*NEW* THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN REVIEW *NEW*

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Not that magnificent BUT still worth a watch. Yee-ha!

Seven gun men in the old west gradually come together to help a poor village against savage thieves.

It’s always going to be tough to follow in the footsteps of the iconic 1960 Western classic (When does anything ever beat the original?) BUT thanks to a talented cast and some action packed set pieces, this did just enough to stand on its own two feet.

I was happy to see another Western (NOT penned by Quentin Tarantino) sneak into the busy schedule of endless rom-coms, sci-fi epics and teen blockbusters.

The slow burning opener didn’t build my hopes up. The lacklustre lines, the cliched townspeople, that feeble introduction to a weak and weasley villain Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard – Jarhead). I was reaching for my tomahawk!

BUT thankfully once the mysterious Joe Chisolm wandered into town, my griping was subdued.

I couldn’t think of anybody better to follow in Yul Bryner’s footsteps than Denzel Washington. He was everything you expected. Cool, calculated and somebody you wouldn’t want to mess with.

The initial ‘getting the gang together’ spiel did take a while BUT I didn’t mind watching each member make their introduction into the mix.

Chris Pratt stole the show yet again by being . . . Chris Pratt. He’s no Steve McQueen BUT the card wielding smooth talker delivered enough charm and quick witted one liners to keep things entertaining.

It was good to see Vincent D’Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket) get a meatier role as Jack Horne. If Hodor came from the Deep South, he would probably look like him. “I think that bear’s wearing people clothes”.

Ethan Hawke was brilliant as the decorated veteran Goodnight Robicheaux. I wish more was made out of his partnership with the knife wielding Billy Rocks.

Finally Byung-hun Lee was able to show off those blade skills in something other than a G.I. Joe movie!

The pace dragged like a mule in the desert. BUT once the gang finally warmed up to one another and the uneasy alliance began, I was pleasantly surprised.

The heated tension subsiding into idle banter. Faraday (Pratt) and Vazquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) delivered some of the better exchanges.

I was a little disappointed that the feisty Haley Bennett (Hardcore Henry) was pushed into the background after taking a pivotal role in persuading the men to save the town. BUT this was always going to be about the Seven.

And that was the problem. There were too many characters. Luke Grimes (Fifty Shades of Grey) was completely unnecessary. He brought nothing to the mix. Another cook spoiling the broth.

Martin Sensmeier got lost in the thick of the action after making an impressionable introduction as Red Harvest; the Comanche dispatched on a tribal quest.

Mauro Fiore’s cinematography was breathtaking. He really captured the picturesque landscape. Brilliant.

And one thing can be agreed; Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day/The Equalizer) knows how to deliver a shootout!

The tension was perfectly executed as the gang bumped heads with “the local law enforcement”. Ticking all the boxes for a good ol’ fashioned Western.

I was hoping that Sarsgaard would have been a little stronger. He was such a nothingy villain.

I could get that with an army of a hundred mercenaries and endless wealth that he would be a little cocky BUT every scene he was involved in, he just didn’t do anything for me.

I wasn’t unsettled or hooked. Just bored and wondering what Denzel and that dude from Guardians of the Galaxy were up to?

For those familiar with the original, it stayed very true to the story line (Despite claiming to be a “reboot”). BUT it was still somewhat of a mixed bag.

It delivered enough bang for your buck and really pushed that 12A limit to the max with the violence. The number of flying axes and endless machine gun fodder. The body count was crazy.

BUT with so many characters in play; too many got lost in the mix of endless explosions and casualties, which spoiled things for me.

However, despite a drawn out pace and weak villain, this was still a fun, action packed blockbuster that complimented the original and delivered a thrilling and satisfying finale.

Let’s hope this might trigger a comeback for the Western.

3/5

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*NEW* HELL OR HIGH WATER REVIEW *NEW*

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Best film of the year? Hardly BUT this is still one well crafted and brilliantly acted crime thriller. Yee-ha!

A divorced dad (Chris Pine) and his ex-con brother (Ben Foster) resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas.

A gripping opener certainly set the tone with the amateurish brothers holding two banks in quick succession. The contrast established early on between Pine’s nervous BUT calculated Toby to Foster’s volatile and reckless Tanner.

Pine (Star Trek) was a charismatic presence yet again bringing a subtlety to the troubled thief. BUT it was great to see Ben Foster (Lone Survivor) finally getting a role worthy of his talents. He lapped it up and delivered an engaging performance. You felt your loyalties tested as you loathed him with his bipolar mood swings in one scene and laughed with him in the next.

