Darke Reviews | The Magnificent Seven (2016)

The Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa is a masterpiece. There are people who may try to argue this, but they are simply wrong. Kurosawa painted a tale of modern mythology that all others would try to follow. Then they did six years later in 1960 with an American version of it, a western of course as was the course for the day, with an established director John Sturges at the helm. He put together a cast of what we think of now as legends of the industry Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, and Eli Wallach. The story is the same, the beats are the same, the setting is different. While it is a silver age representation of how we take great films from other countries and remake them (I am looking at you Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Let the Right One In), in and of itself it is just as iconic. Needless to say when the first trailer released only a few months ago for this version some 50+ years later many were dubious of someone messing with a classic.

So do we need to have a showdown at high noon?

The movie appropriately gives credit to the original with screenplay credits for Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni; but then gives us screenplay credits for Richard Wenk and  Nic Pizzolatto. Wenk has shown up in my reviews before for his work on Vamp and The Equalizer. We will also see him behind the ben on the Jack Reacher sequel. Pizzolatto comes from the world of TV where he worked on the critically acclaimed True Detective and a few episodes of The Killing. They make the required changes for what we know now and do little more to enhance the story or alter it in any significant way. Some of the alterations seem to be detractors from otherwise solid but simply ok material. Once again the story changes little, with a town in peril paying for seven drifters with pasts …and presents as warriors to defend them. This is not just the last stand for the town, but the last chance for …peace, redemption, revenge, or mayhaps even to be legendary themselves.

Director Antoine Fuqua was the right man for this role. I saw his name on the original trailer and was pleased, despite the musical choices. There is absolutely not a single film of Fuqua’s I don’t like (that I’ve seen). King Arthur (2004), Shooter, Olympus Has Fallen, The Equalizer, and most would call out Training Day. The man can shoot a film. He has an excellent sense for blocking, pacing, and how to get the most from his actors. His action scenes are visceral in their brutality yet tame enough and safe enough for easy consumption. The same holds true here. The tension as one of the gunfights prepares to break out is palpable. When the cord snaps, we are treated to a fast moving but accessible, more importantly, watchable series of events that tell you everything you need to know about who you are dealing with.

The actors are great. Denzel doesn’t Denzel too much and does well as Chisolm. Chris Pratt as Josh Faraday our Gambler shows he can do a special intensity that was appropriate but sadly lacks some, but not all, of his usual charm. Ethan Hawke’s Goodnight Robicheaux is amazing and it is a bit weird to think of Ethan Hawke being one of the older men in the group. His companion Billy Rocks played fantastically by the criminally under used (in other projects) Byung-hun Lee (Red 2, both GI Joe Movie) has such wonderful chemistry with Hawke, I buy these two as good friends. Vincent D’Onofrio (Jurassic World, Daredevil) completely vanishes into Jack Horne, the old tracker brought along. Haley Bennett plays our woman seeking revenge on the man (Peter Sarsgaard’s Bartholomew Bogue) who killed her husband and delivers as well as everyone else. It’s nice when a competent director gets all good actors! Manuel Garcia Rulfo (born in Mexico) and Martin Sensmeier (Heritage: Tlingit and Koyukon-Athabascan) round out our unlikely group. Now you might be asking why I don’t list their credits, but their heritage. It’s a fair question, but in my small war against white washing, it’s important to call out when the right people are cast for the right roles, as in this case both men are cast to play a Mexican and a Native American. It is that rare that it deserves mention – Representation is important!!!  Cast diversity is some of the widest non token characters I have seen in some time.

Sadly, the movie does have flaws that need to be called out. Bennett’s a single stumble or trip away from a wardrobe malfunction for reasons we cannot fathom and sporting a shade of red hair that doesn’t come naturally from roots. It’s a lovely shade but jarringly noticeable as they keep calling attention to it with the light. The normally on point James Horner, working with Simon Franglen, fails the movie musically. This isn’t to say the music is bad. It’s just generic western. There are several beats of the movie where you would want or expect the music to take a different tone or just be different, but it’s a little too loud, little too wrong, and just not right. Again, it isn’t bad! It just is wrong for the movie and doesn’t resonate as well as it should. The music should bring you in more and tell a story its own and tell you what to feel. Sometimes it does, but too many noticable times it breaks the mood in a wrong direction.

I wish I could say that the costuming on Haley and Horner’s music were the only flaws.

I want to know what…no I demand to know what is going on in Hollywood. The movie editing on some of these pictures this year is horrendous. Some of it is the studio (Batman V Superman) others are totally inexplicable. Ghostbusters and Suicide Squad come to mind. There’s a better film on the editing room floor. Too many scenes cut short. Too many scenes that needed 3o seconds more of dialogue or a minute longer of the right people connecting and talking. The actors did well, but the editor didn’t do them any favours. It made it hard at times to connect to them the way you are intended, and while many moments are earned by inference they are not earned on the lens and in the frame. Conversations between old soldiers, old friends, and even old enemies could have happened and were missed or otherwise cut. This is why I say the actors did well, but I think they could have been even better (as good as they were!). That is disappointing.

TL;DR

The Magnificent Seven is a solid good. It will never be the classic that either of the films it drew from are. It didn’t earn that, but it could have. There’s a better movie somewhere in here. Somewhere on an editing room floor and I want to see that movie. It might be three hours, but it would be a worthy three hours. There’s intensity here that works in a lot of scenes, but other parts just are off enough that what should be important isn’t. Others are something that could be studied by other lesser directors.

I have a sense some studio interference happened here. I can’t say why, but I am 99% sure it did. The film could have been so much better and I regret we may never see that movie.

Should I see it?

The movie is good. It’s watchable. I enjoyed it. There are a lot of people who will and should see it this weekend. I can easily recommend it to them without doubting it.

Do not dare compare it to the original (either of them). It will disappoint.

Will you watch it again?

Matinee maybe? Not full price.

How about BluRay?

Absolutely.

What’s next?

I am on vacation and it will span over the next two thursdays. Which means I may not get to Miss Peregrine for a bit and that makes me sad I am looking forward to it, but it feels weird to go on vacation and sit in a theatre when I could be out “doing”

That also means I may not do a review a day this October as the first 8 days I won’t be home and at times won’t have internet. Yes, I am going to a place without net. I am not sure if you should cheer or weep.

We will see what happens. Don’t begrudge me the vacation…please?

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Darke Reviews | Blair Witch (2016)

Little known, not so secret. I have never watched The Blair Witch Project. It didn’t interest me enough when it came out, despite being filmed not too terribly far from my old stomping grounds in Maryland. Ok that isn’t saying much. If you make the wrong turn or get lost in Maryland you end up in another state. It isn’t that hard. I have however watched the more Hollywood style sequel that came out a few years later Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. It was…*sigh* maybe I will review it. But I do recommend GoodBadFlicks review of it to understand why it is the way it is. If you’ve read my other reviews, you know I am not a fan of the shaky cam so I really do not know what I was thinking going into the theatre tonight.

Was it the curse of the witch that drew me in or a masochism streak the size of the Chesapeake Bay?

Written by Simon Barrett, after successes of segments of the V/H/S movies and more notably You’re Next. I have to say I can see some of his stylings from those films here as well. His protagonists are prepared, they are smart, and react well to the strange.  It’s important to note that yes the characters here ARE smart. What happens to them in the film is only rarely due to raw stupidity. I am also not talking Final Girl Trope smart. They go hiking in the woods with batteries, cameras, GPS, a solid first aid kit, and most importantly a plan. That said the premise itself is straight-forward and enough to get it going but with mild stupidity required. A video surfaces with the protagonist , James, sister in it who went missing when he was 4 in the Black Hills Forest just outside of Burkittsville Maryland. He wants to find out what happened to her and brings his best friend, his not girlfriend, and best friends girl to help him. The reason for the camera work is of course one of them wants to film a documentary. Of course things do go wrong…

I appreciate the logic this time of the documentary portion as you have multiple events that have happened here. There is a passing reference to the original mythology, the original movie, and even a single line acknowledging the second. Some of the credit has to go to Barrett’s collaborator and the director Adam Wingard. These two work well together and I hope to see more from them in the future. Wingard has a gift here and brings real tension with a few well placed jump scares that didn’t annoy. Unlike Don’t Breathe a few weeks ago I did feel the tension build as I knew *something* was coming but not sure what. How he decided to have them shoot the woods, the house in the trailer, it’s done rather well – especially as the movie builds. My only technical peeve with it is voices don’t echo in the woods like that and the animal howls used were coyotes…I know because I am listening to them outside my window and down the street right now. They found a meal.

