Movie Review – Three Summers

Three Summers is determined to bring a sunny disposition to the thorniest of political topics.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Michael Philp

Let’s get this out of the way quick-smart: for some people, Three Summers will not be an easy film. It should be – it’s a comedy, after all – but it’s also an unreservedly left-wing perspective on Australia that will rub certain people up the wrong way. It wears its politics on its sleeve in almost every scene, and you’ll either laugh along with it or get frustrated when it (regularly) dismisses conservative opinions. In other words, it’s a Ben Elton film.

Written and directed by Elton, Three Summers is a film about Australia and its stories. Accordingly, it follows a variety of groups at the fictional Westival music festival. There’s the feisty Warrikins (Rebecca Breeds, John Waters); Roland the Theremin player (Robert Sheehan); the Morris dancers led by Michael Caton; Queenie the relentlessly sunny radio announcer (Magda Szubanski); and about half a dozen other plotlines, all converging on the same campgrounds over three years.

It’s impressive just how well Elton manages to juggle it all. Considering the number of ideas he’s throwing around, it would’ve been easy for the film to descend into a preachy soup. Instead, thanks to the extended timespan, there’s always a fresh joke around the corner. Revisiting these characters over multiple years affords us the chance to watch them grow and adjust naturally. A punk band dwindles, an AA meeting grows, and certain events challenge the community dynamic in surprising ways. Through it all, a warmly empathetic optimism brings the disparate groups together.

That optimism is what ultimately ties the film together. Elton himself has made it clear that he wanted to make a nice film – something lovely and warm – and that ethos shines through. Even when the film is confronting Australia’s thorniest conversations – the refugee crisis, Aboriginal marginalisation – it remains upbeat and acknowledges them as decipherable problems. They aren’t just rocks and hard places, they are people, and people deserve love and respect.

With so many stories it’s also inevitable that some of them won’t get the time they deserve. Aboriginal marginalisation, for instance, is a complex topic that is ill-suited to a comedy that can’t focus on it. One of the children wears an ankle-monitor which is played for a single laugh but never properly addressed. That’s practically the definition of lip-service, and it’s not the only instance of it. Elton is sincere in his desire to confront difficult issues, and his attempts are at least commendable, but the problems are also much bigger than he can manage in an already busy film.

Conservatives will bristle, but lefties will laugh at the shenanigans in Three Summers. It’s not a perfect film – Elton would do well to narrow his scope next time – but it’s genuine where it counts. It’s a kind-hearted comedy with some wonderful performances (Szubanski is just lovely) and a gorgeously Australian setting. It’s the perfect film for an outdoor screening on a warm summer’s eve so expect it to remain a mainstay of those events for years to come.

 

Three Summers is available in Australian cinemas from November 2.

Image courtesy of Transmission Films 2017

 

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Movie Review – Suburbicon

George Clooney and the Coen Brothers are rockin’ the suburbs in this dark and twisted comedy.

⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

From prim and proper lawns to white picket fences and pastel pinafores, George Clooney’s Suburbicon is drenched in a sugary coating of classic Americana. Like a surreal waking nightmare akin to Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands, this original script penned by Joel and Ethan Coen strips back its glossy sheen to reveal a grisly underbelly of crime, prejudice and deception with wildly mixed results.

Matt Damon plays Gardner, a meek middle management man whose life is thrown into chaos when two burglars break into his sleepy suburban home. His wife (Julianne Moore) and son (Noah Jupe) are caught in the middle of the melee. Meanwhile, next-door, new arrivals in the neighbourhood are ruffling some local feathers and perceived as a threat to the idyllic community.

The glossy cinematography and eccentric 1950s visual design is at least nice to look at in a heightened, hyperreal sense; a cute opening which acts as an advert for the homogenised community sets the tone before the cheeky kinkiness of Damon and Moore’s relationship reveals the true nature of this repressed fantasy. Suburbicon at least succeeds in accurately capturing its setting; it’s the haphazard narrative which causes this star-studded affair to misfire, as it struggles to effectively populate the film with something for audiences to latch onto.

With two vastly different ideas smashed into one, it should come as no surprise that Clooney’s sixth film as director is a mess. On the one side you have a darkly humorous take on the home invasion genre with the Coen Brothers lending their prodigious talent to the script; on the other you have Clooney and frequent collaborator Grant Heslov exploring race relations in 1950s America, also with a surreal and satirical spin.

