The new podcast is up, and I get just a tad fired up
The new podcast is up, and I get just a tad fired up
The podcast is here! And early!
Like I mentioned in the podcast, I’m going out of town this weekend so I decided to record the podcast early and put this out before I left. Enjoy!
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writers: Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk
Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennet, Peter Sarsgaard, Luke Grimes, and Matt Bomer
Synopsis: Seven gun men in the old west gradually come together to help a poor village against savage thieves.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
Based on the classic Western of the same name, that was based on the classic film by acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa Seven Samurai, Antoine Fuqua brings is take to The Magnificent Seven with his own star-studded cast and great visuals of his own. I’ll be honest, I’ve been looking forward to this – and yes, I’ve seen the originals – but of course I actually don’t mind remakes and knee-jerkingly reject them just at the thought of it. So, was my excitement worth it? Or does it have to take a long walk into the sunset with my head down? Let’s load up our horse and find out.
The Magnificent Seven starts off by showing just what kind of person the heroes would be going through. The town of Rose Creek are being taken over by a mining corporation run by Bartholomew Bouge (Sarsgaard) who wants the townspeople to sell him their land, but when he shoots the husband of Emma Cullen (Bennett) – played by Matt Boomer – she goes to find men to help her and townspeople take back their town. She eventually finds and recruits bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Washington), who in turn brings in gambler and playboy Josh Farraday (Pratt) to help him bring in the best people to give the town a shot. The two haul in famed sharpshooter Goodnight Robincheaux (Hawke) and his knife-wielding partner Billy Rocks (Lee), an outlaw named Vasquez (Garcia-Rulfo), tracker Jack Horne (D’Onofrio) and Comanche Native American named Red Harvest (Sensmeier). All seven of them get together to protect the town, even with odds stacked against them. What follows is a grand – or magnificent? – finale that will make any Western fan happy.
I know I watched the originals, but let’s focus on the Western here, but it was a while ago so I can’t remember too much of it. However, I do know Fuqua’s version is different in its own way, and makes sense for the story he’s trying to tell. I know many won’t, and don’t like the idea of a Magnificent Seven remake – even though it itself is a remake, but whatever – but the film is a lot of fun, and completely worthwhile for new fans or old fans.
The cast is what makes the remake really worthwhile. Washington has worked with Fuqua three times now, and continues to show the duo have a lot of fun together and are great together. Chris Pratt’s Faraday looks like he’s enjoying poking fun at his fellow cast members and being a bit of a playboy, but he does have a sense of pride and duty once everything goes down. Peter Sarsgaard’s Bogue doesn’t have enough screen time as he probably should, which is saying something considering the film is a bit over two hours. Haley Bennett’s Emma Cullen gets a lot of screen time at the beginning, but blends into the background as the film moves forward.
Ethan Hawke’s Goodnight has an interesting arc, although it takes a while for it to really come up and it kind of just slides away. Vincent D’Onofrio’s Jack Horne is a tracker that gets compared to a bear a lot, Byung-hun Lee’s Billy Rocks is the calm and collective one, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo’s Vasquez has a nice little rivalry with Faraday, and Martin Sensmeier’s Red Harvest has his moments.
Some, and even I’ll agree with some of it, will say the group gets together is too fast and there isn’t enough conflict between them. Especially since we hear that Jack Horne has killed a lot of Native Americans, and while their interactions with Red Harvest are minimal they never come off as standoffish but slight jabbing. It’s nice dynamic – all the characters have them – but it’s something that I know people will bring up. There are some other things that are never fully developed, but for the most part the film doesn’t suffer that much from it.
The action is top notch and the final shootout is a sight to see. There is a lot going on in the scene, but you always know where you are and can follow the action throughout. It’s also pretty satisfying considering the film builds up to it for half the film. It also helps that the final shootout is great since right before the ending the film loses some steam and slows down.
All in all, The Magnificent Seven is a great, fun ride of a film. The cast is great and the final shootout is a great time. While the film may not be perfect in terms of some pacing issues and not going fleshing out some details, it is a worthwhile remake to a remake of a remake.