All the actors do a fine job. James Allen McCune (Shameless) as James is the boy with the lost sister and while the concept requires his IQ to drop significantly to execute, he lets it show the rest of the time with otherwise good decisions and solid reactions to the terror of the hills. Callie Hernandez (Alien Covenant) plays our filmmaker, Lisa. Again tech savvy, well planned, well done. Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, and Valorie Curry (Detroit: Become Human) all deliver equally well and are believable in their roles.

Technically, I’ve discussed some of my issues with the sound and irritation at that. Other sound is fantastic, as is the distinct lack of soundtrack. Lighting, such as it is, performs it’s task equally well and helps add to the claustrophobia of the woods. Think about that sentence for a minute, but it works. The jump scares only are annoying once or twice as I found a few of them just a bit much and others…they work. They did know how to use steady cam hiding it in the other technical details of the camera, but there is of course shaky cam and built in static as the movie goes through. It isn’t bad, but could be for some people. It does make me sad they didn’t film in Maryland again, while they may not have been able to film in Burkittsville, there’s a lot of Maryland that looks like what they needed. Yes, I could tell they weren’t there.

TL;DR

I rather enjoyed the movie. I did feel the tension in the places I was meant to. I was oddly invested in the story and overall didn’t find myself annoyed with the main characters. I noticed a lot of little details that should make you question what you see and what you believe. The movie succeeds intelligently in creating a haunted wood and you are left to decide what happened, what didn’t, what you saw, what you didn’t at the end. I like that question. I like the answers I received and the questions I had.

Should you see it?

If you are a fan of the series? Yes. A fan of horror yes. You don’t need XD or anything special. It also may be better to see it in a a near empty theatre as the sound works and excess background noise can detract.

Will you buy it Jess?

The magic 8 ball says uncertain and ask again later.

What’s next?

Magnificent Seven and Miss Peregrine!

Trailers in the Darke – Little Sister

The words Goth Nun Family Dramedy…never did I think I would see them together. I do however, feel a powerful need to see this movie.

All joking aside, it looks like it has heart, good acting (from a trailer anyway), and probably pretty good music.

Darke Reviews | Morgan (2016)

Yes, I saw this last night and am just writing the review now. Based on the fact no one I talked to at work today even knew this movie was coming out tells me a lot about it’s marketing. The poster (see title image) was entirely uninspired and did little to tell you what the story was. The official trailer did not really tell you much more and I am unsure now if it was a trailer that lied or aspects of the movie that were cut. Possibly both? The trailer of course, is here for your perusal if you should wish to see what the bill of goods we were sold on this was.

 

Sure we see the Scott Free Logo, which means of course the master of Replicants and Xenomorphs, Ridley Scott. He too has stumbled in recent years with projects such as Exodus: Gods and Kings (Prometheus is up for debate), and even in the past (1492: Conquest of Paradise). Though this time he sits in the producer’s chair not director…but does it matter?

Should they not have let Morgan out of the editing room?

Well to the first question – not really. The film is directed by his son Luke Scott with this as his debut to the general public. He did work as Second Unit Director on Exodus, but never the big chair himself. I can see the inspiration he has gained from his father. There are a lot of brilliantly directed shots in this movie where the blocking, camera work, and imagery tells a story all on its own. He also has a flaw of his father where sometimes a scene goes just a hair too long, but has also a flaw of his own in which scenes that really should be longer are broken by a cut or another event. Something that I feel took away from the effectiveness of the storytelling going on. There were so many very clear intentional choices being made in so many aspects of the film that I know there’s a good director there. He just didn’t really communicate some of the decisions well enough in action or word to let you know why it was made.

