Movie Review ~ The Magnificent Seven (2016)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Seven gun men in the old west gradually come together to help a poor village against savage thieves.

Stars: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung Hun Lee, Manuel Garcia Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Matt Bomer, Billy Slaughter, Vinnie Jones, Peter Sarsgaard

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 132 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: I have two things to admit right off the bat. I’ve never seen the original The Magnificent Seven from 1960 or, worse yet, Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, the movie that inspired both films and countless other knockoff Westerns throughout the years. The second admission is that I’ve been wanting Oscar winner Denzel Washington (Flight) to lighten up a bit already…all of his movies are so serious, so steely, so tortured inside that it has me almost dreading every new film he’s headlining even though he’s one of our great working actors today. While Washington doesn’t quite achieve tranquility during the course of this remake, the actor does show some signs of a sense of humor in between the gunfire and exploding dynamite sticks.

The prologue sets the stage. It’s the 1870s and the town of Rose Creek has a problem whose name is Bartholomew Bogue (a typically ratty Peter Sarsgaard, Lovelace). Determined to buy up all the land in the area for 1/10 of what it’s worth, Bogue has staked his claim on Rose Creek and dares anyone to stand his way. Protected by a crooked town sheriff, Bogue and his army of gunslingers draws a line in the sand for the townsfolk; accept his low offer to purchase their plots of earth or suffer deadly consequences. Before the credits even begin, Bogue has struck down several strong-willed citizens (including an actor listed in the opening credits after he’s been killed) and prepares to return in three weeks to start rounding up and kicking out.

Rose Creek needs a savior, that’s why Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett, The Girl on the Train) offers bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Washington) all the town has to offer in exchange for his protection. Taking her up on her proposition partly because he empathizes with her and partly to exorcise his own personal demons, he recognizes he can’t go up against Bogue alone and recruits a sextet of men as he makes his way back to Rose Creek. First up is wise talking gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World), as good with a gun as he is with a deck of cards. Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke, Boyhood) a longtime friend of Chisolm and former army sharpshooter now making a living off of managing the duels of the deadly Billy Rocks (Byung Hun Lee, I Saw the Devil). Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Cake), a Mexican criminal on Chisolm’s wanted list is given a reprieve if he pitches in while Comanche Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) makes nice with Chisolm by chowing down on the heart of a freshly killed animal. Finally, we have Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio, Sinister) a soft spoken bear of a man that proves a dangerous person to underestimate.

Look, there’s a formula here and it’s shown to have worked for more than a century. Find someone that needs help, gather a rag-tag group of would-be heroes, and then let them loose in a fiery blaze of glory. It helps The Magnificent Seven that the heroes would likely be the bad guys of another movie but find themselves put to better use doing good. Working together they arm the town and stage some Home Alone-style booby traps that are a, ahem, blast.

At 132 minutes, it’s a long film but I found myself responding to it more than I thought I would. I love a good Western and while this won’t be remembered as any kind of classic I found it engaging and entertaining, two things we’ve had a serious lack of in 2016. It takes it’s time and maybe moseys when it should be sprinting but I didn’t seem to mind it and I think it’s largely due to the cast.

Director Antoine Fuqua (Olympus Has Fallen) teams up with Washington for the third time and clearly the two men have worked together enough to develop their own rhythm. Fuqua nudges Washington ever so slightly out of his run of stone-faced champion and gets the actor to feel his inner cowboy. Pratt’s role isn’t quite as challenging, largely being an extension of the good ole boy he’s played before. Hawke, too, turns in a performance that I wasn’t quite expecting. Robicheaux has some ticks and tricks that Hawke takes and runs with…much like D’Onofrio does with his odd, child-like lumberjack of a man. As the lone female, Bennett more than holds her own, stopping just short of going full on Linda Hamilton/Terminator 2 mode as the film reaches its pinnacle.