Suspenseful and intriguing as the crazy duo raced around a barren Texan landscape stealing from the very institution that was trying to steal from them. You could feel for the pair as we got a little hindsight into their fractured relationship.

The pace didn’t mess about for the first half. It jumped from one thing to the next. I was really impressed with Taylor Sheridan’s (Sicario) script. It oozed dark humour with some cracking one liners; “What colour were they? You mean their souls?” He captured a gritty Texan underworld with lively characters. A perfect neo-noir. Hookers sharking around the casino for a quick buck. The townspeople a law onto themselves.

At first glance, I could have argued that anyone could have played Jeff Bridges’ role of Marcus Hamilton. Apart from drawling out racist Native American jibes at his partner (Gil Birmingham – Twilight) and spitting feathers about his impending retirement, I was more intrigued with Hamilton’s interaction with the community.

Draining blood out of a stone as he questioned witnesses; “Yeah, I watched them rob the bank that’s been robbing me for 30 years”. Their unwillingness to help the cops (and banks more importantly) spoke volumes. Especially when the sheriff tries to take back a tip from a waitress (played surprisingly well by Katy Mixon – Mike and Molly) as evidence. A tip that made half her mortgage payment for the month.

Sheridan’s social commentary on the state of rural communities was food for thought; “It’s the 21st century and I’m racing cattle against a field of fire and I wonder why my kids won’t do this?” – a dark glimpse into the future. Ranches and farmers feeling the gloomy uncertainty of what the next generation will bring.

BUT great writing could only really come to life with talented performances, great direction from the Starred Up director David Mackenzie (He’s come a long way from Corbridge) and some picturesque cinematography by Giles Nuttgen. How could he make something so desolate look so stunning? I was even happier when I noticed the original score was penned and performed by Nick Cave.

However, the only problem with these gritty crime thrillers is that there are only ever two outcomes which made certain moments a little predictable and the promising pace did slacken in the middle act.

BUT just when I felt the momentum was dropping; the film swiftly cranked up the heat on this slow burner as a bank run went wrong. Leading to a tense, nail biting and gripping closing act. The adrenaline-fuelled police chase had me on tenterhooks.

Bridges’ character finally came into the fold (unleashing some of that Oscar winning prowess) after countless scenes of him wandering around and playing the waiting game.

The unravelling of the brother’s motives behind the robberies was actually quite clever. I loved how Sheridan encapsulated the hypocrisy of the financial system through the incompetent Loan Officer (Richard Christie). Bureaucracy at its best.

Hell Or High Water was very much in the same vein as No Country for Old Men. Just without all the cryptic metaphors. And the closing minutes. Tense doesn’t even come close. The bubbling tension and still atmosphere, aided by the mere sound of creaking oil pumps between the thieves and their fate, felt like something out of a Western. Perfect.

Film of the year? Too early to tell. BUT certainly worth your attention if you’re in the mood for a well acted gritty crime thriller.

3.5/5

*NEW* THE REVENANT REVIEW *NEW*

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A revelation? An Oscar worthy performance from the man of the hour?

In a nutshell, NO.

A frontiersman (Leonardo DiCaprio) on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team.

Overlong, over-rated and disappointing. I really wanted to like this. For all the praise, Twitter craze and reviews, I expected a well-acted visceral and brutal tour de force with one man seeking vengeance. Is this really the film that gave Leonardo his overdue Oscar? Really?

The first 45 minutes were slow burning BUT engrossing. Inarritu’s long takes used to full effect. A tense encounter with a pack of bloodthirsty natives made for a tense and brutal watch. It was a shame that momentum wasn’t kept for the rest of the piece.

DiCaprio delivered a good turn. There’s no quarrelling about that. BUT an Oscar? He certainly carried the piece as much as he could. BUT there was only so many picturesque landscape shots (from the Oscar winning and Innaritu stalwart Emmanuel Lubezki) and grunting from the leading man that could keep me interested.

I was more impressed by the underrated British and Irish supporting cast. Domhnall Gleeson continues to impress yet again in another scene stealing supporting role (Ex Machina and Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Will Poulter (The Maze Runner) was equally as good as the conflicted Bridger. A great transition from the Son of Rambow star.

And once you were able to understand Tom Hardy’s (Legend) incessant Southern mumbling, he was the perfect foe. He really looked the part. A weasel of the lowest denomination. Back stabbing and plotting at any given opportunity. If it wasn’t for Hardy’s performance, I don’t think I would have persevered to see the outcome.

