Guns, Horses, And Unbalanced Screen Time: Welcome Back To The Wild West!

seven

            It’s been a while since we had a western movie, and even longer since we had a good one. This weekend hopes to break this drought, by releasing the remake to the 1960s classic the Magnificent Seven.  Does the Wild West fit into to the modern day expectations, or will the archaic times of the past fall on blind eyes?  As always, I’m here to report on the latest films to hit theaters and give you the scoop.

 

LIKES

  • Great Cast
  • True Western Film
  • The action!

One important aspect to any Western is who you cast as the gunslingers.  In this installment, the casting director gets major props for the team assembled. Denzel Washington is the perfect lead, as his attitude and bravado are choice qualities for someone a rebellion leader. Chris Pratt balances his teams martyr attitudes by providing his comedic delivery and energy helping to relieve the tension of the movie.  The rest of the squad play their roles perfectly and brings a unique quality to the team to develop a unique posse.

While the cast is a great start, it is only one part to the Western formula.  It requires setting, simplistic goals, open frontier, lots of extras in limited clothing, and a villain you most likely will hate.  Magnificent Seven brings all these aspects in splendid detail, with a modern day design many want in the 21st century. This movie will pull you back in the days of the frontier adventure of classic Westerns from riding horses through the desert wastelands to the gun slinging battles the era was famous for, you know before the hero settles into the saloon for a drink. This film is representative of the nostalgic genre Hollywood capitalized on decades ago and is devoid of extraterrestrial twists (Cowboys and Aliens) or weird mechanical spiders (Wild Wild West) to taint the well water.

Yet the greatest component for me was the action of this movie. Magnificent Seven delivers the promised Western action, with massive bullet slinging battles unfolding for nearly half of the movie. One will certainly get an adrenaline rush as the two sides let their guns talk in high definition special effects at break neck speeds.  Our heroes use their wits and diverse skills to keep the battle dynamic, all while poor extras convulse to imaginary bullets “hitting” their bodies. The ending sequence alone kep me on the edge of my seat and provided an emotionally sitmulating climax that we hope for in these movies.  Yes, it is the typical, blockbuster popcorn tactics most films are famous for, but it works so well in this film.

 

DISLIKES:

  • Lackluster Antagonists
  • Some rapid character development
  • Unbalanced characters…at times

As I mentioned, Magnificent Seven certainly has villains representing the genre, but sadly they still didn’t shine in this film. The land baron Bogue has all the stereotypical  qualities of a baron including an insatiable greed and ruthless mechanisms to obtain his desires, but he still is quite unimpressive in other departments. Yes, I get that’s the point of most Western villains, but usually they have a set of lieutenants to enforce their roles. In this film, many of the antagonists  were not that impressive and many of their “victories” were cheap, conventionally written ploys to maximize their money.  In addition, the hyped up fights sometimes are drawn to a hasty, unchoreographed conclusion that left me disappointed. Oh well, at least the uncredited extras were capable of a good shot or two.

Another limitation for me was the rushed backstories of most of the characters. Magnificent Seven’s cast has some complicated histories, and we get a decent look at the skeletons that dwell in their closets.  There could have been more though to it though, not only to develop them more, but give some of the band more screen time. The quick overcoming of their personal fears or the convenient brotherhood formed was a little bit of a stretch for me. Fortunately they had the action to distract you from this limitation and keep the pace moving.

Finally, the biggest dislike was the unbalanced use of the seven.  I know, the top billed are destined to get the most screen time so directors get their money’s worth. Denzel, Pratt, and Hawke lead the cavalry, complete with detailed backstory, impressive set of skills, and a majority of the lines. Our other cavalcade have their moments as well, including meme worthy one liners, impressive moves, and unique costumes to seal their place.  Yet there were times where they were severely underutilized, reduced to quite mumblings or a fleeting dive into the the building. This is mainly true for the Warrior (Martin Sensmeier) and the Outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) who although have some fitting moments, are off camera for much of the film and almost thought to be dropped out of the film at random times.

 

The VERDICT:

            If you want a Western, Magnificent Seven is certainly your best shot.  This production will immerse you into the world of cowboys and well more cowboys, with engaging characters for you to grip to. However, the action is the selling point of this movie and provides the exciting edge that has been lacking for much of this month.  Yes, I would have liked a little more character balance and better villains, but overall I really enjoyed this movie.  I certainly recommend this movie for a theater visit to a wide variety of audience members, but be warned this is a darker version of the tale you love.  And darkness leads to violence that may be a bit too much for some younger audiences.