The Magnificent Seven
4 out of 5
Dir: Antoine Fuqua
Writer(s): Kurt Sutter
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, Oona Laurence, Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson, Miguel Gomez, Skylan Brooks, Beau Knapp, and Naomie Harris
Synopsis: Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Willis to help him get his life back on track after losing his wife in a tragic accident and his daughter to child protection services.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
Everyone loves a great redemption story and director Antoine Fuqua with first-time feature film writer Kurt Sutter (FX’s Sons of Anarchy) have bought just that to us with Southpaw. The film goes through the motions and even hits the usual clichés we see in usual comeback stories, but it’s the performances by lead Jake Gyllenhaal and the direction of Fuqua that keep the movie enjoyable and powerful.
The film starts with Billy “The Great” Hope (Gyllenhaal) beating a boxing opponent retaining his victory record. When doing press, an up-and-comer boxer Miguel ‘Magic’ Escobar (Gomez) taunts Billy saying he wants a shot at him. However, his wife Maureen (McAdams) worries about Billy and tells him he should take a break and spend time with her and their daughter Leila (Laurence). Billy considers it, but Escobar continues to taunt Billy at a gala and the two go at it. In the chaos, Maureen gets shot and dies leaving Billy alone and going on a tailspin that eventually ends up with Billy losing everything and putting Leila in child services.
However, not wanting to lose his daughter, he slowly tries to clean up his act and goes to a local gym that is run by a former boxer, Tick Willis (Whitaker), who reluctantly agrees to let Billy train at the gym. Eventually, Billy gets a chance to get back in the game and possibly get Leila back if he takes on one huge fight.
One of the things that bothered me, as well as others, is the fact that the first trailer gives away that McAdams’s Maureen dies. It’s one of the pivotal plot points in the movie and essentially starts off the real story of Billy’s rise after everything is taken from him. It probably would have been hard to get around it, since it does happen early in the film, but it did take away a little bit from the scene, especially even more, because the actual scene is really strong. Also, if you go in thinking to see a lot of boxing action in Southpaw, you’ll probably be a little disappointed. There is some great boxing action in the film, which I’ll get to in a little bit, but Southpaw is a drama through-and-through. In fact, it is a bit hard to watch sometimes. Not because it’s bad, but because Billy is constantly having to push through both physical beatings and emotional beatings. If Sutter was trying to prove how resilient Billy is as a boxer and a person, he succeeds for the most part, although it takes some time to get to that point.
However, the only reason is works is because of Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance. Make no mistake, this is Gyllenhaal’s movie and is one of the only reason the film works so well. Gyllenhaal has pulled out some great performances as of late and Southpaw is no different. He is able to bring out every emotion in Billy that makes us sympathize, root and even relate to him.
The rest of the cast is hit-or-miss. Forest Whitaker’s no-nonsense Tick Willis is tail-made for the actor and nails every scene he’s in, with a standout scene near the end of the movie. Rachel McAdams, who doesn’t have a ton of screen time, still manages to bring a nice mix of charm, attitude, and toughness to Maureen. Oona Laurence’s Leila Hope has her moments to shine, but is otherwise an outside driving force to Billy’s actions throughout the movie. However, make no mistake, when she’s onscreen, it is great to see – in a non-creepy way.
“50 Cent” plays a greedy and morally questionable manager who you’ll love to hate, but think “yeah, this kind of guy probably exists in real life.” Miguel Gomez as Escobar pretty much disappears through the middle of the movie, and only pops up at the end of the movie for the unavoidable final fight of the movie. It’s no fault to Gomez, he’s only doing the best he can with what he’s given. The movie isn’t about him, it’s about Billy and his road to redemption. Unfortunately, Naomie Harris gets the short end of the stick playing a social worker assigned to Billy and Leila’s case. Harris does okay, but an actress of her talent and caliber being reduced to a small supporting role kind of sucks.
Like I said, Southpaw is a drama through-and-through, but the boxing scenes are great to sit back and enjoy. Fuqua really tries to put us the viewer in the ring with the characters and what is going in their head. The boxing scenes feel almost raw and brutal and are probably some of the best scenes in the movie, camera-work wise.
All in all, Southpaw feels like a familiar structure and fits into some clichés and common threads in other redemption/underdog films we’ve seen in the past. However, Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance and Fuqua’s direction in some of the bigger scenes make the film pop and standout in its own right. Southpaw may not the easiest movie to sit through, because of the drama, but it is highly enjoyable at the end of the day.
