The Magnificent Seven (2016)


Don't ever mess with Denzel.

Don’t ever mess with Denzel.

(2016) Western (MGM/Columbia) Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Hailey Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard, Luke Grimes, Matt Bomer, Jonathan Joss, Cam Gigandet, Emil Beheshti, Mark Ashworth, Billy Slaughter, Dodge Prince, Matthew Posey, Dane Rhodes, Jody Mullins, Carrie Lazar. Directed by Antoine Fuqua

 

We often feel helpless about things. Those in power have too much money, too much power, too many guns. They have control over everything and we basically just have to take it and as time goes by, it becomes harder and harder to exist while those who are in charge seem to have it easier and easier, and do more injustice to us with impunity. In a situation like that, who are you gonna call?

In the town of Rose Creek, it’s easy to recognize who is oppressing them; it’s Bartholomew Bogue (Sarsgaard), a ruthless industrialist who runs the gold mine outside of town. He has bought and paid for the Sheriff (Rhodes) and treats his miners like slaves. Now he’s turned his sights to the town which he wants to destroy so he can further mine gold deposits he thinks might be there. He is trying to intimidate them into leaving – and it’s largely working, but some of the townspeople are willing to stay and fight. Those must be taught a lesson and that lesson ends with Matthew Cullen (Bomer), a good-hearted farmer, gunned down in front of the church which is also burned out.

His widow, Emma Cullen (Bennett) then goes in search of a gunman who can bring her if not justice at least vengeance. She finds Sam Chisolm (Washington), a duly licensed officer of the court from Wichita, Kansas – or a bounty hunter, which is what he really is. When Emma explains what’s happening in Rose Creek, at first he’s reluctant to get involved – until he finds out who is doing unto the good citizens of Rose Creek. Then he’s ready to take on an army.

He’ll need some tough characters to take on the murderous mercenaries that Bogue has hired. First up is gambler Josh Faraday (Pratt) who essentially owes Chisolm for getting his horse out of hock. After that came sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Hawke) and his associate Billy Rocks (Lee), an immigrant from Asia and an expert with knives. Then there’s the Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Garcia-Rulfo) and the Comanche brave Red Harvest (Sensmeier). Finally there’s Jack Horne (D’Onofrio), a legendary trapper.

It is seven hard men against an army. When they ride into town, they take Bogue’s men by surprise and take over the town but they know that Bogue, who is in Sacramento at the time, will be back with many, many more men. They train the townspeople to defend themselves and they also liberate the miners who also will make their stand there. But how can they, when the bad guys are so many, so much better armed and so much more experienced at fighting?

This is of course a remake of the classic John Sturges western of 1960 which in itself was a remake of the 1954 Akira Kurosawa classic Seven Samurai. Fuqua, who directed Washington to an Oscar in Training Day, is a big fan of Westerns in general and The Magnificent Seven was always one of his favorites. Feeling that the themes of tyranny and terrorism were even more apt today than they were in 1960, he took on the daunting task of remaking an iconic Western which in many ways made the career of Steve McQueen (in the Josh Faraday role).

The cast here is pretty top notch. Washington is at the top of his game, channeling Clint Eastwood and Gary Cooper. Few actors in Hollywood today can play a badass as effectively as Washington can; despite the 70s porn star mustache, he is intimidating and tough as nails. He also looks pretty freaking good for a man in his 60s.

Pratt like Washington is an enormous star and here he brings his trademark irreverence to the role, making Josh Faraday not just comic relief (which he is occasionally) but a badass in his own right. This role isn’t going to advance his career any further but it isn’t going to knock it backwards either. Pratt has a tendency to play the same role over and over again recently and this is more of the same.

Hawke has a good turn as the sharpshooter whose Civil War experiences haunts him and has made him reluctant to take up the rifle again. For my money though, one of the performances you’ll remember is D’Onofrio, whose high squeaky voice doesn’t sound remotely like what we’re used to from him, but plays Horne honestly and with relative dignity. He just about steals the movie.

Fuqua gets points for casting ethnic actors into the proper roles; a Hispanic actor plays the Mexican, a Korean actor the Asian and an Inuit actor the Native American. There isn’t really any mention of racial prejudices which in that era were prevalent and extreme; few white people would have sought or accepted help from an African American, even if they were desperate, nor would they have looked to Mexican or Native help as well – most white settlers considered all three ethnic groups subhuman. I like the diversity of the cast, but I do think that ethnicity should have been addressed at least somewhat.

The final confrontation between Bogue and his men and the townspeople takes up the bulk of the movie and is epic in scope. There’s some decent fight choreography here and while it doesn’t up the ante in action scenes, it at least distinguishes itself as well staged and exciting. The gunfight is everything you’d want from a climactic battle, so kudos for that.

