The Magnificent Seven (2016) – Film Review

After taking-on a number of exciting action flicks in recent years such as: ‘Training Day’, ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ and ‘The Equalizer’, director Antonie Fuqua brings this remake of the original 1960 ensemble western to the silver screen. Combining a superb cast with some explosive moments of action and plenty of highly-detailed costumes and sets, ‘The Magnificent Seven’ manages to remain an entertaining remake of the beloved classic despite its few faults.

In 1897, seven gunmen from a variety of different backgrounds are brought together by a vengeful young widow in order to protect her hometown of: ‘Rose Creek’ from the private army of a destructive industrialist.

Other than a few changes to the names of its characters, the remake of: ‘The Magnificent Seven’ follows a very similar storyline to the original film, which was essentially just a retelling of the iconic Japenese film: ‘Seven Samurai’ but now set in the Wild West. As the remake avoids making-any definite changes to the narrative in favour of simply just updating the story for a more modern-audience, meaning the film has much faster-pacing and more of a focus-on creating thrilling action set-pieces than the original, which is both a good and a bad thing. As whilst the film does still pay homage to many classic westerns, the film occasionally also adopts many of the issues that plague plenty of modern blockbusters today, the most notable of which being the film’s overabundance of cheesy/predictable dialogue.

Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawk, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier all give splendid performances as the line-up of: ‘The Seven’, each portraying a different personality and skillset between them. But of course, similar to many other films lead by a group of characters rather than just a single protagonist. ‘The Magnificent Seven’ suffers from a lack of equal development for its cast as a result of Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt as ‘Chisolm’ and ‘Josh Faraday’ hogging most of the screen-time, with the film’s antagonist: ‘Bartholomew Bogue’ portrayed by Peter Sarsgaard, also having a deficient intimidating presence when on-screen due to this.

Whilst the film’s cinematography never falls into the category of being exceedingly bland, the cinematography by Mauro Fiore is only above-average overall. As although the film does feature an array of attractive close-ups and wide-shots alongside its many suitably barren locations, the film also has quite a heavy overreliance on shot-reverse-shot during many of the conversations between characters. However, a smaller detail that I felt added to the film’s visual appeal (and realism) is definitely its use of nature surrounding/within its various locations, as the film’s main setting of: ‘Rose Creek’ is littered with trees and tall grass rather than just continuous desert similar to many other westerns, with some areas of Baton Rouge, Louisiana (where filming took place) even having to be relandscaped to further resemble the Old West.

Being the last film Horner worked-on as a composer before he sadly passed away in 2015, the original score by him and Simon Franglen does suitably feel like the score of a traditional western for the majority of the film’s runtime. Although there are still a few tracks that feel fairly generic, the soundtrack redeems itself through the great tracks: ‘Rose Creek Oppression’ and ‘Seven Riders’, in addition to also bringing back the original film’s theme composed by the late Elmer Bernstein for its end credits.

As the remake of: ‘The Magnificent Seven’ focuses more-on action over anything else (with the entire final act of the film essentially being one long action sequence) a lot of pressure lies-on the film to live-up to this intent, which thankfully, it does. As all of the stirring moments throughout the film make fantastic use of their impressive stunt work and subtle CGI effects. That being said, nearly-all of the action scenes are also distinctly missing an element of both grittiness and violence, which can be fairly distracting. As despite many of: ‘Bartholomew Bogue’s guns-for-hire being shot, stabbed and blown-up, blood is barely ever-seen, and whilst I understand classic westerns also didn’t really revel in violence, I’ve always seen that as more of a restriction of the time-period rather than just a skimp to lower the film’s age rating.

In conclusion, while ‘The Magnificent Seven’ may not fully deliver-on the ‘Magnificent’ part of its title, the film is still is an enjoyable throwback to the westerns of old with plenty of exhilarating action set-pieces to boot. As even when taking-into account all of the remake’s issues and general lack of memorability, I’d still say the film is on the better side of reimagined classics in recent memory and is worth a watch if you’re a true western enthusiast or perhaps just desire to see a remake that doesn’t attempt to simply recreate the original shot-for-shot. A 7/10 overall.

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Rango (2011) – Film Review

From the director of: ‘The Ring’ and the first three entries in ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’ series, Gore Verbinski. Comes ‘Rango’, an animated-western featuring a bizarre cast of ugly animals, and although that strange concept may not sound as if it couldn’t possibly work, ‘Rango’ is without a doubt one of my favourite animated films in recent memory. As the film’s entertaining story and classic western visuals make the film an incredibly fun watch, regardless of your age.

When ‘Rango’, an ordinary pet chameleon accidentally winds-up in the small town of: ‘Dirt’ following a car accident, he begins to realize the dry, lawless outpost is in desperate need of a new sheriff. Being the talented actor that he is, ‘Rango’ soon poses as the answer to their problems.

Whilst ‘Rango’ is front and foremost a family flick, ‘Rango’ also serves a pretty successful throwback to classic westerns, balancing plenty of hilarious moments with more serious scenes and even some exciting action sequences throughout its story. The film even features a reference to the icon of the western-era himself, that being Clint Eastwood as ‘The Spirit of the West’, which I really appreciated as a fan of the genre. However, the character himself isn’t actually portrayed by Clint Eastwood, which I did feel slightly took away from the scene he appears in despite its short length.

