The Magnificent Seven
Rated PG-13 for intense violence, smoking, profanity and suggestive material
Denzel Reunites With Fuqua In Worthy Overhaul Of Kurosawa Classic
Directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa in 1954, Seven Samurai was a groundbreaking film which had a profound influence on the evolution of cinema for generations to come. Superficially, that seminal work merely reads like a martial arts epic set in 16th Century Japan. Yet, over the years, it has spawned a cottage industry of knockoffs trading in the picture’s novel narrative revolving around a rag-tag team of selfless heroes recruited in service of some lofty goal.
In 1960, Seven Samurai was remade as The Magnificent Seven, a sprawling Western co-starring Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, Charles Bronson, Eli Wallach, Robert Vaughn and James Coburn. Today, that classic has been refreshed by Antoine Fuqua in an outing reuniting the director with Denzel Washington following successful collaborations on The Equalizer (2014) and Training Day (2001) for which the latter won an Academy Award.
This incarnation of The Magnificent Seven does feature a few variations on the theme. For example, the picture’s dastardly bad guy is now an avaricious white man intent on seizing a mining town’s gold instead of a Mexican bandito simply staging a series of border raids. And the good guys enlisted to engage the greedy gringo are a politically-correct, rainbow coalition reflecting every ethnicity.
Otherwise, the essence of the original plot remains intact. As the film unfolds, we find the folks in the frontier settlement of Rose Creek living in fear of Bartholomew Bogue and his gang of marauders. Bogue is your stereotypical, bloodthirsty villain, straight out of central casting, played to perfection by Peter Sarsgaard.
It is established early on just how low the diabolical Bogue will stoop to achieve his evil ends, between murdering an innocent woman and burning the church to the ground. That makes the arrival of bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Washington) all the more welcome by the time the exasperated and intimidated local yokels are at their collective wit’s end.
They also have no idea that Chisolm isn’t merely motivated by altruism but has his own revenge-fueled reason to tangle with Bogue. Regardless, once deputized, the gunslinger proceeds to assemble a motley crew composed of a Civil War vet suffering from shell shock (Ethan Hawke), a hard-drinking bombmaker (Chris Pratt), a gruff mountain man (Vincent D’Onofrio), a Chicano outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a crack Comanche archer (Martin Sensmeier) and a knife-throwing, Asian assassin (Byung-hun Lee).
Don’t expect any deeply-developed characters and you won’t be disappointed. It’s all about the inexorable march to the big showdown during which the heroes will obviously even the score, and then some. The Wild, Wild West revisited as an ethnically-diverse fantasy land Hollywood has never imagined before!
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 132 minutes
Open Road Films
Rated R for profanity, sexuality and nudity
Joseph Gordon-Levitt Plays Infamous Whistleblower In Reverential, Cloak-And-Dagger Drama
Earlier this year, the film Citizenfour won the Academy Award in the Best Documentary category. But given how the movie made less than $4 million worldwide, one might reasonably conclude that the details of Edward Snowden’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) dump of National Security Agency documents remains substantially unknown.
This is ostensibly the thinking of three-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone (for Platoon and Born On The Fourth Of July) in turning the story into a cloak-and-dagger drama about the NSA whistleblower-turned-fugitive’s leak of classified information before going into hiding from the U.S. government. The movie unfolds in June of 2013 in the Hong Kong hotel room where Snowden met with journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen Macaskill (Tom Wilkinson) along with Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo), the eventual director of Citizenfour.
We learn that following four days of interviews, Greenwald published his first story in the British daily newspaper, The Guardian. The Pulitzer Prize-winning series related in stunning detail the extent of NSA surveillance of American citizens in direct contradiction of a recent denial uttered under oath to Congress by James Clapper, the nation’s Director of National Intelligence.
Because the articles identified Snowden as the source of the information, he immediately became the subject of an intense international manhunt. He somehow managed to slip through the dragnet and boarded a commercial airliner bound for Moscow, despite the fact that his passport had been revoked and the U.S. had requested his extradition from Hong Kong.
Upon landing in Russia, Edward was awarded temporary asylum and he has languished there ever since. Lucky for him, this movie has revived interest in his case, inspiring him to recently make a public appeal for clemency.
But a presidential pardon is unlikely to be forthcoming, even though President Obama considered the apprehension of the “29-year-old hacker” a very low priority back in June of ’13. So today, Snowden remains a fugitive from justice charged in absentia with theft, espionage and conversion of government property.
