Movie Review – Tulip Fever

Tulip Fever burns slower than it takes for a tulip to grow and bloom.


Elle Cahill

It’s 17th Century Amsterdam and a wealthy Dutchman, Cornelis Sandvoort and his wife, Sophia, are having trouble conceiving. Despite the young wife’s fears that her much older husband will soon divorce her, he pays for up-and-coming artist Jan van Loos to paint their portrait. As he paints the couple, van Loos quickly falls in love with the young Sophia and they start a passionate affair.

There is a lot going on in Tulip Fever, and for the most part it’s hard to keep up with all the different storylines. For almost every character that is introduced in the film, we are given a sliver of their story without any real development, both from a story and character perspective. I counted a total of seven storylines, which is too big a number to fit into a 105-minute film, particularly when the film is also trying to set up the historical backdrop of the tulip mania that took over Amsterdam in the 17th Century, and plays a large part in the overall story.

Tulip Fever has a phenomenal cast including Judi Dench, Christoph Waltz, Alicia Vikander, Tom Hollander, Jack O’Connell, and many more, but director Justin Chadwick fails to utilise their full potential. Dench effortlessly steals every scene she’s in as the head nun of a local parish in charge of growing the tulips for auction, as does Waltz in his portrayal of husband Cornelis Sandvoort, who genuinely loves Sophia (Vikander) and wants to do right by her but is desperate for her to deliver an heir. Hollander also get’s an honourable mention as the sleazy doctor who brings moments of comic relief to an otherwise contrived plot. But this is far from being their best work and feels like a huge waste of talent.

The most interesting part of the film is its attempt at exploring the tulip mania. While it fails to truly show the significance of the mania, it helps establish the film’s setting, and also give a basic insight to the craze that overtook Amsterdam. Unfortunately, like the rest of the film, it gets muddled up with all the concurrent character arcs and fails to bring anything other than tulips to the story.

There is some beautiful cinematography by Eigil Bryld, particularly when Sophia’s on the beach at various points in the film, but most of the time these scenes feel overly indulgent.

Tulip Fever is a real slow-burner that has a lot going on across the various storylines without any proper development taking place. Its failure to pick a central character leaves you feeling confused at the end, as you’re not invested in any of them. I also can’t tell you who or what the antagonist is in this film because it’s never properly identified. This film should serve as a warning as to what happens when indulgence trumps quality.

Tulip Fever is available in Australian cinemas from November 23.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 2017.

 

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Movie Review – Justice League

DC takes two steps forward and one step back on its bumper team-up tentpole, Justice League.

⭐ ⭐  ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

After fours years, just as many films and a hype train large enough to tow a small planet, DC and Warner Brothers hastily arrive at their Avengers moment in Justice League, a crossover event that sees established superheroes like Ben Affleck’s Batman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman team up with fresh faces such as The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher).

Their mission is to stop Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds), an ancient interdimensional demon from uniting three ‘mother boxes’, shiny Rubix Cubes with the power to destroy all life on Earth when joined as one.

Having undergone a troubled production, the expectation going in is that Justice League would be a mess, visually, tonally and narratively. Unfortunately, those fears appear to have been well-founded for the most part; Snyder’s third swing of the bat isn’t a miss on the scale of 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but it’s hardly the home run many fans were hoping for either.

Narratively, cowriters Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon (the latter of whom also directed a few reshoots after Snyder departed following a family tragedy) cobble together a passable plot that is markedly more straightforward than its bloated predecessor.

This streamlining is a good thing; rather than getting bogged down by mythology, Justice League (with Whedon offering some of his trademark quips) affords its central five heroes time to interact. Batman and Wonder Woman don’t see eye to eye; Cyborg isn’t a fan of Flash’s silliness. It endears us to their cause, making the abysmal CGI throwdown in the third act at least tolerable.

Visually, Justice League isn’t great. The VFX lacks polish and an overreliance on green screen is abundantly clear once the heroes jet off to face their ultimate foe in the final act. The reshoots and last minute tinkering hasn’t done much to help in this department.

