The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The name, And Views Are My Game.

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

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

And boy do I love being wrong! What? That doesn’t make sense? well, allow me to explain. I just finished watching the first season of American Crime, yet another anthology series looking to “examine race in our modern society.” And yet, despite its well-worn premise, and lackluster title, I ended up loving the show. It’s truly a fantastic piece of art. I highly recommend it to you all.

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.

As I stated earlier, I really enjoyed this show. As far as writing and acting are concerned, I have no complaints. Every character has depth and backstory. Every character changes over the course of the series. Seriously. I started off the show hating Barb and hector, and, by the end, they’d grown and changed so much that I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for them. And the casting could not have been better. See, very often when you watch a movie or a show, there’ll be that one person who, even if they were fine, just wasn’t up to the same level as the rest of the cast. Those of you who’ve read my review for Suicide Squad (HELL YEAH!) might remember that I praised all the actors, except Jared Leto, whom I believed was really hamming it up. I don’t have that problem here. There’s no single actor in this series who stands out as “bad,” or “just okay.” Everyone is great, and I appreciate that. And, for a show dealing with race and racism, the series does largely manage to avoid racist stereotypes. What I mean by that is, very often, movies that try to comment on racism will make their characters extremely stereotypical so as to make a point. Films like Do The Right Thing, Falling Down, and Crash are populated by individuals that feel more like cartoons than real people. These movies are especially bad when it comes to representing Asians and Asian Americans. See, race movies mostly tend to focus on the relationships between Black people, White people, and Latin people. If Asian people are brought up at all, they’re either a background element, or someone that the other characters can mock. Most of the time, they’re shown as being incompetent , rude, and, no matter what, incapable of speaking the most basic English. That’s not the case with American Crime. Yes, none of the main cast is Asian, but, Barb and Russ’s living son, Mark, is getting married to a woman named Richelle, who is Asian American, and is actually fairly non stereotypical. She speaks perfect English, is from Oklahoma, and is in the Army. It’s rare to see a character like her get written, especially in a show that’s directly addressing racism, and I was very impressed. Wish more writers would create characters like her. So, yeah, good writing, good acting, and good representation. Well done, American Crime.
With regards to filmmaking, though, I do have some comments. They’re not necessarily complaints, just observations. One is the fact that, this show is shot in a very odd way. What I mean by that is, most of the time, directors will shoot a conversation between characters as a series of close ups on the various speakers faces, or with a wide shot, where you can see both actors at the same time. American Crime doesn’t do that. Very often, whenever a conversation is being had, the camera will only focus on one person’s face, and either the other speaker will be off screen, or will be blurred out so that you can’t see them. What this does is make the conversations feel less like conversations, and more like long showcases of how particular characters are feeling. Which is fine, and maybe was the filmmaker’s intent, but, still, it’s hard to look at one person’s face, non-stop, for an entire seven minute conversation. The other comment I have with regards to filmmaking is that, while the musical score does its job just fine, accenting particular moments with proper amounts of pathos, it’s not particularly memorable. I honestly couldn’t hum it back to you if you asked me. And that’s fine, not every score needs to be as catchy as John William’s Superman theme, but, still. It’s better if your musical score can stand out.

All in all, though, I think American Crime is a very well done series, with strong writing, and strong performances. I highly recommend it, and have decided to give it a 9 out of 10. Give it a look.