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.

Daredevil – Season 2 Review: Red & Black


Creators: Doug Petrie, Marco Ramirez

Channel: Netflix

Stars: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Jon Bernthal

daredevil-season-two-color


Genre: Action, Crime-drama, Superhero

Premiere: March 18th, 2016

Country: USA


4½/5

Best part: Jon Bernthal.

Worst part: A few too many episodes.

Last year, Netflix and Marvel’s first collaboration, Daredevil, set the bar for superheroes on the small screen. With Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War taking over the big screen in 2016, Marvel and DC Comics/Warner Bros. continue their ongoing war for supremacy and positive reviews in our homes. Eclipsing The Flash, Gotham, Agents of SHIELD, and Arrow, Daredevil – Season 2 is the best superhero show and one of contemporary TV’s biggest surprises to date.

Daredevil – Season 2 kicks off acknowledging the back-breaking, bone-crunching events of Season 1. With Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio) behind bars, Law firm Nelson and Murdock, held up by colleagues/best friends Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) and Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), is – despite sending Fisk to the slammer – facing a swift tumble down the plughole. Murdock, donning the red, leather Daredevil costume every night, is forced to decide between a quaint existence alongside Nelson and assistant Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) and ongoing vigilante/saviour responsibilities.

Of course, topping the quality and events of the previous season, Daredevil’s second outing introduces higher stakes and several alluring new characters. Frank Castle/The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) is a man driven to the edge of sanity by the death of his wife and child. With Hell’s Kitchen gangs hunted down one by one, the public soon turns against Castle and Murdock’s forms of citizen justice. Castle, depicted in several lacklustre big-screen iterations previously, is treated with respect here. Like his comic-book counterpart, this version is a cunning, thought-provoking anti-hero unafraid to twist the knife. Their action sequences provide that ‘dark & gritty’ aura most blockbusters fumble, informing each character’s persona and the show’s hyperkinetic atmosphere.

Daredevil and Castle’s conflict provides the psychological and thematic backbone other superhero adaptations typically lack. Castle provides a no-holes-barred approach, eviscerating criminals with military precision whilst making sure they never get back up. Daredevil, however, beats people to a pulp but leaves them for the police to put behind bars – eventually facing the consequences of their actions. From the scintillating courtroom sequences to thunderous set-pieces, this debate adds new layers to the genre whilst keeping the audience guessing.

Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung) slinks out of the darkness to give our favourite blind lawyer/vigilante, and her old boyfriend, a run for his money. A significant part of the season’s second half, the character is too given an honourable treatment compared to previous iterations (Sorry, Jennifer Garner). Utilising her sex appeal, tenacity, and ferociousness to her advantage, her persona pulls Murdock into a befuddling world of ninjas, scheming villains, and spiritual awakenings. She, balancing out Castle’s impact on the narrative, is a force to be reckoned with and worthy of a spin-off before joining The Defenders.

Most importantly, Cox provides a delightful, multi-layered performance as the Devil (angel) of Hell’s Kitchen. Similarly to Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers/Captain America, the performer creates a unique, nuanced divide between superhero and alter ego. Creating a physical specimen and vulnerable everyday citizen, the creators, writers, directors, and Cox combine to develop an arresting lead character – carrying all 13 episodes with ease. With Murdock facing off against physical threats, Nelson and Page aptly balance the warfare with wit and flair throughout their all-important sub-plots.

Sitting comfortably alongside Season 1 and Jessica Jones, Daredevil – Season 2 is a tight, taut continuation of one of TV’s best shows and the Marvel Television/Cinematic Universe.

Verdict: A major notch above Season 1.

Daredevil Episodes 1-2 Reviews: Marvel-lous Crime-Drama


Creator: Drew Goddard

Channel: Netflix

Stars: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Vincent D’Onofrio

Episode 1: Into the Ring 

Daredevil_PosterMarvel’s latest TV venture, and Netflix’s first superhero franchise, is a masterclass in small-screen action and suspense. As a crafty concoction of Law and Order and Dark Angel, Daredevil provides justice the popular comic-book character after that disastrous 2003, Ben Affleck-starring joke. This series, forced to win people over from its opening frame, accomplishes this monstrous task with room to spare. Into the Ring provides an immaculate introduction for newbies and a fun re-introduction for aficionados. I, aching for Daredevil to come into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, got everything I asked for.

Though I was not asking for too much, the show, by the divine powers of onomatopoeia, is the darkest form of TV neo-noir imaginable. This version of Matt Murdock/Daredevil (Charlie Cox) trusts everyone as far as he can throw them. Creator/head writer Drew Goddard, along with Hawkeye-d producer Steven S. DeKnight (see what I did there?), hurls us into a Batman Begins-esque dockside sequence. The criminals are worse than bad and Daredevil is meaner than mean. Thankfully, the all-black costume fits this version of the Daredevil mythology. This universe is nothing anything Iron Man, Thor, or Captain America have contended with thus far. In fact, Tony Stark would not dare step anywhere near this side of Manhattan. Thankfully, Matt’s business partner, Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), provides enough wit to balance out the dread and destruction.

