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.


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?


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?

Darke Reviews | Godzilla (2014)

I have to say the movies are certainly making it harder for me to write these reviews and keep to my rules of no spoilers. The trailers did a good job of keeping *most* of the spoilers from the audience. Until recently movie spoiler/insider sites have been keeping one under wraps. Why? No clue. These places pay a lot of attention to every detail in trailers and if they missed it and I saw it – I need to get paid to do this. I also debated doing an old vs. new segment on this comparing the Broderick 1998 version to the 2014. I debated it long enough to realize I can’t give a single point in favor of Broderick. Not. One.

So what does 2014 bring?

A plot. A cohesive plot. We get to thank the writers Max Borenstein (who has done nothing you’ve seen) and Dave Callaham (Expendables, Doom) for part of that. Some of you by now are going – why is there a plot? Well truth be told, we need one these days. We demand it. If there wasn’t a plot (Pacific Rim) the movie gets torn apart by critics and movie goers alike. Even thin plots (any Roland Emmerich film) fare better and at least get a laugh for their pitiful attempts. If you try and fail with ridiculousness (1998 Godzilla) you are eviscerated. As an audience we have trouble making up our mind. In the end its safer to have one that makes sense – which they did. Mostly.

Gareth Edwards, our director who brought us the visionary film Monsters. It was far more subtle than District 9 was in its plot. He was a good choice for this movie as he appreciates the sense of scale and how to insert characters into stories bigger than them. Its an important talent and was needed for this picture. You can tell that he loved the original movies and wanted to bring some of that beautiful flavor back into the genre.
This leads to one of the potential problems with the film as well.

The characters are irrelevant. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass and the upcoming Avengers 2) and Elizabeth Olsen (OldBoy and…the upcoming Avengers 2) are always interesting to watch and very human. I think fandom’s will have a field day that Quicksilver and Wanda play a couple in this movie. I also have to make a call out that the family name Brody appears to be a call out to Jaws. Especially as Olsen’s character is named Elle (Ellen was the wife in Jaws). Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, Rock of Ages) and Ken watanabe (Last Samurai, Inception) are always watchable. Even if Watanabe is mostly staring off into space the entire movie, muttering yoda like words of wisdom that will ultimately go unheeded.

These characters all have stories and these stories are intertwined with that which we came to see – The monster. It also highlights the problem. Their stories don’t matter. They are observers in their own lives. They think they are active but they are brought along for the same ride the rest of us are. Taylor-Johnson even gets a few painful, eye rolling character moments that hurt to watch, but they didn’t last too long. At least, unlike Man of Steel, he has a reason to continue with the story and while the reason is relatively thin, it works better than so many other “you look trustworthy or useful, come along!”

Of course, if you are reading this still, you want to know about Him.

He is everything he needs to be. He is large. He is in charge. He is the T-Rex in Jurassic Park. He even is able to emote, not bad for an animal. He is epic. All we needed was a mic drop and we’d be good. The roar was so worth it in the XD. He just LOOKS good. Yes, he is bigger and “fatter” than he has been before. Buildings have changed a bit since his original appearance and I am quite good with the scale. I am quite happy that in the end we are irrelevant to him. Ant, meet boot.

From an FX standpoint, the movie is actually really well done. 3D isnt needed, but if you can get higher quality sound and need to see it in 3D – do it. I was overall really impressed with the creature design and effects and their integration into the story. Seeing cities laid to waste in epic battles was also well done. You don’t get to see all the battles and its worth it to make the climax of the film what it needs to be.


Godzilla absolutely met my expectations. It was appropriately epic. It is a really good modernization of a classic icon. Plenty of nods to the original films exist. I want you to ignore anyone who talks about the Godzilla cartoon of references Gadzooki, they weren’t paying attention.

Should you see it?

Well, yes. I am not as jazzed as I was walking out of Winter Soldier, but I am looking forward to seeing this again tomorrow night. Again if you have to see it, please see it with the best sound system you can. 3D still is not required. It is also surprisingly kid friendly. Not entirely sure how they manage it but they did.

This does rank as one of the better films this year and may hold the title in the top 5 for awhile.

Please enjoy Godzilla, but don’t go in expecting your Kaiju world to be blown.