The grizzly bear attack sequence was nail-biting stuff. The animation and a little improv from DiCap made this a tense show down and almost realistic, to an extent. The elongated attack kept me on tenterhooks. Thinking our hero was safe. Only for the grizzly menace to come back for more.

The only problem was that the rest of the film was spent watching DiCap crawl, growl and shiver across the frozen terrain and woodland. Broken up by metaphorical imagery and flashbacks that were pretty self-explanatory. I was more interested in Hugh (DiCap) and Hawk’s (Forrest Goodluck) relationship. Something that was barely touched on and reduced to a few scenes.

DiCap really went through it. Putting his Bear Grylls skills to work. Chewing raw fish and enduring arctic conditions. BUT I wasn’t hooked. I wanted to be rooting for the guy from the first minute. Tom Hank’s turn in Cast Away had me transfixed. I never felt so sad about a man losing his volleyball. Matt Damon’s Oscar nominated turn in The Martian had me praying for his return home.

I love Innaritu’s works. Birdman was one of my favourite films of 2015. It was different and featured a resurgent performance from Keaton. DiCaprio is a superb actor BUT I felt that he got the Oscar for the wrong film.

A good portion of Hugh’s “journey” tested my patience. I don’t need horse back chases and natives attacking every minute of the movie to keep my attention (Although it might have helped) BUT for two and a half hours, I needed something more. The showdown made for a redemptive finale in every aspect. Both for our hero and yours truly. And that was down to Hardy’s turn. I really wanted to see him get his comeuppance.

Maybe this was a case of too much hype. From all the reviews, you would have thought that nobody had ever seen a Western before. The plot was hardly original, the pace was too much and DiCaprio did his best BUT I would struggle to watch this again. Let alone put this on a top movie list.

Watchable BUT nowhere near as rewarding as I’d hoped.

3/5

*NEW* THE HATEFUL EIGHT REVIEW *NEW*

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Well, I didn’t hate it. QT is back and bigger than ever. But better?

In the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) find shelter in a cabin currently inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters.

From the beautifully shot opening, I was entranced. The 70mm film format capturing the picturesque cinematography of QT stalwart Robert Richardson perfectly. The credit sequence accompanied by an original Ennio Morricone score (The first in 30 years) brought back that old school nostalgia of the classic Westerns.

However that nostalgia soon dissipated when Russell’s John Ruth crossed paths with Samuel L Jackson’s Major Warren sitting on a cushion of dead bodies. After an initially tense and intriguing introduction with QT’s chapters popping up left, right and centre, the first hour soon churned along at an agonizing snail’s pace.

There wasn’t enough tidbits, stylish dialogue or suspense to keep me going. It was almost mind numbing. I felt a sick feeling in my stomach. Russell, Leigh and Jackson were doing their best BUT it wasn’t entertaining enough. A running joke about Jackson receiving a letter from Lincoln did the job BUT I found the first act lacking. That was until they reached Minnie’s Haberdashery.

A grotty shack with even grittier lodgers. It really was a case of the waiting game. BUT was it going to be worth it? Trapped for the next few days during a blizzard, the tension bubbling. Each shady individual casually interrogated.

Russell and Jackson were superb. They had a real rapport and ran the show for me. Leigh was brilliant. A real rough looking menace with an acid tongue. It was great to see a good portion of the QT regulars popping up in this. What a supporting cast. However, some characters didn’t quite deliver as much as I had expected.

I have been a big fan of Walton Goggins for some time after some cracking turns in The Shield and Justified. QT finally gave him the platform he deserved as the gullible dim wit Sheriff Chris Mannix. He was perfect. His dumb theorizing and poor deducting skills delivered the laughs.

Tim Roth was great as the delightfully flamboyant Oswaldo Mobray. If anything, I wanted more of him in this.

Bruce Dern (Nebraska) and Michael Madsen weren’t quite as interesting as I’d hoped. Once Jackson delved into Dern’s past a little more, things got going BUT Madsen was a highly unmemorable red herring. Mumbling and grimacing away to no avail this time.

I was more entertained by James Parks (Kill Bill) as the unlucky stage coach driver O.B. and Demian Birchir’s (The Heat) Senor Bob.

At first, it had my curiousity. BUT once Jackson’s Major began to suspect foul play and connect the dots, it finally got my attention. It was funny how convenient everyone’s back stories were. Ruth conveniently bumps into the town’s new sheriff and hangman at the same time that he’s bringing in a huge bounty? Hmm . . .