The cast is a mixed bag as well; Affleck swings between suave and narcoleptic; Gadot is equal parts a radiant beam of sunlight and a thrilling whirlwind of ferocity; Miller is a jittery and sarcastic millennial who can’t sit still; Fisher is stoic and only afforded a hint of depth; and Momoa’s Aquaman is an insufferable X Games bro with milky white contacts and a penchant for surf lingo – it comes as a surprise that he doesn’t throw a single shaka.

Even the score is a hodgepodge of intersecting leitmotifs, as Danny Elfman throws everything but the kitchen sink into the mix; Hans Zimmer’s uplifting Man of Steel theme and Junkie XL’s thunderous Wonder Woman cues overlap with John Williams’ original Superman theme and Elfman’s own 1989 Batman score. The result is clunky and disjointed – a summation that extends to most of Justice League, to be brutally honest.

And so, we arrive at the end. Things are more hopeful, the status quo has shifted once again and better things to come are teased. But it does beg the question, how long can audiences go before the crippling mediocrity (save for Wonder Woman) lastingly cripples DC’s efforts to ape Marvel? Justice League sees the former lean into the latter’s formula heavily, and it signals a shift in the right direction, albeit a slow one. Once again I find myself whispering under the breath – “maybe the next one will be better…”

Justice League is available in Australian cinemas from November 16.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 2017.

Movie Review – Goodbye Christopher Robin

Simon Curtis’ Goodbye Christopher Robin does its job but definitely arrived with the ambition to do more.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Goodbye Christopher Robin assembles all the elements of a great historical drama, but somehow fails to fit them together. It’s never quite as cohesive as it’s meant to be. It’s touching and sad, supremely shot, beautiful to look at, but forgets the piece that completes the picture. And quite surprisingly, Margot Robbie turns in a high school performance that should’ve been eaten by her dog.

But the film raises interesting questions. We follow A. A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson), who we know will create Winnie The Pooh, as he returns to London after fighting in the Great War, still haunted by nasty flashbacks that are triggered by innocuous balloon pops. He needs a sanctuary in which to continue his playwriting, so impulsively shifts his family to the countryside, where his young son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), who prefers his nickname Billy Moon, frolics amongst the trees with his stuffed toys and his watchful nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald) is ordered to stay away from his busy father.

Naturally, circumstances arise that leave Billy alone with Milne. So the two begin to bond and before long Milne has created a children’s character based around his own son and his somewhat-imaginary friends. Seems harmless enough. But the fearsome genteel nature of the Milne’s makes them incapable of comprehending the impact of super stardom on a child who is not prepared for it. Billy is dressed to resemble the Christopher Robin of the Pooh books and is shoved into radio interviews and publicity photo shoots as the real thing. “He needs to grow up!”, asserts Olive. “He can’t do this!” “He seems to be doing it quite well actually”, replies his mother.

The film is written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Simon Vaughan, and the duo pay less attention to their dialogue than the relationship between father and son. Did Milne intend to hurt his son? Of course not. But then, looking at Milne, does he know what hurt is anymore? Yes, you could say the war shook him up real bad, but surely it’s the stoic Englishness of the time that ruined an otherwise beautiful relationship. In a household that doesn’t permit crying, how do you find out when someone’s in pain?

The irony of course is that tragedy had to happen for the world to be introduced to one of the happiest characters of all time. Winnie The Pooh charmed countless children across the world but had to break apart a family to do it. It’s this fractured logic that forms the centre of Goodbye Christopher Robin, and not the war, the countryside or Winnie The Pooh.

Later we get to see an older Billy Moon (played by Alex Lawther), after having been abused by schoolmates for his fame. He’s broken and resents his father for using him to create an empire, trotting off to fight in a war his father fought to prevent. It’s poetic how history is doomed to repeat itself.

These are all the parts of the movie that work, and I enjoyed the way young Tilston embodies all that is cheerful. Without him I suspect the movie would’ve been flat. As it is, it’s only moderately bumpy, not putting a foot wrong but not exactly sprinting down a tightrope.

Goodbye Christopher Robin is available in Australian cinemas from November 23.

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox 2017.

Movie Review – The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Dark, twisted and hilarious. Yorgos Lanthimos continues to grow in strength with his disturbing latest film, The Killing of A Sacred Deer.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic

It seems the pattern of disturbingly good films by Yorgos Lanthimos continues to increase in range. For those familiar with his films of Dogtooth and The Lobster, Lanthimos’s latest film, The Killing of A Sacred Deer, also explores a dark concept but with a twisted sense of humour. Once again, these two genres are balanced effortlessly throughout and the finish product is yet another masterclass from the director.