While both are interesting ideas in their own right, they don’t mesh very well when stacked next to one another. Tonally, Suburbicon is just all over the shop. Is it a serious recount of true events that deals with racism or a twisted murder mystery dripping with sticky murders and chain-smoking gangsters? Pick a lane, Clooney.

The former is certainly apt given the identity crisis currently unfolding across America (Clooney makes a point to have his antagonists unfurl a Confederate flag, hammering home his stance on the matter) and the latter is a gleeful noir that feels at home alongside other Coen Brothers joints like Fargo and Burn After Reading. On their own, it would work; mixed together, it never gels.

It doesn’t help that none of the characters save for one or two minor players are actually likeable; Damon plays a dickbag who deserves all the pain and suffering he gets while Moore is lumped with an odd dual role that dissolves into a quietly psychotic and hysterical housewife. Oscar Isaac’s fleeting contribution adds a certain spark to proceedings, thickening the plot and bringing some crucial laughs. Other than that, it’s slim pickings.

Without a coherent through-line to tie it together, Suburbicon fails to deliver on its initial promise. The dark comedy is hit and miss, the disjointed to and fro of the screenplay never settles on a tone and its talented cast – save for Isaac – is sleepwalking through the swirl of half-baked ideas. Definitely one to skip.

Suburbicon is available in Australian cinemas from October 26 

Image courtesy of Road Show Films 2017

 

 

 

Is Rotten Tomatoes Ruining the Art of Film Criticism?

Hollywood is blaming Rotten Tomatoes for its rotten summer – but do they actually have a point?

Rhys Graeme-Drury

The northern summer just gone has been one filled with quality cinema; from filmmaker-driven fare such as Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver to franchise films like Wonder Woman and Spider-man: Homecoming, audiences have been treated to some excellent tentpole films, not to mention some smaller original films such as Logan Lucky, Wind River and The Big Sick. In short, there has been plenty of good stuff for cinephiles to gorge on

And yet, despite this, domestic box office takings for major Hollywood films are down. The last weekend in August drew so few people to the theatre that you’d have to go back to September 2001 to find a weekend where fewer people made the trip to the theatre. The blockbuster season of 2017 raked in approximately $3.8 billion in the United States, which roughly translates into a 15 per cent decline from the same span last year.

So, even with the aforementioned films in theatres, what has caused this marked decrease? Could it be that people are strapped for cash? That the theatre experience is increasingly eclipsed by home formats and streaming? That for every quality film there are five crap sequels, reboots or remakes?

Even though all of these, and others, are likely contributing factors, major industry figures and filmmakers are pointing the finger squarely at review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, according to a recent op-ed from The New York Times.

Yes, believe it or not, the combined might of Hollywood’s studios have supposedly met their match, and it comes in the form of a website. Back in May, director Brett Ratner (best known for X-Men: The Last Stand and Rush Hour) was of the opinion that Rotten Tomatoes is a persistent pain in the ass for filmmakers and the main reason fewer people were making the effort to see films in the theatre.

“The worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes,” Ratner said. “I think it’s the destruction of our business. I have such respect and admiration for film criticism. When I was growing up film criticism was a real art. And there was intellect that went into that.”

Does Ratner have a point here? In a sense, I can see what he is getting at. Rotten Tomatoes’ metric – the way in which it calculates a score for a film – is inherently very black and white. The website essentially asks every reviewer to boil their overarching sentiment towards a film into two camps ­– fresh or rotten.

If 200 reviewers submit a review for a film and 120 of those deemed the film ‘fresh’, said film would be furnished with a 60% score on the website. Even if they felt the film was only worth three stars or 6 out of 10, a fresh rating is a fresh rating, the same as if they felt the film was worth five stars or 10 out of 10. There is no room for shades of grey. A glowing review is afforded the same weight as a so-so one; a scathing review no less damning than one that presents both sides.

This is where things can go awry. If said film were to receive 200 reviews of precisely three stars, it would be heralded as perfect by the Rotten Tomatoes metric – 100 per cent. Except, this is a wholly inaccurate appraisal of a film that 200 critics felt was merely good and only worth three out of five.

