The Magnificent Seven Review: Good Ol’ Gunslingers


Director: Antoine Fuqua

Writers: Nic Pizzolatto, Richard Wenk

Stars: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio

the-magnificent-7-new-poster


Release date: September 29th, 2016

Distributors: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 133 minutes


3½/5

Best part: The starry cast.

Worst part: Sarsgaard’s wacky villain.

The buddy/team-up flick typically goes one of two ways – disgustingly enjoyable for embarrassingly terrible. The better ones give audiences a grand ol’ time. 2016 has delivered several inconsequential team-up flicks (TMNT: Out of the Shadows, Suicide Squad, Now You See Me 2). The latest Magnificent Seven remake breaks that string of flops and never looks back.

The Magnificent Seven is as cool, calm and collected as everyone in front of and behind the camera. The John Sturges-directed/Yul Brynner-starring 1960 original is, of course, a remake of the 1954 Akira Kurosawa/Toshiro Mifune classic Seven Samurai. The story centres on law-enforcement helper/bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington). Vengeance-seeker Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) tasks Chisolm with destroying her husband(Matt Bomer)’s killer, mining giant Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). Chisolm recruits six badasses – gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Mexican Outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) – to save Rose Creek from Bogue’s evil regime.

This badasses-banding-together premise is as tried and true as Hollywood itself. Seven Samurai‘s legacy influenced westerns, actioners and A Bug’s Life. Also, 1950s westerns pitted good-goodies (whitehats) and bad-baddies (blackhats) against one another. Similarly, this remake is smart in its simplicity. The aforementioned premise takes over the first half. Given 133 minutes, screenwriters Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective seasons 1 and 2) and Richard Wenk linger on Chisolm’s audition process. The introductions, on their own, aren’t particularly interesting. Horne’s opening scene is a highlight, showcasing a rare glimpse of old-era violence. The script provides vague glimpses at their backstories (Chisolm and Robicheaux’s, in particular). However, it explores the ensemble more than any particular member. The drama and comedy rely on blissful character interactions. Steadily, our titular crew assists the town and take on the snivelling bad guys. If it aint broke, I guess.

Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer) takes the Washington-actioner reigns from the late Tony Scott. Fuqua’s slick style and pulsating action hit with brute force. Of course, our leads dodge bullets and hit their targets every time. However, its pacing, practical effects, and score amp up the thrills. The climax delivers an extended miasma of bullet holes and explosions. Like his other popcorn-chomping distractions (Olympus Has Fallen, The Shooter), it delivers slight twists on convention. Most importantly, it’s an advertisement for multiculturalism and gender equality. Overcoming limited dialogue, the Asian, American-indian, and Mexican characters give their African-American and caucasian counterparts a run for their money. Bennett delivers a scintillating, eye-opening introduction to wider audiences.

This newer, fresher Magnificent Seven is cinematic macaroni and cheese – clichéd but insatiably enjoyable. Despite the flaws (broad characters, twists etc. galore!), the cast and crew are worth the admission cost. Thankfully, I had as much fun watching it as they had making it. Sadly, the epilogue does not work!

Verdict: A cool western-throwback.

Jurassic World Audio Review: Rickety Rollercoaster


Director: Colin Trevorrow

Writers: Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

Stars: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas-Howard, Ty Simpkins, Vincent D’Onofrio

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Release date: June 12th, 2015

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 124 minutes


 

2½/5

Review:

Guardians of the Galaxy Review – I Am Groot


Director: James Gunn

Writers: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman

Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel

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Release date: August 1st, 2014

Distributors: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Marvel Studios

Country: UK

Running time: 121 minutes


 

 

 

4½/5

Best part: The dynamic soundtrack.

Worst part: The two-dimensional villains.

All-powerful mega-conglomerate Marvel Studios has, for the past few years, been keeping everything close to the chest. Its mission, to build an intricate cinematic universe whilst entertaining the masses, is worthy of immense critical and commercial acclaim. Unlike most blockbusters, the Iron Man, Thor, Incredible Hulk, Captain America, and Avengers tentpoles work as stand-alone adventures and vital instalments. Marvel’s latest effort, Guardians of the Galaxy, fits into this gutsy and entertaining franchise.

