Review: The Magnificent Seven

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Coming out with a remake in today’s movie climate is something of a risk; with the glut of remakes, reboots, and the general re-use of tired themes throughout Hollywood productions, the public and reviewers are growing less and less forgiving. Just look at the recent performances of movies such as Conan the Barbarian, Ben-Hur, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, films that languished either critically, financially, or both.

I mean, if you even tried to list out all the remakes/reboots that have been released in the past decade, you’d run out of paper. So, when Antoine Fuqua decided to try his hand at the classic redemption story The Magnificent Seven, he had to have known the risks, however, he also knew many of the elements of the original that made it appealing: the great ensemble cast and riveting action sequences being some of the most important of them. Unfortunately, despite Fuqua’s ability to absolutely nail the feel and excitement of a classic western such as The Magnificent Seven, he is unable to draw home for the viewers the intense and deep emotions drawn out by this story of bad men doing good things.

The original, itself an interpretation of a classic (Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai), combined a force in directing at the time in John Sturges with some of the most appealing actors the 1960s could offer, including Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn. The younger cast would notably go on to become stars and hallmarks of the film became its almost nihilistic sense of completion and the incredible, widely used soundtrack it produced. Fuqua completes the cycle in most of these areas; however, the sense of loss and redemption that suffused the classic (and its inspiration) is completely lost here.

However, that is not the fault of an amazing ensemble cast. Let’s start with Fuqua’s preferred actor Denzel Washington who played “Sam Chisolm”, a hardened, quiet but brutal bounty hunter struggling to seek justice for past misdeeds done to him. Washington takes this role and adds the same steely grit we’ve seen in Fuqua’s other films The Equalizer and Training Day, and he really does excel, becoming more of a joy to watch as the film proceeds. While this character does seem a bit one-dimensional, luckily there is a bevy of talent with him. Co-lead Chris Pratt might have just stolen the show as “Josh Farraday”, the gambler and cheat whose slyness and charm cannot be denied. Pratt runs away with this role, easily becoming the funniest character in the film as well as the most entertaining one. I found myself waiting for his lines, looking forward to whatever quip True Detective writer Nic Pizzolatto had lined up for him next. And while Pratt is a natural at these types of characters, the writing really supports him quite well. Ethan Hawke and Byung-hun Lee as the pair of “Goodnight Robicheaux” and “Billy Rocks” complement each other well, Hawke being the talkative rogue with plenty of demons (none of which are really delved into deeply enough) and Lee the mysterious foreigner with amazing knife skills (a role that, while stereotypical, is at least approached with some level of equality to the other leads). Vincent D’Onofrio turns in an inspired performance as tracker/trapper “Jack Horne”, a role you can tell he is having a lot of fun with. Martin Sensmeier portrays the Native American “Red Harvest” in a subdued but likeable role, while Manuel Garcia-Rulfo really fades into the background with cookie-cutter anti-hero “Vasquez” as his role, a Mexican outlaw with a few jokes but not much impact throughout the film.

My problem with these characters isn’t in their portrayal, but their lack of development. Having the lead be a black man is ripe with opportunities for real and impactful statements about race, even in the historic setting of the Wild West. However, this serves as a conflict for merely the opening scene, showing an overplayed trope of fear of otherness that isn’t really highlighted and becomes a confusing statement that seems included for the sake of explanation rather than development. Unfortunately, the same story goes for Lee’s character “Billy Rocks” and Sensmeier’s “Red Harvest”, as some racial epithets are used to display racial tension in only the most surface manner, and very little digging into the thematic is done besides that.

Aside from the spectacular performances and the subpar writing, this movie excels aesthetically. The soundtrack is the last one produced by James Horner who died during production, and brings to mind immediately all of the feeling of a true western immediately. It is at once reminiscent and engaging, not too derivative itself but nicely complementing the derivative story by really melding with the setting perfectly. And the landscape shots in this movie, good lord, the landscape shots! Straight out of the western playbook of wide ranges, setting suns, and waves of heat pouring across the landscape. The cinematography of this movie really nails the mood they are going for, and serves as one part of this movie that deserved an update.

Ultimately, this movie risks little, not providing many interesting subplots and letting its characters wallow in shallow characterizations. However, the ensemble cast is far too good to be ignored, and almost make up for the writing with their engaging, hilarious dialogue and stellar portrayals. While this movie doesn’t really offer anything new, it does serve as an amusing interpretation of a classic, despite not being able to hold a candle to either of its predecessors thematically. I left the theater wanting more: more depth to the characters, more expression of the struggle to redeem oneself, more exploration of why bad men can do great things. However, what I got was entertaining enough as a fun late summer action-comedy flick that will be enjoyed, but ultimately forgotten.