This must be incredibly frustrating for filmmakers like Ratner. That you can spend upwards of a year toiling away on a film only for an increasingly popular website to slap it with a 30% ‘rotten’ score must be a real kick in the teeth.

In foregoing nuance, Rotten Tomatoes is oversimplifying film criticism. In our increasingly digital world, sites like Rotten Tomatoes are presented as the go-to destination for film appraisal. Just as one would skim through user reviews for a restaurant on Zomato or a bedsit on Airbnb, filmgoers cast a glance towards Rotten Tomatoes when seeking a verdict on this week’s slew of new releases.

Though I concede Rotten Tomatoes does indeed have its merits, I can’t help but feel a little bummed that more and more people are relying on a system so fundamentally simplistic as their primary means of engagement with film criticism.

So even though it might be a touch harsh to pin all of Hollywood’s woes on one website – I mean, if they just made better films, this wouldn’t be a problem, right? – I do think there needs to be a greater understanding surrounding Rotten Tomatoes and how its scores aren’t necessarily the be all and end all of film criticism.

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures / Inglorious Basterds 

Movie Review – Baywatch

American comedies are stuck in a rut and Baywatch isn’t the solution.

⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Baywatch is the latest in an increasingly long line of self-aware remakes of ‘80s and ‘90s TV shows to be given the Jump Street treatment. Lewd, crude and 100% aware of its own stupidity, this new breed of comedy remakes is following the trail blazed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, only to much less success.

Let me say this straight up; Baywatch is not a good movie in any quantifiable sense. It’s really dumb, aggressively stupid and a blatant attempt to cash-in on the same vein of ‘90s nostalgia that prompted Hollywood to think a gritty reboot of Power Rangers was a good idea. It’s every other raunchy R-rated comedy (Bad Neighbours, Horrible Bosses) redressed, reheated and rereleased into cinemas just like we get every couple of months.

And yet, despite this pervading sense of suffocating mediocrity, it’s incredibly hard to critique a film like Baywatch. Not because it’s a shining star of wit and ingenuity, but because the film and everyone involved are leaning really hard into its own silliness in an awkward and ham-fisted attempt to appear cool or irreverent. They want us to think they’re in on the joke too, almost like they know the film is disposable and just kinda crap but they’re going to roll with it anyway because trying is for losers. Let me tell you, two hours of stifling smugness and self-importance does not make for a good time.

That’s not to say Baywatch doesn’t offer some semblance of entertainment. There are a handful of amusing gags in here, such as the playful banter and one-upmanship displayed by Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron. The former, as always, is immensely likeable and the latter wholeheartedly embraces his meathead typecasting with gusto. A couple of the supporting characters, namely Jon Bass’ Ronnie and Alexandra Daddario’s Summer, deliver some laughs also.

But Baywatch isn’t able to give them much to work with. Efron’s character struggles to find a consistent arc throughout the film, covering everything from sympathetic and washed-up to dim-witted and clumsy whilst lead love interest Summer has next to no discerning character traits whatsoever, tasked instead with spending 80% of her screen time on the fringes of the frame looking bemused and batting her eyelashes.

Maybe I’m just thinking about this too much, but one could make the case that Baywatch is emblematic of everything wrong with mainstream Hollywood comedies nowadays. Underdeveloped on plot, overlong on runtime, overdependent on improvisation and unnecessarily crude for the sake of it, Baywatch really doesn’t do anything other than the bare minimum. It’s got boobs, bums and biceps, some of which are attached to fine specimens like Efron and Daddario. Throw in a couple of lazy cameos, uninspired action sequences and an ending that sets up the sequel and there’s your film.

If you ask me, that’s not nearly enough when it comes to the vast range of techniques a filmmaker could and should employ to make an audience laugh. When your biggest gag is an aroused fat kid getting his knob stuck in a sun lounger, you know something needs to improve.

Baywatch is available in Australian cinemas from June 1

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

5 Directors That Made You Go Hmmm…?

Zachary Cruz-Tan

Ever since the rumour of Mel Gibson signing on to helm the next awful Suicide Squad movie got out, I’ve been trying to figure out why a man who just woke up from a professional coma would want to chain an anchor to his leg and throw himself into a river. Could it be the voices in his head? Maybe a sign from God? Yes, yes, a sign from God. This train of thought only lasted fleetingly, of course, when I realised I didn’t really care anymore. Gibson wouldn’t be the first, and probably not the last. Here’s a look at five other successful directors who’ve made inexplicable creative decisions throughout their careers.