Peter Quill/Starlord in action.

Peter Quill/Starlord in action.

Hitting and sticking, this sci-fi epic puts the pedal to the metal from the get-go and refuses to listen to the studio big-wigs. As Marvel’s craziest venture yet, Guardians of the Galaxy is ballsy enough to stick to its overarching plan. Unlike Marvel’s preceding efforts, this movie refuses to stay Earth bound. Here, the narrative and characters reach for the stars and soar into the sky to achieve the nigh-impossible. Thanks to the alluring marketing campaign, its premise is significantly more bizarre and questionable than expected. Shortly after his mother’s death, a young Peter Quill escapes his family’s grasp before being abducted by an unknown entity. The movie then jumps several years, and thirty-something Quill (Chris Pratt), going by “Starlord”, is a lowlife criminal working for himself. Dodging bounty hunters and murderers across the galaxy, his immediate future consists of treasure and loose alien babes. Unsurprisingly, his latest prize, a sphere-like artefact, places him atop the universe’s Most Wanted list. After a tussle between Quill, assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Racoon-like badass Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and tree-like creature Groot (Vin Diesel), our brawlers are thrown into a vicious floating jail.

The Guardians kicking ass!

The Guardians kicking ass!

After a daring escape, aided by Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), these abrasive warriors come together to tackle villainous figures including Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Korath (Djimon Hounsou). Predictably so, comic-book aficionados and giddy cinema-goers define Guardians of the Galaxy‘s set fan-base. Pushing its kooky and intriguing narrative into warp speed, this sci-fi actioner delivers on everything it promises. Director/co-writer James Gunn (Slither, Super) injects his off-kilter style into each scene. From the emotionally resonant prologue (placed in front of Marvel’s logo) onward, the movie delivers a balance of charm and poignancy. Mixing sci-fi, action, and comedy tropes, Marvel latest is even more boisterous and hearty than preceding efforts. Scouring the universe, the movie examines the comic-book series and Marvel’s Cinematic Universe simultaneously. As varying factions and figureheads fight for control, the story etches in several cartoonish heroes and villains. Despite the sequel baiting and distracting contrivances, the goodies (led by the Nova Corps) and the baddies (led by high-ruler Thanos (Josh Brolin)) never distort the narrative. Instead, the pacing and tone establish a Star Wars vibe with hints of Serenity and Indiana Jones. Bolstered by a 70s/80s soundtrack, its nostalgic glow pushes everything along with style and gusto. Venturing into the vast reaches of space, this Star Trek-like space opera connects aliens, humans, and animals together organically.

“I am Groot.” (Groot (Vin Diesel), Guardians of the Galaxy).

Ronan the Accuser

Ronan the Accuser.

Indeed, Guardians of the Galaxy‘s universe-building techniques inject gravitas and awe into its simple-yet-effective plot. With our five leads at each other’s throats, their zany actions and reactions are worth the admission cost. Drifting between expansive star systems and planets, the movie’s production design eclipses that of both Thor instalments. The Knowhere, a mining district built inside a gigantic skull, is a sight to behold. Handling magic and mystery deftly, Marvel’s latest achieves everything Green Lantern failed at. Despite the confusing space-opera/source material jargon, its story beats and character motivations mature naturally throughout. Without becoming a slapstick farce, the comedic jabs craft memorable and applause-worthy moments. Pulling people from different realms together, our five leads’ camaraderie bolsters this inspired instalment. Outshining its set pieces and genre cliches, the quieter moments make for significant strides. Whenever  our characters sit and talk to one another, the movie’s negatives hurriedly dissipate. Graciously, its unique performers elevate certain set pieces and dialogue moments. Pratt, coming off Parks and Recreation and The Lego Movie, excels in his run-and-gun lead role. As the group’s Han Solo, Quill has the attitude, and dance moves, to match Marvel’s other anti-heroes.  Surprisingly, Bautista, Cooper, and Diesel steal the show from one another as the team’s wackiest members. Their foul-mouthed, vengeful characters solidify this sarcastic yet determined ensemble.

