Film Review: The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven

Antoine Fuqua’s remake of The Magnificent Seven is an entertaining enough western. Whilst  the film offers some initial spark, this is not enough to justify its existence.

When a small village are terrorised by an unflinching industrialist, they look for help in an unlikely source. The townsfolk employee a motley band of outlaws, bounty hunters and hired guns to defend their land and their lives…

A remake of the 1960 film (which in turn was a remake of Seven Samurai), director Antoine Fuqua updates The Magnificent Seven for a contemporary audience. The western period setting remains, yet there are some ideas which feel more modern. Action sequences in the film are a lot of fun, and overall the film is better paced than its predecessor.

The western tropes are clear as day in The Magnificent Seven. The basic themes of revenge, justice and integrity are present throughout. Fuqua infuses a modern tinge to the film. There is something contemporary about the land grab attempted by antagonist Bartholomew Bogue. Nevertheless, this link to recent news events could be coincidental. The diverse backgrounds of the defenders is commented upon, but it is not made into a big deal. Attitudes depicted in The Magnificent Seven are progressive, more often than not. However, this is not jarring.

Humour in the film works most of the time. The camaraderie between the seven hits and misses. There are some relationships that seem a lot more natural than others. In updating the film to give it more momentum, the screenwriters have forgotten to give the feel any real glimmer of originality. The antagonist is a one-dimensional villain, and there is little to most of the seven. Moreover, the narrative offers little of note. Denzel Washington is as strong as ever, and his chemistry with Ethan Hawke is reunited here. Chris Pratt is in danger of being typecast. Peter Sarsgaaard hams it up as Bogue.

On paper and initially, this remake has promise. However, The Magnificent Seven does not do enough to distinguish itself and is not memorable as a result.

Film Review: Night Moves

Night Moves

Night Moves features an interesting enough premise, but this is let down by the lacklustre execution.

Environmentalist Josh wants to make an impact. Along with his girlfriend Dena and friend Harmon, Josh plans to blow up a dam…

Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves is a drama about the environmentalists rather than the environment. The film concentrates on three main characters and their reaction to their plan and its after effects.

Night Moves toddles along at a rambling pace. The film never quite manages any real peaks. There are a few tense moments, but these are not powerful enough to compensate for the rest of Night Moves. The second half of the film in particular lacks momentum.

The atmosphere is never really persuasive enough. There are certain points in the film which indicate a shift in feeling, but these do not permeate universally. Night Moves would have worked better with a meatier plot.

Environmental aspects of the film act as a catalyst for action to unfold rather than dominant themes. The focus is on the how and its impact, rather than the why. As a result, Night Moves concentrates on the actions and reactions of Josh, Dena and Harmon more than anything else. The characters needed to be more compelling in order for the film to work. Some more character development would have been welcome.

Performances in Night Moves are fine. There is not that much for Dakota Fanning or Peter Sarsgaard to get their teeth into. Jesse Eisenberg is decent as Josh.

Ultimately, Night Moves is a dull film. There is not enough in the film for audiences to engage with.

Night Moves is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2013.

Film Review: Lovelace

Lovelace

Lovelace is an absorbing biopic of the infamous Linda Lovelace. The film boasts great performances, although a more nuanced depiction of the title character would have been welcome.

At the beginning of the 1970s, Linda Boreman is living with her parents in Florida. When she meets Chuck Traynor, she is initially charmed by him. When he gets her involved in the porn industry, the fame comes with an abusive lifestyle…

Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman divide the film into two perceptions. Lovelace offers two depictions of Linda’s foray into the porn industry. The first shows a willing participant. The film then flips, going back to show the other side, the underside really, with Linda being abused by her husband. The switch in perceptions is also a change in tone; with the second part much darker than the first. It is a good way to reflect the public and private persona of the title character.

Lovelace is a drama, with welcome flecks of humour. At first the film seems as if it will be similar to Boogie Nights, with its obvious parallel. Nonetheless, this is a more serious story, which is reflected in the tone.

