The Magnificent Seven (2016)

The Magnificent Seven is a 2016 Western action film directed by Antoine Fuqua and written by Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk. It is a remake of the 1960 film of the same name, which was, in turn, a Westernized version of the 1954 Japanese period epic Seven Samurai. The film stars Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onoforio, Lee Byung-Hun, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, and Peter Sarsgaard. In post-Civil War America, corrupt industrialist Bartholomew Bouge threatens the town of Rose Creek. Bouge needs the small mining town for his industrial operations. The besieged townspeople have three weeks to save their town. After her husband is killed by Bouge, Emma Cullen and her friend Teddy set out to find some heroes to protect their town. After recruiting the resolute and stalwart Sam Chisholm, they happen upon gunslinger, gambler, and drinker Josh Farraday, who joins them. Chisholm, duly sworn warrant officer of Wichita,  Kansas and (insert host of other occupations I can’t remember) finds his old friend, ex-Confederate sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux and his knife-wielding companion Billy Rocks. The group also manages to recruit the eccentric and possibly unstable tracker Jack Horne and Mexican outlaw Vasquez. The group is then completed after happening upon lone Comanche warrior Red Hawk. The group then prepares to defend the town from Bouge.

I am a fan of Westerns. I love Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Dollars Trilogy, and I wrote a paper on Unforgiven last semester. I must admit, I was meaning to see the original 1960 film, but never got around to it. I can only hope that the original was better than this. For your information, I left out nothing important in that summary. Nothing of consequence happens that you, the reader, are left unaware of. The only backstories that are ever mentioned are the fact that Bouge murdered Chisholm’s family in Lincoln, Kansas, which is discussed in the first 1/3 of the movie, and the fact that Goodnight doesn’t kill anymore because violence is wrong. You learn nothing of interest about Farraday, Rocks, Horne, or Red Hawk, beyond the fact that they are good guys. You do not care about the characters at all. The plot, though not what I’d call “thin,” is exceedingly generic and reeks of boredom.

There are some amazing films with generic plots, however. John Wick revolves around revenge for a dead puppy; an excuse to showcase mind-blowing action sequences, great set design, and world building. John Wick was also great at exposition. It didn’t tell you worthless information, and told you just enough to make John Wick a scary, badass guy, even to the viewer, which is why the film works so well. Sadly, this is not the case The Magnificent Seven, in which the action sequences, of which their where only about three or four, and just one big one, are as generic as its plot and characters. The film is also loaded up with needless exposition that desperately tries to make you connect with these characters, and it fails miserably.

The acting also leaves much to be desired. I like Denzel Washington in everything I see him in. I feel he is very charismatic and just feels like an empathetic dude in general. Here, though, Washington sleepwalks through this role. Sam doesn’t seem very impassioned about hunting down the dude who killed his family, even when doing the deed. When confronting Bogue, I did not see anger or frustration. The best way I can describe Denzel in this movie is that he wasn’t playing a character, Denzel was playing “Denzel playing a character in a movie,” like RDJ as a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude in Tropic Thunder, but in real life. Chris Pratt is his normal, likable, charming self, but he doesn’t elevate the movie. Basically, everyone in this film is passable, but no one is excellent. I will say two things, though. D’Onoforio’s character is very eccentric, and for some reason, he literally speaks like this the entire movie. It is very irritating and takes away from his character. Peter Sarsgaard, who is the worst actor in his family, plays Bouge. Bouge only has about fifteen minutes of screen time throughout the entirety of the film, and he does nothing scary or intimidating beyond the generic “shoot my own henchmen because I’m a bad guy” thing. He has no motivation for his actions beyond evilness, and Sarsgaard acts his entire character as a very, very poor imitation of Christoph Waltz, playing the sophisticated psychopath, and doing it badly. Also, I may be wrong, but I am almost positive in both Seven Samurai (which I’ve seen) and the original 1960 film, the villains were bandits, who were by definition, outside the law. In the film, Bouge is an industrialist with a mansion, mercenaries, a corporation, the whole nine yards. What he is doing is obviously wrong. They do explain that he has law enforcement on his payroll to look the other way, but there would be some sort of intervention on the federal level. You can’t just murder/enslave entire towns for your otherwise legitimate mining corporation and not expect someone in the federal government to be like “Hold on.” I know that’s a little nitpicky, but to be honest, it’s a rather huge plot hole that no one explains, ever. Why not just make them bandits? They’re scarier anyway.