Colin Farrell stars in the lead role and is unfortunately placed into another caliginous scenario that sees him tested in different strengths. Without giving away the film’s main trick, Farrell plays a father of two with a loving wife, and is put to make an extremely difficult decision that will end up affecting the family dynamic forever.

Aside from watching the situation unfold as Farrell battles to resolve his dilemma, the entire universe Lanthimos creates is intriguing. From the very moment the film begins, you get the sense of unnatural behaviour just by the dialogue between two characters and this unease never leaves the screen.

It’s an almost like an entirely different world of humans, but they’re just not very human like. At least to what our society is used to. Great examples of this are the astute observations and over politeness each character exuberates. It’s just unnatural and purposefully executed as a subtle commentary on society. But moreover, it’s all awkwardly hilarious.

This is why I love Lanthimos’ films. Not only are they simply exploring a compelling dark concept, they’re quite funny at the same time. Most of these jokes comes from being in such unique situations that other films can’t make, because they’re simply not in the same position. Numerous times a character would say something in such an unusual but nonchalant way that it becomes hilarious to watch. And when it came moments of humour that were of the darker taste, these were executed flawlessly and without overstepping boundaries. Indeed, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a fine piece for showing that the art of black comedy in 2017 is alive and well.

My only gripe with the film is that it is a bit of a slow burn and it can feel particularly sluggish at times. Especially within the middle third, where you’ve been introduced to the setup and are simply waiting for it to hurry to the climax. Part of this feels like it could have been edited or reworked to have more going on to keep interest, like in The Lobster.

But again, this is a minor complaint. The film is acted perfectly, with veteran actors of Farrell and Nicole Kidman as his wife particular standouts. Though the cinematography isn’t of anything scenic or picturesque, it does well to capture the darkness and unnatural tone on characters that the film clearly aims towards.

For lovers of The Lobster and black comedy films with unique and interesting concepts, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a fantastic film and one sure to be on top ten lists for this year.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is available in Australian cinemas from November 16.

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment 2017

Movie Review – Murder on the Orient Express

Hollywood once again recycles that which need not be recycled, in Kenneth Branagh’s take on Murder on the Orient Express.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

I see no other way to approach a review of a movie like this than to compare it to what’s come before. Its history is too deep. Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express has been adapted to radio; into a 1974 feature by Sidney Lumet starring Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot; a 2001 TV movie with Alfred Molina in the role; and of course as an episode of the distinguished ITV Poirot series. It has even been remade in Japan. Now comes another version, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, and I find myself simply incapable of finding the right words to recommend it.

This is an adaptation that works on the fundamental level, which means it has a sound plot, supreme technical prowess and performances that befit its ludicrously high-profile cast. It is a movie that can be seen and appreciated in about equal measure without being spectacular. Whether it holds up as a faithful Christie adaptation I will leave to her loyal fans and scholars to determine; as a gripping murder mystery, it is neither gripping nor very mysterious.

To discuss the plot would be to grind against the very grain of Christie. Her stories are designed to unfold chronologically, so that we pick up hints and clues and slowly piece together the unfathomable puzzle along with her great detectives. The less we know going in the better. Murder on the Orient Express remains her most famous probably because of its claustrophobic setting (the length of a snowbound train), its immense cast of characters and the degree to which misdirection is employed to keep us guessing.

But all these are assets of the original story, not of this film. Branagh is perhaps a finer actor than he is a director, and he puts on a brave face as Poirot, but his film lacks in ingenuity and freshness. I can’t think of a single reason to see his version and not the Lumet classic, which had Finney scuttling down the corridors of the train like a frenzied crab. Branagh’s Poirot is unusually calm and chipper, which might have been a fun new take on the part if he had buckled down and took it to the edge. Poirot, like Sherlock Holmes, is a character of extremes. A detective of unusual intelligence who is easier to admire than befriend. To play him as anything less than a feverish snob is to miss the point.

