town is beset by a rampant Gatling gun. Fuqua even allows some confusingly non sequitur shots, such as Chisum looking over his dead comrades, which somehow includes a full view of Billy at the top of the church bell tower.


Shave off half an hour, and the movie would have been much more economical and effective (the producers probably decided that making it five minutes longer than the original made it an inherently better movie). And, if you’re going to use The Magnificent Seven theme, use the damn thing; don’t leave it for the end. This isn’t James Bond; you’re not going to get another chance with the Magnificent Eight (well, I very much doubt it).


Like I say, though, this is serviceable, mostly well-acted, and at times (during the first half) clicks into an enjoyable groove that makes it clear, if any clarification was needed, that the western genre can continue on quite happily (without the need for remakes of popular titles) if only due care and attention is granted; someone should give Kevin Costner some money to make another, actually, since his last (Open Range) was terrific.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

Angry man is unsecure.

Hulk (2003)
(SPOILERS) I’m not a Hulk apologist. I unreservedly consider it one of the superior superhero adaptations, admittedly more for the visual acumen Ang Lee brings to the material than James Schamus, Michael France and John Turman’s screenplay. But even then, if the movie gets bogged down in unnecessarily overwrought father-son origins and dynamic, overlaid on a perfectly good and straightforward core story (one might suggest it was change for the sake of change), once those alterations are in place, much of the follow through, and the paralleling of wayward parents and upright children, or vice versa, translates effectively to the screen, even if the realisation of the big green fella is somewhat variable.

I do… very competitive ice dancing.

Justice League (2017)
(SPOILERS) Superheroes, and superhero movies, trade in hyperbole, so it shouldn’t be surprising that DC’s two releases this year have been responded to in like, only each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Wonder Woman was insanely over-praised in the rush to fete a female superhero finally leading a movie, crushing all nuanced criticism in its wake. Justice League, meanwhile, has been lambasted on the basis that it’s more of the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, only worse – to the extent there have been calls for a Zach Snyder Director’s Cut, which is quite an extent, as extents go – as it’s guilty of being an unholy clash of styles, grimdark Zach scowling in one corner and quip-happy Joss pirouetting in the other. And yes, the movie is consequently a mess, but it’s a relatively painless mess, with the sense to get in and get out again before the viewer has enough time to assess the full extent of the damage.

That be what we call scringe stone, sir.

Doctor Who The Ribos Operation (1978)
Season 16 is my favourite season, so I’m inevitably of the view that it gets a bad rap (or a just plain neglected one), is underrated and generally unappreciated. Of its six stories, though, The Ribos Operation is probably the one, on balance, that receives the most accolades (on some days, it’s The Pirate Planet; many moons ago, back when DWAS was actually a thing of some relevance, The Stones of Blood won their season poll; there are also those who, rightly, extol the virtues of The Androids of Tara). I’m fully behind that, although truthfully, I don’t think there’s an awful lot between the first four stories. Why, I even have great affection for the finale. It’s only “KROLL! KROLL! KROLL! KROLL!” that comes up a bit short, which no doubt makes me a no good dryfoot, but there you are. If that Robert Holmes script is on the threadbare side, through little fault of his own, The Ribos Operation is contrastingly one of his very best, a hugely satisfyi…

Sometimes when you take people away, they don't come back.

The Ward (2010)
(SPOILERS) I’d felt no particular compunction to rush out and see The Ward (or rent it), partly down to the underwhelming reviews, but mostly because John Carpenter’s last few films had been so disappointing, and I doubted a decade away from the big screen would rejuvenate someone who’d rather play computer games than call the shots. Perhaps inevitably then, now I have finally given it a look, it’s a case of low expectations being at least surpassed. The Ward isn’t very good, but it isn’t outright bad either.

While it seems obvious in retrospect, I failed to guess the twist before it was revealed, probably because I was still expecting a supernatural element to be realised, it being a Carpenter movie. But then, this doesn’t feel very much like a Carpenter movie. It doesn’t have a Carpenter score (Mark Killian) or screenplay (Michael and Shawn Rasmussen) and it doesn’t have Gary B Kibbe as lenser (Yaron Orbach). I suspect the latter explains why it’s a much more professi…

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You diabolical mastermind, you.

The Avengers Season 4 Ranked – Worst to Best
Season Four is generally held up as the pinnacle of The Avengers, and it certainly maintains the greatest level of consistency in the run. Nevertheless, as I noted a few reviews back, one viewer’s classic is another’s ho-hum with this show, perhaps because it doesn’t elicit the same kind of exhaustive fandom to establish any level of consensus as some series. There follows my Worst to Best ranking of the season, told mostly in pictures. The index for full episode reviews can be found here.