I watched this film together, with the family, at the behest of my father. You see, I love my family, but I don’t watch movies with them because my Dad’s a talker. Not in the theater, just at home, which is OK. I just can’t get invested when my Dad interjects with a comment on random things at random points. You see, the last time we had a family viewing, the film was Pacific Rim, the (somehow) cult classic monster vs. mechs Guillermo del Toro film that I and the entirety of my family despise with a passion. I will admit that we were in a townhouse at the time while constructing our new house, so we watched it on a relatively small 52″ (which sounds big, but not really) on normal stereo TV sound. I have read that the film is much better in IMAX with theater sound, but I honestly don’t care. Myself, my mother, my father, and my best friend (thankfully my brother slept over at a friend’s house, so he was spared) all hated everything about it. I will never watch it again. So Dad had to beg me to sit down and watch this with the family. I acquiesced; I wasn’t expecting anything mind-blowing, but I was interested to see this film, figuring, if nothing else it would be flawed yet sufficiently entertaining. For the record, I sat on the couch for this one. I got out of my chair and sat on the couch. I watched the entire thing through, I did not space out or get distracted.

Despite all of my complaints and ripping into this movie, I will admit that The Magnificent Seven is not a bad film. It’s not. There is nothing horrible or glaringly, unconscionably deficient about it. In theory, it is all perfectly acceptable. Everything is decent all around. The problem with that is that with everything perfectly acceptable, there’s nothing notable about it. The Magnificent Seven is not a bad film, but it had both me and my brother both bored out of our minds. I am ashamed to say this, but my brother and I interjected more than Dad. There’s nothing here; at least with a movie as bad as Pacific Rim, there would be stuff to talk about. You can have a conversation about it’s badness, which I have had countless times concerning Pacific Rim, trust me. It’s been a few days since I saw The Magnificent Seven. I didn’t post a review right away because I was struggling to think of things to say. Like I said, it’s a movie. That’s it. It is neither notably bad nor any good. I will say my father enjoyed it much more than I did. It’s not a crisis like Pacific Rim was, but I would avoid this if I were you, unless you’re curious to see if it’s boring for you, too.  If I gave scores The Magnificent Seven would get “null/undefined.” Shoulda picked Keanu instead.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a 2016 science-fiction action-adventure film directed by Gareth Edwards and written by Chris Weltz and Tony Gilroy. It is the eighth film in the Star Wars franchise and the first film in the standalone Star Wars Anthology films. Rogue One stars Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelson, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, and Jiang Wen. Rogue One takes place in between Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and the original 1977 film.

Galen Erso, played by Mads Mikkelsen, is a former Imperial scientist on the run from the Empire. Galen and his family are located by his former superior, Orson Krennic. Galen’s wife is killed and he is captured. Galen’s young daughter Jyn is able to escape and is raised by an extremist Rebel and friend of Galen’s Saw Gerrera. Fifteen years later, a Imperial defector is captured by Gerrera. The defector was sent by Galen, now being forced to work on the Death Star project, to deliver a message to the Rebel forces revealing the superweapon’s weakness. Gerrera’s tactics and paranoia caused him to break off from the main Resistance faction. Jyn, played by Felicity Jones, is propositioned by the Rebels to approach Gerrera and validate the defector’s information.

