The Magnificent Seven (2016)

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Once upon a time, the Western was king of American cinema. Films like The Wild Bunch, Butch Cassidy And the Sundance Kid, and A Fist Full Of Dollars thrilled audiences with their epic scope, riveting action, and tough as nails protagonists. An entire generation of American movie-goers grew up with bar brawls, gun fights and stage coach robberies as their primary means of escape. But, as time went on, the Western began to fall out of fashion. Perhaps it was due to an increase in the cost of production. Perhaps it was born out of people’s changing sensibilities. Whatever the case, the Western became a thing of the past, and, for years, very few filmmakers dared touch it. There were exceptions, of course, like in the 90s, when Westerns like Unforgiven and Dances With Wolves became huge hits, even winning Best Picture at the Oscars. But these films were as much deconstructions of the Western genre as they were examples of it. It wasn’t until more recently with films like True Grit and Django Unchained that directors tried to make traditional, true-blue westerns again. This year’s remake of The Magnificent Seven is another attempt to shoot some life back into the long-dormant Western genre. And, having just seen the film myself, I can tell you, they just might be able to with this picture.

A remake of the 1960s Western, which was itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven tells the story of a small town being oppressed by a group of bandits. Fed up with their squalid living conditions, the townsfolk hire a group of gunslingers, led by Denzel Washington, to liberate them. As the seven train and interact with the local community, they grow closer, not just to each other, but with the people they’re defending. In the end, they must stand against the full force of the bandits and their army, and hopefully drive them off for good. This is a story that’s been told a million times before, even in kids movies–seriously, A Bug’s Life is a remake of Seven Samurai–but that doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining, or well-done,and this version of The Magnificent Seven is both.

You’ve got an all-star cast giving their A-game, and some very impressive production values in this film. Not only that, the movie moves very quickly. There are no wasted scenes in this picture, and when the time comes for big, Western-style action,it’s handled very well. There are two absolutely awesome gunfights, one towards the middle, and one at the climax, that took my breath away. They were intense. They were engaging. Everything was clear. Nothing was shaky. If nothing else, this movie is entertaining. And, as i said, the performances given by the seven lead actors–Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Lee Byung-Hun, Manuel-Garcia Rulfo, and Martin Sensmeir–are very good. Their chemistry is real, and their dynamic is engaging. If you just want to go to the movies, and have a good time, this is the film for you. It’s entertaining, undemanding, and unoffensive.

That being said, I did have problems with the movie. For starters, the villain is very weak. He’s your typical evil businessman who simply wants to get rich and oppress people. There’s never a scene where he’s given some humanity, or where he’s allowed to do anything besides act evil. Which is fine. He works for the film, and for the Western genre, which isn’t famed for it’s groundbreaking character development. But, still, all my writing professors tell me that the best villains are the ones that you can kind of get behind–the Joker in The Dark Knight comes to mind when I hear this–and I honestly couldn’t ever get behind The Magnificent Seven’s big bad. To tell you the truth, nothing about him really stood out, besides the actor portraying him’s extremely slimy performance. On top of this, you don’t really get to know any of the heroes that well either. As I sated earlier, this film is very fast-paced, which, again, for the vibe the director was going for–fun, mindless action–works just fine. But when you compare it to the original Seven Samurai, which is almost four hours long, and which spends at least an hour and a half of screen time to developing the various villagers and samurai’s relationships and backstories, this version comes off as kind of hollow. There’s one scene in Seven Samurai where the samurai and a villager, Rikichi, go to ambush the bandits’ camp. They set the camp on fire, but, at the last moment, see Rikichi’s wife, whom it was hinted at earlier in the story was taken away. She looks utterly broken at having been used as the bandits’ sexual plaything, and when she locks eyes with her husband, she is so ashamed that she jumps into the fire, rather than face him again. There’s no dialogue in this scene, but it’s extremely powerful. It still haunts me to this day. There wasn’t anything like that in this version of The Magnificent Seven. Which, like I said, is fine. This film’s tone is considerably more light-hearted and fun, and the movie itself is a lot more action-heavy. Still, it didn’t move me in anyway, and I honestly don’t think I’ll remember it for years and years.

But, all in all, the 2016 version of The Magnificent Seven is well-acted, competently-crafted, and very entertaining. So, I would recommend you all watch it. It’s a 7.5 out of 10. Give it a look.

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American Crime: Season 1

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The story of a murder in Modesto, California, American Crime stars an ensemble cast, and examines how each of the people connected to the crime react to it. First, there are the people who were directly involved. There’s Antonio “Tony” Gutierez, a teenage boy who works at his father’s auto repair shop. There’s Hector Tontz, a drug dealer and illegal immigrant who rents cars from Tony. There’s Carter Nix, a meth head whom Hector drives around sometimes. And, finally, there’s Aubrey Taylor, Carter’s girlfriend, and accomplice. One night, something goes wrong, and a guy named Matt Skokie winds up dead, and his wife, Gwen, gets put in the hospital. By the end of the show, we’re not entirely sure what happened, or who’s really to blame, but, one thing we do know is that, somehow, Tony, Hector, Carter and Aubrey were involved, and they each get arrested as a result. Their family members then get called in, including Tony’s father, Alonzo, a strict disciplinarian who wants to keep his son on the straight and narrow, Carter’s sister, Aliya, a convert to Islam determined to get her brother off free, Matt Skokie’s divorced parents, Barb and Russ, and Gwen’s parents, Tom and Eve. Each of these people has serious issues, and they only get more messed up as the sordid details of the case come to light. Barb, a delusional racist, doesn’t want to accept that her son was selling drugs. Tom, an old-fashioned Christian, can’t stand the idea that Gwen, his little girl, was sleeping around. And Eve, well, she’s just trying to keep her sanity in check as everything crumbles around her. Needless to say, a great deal of drama unfolds over the course of this 11 episode series, and, if you want to find out what happens, you should give it a look. Continue reading