Next week, another anticipated film. X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Darke Reviews | Brick Mansions (2014)

I get to do an Old vs New on this movie! I haven’t done one of these in a few months and its about due. I could tell from the trailers on this one that it was nearly a shot for shot remake of 2004 french film District 13. Now when I say shot for shot, I mean quite literally I recognized plot, scenes, lines of dialogue and entire shots from the original. All to the point where I didn’t expect to see anything new in the film.

Was I wrong?

Well, yes. To a point. Camille Delamarre, the director, took Luc Besson’s (5th Element, La Femme Nikita, Leon The Professional) and Bibi Naceri’s original script from D13 and decided to americanize it. If the world is a good place Delamarre will never direct another movie. I know the world is not a good place. This movie proves it. Every-Single-Good decision from D13 is undone. The parts that they keep from the original are barely tolerable and the parts they deviate from are so abysmally bad I would consider watching Die Hard 5 or World War Z again.

I said consider. I didn’t say I would do it.

Lets talk story, the world is a godawful place. So bad they cordoned off a section of a major city and left it to rot, burn, and eventually die. The original is of course in Paris. The new one is set in Detroit. It felt like what Robocopy should have been.  Inside this district gangs rule their respective blocks or buildings. One is kept (relatively) clean by its leader Lino (BM)/Lieto(D13) who is trying to keep his part of the city free from drugs and safe for his people. This of course puts him at odds with Tremaine(BM)/Taha(D13). Things of course fail to go his way and he ends up in a worse spot than he was in. Meanwhile outside the district supercop Damien (in both) is given a mission of the utmost secrecy and importance that will determine the fate of both the district and the city at large. Lino/Lieto is in it for love and trying to save Lola (girlfriend in BM/sister in D13) and Damien is in it because he believes in the system. Together they might both get what they want.

That core story remains the same between the two. As there are no writing credits beyond the original screenplay all blame for change must ride with the director. Unless of course there is a writer out there who knows how bad this adaptation was and took their name off of it. Not even an Alan Smithee credit to be found. Sad that. With a Smithee I could understand why everyone had their IQs drop. I could understand why there was a completely and totally unnecessary girl fight. I could understand why the script was bordering on offensive on so many levels. I could understand why it was so pathetically derivative that it had to explain the subplot in the first five minutes with Snidely Whiplash cackling on screen. Ok Whiplash didn’t quite make it , but might as well. They literally made everything in the movie DUMBER and even potentially more stereotypical and offensive to make it for us.

Yay American cinema. Someone shoot me.

Is it all bad? No.

David Belle, who was in the original (and its sequel) reprises his role as Lieto in Lino. For those not familiar with Belle he FOUNDED Parkour. Founded. Every bit of a free running you see in movies now you can thank him. He is one of the most amazing men I have ever had the pleasure to witness on film. His physicality and agility are the stuff of legends. In D13 we are able to truly embrace and enjoy it with long shots of his free running through the district – over, around, up and down every surface he can touch. In Brick Mansions, we are…treated…to quick cuts, snap shots and a hint of shaky cam that prevents us from truly enjoying his ability to move.  He is still amazing, but you can’t enjoy it. Of course his counterpart in this is is also important.

District 13 gives us the hyper athletic Cyril Raffaelli as Damien. If you saw the Jet Li movie Kiss of the Dragon you saw this man fight Li and it was impressive. Not only can he fight, he is capable of acting and even a small bit of comedic timing. The physicality though is what lets you believe he can keep up with someone like Belle when they are on screen together. Paul Walker, not so much. He is very much the modern american action star. Brute force, some speed, no grace. It’s near impossible to compare the two men as Raffaelli just shines in such a physically demanding role. Walker is his usual self , which is slightly charming but as much real personality as Keanu Reeves. Though Reeves is mocked more for the same type of performance. Yes, I am sorry Walker is gone, but he doesn’t have a lot of range.

The bad guy, Taha, played by writer Bibi Naceri in D13 comes across pretty solid through and through in D13. He’s the king of a kingdom of ashes. Little else. His power is in his men and his ruthlessness. RZA (man with the Iron Fists) is your type-A1 standard urban lord with Tremaine. He has faux class, power through his men and a perceived intelligence higher than he should have. Tremaine as the bad guy serves the story as well as to be expected for the type of villain he is. In traditional fashion for us they make him as important as the heroes of the story and necessitate him through the end.