Around him is assembled a cast of veritable class, which includes but is not limited to Michelle Pfeiffer as an uppity American socialite; Willem Dafoe as an Austrian professor; Daisy Ridley as Miss Mary Debenham; Leslie Odom Jr as the handy doctor; Penélope Cruz as a faithful servant of the Lord; Judi Dench as the Princess Dragomiroff; Johnny Depp as the despicable businessman Ratchett; and Josh Gad and Derek Jacobi as his staff. Any more and I suspect the train would’ve toppled off the ridge.

Pity, then, that such great talent should go unchecked by a story as rich as this. Everyone plays their parts as if they know the end before the beginning. There is no thrill, no embracing the unexpected. It’s all just cogs turning in rhythm to the screenplay, which can be fatal for a mystery like this.

So I leave you rather nonplussed, unable to praise Orient Express enough to make you go see it, unable to exploit its weaknesses enough to turn you away. I don’t prefer it to some of the earlier iterations, but I suspect if you’ve never heard of Poirot and his impossible moustache, or perhaps even Christie, this movie might do the trick. But just barely.

Murder on the Orient Express is available in Australian cinemas from November 9.

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox 2017

Movie Review – A Bad Moms Christmas

Christmas will soon be upon us and along with it a new batch of seasonal films for the whole family – or sometimes just for the adults. A Bad Moms Christmas offers a variety of crudity and vile humor that aims to be as gross as it does shocking. If only any of it was remotely funny.


Josip Knezevic

Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn reprise their roles from the first Bad Moms (yes I can’t believe they made a sequel as well), but this time they’re met with their equally bad counterparts – their own mums. It seems like this will be the trend for this year’s Christmas movies, with the upcoming Daddy’s Home 2 set to do much of the same thing, just with the opposite sex.

A Bad Moms Christmas seems to take the most basic form of monkey humour but branches it out to a platform that we haven’t seen before; motherhood. We don’t expect mums to be seen in such a light and that’s what’s meant to make it funny. It was the same reason Bad Santa was so popular but making something original doesn’t necessarily make it automatically hilarious. A bad joke is a bad joke, no matter how you polish it, and this is ultimately where the Bad Moms franchise is lacking.

Dialogue about penises or vaginal waxing feel only thrown in as an attempt to gather up laughs from shock value. Reactions of “oh my god I can’t believe a mum just said that, she’s not supposed to say that hahaha” are heavily relied upon throughout, but this doesn’t make the jokes genuinely hilarious. Soon enough, this whole routine becomes just tiresome. When humour that isn’t based off vulgarity does arrive, they’re mostly predictable from moments ahead of time or are simply yet another eye roller. This coming from a man who loves dad jokes. But maybe not just of the bad mum’s kind.

Aside from the humour, the overall plot follows a formulaic affair that, whilst touching on some heartfelt moments, isn’t anything special enough to be considered good. Not only have you seen the same moments in other Christmas films but they’re executed so much better elsewhere. And I’m not just talking about the classic Christmas flicks of Home Alone and The Santa Clause; Bad Santa manages to become a better antihero to enjoy on-screen. This is because his character is as believable as he is heartbroken and funny. He’s a nice balance between the bad that we can laugh at and the good that we ultimately sympathise with.

None of these aspects are found in A Bad Moms Christmas. What we are left with is another poor excuse for a chick flick that represents another missed opportunity for a genre that continues to add cheesy Christmas movie after cheesy Christmas movie. In a time where focus on women empowerment is at the forefront of so many films this year, A Bad Moms Christmas is a failure for many of those powerful leading examples and for women in general. Mums do amazing things for us and unfortunately, in this case, they deserve better.

A Bad Moms Christmas is available in Australian cinemas from November 2.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 2017

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

 

Movie Review – Jigsaw

Despite dying all the way back in Saw III, Jigsaw is back for an eighth twisted and gruesome game after a lengthy absence.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

More than a decade has passed since John Kramer, a.k.a. the Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell) – the man notorious for kidnapping people and putting them in traps that force them to mutilate themselves to escape death as a means of creating a newfound appreciation for life – and his circle of successors all met grisly ends. The violence has ceased, until now; as police shoot down a petty thug, a triggering mechanism is activated and sets in motion a new game played by five people trapped in a remote barn filled with diabolically lethal things at every turn. Mangled bodies start turning up, and as the investigative team, including Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and forensic doctors Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) and Eleanor Bonneville (Hannah Emily Anderson) dig deeper, all the evidence points to the late Jigsaw as the perpetrator.