Via a variety of empathetic flashbacks, we are informed by the film that Edward was a high school dropout who suffers from epilepsy. He also enjoys a very loving, enduring relationship with Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), the loyal girlfriend who followed him from Virginia to Hawaii to Moscow. More importantly, the movie establishes Edward as so patriotic he was willing to jeopardize his future to sound the alarm about the surreptitious NSA’s widespread violations of our constitutional rights.
Congrats to Oliver Stone for crafting a reverential biopic which convincingly repositions a supposed traitor as an altruistic hero of the highest order.
Excellent (3.5 stars)
Running time: 138 minutes
OPENING THIS WEEK
For movies opening September 23, 2016
Storks (PG for mild action and mature themes) Animated comedy about a flock of storks that abandons its traditional mission to deliver packages for a global corporate giant. Plot thickens when a rising star (Andy Samberg) risks a promotion promised by his boss (Kelsey Grammer) by attempting to make his first ever baby drop after accidentally manufacturing an adorable, little bundle of joy. Voice cast includes Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell, Keegan-Michael key, Jordan Peele and Danny Trejo.
Chronic (R for nudity and profanity) Poignant character study starring Tim Roth in the title role as a caregiver for the terminally-ill who apparently needs his patients as much as they need him. Support cast includes Michael Cristofer, Elizabeth Tulloch and Tate Ellington.
Closet Monster (Unrated) Homoerotic drama, set in Newfoundland, about a gay teen (Connor Jessup) who hides his sexual preference from his intolerant, short-tempered father (Aaron Abrams) after witnessing a hate crime, until he falls in love with a handsome co-worker (Aliocha Schneider). With Isabella Rossellini, Joanne Kelly and Jinji Dawson.
Dirty 30 (PG-13 for sexuality, drug use and debauchery) Female empowerment adventure about a couple of jaded women (Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart) who throw a bawdy birthday party to lift the sagging spirits of a lifelong friend turning 30 (Mamrie Hart), only to see the soiree spiral out of control. Featuring Adam Lustick, Anna Akana and Annie Sertich.
The Dressmaker (R for brief profanity and a scene of violence) Kate Winslet handles the title role in this Prodigal Daughter drama, set in 1926, as a fashion designer who falls in love with a local hunk with a heart of gold (Liam Hemsworth) and transforms her hometown upon returning to Australia to care for her ailing, long-estranged mom (Judy Davis). Cast includes Hugo Weaving, Kerry Fox and Sarah Snook.
Generation Startup (Unrated) Millennials are the focus of this documentary revolving around the entrepreneurial efforts of a half-dozen college grads building businesses in Detroit.
I.T. (Unrated) Cat-and-mouse crime thriller about a successful businessman (Pierce Brosnan) who turns vigilante when his most trusted confidante (James Frecheville) starts sabotaging the company, stalking his teenage daughter (Stefanie Scott) and threatening his family. With Anna Friel, Austin Swift and Michael Nyqvist.
The Lovers And The Despot (Unrated) Bamboo Curtain documentary about a successful South Korean director (Shin Sang-ok) who was kidnapped with his wife/actress (Choi Eun-hee) and delivered to dictator Kim Jong-Il to serve as the North Korean dictator’s personal filmmakers. (In Korean, Japanese and English with subtitles)
Made In France (Unrated) Jihadist thriller about an investigative journalist (Malik Zili) who infiltrates a cell of disaffected Islamic youth planning a terrorist attack on Paris. With Dimitri Storoge, Francois Civil and Nassim Si Ahmed. (In French with subtitles)
Queen Of Katwe (PG for an accident scene, mature themes and suggestive material) Madina Malwanga portrays the title character of this uplifting biopic, Phionsa Mutesi, the Ugandan chess prodigy who overcomes poverty and misogyny to become a grandmaster with the help of a volunteer (David Oyelowo) who organizes a chess club in her humble village. With Lupita N’yongo, Martin Kabanza and Taryn Kyaze.
The Ruins Of Lifta (Unrated) Middle East documentary about a Palestinian village which was abandoned during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War but never repopulated after the founding of the Jewish State.
Seed: The Untold Story (Unrated) Eco-documentary chronicling the David vs. Goliath effort of indigenous peoples and family farmers to preserve thousands of varieties of seeds being destroyed and/or appropriated by agribusiness and chemical conglomerates. (In English, Spanish and Hindi with subtitles)