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.

Fede Alvarez – Evil Dead

April 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Three minutes and 50 seconds was all Uruguayan director Fede Álvarez needed. That was the total runtime of “Ataque de Pánico” (“Panic Attack”), an impressive, albeit micro-budgeted, short film Álvarez made about robots destroying Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, which he uploaded onto YouTube in 2009. It quickly garnered attention from a number of Hollywood movers and shakers, including filmmaker Sam Raimi and actor Bruce Campbell, who first offered him another movie project and then chose him to direct the “reinvention” of their “Evil Dead” franchise. Despite never having made a feature film before, Álvarez, 35, jumped on board faster than Raimi and Campbell could say, “Join us!”

A lot of 20-year-olds are going to see this movie and not know it’s a remake from an ’80s cult classic. As a fan of the original film, do you think that is a problem?

No, I don’t, but I’m also part of that group of people that bitches when they find out someone is going to remake a classic movie. When I look back to some of the movies I loved in the ’80s when I was a kid, I didn’t know some of them were remakes. Take, for example, “The Fly” (1986). It was a horror cult classic from the ’50s. [Director] David Cronenberg brought that title to a whole new generation. That’s what I think we’re doing here — bringing it to a new generation of 18-20-year-olds that would never have known [the original] existed.

Do you think new audiences will miss out on certain aspects of the remake because they haven’t seen the original?

I don’t think so, because we wanted to create a film that worked for new audiences, but at the same time please the fans of the original. That was the big challenge for me as a writer and director, but we discovered that it definitely worked both ways. If you’ve seen the original 100 times, it still works as a new film because we took the time to change a lot of things from the original. The story may feel familiar for the first 20 minutes, but then it goes into completely new places. Then, of course, new audiences will have a blast because they’re exposed to the “Evil Dead” universe for the first time.

Would you consider this horror movie only for fans of the genre?

Not at all. There’s something special about the “Evil Dead” movies. In most horror films, the characters are always just victims. Whoever survives sometimes just barely makes it out alive. But in the “Evil Dead” movies there is always a character that turns around and fights back. That’s what I love about this movie. People have told me they thought they were going to hate this movie because they don’t like horror movies, but said they had a lot of fun watching the film. “Evil Dead” movies always tend to get away from the standard slasher or supernatural horror.

When it came to the gore in the film, were there any unwritten rules you tried to follow during production or was nothing off limits?

Well, you don’t want to hold back, but you also don’t want it to turn into something too funny. When gore gets over the top it tends to not be scary anymore. The challenge was to show the right amount of gore without turning it into something that was ridiculous. I think there is really an art to it. Anybody can grab a knife and cut a body apart, so we tried to think about what triggers the pain in people’s lives. We wanted to show the gore at the right place, at the right time, and in the right amount.

What would you find more rewarding with this remake: to shock horror movie fans or scare them?

I wanted to go out there with the same spirit Sam had when he made the original — to make the scariest movie ever, but I think what I want to do most is entertain them. That’s the main goal. You can make the goriest movie and it could still be the most boring thing ever, even if you’re a fan of gory horror movies. I want to hook the audience into the story first. Then, it’s about scaring them with the right combination of shock and suspense.

This interview was conducted for the 2013 South by Southwest Film Festival.

The Mechanic

January 28, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Tony Goldwyn
Directed by: Simon West (“When a Stranger Calls”)
Written by: Richard Wenk (“16 Blocks”) and Lewis John Carlino (“I Never Promised You a Rose Garden”)

There are some big gun barrels to fill if you’re remaking a 40-year-old movie that originally starred Charles Bronson. Things get a bit easier, however, if your name happens to be Jason Statham.

Coming into his own as a viable B-movie action star over the last few years, Statham takes the lead in a new version of “The Mechanic,” a high-energy popcorn flick that feels like it was pulled straight out of the 70s and given a swift kick to the head.