It wasn’t too much of a stretch to predict that 2010’s Saw 3D was never going to be The Final Chapter as it claimed; nothing in Hollywood, especially in the horror genre (and especially one of the horror genre’s highest-grossing franchises) ever stays dead anymore, so by that logic Jigsaw was always inevitable. The good news is that its source is one of the genre’s most inventive, if not for the faint of heart series, and despite it having narratively driven itself into a dead end, this belated eighth entry manages to breathe a bit of new life into its corpse, doing its many fans justice and pulling off a few neat tricks of its own.

Taking the reins from its Australian creators James Wan and Leigh Whannell (who remain as producers) is, appropriately, another Aussie horror filmmaking duo, The Spierig Brothers (Daybreakers, Predestination). Their biggest adjustment to proceedings is the visual style – gone is the grainy, low-grade camerawork, grungy bathrooms and rust as far as the eye can see, updated with slick cinematography and, for the first time, shiny and new-looking killing instruments. The Spierigs are aware that audience expectations have changed since Saw last soaked our screens in blood, and so the story deviates from the usual formula too; we follow the police investigation equally as much as the victims of the latest game, veering slightly away from the torture-porn trappings that later entries became and closer to the psychological thrills of the first film.

Which is not to say that Jigsaw isn’t gory; there are new traps here that rank up there with the series’ stomach-churning best, from the body-shredding spiral blade contraption to the flesh-cutting laser collars – fans can rest easy with the amount of blood and guts spilled. Pleasingly, after being sidelined for so long, the iconic Jigsaw himself takes centre stage once again, with the mystery of how exactly he has returned forming the core of the plot. Bell still dominates in his signature role, and the story that once again explores his backstory alongside his legacy makes a franchise that felt all out of places to go feel like it actually has plenty of fresh directions to take us in.

Updates aside, this is still quintessentially Saw, which does mean it shares the series problems too; most of which usually boil down to its writing. Though tricksy, it’s always relied on quite a large suspension of disbelief given the huge coincidences that cause everything to fall into place just right and push each plot point into place, and Jigsaw is no different. Again, the twist ending is awfully contrived and frankly ridiculous if you put even a smidgen of thought into it.

But though it doesn’t quite reach the franchise high point, Jigsaw surpasses a good portion of the sequels and exceeds expectations; though it won’t win Saw many new fans, and its potential as a series reboot remains to be seen, this is an interesting and satisfying enough long-awaited follow-up.

Jigsaw is available in Australian cinemas from November 02

 Image courtesy of Studio Canal Australia 2017

Movie Review – Equity

Females rejoice! Equity is a movie about women who love making money, made by women who love making films. If only the passion behind the movie was translated onto the screen.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic

Equity
shares the story of women competing for greed on Wall Street in what we all know to be a predominantly male dominated environment. Anna Gunn leads the cast as senior investment banker Naomi Bishop who is determined to claw her way to the top of her investment firm. That is until she becomes entrapped by a corruption scandal that seeks to destroy everything she has worked for.

Equity offers a new take on the successful Wall Street series, but unfortunately doesn’t reach quite the same heights. Initially I was worried the film would overtly push the ‘girl power’ agenda throughout, but to the film’s credit, it stands on its own as a film about crime and exploitation. Specific scenes are used to promote Naomi’s views on female empowerment, however, these moments do not distract from the overall film. Anyone can enjoy this as a film exploring the hidden dealings of Wall Street.

Having said that, I only wish these dealings were more engaging. Don’t get me wrong, Equity still presents a smart and creative plot, but it doesn’t go above and beyond. It’s fairly predictable and does nothing shocking or surprising. Anna Gunn’s performance is fine, but it’s difficult to care for her character when you can see exactly what is going to happen to her. Supporting characters lack substance and are mere tools to move the plot along.

As it stands, Equity is a passable economic thriller, but one that remains just passable. I recommend waiting for it to come out on DVD.

Equity is available in Australian cinemas from September 29

Image courtesy of Sony 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