Pure popcorn entertainment with some great shots of canyons and dust bowls set to a purposeful score by the late James Horner, The Magnificent Seven doesn’t rise to the level of greatness its title implies. Still, there are far worse ways to spend your time at the movies and the cast makes it worth your while.

Movie Review ~ Terminator Genisys

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The Facts:

Synopsis: John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time to protect Sarah Connor, but when he arrives in 1984, nothing is as he expected it to be.

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Jai Courtney, Matt Smith, Emilia Clarke, Byung-hun Lee, J.K. Simmons, Sandrine Holt, Dayo Okeniyi, Michael Gladis, Courtney B. Vance

Director: Alan Taylor

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 125 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: So far, the summer of 2015 has proved fertile ground for highly anticipated blockbuster sequels.  From May’s Avengers: Age of Ultron & Mad Max: Fury Road to June’s record-breaking Jurassic World and Ted 2 audiences have willingly plunked down their dough to revisit old friends.  Well, July is here and a chilly wind has disrupted the warm paradise…and it’s called Terminator Genisys.

The Terminator franchise is a great example of a movie studio unwilling to quit while it’s ahead.  Released in 1984, James Cameron’s The Terminator was a sleeper hit that officially introduced Arnold Schwarzenegger (Kindergarten Cop) has an action star.  Seven years later Cameron had a golden idea for a sequel, resulting in the groundbreaking Terminator 2: Judgment Day.  That film was a forward thinking epic on the grandest of scales, effectively saving the summer movie event from the comic-book mayhem it was turning into.  Cameron’s director’s cut of the film remains one of my favorite films of all time, perfectly continuing the story he created and wrapping things up beautifully.

Unwillingly to leave well enough alone, Warner Brothers moved forward with a third film in 2003 and a fourth in 2009.  Neither were much to write home about because they were designed to be cash grabs for a studio that seemed to lack an original idea.  Admittedly, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines isn’t awful but it’s far more appealing than the gloomy Terminator Salvation…still, both films exist only for profit and nothing more.

So here we are, 31 years after the original with the fifth film in the Terminator universe and it’s easily the most troubling one of them all.  I held out a little hope for the movie at the outset because it seemed to be going for a clever revisionist reboot vibe, with scenes from the 1984 film recreated with a fine eye for detail.  Good intentions are quickly overtaken by uninspired action sequences that introduce a host of new faces playing familiar characters.

In the future where machines have taken over the world and are exterminating mankind, Kyle Reese (a flat Jai Courtney, Jack Reacher) is an impassioned devotee to resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke, Lawless, looking alarmingly like the puppet from the Saw films).  How impassioned is he? Well, let’s just say that when Reese finds out later that he’s actually Connor’s father you can see that Reese’s dreams of sipping mai-tais with Connor on a beach disappearing right before his sorrowful eyes.  When the opportunity arises for a mission back to 1984 to save Connor’s legendary mother, Reese volunteers and the rest is history…or the future…doesn’t really matter.

Back in 1984, things aren’t exactly like we remember them (the film reminded me a lot of Back to the Future Part II) and instead of finding a helpless Sarah Connor, Reese meets up with a determined heroine that has her own Terminator (Schwarzenegger) in her protection detail.  Emilia Clarke may have a Linda Hamilton look to her but the comparisons stop there.  Clarke is, like her co-stars, not a strong enough actor to carry this type of character to the end and therefore scenes displaying her unyielding stance at fighting for survival don’t land like they should.

Not surprisingly, only Schwarzenegger scores with any regularity.  He’s perfected this character over several cinematic endeavors (and one exciting theme park ride) so this is all old hat to him. A chance for the elder Schwarzenegger to fight with a recreation of his 1984 persona is a pleasant sequence but an all too brief foray into ingenuity by screenwriters Patrick Lussier & Laeta Kalorgridis.

