*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

NEED FOR SPEED REVIEW

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I feel the need, the need . . . to review this film, yo! We’ve seen the story before but where it lacks in that department (I mean, come on, it’s a car movie), it cooks up octane action and special effects with real cars in proper car chases without CGI, making this one to watch and I’m sure regardless of reviews, it will be breaking bad at the box office. What? Not subtle enough. It’s tough not to compare it to the Fast and Furious franchise and you can’t help but feel things might have been copied but it just about stands it’s ground and manages to still be an enjoyable ride. Check it out, bitch!

What’s it about then, san? Fresh from prison after being framed by a wealthy business associate (Dominic Cooper – Fleming), street racer Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul – Breaking Bad) joins a cross country race seeking vengeance. However, when said business associate learns of the plan, he places a massive bounty on his head as the race begins.

That’s the gist and you pretty much get that from the trailers. The opening 30 minutes sets up the vengeance seeking plot in which we follow Marshall, a struggling debt stricken mechanic who supes up old Gran Torinos and shows them off in street races. It’s all the same old cliched set up. Brooding shots, slow motion as he mourns father’s loss. The typical banter between his rag tag team of mechanics. The rivalry with the guy who got it all, even the girl. Michael Keaton’s irritating radio DJ narrating the obvious rivalry between Marshall and wealthy hot shot Dino Brewster (Cooper). Paul and Cooper are likeable leads and play their parts well. Cooper is exceptionally shady and sly and passes off a good accent. Marshall’s rag tag team of misfits, however, feel like a loosely based rip off of the Fast and Furious ensemble. The ultra cool Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi is really annoying, and feels like he’s trying to do his best Tyrese Gibson impression. The others, if not for a couple of moments of craziness, were hardly memorable which is a shame, considering the talent (Rami Malek – 24/The Pacific and Ramon Rodriguez – Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen).

However, the main stars are the cars. I mean Koenigsegg Agira R, Torinos, Lamborghini Elemento and a suped up Ford Mustang. Cracking cars. This is where the points are gained. The chase and race sequences are fantastic to watch. The camera angles are frantic, fast and really make you feel like you’re in the car. The build up in the opening race with the heart beat pounding, the engines revving and the first person shots are fantastic. That pause before the cars pull off or make a dicey movie. Brilliant. Waugh makes the city his playground. There were a few unexpected moments that stood out in 3D but not a huge investment. The race and chase sequences are very much faithful to the style of video game franchise; without feeling like you’re watching someone playing it. A noticeable nod to the EA franchise can be spotted, of course. I was surprised in the opening credits, they didn’t say EA Films. Challenge everything. One for the gamers.

The earlier city race sequence through the alley ways and underpasses is brilliantly done and brilliantly shot. Cudos to the cinematography of Shane Hurlbut. The earlier races are very reminiscent of the old car chase movies. A homage to the infamous Steve McQueen Bullitt chase flashes across the screen at the Drive Thru as the racers get ready. The Koenigsegg Agira R race sequence was incredible and what a stunning car. I’m not the biggest car lover but wow. A predictable and inevitable tragedy still surprises and catches your breath as Marshall is set up by Brewster, leading to a corny, OTT but thrilling ride. It can be patchy at parts (It drags). At two hours, it pushes it a little bit. However, it’s soon relieved by a thrilling chase here. A police car flagging up there. Pretty much like Need for Speed: Most Wanted. One of my favourite games.