4 out of 5
Dir: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Johnny Skourtis, Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo
Synopsis: A man believes he has put his mysterious past behind him and has dedicated himself to beginning a new, quiet life. But when he meets a young girl under the control of ultra-violent Russian gangsters, he can’t stand idly by – he has to help her
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review*
Based on the CBS show of the same name, The Equalizer – which had one of the highest test-screening results for Sony Pictures – follows Robert McCall (Washington) who enjoys his quiet and simple life. He follows a routine, works at a Home Depot-like store, is friendly with his co-workers Ralphie (Skourtis), Jenny (Anastasia Mousis), Jay (Rhet Kidd), and Marcus (Allen Maldonado), but besides all that he has a problem sleeping. Instead of staying at home he spends his nights at a diner reading classic books and talking to a young prostitute Teri (Moretz). When she shows up the next time, she has a bruised cheek and later ends up in the hospital. When Robert finds out that she has a connection to the Russian mob, he takes matters into his own hands. Unfortunately for Robert, the Russian mob sends in Teddy (Csokas), a violent and smart fixer that wants to take down Robert.
Some of the ads show The Equalizer as another somewhat hardcore action movie and even though the action sequences are very well done and have a ton of great moments, director Antoine Fuqua gives the movie a kind of low-key feel. We see McCall dealing with crocked cops and lower level henchmen before he gets to the big baddies at the end. Fuqua also doesn’t rely on CGI – only some moments – but mostly on the cast and more specifically Denzel Washington, who is in almost every scene in the movie.
Since the movie is pretty much the Denzel show – not a bad thing – we get a lot of Robert McCall. We get right from the start that McCall is a bit of a loner, but he does have a relationship with his co-workers, more so with Ralphie, who he helps train to become a security guard by losing weight. But, Washington is once again reliable here playing McCall as a man of mystery who is patient and fearless when the situation calls for it. McCall doesn’t have to use threats to get his point across either and will sometimes even use some wit and jokes when someone else is threatening him. He’s also such a great character that you can’t wait to see him kick someone’s ass.
The other thing that McCall brings is what most people will probably call, and what I’ve seen in a few reviews, “Equalizer Vision.” Simply, he looks around the room or surroundings to see what he could use to his advantage. The big example is the highly advertized scene with him taking out a room full of Russians. The nice thing is that it only really happens about twice and although we have seen it in other films, it works here and feels like it belongs to the character. Plus it is a fun way to see how some baddies are going to die.
Of course every hero needs a villain right? Here it’s Teddy played by the also always reliable Marton Csokas. Right at the beginning Csokas gives Teddy a remarkable presence and while he plays him as a bit of a talker at the start, you soon realize that Teddy is just as deadly and smart as McCall, if not more. We could have just gotten one scene about how evil he is but Fuqua does show how evil Teddy is and how uncontrollable he can be. They also have a great scene together and I kind of wished it went a little longer because it was great to see the two of them go back and forth.
The rest of the cast holds their own but the movie really does belong to Washington and Csokas. Johnny Skourtis’s Ralphie has some nice moments and scenes with Washington while David Harbour’s crocked cop character serves his purpose. Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo play Brian and Susan Plummer in really glorified cameos as McCall’s friends and former CIA contacts. The role they really play is just telling McCall how deadly Teddy is and who he’s really messing with. Haley Bennett has a small role as Mandy that really goes nowhere but her telling McCall about the first group of Russians.
Chloe Grace Moretz’s Teri plays in what you would think would be a big role character wise but it never really happens. Teri is an important character because she’s the reason McCall goes on his rampage of vengeance but after she goes to the hospital she disappears and not to be seen until the end of the movie when she sees McCall again. It is a little unfortunate because Moretz does bring some levity to the character that clearly wants out of current life. Also to the perverts out there, you never see Moretz doing any prostituting, so there’s that.
I mention the action earlier and while the action at the beginning is great to see, it’s the final showdown that truly makes the movie. Everything builds up for the final showdown and we get to see how truly deadly McCall is when he single-handedly takes down bad guys in brutal fashion. The mood in the scene definitely makes the scene more powerful.
All in all, The Equalizer is highly enjoyable and the showcase of the movie will definitely be the final showdown at the end. The movie is pretty violent which I wasn’t expecting but not so over the top that will take you out of the movie or ruin it because it kind makes sense. Denzel Washington and Marton Csokas highlight the film, and with Fuqua’s directing I think fans will appreciate the film.
4 out of 5