Joel Schumacher
Batman Forever (1995)

03 March - 5 Directors Batman Forever
While it’s really the sequel (Batman & Robin) that should be disembowelled and tossed off a very high wall, Joel Schumacher’s introduction to his re-envisioned Batman universe is just as flamboyant and uncharacteristic. His is the Gotham City that’s hoisted on the shoulders of gigantic naked male statues, and his is the Dark Knight who really has a thing for nipples and close-ups of butts. Take that, Joker!

Schumacher’s filmography leading up to Batman Forever was occupied mostly by teenage vampires and boring courtroom dramas. His filmography after Batman & Robin contains Gerard Butler singing opera and Jim Carrey freaking out with numbers. All very serious stuff. You can see why his version of Batman sticks out like a really colourful sore thumb. Not to mention both movies have gone down in history as some of the worst superhero adaptions to have ever been made.

George Miller
Happy Feet (2006)

03 March - 5 Directors Happy Feet
Happy Feet stands at the epicentre of George Miller’s creative divide. On the one hand: blood, leather, dirty roaring machinery. On the other: animated dancing birds. Are we still certain the same man is responsible for both? It could be argued, of course, that Miller was gradually building up to Happy Feet by first dunking his elbow in The Witches of Eastwick (1987) and Babe 2 (1998), but surely no one in the world would’ve expected Mumble the penguin to stand alongside Max Rockatansky as two of Miller’s cinematic brainchildren. What we need now is a crossover in which Max travels to Antarctica and has to ferry a colony of tap-dancing penguins through a dangerous wasteland of talking pigs. Perfect Oscar-bait.

Francis Ford Coppola
Jack (1996)

03 March - 5 Directors Jack
Here’s a sure-fire way to kill your film career in its tracks: Make a movie about gangsters, and make it so well people all over the world will have no choice but to call it one of the greatest movies of all time – the yardstick against which all future gangster movies will be measured. And then make a movie about a 40-year-old man-boy who attends elementary school and looks like Robin Williams.

I have no idea who or what encouraged Francis Ford Coppola to undertake Jack, and to make it as uninteresting as possible. Perhaps even he doesn’t know. All that’s certain is his career dove into a black hole after it premiered and he decided to relocate his creative efforts to stomping on grapes in Napa Valley and watching them ferment. I don’t even know if he’s alive anymore.

Spike Lee
Oldboy (2013)

03 March - 5 Directors Old Boy
How does a director lose street cred? By establishing his career with extreme political race-related masterpieces and then making one of the least political, undoubtedly questionable remakes of all time.

The original Oldboy (2003) stands alone, untouchable, unattainable. It needs no remake, least of all by the money-grubbing, destructive hands of Hollywood. But fine, they decided to adapt it for American audiences, and they did. Where, though, does Spike Lee come in? There is not an ounce of him in this bloodless film, which treads the still waters of the original so timidly it ends up leaving us all cold to the touch.

Robert Altman
Popeye (1980)

03 March - 5 Directors Popeye

Let me just start off by saying that no matter who directed Popeye, they’d find themselves on this list. This is a movie that doesn’t belong in any director’s oeuvre. I mean, it’s a live-action musical about Popeye the sailor. It’s a miracle it was made at all. It’s even more miraculous that Robert Altman, master of the ensemble cast, was the one who made it.

Maybe the source material needed an ensemble master, since most musicals stage lavish production numbers and require boatloads of singing, dancing extras. But take a trip to Altman’s IMDb page and study his filmography. Where exactly does Popeye fit in? It exists, I assume, in its own universe, and Altman was just an innocent traveller passing through.