I don’t think anyone can reasonably expect this movie to be replacing the original in the hearts and minds. I’m pretty sure that isn’t why Fuqua made it. Unfortunately, it will be held up against the original – whether Seven Samurai or the 1960 version – and it will come up short against both of those. However, taken on its own merits it’s not that bad but to be honest not that bad doesn’t measure up when it comes to two classic predecessors.

REASONS TO GO: Washington and Pratt are huge stars. D’Onofrio turns in one of his most interesting performances in years.
REASONS TO STAY: Nothing is really added to the source material here. The racism of the era is glossed over.
FAMILY VALUES: As with most westerns, there’s plenty of rootin’, tootin’ and shootin’. There’s also a bit of foul language and some sexually suggestive material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This would be the final score by Oscar winning composer James Horner as he passed away June 22, 2015.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/15/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Wild Bunch
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Blue Jay

Sukiyaki Western Django


Sukiyaki Western Django

Six-shooters are for pussies.

(First Look) Hideaki Ito, Koishi Sato, Yusuke Iseya, Quentin Tarantino, Masanobu Ando, Takaaki Ishibashi, Yoshino Kimura, Teruyuki Kagawa. Directed by Takashi Miike

Some movies go beyond description. Any attempt to do so is to invite failure for these movies are so innovative, so out there that no description of the plot or the film can really do it justice.

Sukiyaki Western Django is just such a film. Japanese director Miike, one of the most prolific and crazed directors of the last decade, does his take on the Italian western of Sergio Leone and his ilk and filters it through the eyes of…well, I’m not really sure.

To try and summarize the plot is pointless. Let’s just say that it is loosely based on the 1966 Sergio Corbucci movie Django but also on the Japanese historical epic novel “The Tale of Heike,” whose warring factions are used here – the Red (Heike) and the White (Genji) clans. They are both seeking a treasure in the hills of Nevada, which look suspiciously Japanese in a mining town that is entirely populated by Japanese and has a striking architectural mix of Old West saloons and pagodas.

In the middle of all this is a mysterious gunslinger (Ito) whose participation would tip the balance in favor of one clan or the other, so he is vigorously pursued by both. Tarantino shows up as a legendary gunslinger (mostly in old age make-up to the point where he’s barely recognizable) who appreciates a fine dish of sukiyaki as long as its not too sweet.

There are shoot-outs – a ton of them – and plenty of blood, with a sense of the whimsical. In the first post-prologue scene, one of the nameless thugs gets a hole blown in his stomach, and while he stares at the gaping wound in astonishment an arrow is shot through the hole to impale another thug sitting on a horse behind the first thug.

Miike has an impressive visual style and he lets it go wild here. The prologue takes place on what is obviously a set with a stylized backdrop that recalls Japanese anime as it might have been done on the backdrop of a saloon stage. Flowers give bloom to…fetuses. An eight-armed animated gunslinger turns up from time to time.

The action is frenetic. Miike wisely avoids dwelling too much on the finer points of the plot and instead concentrates on the mayhem. Now, keep in mind that twenty minutes were cut out of the Japanese version which I haven’t seen; it’s possible that there may have been more emphasis on the story there. I’m not sure I’d be able to handle it without my head exploding.

The cast, who mostly don’t speak a word of English, deliver their lines in phonetically learned English, making for odd pronunciations and emphases. Think of it as on-set dubbing; while the dialogue matches the actors mouth movements, it contributes to the overall surreality of the movie.

If I were to tell you that this would be a dangerous movie to watch while on acid, that would first off imply that I would have first-hand knowledge of acid, which I do not. Secondly, that would be as close to a one-sentence description as I can possibly come to this movie and in all likelihood the fairest and most accurate description of it. Those who love movies that are visceral and have a complete absence of intellectual properties are going to find this their kind of meal. Those who don’t like roller coaster rides on their DVD player should probably give this a miss.

WHY RENT THIS: This samurai spaghetti Western is so over-the-top that all you can do is admire it. Fans of Tarantino’s best should flock to this one.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The plot is a bit of a mish-mash and can be hard to follow from time to time. The thick Japanese accents are nearly indecipherable for some of the cast.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots and lots of gunfights, much slow motion blood and a rape. Definitely not family viewing.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: If you look closely at the arm of the mechanical wheelchair that Tarantino is using, the duck hood ornament from Deathproof which he directed is visible.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Mostly standard making-of stuff, except that it’s in Japanese with subtitles. In any case, any opportunity to get into the mind of Miike is well worth the visit.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: CSA: The Confederate States of America