 

My scores:

Action/Western: 9.0

Movie Overall: 7.5

The Lone Tonto

The Lone Ranger

Hey all, we’re back with another movie review as we approach the holiday weekend.  In honor of the patriotic holiday 4th of July, Hollywood decided to revive the classic Western heroes of The Lone Ranger and Tonto, in Jerry Bruckheimer’s latest production entitled well… “The Lone Ranger.”  While many of the younger generation have had little, if any, experience with the desperado of yore, Disney has once again attempted to bring a series back into the milieu of movies.  How do you do that?  Put popular actor Johnny Depp into the movie, make him the iconic character, and then advertise as an action flick for the whole family.  What was my verdict on the movie?  Read on to find out.

Let’s face it we all thought that this movie was going to be a Western knockoff of Pirates of the Caribbean and in many ways it is.  Unfortunately for this reviewer those similarities mirrored the latter films, whose qualities were a bit lowered than the epic first film.  The biggest similarity is of course Tonto, the Indian version of Captain Jack Sparrow, just with some broken speech patterns and a little less rum.  Depp has dived into the character pool once more, and has adapted well into the awkward tracker/shaman.  Using his unique personality, Depp places a spin on a character that is very entertaining to watch.  Tonto was the highlight of the movie for me, primarily in his ability to somehow take any situation and make me laugh with just a few words.  Like the infamous captain, Tonto also has the ridiculous movement patterns that get stranger as the movie continues on.  Unfortunately this film skimped on a few things that made Tonto less of a memorable character.  Sparrow had a story, a goal, and a history that bled into the swashbuckling tales and kept us on our toes trying to guess what his next move was.  Tonto does not, as his story is very simple, his relationships not well developed, and surprisingly his moves are a bit lacking when compared to his other roles.  My guess is they chose to focus on Armie Hammer’s story and tried to give Depp the main character role without the main story.  Regardless Depp fans will love the man once more, as his dedication and entertaining styles continue to survive the tests of time. 

Putting Tonto aside, The Lone Ranger lacks a lot of things that I look for in a movie.  It’s almost as if the directors of this movie couldn’t decide what type of a film they wanted to make and instead mashed a few genres together, skimped on the story, and then paid Depp to make the film great.  For instance, at the beginning it seemed like this was going to be an adventure that was light hearted, good Western fun that all audiences could enjoy.  Then somewhere along the line director Gore Verbinski decided to flip on the dark switch and turn one of the villains into a savage that had a taste for various organs, hello The Last of the Mohicans.  These dark moments were surprisingly frequent and often graphic enough, to issue the warning that this is not as much a kid’s movie as you might think.  When people weren’t being massacred though, the action is alright, often more chasing and haphazard shooting than anything really exciting.  I felt that the actions scenes were all about Depp making us laugh and less on the outcomes of the battle.   Had it not been for the amazing soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, I don’t think I would have had any interest in the music, yeah it was that lacking.  Needless to say, the story itself mirrored the action, where there really wasn’t much to grab your attention.  A simple linear story, that kind of had a Western feeling to it, but lacked the heart of the wild west that was made famous long ago.  Any attempt to develop the characters, was dropped for a hearty laugh and slightly touched upon later on in the film.

Speaking of the characters, most of the cast really didn’t impress me in both character and acting.  Despite the movie being about the Lone Ranger, his story was simple, not that entertaining, and rather bland for the most part.  Hammer looks pretty for the girls, but honestly there isn’t much to him other than a prop for Tonto.  The main villain Butch Cavendish, looked the nasty part, but they didn’t really pursue much with him or his party.  The damsel in distress Rebecca Reid (Ruth Wilson) but not much else can be said, because like the other characters, she just didn’t get a whole lot of interest from the direction staff.  If I really had to pick another character that stood out, it would have to be Ms. Red Harrington (Helena Bonham Carter).  Most likely this character got more attention because of the actress, but Red has some sass and attitude that mixed with Carter’s talents makes for an entertaining cameo with a little more “kick.”  Perhaps next movie, if there is one, will have some more background, but I wouldn’t count on it.

The Lone Ranger relies a lot of Depp for its entertainment purposes, but as many of us know one man can’t make a movie.  Verbinski dropped the ball on this one and I can’t really say it’s worth a trip to the theater.  If you’re a die-hard Depp fan you’ll probably still go and have fun, but skip this and wait for television or Netflix.  My scores for this film are:

Action/Adventure/Western:  6.0

 

Movie Overall:  6.0

The D is silent, but crudeness is not!

Django

 

 

“The D is silent!” a quote that made so many people laugh and applaud.   It’s Robbie K again, this time reviewing Quentin Tarantino’s latest film Django Unchained.  The plot for this film is about a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) who is rescued by a German bounty hunter named Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz).  Apparently Django is one of the few men in Texas who knows the identity of a band of outlaws named the Brittle brothers.  As payment for helping him, Schultz promises to track down Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who is currently owned by a chauvinistic plantation owner named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

If you’ve seen Tarantino’s work, you know that the man is very extreme in his movies and makes no attempts to censor his work.  Django Unchained follows the same path, which for some will be enjoyable for some and rather grotesque for other.  From the very beginning, Django starts off with blood as gun shots paint a messy shower of red.  Yet the madness has only begun, as Shultz takes Django under his wing and helps him develop the killers edge needed to be a bounty hunter.  As Django evolves, so too do the kills as the dynamic duo updates not only their arsenal, but techniques as well.  The end result of this training are numerous scenes of gun blazing goodness, usually resulting in some sweet kills and bloody bodies.  Are you sickened by the description?  If so, then skip this movie as the cinematography captures enough detail to make some stomachs turn.  Head shots, knees exploding, and a shots in the neck are common scenes in this movie.  Some of these kills are not quick though, and the poor victims who suffer usually have some ugly wounds associated with them, some of which involve a person being torn apart or tortured.   For me extreme gore isn’t my cup of tea, as violence doesn’t always have to mean a river of blood to follow.

Despite the messiness though, Tarantino does still provide some other entertaining qualities that somewhat made up for the weaknesses.  His choice of actors was well selected as both Foxx and Waltz work well together as the bounty hunter duo, each balancing out the other’s character weaknesses.  Waltz in particular uses his charm to not only swoon the various extras, but also as a tool to make his lines even funnier as he adds a pompous atmosphere to the conversation.  Foxx on the other hand sticks more to the rough necked outlaw motif, saying little to his victims before firing the shot, though the little he says is more than enough to get a few chuckles out of the cast.  Washington is just as lovely as ever, but doesn’t get to do much other than scream and cry.  While she can play a damsel in distress very well, this character was a little lacking compared to some of her other work.  As for Jackson, his character is both fun and malicious.  Jackson’s overacted rants and cascade of stereotypical insults were hilarious to me for the most part, yet his character too sometimes overstepped the appropriate boundaries.  As for DiCaprio, well the man is still on top of his game.  Stepping out of the somber detective role, Leo’s portrayal of the pompous plantation owner is incredibly captured in every detail from the rich debonair look to the heavy southern accent.  The strongest aspect to his character is the viciousness he has to develop throughout the course of the movie, which starts with simple enjoyment at a blood sport, but turns into an anger that can’t be controlled.

Yet like many movies, Django does have its faults.  For one thing the editing and filming require a little more polish to meet the qualities of his other films.  Various settings don’t match up with the areas they are supposed to be in, for example a rocky outcropping in the state of Tennessee, or a dried up wasteland for Mississippi.  The grainy nature of the film is also a little harder to enjoy, though it may have been used to help develop and depth to the Western world.  Pushing past the editing, the time limit of the movie was a little hard to deal with at times.  While the pace of the movie was rather quick for the most part, there were a few times where I felt the scenes were pointless or overdone.  The end of the movie in particular could have been modified to deliver the same entertainment in a fraction of the time.  What may have contributed to some of these “slower” parts was the episodic element this tale seemed to have.  Instead of having a nice linear plot with twists and turns, Tarantino sort of divided the story into 3-4 tales some of which lasted for minutes before the plot was just dropped.  Perhaps it was just a means for introducing more satire and laughs, or just another excuse to add more gore, but some of these short stories could have been replaced with something to make the story deeper.   Yet my biggest weakness was the uber amount of crudeness, Tarantino put in this film.  I know that he designs this movie without a care to criticism, but his rebellious nature was a little out of hand this time.  In particular the bloody savageness and filthy language were excessively overused to the point where it was no longer enjoyable, but annoying, despite the cultural relevance to the time period being portrayed.  How many times do you need to use the N word to get the point acorss?

Django was a fun movie to watch, but it still has some flaws that need to be tweaked.  Perhaps when the movie comes out on DVD the editing can hammer some things out.  While it is not his best work, it’s still enjoyable and will please any fan of his work.  Just make sure to exercise caution when planning to take younger audience members to see it, as the crudeness factor has stepped up a bit. My scores for this movie are as followed:

Action/Drama/Western:  8.0

Movie Overall:  7.0

Theater recommendation: Medium, probably better spent watching on Netflix.