Rogue One is based upon a throwaway line from A New Hope concerning Leia being given the Death Star plans by Rebel spies. That a film can be inspired by a single, seemingly unimportant line is impressive. Even more impressive, though, despite being only tangentially related to the overall saga of Star Wars, Rogue One manages to present the viewer with empathetic characters, a solid story, superb acting, and gorgeous action and stunning visual effects. Rogue One is a film worthy of the revitalized Star Wars brand, able to capture the spirit of the Original Trilogy with ease.

Felicity Jones, known for her award-winning performance in The Theory of Everything, once again showcases phenomenal skill. Jyn Erso is a very tough, smart, street-savvy individual made so by the difficult circumstances of her life and upbringing. Jones conveys all of the emotions that come as a byproduct of that upbringing very well. Mexican actor Diego Luna plays Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor with the same proficiency as his co-star. Ben Mendelson’s Krennic is intimidating, though shown to be extremely vulnerable, as he is merely a puppet for much powerful men than himself. Swedish actor Mads Mikkelsen does a good job portraying Galen Erso with the limited amount of screen time he has. Alan Tudyk voices K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial droid with no filter, saying whatever comes to his mind, and is the funniest and most quotable character in the entire movie.

The character that is sure to stick in everyone’s mind, though, is the blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe, played by Chinese actor Donnie Yen. Yen, one of Hong Kong’s top action stars and one of the highest-paid actors in Asia, is a master martial artist, well-versed in in Tai chi chuan, boxing, kickboxing, Jeet Kune Do, Hapkido, Taekwondo, karate, Muay Thai, wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Wing Chun, and Wushu. He is known for portraying Ip Man, a grandmaster and trainer of Bruce Lee, in the 2008 biographical film of the same name. In addition to winning several real-life martial arts tournaments, Yen is also known for his top-notch fight choreography, which is most definitely on display here. Despite Rogue One being his first English-speaking role, Yen portrays his character effectively, his English, though understandably heavily-accented, very easy to understand. I personally hope that his fan-favorite role here lands the 54-year-old more high-profile Hollywood roles in the future.

Rogue One is stacked to the brim with amazing performances, but the most impressive one by far has to be the one who wasn’t actually there. Peter Cushing portrayed Tarkin, Darth Vader’s right-hand-man and a secondary antagonist in A New Hope. Cushing, who died in 1994, reprises his role as Tarkin from beyond the grave. Guy Henry, known for his role as Pius Thicknesse in the Harry Potter series, portrayed Tarkin during principal photography, while archived footage of the actor was used to digitally recreate Cushing’s face for the film, with very impressive results. As it was with The Force Awakens, the general CGI, as well as the practical effects of the film were also excellent.

Rogue One is not without a few shortcomings, however. Although I find the outline of the story itself to be interesting and very solid, the characters themselves appear to be inconsistent in their feelings and motivations. Jyn and Cassian, in particular, go from cynical and jaded to hopeful and content without a real reason for it. Rogue One is perhaps the most legitimately dire story in the entire franchise. Star Wars has always been about hope in times of darkness, and that is a major theme of Rogue One, but nothing in the character’s actions justify their frequent changes of heart other than the script needs them to, in my opinion. It is an admittedly major flaw, though certainly not a fatal one, in an otherwise great film.

Rogue One is an extremely solid start to the Anthology series of standalone spinoffs. Featuring a solid storyline, excellent acting from everyone involved, incredible action, and a sizable role featuring one of the most effective movie martial artists in the business, Rouge One is a great film that is unfortunately prevented from achieving the same overwhelming success as its predecessors because of a rather serious issue with character development. Nevertheless, I cannot wait to see what future Anthology projects will bring.

The Star Wars saga is set to continue with Episode VIII, written and directed by Looper craftsman Rian Johnson, and an untitled Han Solo Anthology film directed by the comedy masterminds Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the geniuses behind the 21 Jump Street parody/reboot films, The Lego Movie, and the hilarious Fox sitcom Brooklyn 9-9. The Han Solo film will star newcomer Alden Ehrenreich as Solo and Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian.