The Magnificent Seven

September 23, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”)
Written by: Richard Wenk (“The Equalizer”) and Nic Pizzolatto (debut)

Movies are often compared to theme park rides; sometimes that’s meant to evoke the thrills a viewer could experience along the way, while the more negative connotation could mean that the film takes you from point A to point B with little drama along the way. Some movies are built like rides at Disneyland: immersive and invigorating, enveloping you in a world far away from the line you waited in for two hours and 15 minutes before delivering you unharmed at an end result that, while fun, is not unexpected. Others are like an attraction at Six Flags: sure, it’s fun, too, but you can see the air conditioning units on top of the gift shop from every angle of the ride and you have to walk past a few ice machines for the adjacent snack bar on the way out.

The 2016 version of “The Magnificent Seven,” from director Antoine Fuqua, is a Six Flags ride of a pop-culture western. You can see the track the entire time, and you probably won’t want to buy the photo they take of you along the way, but the two hours and 15 minutes it took to get through the whole thing won’t feel like a waste of time.

When a crooked robber baron named Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) forcibly takes over the small mining town of Rose Creek in the years after the Civil War, killing and stealing indiscriminately from the populace, a widow (Haley Bennet)  and her companion (Luke Grimes) hope to enlist the help of some gunfighters to free their town from Bogue’s grip. When they encounter honorable bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) in a nearby town, they talk him into their cause and prompt Chisolm to recruit a band of brave men to fight off the evil Bogue and his army of hired guns. Joining Chisolm are the rakish Farraday (Chris Pratt), legendary sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), his quiet-yet-deadly assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), crazy mountain man Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) and rebel Comanche Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier)—the so-called Magnificent Seven.

It feels like it’s been a while since a western was played as an action movie—these days they’re the domain of post-modern anti-heroes and moral conundrums. “The Magnificent Seven,” though, is just taking you from one place to another on horseback with some kicks along the way. There are times when the effortlessness actions of the heroes threatens to derail the whole endeavor—seriously, there are almost no obstacles for our heroes until the script dictates them—but it ultimately stays in the saddle long enough to be successful.

The Equalizer

September 26, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”)
Written by:  Richard Wenk (“The Mechanic,” “16 Blocks”)

“The Equalizer” clearly owes its existence to Liam Neeson’s “Taken,” the Eurotrashy action film that kick-started the so-far Neeson-dominated movie genre of “old guy with a secret single-handedly takes out an entire cartel of bad guys,” only it seems to think it deserves more respect thanks to the presence and charisma of Academy Award-winning star Denzel Washington. It doesn’t, and if the film took itself less seriously, it might have been tons more fun.

Washington stars as Robert McCall, a quiet man living a quietly methodical life in Boston. Working at a Home Depot-ish hardware superstore, McCall is the model diligent employee, handling every situation with a smile and even taking personal time to coach his overweight coworker (Johnny Skourtis) who dreams of becoming a security guard if he can only make the target weight.  McCall’s evenings are spent in a diner, where every night he brings his own teabags and a well-worn book. He frequently shares conversations with teenage prostitute Alina (Chloe Grace Moretz), an aspiring singer who slowly opens up to McCall. One night after Alina goes missing after meeting a client, McCall discovers she has been beaten and put into the ICU. McCall pays a visit to her Russian mafia pimp, attempting to buy her freedom. When he is rebuffed, a switch flips and McCall draws upon some long-dormant training to brutally execute the entire crew. This, however, is only the tip of the iceberg, as the full-force of the Russian underworld comes after McCall, who must take them on all alone.

Director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) indulges in far too many subplots to keep the movie as brisk as it needed to be. At over two hours, the bloat is obvious, featuring go-nowhere elements like cops that shake down a small Mexican restaurant and the never-ending  saga of McCall’s kindly, obese coworker becoming a security guard that should have been left in the editing software’s recycle bin. Heavy-handed allegories to “The Old Man and the Sea” and “Don Quioxte” land with an audible thud, doing nothing except standing in the way of Washington— ever noble even when savagely murdering people — getting to the ass-kicking we all came to see. The outcome never remains in doubt, of course, but it would have been nice to have gotten there in a quicker, no-nonsense fashion.

Olympus Has Fallen

March 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”)
Written by: Creighton Rothenberger (debut) and Katrin Benedikt (debut)

Yes! Yes, Gerard Butler, “Olympus Has Fallen” is exactly the kind of film you should be making nonstop! Enough with the horrible romantic comedies. They absolutely do not work with you in the lead, and society is general is worse off for having to experience them. Stick to action and we’ll all be golden, okay? Even if the screenplay is utter crap. We can deal with that as long as there are some cool explosions and fistfights and such.

In “Olympus Has Fallen,” Butler stars as Mike Banning, a dedicated Secret Service agent tasked with protecting President Asher (Aaron Eckhart), First Lady Margaret Asher (Ashley Judd), and their young son Connor (Finley Jacobsen). After a terrible accident leaves Banning disgraced, he is moved from the President’s detail and reassigned to a desk job at the U.S. Treasury. Eighteen months later, when a rogue C-130 gunship soars over Washington, DC, mowing down citizens and law enforcement alike in a hail of bullets, Banning springs into action. The target is the White House (code named Olympus). When the building is taken by foreign terrorists, Banning slips inside and becomes the last hope for saving President Asher–and the nation itself.

If you aren’t the kind of moviegoer who can sit back and let the testosterone and jingoism of a political action film just wash over you, then “Olympus Has Fallen” makes an easy target for scorn. The script from first-timers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt is overflowing with action movie cliches and is unashamedly aping “Die Hard.” Butler delivers another meathead performance, complete with an American accent as shoddy as the special effects on display. And Morgan Freeman (as the Speaker of the House pushed into action when both the President and Vice-President are held captive) is clearly phoning it in after having played roles like this seemingly dozens of times. Throw in unstoppable super-weapons, genius computer hackers, and a sneering foreign villain along with everything else and you’ve got the recipe for Generic Action Movie #876, right?

Well, yeah. But in spite of it all, it still works. The “what if?” scenario of the White House succumbing to a terrorist assault is juicy stuff, and it’s hard to get tired of Butler tossing out curse-laden one liners while stabbing bad guys in the brain. And as the Secretary of Defense, Melissa Leo is having a blast as she gets to spit foul-mouthed venom in the face of her captors. When she’s dragged down a hallway screaming the Pledge of Allegiance (as corny as it may be), it’s hard to not be on the edge of your seat waiting for Butler to come to her rescue and put a bullet in someone’s face.

Brooklyn’s Finest

March 5, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Richard Gere, Don Chedle, Ethan Hawke
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua (“Shooter”)
Written by: Michael C. Martin (debut)

Someone really needs to start a Save the Squibs campaign in Hollywood. Those tiny little explosive devices used in the movies to pop packets of fake blood and create the effect of someone getting shot are being wasted. While squibs are fairly cheap in comparison to other special effects, the cost can add up if you use them as gratuitously as director Antoine Fuqua does in his latest dirty-cop film “Brooklyn’s Finest.” It’s a violent, mind-numbing, and generic cop flick that kicks down the door with guns blazing and has nothing new to say.

Despite the overemphasis on the brutality of life in the hood, the blood spurting is not the real problem. Fuqua filled Denzel Washington with bullet holes at the end of his Academy Award-winning performance in “Training Day” in 2001 and that violent scene was shot to perfection. What doesn’t work in “Finest,” however, is Fuqua inability to detach himself in any way from first-time screenwriter Michael C. Martin’s horribly clichéd script and his failure to differentiate intense performances with overacting.

In “Finest,” three New York City police officers play the pawns of this wannabe gritty drama. Richard Gere (“Nights in Rodanthe”) is Eddie, a veteran cop with an alcohol problem who is only a week away from retirement. You get a sense of who he is when he rolls out of bed and into a bottle of Jack. He’s also in love with a prostitute, but the script doesn’t really explain why. Don Cheadle (“Traitor”) is Tango, an undercover cop who is caught up in the criminal underworld and hope he can soon transfer to a cozy desk job. His last assignment: to put the sting on a criminal friend (Wesley Snipes) who just happened to save his life. Ethan Hawke (“Training Day”) is Sal, a crooked cop who starts stealing drug money so he can buy a new home for his growing family.

As Gere, Cheadle, and Hawke hobble through the motions, Martin’s haphazard story structure quickly falls apart before it even begins. If there is supposed to be some kind of statement about the injustices in black America or how faith can’t always heal a reckless soul, Fuqua and Martin miss the mark. “Finest” becomes a hopeless narrative sew together with weakly-written characters with nothing to live for and no reason to change.

Without any emotion invested in any of the officers, there is not much to be concerned over when bodies begin to hit the floor and Fuqua starts thinking he is Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese. Even when his stock was at it’s highest nine years ago, he still didn’t come close.