Review of “The Magnificent Seven”

Matthew and Emma Cullen (Matt Bomer and Haley Bennett) live in the small frontier community of Rose Creek. The nearby gold mine is owned by Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) and he wants to force out all the residents of Rose Creek and take over the entire valley. During a meeting at the church of many of the town’s residents, Bogue walks in and offers only $20.00 per property to the remaining families. His cadre of armed men forces everyone into the street and set the church on fire. When Matthew stands up to Bogue, Bogue pulls out a gun and kills him. Since the town’s sheriff is on Bogue’s payroll, nothing is done to stop his reign of terror. Emma rides to the next town and witnesses a bounty hunter named Chisolm (Denzel Washington) wipe out a bar full of outlaws and ask him to help her. Initially reluctant Chisolm agrees when he hears Bogue is involved. His first recruit is a hard-drinking poker player named Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt). Then they find an outlaw named Rulfo Vasquez (Manuel Garcia), Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), Billy Rocks (Lee Byung-hun), Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Native American Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). The group heads to town and quickly wipes out all of Bogue’s men. The sheriff is left alive and Chisolm sends him to tell Bogue what happened and challenge him to return to town and face Chisolm. The seven convinces the townspeople to join them and prepare for the coming bloodthirsty hired gunmen that Bogue will lead to town.

“The Magnificent Seven” is a remake of a 1960 film of the same name that starred Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen and Eli Wallach. It was recently named for preservation by the Library of Congress and the soundtrack contains one of the most recognized, used and copied theme songs in the history of film. While this modern version may not be quite the classic of its predecessor, director Antoine Fuqua and writers Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk have delivered an entertaining and, to some extent, thought provoking film.

The cast is full of people (with a few exceptions) you’ve seen in many, many other films and TV shows. From lead actors Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt to character players like Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio and Peter Sarsgaard, the entire group of main actors is spot on and firing on all cylinders. Both Washington and Pratt play characters with silent strength and menace but in different ways. While Washington’s Chisolm is a man viewed as dangerous on first meeting, Pratt’s Faraday is more like comic relief until there’s a threat and then he is a force to be reckoned with.

Vincent D’Onofrio steals the film in every scene he’s in. A bear of a man with a disarming high, squeaky voice, D’Onofrio’s Horne quotes scripture as he’s driving a knife repeatedly into the body of one of Bogue’s henchmen. The contrast is disarming and makes anything Horne does a bit of a surprise. I would have liked to see more of Horne in the movie and Fuqua (or someone else) could maybe make a solo film of Horne’s life prior to him joining the seven.

Peter Sarsgaard’s Bogue is a character that does nothing but evil throughout the film and it almost feels like he’s too much of a villain to have lived as long as the character has. Someone that evil must have made more than a few enemies over the years and someone should have taken him out before now. Still, Bogue is a great villain for this movie. He’s easy to despise and impossible to root for. He appears unstoppable with all the wealth and resources necessary to wipe the town and its people off the map. Bogue, like Chisolm and Faraday, is quietly dangerous. He listens to someone’s complaint then quickly makes the decision to take the life of whoever is complaining. He doesn’t tolerate failure or cowardice in others despite letting surrogates do his dirty work for him. He walks into town surrounded by half a dozen or more ruthless killers and shoots an unarmed man. He has succeeded by intimidation, theft and murder. For him, it is simply the way he does business.

Speaking of business, Bogue gives a speech early in the film that implies the writers and director had a political agenda they were trying to get across. Bogue talks about how capitalism is kind of a religion and the townspeople are violating God’s law by standing in the way of Bogue’s empire. If one applies this bit of thinking to the rest of the film, it might seem like Antoine Fuqua and the screenwriters are looking at the story as an allegory for the struggle of the working class against the power and control of big business. The seven fighters brought in to try and dismantle the greedy corporate interest could be seen as labor unions using whatever means necessary to make the company treat the workers with respect and to share the wealth. This might be me putting too much thought into a minor plot point but the sledgehammer-like subtlety of this monologue seemed to have been purposeful.

“The Magnificent Seven” is rated PG-13 for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, and for historical smoking, some language and suggestive material. The shootout that ends the film is probably close to 30 minutes long. There are numerous scenes of people being shot, some bloodier than others. There are also scenes with people being killed by arrows. The suggestive material is very mild and brief. Most of the characters are shown smoking at some point. The language is mild and widely scattered.

Despite what felt like a ham-handed attempt at social commentary, “The Magnificent Seven” powers through to deliver a fun and exciting Western adventure. With massive explosions, huge gunfights, bad guys with bad aim, galloping horses and majestic scenery, the film is a kind of throwback to an earlier time when the good guys and bad guys were easy to identify, the ladies in the saloon were always hookers with a heart of gold and the townspeople needed a good kick in the butt to make them see they needed to fight for their futures. It may not be perfect but it was fun.

“The Magnificent Seven” gets five guitars out of five.

This week a couple of movies based on true stories and the return of Tim Burton arrive in a multiplex near you. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Deepwater Horizon—

Masterminds—

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Reviews of “Magic Mike XXL” and “Terminator: Genisys”

Summer is the season of school being out, vacations, spending time at the pool or lake or ocean or whatever body of water you might be near and braindead movies meant to pass a few hours between warm weather activities. Few films this season will probably be as braindead as “Magic Mike XXL” and “Terminator: Genisys.” I saw them both and could feel the death of grey matter as they both progressed. One was responsible for more synapse-cide than the other.

Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) has left the male stripper life behind and is now building and selling custom furniture. He gets a call from former fellow stripper Tarzan (Kevin Nash) telling him their old boss and MC Dallas (played in the first film by Matthew McConaughey but only mentioned in this film) has died. Mike travels to a motel where a wake is supposed to be held but finds Tarzan and the rest of his old crew of Ken (Matt Bomer), Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tito (Adam Rodriguez) and Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) partying around the pool. Tarzan admits he lied and Dallas isn’t dead but left them on their own to go start another club overseas. The gang is headed up the coast to Myrtle Beach for the annual stripper convention for one last ride before they all hang up their G-strings and try for some kind of normal lives. They ask Mike if he wants to go but he says no as he has a life, business and responsibilities there. That night, he hears a song he used to dance to and does an impromptu routine in his work space. The next day, he meets with the guys and agrees to go on one last ride. An accident disables their ride and puts Tobias in the hospital with a head injury, standing them until their converted food truck van is repaired. Mike decides to approach his old boss Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith) who runs a private club for women in a house where male strippers are scattered around performing shows. While unable to convince Rome to be their fill-in MC, she does give them access to a car and has Andre (Donald Glover), one of her performers, give them a ride. Things are looking bleak as the troop heads to their last convention with no MC and not much of a plan.

“Magic Mike XXL” looks like a movie that didn’t have a completed script when it went into production. The story is very fragmented and jumps around like a child playing hopscotch. The only cohesive section of the film is the road trip until Tobias gets hurt; then, the section with every fortuitous turn imaginable begins. People who won’t help suddenly appear to do exactly what the boys need. There’s no slot during the convention for them to perform but that suddenly opens up. All their plans, thrown together in what appears to be a matter of hours story-wise, work out perfectly leading to a triumphant conclusion. It appears the only thing you need to live a charmed life is washboard abs and bulging pecs. Anything resembling everyday life is left behind once Mike decides to rejoin his buddies in Stipper-ville. “Magic Mike XXL” is a silly fantasy about shallow people living lives filled with as much instant gratification and recreational drugs as they can find. Of course, we discover they are all much deeper than we suspect and all they really want is just an average life with someone to love…except the New Age healer/actor/singer who realizes his dreams of stardom are likely never to be fulfilled but tells Mike, “I’m still pretty.” There were times in this film that I wanted to smack ever character on screen for being so petty.

About the only saving grace of the film is a scene involving Andie MacDowell as a divorced, modern southern belle hosting some friends at her home when Mike and the guys show up. It turns into a session of discovery and revelation that, while ridiculous, was interesting to watch. It seems like the only scene in the film that actually had a little thought applied to it. It also is one of those aforementioned fortuitous turns helping the boys get to Myrtle Beach. The film is also saved (somewhat) by the charisma of Channing Tatum. Tatum plays characters in most of his films that seem like decent people. Tatum comes off in interviews like an average guy that just happens to make movies. It’s his appeal as an everyman that keeps “Magic Mike XXL” from being an insufferable experience.

“Magic Mike XXL” is rated R for strong sexual content, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use. Most of the dance scenes involve simulated sex acts. The only nudity I remember is Joe Manganiello’s bare backside early in the film. There are also some exposed cheeks when the boys are wearing their stripper gear. The guys are shown smoking weed and taking capsules that are referred to as Molly. Foul language is common.

While this film certainly isn’t aimed at me, “Magic Mike XXL” still manages a few laughs with the antics of the male strippers and a cameo by Michael Strahan as one of Rome’s dancers. While the humor and the charisma of Channing Tatum provide some bright spots, “Magic Mike XXL” feels like it was made from an unfinished script that left me feeling at times confused and then finally uninterested.

“Magic Mike XXL” gets a fully clothed three stars out of five.

John Connor (Jason Clarke) and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) along with the rest of their troops are on the verge of destroying Skynet and ending the extinction of the human race. One team is hitting a facility where Skynet is based by Connor and Reese lead a team against a facility that contains the time machine used to send Terminators to the past. Skynet is disabled and all the robots shut down; but the time machine has been used to send a T-800 model back to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). Kyle Reese volunteers to go back and protect Sarah. John knows if he doesn’t he’ll never be born. Kyle begins the process of time travel but sees John being attacked by someone in the crowd. Kyle shows up in 1984 and is almost instantly attacked by a liquid metal T-1000 model (Lee Byung-hun). Hiding in a clothing store, Kyle is saved by Sarah Connor driving an armored truck. In the back is an aged looking T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Kyle tries to shoot him but the old T-800 knocks him unconscious. When he wakes, Sarah tells Kyle that the Terminator she calls “Pops” has raised her since she was nine. He’s there to protect her. Kyle is suspicious and doesn’t trust Pops. Things have changed from the history Kyle was told by John. Kyle also has memories of being a child and telling himself that Genisys is Skynet. Nothing is making sense.

I don’t want to give away any more than that brief synopsis as I often get yelled at for telling too much. Besides, the whole story of “Terminator: Genisys” is far more complicated as time is twisted into knots and histories and futures are as fluid as water. Nothing you know about the “Terminator” universe stays completely unchanged from film to film so this shouldn’t be a big surprise. That the timeline can be manipulated and changed was one of the most appealing aspects of the film. It also means there can be endless sequels since the past can be manipulated like soft clay and molded into whatever the next writer wants.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is the star of the film even though his is more of a supporting character. Pops is given the job of putting the science of the film into words. It seems like a risky idea considering Schwarzenegger’s thick accent. Still, he manages to deliver explanations for the various timelines that at least sound like they have a scientific basis. Schwarzenegger also provides much of the film’s humor. His scary dead-eyed smile is usually delivered at the perfectly inappropriate time and his lack of emotion and understanding of emotional expressions means lines that aren’t funny take on a humorous context.

Most of the film’s action is created through CGI. While many scenes look pretty good, including the film’s climax, some look bland, particularly a helicopter chase amongst the skyscrapers of San Francisco. There are shots that look flat and unfinished like the nighttime setting would hide the flaws. It doesn’t. This is a brief scene compared to others but it stuck out. One highlight of the CGI is the fight between old and young Schwarzenegger. An Australian bodybuilder with matching physical measurements to 1984 Arnold was used as a body double then had Schwarzenegger’s young face digitally stitched to his head. It works surprisingly well and looks almost completely natural. Oddly enough, the digital Arnold face actually has a brief flash of too much emotion.

I believe the studio made a tactical error in releasing a major plot twist in one of the film’s trailers. It caused a bit of a stink on the Internet but I didn’t think that much of it at the time. Having now seen the film it was a much larger mistake than I originally thought. This kind of surprise (which I won’t tell if you don’t already know) is the kind of major story event that can raise the audience excitement for a film and give it enormous word-of-mouth buzz. Since it was revealed in the trailer, the reveal is ho hum. According to press reports, director Alan Taylor didn’t know about the spoiler being in the trailer and is quoted as saying he wouldn’t have revealed it before the film came out. Since the film is underperforming at the box office in its opening days, this may actually be costing the studio some money. It also doesn’t help that “Inside Out” and “Jurassic World” are still performing strongly this late in their runs; but people talking about that surprise might have driven a few more patrons the film’s way. The trailer reveal seems at best short sighted and at worst incompetent.

“Terminator: Genisys” is rated PG-13 for gunplay throughout, brief strong language, intense sci-fi violence and partial nudity. Guns of various types are fired throughout the film, most frequently at non-human characters. Those humans that are shot show very little blood. The fights between the various types of Terminators involve lots of bodies getting thrown around and through walls and ceilings. The flesh gets beaten, burned and ripped off the T-800 models in various ways. The nudity consists of those people who travel in time as they must do so naked. The most we see is bare male backsides. Foul language is intermittent.

If you don’t think too hard about the twisty timelines (or know anything about actual physics and the improbability of time travel), “Terminator: Genisys” is a fun action flick with plenty of nostalgia for those of us old enough to have seen the first film in the series. Seeing Arnold in his various forms saying his most famous “Terminator” lines in completely different contexts brings a smile to those of us who have aged along with the T-800. Resetting the timeline also opens the door for more films with two already planned and getting 2017 and 2018 release dates. It would appear Arnold is telling us, “I’ll be back.”

“Terminator: Genisys” gets five stars.

Horror, sci-fi, a sex romp and little yellow helpers are all on tap at theatres this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following.

The Gallows—

Minions—

The Overnight—

Self/Less—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.