The Magnificent Seven Review

I guess Westerns are back. With the surprise hits of Slow West and Salvation back in 2015, and the utterly amazing Bone Tomahawk earlier this year, Westerns are getting both commercial and critical acclaim (let’s just all forget The Lone Ranger, yeah?) And now for one of the most high-profile Westerns ever created, now remade.

The Magnificent Seven stars Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier and is directed by Antoine Fuqua, The story follows a bounty hunter (Washington) who wrangles up a posse to protect a town from a dastardly industrialist (Peter Sarsgaard).

The director, Antoine Fuqua, is the man behind films such as Training Day, Tear of The Sun and The Equalizer. Gritty “guy movies” about competent bad-asses who give and receive gruelling punishments while also being actually good films rather than silly pabulum like the Taken sequels or anything by the director Luc Besson. And with The Magnificent Seven, he’s continuing his trend of macho-action blockbusters without much fail.

The actors are well cast. Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt are doing roles they could do in their sleep, smaller roles for veteran actors such as Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio and a breakout action female role for Haley Bennet. The best though are Byung-hun Lee as assassin Billy and Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest, a Comanche warrior. Both are relative newcomers (Lee is a star in Asia but not Hollywood) but they are perfect in their roles as ultra-capable killers and are seemingly born to be action stars. Look out for these two later on in Hollywood.

The action is explosive and bloody, but Fuqua is a master at capturing the gunfights, which play out more like opera or music, with a great rhythm to the hits and bullets. The sound design is good, you can feel the weight behind the bullets, instead of just sound effects. The first skirmish is split evenly, with each character showing off their abilities. This where the previously mentioned Lee and Sensmeier shine, with their respective weapons of knives and bows. The second and final fight takes up the last half an hour and while it make become a little repetitive after a while, the final five minutes, when our heroes are beaten down and battered, is a high point of emotion-driven action.

There are also tense standoffs, in saloons and deserted streets near the beginning, and again, they are shot very well. You can feel the rhythm of the shots building up, as the film draw close to a shootout. It’s not a slow-burn tension of say, Anthropoid. It’s much more geared towards a popcorn entertainment, but it’s still created well.

The story is a little clichéd, with nothing really standing out or subverting trends in scriptwriting. The scriptwriter is Nic Pizzolatto, the creator behind True Detective. Despite that excellently written former work, M7 comes nowhere close to it. There aren’t many stand-out lines and the plot points feel like 101 scriptwriting. There are obligatory break-up/make-up sections and back-stories to characters that feel tacked on/aren’t explored. One of the main characters has a personal connection to the villain, and if we had learnt about it earlier it could have injected the third act with some human drama about sacrificing innocents for revenge. But no, it’s done away with in a few lines, sloppily added in just because it was on a generic story checklist.

In the end, The Magnificent Seven is a well-done popcorn earner. The little generic traits and standard story conventions are easy to point out, but the action and the actors are what make it a highlight. It doesn’t stand with Seven Samurai (the story M7 was based on) but it probably stand there with the original.

Score: 7/10 Not magnificent, but solid entertainment.

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Jurassic World Review

It’s been 22 years since the first Jurassic Park wowed audiences with its CGI/animatronic dinosaurs, even if some of it was historically inaccurate. While the first film is dearly beloved by many people, the sequels The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3 were not as well received. But now, 14 year after the last Jurassic Park film, can Jurassic World strike dinosaur gold once again?

Jurassic World stars Chris Pratt as Owen Grady, Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire and Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson as brothers Gray and Zach respectively. Jurassic Park has finally opened 20 years after being started in the first film, but with attendance dropping, a new hybrid dinosaur is created to coax audiences back. Unsurprisingly the dinosaur escapes, rampaging through the island with over 20,000 visitors trapped on there with it.

While the first Jurassic Park famously mixed CGI dinosaurs with animatronic dinosaurs to extraordinary effect, Jurassic World is mostly set on the CGI plain, with only one or two scenes with very little animatronics. This wouldn’t usually be a problem, but it is sometimes very obvious that the actors are fighting/interacting with thin air. The detail however is exquisite, with the new dinosaur (named the Indominus Rex) as well as the batch of raptors that feature in the film, have brilliantly detailed features, making them a feast for the eyes.

Chris Pratt is our hero Owen Grady, an ex member of the military, who trains the four raptors that featured prominently in the trailers. While he’s no Jeff Goldblum or Sam Neill he does have a likeable personality that seems to just exude from him. Bryce Dallas Howard is all right in the film, but has no real personality traits unlike past female characters in the franchise, making her slightly forgettable. The two child actors though, Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson raise the bar for annoying child actors in the films. Sure, the kids in the first film were kind of annoying, but at least they we quiet for many moments in the film. The two brothers Gray and Zach scream at every available moment, as well as shout really obvious things (the word “Drive!” is the majority of their combined dialogue). For me the film kept falling apart when it moved to these two characters, as we aren’t really that bothered with what happens to them.

The script is pretty weak, with several supposed jokes falling flat, as well as plot points that are never developed or brought up once and then discarded. The only really memorable lines come from Jake M. Johnson (who many will recognise from New Girl) as Lowery, a tech support character that is the comedy relief in a film that stacks a pretty high and visceral body-count. To continue with the violence, for a 12A I did feel it was pushing the boundaries pretty far. While some of the violence happens off screen, in the second half of the film we get more lingering shots over people being mutilated, with blood splashing across the screen in an almost Tarantino way. In a film that is full of people being swallowed whole, pecked to death and whose arms are being ripped off by wayward raptors, the stuff that is actually shown is quite brutal.

While some people may not have been fans of the raptors being on the side of the humans in this instalment, I have to admit they were my favourite part of the film. Chris Pratt’s scenes where he is training and communicating with them, as well as the action scene where he and the raptors track the missing Indominus Rex is thrilling and exciting but is sadly do not continue for very long. The training scene is hardly five minutes long, and the tracking scene is even less, meaning these brilliant creatures who have been talked up nearly the entire movie are in the end used poorly.

The fleeting action scenes, both man vs. dinosaur as well as dinosaur vs. dinosaur are done very well and very kinetic, with the camera swirling around before zooming in close. Several scenes used in the other films are reused in the action scenes, such as the blurry silhouette of a dinosaur seen in the back ground as well as the film becoming totally silent just for a load roar to rip through the soundtrack and a dinosaur to appear. In fact, many scenes from the earlier films are recreated, such as the T-Rex flare run and an entire segment dedicated to the old abandoned research labs. These are some of the better parts of the film, which does speak volumes about how there isn’t anything as memorable in the new version.

In summary, Jurassic World is your average blockbuster popcorn film. It has all the ingredients for one; a brand name with stellar pedigree, spectacular special effects and a stupidly contrived romance plot along with a big name star in the lead role. It’s just a shame it doesn’t do anything more than your average blockbuster.

Summary: 6/10 Fleeting fun scenes but nothing really to write home about.