The Magnificent Seven (2016)

When a poor pioneer town is threatened by some no-good industrialist types (led by Peter Sarsgaard, (metaphorically) twirling his moustache with a vengeance!), bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) is approached to help the townsfolk regain control of their home – or at the very least, extract some revenge if not justice for the latest atrocity.

Chisolm gathers up a rag-tag bunch to aid in this quest: gamblers and degenerates, mostly, but allowing for quite the impressive cast, including Ethan Hawke, Chris Pratt, and Vincent D’Onofrio. Can the group overcome personal issues, let alone a well-armed group of evildoers?

The problem with remaking a classic – and indeed, sometimes just rewatching classics – is that the story has become a template for so much else. So while I haven’t seen the original (or what it was based on), the story here was very familiar. In fact, it’s become so part of mainstream culture that you could point to something as unlike it as Home Alone, and see the comparisons.

Which isn’t a weakness, per se, but definitely something to be aware of. It does allow for the plot to take second place to the character building, and that’s reasonably strong, if just a little too black and white at times: seven characters, at least five stereotypes covered? The main ‘difference’ is, of course, casting Denzel in the lead. He’s a superb actor, so that was always going to go well, but it did have a slight oddness when no one even mentions his race, after so many poor reactions to the other non-white characters. Hmm.

It’s not big, it’s not flashy, and indeed it’s possibly just a tad too slow, but worth the watch.

Released: 23rd September 2016
Viewed: 5th October 2016
Running time: 133 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

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Hell or High Water (2016)

With the bank due to foreclose on the loan on the family ranch, Texan brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) take to robbing banks – all branches of the one trying to swindle them out of their inheritance, by their reckoning. Come hell or high water, they must get the money to the bank before the foreclosure date. But with a soon-to-retire Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) sticking doggedly to their heels, can the brothers succeed?

Put like that, Hell or High Water sounds like a typical heist-chase movie – it’s not. Instead, it’s something quite a bit darker, full of pathos, and with layers of motivation giving it a great deal more meat, if a little bit less ‘fun’. Don’t go in thinking this is going to be escapism! The desperation, the unhappiness, the grinding down of the everyman – these are themes that aren’t meant for giggles.

That said, there’s a lot of moments of ordinary, every day humour on show, too. There’s something quite real about this story’s telling – and that can feel a little odd in a cinema setting, more familiar to hyper-real blockbusters.

HoHW is a quiet affair, really. It did feel a little slow at times, the plot just a little – not exactly predictable, but not surprising – and the performances can rely perhaps a little too much (Mr Pine) on sultry looks and long silences. But overall it’s very well made, and a lovely change of pace from the kind of movies that usually have car chases and guns in them. I could see this movie just slipping under the radar for most, but I’m glad I saw it.

Released: 9th September 2016
Viewed: 23rd September 2016
Running time: 102 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10

The Lone Ranger (2013)

The Lone Ranger was critical panned when it came out. To be honest, it’s not difficult to see why, and yet it’s not as bad as all that.

What’s to like: well, Armie Hammer is actually quite appealing as the clueless, overly-moralistic John Reid, pushed into becoming the titular character over the course of the movie.

Urm, and that’s probably about it! It’s interesting that this is the first time any version of TLR has credited Tonto (Johnny Depp) above the eponymous hero, but the character is… odd. And not good odd, just odd. I also really really hated the framing story technique, which sees a very elderly Tonto tell his story. I suppose it could have added some kind of justification for an over the top story coming from an unreliable narrator, but it really didn’t.

The story is, perhaps, just a little too dull. Certainly it drags in a big way in the middle, which is only shown up more when the famous William Tell Overture theme kicks in for an extended action sequence which, really, is the only time the film feels alive. Stuff happens after that point, to tie up the story, but heck – I can barely remember it already.

Overall, I’d suggest this falls foul of exactly the same hubris as Disney’s epic from the previous year, John Carter (2012), of just thinking itself so huge and sweeping – and from such famous source material – that it couldn’t possible fail. Alas, it instead proves that big budgets and pedigree are not the only things necessary for a good story.

Released: 9th August 2013
Watched: 5th September 2015 (Netflix)
Running time: 149 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 5/10