Images courtesy of Icon Film Distribution, Roadshow Films, Universal Pictures, Guo Film Distribution & Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures 

Movie Review – Doctor Strange

Just when everyone thought superhero movies were getting dull, Scott Derrickson brings us Doctor Strange.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Every time a superhero film is announced I heave a sigh of dismay, and yet I keep walking out of Marvel movies filled with the same delight I used to experience as a kid slumped in front of the television watching action cartoons. Marvel have found that key formula; that fountain of youth to keep their movies eternally fresh. In a time when terrorism is omnipresent, presidential candidates are bigger than rock stars, and DC Comics would rather feature grumpy old ranchers protecting their cows instead of true heroes, Marvel rightfully remembers that superheroes are supposed to save people, and enjoy doing it.

Doctor Strange is a superhero movie that returns the Marvel Cinematic Universe to its cheerful beginnings. The core story regarding The Avengers has become very sombre – Iron Man and Captain America are about one wrong look away from tearing each other’s heads off. Doctor Strange shuts all that noise out and plays its own game, which comes with its own rules and consequences, and my word, it’s something else.

As a visual feast for our poor eyes, this is perhaps the greatest of all the Marvel movies. Things happen here that my most deluded fantasies could not conjure, and there is a final showdown along the streets of Hong Kong that plays with the logical parameters of time and space in a way that makes the best Star Trek episodes look frightfully linear. I’ve seen computer graphics employed masterfully in great films before, but the effects in Doctor Strange take the rules of our world and bend them out of reality. It’s what we all want good CGI to do: help the filmmakers tell a story, not tell it for them.

As a superhero concept, Doctor Strange is a success. How could it not be? Here is a character who has lived on paper (and on some TV screens) since the 1960s. He should know his way around a 120-minute movie by now. And while his destiny – unknowing everyman becomes messianic saviour because he is essentially the Chosen One – borrows heavily from many older heroic tales, Benedict Cumberbatch balances the surprise of learning about his fate and the well-worn experience required to battle demonic apparitions in the Dark Dimension with as much stoic panache as humanly possible.

As a movie that tells an unfolding narrative, however, Doctor Strange is a little less impressive. Strange basically follows in the footsteps of every arrogant jerk turned likeable pal, with Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson) from What Women Want and Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) from Bruce Almighty serving as likely role models. Even his transformation via magical intervention is repeated. The rest resembles Star Wars outfitted with the folding buildings from Inception, or rather what Star Wars will become before the end of 2019. It all still works, though. I just wish the parallels were a little more askew.

Nevertheless, Doctor Strange is pulsating proof that Marvel seldom steps wrong and that their grip on their comic properties is so sure-footed they’ve managed to wait eight years before radically shifting the dynamics of their franchise. While DC is fumbling just to stand, Marvel keeps us guessing, keeps us satisfied, and ensures our astral projections remain spiritually aligned.

Doctor Strange is available in Australian cinemas from October 27

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures 

Movie Review – Keeping Up With The Joneses

A rock solid cast is wasted on the cinematic equivalent of disappointing fast food. 

⭐ ½
Charlie Lewis

What a dream Isla Fisher must be for the casting directors of films like Keeping Up with the Joneses. She is, obviously, a gifted comic actor, but just as important, she is beautiful enough to fulfill the one unbreakable rule of middle of the road, suburban comedy: the schlubby, button down worker drone at the narrative’s center (in this case, an oddly subdued Zach Galifianakis) must have a wife several divisions out of his league.

Fisher and Galifianakis play Karen and Jeff Gaffney, whom we meet seeing their two sons off to camp. They return to their house, briefly consider sex, and then decide to watch TV instead. Their content but dull idyll is punctured when the Joneses (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) move in next door. The pair are impossibly beautiful, strikingly worldly, endlessly charming. Karen, high strung and over solicitous, is suspicious. Jeff, big hearted and credulous, just wants new best friends. Karen’s belief the Joneses are not what they seem turns out to be correct, which will be a spoiler only to those who haven’t seen the poster. Or, like, a movie before.

The Joneses adheres to as many clichés as it can cram into its 105 minutes; it’s premise of a loving but bored couple, revitalised by a touch of adventure; the clunky attempts to jam insight and pathos in amongst the hijinks to give the illusion of personal drama; the dynamic of stress-pot wife and childlike goof husband. And my personal favourite – the wife, having become implicitly asexual over the course of the marriage is forced by the plot to dress sexy, so the husband can look at her and realise what we’ve known all along.