From a technical standpoint, nothing succeeds in Brick Mansions. Nothing. The unnecessary girl fight with two girls effectively in fetishwear fighting with fetish weapons. Just what we need. Shaky cam, quick cuts. Because more of that is good. Two leads who aren’t even in the same hemisphere physically? Brilliant choice.

Alright, TL;DR?

DO NOT SEE THIS GARBAGE. Save your $9 bucks. Get Netflix account for a month and watch the original. The subtitles don’t hurt, I promise. Seriously, DO NOT SEE THIS.

I can’t stress it enough. I was offended at many of the things they did from a film standpoint. Someone got hit in the head and you could HEAR THE LOONEY TOONS TWEETY BIRD SOUND! WHO DOES THAT?!

Yes I am raging because this film was a waste of celluloid that they released just to capitalize on walkers death. I can’t even recommend this one for MsT3K style commentary and viewing. It’s too dumb. It thinks WE are too dumb. I don’t have a high opinion of humanity, but I think mine is higher than this.

Gah, just don’t see Brick Mansions. Don’t let your friends see it. Let it burn in the pits of Tartarus.

Darke Reviews | Let The Right One In (2008)/Let Me In (2010)

As one of the more interesting vampire movies in the recent years I wanted to talk about the Swedish film Let the Right One in, and it’s Americanized remake Let Me In. I watched both movies simultaneously tonight, writing this review as I watched.

This falls into a recent trend of films to be made in another country and then be remade within the States. The Japanese have taken the brunt of this foreign film exploitation; and lets be honest folks that’s what it is, the Norwegians are now experiencing it as well (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Troll Hunter). We, as in Hollywood, are letting other countries create new ideas, new takes on old ideas and rather than try to distribute THAT film here, the producers hire a team of monkeys, er writers and directors to remake and re-imagine the film within a few years of its release. A vast majority of the ghost stories we’ve had, starting with the Ring, were originally Japanese. Why not actually let us watch that one in a theatre? Sadly the answer my friends is us. The audience doesn’t want subtitles, they want faces they recognize even if the foreign actors are remarkable, I am sure there are other reasons that are just as BS.

So how do these two films compare? American vs Swedish? Interestingly. I warn you now to avoid spoilers (contrary to my norm) skip to the TL;DR.

The story focuses on a young boy (Oskar/Owen) living in a run down apartment complex, who sees a girl (Eli/Abby) his age moving in . He is bullied at school, being raised by his mother alone. He spends his time not in school alone outside in the snow in the complex courtyard playing with a rubix cube or stabbing trees imagining the tree is a bully. The boy and girl quickly become friends and he uncovers her secret, that she is a vampire. As their relationship grows, the girls relationship with her caretaker begins to wane. Things at school escalate with the bullies and the boy, while things further deteriorate around the girl and the body count rises.

The story is the same, though the names change. The US version is nearly a shot for shot remake of the Swedish. There are, however, some interesting choices between the two.

As expected, or should be, the Swedish version plays out more dramatically beat for beat. The american one starts out far more dramatically with an ambulance racing through the highlands of New Mexico dealing with an acid burn victim, while the Swedish version begin focused on Oskar alone and establishing his awkwardness. I suppose Matt Reeves (Cloverfield), director and writer – see what I mean from yesterday? – felt that a more romantic/dramatic start would disengage his audience and he needed to create an artificial bit of excitement to start. The US version also does not stay 100% practical and that is a massive failing of the film, where the CGI attack by Abby is no where near as intense or visceral as Eli’s practical one. It’s proof once again that CG is not better than a good make up or skill in shooting.

Lets talk about the actors and characters a bit, but I want to this in reverse order starting with the bit parts.

The Bullies. I hate Bullies, I laugh when they are mutilated, eviscerated and otherwise punished brutally in film. It brings me no end of joy. So while the nature of the bullies in the US version are more deserving of their fate, they are also two dimensional entities that you can have absolutely no sympathy for. The Swedish version, while they are still inhuman in their own right and have earned their Karma and pay it, have some depth. They pause, they have moments where the three of them are not all “complete” villains.

