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

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

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…

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

One day you will speak and the jungle will listen.

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018)
(SPOILERS) The unloved and neglected Jungle Book movie that wasn't Disney’s, Jungle Book: Origins was originally pegged for a 2016 release, before being pushed to last year, then this, and then offloaded by Warner Bros onto Netflix. During which time the title changed to Mowgli: Tales from the Jungle Book, then Mowgli, and finally Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. The assumption is usually that the loser out of vying projects – and going from competing with a near $1bn grossing box office titan to effectively straight-to-video is the definition of a loser – is by its nature inferior, but Andy Serkis' movie is a much more interesting, nuanced affair than the Disney flick, which tried to serve too many masters and floundered with a finale that saw Mowgli celebrated for scorching the jungle. And yes, it’s darker too. But not grimdarker.

A steed is not praised for its might, but for its thoroughbred qualities.

The Avengers Season 3 Ranked - Worst to Best
Season Three is where The Avengers settles into its best-known form – okay, The Grandeur that was Rome aside, there’s nothing really pushing it towards the eccentric heights it would reach in the Rigg era – in no small part due to the permanent partnering of Honor Blackman with Patrick Macnee. It may not be as polished as the subsequent incarnations, but it has the appeal of actively exploring its boundaries, and probably edges out Season Five in the rankings, which rather started to believe its own hype.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Don’t you break into like, a billion homes a year?

The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
(SPOILERS) Tis the season to be schmaltzy. Except, perhaps not as insufferably so as you might think. The Christmas Chronicles feels very much like a John Hughes production, which is appropriate since it's produced by Chris Columbus, who was given his start as a director by Hughes. Think Uncle Buck, but instead of John Candy improving his nieces and nephew's lives, you've got Kurt Russell's Santa Claus bringing good cheer to the kids of the Pierce household. The latter are an indifferent duo, but they key here is Santa, and Russell brings the movie that all important irrepressible spark and then some.

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

A machine planet, sending a machine to Earth, looking for its creator. It’s absolutely incredible.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
(SPOILERS) Most of the criticisms levelled at Star Trek: The Motion Picture are legitimate. It puts spectacle above plot, one that’s so derivative it might be classed as the clichéd Star Trek plot. It’s bloated and slow moving. For every superior redesign of the original series’ visuals and concepts, there’s an inferior example. But… it’s also endlessly fascinating. It stands alone among the big screen chapters of series as an attempted reimagining of the TV show as a grand adult, serious-minded “experience”, taking its cues more from 2001: A Space Odyssey than Star Wars or even Close Encounters of the Third Kind (the success of which got The Motion Picture (TMP) a green light, execs sufficiently convinced that Lucas’ hit wasn’t a one-off). It’s a film (a motion picture, not a mere movie) that recognises the passage of time (albeit clumsily at points) and gives a firm sense of space and place to its characters universe. It’s hugely flawed, but it bot…