Look, you don’t go to Keeping Up with the Joneses expecting staggering innovation or surgically precise storytelling, any more than you go to McDonald’s expecting Lobster Thermidor. But you do expect a minimum level of care in the assembly.

The Joneses is unforgivably scattershot and listless. Plot threads and character traits are introduced and discarded seemingly at random. Early in the film, we see Jeff – who works in Human Resources, and is supposedly very good at it – telling slightly racist jokes to an Indian colleague. Would Jeff actually do this? Is he actually kind of racist? The film doesn’t much care. Later, there is a decently handled car chase sequence, which on reflection makes almost no sense to the plot. It’s just there because an action comedy needs some action… and so on – nothing seems to have any consequence. The cast are all talented comics, or lovely to look at (or in the case of Hamm and Fisher, both), but the lack of cohesion of the plot leaves them looking aimless.

“Aim for the moon,” goes the old inspirational quote, “even if you miss, you’ll land amongst the stars.” Keeping up with the Joneses aims for McDonald’s. It lands in Chicken Treat.

Keeping Up With The Joneses is available in Australian cinemas from October 20

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Movie Review – Joe Cinque’s Consolation

Two pretty people, their disturbed relationship and a baffling true story.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Tom Munday 

Based on Helen Garner’s 2004 book, Joe Cinque’s Consolation: A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law, this docudrama proves truth is stranger than fiction. Set in 1994, the movie follows law student Anu Singh (Maggie Naouri) and nice-guy Joe Cinque’s (Jerome Meyer) relationship. Over several years, Singh’s studies are frayed by her steadily collapsing mind. Her mental incapacity clouds her judgment, leading to her killing Cinque with a heavy cocktail of rohypnol and heroin. Singh and her accomplice Madhavi Rao (Sacha Joseph) were later charged with his murder.

Director Sotiris Dounoukos’ script depicts a steadily degrading situation from all sides. Multiple points of view are presented, with Cinque, Singh, their friends and family members getting equal development. The relationship-drama aspects are frighteningly accurate. Donoukos captures every important expression, emotion and mannerism valuable to human interaction. The story, however, is difficult to keep up with. Singh’s illness is brushed over or explained away. It’s hard to tell whether she’s wacky, irrational, super-villainous or all of the above.

The movie flips between true crime and melodrama sensibilities. Obsessed with the story, Dounoukos promises to stick to the essential facts. However, his characters are unlikeable and unrealistic. According to this version, Singh’s friends are 100% content with her oncoming suicide attempt. In addition, none of them bat an eye when her intentions turn more sinister.

This uneven and strange crime-drama evokes many familiar elements. Dounoukos’ direction aims for the heavily stylised visuals of recent crime thrillers (Gone Girl). He delivers several over-the-top flourishes with the movie’s emotionless aura stretching across every hazy, colourless frame. More so, its Phillip Glass-esque score builds its cloying atmosphere and crushing sense of dread.

The lead performers turn potentially pretentious and misguided material into a conversation starter. Naouri is a revelation; her cool girl meets wackjob performance deserves award consideration. Meyer’s portrayal of Cinque is heartbreaking. This doomed protagonist, standing by Singh at every unexpected turn, is a flawed yet loveable guy trapped in a tough situation.

Joe Cinque’s Consolation is a thought-provoking debut feature. Dounoukos grasps onto key details, however, in switching between drama flick and true crime constantly, his reach exceeds his grasp.

 Joe Cinque’s Consolation is available in Australian cinemas from October 13

Image courtesy of Consolation Pictures

Movie Review – The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven delivers good feelings and professional entertainment value, but does little to distinguish itself from its formidable forebears.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

The worst scene in The Magnificent Seven comes right at the end; undoing what the rest of the movie worked so hard to achieve. The point of this story – first envisioned in Kurosawa’s sprawling masterpiece, Seven Samurai (1954), later reimagined in countless other tributes and remakes (including Pixar’s A Bug’s Life) – is selflessness in the line of honour. The samurai were honourable warriors, bound by bushido. Cowboys were bound by their egos. What they shared in common was the rejection of self-gain. The 1960 Magnificent Seven understood this. This new Hollywood remake, directed by Antoine Fuqua, tacks on a closing scene that converts its guns-for-hire into immortalised heroes, effectively gut-punching itself.