From Quill opening credits dance number to the third act’s spaceship showdown, Guardians of the Galaxy takes to shooting first and taking names second. Fuelled by its retro visuals and puffed-up swagger, this sci-fi actioner signifies the start of Marvel’s immense evolution. With Phase 2 coming to a close, this mega-studio is heading in the right direction. The pressure now rests on Avengers: Age of Ultron‘s God of Thunder-sized shoulders. I anticipate a Rocket/Groot/Iron Man team-up flick by 2019.

Verdict: Marvel’s most ambitious and peculiar effort yet!

The Lego Movie Review – Brick by Brick


Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Writers: Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Stars: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman

The_Lego_Movie_poster


Release date: April 3rd, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 100 minutes


 

 

 

4/5

Best part: The wink-and-nudge humour.

Worst part: The slightly exasperating length.

One toy company, over past few years, has caused more societal shifts than every government put together. The Lego Group, creating miniature architects and production designers, has an affecting stranglehold on almost every household in the Western World. Venturing into big-budget filmmaking, Lego’s latest spectacle, The Lego Movie, is history’s first BLOCK-buster (you can all have that one!). Fortunately, this animated roller-coaster ride delivers hysterical jokes, fun action sequences, and a modest tone.

Chris Pratt as Emmet Brickowski.

Nowadays, with Lego’s video games (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings etc.) conquering the small screen, this franchise delivers hefty amounts of nostalgia. I grew up with these yellow, plastic men myself. I, normally one to turn my nose up at nostalgia-drenched blockbusters, fell head-over-heels for this enthusiastic thrill-ride. Here, The Lego Group steps back about one-or-two cubit meters. Allowing the cast and crew to show off their unique talents, the multi-billion dollar company is displaying its modest side. This could be seen as an ongoing moment of weakness. However, this is a surprising move for this expansive corporation to undertake. Interestingly enough, the movie comes off as a running commentary on capitalism, industry, and social progress. However, before delving into its thematic relevance, I’ll describe the plot before this review smashes into tiny pieces. The story focuses on kooky everyman Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt). Emmet, following orders printed in specialised instruction manuals, fits into his city’s way of life. Listening to pop tunes, buying overpriced coffee, and working at a local construction site, Emmet lacks significant qualities. One day, after running into alluring warrior Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Emmet discovers the key to the universe’s survival.

Elizabeth Banks & Morgan Freeman.

Labelled “The Special” by the master builder’s leader Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), and told to collect the fabled “Kragle” weapon, his journey kicks off in spectacular fashion. As you can tell, The Lego Movie‘s plot is lifted from influential action-adventure flicks. Slotting genre tropes and familiar sequences together, the plot rollickingly speeds along toward the explosive climax. In the first third, the Matrix-style narrative kicks into overdrive. Defined by an all-knowing prophecy, the movie is wholly aware of its conventional tropes. Shifting from one action trope to another, The Lego Movie taps into multiple generations’ senses of nostalgia. With Lego being a major part of our childhoods, the movie captures a child’s acute and inventive imagination. Exposing Lego’s lighter and heavier shades, writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miler (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street), by throwing these lego creations onto the big screen, accentuate their humorous and clever style. Here, the dynamic duo examines Lego’s pop-cultural impact. Commenting on its own existence, The Lego Movie humbly points out the each twist and turn’s absurdities. This modern animated classic takes its relentless nature and builds upon it. Lord and Miller’s senses of humour place rectangular blocks into affable and important places. Following an intrinsic instruction manual, the duo’s screenplay delivers several eclectic comedic jabs and one-liners. Admittedly, it’s shameful to criticise The Lego Movie for its silliness. Basing a big-budget extravaganza on a famous toy, Lord and Miller keep up the tempo throughout its extensive run-time.