Director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) has several large action sequences up his sleeve and while they deliver the requisite thrills, they seem like they’re cut scenes from a movie far removed from the Terminator universe.  Mostly, the film is a paint by the numbers exercise in too much exposition backed up with surprisingly weak special effects.

The worst thing about the movie is how much of it has been spoiled by the marketing team.  I won’t confirm or deny what people are thinking but you only need to look at the poster or watch one of the many spoiler-heavy trailers to get an idea of what’s going on in the film and preview nearly all of the pivotal moments the film tries to spring on you.  A very shameful showing by the marketing people at the studio.

A poorly executed sci-fi adventure that loses itself in its own pretzel twists of time, there’s little to like or recommend here…it’s a chipped tombstone for the series.

The Silver Bullet ~ Terminator Genisys

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Synopsis: The year is 2029. John Connor, leader of the resistance continues the war against the machines. At the Los Angeles offensive, John’s fears of the unknown future begin to emerge when TECOM spies reveal a new plot by SkyNet that will attack him from both fronts; past and future, and will ultimately change warfare forever.

Release Date:  July 1, 2015

Thoughts: I recently went back and re-watched the first three Terminator films and for a franchise that’s been around for 30 years, I was impressed how well the futuristic films have held up…well, that third entry has some serious problems and let’s not even go there with McG’s Terminator: Salvation. (I also visited the Terminator 3D ride at Universal Studios in September which, though amusingly dated, featured some of the most wowza 3D effects I’ve ever seen.)

With Paramount hitting the ever popular “re-boot” button that seems to be all the rage, the killing machine first introduced in James Cameron’s 1984 original is making a return to the big screen now that Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Last Stand) was willing to don that leather jacket once more.  Our first teaser for the summer 2015 flick looks like a splicing of the skeleton from the original low-budget entry and the effects marvel of the 1991 follow-up.  I’m interested to see where it’s all heading and with fresh faced cast members Jason Clarke (The Great Gatsby), Jai Courtney (Jack Reacher), and Emilia Clarke preparing for battle under Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) the hopes are high that the Terminator is back…for good.

Movie Review ~ Red 2

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Retired C.I.A. agent Frank Moses reunites his unlikely team of elite operatives for a global quest to track down a missing portable nuclear device.

Stars: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Byung Hun Lee, Brian Cox, Neal McDonough

Director: Dean Parisot

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 116 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  Merriam-Webster defines goofy as “being crazy, ridiculous, or mildly ludicrous” and also defines silly as “exhibiting or indicative of a lack of common sense or sound judgment”.  Based on a popular graphic novel from DC Comics, 2010’s original Red was a film of goofy fun that was a surprise sleeper hit at the box office thanks in no small part to its game cast willing to poke fun at their gradual over-the-hill-ness.  Unfortunately, the sequel falls into the silly category with the gang reassembled for a movie that feels constructed for a quick buck.

Red 2 throws the audience right back into the middle of the lives of Frank (Bruce Willis, Looper, Moonrise Kingdom), Marvin (John Malkovich, Warm Bodies), and Victoria (Helen Mirren, The Door, Monsters University)…all supposedly classified as Retired and Extremely Dangerous (RED).  It’s hard to put the gun down though so all three still get in on the occasional action, though Frank is more focused on shopping at Costco with his quirky love Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) than playing international spy.

Elements from a mission from Frank’s past pop up suggesting his involvement with smuggling a nuclear device into Russia and that’s when Frank, Marvin, and Sarah have to go on the run to avoid several interested parties in getting their hands on the device and Frank.  This leads to a globe hopping mission that would make James Bond airsick and is punctuated by title cards announcing the latest destination in a redundant fashion (i.e. one moment we are in “England” and then it’s “London”)

Willis is a curious actor that seems to appear in no less than twenty films a year, many of them instantly forgettable.  Still, I enjoy the fact that he seems to realize where he sits on the Hollywood food chain and happily takes the money from the work he gets.  As always, Malkovich keeps things interesting while Parker instills her character with perhaps one too many layers, effectively short-sheeting herself.  You can almost hear Mirren’s eyes rolling throughout the film, yet she comes out largely unscathed thanks to the actress tackling the material and forcing it into submission.