I have to blame the script for some of this though with only the indy film Peepers to his writing credit  back in 2010, there’s not a lot to discern his choices. I think, but I cannot prove, that he watched Ex Machina and got an idea. The problem is he didn’t know how to execute on the idea. He wanted to do a story about synthetic life (Replicant prototypes?) and make it an American-ized thriller. The problem with this is you have to have the dialogue to support it. You have to have the flow of logic to reach ideas and to understand the underlying objective of the science. Ex-Machina is a Turing test to the next level. This lacked that. They went for an almost slasher vibe by the trailer, which the movie doesn’t support. It also requires more bad science and scientists than I can bear. I don’t mean the scientific aspects itself, they work within the context as the movie follows it’s own rules fairly well. I mean the scientific and lab procedures themselves were bad. This wasn’t a lab. It was a daycare center with an observation window.

So while the script and overall plot required stupidity to function, the actors themselves played their parts as best they could. Anya Taylor-Joy delivers a fantastic muted performance, which I am starting to wonder if they are getting too easy to play? Her work in The Witch was one of passion and emotion, while this required the reverse and again I blame the script for not giving her all the room to explore that. I really want to see more work from her in the future as this was a solid performance that sadly the request of the role is quickly becoming typical enough to have a checklist.

  • Thousand yard stare – ✔
  • Stilted communication – ✔
  • Quirky and alienesque body language – ✔
  • Muted or Manic Emotional Responses – ✔

The role itself is uninspired, even if the actor in its place acts their butt off. I think of Soldier with Kurt Russell – which is an amazing performance and more rare then than it is now. This just comes across as another creepy child and there is little Taylor-Joy can do to make it more with what she has. Kate Mara (Shooter, The Martian, Fan4stic) has a similar problem. She is quite literally asked to do little with her performance, which she does marvelously. I suppose that is the sign of talent. To have someone who can deliver complex emotions and is good at it and ask them to deliver little and be stoic despite their urges to want to deliver more.

I would talk about the rest of the cast, Jennifer Jason Leigh (Hateful Eight), Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones, The Last Witch Hunter), Toby Jones (Captain America), Paul Giamatti (San Andreas, Sideways), Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon), who all try to bring their characters to life. Try, but the characters were stillborn. The actors do what they can with characters told with so broad a stroke the brush is the size of an aircraft carrier. They don’t even reach caricature status and are so plagued by inherent stupidity that I wonder how they got their jobs. The actors are fine. The role itself – not so much.

From a technical aspect, I wish I could talk about something innovative here, but the movie was shot on the very cheap with an 8 million dollar budget (of which it made back only $2.5). With that understanding it seems to me the studio itself wanted to try the current trend of low budget supernatural horror with sci fi; again inspired by the masterpiece of Ex Machina.

TL;DR

It’s…ok. It’s not bad, but it is annoying with the scientists. I’d like to say it was good. I’d like to say I cared. I just can’t. I have to lay the blame entirely on the script as I can see everyone and their mother trying to do more with what they have and not being able to do much. I really wish someone had taken another pass at this and made a decision on the tone of the movie. Do you want horror? Do you want thriller? Do you want slasher? Do you want sci fi? I really don’t care, but pick one. Not all of them.

I wish they had gone further. I wish they had explored some of the ideas…any of the ideas. I wish they had done something…at all.

In the end there’s a lot of neat concepts and half hearted ideas but none of them click. It isn’t thought provoking at all.

I wish it had been. This could have been so much better than an “ok”.

Should you see it?

Y…no. Not really.

Will you buy it on BluRay?

Nope.

Are you seeing Sully this weekend?

No. I am tired of movies about events I watched on the news within the past decade and a half. They are well made films no doubt, but I just am tired of Tom Hanks playing captain savior and survivor. He’s good at it. The movie is good I am sure, but I cannot bring myself to care when we had 24/7 news coverage of Captain Phillips and Captain Sully.