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

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…

Garage freak? Jesus. What kind of a crazy fucking story is this?

All the President’s Men (1976)
It’s fairly routine to find that films lavished with awards ceremony attention really aren’t all that. So many factors go into lining them up, including studio politics, publicity and fashion, that the true gems are often left out in the cold. On some occasions all the attention is thoroughly deserved, however. All the President’s Men lost out to Rocky for Best Picture Oscar; an uplifting crowd-pleaser beat an unrepentantly low key, densely plotted and talky political thriller. But Alan J. Pakula’s film had already won the major victory; it turned a literate, uncompromising account of a resolutely unsexy and over-exposed news story into a huge hit. And even more, it commanded the respect of its potentially fiercest (and if roused most venomous) critics; journalists themselves. All the President’s Men is a masterpiece and with every passing year it looks more and more like a paean to a bygone age, one where the freedom of the press was assumed rather than a…

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

The head is missing... and... he's the wrong age.

Twin Peaks 3.7: There’s a body all right.
First things first: my suggestion that everyone’s favourite diminutive hitman, Ike “The Spike” Stadtler, had been hired by the Mitchum brothers was clearly erroneous in the extreme, although the logistics of how evil Coop had the contingency plan in place to off Lorraine and Dougie-Coop remains a little unclear right now. As is how he was banged up with the apparent foresight to have on hand ready blackmail tools to ensure the warden would get him out (and why did he wait so long about it, if he could do it off the bat?)


Launching right in with no preamble seems appropriate for his episode, since its chock-a-block with exposition and (linear) progression, almost an icy blast of what settles for reality in Twin Peaks after most of what has gone before this season, the odd arm-tree aside. Which might please James Dyer, who in the latest Empire “The Debate”, took the antagonistic stance to the show coming back and dismissed it as “gibbering nonsen…

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’re the Compliance Officer. It’s your call.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
(SPOILERS) The mealy-mouthed title speaks volumes about the uncertainty with which Tom Clancy’s best-known character has been rebooted. Paramount has a franchise that has made a lot of money, based on a deeply conservative, bookish CIA analyst (well, he starts out that way). How do you reconfigure him for a 21st century world (even though he already has been, back in 2003) where everything he stands for is pretty much a dirty word? The answer, it seems, is to go for an all-purpose sub-James Bond plan to bring American to its knees, with Ryan as a fresh (-ish) recruit (you know, like Casino Royale!) and surprising handiness in a fight. Yes, Jack is still a smart guy (and also now, a bit, -alec), adept at, well, analysing, but to survive in the modern franchise sewer he needs to be more than that. He needs to kick arse. And wear a hoodie. This confusion, inability to coax a series into being what it’s supposed to be, might explain the sour response to its …

I freely chose my response to this absurd world. If given the opportunity, I would have been more vigorous.

The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
(SPOILERS) I suspect, if I hadn’t been ignorant of the story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee selling secrets to the Soviets during the ‘70s, I’d have found The Falcon and the Snowman less engaging than I did. Which is to say that John Schlesinger’s film has all the right ingredients to be riveting, including a particularly camera-hogging performance from Sean Penn (as Lee), but it’s curiously lacking in narrative drive. Only fitfully does it channel the motives of its protagonists and their ensuing paranoia. As such, the movie makes a decent primer on the case, but I ended up wondering if it might not be ideal fodder for retelling as a miniseries.

Oh look, there’s Colonel Mortimer, riding down the street on a dinosaur!

One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing (1975)
(SPOILERS) There’s no getting round the dinosaur skeleton in the room here: yellow face. From the illustrious writer-director team who brought us Mary Poppins, no less. Disney’s cheerfully racist family movie belongs to a bygone era, but appreciating its merits doesn’t necessarily requires one to subscribe to the Bernard Manning school of ethnic sensitivity.

I’m not going to defend the choice, but, if you can get past that, and that may well be a big if, particularly Bernard Bresslaw’s Fan Choy (if anything’s an unwelcome reminder of the Carry Ons lesser qualities, it’s Bresslaw and Joan Sims) there’s much to enjoy. For starters, there’s two-time Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Ustinov (as mastermind Hnup Wan), funny in whatever he does (and the only Poirot worth his salt), eternally berating his insubordinate subordinate Clive Revill (as Quon).

This is a movie where, even though its crude cultural stereotyping is writ large, the dialogue frequen…

You may not wanna wake up tomorrow, but the day after that might just be great.

Blood Father (2016)
(SPOILERS) There are points during Blood Father where it feels like Mel is publically and directly addressing his troubled personal life. Through ultra-violence. I’m not really sure if that’s a good idea or not, but the movie itself is finely-crafted slice of B-hokum, a picture that knows its particular sandpit and how to play most effectively in it.

Sometimes the more you look, the less you see.

Snowden (2016)
(SPOILERS) There are a fair few Oliver Stone movies I haven’t much cared for (Natural Born Killers, U-Turn, Alexander for starters), and only W., post millennium, stands out as even trying something, if in a largely inconspicuous and irrelevant way, but I don’t think I’ve been as bored by one as I have by Snowden. Say what you like about Citizenfour – a largely superficial puff piece heralded as a vanguard of investigative journalism that somehow managed to yield a Best Documentary Feature Oscar for its lack of pains – but it stuck to the point, and didn’t waste the viewer’s time. Stone’s movie is so vapid and cliché-ridden in its portrayal of Edward Snowden, you might almost conclude the director was purposefully fictionalising his subject in order to preserve his status as a conspiracy nut (read: everything about Snowden is a fiction).