“Whoa, are we inside my brain right now? It’s big. I must be smart.” (Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt), The Lego Movie).

Will Ferrell & Liam Neeson.

Fortunately, Lord and Miller, saving this plot from falling apart, kickstart one action sequence after another. After zany characters like Good Cop/Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) and Batman (Will Arnett) are introduced, certain set pieces fit together seamlessly. Developing a gigantic chase across multiple worlds, these set pieces mix humour, stellar animation, and stylish choreography. The Old West jet battle, featuring a steam train, police planes, and the Batmobile, is an early highlight. Beyond the pulsating action sequences, the animation style enthusiastically bolsters this questionable premise. Fusing CG animation, stop-motion effects, and detailed miniatures, Lord and Miller’s Lego universe is chock-a-block (zing!) with surprises and exhilarating moments. Venturing into “Middle Zealand”, the high seas, and corporate mogul Lord Business(Will Ferrell)’s lair, The Lego Movie trounces Pixar’s more recent efforts. In addition, the little yellow figures, stuck in these chaotic events, are the movie’s most engaging creations. Tapping into Lego’s extensive history, the cast list includes the 2002 NBA All-stars, Michelangelo, Abraham Lincoln, 80s-something spaceman (Charlie Day) and Princess Unikitty (Alison Brie). Beyond this, the movie provides a meta-commentary on Warner Bros. properties. Along with characters from Star Wars, Harry Potter, and LOTR, the movie comes close to creating a Justice League spinoff. Superman (Channing Tatum), Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), and Wonder Woman (Cobie Smulders) are welcome additions. Eclipsing these references, the lead voices cap-off this wondrous comedy. Pratt, Banks, Arnett, Freeman, and Neeson stretch their immense acting talents in these enlightening roles

By all means, The Lego Movie should’ve bombed spectacularly. At first, this overwhelming concept seemed like nothing more than a cheap gimmick. However, put in Lord and Miller’s careful hands, this animated gem, from its conquering landscapes to slick vehicles, has been built with precision, imagination, and care. Of course, credit also belongs to Pratt and co. for bringing these plastic heroes and villains to life. This may be cheesy, but this Lego creation reaches skyscraper-level heights.

Verdict: A humorous and enjoyable animated adventure.

Delivery Man Review – Vaughn’s Vindication


Director: Ken Scott

Writers: Ken Scott, Martin Petit

Stars: Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt, Cobie Smulders, Andrzej Blumenfeld


Release date: November 22nd, 2013

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 104 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: The fun performances.

Worst part: The repetitive gags.

I let out an audible groan after I first heard about Delivery Man‘s existence. As a remake of the 2011 French-Canadian comedy Starbuck, the premise seemed entirely conventional and cynical. Soon after, I became more disdainful when comedic actor Vince Vaughn attached himself to the project. Somehow, by the powers of Grayskull and tinsel-town, this blatant re-tread turned out to be…genuinely watchable. Delivery Man is a generic yet enjoyably silly and heart-warming dramedy. In addition, Vaughn, though straining, wholeheartedly elevates the final product.

Vince Vaughn.

Despite the inconsistencies and awkward moments, Delivery Man embraces every second of its appropriate run-time. Unlike most Hollywood comedies, the movie contains enough laughs to keep audiences engaged. As seen in the trailers, the plot contains several twists, turns, and bumps. Good-for-nothing slacker David Wosniak (Vaughn) ambitiously strives to obtain a more fulfilling existence. Constantly letting people down, David’s reserve is tested by his frustrated family and friends. If that wasn’t enough, his ‘hydroponic endeavours’ have landed him in an $80 000 debt with local gangsters. On top of that, David’s world is sent spinning when his estranged girlfriend Emma (Cobie Smulders) reveals she is pregnant. With an oncoming child, David admits he is unprepared and outgunned for his life’s next step. Unfortunately, his past comes back to haunt him. Thanks to a whopping 693 sperm donations given during his student years, his samples have created a baffling 533 biological children. Burdened by the strange news, David becomes a wishful saviour for several of the identified children.

