REVIEW: The Magnificent Seven

19 12 2016

“Progressive” is hardly a common adjective used in conjunction with the western genre, at least ones that are made in the classical (as opposed to revisionist) style. And yet that’s essentially what “The Magnificent Seven” is at its core. All things considered, Antoine Fuqua’s film is an emblematic Obama-era movie – if not in content, than at least in themes and representation.

Gone is the lone gunman or the reluctant savior of the John Wayne era. In comes the diverse band of outsiders who must collaborate and cooperate to save a small frontier town from hostile takeover. These gunslingers might not always see eye to eye, but they can unite over a common goal of helping out the endangered townspeople. Moreover, they do not just glide in as mercenary heroes; they also train the citizens to fight alongside them for control of their land. While they might lack funding, they more than compensate for that deficit with a surplus of ingenuity.

The setup of the sometimes bitter racial, cultural and partisan divides from Nic Pizzolato and Richard Wenk’s script can get a bit tedious. But by the time the final battle for the heart and soul of Rose Creek arrives, all elements of “The Magnificent Seven” cohere. I found myself invested not only in the fate of the characters but also in the very ideals at stake. Both on and off the screen, that fight is far from settled. B2halfstars

Advertisements




F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 25, 2016)

25 08 2016

ThumbsuckerMuch of Mike Mills’ “Thumbsucker” treads fairly standard young adult coming of age territory. Lou Pucci’s Justin Cobb, the protagonist whose titular habit serves an effective metaphor for his juvenility, must undergo familiar trials that provide him confidence and self-worth. He has to learn public speaking skills and romantic graces with a decidedly modern twist – Justin has just added medication for his recently diagnosed ADHD that totally transforms his personality.

But there’s something more to “Thumbsucker” that makes it my “F.I.L.M. of the Week.” Mills, working from a novel by Walter Kirn, does not stop the coming of age with Justin. As it turns out, his emotionally stilted parents have plenty of growing up to do in their own right. The film is just as much about their own slow maturation process as their son’s.

Vincent D’Onofrio’s Mike insists that Justin refer to his parents by their first names since the terms “mom and dad” make him feel old. He serves as the manager of a large sporting goods store while still nursing bitterness and resentment over a knee injury that thwarted his football career. His family serves as a daily reminder of what his life is not.

Meanwhile, his wife, Tilda Swinton’s Audrey, handles all the love and affection for their two kids. She’s genuinely curious and attuned to Justin’s issues. But Audrey cannot shake a girlish fascination with a soap opera actor Matt Schramm. The infatuation reaches levels that embarrass her children; they do not think she would literally cheat on their father, though she is not exactly quick to dismiss the possibility of her fantasy.

“Thumbsucker” shows everyone fumbling through this thing called life together in their own way, and that even includes Justin’s zany, hypnosis obsessed dentist Perry Lyman (played by none other than Keanu Reeves). With over a decade of distance since release, it feels very reflective of a mid-2000s suburban malaise that already feels like a time capsule. Mills is earnest in his explorations of what causes people’s unshakeable, throbbing sensation of vague discontent with their current situation. The sincerity goes a long way in making these unsatisfied characters ones that are worth spending time with to probe their pain.





REVIEW: Jurassic World

13 06 2015

“We want to be thrilled,” declares Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire to a set of interested investors at the beginning of “Jurassic World.”  One can easily imagine the very green director Colin Trevorrow, with only the indie charmer “Safety Not Guaranteed” under his belt, making the same kind of pitch to the corporate powers that be at Universal.

In a manner that recalls “22 Jump Street,” many lines at the opening of the film give a winking nod to the entire enterprise of jumpstarting a dormant franchise for a new audience.  In the 22 years the original “Jurassic Park” film hit the multiplex, a new style of action filmmaking has obliterated the level of craft in the genre.  These blockbusters – think Michael Bay and “Transformers” – operate under the philosophy of bigger, louder, harder, faster, stronger.

These films have become predictable, boring, and numbing.  We still marvel at the screen, sure, but we have come to expect the unexpected and see the extraordinary as ordinary.  “Jurassic World” invites that childlike sense of awe to rear its head once again after hibernating.  And in true Spielberg fashion, we receive the invitation quite literally through the perspective of a child.

The first time Trevorrow gives his audience a peek at the new Jurassic Park, now rebranded as Jurassic World, it comes as the young Gray (Ty Simpkins) pushes his way through the crowd to get to the front of a tramcar.  He sees the giant entry gates, and the score by Michael Giacchino swells to the tune John Williams made iconic years ago.  In the succession of shots that follows, we see the many amazing dinosaur attractions (along with a plethora of corporate sponsors) and know his wide-eyed wonder is not misplaced.

The visual effects from “Jurassic Park” were impressive at the time, yet they now look a little creaky and dated.  I cannot imagine what technological advances could improve the look of the dinosaurs in “Jurassic World,” which exhibit a breathtaking photorealism, though the CGI wizards will undeniably make me eat those words.

Read the rest of this entry »





REVIEW: The Judge

1 11 2014

The Judge” tries to be a lot of things, among them a courtroom drama, a family drama, an illness drama, and a relationship drama.  It’s a shame that amidst all that action, seldom does the film manage to be any good.

It’s certainly admirable that Robert Downey, Jr. wants to convert his mainstream credibility into something of greater cinematic value.  But the effort is in vain as “The Judge,” which he and his wife Susan produced, bites off more than it can chew in nearly every aspect.  Their one genius move was bringing Janusz Kaminski, the cinematographer for Steven Spielberg’s last two decades of work, on board to give the film the sheen of prestige.  (Not as great a hire? Director David Dobkin, whose recent credits include “Fred Claus” and “The Change-Up.”)

Kaminski’s beautiful rays of ambient light flood every frame, but the beauty largely stops there.  “The Judge” meanders for the whole of its runtime – a bloated 140 minutes – without ultimately settling on any kind of identity.  Every time one of its subplots begins to pick up steam, the film inexplicably shifts gears to follow another one.  As such, momentum never builds, and “The Judge” just begins to feel like a life sentence.  One with lots of cloying montages set to Bon Iver.

Read the rest of this entry »