Statham stars as Arthur Bishop, an experienced hit man who begins to train his mentor’s son Steve McKenna (Ben Foster) in the art of assassination after Steve’s father (Donald Sutherland) is caught up in a game of politics within the shadow organization.

“What I do requires a certain mindset,” Arthur tells Steve as the veteran killer teaches the rookie the most effective ways to end someone’s life. While Steve absorbs everything Arthur shows him, he doesn’t always like to take the clean and simple approach to the job.

The different methods in the way Arthur and Steve work make for an extraordinary relationship. Foster, one of the most exciting young actors currently making his rounds through Hollywood, matches up well with Statham’s fever pitch delivery. While both characters are brimming with brutality, it’s Foster’s that is written with more depth and style. You usually know what you’re getting with Statham and he doesn’t disappoint here.

Directed by Simon West (“When a Stranger Calls,” “Con Air”), “The Mechanic” is an unrelenting upgrade with a solid dose ultra violence, sex, and sense of humor. It doesn’t break any new ground, but the action sequences come with a combination of intensity and logic rare to find in movies with high body counts.

Jackie Earle Haley – A Nightmare on Elm Street

April 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Interviews

The first time Academy Award-nominated actor and San Antonio resident Jackie Earle Haley heard that Warner Bros. Pictures was interested in remaking the 1984 classic horror film “A Nightmare on Elm Street” he was surprised to learn his name was already swirling around the Hollywood rumor mill.

“I saw that people were suggesting me for the role of Freddy Krueger on the Internet,” Haley, 48, told me referring to the main “Elm Street” antagonist, a deformed serial killer with a razor sharp glove who preys on his teenage victims in their dreams.

“I was immediately fascinated by the idea. [The studio] wanted to start all over with [the franchise] and introduce it to a whole new generation.”

While actor Robert Englund had been synonymous with the name Freddy Krueger for 25 years, a total re-imagining of the series included a change in lead actors. Haley, who was nominated for an Oscar for his role in 2006’s “Little Children,” jumped at the opportunity to be the actor who would replace him.

“Freddy is such an incredibly iconic character, so it was an honor to play him,” said Haley, who owns his own production company, JEH Productions, Inc., in San Antonio.

“It was also very daunting because one guy has played this character for decades. When you think of Freddy Krueger you think of [Englund].”

To play Krueger, Haley said the process was less about trying to make him different from Englund’s portrayal and more about returning to what made the character so terrifying in the original film. As the franchise continued over the years with Englund at the helm (the last film was 2003’s “Freddy vs. Jason”), screenwriters continued to add more sarcastic wit to Krueger’s personality.

“The very first film was a little bit darker in tone,” Haley said. “I think it started getting campier and more comedic and sardonic as it went along. We wanted to get it back to the original.”

With help from music video director and first-time filmmaker Samuel Bayer, who had worked with such bands as Marilyn Manson, the Smashing Pumpkins, Metallica and Green Day, Haley started researching the traits that would make Krueger more hellish than humorous for the latest film.

“I started reading this book about serial killers that Samuel asked me to look at to figure out who Freddy is,” Haley said. “I realized I was going to play a mythical boogieman. That’s what I needed to embrace.”

The book allowed Haley to see that Krueger was different from the real-life murderers he was reading about. While it was important for him to capture some of these realistic qualities, Haley considered Krueger more of a character developed in the minds of creative storytellers.

“I still wanted to definitely look at his human side and do the proper work there, but Freddy Krueger is like the main character in a campfire story,” Haley said. “I really think the horror genre is an extension of people sitting around a campfire out in the woods late at night trying to scare each other.”

Nevertheless, Haley feels Krueger is someone who represents something different to everyone who has witnessed his capabilities as a fictitious killer who haunts his victims when they least expect it.

“One of the scariest most vulnerable times is when you lie down in bed at night and fall asleep,” Haley said. “That is what has made Freddy part of the horror culture all these years. He’s the monster that we almost sort of enjoy being scared by.”