The opening episode establishes a post-alien invasion version of the Big Apple. After the “incident”, seen in The Avengers, the city’s moguls and mobsters bought up broken apartment blocks from Brooklyn to Harlem and Beyond. Daredevil, facing off against the Chinese, Yakuza, and Russian Mafia, must prove himself as The Man Without Fear. His chance hits head-on after secretary Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) is accused of her co-worker’s brutal murder, the brave blind lawyer comes to her aid. From there, the reveal of a pension embezzlement scheme threatens to tear the underworld to shreds faster than Murdock’s flip-kicks. From the break-neck action to the gruelling, edge-of-your-seat tone, this episode breaks the ice, and bones, with raw, unrelenting power. Despite several ‘trade negotiation’-like sub-plot details, Into the Ring delivers enough blood, sweat, and cheers to rise to the occasion.

Episode 2: Cut Man

20150428182739!Daredevil-televisonCut Man is as dark, visceral, and confronting as ten Man of Steel and one Mean Streets thrown into a blender. Picking up immediately after the first episode, an innocent boy is kidnapped whilst his father is horrifically beaten by mobsters. They want what New York’s best assassin’s have failed to claim or conquer – the Man in the Mask. Having fought off one of the city’s deadliest killers, Murdock, dying from his wounds in a dumpster, is found by emergency ward nurse Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson). The second episode is a sprawling, touching ode to Daredevil’s comic-book origins. Though this episode never breaks the mould, it proves the core ingredients  make all the difference.

From the bright, shiny opening credits, the second episode feels assured as some of the MCU’s best features. Via flashback, Murdock tells the haunting tale of his boxer father’s rise and fall in the underground fighting rings. The story, coinciding with Matt’s accident as a child, compares Daredevil’s Hell’s Kitchen with that of his old man’s. The episode’s emotional arc, though derivative and predictable, is handled with more grace and prestige than recent cinematic origins (Spider-Man, in particular). Grappling with secret identities and trust, the episode’s thematic arc never takes its audience for granted. Nor does it spoon feed the answers. As one of Marvel’s B-grade characters, the Daredevil origin story needed to be told. Thankfully, it never feels like a slog through ‘been there, done that’ territory. Temple’s sarcastic tone and honesty makes her the audience avatar. Indeed, his story and powers do resemble a grab-bag of silly abilities.

Again, Foggy and Karen’s cute dynamic provides enough balance to counteract dreariness or dourness. Their night on the town showcases a fair bond between the supporting cast. Henson and Ann Woll’s chemistry teases what may be an on-again/off-again romance throughout future episodes or seasons. However, I cannot end the review without discussing one of contemporary TV’s most exhilarating sequence. It’s a sequence overpowering the already stirring action sequences seen before. I am, of course, referring to the hallway fist fight. Constructing a more faithful and interesting Oldboy homage than the Oldboy remake, this sequence showcases small-screen prowess without any self-indulgence or gratuity. Each kick, punch, and grapple, heightened by crunches and cracks, pushes the boundaries. More so, the single-take style becomes a more mature form of immersion.

Daredevil is available on Netflix. Tune in for more reviews – Episodes 4 and 5.

The Judge Review – In His Defence…


Director: David Dobkin

Writers: Nick Schenk, Bill Dubuque

Stars: Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio


Release date: October 10th, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 142 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: The winning performances.

Worst part: The underdeveloped sub-plots.

In one of legal drama The Judge‘s many courtroom scenes, our ‘antagonist’, Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) delivers a line which proverbially sums up the movie. Dealing with a deadbeat defendant refusing to pay child support, the second-billed character takes away the keys to his new pick-up truck and gives them to the pregnant, white trash plaintiff. As the man complains, Judge Palmer stops him and says: “You’re standing in one of the last great cathedrals in this country, built on the premise that you and you alone are responsible for the consequences of your actions”.

Robert Downey, Jr. & Robert Duvall.

Robert Downey, Jr. & Robert Duvall.