The locations are perfectly selected for some cracking sequences. The cliff ambush being a particular highlight minus the ridiculous cliff hanger involving the Mustang and an Apache helicopter. Granted it was actually done and wasn’t CGI’d (well only to insert Paul and Poots). I didn’t think this film could deliver more cheese than the Fast and Furious franchise. It had an opportunity to be slicker and darker but went for the schmaltzy, corny route. It doesn’t spoil the sequences with chained safes, flipping oil tankers and bridge leaps as the later Furious films did but it certainly served it up with the characters. Some of the ‘banter’ comes with the odd chuckle, other moments are just stupid. The beautiful Imogen Poots manages to charm and annoy in alternate scenes leaving you on the fence about her. I think I liked her by the end. Her first meeting with Paul being a predictable corny set up, once again poking fun at the dumb posh English girl spiel. Wait a minute, she knows about cars? She said some things about engines. Shock horror! Come on guys, really? And Keaton may tried to Beetlejuice his role up (seriously) but he just recites what we’re all thinking. If it weren’t the fact, the big race was his creation, his character would have been pointless. Well, it already was.

It’s hammy, a little long, corny, OTT but despite all that, the chases are superbly shot, the action is tense, suspenseful, helped by a likeable lead. Just should have used the Fast and Furious as a guide book not a template. However, it’s all still watchable, with the odd tut or sigh. Can’t help but compare it to the F&F, it does stand along some of their weaker entries, which were still good. So 3 (just) out of 5!

Currently ranks #74 out of 153!

12 YEARS A SLAVE REVIEW

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Harrowing, haunting, brutal, if a little overhyped. This is still one for your consideration.

It’s tough to commend the subject matter, but one can applaud it’s execution. Steve McQueen brings to life a visceral telling of an innocent man’s slavery. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a rightly deserved Oscar nominated performance as the mesmerizing Solomon Northup.

12 Years follows Northup in Saratoga, New York, in 1841. It flashes back and forth from a slow burning opening sequence of Northup’s slavery to him being a free family man. The flashbacks reveal quite early that gifted violinist Northup is lured to Washington, D. C. by two entertainers, promising work. But after a night of carousing, Northup wakes up in chains and is sold into a life of slavery.

As the closing credits rolled, I couldn’t believe this account happened. McQueen has never been one to hold back the punches or shy away from taboo subjects such as hunger strikes (Hunger) and sex addiction (Shame). 12 Years makes no exception. Never afraid to keep the camera fixated on the action, lingering, building tension and horror, providing some of the most memorable, if hard hitting, scenes.

Performance wise, this film is exceptional with a plethora of talent and how Ejiofor could still stand out shows how good his performance really was. I was also surprised by Paul Dano’s turn as the conniving slave master. Intentionally going out of his way to aggravate Solomon. He continues to excel ever since Little Miss Sunshine. Appearing in numerous Oscar nominated features (There Will Be Blood and Prisoners). Personally, I felt he deserved a Best Supporting nod.

Benedict Cumberbatch nailed the Southern accent as kind hearted slave trader Ford, a man forced by the times to own slaves but desperately trying to give them the best that he can. Paul Giamatti and Brad Pitt delivered in their surprisingly small roles.

A good portion of the plaudits should be awarded to McQueen regular, Michael Fassbender. He was brilliant as the religious zealot Edwin Epps. He nailed the accent and stole every scene with his menacing presence. Sarah Poulsen was great as the ice cold Mistress Epps. I’ve been a fan of her for some time. Ever since her turn in American Horror Story: Asylum and Coven.

BUT Ejiofor, an underrated actor in my eyes, was finally given the platform and he excelled with aplomb. You really cared for the man and his breakdown in the closing moments was endearing and brilliantly acted.

However, at the same time, 12 Years A Slave is hardly perfect. Personally I couldn’t help but feel that Oscar hype raised too many expectations. McQueen’s greatest strength was also his weakness. The lingering shots, though haunting and engaging; at times were drawn out which heavily slackened the pace and tension of the piece.  

Despite certain scenes delivering uncomfortable viewing, it wasn’t as controversial or as brutal as the hype suggested. For those who have seen Roots, this particular story will seem all too familiar. 

And as the closing minutes drew, Fassbender’s Epps wasn’t actually as demented as he first presented himself. BUT this is still a well acted, brilliantly shot and visceral film that is worth a watch

3.5/5