Although all the supporting cast of Isa Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Bill Nighy, Alfred Molina and Ned Beatty are all fantastic as the residents of the small town of: ‘Dirt’. Each having a western accent which sometimes even makes their voice unrecognisable in Isla Fisher’s case. Johnny Depp as the protagonist: ‘Rango’ is truly some flawless casting. As Depp always portrays ‘Rango’ as likeable and funny, yet cowardly, with plenty of humourous lines throughout the runtime. The film’s antagonist: ‘Rattlesnake Jake’ is also worth mentioning, as Bill Nighy lends his voice to this gigantic menacing gunslinger, actually mirroring the two actor’s characters within ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’ series, whether intentional or not.

‘Rango’ is also one of the rare animated films which actually has some pretty stunning cinematography, as all of the film’s animated cinematography is very reminiscent of classic westerns. From extreme close-ups of character’s faces during stand-offs, to wide-shots of the barren desert, to even close-ups of hanging broken bottles on a porch, every-shot really adds to the narrative, whilst also displaying the film’s large variety of distinct locations. Truly utilizing the limitless potential of animated cinematography. Legendary cinematographer, Roger Deakins, who worked on films such as: ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, ‘No Country for Old Men’ and ‘Skyfall’ in the past, was even consulted when it came to the film’s cinematography.

Iconic composer Hanz Zimmer returns to the work once again with director Gore Verbinski, and once again with another magnificent original score. This time replicating classic western scores without taking-away from the film’s adventurous tone. Making fantastic use of both electric and acoustic guitars, tracks such as: ‘Rango and Beans’ and ‘Rango Returns’ feel as if they were ripped straight-out of the golden age of film. The soundtrack even includes a unique western-esque version of the orchestral classic: ‘Ride of the Valkyries’, which backs-up what is already a pretty memorable action scene.

The animation itself is wonderful throughout the film, as ‘Rango’ takes a more daring and unique route when it comes to its animation. As rather than being overly colourful and cartoonishly attractive similar to films like ‘Toy Story’, ‘Frozen’ or ‘Despicable Me’. ‘Rango’ focuses far more on being rather realistic and dirty, with each location always feeling very old and rustic. The character designs themselves also reflect this, as every-piece of clothing and every-object is coaked in scratches and dirt, giving the film an overall unpleasant yet not unattractive look. This animation style also continues to the film’s colour palette, as the pale beiges and browns give the film a true western feel. Due to ‘Rango’s reliance on this highly-detailed kind of animation however, there is the occasional shot where the animation looks slightly dated by today’s standards.

Packed with plenty of great comedic moments, attractive visuals, a great original score and of course, its marvellous cast. ‘Rango’ stands as one of the best modern animated films to date, as this western adventure truly does anything it can to make itself stand-out. As despite the film’s few fourth-wall-breaking moments (which come-off as slightly cheesy) and the film’s sometimes overly fast-pacing, ‘Rango’ still remains an 8/10 for me. Although this animated flick may seem pretty unusual when compared to many other films the family can enjoy together, this true oddball of a film is sure to please those who decide to give it a chance.

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Bone Tomahawk (2015) – Film Review

Brutal, tense and emotional, ‘Bone Tomahawk’ is one of those rare films that isn’t afraid to mass-up genres, as throughout the film we go from a violent horror to a classic western and back again, all without the film ever feeling as if it’s tone is unclear. Whilst I have always enjoyed classics such as: ‘True Grit’ or ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’, I don’t think this is just down to personal bias towards westerns however, as ‘Bone Tomahawk’ definitely excels in more aspects than one when it comes to this genre.

In the dying days of the old west, an outlaw unknowingly leads a band of cannibals to the small town of: ‘Bright Hope’. Leaving the town’s elderly sheriff and his posse to set out on a mission to rescue the town’s residents from the tribe of savage cave dwellers.

Directed by S. Craig Zahler (Brawl in Cell Block 99, Dragged Across Concrete). This underrated director has always had a talent for gritty storytelling, this time crafting a narrative which is both very engaging and tense (despite being fairly straightforward and simplistic overall). In addition to this, ‘Bone Tomahawk’ manages to perfectly capture the tone of a classic western, and sometimes even elements of 1970s horror. As the film actually reminded me of: ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ at multiple points, although this may just be coincidental.

Kurt Russell leads the brilliant cast of Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins and Lili Simmons very well. As throughout the runtime all of the characters receive a decent amount of characterisation, with each member of the cast having at least one scene between them. My only issue when it comes to the characters is the lack of a flushed-out character-arc for Kurt Russell’s protagonist: ‘Sheriff Hunt’. As although his character is explored within the film’s story (usually subtlety through dialogue). I personally feel his character-arc was never developed quite as much as it could’ve been, despite the fact that this would’ve resulted in a more investing protagonist.

