Spling reviews The Magnificent Seven, Chocolat and Queen of the Desert as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.
The Magnificent Seven is a revisionist Western remake of a classic Western, which was based on a Japanese film called The Seven Samurai. The story of heroes vs. cowards, little man vs. big man, defending your fortress and fighting for freedom from tyranny and persecution has remained timeless. The altruism at the heart of The Seven Samurai is part of the reason this film has been immortalised and still holds up today. The heroic seven are an inspiration to audiences, who feel powerless in a system that only seems to make the rich richer and the powerful, invincible.
Perhaps this is what makes the remake of The Magnificent Seven a timely affair, demonstrating the power of a few in their capacity to mobilise and arm the downtrodden in an effort to overcome unreasonable tyranny by force. While this The Magnificent Seven doesn't reinvent the basic story of a few guns-for-hire defending a helpless village, it does redress it, bringing a diverse cast of characters together as a ragtag team of strays who unite to defend the common man. Several Wild West minority groups are represented by The Magnificent Seven and each of them have their reasons, whether motivated by destiny, revenge, money, justice or the wind of change and it's refreshing to see Denzel Washington charging on a stallion as team leader, Sam Chisolm.
Following in the wake of The Hateful Eight, it's probably not as novel having a black actor taking the lead in a classic Western, but Washington does good as a bounty hunter and "peace-maker" partnering with Antoine Fuqua in a film that stands its ground. He's supported by Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Vincent D'Onofrio as part of his posse, opposing Peter Sarsgaard as the despicable mining tycoon, Bart Bogue. Pratt isn't quite as charming and cheeky as he was in Guardians of the Galaxy, but adds some extra firepower. Hawke seems to enjoy himself as the tarnished legend, Goodnight while D'Onofrio gets to grips with a part-bear-part-man in Jack.
"I suppose you're wondering why I called this meeting?"
The film works mostly thanks to its book ends, starting with an intense church scene that recalls There Will Be Blood, and moving onto a high body count showdown to cap things off. The Magnificent Seven would have done well to stay in the channel of There Will Be Blood as they tap into the idea of big business enslaving a town and buying the very soul of justice from the Sheriff and his men. However, this cinematic opening gives way to a more generic rounding up the men middle as Chisolm gathers the usual suspects with one or two surprises.
The third act is all gunpowder and bravado as the town prepare for onslaught and Bogue's men muster on the scene. Having influenced many Westerns over the years and already broken in the concept, much of the film has a dull familiarity tipping the hat to the original while bowing to genre cliches. It was to be expected and you'd be foolish to go in expecting a complete reinvention. What does work is the gunpowder and star power, slowly building to an explosive and violent massacre, and using some big name stars to get us there.
This Western could have done with more camaraderie. While the actors create an easy-going chemistry, it's not in danger of dislodging Robert Redford and Paul Newman. Chris Pratt looks like he's enjoying himself in all the mayhem, but sometimes you wonder if his character isn't just psychotic that way. Washington and Hawke do add some class, but it's always good and rarely great. The grit of The Revenant may have spoiled things a bit for this Western, but then again they're more concerned with popcorn thrills than breathtaking cinematography.
It's a wild and entertaining ride that has enough quality to serve as a solid remake, but this film realises its place within the broader context. The diversity and representation makes this underdog tale sizzle below the surface and the stellar cast helps overcome the cracks in what is otherwise a fairly routine film. You may already know the drill, but there's enough twinkle, some epic landscape shots and plenty of shoot 'em up spirit to get the job done.
Spling reviews Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, Ben-Hur and Before I Wake as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.
Blair Witch is comparable with Evil Dead 2 in as much as it's delivering what the first one did, with less novelty and more finesse. The original The Blair Witch Project was one of the first found footage horror films to emerge and while the hype exceeded delivery, managed to carve out a new genre of cinema, signalling a cross-over between high-end and commercially available video recording.
While the low budget horror was something of a shaky-cam pioneer, it received favourable reviews, tipping the hat to its mock-doc style shooting, genuine creepiness and the way it leveraged our imagination with an "invisible" villain. Since then, the reality camcorder genre has blossomed and it just seemed like a good time to introduce a new generation to one of the founders with a modern skin.
Blair Witch is a terrifying ordeal and a strong redux. The new version is cleverly refreshed and supplanted in the original with an X-Files style "missing sister" device. Instead of Mulder, we have James, who still believes his sister Heather is out there... in the woods. After another video surfaces of what he believes to show she's alive, he assembles a brave expedition party, including two strange locals.
Blair Witch has been updated to include contemporary technology with over-the-ear cameras and I loved the introduction of the untrustworthy guides. The filmmakers could have done so much more with the evil locals to the tune of Funny Games, but keep us guessing with their odd behaviour and off-balance with rising group tensions.
The cast is good, with James Allen McCune starring in a similar mold to Nicolas Hoult as James. He's the calm and steady hero, leaning on Callie Hernandez as Lisa with Corbin Reid and Brandon Scott playing fellow campers, Ashley and Peter. Wes Robinson is probably the most memorable act from Blair Witch as Lane, whose cold blue eyes make him seem almost possessed with the film-makers obscuring us from him and his partner, Talia, played by Valorie Curry.
Adam Wingard maintains this uneasiness by playing on a multitude of fears from claustrophobia to nyctophobia (dark), xenophobia (unknown) and even acrophobia (heights). Switching from one perspective to another and given access to multiple cameras, including a drone, gives him more options as a film-maker. He doesn't add polish or finesse, but keeps the spirit of The Blair Witch Project with shaky cam shooting, creepy situational dynamics and using what-goes-bump-in-the-night scare tactics.
Instead of going play-for-play, Wingard takes it up a notch by creating a hellish environment for his characters and audience, where being lost in the woods suddenly takes on a whole new dimension of terror. Blair Witch is a solid remake but also serves as a tribute to the genre, incorporating elements from all the best reality horror thrillers, including: REC and Paranormal Activity.
It probably would've been better, if Blair Witch had teased out the suspicion on the "guides" longer. As with most of these low budget found footage thrillers, the loose ends contribute to the uncertainty and fear, while the jerky camera motion is a strength and a weakness. It's not going to change the world, but it will immerse you in the pitch black nightmare just long enough to be utterly relieved to see the light of day again.