Lovelace depicts Linda as a victim. It is a shame that the film does not go beyond this. That is not to say that she was not a victim, but merely that she was more than just this. It would have been interesting, for example, to depict her later interactions with feminists of the period.

Amanda Seyfried delivers a solid performance as Linda Lovelace. Peter Sarsgaard is most convincing as Chuck, while Adam Brody exhibits his comedy chops as Harry Reems. The soundtrack, costumes and styling really give a feel for the era.

Lovelace is not a comprehensive portrayal of Linda Lovelace. For what it is, however, the film is suitably engrossing.

Film Review: Robot & Frank

Robot & Frank is a simply charming film. With great writing, directing and performances, Jake Schreier’s film is a real treat.

In the near future, Hunter is concerned about the health and well being of his father Frank, who suffers with memory lapses. Hunter gets Frank a robot to help him around the house. Retired jewel thief Frank is reluctant to have the robot around the house, until he discovers another use for his new companion…

The main reason that Robot & Frank is such an enjoyable watch is because the film is perfectly pitched. Schreier provides the right mix of  humour, reflection and fun. The film never becomes overly schmaltzy, too maudlin or descends into ridiculous caper. Screenwriter Christopher D. Ford has produced a story that hits the right note. The premise is simple yet very effective, with engaging themes.

Robot & Frank develops a good premise into a narrative that captures the viewer’s attention. Characters in the film are believable, and relationships are quite natural. The interaction between Frank and Robot are the real highlight nevertheless. Despite a leap in technology, it is very easy to see how this relationship would be fruitful to Frank. Their scenes together are well written and strike the right balance between being pensive and amusing.

The film features a great central performance by Frank Langella. Strong support is provided by Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler and James Marsden. Peter Sarsgaard was a great choice to voice Robot.

Like many great science fiction films, Robot & Frank is not really about the technology. It may, however, have viewers wishing they had a robot of their own. Highly recommended viewing.

Robot & Frank is being screened at the London Film Festival in October 2012.

Film Review: Green Lantern

Green Lantern is not a superb film, or a particularly memorable one. Despite its patchiness however, Martin Campbell’s film is sufficiently diverting.

Test pilot Hal Jordan is a talented but irresponsible guy. When an alien crash lands on Earth, he chooses Hal as his successor, leaving him with a magical ring. The ring bestows Hal with supernatural powers, as well as membership of an intergalactic force responsible for safeguarding the universe…

The main problem with Green Lantern is the narrative weirdly paced. The film seems to jump rather than flow, and the storyline simply is not strong enough. The odd plotting of the film is suggestive of significant trimming. The climax does not have a sufficient build up, so it feels as if it begins too quickly. Additionally, endings come too abruptly for some characters, whether that be death or merely disappearance from the rest of the film (Hal’s friend Thomas for example). Numerous characters are introduced, yet fail to be included later in the film. Thus, it appears as if scenes have been removed, or that the script changed dramatically during filming.

The writing is lacking at times. Green Lantern follows a well-tread arc; those familiar with comic book movies are unlikely to be surprised by the chain of events. There is also a lack of development of any of the characters besides the protagonist. Carol Ferris, for example, has a significant role in proceedings but lacks any real personality. The dialogue is not as hokey as it could have been, and there are some lightly amusing moments. These indicate that the film does not take itself too seriously at least.

To say Green Lantern is an effects-laden picture would be an understatement. The effects are decent overall, but there is an over-reliance on CGI. The use of 3D is inoffensive, even if it isn’t alluring. Martin Campbell’s direction is good, and the action sequences offer a sense of spectacle. The cinematography and the art direction are both commendable.

Ryan Reynolds’ performance is one of the highlights of the film. He makes the movie a lot more watchable with his usual brand of charm. Blake Lively is decent (and very attractive) as Carol Ferris, although she has little to do. Peter Sarsgaard is good but underused, as is Angela Bassett.

Given its flaws, it is likely that some critics will maul Green Lantern. There are several problems with the film, but it is entertaining enough, and far from the worst superhero movie ever made.