[easyreview title= "Review of blah blah blah" cat1title="Bart's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="3.0" overall= false]

Review: Jurassic World

jworld-banner-44 In 1993 the world was awestruck by a film that truly took advantage of the fairly new art of CGI. Jurassic Park took us all for a thrill ride none of us could ever anticipate. The film is now an eternal classic and even today still looks pretty damn good. Unfortunately it's success demanded sequels that were rather lackluster. I'd prefer to forget about them. Apparently Universal Studios would prefer you do the same as they have released a fully modern sequel to Jurassic Park in the form of Jurassic World. It's another awe inspiring thrill ride that pays homage to the original and pays no attention to the other sequels. This is the JP sequel the world has been waiting on for 22 years.

Now I'm going to try to keep my cool through this review but.... I can't because this was so damn exciting and fun and I was geeking out the whole damn time and AAAGGGHHH!!! Ok... deep breath....

Guys. See this movie. I had more fun watching this than anything else this year. I'm sure a chunk of that is because I'm a giant dino nerd. One would think I'd be up tight about the scientific inaccuracies but no, I'm not that big of a kill joy. Even so the movie does provide a line of dialogue that fixes those issues and just keeps going. There are more important things to deal with.

This movie gets started with two kids going to visit their aunt that runs the park. Sound familiar? Who cares. They aren't going to some half baked park idea. No, we get to see a fully functioning theme park that I would sell organs to go to. No, seriously. I don't care if it has giant killer dinos, this place looked amazing. The two brothers are Zach and Gray. Zach is the older teenager not at all interested in anything his brother cares about and Gray is the younger and clearly mildly autistic dino fan that is having all the fun in the world. Their aunt, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is far too busy to deal with them and hands them off to her assistant. She's busy trying to sell the marketing rights to their next big attraction, a fully artificial dinosaur species that seems a bit meaner and bigger than intended. To help figure this thing out she brings in their resident specialist Owen (Chris Pratt) that has been working on controlling a pack of raptors. Needless to say everything goes horribly wrong.

The thrills start pretty early, people. I won't spoil it but get ready for a ride as fun as the park itself. The CG isn't as good as it could probably be but it didn't hinder the fun. The plot was believable, no need to shut your brain off, you will simply marvel at the greedy idiots that screw things up. The acting is fine and everyone will love Pratt being a badass all the way through. And the dino fights? Hoo boy. Just wait. They are huge and epic and full of heroes and villains. You will be on the edge of your seat.

I love this movie, guys. More so than Age of Ultron and Mad Max. I had so much fun that I already need to see this again. Might I suggest watching the original before seeing this new one. It'll be nice to brush up on JP lore because... well, you'll see.

They spared no expense.

[easyreview title= "Review of Jurassic World" cat1title="Rob's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="5.0" overall= false]

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

guardians-of-the-galaxy Hey Nerdpocalypse faithful, I'm Tim, one of the hosts of the new Mouthful of Toast podcast for anime and manga fans.  I'll be posting reviews here every once in a while, so I hope you enjoy!

Let me preface this review with two details: 1) Despite being under the Nerdpocalypse banner, I have never read a single issue of anything Guardians of the Galaxy related. <insert comments about me not being a real nerd here>  This review will not reflect whether or not Guardians was accurate to the source material. 2) Typically there’s a post credits scene, aka “stinger,” for the next Marvel film.  This screening did not have one.  This either means there’s no scene or there’s a major scene that they did not want leaked before the movie comes out.  Definitely stay after the credits just in case.

When the first trailer aired, many wondered if Marvel could work its magic on one of their lesser known properties.  Director James Gunn has a mediocre filmography at best, so my expectations were low.  Personally, I thought the trailer was a bizarre Parks and Rec spin-off with Chris Pratt’s character taking over a new space division of Pawnee government.  Despite odd first impressions, this film proves Marvel Studios is capable of tackling anything it wants.  Guardians shows how the key to a great movie experience is simply treating the script with the right attitude, in this case, with a tongue in cheek version of their proven formula.

Young Peter Quill is abducted by aliens and we fast forward to him (Chris Pratt) as a spacefaring scoundrel looking for loot.  He finds an ancient orb that will fetch a high price, but as it turns out, everyone in the galaxy wants this orb.  The rest of the team is introduced through various fights in the span of half an hour as we zoom through five locations showcasing all of the quickly unfolding intergalactic drama.  The pace is dizzying at first, but once the initial setup is over, scenes get more time to breathe (just don’t take any bathroom breaks).  There’s plenty more to tell about the story, but moving into the second half is where there’s some nice treats for dedicated Marvel fans and I’d hate to spoil any part of that experience.

Chris Pratt delivers a hilarious performance as the self-absorbed Quill.  The mostly goofy team is balanced out by Zoe Saldana’s stern take on the living weapon, Gamora, but even she eventually joins in on the silly antics.  Groot is easily the most lovable of the crew, due in no small part to Vin Diesel’s impressive and nuanced voice delivery of his one, repeated line.  Rocket, played by Bradley Cooper, steals the show with some of the best quips Guardians has to offer.  Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer provides another angle of comic relief and works well as the team’s bruiser.