After that insufferable and completely unnecessary intermission*, the second act redeemed itself. A tense little nail biter with a few twists here, some grandiose Jackson monologues there, and all the demented mayhem you could expect from a QT flick. It was bloody, violent and ridiculous. Typical of the man and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You really couldn’t take your eyes off it. Lulled into a false sense of security. The finale was every bit as outrageous and brilliant as I could hope for.

I was ashamed to doubt QT. It was always going to be tough to top Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction BUT this certainly wasn’t QT’s weakest effort. That honour goes to Jackie Brown or Death Proof.

Overlong and a little patchy in parts BUT once it going, it was everything you could want from a Tarantino penned Western.

3.5/5

*The intermission was a joke. I don’t know whether in the States QT did something special in those 15 minutes BUT over here, it did nothing. Probably didn’t help that the cinema had already closed the food and drink stand. Logic? None, apparently.

A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST REVIEW

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A Million Ways to Die Laughing! Unfortunately not. MacFarlane takes on the Wild West and comes out more battered and bruised than his heroic counterpart. Applying his Family Guy spiel, this cowboy comedy yields mixed results this time round.

Now for the record I am a big Family Guy fan and thought Ted was a return to form from MacFarlane as Family Guy teetered on lacklustre but watchable.

His second feature to hit the big screen and a western. My hopes were high. The trailers signed me up from the get go. Job done as always. However, it seems a case of ‘best bits in the trailers’ syndrome. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad but it’s not all great either.

The main issue, two hours? Too long. It was only after the first 30-45 minutes that the film got into its stride. The story line is hardly original, merely a rehash of a classical western storyline. Probably one of the reasons why westerns are no longer plaguing our screens.

Local coward finds bravery and confronts nastiest gunslinger to win the town and the girl. Yadda, yadda. I really hoped for a demented Blazing Saddles but only got mildly hot flip flops. The lovely Charlize Theron and McFarlane were fantastic together. Good chemistry. You could see where they were improvising which made the banter all the more entertaining.

However, the main jokes and punch lines are few and far between. The bigger, better gags have been heavily advertised to get you to watch this mildly entertaining affair.

Seth MacFarlane’s rants felt, at times, like nothing more than him trying to do improvised stand up. Some parts fall flat on its backside, other bits bring the odd laugh. His speech on the law and order of the town was very good; “There is the mayor. He is dead”.

MacFarlane manages to carry enough charisma to keep his stocky character going. The funniest moments in the film for me were the unexpected blink and you’ll miss it cameos, containing the likes of Ewan McGregor, Ryan Reynolds and . . . my God, two brilliant cameos that were nearly worth the ticket. I won’t say for once.

Cameos you would have expected from MacFarlane but still manage to surprise and get a laugh.

Considering the number of musical montages in Family Guy, there is only one song and dance number. An irritatingly catchy one, at that. A missed opportunity in my opinion. I kept expecting Mr Conway Twitty to appear. Alas to no avail. Of course not literally as the poor man passed away some time ago.

I admit I did have to check Google on that. My bad.

In all fairness, the supporting characters bring the better jokes but they are barely in it. You feel that they are brought in to help the slackening pace or when MacFarlane and Theron have stopped messing around.

Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) was very funny as the mustached lothario Foy with his ridiculously cringeworthy but hilarious pun based insults.

It was great to see Liam Neeson as the villain. Unfortunately he plays it very dead pan. So serious, in fact that his character is just a stocky and highly unmemorable clichéd cowboy killer. I expected at least a Taken parody or something. Nope. At least he didn’t try and do an American drawl again after Seraphim Falls.

The same could be said for Amanda Seyfried who was nothing more than a bland caricature used as a plot device to spur our protagonist. Shame. A joke about her eyes brought an unexpected titter.

Sarah Silverman and Giovani Ribisi were hilarious together. However, they are only resorted to a drawn out gag about having a prostitute as a girlfriend and not sleeping together before marriage as it is not very Christian. The gag gets a little stale but the characters were funny enough to warrant more screen time than they got.  Inevitably, there would be a meeting with the Indians, I mean, Native Americans and a certain taking of various substances, leading to a trippy and surreal sequence that reeked of desperation, more than creativity.

Inevitably it all ends very . . . predictably which leaves you somewhat disappointed (if it hadn’t already).

It’s watchable at best. But I have later series of Family Guy for that. It kills the time, brings the odd laugh but hardly must see viewing. If you are looking for a laugh out loud rowdy riot of a western in the style of Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, then I recommend . . . Blazing Saddles 2.5/5 for me.

Currently ranks #130 out of 179!