The Caretaker. Still a better love story than twilight. No seriously, it’s a love story between him and his vampire. In all the years and vampire films I’ve watched I have never seen one handle this so interestingly and creatively. While the man is clearly in his late forties in both films, if not mid fifties, there he is the caretaker to a twelve year old. To an outsider he would be the parent, but to a careful observer and viewer you see that they are more than that. He hunts for her nightly, killing people and bringing their blood for her to feed on. He is getting old however and making mistakes. In some of his final moments you get a true grasp of his relationship with the girl. Tenders touches from her, eyes closed and a sense of peace from him. His final acts, after a final failure is sacrifice. His love for her is that complete that he would not only pour acid on his face, but
then to let her feed from him because she had been unable to. It almost makes my black heart melt.

Lets talk about the boy. Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) and Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Hedebrants Oskar comes across more damaged. There’s a pleasure in his eyes when he finally stands up to the bullies. An eagerness as he stabs the trees mimicking the taunts of the bullies. There’s also a certain eagerness to which he embraces Eli, even as he tries to deny their relationship. The broken nature even shows as he torments her briefly to find out what happens if she isn’t invited in, though that scene is tempered by his care for her. Smit-McPhee comes across more of a victim throughout, eternally vulnerable and even as he stands up to the bullies there’s no real strength there and no hidden sadism. Though for cinematic reasons he puts Abby through the same lack of invite, there is no sense that it was even for a moment malicious. In fact he looks as if he’s about to jack rabbit the entire time until the very last minute. Even during a moment where the theoretical worm turns, Hedebrant plays the stronger boy willing to draw a blade to defend and simply turn his back on a murder. Smit-McPhee plays the same scene weaker, pleading and even trembling. Both boys play the vulnerable, weak love interest to their girl rather well and the inexorable slide into her grasp is entertaining to watch; which makes their final decision complete and logical from the way the story has been executed.

On to the girl, Eli (Lina Leandersson) and Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz – yes my favourite young actress). For the purposes of the story and relationship (that gets it’s own section this time), Chloë acts as well as ever but the nature of her looks weaken one of the plot points in the relationship. Lina’s performance is actually a bit darker due to her androgynous features. She looks twelve and neither pure girl nor pure boy and is a bit more haunting as she carries out several of the kills. Both girls deliver a remarkable performance as a vampire, but Lina is given the option to use her body language and a minimal amount of effects to achieve monsterousness, while Chloë is not afforded the same. Though she, much like in Carrie, has the body language down and performs fully has some of her performance masked by too much blood and too much CG overlay on her make up.

The romance needs to be talked about here as much as anything. It was controversial for several reasons when the original Swedish version came out. I was worried when I saw the US release if they would do the same. There’s an entire series of dialogue half way through the film, where she joins the boy in his bed in the middle of the night. She had already asked him if he would like her if she was not a girl; now he asks her to go steady to an interesting reply.

“I’m not a girl.”
“You’re not?”
“Does that bother you?”

Now as she is prepubescent there’s debate as to what she means. Is it that she isn’t actually a girl, is it that she is but doesn’t consider herself one as she never even reached her teens, or the fact that she is a vampire makes her gender-less in her own mind? The conversation alone and it’s implications, much less his response, make it an interesting film. The options are also questions that are never answered which is a nice change of pace. It’s also fascinating to wonder as you look at the movie and understand the Caretaker that while the boy cares for her; you must ask yourself if she cares for him. Is she manipulating him to get her needs or are her emotions in such flux because of being eternally twelve? Again questions never answered and best left to interpretation. Even through the end of the film where the Caretaker cycle begins anew you just don’t know. Ultimately the viewer must decide, is it love or is it a monster – perhaps both.


While your tastes may vary and I do like both films, the Swedish version is superior in many elements. It shows a better finesse and love for the story than the US version. The US version is sufficient and still good, but they missed the memo on show don’t tell – especially in the final pool sequence. The children all act well, with Chloë 12 at the time of filming.

I can comfortably recommend both and think vampire fans will enjoy (if you haven’t already seen).

No hints for tomorrow, since its a film I haven’t seen – it will be the Conjuring.