As is the case with most sequels, this one gathers some new folks to replace those that didn’t survive the first film and that’s where the movie starts its rapid swerve off course.  Korean assassin Han Cho Bai (sleepy looking Byung-hun Lee, so much more effective in the nightmare-inducing I Saw the Devil) has some beef with Frank and a running gag of Frank stealing Han’s private plane has little mileage.  Neal McDonough’s American assassin is so perfunctory it almost seems like he was filming scenes for another movie.  While Anthony Hopkins (Hitchcock) is an interesting choice for the role of a looped-out scientist, the script by returning screenwriters Jon and Eric Hoeber never gives the award-winning actor much room to breathe and the result is a stifled performance.

Then there’s Catherine Zeta-Jones (Rock of Ages, Side Effects) as a Russian with the most pronounced Welsh-accent in film history.  I thought several times that Zeta-Jones might just make a meal out of the kitten-esque spy role but she’s treated so poorly by the script that she becomes yet another casualty of uninspired creativity.  In the end, the most dramatic thing about her is her bangs.

Instead of the tongue and cheek approach Robert Schwentke brought to the original, director Dean Parisot instead takes to sticking his tongue out at the audience who paid money to see this overly jokey film that takes shameless product placements to new levels.  It simply never finds its footing and has too many holes and passages that can’t be taken seriously.  The action sequences are devoid of any excitement and its PG-13 rating means that while lots of guns get fired and bombs explode there is nary a speck of blood in the entire film.  I’m not advocating for splatter sprayed all around just for the hell of it but the film was clearly trimmed of any/all serious violence to stay within its rating.

Red 2 is the most disappointing kind of sequel – one that tries to outdo the first without tipping its hat to any of the elements that made the original so appealing.  It’s a lazy and cheap looking film that might make for a decent rental down the road on a day you’re home sick from work.  That way, you can fall asleep in your own bed rather than in a movie theater and not feel quite as guilty.  Skip it.

The Silver Bullet ~ Red 2

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Synopsis: Frank Moses and his motley crew of retired assassins return for a second outing.

Release Date:  July 19, 2013

Thoughts: In 2010, RED was an unexpected fall hit, propelling a sequel forward with much of the original cast in tow.  The nicely constructed first film was an oddball mix of action, comedy, and violence that played into the strengths of people like Bruce Willis while letting a star of Helen Mirren’s ilk go guns ‘a blazin’.  The sequel looks to be more of the same and in true Oceans 11 fashion more big names have been added to the list like Oscar winners Catherine Zeta-Jones and Anthony Hopkins.  With new director Dean Parisot (taking over for Robert Schwentke who had his hands full with R.I.P.D) I’m hoping the same light touch is maintained, making this second film the first of several sequels.

The Silver Bullet ~ G.I. Joe: Retaliation – Trailer #3

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Synopsis: The G.I. Joes are not only fighting their mortal enemy Cobra; they are forced to contend with threats from within the government that jeopardize their very existence

Release Date:  March 29, 2013

Thoughts: Arriving 9 months after its original release date of June 29 2012, this sequel to 2009’s brain dead but blockbuster G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra has released a new-ish trailer as it revs up to its late March release date.  The official reason for the move was that Paramount Pictures wanted to add 3D effects to the film (a tip…any movie converted to 3D is usually a total waste)…but the real reason turned out to be that the move allowed new scenes to be shot that kept Channing Tatum alive past the first 1/3 of the film.  With Tatum’s star taking off in a major way in 2012 (The Vow, 21 Jump Street, Magic Mike all being huge box office hits), this change of course makes sense.  I still think the film looks like something that would have been released in the mid 90’s but I’m hoping it’s not quite as insipid as its predecessor.