Vaughn & Chris Pratt.

With 124 of David’s offspring joining a class action lawsuit against the sperm bank and the persona known only as “Starbuck”, David’s dilemma becomes increasingly stressful. With the help of lawyer and life-long buddy Brett (Chris Pratt), David, known to make poor decisions in high-pressure situations, crusades against the sperm bank. Before this, however, the movie leans too much on predictability and emotional manipulation. Hurriedly laying down every plot-thread, the movie constantly deliberates on David’s ever-expanding problems. Within the first few minutes, this dramedy beats is lead character to a pulp. Thankfully, in trouble with all manner of good and bad citizens, David’s journey contains potential, heart, and relevance. Writer/director Ken Scott gives his original feature a big-budget face-lift. Starbuck, being a sleeper-hit across the globe, highlights suburbia and the first world order’s most iconic aspects. Here, family businesses, parenthood, and the American dream are treated with affection and an attention to detail. Sporting a democratic agenda, Scott’s direction present’s David’s pressing situation as a series of mild inconveniences. Certain story-lines are picked up and dropped without warning. Unfortunately, these sub-plots contain dramatic and comedic potential. The mobster plot-strand is a contrived and unnecessary distraction. However, this optimistic dramedy contains several vital messages. Scott’s perspective, discussing parenthood and responsibility, provides a ray of glorious and gleeful sunshine. Despite the pros and cons of children, relationships, and hard work, Scott still delivers a well-crafted and thoughtful farce. In multiple ways, Delivery Man borrows from other beloved big-budget dramedies. Despite its French-Canadian roots, this ode to Knocked Up and About a Boy becomes a light-hearted and impactful narrative.

“This could be the most be the beautiful thing that could ever happened to me. These kids ned someone to look out for them. They need a guardian angel.” (David Wosniak (Vince Vaughn), The Delivery Man).

Vaughn & the kids.

Here, unlike the aforementioned dramedies, the lead character starts out as a likeable and engaging presence. Unfortunately, his journey becomes increasingly ridiculous and bombastic up until its sweet denouement. David’s questionable antics turn him from a humanistic man-child to a well-meaning stalker. With each baffling twist and turn, the movie steadily loses its dry wit and quaint tone. Despite the overt cheesiness, the dramatic moments elevate this otherwise forgettable remake. Despite the bizarre situation, David’s motivations make for Delivery Man‘s most touching sequences. David, taking care of a young Down syndrome sufferer, becomes a good samaritan. These wordless scenes lend heart and intelligence to this wacky dramedy. Despite its charming sheen, the hit-and-miss humour restrains it. Vaughn’s sarcastic veneer elevates the derivative one-liners and ludicrous slapstick gags. His situation, illustrated by Vaughn’s zany facial expressions and enthusiasm, is made whole by Scott’s kinetic and enlightening comedic timing. As an improv vs. staged gag Hollywood comedy (like most nowadays), the pithy dialogue far outweighs the repetitive physical hijinks. Vaughn is, yet again, playing himself. Despite his overt charisma and rat-tat-tat delivery, he’s embodying yet another spoiled and down-trodden man-child. Learning important life lessons whilst maturing into a responsible individual, Vaughn can play this role in his sleep. Thankfully, the supporting characters save certain scenes. Pratt excels as David’s goofy and unprofessional lawyer. His magnetic screen presence, made whole via Parks and Recreation, boosts this sympathetic and engaging foil. Smulders, known for How I Met your Mother and The Avengers, provides an enjoyable performance as David’s better half.

Despite the obvious issues, Delivery Man is a well-intentioned and charming holiday hit. Vaughn – despite his poor run of comedies including The Dilemma, The Watch, and The Internship – elevates the conventional material. This remake, though unnecessary, becomes a refreshing and comforting flick out-matching most modern Hollywood comedies.

Verdict: A charming and meaningful dramedy.