Seeing this movie in 3-D was a surprising treat, considering the last movie I bothered to watched in 3-D, Avatar, did nothing to impress me.  Certain shots take great advantage of the 3-D to immerse you in scenes, such as one early scene where you feel like you’re spying on Quill from afar behind rocks that pop out in the foreground.  The space battles might make you flinch, but don’t close your eyes too long or you’ll miss the incredible CGI.

Guardians runs for about 2 hours, which was surprising for the volume of material presented.  Extending the run time would have eased the hyperdrive pacing in the beginning, but the movie honestly does not suffer too much from it.  It’s a welcome relief to have a blockbuster not clock in at 3 hours or more.  Some consider Guardians to be kid-friendly, but the humor is raunchy and phallic enough to place it somewhere in an older teen demographic.

Let’s be clear; this is not a grand space opera.  The plot is merely a vehicle to get us from one cool action sequence to another. For the purposes of this film, it works.  The amount of style and humor oozing from this movie make it very easy to overlook the simple teambuilder storyline and Macguffiin orb.  The soundtrack elevates this movie from the usual superhero romp to a galactic groovefest.  Guardians feels like the lovechild of the Avengers and Spaceballs with a dash of I Love the 80s.

Overall, Guardians shines bright at the end of the summer blockbuster season.  Whether it was Marvel guiding James Gunn that lead him to movie gold or if all he needed was the right script, but all of my expectations of his directing were shattered.  Concerns about pacing don’t detract from the sheer amount of fun you’ll have the entire time.  Guardians doesn't pretend to be an epic; it's the story of unconventional heroes banding together and having a really good time.

[easyreview title= "Review of Guardians of the Galaxy" cat1title="Tim's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]

Review: The Lego Movie

the lego movie Like most people, I played with Lego sets as a kid. I got hooked on the ‘Lego Adventurers’ theme and managed to convince my parents to get me some of the nicer sets in that line. Johnny Thunder and Dr. Charles Lightning and I had some really good times tricking Baron Von Barron into falling into the mummy’s tomb over and over again. I’m sure the same goes for many of you. So it should come as really no surprise that The Lego Movie, out this weekend, seemed so appealing to me. The story follows Emmet (Chris Pratt), your regular run-of-the-mill, easy-going, “normal” guy. Appropriately, he’s a construction worker. He stumbles upon a “piece of resistance,” which had been prophesized by the Master Builder Vitruvius (so appropriately voiced by Morgan Freeman) to be found by the Special, who was the only person who could save the Lego universe from destruction. Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) attempts to escort Emmet and the piece of resistance to where the ultimate weapon, referred to as the Kragle, resides at the top of the evil Lord Business’ tower. Along the way they run into a few DC superheroes, get lost at sea in a double-decker couch, and Emmet himself is transported through a void to… well, I won’t spoil it.

Having played several of the Lego video games, I’m familiar with their brand of cheeky humor. There’s plenty to entertain the adults with in what is obviously otherwise a movie targeted at young children. (As an aside, if you are a parent going to see this, don’t be that person with the stroller in the theater. Don’t be that guy, please. That guy is the worst. Babies don’t belong in movie theaters. You know better). The voice acting all-around is awesome, but they’ve got an all-star cast from top to bottom. Pratt is just as charming as he is on Parks and Recreation in the main character slot, though I fear he’s being typecast as the doofy lovable loser even in animated roles. Will Arnett voices a perfect Batman, almost to the point where I’d want to see him do that role in other places. Will Ferrell is Lord Business, and he’s mastered the art of playing a smarmy weasel over the years. Sometimes you hear a little bit of Mugatu sneaking in there, I’ll be honest. Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Liam Neeson and Charlie Day are also featured voices. Even the most minor of appearances got A-listers – Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill voiced Superman and Green Lantern, respectively, and they had some of the best gags in the whole film. The whole voice cast is awesome, basically. I can’t say it enough.

The one thing that I had to take a little bit of issue with is this weird, anti-consumerism message that the movie is broadcasting via the fact that they decided to name the antagonist “Lord Business.” But then at the same time, the movie itself is a 100-minute product placement for Lego sets. Very weird.

Overall, I’ve got to say, this will easily be the first big hit of 2014. High-quality animation paired with high-quality voices is always good, but add in a whole lot of witty humor with enough to keep even the retired “builders” like me entertained and you’ve got a solid box office hit. Just as a fair warning, though: the movie goes from cheeky and funny to ripping out your heart and shoving it down your throat during the film’s climax for a brief moment. This movie was oddly affecting in the best of ways, and they’re apparently already moving forward with plans for a sequel. If you want some good laughs (and maybe a good nostalgic cry), go see The Lego Movie.

[easyreview title= "Review of The Lego Movie" cat1title="Carrie's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]