Although the film features a little too much hand-held camera in my opinion, the cinematography by Benji Bakshi is mostly solid throughout. As the film contains plenty of attractive shots, a few of which even feel like throwbacks to iconic shots from old westerns. The cinematography also makes great use of the film’s variety of remote locations, as the comfort of the small town feels completely distant when compared to the barren rocky landscapes where the cannibals thrive, usually resulting in a very tense atmosphere.

The original score by Jeff Herriott and S. Craig Zahler himself is very similar to the tone of the film, in the sense that it’s a perfect mixture between western and horror. As the soundtrack utilizes trumpets and acoustic guitars to perfectly fit with the western visuals, before then completely changing to tenser and more uncomfortable tracks, putting the viewer on-edge. However, the original score also manages to have a genuine feeling of tragedy within it, as the score uses intense violin strokes to envoke emotion wherever possible. Especially in the track: ‘Four Doomed Men Ride Out’, which fits this idea perfectly.

Of course, the scene that ‘Bone Tomahawk’ is most known for is without a doubt its infamously violent scene set within the cannibal’s cave, and whilst this scene may be extremely disturbing for a large majority of viewers, I do feel that is director S. Craig Zahler’s exact intention. As this moment perfectly displays the horrific nature of the cannibalistic tribe, truly playing into their merciless and barbaric ways of life (despite not actually being that heavily present throughout the story). This scene also displays a range of excellent practical gore effects, making this savage moment even more difficult to watch through its gruesome realism alongside the agonising screams of the cannibal’s victim(s).

For the most part, ‘Bone Tomahawk’ definitely achieves what it sets-out to accomplish, as although the film won’t appeal to everyone through its simplistic plot, slow-pacing and graphic violence, the film utilizes it’s great performances and isolated locations pretty effectively, resulting in a film that’s just as enjoyable as many other classic westerns despite being a little bland in a few areas. Overall, a decent 7/10 for me. I personally can’t wait to see more of S. Craig Zahler’s work in the future, as I feel this director has some real promise when it comes to telling dark yet gripping stories.

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The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) – Film Review

The western genre used to be extremely popular back in the golden age of Hollywood, but in recent years however, westerns have mostly died off, as aside from a few honourable mentions such as: ‘True Grit’, ‘The Sisters Brothers’ and ‘Django Unchained’. The western genre as a whole has run mostly dry… until now that is. As beloved directors Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (The Big Lebowski, Fargo, No Country for Old Men) return to the silver screen for this brilliant western anthology.

Consisting of six different stories of life and violence in the Old West, the film follows tales of a singing gunslinger, a bank robber, a travelling impresario, an elderly prospector, a wagon train, and a perverse pair of bounty hunters.

This diverse set of stories and characters really keep the film engaging from start-to-finish, as the film constantly jumps between characters and locations all whilst ensuring that it keeps its decent pacing and usual Coen Brother’s dark sense of humour intact. Resulting in the film feeling extremely refreshing, as superhero blockbusters and jump-scare filled horrors have really taken over the film industry in recent years. So revisiting an old yet classic genre (especially with this modern spin) is truly a breath of fresh air. Especially with the Coen Brother’s brilliant direction.

The performances by every member of the enormous cast are pretty excellent all around. As Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Thomas Waits, Zoe Kazan, Jonjo O’Neill and Brendan Gleeson (just to name a few) are all brilliant when portraying their varied and interesting characters, with Tim Blake Nelson definitely being the clear stand-out for me with his extremely funny and charming portrayal of the title character: ‘Buster Scruggs’.

Throughout the runtime, the cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel is almost flawless, as the film utilizes a variety of beautiful shots which perfectly capture the visual appeal of classic westerns. The original score by Carter Burwell is also pretty great, as the soundtrack uses slow guitar stings and an enormous list of classic country songs to build-up atmosphere, with the best of these definitely being: ‘When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings’.

One aspect of the film I absolutely adore is the Coen’s usual style of writing, as every character throughout the film is given plenty of comedic moments and memorable lines, which really helped make many of the characters with slightly-less development more likeable. Another element that also really drew my attention during my first viewing was the incredible sets and costumes the film had on full-display, as considering the locations/costumes are some of the main factors of engaging the audience into the story and it’s time-period. It was clear they were pulling-out all the stops. As every location always felt very real and lived in, with the character’s clothes being no different.

My personal favourite narrative of the six would most likely be the opening story, sharing the same name as the title of the film: ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’. This opening was just such as joy to watch, balancing dark humour with a classic western set-up brilliantly, in addition to the fantastic performance from Tim Blake Nelson as already mentioned. However, this is also where my biggest criticism of the film comes in, as although they definitely aren’t awful, the last two stories are easily the weakest of the film. As although we do get some great character moments and fun scenes within these stories, I couldn’t help but feel they simply weren’t as memorable or as charming as the others leading-up to them. Perhaps if these two stories we’re placed earlier in the film it wouldn’t be such an issue, but it simply leaves the viewer with a bad taste in their mouth afterwards.

‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ proves once again that westerns are far from gone when it comes to film, as the Coen Brothers once again take the audience for a trip into the wild west with complete success. As this anthology is just as hilarious as it is visually impressive and well-acted, regardless of whether or not the stories are quite on the same level, the film is still an 8/10 overall from me.

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