Oddly enough, this momentous line encompasses The Judge‘s positives and negatives. On the one hand, there has been a lot of love poured into the movie’s production and distribution. Shortly before its release, critics and audiences were given hope. With each new image and trailer, our anticipation levels grew over the prospect of Duvall and Robert Downey, Jr. earning serious Oscar contention. In addition, Downey, Jr. and Duvall made for interesting interviewees. So, how does the final product compare to our overwhelming expectations? Sadly, not so well. Compared to 2014’s other Oscar hopefuls, The Judge doesn’t do enough to guarantee statuettes. However, if judged on its own, the movie delivers enough positives to scrape by. The story, despite being encapsulated by Duvall’s character, does not centre around the veteran performer. Instead, we get Robert Downey, Jr. playing Tony Stark playing a whip-smart lawyer. As one of Chicago’s most valuable defense attorneys, Henry “Hank” Palmer (Downey, Jr.) knows the ins and outs of the judicial system like no one else. Dodging morally-sound prosecutors left and right, this big-shot lawyer – whilst defending an infamous insurance scammer – gets the shock of his life. After learning of his mother’s death, he packs an overnight bag and heads straight for the modest town of Carlinville, Indiana. Juggling a messy divorce, a young child, and a valuable case, Hank doesn’t plan on staying too long after the funeral.

Downey, Jr. & Vera Farmiga.

Downey, Jr. & Vera Farmiga.

The Judge‘s central conceit revolves around an ethically-inconsistent, big-city lawyer and his law-abiding father. Joseph, known to everyone in town as “Judge”, is a friendly citizen and true professional. At the wake, everyone gives Joseph a big, ol’ hug. Hank simply shakes his hand and slips back into the shadows. However, after Joseph becomes a hit-and-run murder’s prime suspect, Hank agrees to stick around. So, why do they hate each other so much? This question should have been the movie’s biggest concern. With two talented A-listers at the helm, the movie hinges on their stellar reputations and likeable personas. In fact, aided by their spirited back-and-forths about the past, present, and future, the movie excels whenever they drop their guards to shout at one another. One scene, in which Hank and Joseph conduct a shouting match whilst a record-breaking storm screeches through town, is worth the price of admission. However, I’m going to give Hollywood some advice: for the love of God, make shorter movies again! Pushing The Judge to a ridiculous 142-minute run-time, director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers, Shanghai Knights), makes several easily avoidable mistakes. Like Wedding Crashers, most of drama revolves around   meaningless and peculiar sub-plots. Here, the plot-threads include Joseph’s fight against cancer, Hank’s mentally-challenged brother (Jeremy Strong) and his Super-8 camera, his older brother(Vincent D’Onofrio)’s ruined baseball career, Hank’s re-connection with an old flame (Vera Farmiga), Hank butting heads with a local lawyer (Dax Shepard), the prosecutor (Billy Bob Thornton), and a questionable hook-up (Leighton Meester).

“Everyone wants Atticus Finch until there’s a dead hooker in a hot tub” (Henry “Hank” Palmer (Robert Downey, Jr.), The Judge).

Downey, Jr., Vincent D'Onofrio & Jeremy Strong.

Downey, Jr., Vincent D’Onofrio & Jeremy Strong.

Throwing intriguing ideas across multiple story-lines, The Judge reeks of desperation, self-consciousness, and carelessness. Throughout its hodge-podge story, the tone drastically switches every few minutes. Stalling its own momentum, the movie fails to add up to the sum of its parts. In addition, the movie doesn’t know what to say. Despite criticising Middle America’s wholesomeness, the movie unfairly condemns Hank for following making a living in the urban jungle. This Oscar-baiter, revelling in cliches, is an unremarkable concoction of A Few Good Men, Up in the Air, and Garden State. In fact, a wily filmmaker like Jason Reitman, Alexander Payne, or Jon Favreau would yell “objection” at its inconsistent pacing, undeveloped supporting characters, and irritating sub-plots. However, Dobkin makes several succinct directorial choices. Its visual flourishes – including Janusz Kaminski’s light-and-shadow-fuelled cinematography, Thomas Newman’s uplifting soundtrack choices (ranging from Willie Nelson to Bon Iver), and Mark Livolsi’s fluid editing – bolster certain moments whilst crafting an approachable glow. Like Jerry Maguire, the movie aptly centres around its most interesting character. The Judge – the first production from Downey, Jr. and wife Susan Downey’s production company, Team Downey – comes from good intentions. Downey, Jr., crafting one of Hollywood’s most successful comebacks, is charismatic as the cynical and pithy lead. Duvall, crafting one of Hollywood’s most inspiring careers, is brilliant in prick mode. Meanwhile, despite the lack of attention, Farmiga, D’Onofrio, and Strong deliver powerful turns.

As a homage to Hollywood’s best courtroom battles and familial dramas, The Judge strives to be relevant and award-worthy. Despite the gravitas, the story is summed up in one line: “Everyone wants Atticus Finch until there’s a dead hooker in a hot tub”. In fact, Downey, Jr. and Duvall do trim some fat. So, why is the movie still so long? As studio-driven Oscar bait, it unyieldingly becomes its own judge, jury, and executioner.

Verdict: A enjoyable yet inconsistent courtroom-drama.