And what a pity that is, because the rest of it feels like a solid Western. It’s not limp or dated. Its production values are convincing. It comes meaty, ready for a fight. In an age where filmmakers favour CGI shortcuts, Fuqua has made the right decision to root his film in solid ground. The town of Rose Creek is actually there, built with wood and nails. Explosions are rigged and timed. Stuntmen tumble off rooftops and plough through windows. Physical action gives the movie weight and visual depth, a leisure that’s no longer easy to come by.

Denzel Washington plays Sam Chisolm, the Yul Brynner character from the original remake, and doesn’t so much chew up the scenery as stand back and admire it. Washington is always reliable, but here he seems too passive to be the leader of a troupe of gun-slinging, macho monkeys. I can’t remember a single impressive thing he does in the entire film.

Elsewhere, the cast tries to be as diverse as politically and financially possible. It introduces a Korean knife-thrower (Lee Byung-Hun); a Mexican outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) in full cabrón mode; and throws in a Comanche archer (Martin Sensmeier) for good measure. The problem is, by the time the big old gunfight thunders its way around the corner, none of these “interesting” characters do anything worth noting. And the gunfight, as impressive as it is, resembles a chaos party hosted by anarchy. It’s hard to tell what’s happening, and to whom. There are so many bad guys for our heroes to gun down that you might begin to suspect they’re growing out of the soil like potatoes.

But for what it’s worth, this Magnificent Seven is a good, harmless time. The interplay between the characters is often electric and the way the screenplay whittles down the ensemble cast shows restraint and diplomacy. It is, however, still a movie that need not have been made. But it has, and we’re neither better or worse off for it. I just wish the final scene had been omitted. It reeks of studio interference. I don’t want to have to wait for a home release to catch an alternate ending.

The Magnificent Seven is available in Australian cinemas from September 29

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures 

Movie Review – The Confirmation

Amidst the modern multiplex madness, it’s refreshing to find a humble little film about quaint father and son bonding.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

As his mother and her new husband prepare for a weekend away at a Catholic retreat, eight-year-old Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher) reluctantly readies himself for spending time with his father Walt (Clive Owen), a deadbeat, down-on-his-luck alcoholic carpenter. Walt lands a potential job, but his prospects are complicated when his prized tool kit is stolen and he’s locked out of his house by his landlord. Anthony and Walt set about finding the culprit who nabbed the tools, and begin to form an unexpected bond along the way.

There’s quite a modest and old-timey feeling that courses through The Confirmation, the directorial debut of 60-year-old Bob Nelson (writer of Alexander Payne’s Nebraska). It’s a small film that’s intimate in scope and humbly unambitious, but it certainly has its heart in the right place. Like last year’s Grandma, it’s an unanticipated curveball situation thrusted upon two estranged generations, forcing them together through spontaneous hijinks and incubating a relationship in the process.

A true rarity for entertainment in this day and age, Nelson’s characters are (at least partially) defined by their religious beliefs, be it Anthony’s purity and lack of sin as a result of frequent churchgoing, or Walt’s abandonment of his former moral ways left behind with his ex-wife. Religion serves as a backdrop for the film, but there’s a sense that a lot more could have been made of this now seldom-seen motif; it’s simply there to point out Anthony’s morality. This is huge potential left tragically untapped.

Overall, it’s all a bit too straight-faced, to the point that it occasionally feels like the actors are reading directly from a script page. Then there are the odd, out of place moments of threat and violence that completely rattle the realism at play. This might have worked for a more satirical film, but it’s simply distracting in this unambiguous and clear-cut coming-of-age story.

What Nelson does nail is the father-and-son relationship between Walt and Anthony; it organically forms as the film progresses and we genuinely feel the pair pulling closer together. Clive Owen’s big screen appearances are few and far between these days, and Walt is a far cry from his typical action hero. It’s a restrained performance that shows the subtle gravitas of a man under such pressure that the cracks begin to show on the surface. It’s surprising how much chemistry he shares with young Lieberher (St. Vincent, Midnight Special) who displays a terrific innocence and wisdom beyond his years.

Ultimately it’s a simple series of misadventures between a boy and his pop, but their rewarding magnetism makes this low-key journey worth embarking upon.

The Confirmation is available in Australian cinemas from September 22

Image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution